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LEGEND AND ROMANCE
EVERY ancient religion and every ancient society had its heroic age and its mythology; Freemasonry offers no exception to the rule. Toward the beginning of the present century and the end of the cocksure nineteenth, it was a fashion to look back with disdain upon the childlike fancies of the storied past. Nowadays we are less certain that all knowledge can be weighed and measured, or that the laboratory alone can resolve truth into its component elements. We are constantly confronted with the necessity of revising judgments in every department of science, philosophy and religion. Occasionally it happens that some tenet, once held and then rejected, must be revived in the light of more recent information.
In no departments of learning has this necessity become more apparent or been more frequently displayed than in those concerned with historical and literary criticism. Thus it has been found that many a folk tale, trivial in its content, has enwombed the germ of an important discovery. The skilled eye must therefore scan closely the lore of numerous almost forgotten peoples for intimations of their true greatness. When their mythologies are compared one with another,, a scroll not infrequent consequence is the unrolling of a scroll whereon is written an indispensable chapter in the annals of mankind.
Each taken alone, a Greek legend of Apollo, a Persian legend of Mithra, an Egyptian legend of Osiris, or a Norse legend of Balder might be dismissed lightly as a crude invention of barbaric minds, touched somehow with that instinctive feeling for beauty which dignifies and ennobles the human intellect. Taken together, with many another like them, they afford a clew to man's unceasing search for the truth about God, a search which at one time or another invariably leads the seeker's mind to "soar aloft and read the wisdom, strength and beauty of the Creator in the heavens." Apollo is the sun, Mithra is the sun, Osiris is the sun, Balder is the sun, and although each of these pagan deities had other attributes, they belong to a universal solar mythology the existence of which constitutes a set of facts the historian must ponder well if he is rightly to understand the unfolding of human faith.
Similarly it comes about that in considering the tales which have gone into the making of Masonic mythology, the student ought not to underrate their importance. As testimony to literal truth many of them are obviously to be disregarded; but as testimony to what men have believed to be the truth their value is incalculably great. When Herodotus doubted the tale of the seafaring Phoenicians he gave a useful measure of his own knowledge of astronomy. He doubted that tale because by the science of his day the southern limit of the earth was placed at about where the equator is now known to be. It would not be fair to ridicule his understanding because he knew nothing of the southern hemisphere; it would be equally unfair to ridicule the credulity of Masonic writers of the early eighteenth century because they knew nothing of some commonplace principles of modern criticism.
The philosophy of the 1700's had not advanced greatly beyond the limitations imposed by Aristotle; medicine had made little progress since the days of Hippocrates; physics and chemistry were but emerging from the penumbra of hermetic mysticism; men were still gravely debating the dogma of the divine right of kings; deists were questioning the literal infallibility of the Bible for reasons which would seem infantile even to agnostics of today; the science of comparative religion had not yet been born. In claiming antediluvian origins for the Fraternity the wish among eighteenth- century brethren was father to the thought; but before censuring them for an easy faith in what they wanted to believe, allowance should be made for their uncritical times and the nature and character of the source material with which they had to work. When modern writers, with far better means of information, fall into similar and infinitely less excusable errors, it is scarcely astonishing that Anderson and Preston and Oliver made no valiant struggle against the seductions of an attractive romanticism.
Mention has been made heretofore of the Regius Poem, but it is by no means to be supposed that this was the only early Masonic scripture of the kind. It remains the oldest of them, in respect of the time which has elapsed since it was put upon paper, but it bears every evidence of having derived from others still older. Another of considerable antiquity, known as the Dowland Manuscript and dating from about the year 1500, may be regarded as typical of the lore from which Anderson and the others drew their inspiration. Full as it is of anachronisms and historical absurdities, this document is nevertheless of great interest and importance.
According to the Dowland legend, Freemasonry existed before the Flood. It is related that the Israelitish patriarch, Lamech, had two wives, Adah and Zillah. By Adah he had two sons, Jabal, the father of tent dwellers and herdsmen, and Jubal, the ancestor of musicians. By Zillah he had Tubal-cain and a fourth child, a daughter. The four are said to have founded all the arts and sciences, but it is significant that the daughter speedily drops out of the narrative, although it is recorded of her that she instituted the art of weaving. Of the triumvirate of sons - Masonic observers will quickly catch the significance of the number three in this association - Jabal is set forth as the founder of geometry, Jubal as founder of the science of instrumental music, and Tubal - cain as founder of the science of smithcraft in gold, silver, copper, iron and steel.
Having a premonition of the impending deluge, the three brothers, it is related, determined to write their discoveries on two pillars, one of marble which could not be destroyed by fire and one of brick which would resist moisture. The record is somewhat obscure as to the postdiluvian fate of these records, with their data of Masonry, but there are auxiliary traditions that in later centuries one was found by Hermes Trismegistus, the Egyptian priest and scholar, and that the other was found by Pythagoras.
The legend next describes how Masonry flourished after the Flood. Nimrod is listed among its most influential patrons. Masons are said to have been employed in building the Tower of Babel; Abraham and Sarah to have taught its seven sciences to the Egyptians. In Abraham's time it became necessary to find an instructor for the youth of the land and the person to whom this task was assigned was a "worthy Scollar that height Ewclyde." Euclid is represented as having composed for his pupils a charge which in phraseology is strikingly like charges given in medieval operative lodges. Also he is said to have taught them geometry, which now "is called throughout all this land Masonrye."
Coming down to the times of Solomon, the legend discusses the building Of the Temple, the traditional three personages of that enterprise being King Solomon, Hiram, King of Tyre and Aynon, described as the son of Hiram of Tyre. This name is undoubtedly a variant of that of Hiram Abiff, although the builder of the Scriptural account was not a son of Hiram, but the son of a widow of the tribe of Dan; his father had been a certain goldsmith of Tyre. Engaged in the work was one Maymus Grecus, a Greek, who afterwards, it is said, introduced Masonry into France in the time of Charles Martel. The Craft was carried from France to England, where it received the encouragement of St. Alban, but died out after his time, being restored in the reign of Athelstan when Prince Edwin's great assembly of Masons was convoked at York.
The trifling details of implausibility involved in making contemporaries of Abraham and Euclid, of Solomon, Charles Martel and St. Alban, naturally did not trouble the simple workmen who repeated this and similar tales in their medieval assemblies. Such a story satisfied the curiosity of those who believed their fraternal society to be of impressive and continuous antiquity. It carried Freemasonry back to the early generations after Adam, squared it with the major incidents of the Old Testament, identified it with architecture and geometry and accounted for its translation from ancient Palestine to England by way of France. Passed along from mouth to mouth, the legend underwent modifications. Sometimes variants would appear and those possessing two or more versions would attempt to harmonize them; when that task seemed too great, they got around the difficulty by cheerfully including them all, as in the case of the Regius Poem. The hearer could take his choice as to what he would accept, if he could not accept it all.
After the formation of the first Grand Lodge, and especially after the Duke of Montagu became Grand Master in 1721, the Craft became immensely popular. There were notable accessions of members and the newly made brethren, being speculatives almost to a man, clamored for a historical literature reasonably authoritative. Diligent search was made for old manuscripts and particularly for constitutions and charges used in operative lodges. The Reverend James Anderson, a Scot, minister of a Presbyterian chapel in Piccadilly, was appointed chairman of a committee authorized by the Grand Master to prepare a book on the subject. He overshadowed his associates to such extent that they left the task in his hands and he prepared the memorable volume published in 1723 with the high-sounding title, The Constitutions of the Freemasons, Containing the History, Charges, Regulations, etc.., of that most Ancient and Right Worshipful Fraternity. It was described as being "for the use of the lodges" and as being printed at London "In the Year of Masonry 5723; Anno Domini 1723.'
The historical portion of Anderson's book begins with a gay assumption that Adam must have had the liberal sciences, particularly geometry, written on his heart; that he no doubt taught them to his sons, and that they were handed down until they reached Noah, whose ark, though of wood, "was certainly fabricated by Geometry and according to the rules of Masonry." Noah and his three sons, "all Masons true," brought the Art with them across the Flood and handed it on so successfully that it was able to contribute to the building of the Tower of Babel. After the dispersion from that work, brethren carried it into all parts of the earth. Among other celebrities who embraced it was Nimrod. Priests and magi preserved and propagated it throughout Assyria and the neighboring lands. It was transported to Egypt by Mizraim, second son of Ham, and was employed there to control the annual overflow of the Nile.
Other descendants of Ham, this lively narrative goes on to say, made use of the art to build strongholds in Palestine, in South Arabia and in West Africa. Indeed, fortifications built with its aid by the Canaanites were so strong that Jehovah was compelled to intervene before the Israelites were able to overthrow them. Meanwhile the posterity of Japhet had been taking Masonry into the "isles of the Gentiles," and descendants of Shem were transporting it eastward from Assyria into Asia. Abraham was an adept and took Masonry with him to Egypt. Moses, following divine instructions in the erection of the first tabernacle, became "the General Master Mason, " and was "divinely inspired with more sublime knowledge in Masonry." Thanks to him, Israel became "a whole kingdom of Masons, well instructed under the conduct of their Grand Master, Moses."
Having brought his story down to the time of Solomon, Dr. Anderson goes into elaborate description of the building of the Temple under the supervision of King Solomon, Hiram of Tyre and Hiram Abiff. When the task was done, the master workmen scattered into all parts of the world, in every known land teaching their art to the freeborn sons of eminent persons. In this way it reached the Greeks, although chief credit for its propagation among them is given to the researches of Pythagoras, through whose influence "Geometry became the darling study of Greece." Afterwards Euclid gathered up the scattered fragments of geometric science and "digested them into a method that was never yet mended." Ptolemeus Philadelphus, King of Egypt, became a proselyte and ultimately reached the exalted rank of "General Master Mason."
The Romans borrowed Masonry from their neighbors and in time, Dr. Anderson hopefully observes, it is to be "rationally believed that the glorious Augustus became Grand Master of the Lodge at Rome." He supposes the ancient Britons got the art from Rome but lost it in the days of the Anglo-Saxons. It was restored to England by craftsmen sent over by Charles Martel. Encouraged by the later Saxon kings, it maintained a precarious foothold. Athelstan imported many more Masons from France, who took over "charges and regulations preserved from the Roman times." Athelstan's son, Prince Edwin, summoned a council of the Craft at York and a general lodge was constituted, with Edwin as Grand Master. Then Dr. Anderson gives what purports to be an account of the manner in which the institution was preserved down to the time of the Grand Lodge over which Montagu was then presiding.
It is easily perceived that Dr. Anderson had merely taken the old legends, furbished them up, eliminated their more glaring anachronisms, supplied connecting links wherever these were wanting and rewritten the whole into an imaginative, spirited and coherent tale. It probably did riot occur to him that its basic hypotheses were in doubt; it would not have occurred to him to question the literal and historical accuracy of the Pentateuch. He was too scholarly to confuse the periods of Abraham and Euclid or those of Solomon and Charles Martel.. He might attribute those inconsistencies to the garblings of traditions repeated by generation after generation of unscholarly men. Assuming the basic facts to be correct, he could look upon himself as one whose sole function was to reconstruct the story in the light of ripe scholarship. Surely to the just of mind it is possible to ascribe at least that much of sincerity to the worthy dominie and to dissent in his behalf from Hallam's bitter indictment for mendacity.
More than half a century later William Preston opened the third section of Book I of his Illustrations of Masonry - a work destined to long usefulness - with the words, "From the commencement of the world, we may trace the foundations of Masonry." Dr. George Oliver, eager not to be outdone in conferring antiquity upon a society to which he made truly magnificent contributions, asserted in his Antiquities that the Craft "existed before the creation of this globe, and was diffused midst the numerous systems with which the grand empyreum of universal space is furnished."
Unfortunately for the good fame of Masonic scholarship, the credulity of the eighteenth century did not pass with the eighteenth century. Tradition then sealed with the official imprimatur of the Fraternity was destined to survive for many years, during which to question it was to incur an imputation of Masonic heresy. It would be rash to say that it has passed away even yet, although in recent times it has moved in a new direction through developments in archeology, criticism and the science of symbolism.
In 1886 American Freemasonry was deeply stirred by the appearance of a book which even now continues to cause mild astonishment among informed brethren. The title itself was sufficient to make the judicious grieve, for in all its panoplied fulsomeness it read: Sacred Mysteries Among the Mayas and the Quiches 1500 Years Ago: Their Relation to the Sacred Mysteries of Egypt, Greece, Chaldea, and India: Freemasonry at a Time Anterior to the Temple of Solomon. This book was written by Augustus le Plongeon, who undertook to show that Freemasonry was first brought to America from Egypt or Atlantis or some other ancient place twelve millenniums ago, at which time it had already become gray from unimaginable antiquity.
Not to be outdone by the enthusiastic le Plongeon, Dr. Albert Churchward came next upon the scene with his Origin and Evolution of Freemasonry, his The Arcana of Freemasonry and his Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man. It is somewhat hard for a reader to be sure, from perusal of so many thousand pages of closely packed theories, precisely how old Dr. Churchward believes Freemasonry to be. On page 11 of Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man he speaks of "20,000 years ago," and goes on to remark that then, as now, it was scattered over the face of the globe. Elsewhere in the same book he suggests the antiquity as "probably 50,000 years." But in piecing together numerous other references scattered through his latest volumes there are reasons to think that in his heart of hearts Dr. Churchward is inclined to suspect that it must be 600,000 years old - or at any rate that it began to take form that long ago. He thus imparts to the Craft an antiquity which ought to satisfy the most covetous of fancies.
Of all the possible fields of research, symbolism has yielded most readily to the labors of the cultivator. The reasons of this are obvious. Since cults have existed in all lands and ages and since symbolism has invariably been enlisted to perpetuate their teachings, no great exercise of ingenuity is required to see that cults widely scattered in space and time must have hit upon similar basic doctrines and must have employed similar, if not identical, signs and symbols with which to record their teachings. All such cults may be described as a kind of freemasonry, just as Freemasonry may be described as a kind of cult. It is safe to predict that if a group of scholarly innovators attempted tomorrow to elaborate a new Masonic degree and to fashion for it a new system of signs and symbols, they could not create a comprehensive ritual without unconsciously imitating others known somewhere in the world of long ago.
The fallacy of all this sort of thing is that it reasons by analogy alone whereas analogy at best supplies but contributory evidence. This is the kind of thinking which the late Woodrow Wilson described by his picturesque phrase about a "one-track mind." If a more prosy word may be employed, one who thinks in that fashion may be said to possess a "lineal" mind, a mind under compulsion to retrace every given thing to some antecedent point in history.
Working in any historical field, such a mind finds chaos, which it hates as Nature abhors a vacuum. jungles of fact lie all about and it is unhappy if it cannot reduce the confusion to system. It must lay down charts and diagrams, neatly building roads, boring tunnels, erecting bridges. It agonizes over breaches and gaps, reasoning that although such things are they ought not to be. When urged on by uncontrollable enthusiasm or unchastened by proper self-criticism, it finds the temptation to re-interpret all facts in the terms of its own obsession too great to be resisted. Rarely is it inclined to scan closely the authenticity of a bit of evidence which appears to support its theories.
From Anderson to extremists of the modern anthropological school, minds of that type have been particularly attracted by the speculative possibilities of Freemasonry. However they may have differed in other respects they have always had one delusion in common - they have confidently held that there was such a thing as the origin of Masonry. All attempts which have been made to trace Freemasonry in some unbroken line to Solomon's Temple, to the Egyptian mysteries, to the Essenes, to the Druses, to the Knights Templar, to the Gypsies, to the Comacine Masters, to the Rosicrucians or to any of a thousand other suggested sources, have been vitiated by the errors characteristic of the lineally minded historian. He presupposes the untenable theory that a complex cultural development like Freemasonry began with one man or a group of men at one time and in one place and that it remained within the custody of an uninterrupted succession of legitimate heirs.
The historical mind which works laterally as well as lineally is quick to concede that it is beyond the capacity of human intelligence to reduce the tangle of all humanity's past to a single simple scheme of rational progression. It knows well that at best the searcher for truth must rest content with a handful of facts here and another handful there, with gaps, guesses and probabilities in between; that there must be much groping through the dark by aid of working hypotheses and tentative theories, which are to be retained as long as they do work and do explain but must be discarded when new discoveries make them no longer reasonable.
To such a mind the known facts and plausible guesses about Freemasonry indicate that it has unfolded and taken form in pretty much the same general fashion as that which marked other social developments, examples of which are the church and the family. Or, to return to a form of illustration already used in the present work, it finds Freemasonry to be a social Gulf of Mexico into which many river systems, with thousands of tributaries, have emptied themselves. Therefore this type of mind is not disturbed overmuch if unable to trace so many streams back to a single fountainhead.
It is wise for the student to be on guard against the enthusiasms of the single-track mind and against the ambitions of those who have their own systems to set up or wish to demolish the systems set up by others. Freemasonry is a world within itself, going on all the while, busy with countless internal activities, and naturally tending to subdivide into self-determining groups. Here is one which looks upon the institution as primarily a religious society serving as a handmaid to the church. There is one which regards it as a club to further social pleasures. Yonder is one which sees in it a form of theosophic occultism, in custody of some Ancient Wisdom which is to be propagated through the lodges. Another finds in it a form of mysticism, a secret path along which the soul may travel the Way of Divine Union. Still another interprets it as a school for moral and intellectual culture. The protagonist of each group observes the whole institution from the viewpoint of his particular prepossession. He is not to be charged with dishonesty if in writing of Masonic history he deludes himself into the belief that all facts fit into the mosaic of his pet theory, yet it should always be borne in mind that the function of the advocate, of the special pleader, is necessarily different from that of the historian.
The first notably successful attempt to make Masonic history conform to the canons of scientific criticism was made by Robert Freke Gould, originally in his History of Freemasonry, next in his A Concise History of Freemasonry and then in essays contributed to Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. This distinguished soldier, lawyer and scholar, born in Devon, England, in 1836, was made a Mason in Royal Naval Lodge No. 429, Ramsgate, in 1855. Between 1880 and 1882 he published the various parts of his History of Freemasonry. In 1903 he published the Concise History, which, without being an abridgment of the earlier work, reviews and revises some of its important conclusions. Five years after Gould's death in 1915 the Concise History was revised by Fred J. W. Crowe.
These two works together have had a wider reading, have been more often quoted and have plowed more deeply into Masonic thought than any other contribution to Masonic literature since Dr. Oliver's appeared. The significance of this lies in the fact that Gould's fame rests upon his rigid adherence to the canons of historical writing obeyed by scientific historians in nonMasonic fields. His work cuts across the Fraternity's scriptures like a mountain range, dividing them into two distinct categories of before Gould and after Gould, making it now impossible for a self- respecting student to follow the old uncritical habit of accepting every floating rumor as Masonic history.
This man's influence was in a sense institutionalized by the founding in London of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge of Research No. 2076, which, although it was not Gould's "lengthened shadow," and is not in any sense his creation or his creature, nevertheless has during two score years of uninterrupted industry built solidly and permanently into Masonic thought the ideals of historical scholarship to which Gould devoted the latter half of his career. The petition for the warrant of this lodge was signed by nine brethren the list of their names reads, to those who have sat at their feet, like a legend from some storied scroll: Sir Charles Warren, William Harry Rylands, Robert Freke Gould, