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The Freemason's Treasury
by George Oliver - 1863
This is a series of six lectures written by George Oliver in 1863.
"And after that was a worthy king of England that was callyd Athelstone, and his yongest sone lovyd well the sciens of Gemetry, and he wyst well that hand craft had the practyke of the sciens of Gemetry so well as Masons, wherefore he dreive hym to consell and lernyd practyke of that science to his speculatyf. For of speculatyf he was a master, and he lovyd well Masonry and Masons. And he bicom a Mason hymselfe. And he yaf hem charges." - ANCIENT MANUSCRIPT.
"May all Freemasons be enabled to act in strict conformity with the Constitutions of their order." - SECTIONAL CHARGE.
THE system of Freemasonry is a literal illustration of our traditional Grand Master Solomon's remark that "there is nothing new under the sun." The institution is ancient and unchangeable; the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Its details, indeed, have been amplified and extended by a judicious application of the kindred sciences, but its fundamental principles are theoretically unalterable. And, therefore, although innovations innumerable have from time to time been superadded to the original system, yet they have failed to swamp its immoveable basis; and, like a rock in the midst of a raging sea, though storms and tempests have for ages beat furiously upon its breast, it still remains in its pristine integrity to enlighten mankind by the effulgence of its doctrines and the purity of its humanizing precepts which point the way to another and a better world. The scions which have been progressively engrafted on the parent stem for good or evil, have not detoriated its original principles of pure and unsullied morality. Their design may be estimable, useful, and praiseworthy, but they are alien to genuine Freemasonry, and therefore most justly placed under the cognizance of other governing bodies, that no blending or spurious admixture may sully the purity of their symbolical prototype.
I do not, however, pledge myself to establish by documentary evidence that the Constitutions of Masonry are coeval with the building of King Solomon's Temple; although Doctor Anderson asserts that "the fraternity have always had a book, in manuscript, called the "Book of Constitutions." All we know of them, however, is, that they existed on the Continent of Europe before the tenth century, and at that period were pronounced ancient; but it must be admitted that the precise meaning which our Brethren of such a remote age attached to the word is somewhat problematical; and I am unwilling to hazard a positive assertion on that, as on some other doubtful subjects, unless borne out by undeniable evidence. Our traditions carry their antiquity to a very remote period; but as these traditions were transmitted down the stream of time by oral communication only, it is not improbable but they shared the fate of all other unwritten testimony; and if deteriorations became insensibly incorporated with them, some primitive truths might also be superseded, which would effect great and organic changes in the historical legend relating to the antiquity of the Masonic Constitutions.
In order to verify these observations it may be useful to revert to the primitive York Constitutions, for the purpose of ascertaining what particular Points or Landmarks were enjoined by competent authority in the tenth century; and this will clear the way for an inquiry whether any of them have been encroached on; and, if so, how far such changes affect the moral and ceremonial status of the Craft. From a general view of Symbolical Freemasonry it would appear that the present arrangement was the result of a grand movement made by Prince Edwin and his confreres at the above period, during which all its ancient and genuine principles were brought together and remodelled into one consistent system, and permanently established by a Royal Charter, which was granted by King Athelstan to the first English Grand Lodge holden in the City of York. This portion of Masonic history is affirmed in an old record dating back as far as the reign of Edward IV., which testifies that "under the Charter of Athelstan, Prince Edwin summoned all the Masons in the realm to meet him in a congregation at York, and there a Grand Lodge was formed, of which he himself was Grand Master. His colleagues and agents had, with unparalleled industry, collected in foreign countries all the writings and records extant; some in Greek, some in Latin, some in French, and some in other languages; from the contents of which that assembly framed the Constitutions and Charges, and made the observance of them penal in all time coming."
This record clearly refers to a revision of the system at that period, and an adaptation of it to the change of times and the feelings of men; for the above-mentioned record further informs us that Prince Edwin "prevailed with the king to improve the Charges and Constitutions of the English Lodges according to the foreign model; to increase the wages of working Masons, and grant them a privilege of correction among themselves to amend what might happen to be amiss, and to hold a yearly communication and a general assembly."
These improved Constitutions still exist, and have been recently discovered amongst the stores in the British Museum, and published by Mr. Halliwell, from a manuscript which is pronounced to have been drawn up for the use of Freemasons during the reign of Athelstan. As, therefore, the revisal of the Ritual was accomplished by a Christian prince, and for the improvement of an institution expressly designed for the use of the builders of Christian churches, we may reasonably suppose that it would not be destitute of Christian references. And accordingly we find that these Constitutions blend worldly duty with heavenly aspirations, and temporal interests with preparations for eternity so intimately that they cannot be separated without sapping the foundations and destroying the genuine principles of the institution.
They contain a brief enunciation of certain Landmarks; not, it is freely admitted, under that express denomination; - nor, according to their evidence, was the Craft previously called Freemasonry, but Geometry (which I think the more scientific name). The committee, however, appear to have then adopted the present appellation; for it is armed in the body of the document, that they "cowenterfetyd" or changed its primitive designation, " and zaf hyt the name of MASONRY," which they pronounce to be "the moste oneste craft of alle." The word Point is used in a sense somewhat corresponding with our Landmark. And certain particulars are made so indispensable to the integrity of the institution that we cannot reject, on any substantial grounds, the implicit belief that these Points or Landmarks were intended to be of perpetual obligation on the fraternity.
