The Mystery of the Masons
Though Masonry is identical with Ancient Mysteries, it is so in this qualified sense; that it presents but an imperfect image of their brilliancy; the ruins only of their grandeur, and a system that has experienced progressive alterations, the fruits of social events and political circumstances. Albert Pike
What do Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Mark Twain, Volatire, Oscar Wilde, Buzz Aldrin, Nat King Cole, Aleister Crowley, Winston Churchill, Duke Ellington, John Wayne, Mozart, and Isaac Newton all have in common?
They are all great men, most of them polymaths, adept in multiple disciplines. All famous, admired (with the exception of Crowley). And they are all Freemasons.
So what is the origin of this “secret society,” so wildly speculated over, which has secured the favor of such diverse and fascinating men?
According to Freemason oral tradition, the fraternity has its roots in the ancient Egyptian mystery schools. The mystery schools sprouted variously in the ancient world, a pagan tradition of esoteric knowledge (astronomy, astrology, geometry, spiritual teachings,) handed down from generation to generation.
These schools were heavily based in processes of initiation, ritualized, often with intent to “test” the aspirant (think Luke Skywalker battling his vision of Darth Vadar under Yoda’s tutelage. When Luke asks what he will find in the cave, Yoda replies, “Only what you take with you.” Or for a less geeky example, the modern practice of “hazing” in college fraternities.)
Some say the mystery schools began before Egypt, in Atlantis, and were tools of wisdom given to mankind by angels, gods or cosmic travelers.
After Roman Emperor Constantine selected what would and wouldn’t be included in the official Christian Bible, gospels not used (now known as the Gnostic Gospels) became heretical in nature. It has been speculated that the Knights of the Templar were keepers of this hidden/forbidden knowledge, and that they passed these ancient documents on to the Masons.
The Lodge initiation for the third degree (the first inner circle by invitation only, the beginner levels are open to all,) consists of a ritualized allegorical reenactment of the murder of Hiram Abiff, the priest-architect of King Solomon’s Temple. The Hebrew bible corroborates this basic story, relating a formal request from King Solomon of Jerusalem to King Hiram I of Tyre, for workers and materials to build a new temple. King Hiram responds:
And now I have sent a skillful man, endowed with understanding, Huram my master craftsman [...] skilled to work in gold and silver, bronze and iron, stone and wood, purple and blue, fine linen and crimson, and to make any engraving and to accomplish any plan which may be given to him, with your skillful men and with the skillful men of my lord David your father (2 Chronicles 2:13-14 )
According to Masonic oral tradition, Hiram Abiff, a keeper of ancient mysteries (in this case, most likely astronomical knowledge) was constructing a temple for King Solomon to house the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem, now reconstructed as the Temple Mount or Mount Zion when his own workman murdered him in an attempt to extract his priest-architect secrets.
Supposedly, the ritual serves as a reinforcement of stoic loyalty (Hiram died because he would not share the secrets entrusted him.)
The single eye, known as the “All-Seeing Eye” takes its meaning from the ancient Egyptian “Eye of Horus“ an emblem of protection and inner sight. The legend goes that Horus, depicted most often as a falcon, lost his left eye in a fight defeating Set, god of the underworld. This left eye (The Eye of Horus) became the moon, (representing occult knowledge/hidden wisdom,) while his right eye, called “the Eye of Ra” became the sun.
The symbolism of the pyramid traditionally represents man’s climb towards higher knowledge, the evolution of spirituality upwards. However, at the same time there is an undeniable suggestion of caste system symbology, with the masses as the wide base at the bottom, and the select few, elite initiates, represented by the tippy-top, closest to heaven.
Though we are taught in school that America was founded on Christian tenants — and this is not necessarily in conflict with being a Mason — it is beyond conjecture that the founding fathers also incorporated a massive amount of Masonic imagery into the architecture, symbolism and signifiers of our country. It wasn’t hidden — newspaper accounts from the day ran descriptions of Masonic ceremonies in Washington as naturally as they reported any other governmental activity.
The most famous example of this type of symbolism, of course, is the all-seeing eye and pyramid displayed on our one dollar bill. Supposedly, the detached top symbolizes the heights we have yet to reach.
But the most widely identifiable symbol for Freemasonry is the “square and compass” – architectural instruments used to calculate the movement of the heavens. The G is most often ascribed to God, or The Great Architect of the Universe, to use the secular, builder terminology of Freemasonry. But it has also been connected to Geometry.
The two triangles are also said to represent the star of David, or “Seal of Solomon,” which signified the union of opposites, embodying the alchemical/hermetic axiom, “As above, so below” — a concept, denoting the microcosm within the macrocosm, first laid out in The Emerald Tablet of Hermes:
That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above, corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing.
Although Freemasons are often accused of Devil worship, to become a Mason, one must first profess faith in an undefined Higher Power/Supreme Being. In an attempt to foster brotherhood and tolerance within the fraternity, matters of religion are prohibited from being discussed within the Lodge.
One of the primary accusations of conspiracy theorists is that the Masons worship the devil, specifically a goat-headed humanoid figure called Baphomet. The Knights Templar were accused of worshipping the same creature, and ultimately persecuted for non-Christian activity. Though the confessions — extracted under torture — are considered dubious by scholars today.
Originally a symbol of Christian folklore representing pagan idolatry, Baphomet first appeared in 11th century Latin as a corruption of “Muhammad” (‘Baphomet’ = Mahomet = Muhammad). Later the terms shows up in trial transcripts of the Inquisition of the Knights Templar in the early 14th century.
Crusade scholar Helen Nicholson writes that the charges were essentially “manipulative,”and typical of witch-hunt-style smear campaigns. Medieval Christians falsely believed that Muslims were idolatrous and worshipped Muhammad as a god, with mahomet becoming mammet in English, meaning an idol or false god.
In the 19th century, the name of Baphomet became further associated with the occult when Éliphas Lévi published Dogmas and Ritual of High Magic, in which he included the now-famous image of Baphomet, a depiction he had drawn himself. Levi explained the figure in symbolic terms, the goat-head representing “the sinner,” while the fire above his head represented man’s potential to obtain higher knowledge.
The Baphomet of Lévi was then further utilized in supposedly symbolic terms by occultist (and Freemason) Aleister Crowley in the early twentieth century. Crowley described the goat-headed figure as representing the Union of Opposites, and hence spiritual perfection.
Baphmoet’s connection with Freemasonry, however, remains dubious, as the first accusation — by Christian evangelist Jack Chick, who claimed that Baphomet is a demon worshipped by Masons – was based on a 1890′s hoax by Léo Taxil. Taxil employed a version of Lévi’s Baphomet on the cover of his sensationalized paperback “exposé” of Freemasonry — which, in 1897, he revealed as a hoax satirizing ultra-Catholic anti-Masonic propaganda.
Misunderstanding another creed or culture’s symbols is a common source of prejudice. While a human skull on a scholar’s desk might strike some as morbid, even death-worshipping or evil, to an old-world alchemist, or even a modern day occultist, it can represent a meditation on impermanence, and the inevitability of death; the goal of which is to better live one’s life.
That being said, to a Theistic Satanist, it could also represent the Dark Lord. Such is the mercurial and fascinating nature of symbols. Considering the men who have been involved in Freemasonry (Einstein, Franklin, Washington, Twain,) I am inclined to personally disbelieve the Baphomet accusation.
With all the conjecture and speculation about the Masons, it is rare to have any personally verifiable fact relating to the fraternity. And so, to close, the author will share a true family story about an experience her mother had with a bona-fide Freemason occult ritual.
My maternal grandfather was a Freemason. My mother does not think he was very “high up” and remembers him only involved to the extent of a newsletter correspondence course (though how many little girls know the full nature of their father’s nocturnal activities?)
As my mother remembers it, she was around nine years old, when her father asked her to come “help him with something.” She entered his bedroom, which was darkened by closed blinds, a single candle lit on the left-hand corner of his vanity mirror. Without further explanation, her father sat down in the corner of the room and asked her simply to gaze into the mirror.
Fifteen or twenty minutes later, my mom was bored out of her nine-year-old mind. Just as she was thinking about how much she’d rather be playing outside, her reflection in the glass suddenly transformed from a freckly nine year old visage into the head and shoulders of an unknown black woman in a turban. The image, she said, was as clear and real as her own reflection had been a few seconds before.
She screamed with surprise to see her own face replaced with a stranger’s. Her mother came running into the room, crying, “What are you doing with my child!” and with all the commotion, the image promptly disappeared.
My mother found out later it had been a Masonic exercise to see past lives — her father had been trying the exercise without success, and decided to see if it would have a better affect on a child without expectation.
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