The introduction to this most ancient document, which I conceive to contain the veritable constitutions of the Grand Lodge of York, holden A.D. 930, (1) gives an account how Euclid undertook to teach the principles of Masonry to certain young persons, well born, the lawful offspring of "lodeges," and who were sound and perfect in body; and directed that they should use no other term when speaking of or to each other, but that of Brother. The origin of Masonry is here ascribed to the Egyptians, and introduced into England in the reign of "the gode kinge Aldelston." It then speaks of the formation of a Grand Lodge at York, composed of earls, knights, squires, and "grete barges of that syte," assembled together for the purpose of drawing up a code of regulations for the government of the craft. (2) Then follows a clause, which, under the head of Alia ordinacio artis Gemetrie, provides that a general assembly shall be held every year with the Grand Master at its head to enforce the regulations, and to make new laws when it may be expedient to do so, at which all the Brethren are competent to be present; and they must renew their O.B. to keep and observe the statutes and constitutions; and further directs that, in all ages to come, the existing Grand Lodge shall petition every new monarch to confer his sanction on their proceedings.
The last division of this important document may be denominated the moral and scientific lecture, for it contains three hundred lines of instruction to the Brethren for behaviour in the Lodge during labour and refreshment - in the Church, where they are directed to be regular in their prayers to God and the Blessed Virgin through Jesus Christ, and to conduct themselves in that sacred place with reverence and devotion. It further gives a definition of the seven liberal sciences, and recounts various points of duty in the behaviour of Brothers and Fellows "in halle, yn bowre, and at horde," including many useful hints which would not be inapplicable to the Craft in the 19th century.
If such be the design of Freemasonry as it was remodelled eight hundred years ago, we shall be at no loss to discover the occult signification of many of its details which would otherwise remain impenetrably obscure through the alterations in the Charges, Constitutions, and Lectures, which were effected at the Union in 1814. The ancient Gothic Charges, which have been reproduced and modernized from time to time, uniformly speak of T.G.A.O.T.U. as the founder of the Catholic Church (whose temples the fraternity were then busily employed in erecting), who, according to the voice of prophecy, was heralded by a blazing star, proclaimed by John the Baptist, horn at Bethlehem in Judea, as the "LORD OF LIFE" (still retaining a place in the Third Lecture), to establish and confirm that primitive faith which is destined to become the religion of all mankind, including Jew and Gentile, Greek and barbarian, bond and free, and to cover the earth as the waters cover the seas.
The laws thus established were secured from alteration by certain Landmarks; which, as our traditions certify, were pronounced unchangeable; and the prohibition appears to have been so strictly maintained, that in many of the later editions of these constitutions, the laws then established are almost verbally repeated; and do actually exist - somewhat emasculated I am free to confess - in the system universally practised at the present day, and recognized amongst Masons in every country under heaven by the distinguishing appellation of the York Constitutions, having been originally drawn up and authorized by the Grand Lodge, holden in the city of York under the charter of Athelstan already mentioned, and confirmed at a subsequent meeting of the same Grand Lodge, when Athelstan had himself assumed the Grand Mastership of the Craft on the death of his brother.
1. The reasons for thin opinion have been given at large by the author, in the American Freemasons' Quarterly Review for 1858.
2. These Regulations are comprised in fifteen Articles and as many Points; but they are too long for insertion here. If, however, the reader will turn to the above-mentioned periodical, or to p. 64 of the new edition of Preston, he will find an abstract of them, the latter being taken from a MS. written in the reign of James II, and now in the possession of the Lodge of Antiquity.
"The Constitutions of the Order consist of two parts, - oral and written communications; the former, comprehending the mysteries of the art, are only to be acquired by practice and experience in the Lodge; the latter includes the history of genuine Masonry, the lives and characters of its patrons, and the ancient charges and general regulations of the Craft. - PRESTON.
"The ancient Constitutions and Landmarks of the Order were not made by us. We have voluntarily put ourselves under them, as have our predecessors for ages before us. As they are, we must conform to them, or leave the Institution; but we cannot alter them. The Regulations of the Grand Lodge, which are made by ourselves, must be in conformity with the Constitutions of the Order." - ADDRESS OF THE GRAND MASTER OF NEW YORK, 1843.
FREEMASONRY at the present day bears the character of a municipal institution, for it regulates its internal interests by its own laws. Now the true principle of a municipality is the privilege of enjoying unfettered discretion within its legal boundaries; for if any society of men possess the exclusive power of managing their own affairs, the privilege is usually accompanied by such conditions as may be essential to its successful execution. One of these conditions undoubtedly is; that if the rulers strictly adhere to the Constitutions the members of the society will profit, but if they violate them by the slightest deviation, the members will surely suffer; for perfect liberty cannot exist without responsibility; in the absence of which it will be impossible either to stimulate diligence or to enforce the exercise of wholesome criticism and judicious inquiry.
The Order possesses a local and municipal government under the protection of the State. The due execution of its laws, founded on a steady principle of responsibility in its rulers, has invested the Order with its present proud position amongst the institutions of the world; and the uniform obedience of the Brethren to its statutes and ordinances constitutes a powerful evidence how abundantly a democratic society may flourish, even under the auspices of a limited monarchy. This tranquil subserviency to the law constitutes the abiding boast of the Masonic Association, and shows how admirably adapted to its requirements are the general Constitutions of the Order.
These Constitutions are of two kinds; viz., first, local or temporary, and subject to revision by the Grand Lodge when any extraordinary circumstances arise to justify such a proceeding, conformably to a regulation agreed to at York in the tenth century, which directs that "A General Assembly shall be held every year, with the Grand Master at its head, to enforce the regulations and to make new laws when it may be expedient to do so." In this class may be ranked the laws relating to complaints and misdemeanours, the amount of fees and subscriptions; the interval between the degrees, the several funds, charities, and Boards, &c., &c., all of which may be changed at pleasure by a vote of the Grand Lodge. These are not strictly Landmarks.
But the second class of laws are undoubted Landmarks which admit of no alteration, and ought to be preserved intact to prevent innovations in the identity of the ancient Order. For instance, if a candidate were to be admitted into a Lodge without a dispensation before he had attained the age of one and twenty years, it would be a violation of the Constitutions, for which the W. Master would be amenable to punishment by the Board of General Purposes. The same offence would be perpetrated if the candidate were admitted by communication and without the usual ritual preparation or O.B. These general Constitutions, unlike the former class, prevail under the jurisdiction of every Grand Lodge in the world, and are allowed by universal consent to be unchangeable; and hence it is by the use of these significant tokens that the Order has passed through so many generations unscathed by persecution, and has preserved its pristine integrity unshaken amidst all the reverses of alternate prosperity and neglect.
The method of transmitting important facts and doctrines by oral communication is, to say the least of it, very uncertain and imperfect. The marvel is not, as Bro. Yates (U.S.) truly observes, "nor should be, that inconsistencies, and, I may say, seeming absurdities have become mixed up with the traditions of Masonry, but that there should be no more of them; when we reflect that these traditions have been handed down orally through so many generations." And, he might have added, that it is still more wonderful that, under such circumstances, we have a single grain of truth left to uphold the dignity and integrity of the institution.
"In the Grand Lodge resides the power of making Laws and Regulations for the government of the Craft, and of altering, repealing, and abrogating them, provided that they continue to preserve the ancient Landmarks of the Order." - CONSTITUTIONS.
"It is my opinion that so long as the Master of any Lodge observes exactly the Landmarks of the Craft, be is at liberty to give the Lectures in the language best suited to the character of the Lodge over which he presides. "- H.R.H. THE DUKE OF SUSSEX, G.M.
IN order to ascertain what is the real tendency and end of Freemasonry, it will be necessary to clear the way by a brief examination of the Landmarks, which denote certain standard principles in the general laws, usages, customs, and language of the Order, and were originally established by our ancient Brethren to preserve its identity, and prevent innovation. It has ever been considered essential to the integrity of Masonry that they should remain intact, because, if its leading tenets were subject to periodical changes at the will and pleasure of the Fraternity in every successive generation, its distinctive character, in process of time, might perchance be destroyed; in which case the institution would be denuded of all its fixed and determinate principles. It was fenced round with Landmarks, therefore, to preserve its integrity, and prevent the introduction of unauthorized novelties, which would affect its peculiar claims to consideration in the eye of the world.
In a disquisition on the rise and progress of Freemasonry, it is usual to trace it by means of certain presumed Landmarks through the dark ages, including the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations, particularizing the era of the Dionysiacs, who built the Temple of Solomon, and the Collegiae Fabiorum, both of which were strictly operative; and after noticing the establishment of a Speculative Grand Lodge at York in the tenth century, the theorists proceed to the presumed institution of what is termed on the Continent of Europe the rite of Ecossais, or the Order of H.R.D.M., the origin of which, from tolerably correct evidence, is assigned to King Robert Bruce, as the consummation of the battle of Bannock Burn, which was fought on St. John's Day, 1314. In the course of this inquiry the fable of Osiris and other practices of the heathen mysteries are incidentally mentioned, together with the traditional period when religious rites were first introduced as a speculative feature in the operative Craft.
The genuine Landmarks of Masonry, however, are of a different character, and are susceptible of division into twelve distinct classes, which may be arranged under the following heads: -
1. ELEMENTARY; as in the opening and closing, the preparation and admission of a candidate, the ballot, &c.
2. INDUCTIVE; as in the badge, meeting and parting, the qualification questions, &c.
3. RITUAL; as in the floor and covering of the Lodge, the when and where, the ornaments, furniture, and jewels, labour and refreshment, the porch, dormer, and stone pavement of the Temple, &c.
4. PERSONAL; as the signs, words, and tokens, the principal point, hele and conceal, of, at, and on, the working tools, &C.
5. LANDMARKS CONNECTED WITH THE CARDINAL POINTS; as the form, extent, and situation of the Lodge, the pillars, the lesser lights, the deiseal, hailing from Jerusalem, &c.
6. SCIENTIFIC; as in Masonic labour and refreshment, Geometry, numbers, the vesica piscis, the universal language, worldly possessions, &c.
7. HISTORICAL; as the alliance of Solomon and Hiram, the building of the Temple, Jacob's vision, the deliverance from Egyptian bondage, passing the Red Sea, wandering in the wilderness, crossing the Jordan, &c.
8. TYPICAL; as the legend of the Third Degree, darkness visible, the Shekinah, the Cherubins, &c.
9. DOCTRINAL; as the qualifications of the W. M., oral communication, &c.
10. PRACTICAL; as in the powers of a Grand Lodge, the O.B., moral duties, &c.
11. OBSOLETE; as free by birth, Abraham and Hagar, illegitimacy, the fixed lights, age of a candidate, the original parallels (according to the English system), H. XII. &c.; and
12. SPURIOUS; as the facultie of Abrac, the Preadamites, the cost of the Temple, the amount of wages paid to the workmen, the precious stones in the foundation, &c. Under such a classification a Landmark may be recognized with tolerable accuracy.
The strict inviolability of a Landmark is somewhat problematical. There are certain obsolete particulars in Masonry which were formerly esteemed to be Landmarks, but have undergone alterations in a greater or lesser degree. It follows, therefore, that if the old Landmarks cannot, by any possibility, be removed, then we incur the unavoidable conclusion that these never had a claim to any such distinction. In all existing Constitutions, however, there is a prohibitory clause which pronounces the Landmarks, like the laws of the Medes and Persians, to be unchangeable; (1) but we shall find that in practice it has been occasionally violated, and therefore inapplicable to all the contingencies that may arise in practice.
To persist, then, in asserting that the Landmark cannot be altered, with an array of positive facts against the hypothesis, is indefensible and absurd, because it places the society in a false position. It is well known, that whenever it has been found expedient to expunge a Landmark, the means of accomplishment were never wanting. The letter of the law is stern, but the spirit is feeble. Practice is more than a match for it, and beats it on its own ground. Salus populi suprema est lex.
Now, before I proceed it must be distinctly understood that I neither justify nor condemn the practice of modifying a Landmark to meet a new condition of society; my intention is merely to record historical truth. The question resolves itself into a matter of expediency, of which however the policy is somewhat doubtful; because if that be a sufficient pretext for the renunciation of a single Landmark, who knows but our successors in the course of a very few ages may witness the abolition of them all on a similar plea? The restrictive law of Landmark bears some resemblance to the fiction that the Pope has no authority or jurisdiction in these realms, which, de jure, is correct enough; but yet everybody knows that he regularly exercises both with perfect impunity, by the appointment of cardinals, legates, and bishops; and in effect he allows no important ecclesiastical affairs to be transacted in the United Kingdom without his approbation and consent.
The true state of the case is, that in the actual business of Freemasonry, as it is now understood and practised by the whole Masonic community in all parts of the world, progress is the text, and improvement the commentary. The Grand Lodge, like the British Parliament, is all powerful; for it is a representative institution in which every Brother is present by delegates elected by himself, and there is consequently no appeal against its decisions, even if a majority were to agree on a general sweep from the system of every existing Landmark, whether of ancient or modern imposition. Other Masonic communities might protest against the innovation, but the English Fraternity would be utterly powerless either to prevent it or to apply a remedy. It is true such a comprehensive measure is very unlikely to occur; yet it cannot be denied that the Landmarks appear to be considered merely as a series of arbitrary boundary lines, which, when they obstruct the ever-flowing current of progress, are to be levelled in detail, if expediency suggests the necessity of their removal. And so they might disappear, and become obsolete one by one, till the Fraternity of, another generation would forget that they ever existed.
General laws, as I have already had occasion to observe, are inviolable, and reputed in theory to constitute impervious Landmarks, because they enforce the observance of some moral virtue, while particular and local laws admit of alteration and revision when necessary; but if, in carrying out these principles, any Grand Lodge for the sake of expediency does actually proceed to the ultima Thule of removing one Landmark and altering another at its own will and pleasure, why retain a prohibition on the Masonic Statute Book, which may thus be violated with impunity whenever a majority shall so ordain? A great deal might be said on this subject if it were necessary; but I have some doubts as to the propriety of entering on a field of argument when the object of these Lectures is simply to make a plain statement of facts as they are connected with the existing system of practice. It is a general opinion amongst the Craft that in the present state of Masonic progress, it ought not to be impeded by hypothetical obstructions; and many worthy Brethren contend that the Order would be benefited by a free and ample discussion of first principles, unshackled by imaginary precedence in any possible form. "Let it once be understood what are Landmarks and what are not," they say, "and all objections will be for ever silenced. But until some such general agreement amongst the several Grand Lodges of the world be accomplished, we are grovelling in darkness, and all our boasted accessions of light are no better than the glimmerings of reason compared with the full blaze of divine revelation."
If there be anomalies, these Brethren urge, let them be swept away; but to persist with such pertinacity from age to age in the fiction that Landmarks are unalterable, with certain irrefragable facts before us to repudiate the assertion, is unworthy of a great institution. We live in an age of reform, and if there be anything in Freemasonry that needs excision, the sooner the Grand Lodge take the bull by the horns the better. Malus uses abolendus est. H.R.H. the late Grand Master, whose authority on this subject will scarcely be questioned by any living Mason, contended that "obedience, however vigorously observed, does not prevent us from investigating the inconvenience of laws which at the time they were framed may have been prudent, and even necessary; but now, from a total change of circumstances and events, may have become unjust, oppressive, and useless. Justinian declares that he violates the law who, confining himself to the, letter, acts contrary to the spirit of it."
If the above reasoning be sound, these conclusions will be clearly deducible from it. Freemasonry is evidently in a state of transition. If what are usually esteemed Landmarks offer an obstacle to its onward progress; if they clog and imperil the institution, or apply solely to another phase of society, there is no valid reason, in the opinion of the late Grand Master, why they should not give way when the interests of the Craft require it. And it is evident that the Fraternity in the last century entertained a somewhat similar opinion. It will not do to be continually tinkering; stopping one hole and making two. A comprehensive scheme of reform is of more value than a thousand pieces of patchwork. Let the question be settled at once and for ever. Either wholly draw aside the veil or let it not be touched. Name the Landmarks that are unalterable, and make it penal to violate them; and then it may be truly said, that " it is not in the power of any man or body of men to make any alteration or innovation in the, body of Masonry." In such case we may have some chance of avoiding litigation, for our own time at least.
1. But the question is, in what sense we are to understand the immutability of these ancient laws. Dr. Clark has a judicious observation, which I quote, as bearing in some degree on the subject under discussion. "I do not think," he observes, "that this law is to be understood so as to imply that whatever laws or ordinances the Medes and Persians once enacted, they never changed them. This would argue extreme folly in legislators in any country. Nothing more appears to be meant than that the decree should be enacted, written, and registered according to the legal. forms among the Medes and Persians; and this one to be made absolute for thirty days. The laws were such among this people that, when once passed with the usual formalities, the king could not change them at his owns will. This is the utmost that can be meant by the law of the Medes and Persians that could not be changed." If we substitute Grand Master for king, this may, perhaps, be the utmost latitude which the Grand Lodge of England assigns to the word "unalterable," as applied to the Landmarks of Masonry.
"The sciences in which the Arabs made original discoveries, and in which, neat after the Greeks, they have been the instructors of the moderns, were mathematics, astronomy, astrology, medicine, materia medics, and chemistry. Now, it is very possible that from the Arabs may have originally proceeded the conceit of physical mysteries without the aid of magic, such as the art of gold-making, the invention of a panacea, the philosopher's atone, and other chimæras of alchemy which afterwards haunted the heads of the Rosicrucians and the elder Freemasons." -DE QUINCEY.
"That in Freemasonry there is neither magic, theurgic, nor theosophy, is well known to every brother; but, alas! there is too much reason to believe that in former ages these vagaries of the mind were thought to be found amongst us. Under the hieroglyphics of our royal art many have sought for that secret which, like the possession of Solomon's seal, would enable them to govern the world of spirits." - GADICKE.
OUR continental Brethren in the eighteenth century were disposed to reject the hypothesis which traces Freemasonry as a science back to the building of King Solomon's Temple. And I think they were correct in principle, although they erroneously endeavoured to substantiate their opinions by the use of a series of spurious Landmarks which had no existence but in their own imagination. With this end in view they contended that its pristine design, as a mediaeval institution of no higher antiquity than the advent of the Stuart family in England, was to further the purpose of the Rosicrucians, and to regenerate the world by means of the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life, which constituted the visionary Landmarks on which the theory was founded.
They also taught that in furtherance of this plan, a few learned Englishmen embraced the doctrine promulgated by Lord Bacon in his new Atlantis, in which he assumed that a certain monarch built a magnificent edifice at Bensalem (Jerusalem), which he called Solomon's Temple, and formed themselves into an exclusive society for the purpose of following out the principle, which was the origin of the Royal Society. That, in addition to this, another institution was at length established for a similar purpose, which differed essentially from the former, and consisted principally of men who expected to attain a knowledge of the occult secrets of nature by alchemical operations; amongst whom were Elias Ashmole, Lily, and others, who had some preliminary meetings at Warrington, on the pretence of reconstructing, in a symbolical manner, Bacon's visionary Temple of Solomon. For this purpose they erected a pair of emblematical pillars, which they called the pillars of Hermes, and thence advancing by a ladder of seven steps to a chequered pavement, they exhibited symbols of the creation, the secrets of which it was their aim and purpose to fathom.
To conceal their mysterious meetings they procured admission into the Masons' company in London, and assumed the denomination of Freemasons, and adopted the implements of operative labour as their chief symbols. And, as most of its members were strongly opposed to the principles of Puritanism, their meetings, though ostensibly intended for scientific investigations, were secretly directed to the purpose of restoring Charles II. to the throne of England after the execution of his father. With a further view to secrecy they assumed the denomination of SONS OF A BEREFT WIFE, in allusion to the widowed queen; bewailed the death of their murdered master, and adopted a sign of recognition to commemorate that tragical occurrence. They further sought for the recovery of a LOST WORD, meaning the legitimate title of king, then lost to the nation. At a later period, as their histories tell us, the character of the institution underwent a radical change by the intervention of Sir Christopher Wren, and assumed its present position of morality, charity, and truth. (1)
It will be unnecessary to comment on this absurd attempt to explain the origin and design of Freemasonry by a reference to any political movement, although it undoubtedly constituted the specious will-o'-the-wisp by which many well-intentioned antimasons have been misled, and induced to ascribe the invention of Masonry to the Rosicrucians, instead of the Cyclopean builders of antiquity and their successors, the FREE AND MASTER MASONS, who erected those superb monuments of high art, - the churches and cathedrals of the mediæval era.
From the above hypothesis originated that spurious Masonic figment, called " The Facultie of Abrac," which is traditionally asserted to be a veritable Landmark of ancient Masonry. Professor Robison, in his Proofs, connects Freemasonry with the schisms in the Christian Church at the beginning of the last century; and truly asserts that the Jesuits, into whose hands it had fallen at that period, used it as a convenient engine for the furtherance of their designs, and to maintain their secret influence in society; for which purpose they altered the Landmarks and introduced many innovations, both in the letter and spirit of the Institution. It was further disturbed by the mystical dreams of Jacob Behmen, and Swedenborg; by the fanatical doctrines of Pascal, Pernetti, Knigge, and a host of Continental reformers; by magicians, magnetizers, and exorcists, of whom Mesmer and Cagliostro were the types: all of whom pretended to understand the mysterious facultie of Abrac.
A few years later the court of Rome found it their interest to denounce Freemasonry; and a papal edict, which was issued in 1739, accused and condemned the brotherhood for practising "occult secrets and forbidden arts;" referring to the spurious Landmarks just mentioned, which were partly introduced by themselves: - "the search for a universal menstruum to convert the baser metals into gold; together with the elixir of life and the philosopher's stone;" (2) as if the papacy was determined that none but priests of their own hierarchy should pursue the study of science or the practice of natural philosophy. And it appears rather unaccountable that even if some of the fraternity, in an age of ignorance and superstition, did exhibit a propensity to trace the secrets of nature to their source, which is by no means improbable, the order should have been denounced and proscribed by those very ecclesiastical authorities who themselves, according to competent evidence, pretended to perform miraculous acts that exceed the ordinary power of nature or the faculties of uninspired men. I am ready to admit that the primitive, Masons (although they never claimed such miraculous attainments, yet), by reason of their marvellous productions in the science of architecture, were thought by the ignorant world to possess supernatural powers. Nor is it surprising that they should have adopted that mistaken opinion, for it is analogous to the experience of all ages. "There was a time," says the eloquent Bishop Watson, in his answer to Gibbon, "when no one was acquainted with the laws of magnetism, which suspend in many instances the laws of gravitation; nor can I see, upon the principle in question, how the rest of mankind could have credited the testimony of their first discoverer, and yet to have rejected it would have been to reject the truth."
Our worthy Brother Preston appears to have been a believer in the mystical attainments of our ancient brethren. In his observations on Locke's commentary on an ancient Masonic manuscript, he says, "His being in the dark concerning the meaning of the facultie of Abrac, I am not surprised at, nor can I conceive how he could otherwise be. Abrac is an abbreviation of the word Abracadabra. In the days of ignorance and superstition that word had a magical signification, but the explanation of it is now lost. Our celebrated annotator has taken notice of the Masons having the art of working miracles and foresaying things to come. But this was certainly not the least important of their doctrines; hence astrology was admitted as one of the arts which they taught; and the study of it was warmly recommended in former times."
1. See more of this in the Freemasons' Magazine for December, 1853.
2. An old Masonic manuscript ritual in my possession contains this curious question, - "How do you explain the philosopher's stone?" - which is thus curiously answered: - "Adam, when in Paradise, was filled with the holy spirit of God; but, by transgressing the divine command, he lost that essence, and the substitute was to walk in God's anger and wrath; yet God, in his mercy, in order to restore that essence, became man, that be might bring us again into the Sanctum Sanctorum. Thus the second Adam was the philosopher's stone that Adam lost, and it can only be found by those who are regenerated by his spirit." I believe, however, that this illustration is an extract from some of the Theosophic Lectures which were used on the continent of Europe in the last century.
"St. Alban loved Masons well, and cherished them much. He obtained of the king a charter, enabling them to hold a general council, and gave it the name of assembly, and was thereat himself as Grand Master, and helped to make Masons, and gave them good charges and regulations." – ANCIENT RECORD.
"Although the ancient records of the Brotherhood in England were many of them destroyed or lost in the wars of the Saxons and Danes, yet King Athelatan encouraged many Masons from France, who brought with them the charges and regulations of the Lodges preserved since the Roman times." - OLD CONSTITUTIONS.
IT is a question of great importance whether any of those articles and points which were promulgated in the tenth century by a Grand Convention of Masons, holden in the city of York, have been repealed, mitigated, or extinguished in modem times with the concurrence of any Grand Lodge; and whether the judicious pruning of a Landmark to meet the exigencies of modern progress, is to be considered a breach of the prohibitory law which forbids its entire abrogation.
The fiction about the unalterable character of the Landmarks appears, in some respects, to be of a similar nature to that which was urged in the British House of Commons, before Sir C. Cresswell's mission commenced, respecting the indissolubility of marriage, although every speaker on both sides knew very well that it was not a sound proposition, because instances of divorce were even then not uncommon, and have been so from time immemorial. In like manner the Landmarks of Masonry in theory are pronounced unalterable, while in practice some of them have been changed or abrogated at various periods, if their claims to the honour of being bonâ fide Landmarks can be satisfactorily established. It is, however, doubtful whether there be a single Landmark in Masonry of any importance that would not, on an urgent emergency, be willingly repudiated by some of our Brethren to serve a temporary purpose; because on every occasion when the mitigation of a Landmark has been proposed to meet the increasing intelligence of the times, individual Brethren have facilitated the movement, as we have seen in our third Lecture, by ignoring its claims to such a distinction. The adversaries of Masonry dogmatically assert as a well-established fact, that very considerable alterations have taken place in the Landmarks at different periods. "The Masonic orders," according to the testimony of De Quincey, "were not originally at all points what they are now; they have passed through many changes and modifications; and no inconsiderable part of their symbolic system, &c. has been the product of succeeding generations."
The question, therefore, presents itself to our notice, whether any of the Landmarks of the order have been infringed and become obsolete, as this writer imagines. This will form a prominent subject of discussion in some future lecture, and I shall carefully, examine the evidences pro and con, and endeavour to solve the problem on the surest and most irrefragable testimony, viz., a reference to facts which admit of neither contradiction nor dispute. At present I shall call your attention solely to the ancient Gothic Charges, which are designated as permanent Landmarks by Desaguliers, Anderson, Sayer, Payne, and the worthies who formed the first Grand Lodge, and brought about the revival of Masonry at the beginning of the last century. To preserve their integrity unimpaired by keeping them constantly before the fraternal eye, it was strictly enjoined that they should be rehearsed at the Installation of every Master, and that he should be required to give his unfeigned consent to them without hesitation, mental reservation, or self- evasion of mind. The question then is, Have these Charges sustained any alteration?
The following comparison will answer the inquiry
Extracts from the Ancient Charges, A.D. 1723.
I. Although in ancient times Masons were charged in every country to be of the religion of that country or nation, whatever it was, yet it is now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves; that is, to be good men and true, or men of honour and honesty, by whatever denominations or persuasions they may be distinguished.
II. A Mason is a peaceable subject, never to be concerned in plots against the state, nor disrespectful to inferior magistrates. Of old, kings, princes, and states encouraged the fraternity for their loyalty, who ever flourished most in times of peace. But, though a Brother is not to be countenanced in his rebellion, against the state, yet, if convicted of no other crime, his relation to the Lodge remains indefeasible.
III. A duly-organized body of Masons is called a Lodge, just as the word church is expressed both of the congregation and the place of worship. The men made Masons must be free- born, no bondmen, of mature age and good report, hale and sound, not deformed, nor dismembered at the time of their making. No woman, no eunuch.
V. Free and accepted Masons shall not allow cowans to work with them, nor shall they be employed by cowans without an urgent necessity; and even in that case they must not teach cowans, but have a separate communication.
Extracts from the Ancient Charges, as inserted in our present Book of Constitutions, A.D. 1856.
I. A Mason, of all men, should beat understand that God seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh at the outward appearance, but God looketh at the heart. A Mason is, therefore, particularly bound never to act against the dictates of his conscience. Let a man's religion or mode of worship be what it may, be is not excluded from the Order, provided he believe in the G.A.O.T.U., and practise the sacred duties of morality.
II. A Mason is a peaceable subject to the civil powers where he resides or works, and is never to be concerned in plots or conspiracies against the peace and welfare of the nation, nor to behave himself undutifully to inferior magistrates. He is cheerfully to conform to every lawful authority; to hold on every occasion the interest of the community, and zealously promote the prosperity of his own country.
III. Every regular assembly or duly-organized meeting of Masons is called a Lodge. The persons made Masons, or admitted members of a Lodge, must be good and true men, free-born, of mature and discreet age and sound judgment, no bondmen, no women, no immoral or scandalous men, but of good report.
V. Freemasons shall not work with those who are not free without an urgent necessity; nor shall they teach labourers or unaccepted Masons as they would teach a Brother or Fellow.
In these passages (and others of a similar nature might have been added) the alterations speak for themselves, and require no comment. And it may be further observed that, even so early as the revival, an alteration of the Landmarks was publicly announced in these express terms: "In ancient times the Christian Masons were charged to comply with the Christian usages of each country where they travelled or worked. But Masons being found in all nations, even of divers religions, they are now only charged to adhere to that religion in which all men agree," &c. This revision has not only been acceded to by all successive Grand Lodges, but the concluding clause of the fourth charge - "that no number without three Master Masons can form a Lodge," which is in itself an important Landmark, has been entirely expunged. Again, the old charge, vi. 1, says, "As Masons, we are of the oldest catholic religion," &c.; this also has been omitted. And, lastly, not to be tedious on this point, the time of the annual festival has been changed from St. John's-day, as enjoined by the old Constitutions, to that of St. George, and by it the annual communication is now governed.
Now, whether these alterations be improvements or not forms no part of the present inquiry, which relates solely to a question of fact; and rests upon the postulatum already mentioned - whether such corrections be admissible under the clause which prohibits any alteration of Landmarks. The truth is, that how pleasing soever the doctrine of irremovable Landmarks may sound in theory, it is not borne out by practice; nor can it be, amidst the ever-varying changes in manners and customs, and improvements in science and arts; for Freemasonry, to hold its own, must keep pace with the progress of other institutions; and this can scarcely be accomplished without the occasional pruning of antiquated observances to meet the requirements of an altered state of society. For which purpose I shall refer you, in the following Lectures, to the usage of successive Grand Lodges, which have resorted to it under urgent circumstances, not merely in isolated and exceptional instances, but as a general principle and an unquestionable right. In all inquiries it is wise to look Truth steadily in the face; for what benefit can be derived from an argument, if the attainment of truth be not its object and end? And it cannot be denied that several instances have occurred between the year 1717 and the present time in which old Landmarks have been ameliorated by Grand Lodges when any pressing necessity presented itself in favour of the change.
"The number three was an object of great veneration both to the Greeks and Latins, as is evidenced by Theocritus, Ovid, and Virgil. Whether this fancy owes its original to this number including a beginning, middle, and end, and thus signifying all things in the world; or whether to the esteem the Pythagoreans and other philosophers had for it, on account of their Triad, or Trinity; or to its aptness to signify the power of all the gods, who were divided into three classes, celestial, terrestrial, and infernal, - I shall leave to be determined by others." - DR. ANDERSON.
"The reason why Freemasons accompany their toasts with three times three is, because there were anciently but three words, three signs, and three grips." - GERMAN LECTURE.
THE origin of the Triad must be sought for in the remotest period of time. We find it existing at the deliverance from Egyptian bondage; for the Rabbins affirm that the appearance of Jehovah to Moses at the Burning Bush - JEKARAH, MEMRA, SHERINAH, or Glory, Word, Majesty, - was an exemplification of it; and, accordingly, this remarkable event has been embodied in Masonry along with the creation of the world, where the Triad was first exhibited. The ternary number, therefore, is as old as the hills; and, though extensively applied in the system of Freemasonry, the reasons for its adoption are very inadequately explained in the ritual. I shall, therefore, endeavour, in this Lecture, briefly to supply the deficiency. In whatever part of the ancient world we pursue our researches, we find all nations in possession of a Triad, which was usually applied to the sacred object. of their worship. No matter how widely they were separated from each other, - whether settled in Egypt or Ethiopa on the west, China and Japan in the opposite quarter; whether Britain, Scandinavia, or the deserts of Siberia northward, Hindoostan on the south, or amongst the North American Indians, or in Mexico and Peru in the New World, - all used the mysterious Tanga tanga, or three in one, as applied to the Great Creator.
Mankind in all these regions were equally descended from the migrating tribes which departed simultaneously from Shinar to avoid the inconveniences resulting from a diversity of language, and spread themselves over the face of the globe in search of settlements which were congenial to their habits. Now, as any communication between distant tribes was physically impossible in these early times, when artificial conveyances by land or water were unknown, and the interminable forests swarmed with wild and savage beasts, how does it happen that the seventy nations into which ancient testimony divides the primitive world, in accordance with their diversity of dialect, should have exhibited such a uniform identity of thought as to fix on precisely the same number, and not only apply it exclusively to sacred purposes, but also invest it with the desirable attribute of good fortune? It could only have arisen from some principle which was familiar to their ancestors before the planting of nations commenced.
The first system of notation used by the aboriginal inhabitants of all nations was by counting their fingers; and, therefore, if any particular number had been required for an exceptional purpose, it would doubtless have been either five or ten, for preserving a uniformity of enumeration. It is true there were some exceptions to this rule. Aristotle informs us that even in his time there was a nation in Thrace which knew no other arithmetic but the quaternary; and M. Condamine remarks that the Yamsos could only count to three; and in Brasil the people used the Portuguese language to express all numbers above the triad. These exceptions, however, do not solve our problem.
The most reasonable method of accounting for this singular peculiarity will be to revert to the first ages after the flood, when the gregarious descendants of Noah fed their flocks and herds on the same pastures; and though, as population increased, they would be widely spread, as we know they were, yet they still occupied the same region, spoke the same language, practised the same religion, and used the same social customs.
Before any migrations were contemplated the immediate posterity of Noah and his sons lived together on the banks of the Euphrates, and, as is highly probable, commemorated the fearful catastrophe of the deluge by an annual festival. In process of time, mankind began to entertain a veneration for their arkite ancestors, which was speedily converted into gross idolatry, and blended with the antediluvian worship of the Host of Heaven. "As all mankind proceeded from the three families of which the patriarch Noah was the head, we find this circumstance continually alluded to by the ancient mythologists. And the three persons who first constituted those families were looked upon both as deities and kings, and termed the ROYAL TRIAD." (1) Thus the triple offspring of the diluvian patriarch became a divine Triad, resolvable into the monad Noah, or the Sun, at its three remarkable phases of rising, southing, and setting.
Here we have a legitimate account how the veneration for a Triad existed amongst the descendants of Noah; and which, after the confusion of tongues and consequent dispersion from Shinar, permeated every tribe of the erratic builders of Babel, who fled from the face of Jehovah to seek for refuge in distant regions of the earth. The idea, however, was not original, but was evidently derived from some well-known tradition existing in the antediluvian world; for which we can account in no other way than by supposing it was communicated to Adam in Paradise by divine revelation before he transgressed and forfeited the protection of the Most High. And, therefore, the revivalists of our Order, Anderson, Desaguliers, and others, who traced the history of Masonry to the creation of the world (for which, indeed, they had several precedents in Masonic manuscripts preserved in the British Museum, which were written hundreds of years before their time), interwove the principle of the Triad into the system, as it formed a constituent element in every ancient institution that existed in any part of the world.
(1) Bryant, "Anal.," vol. iii., p. 108, the 8vo. ed.
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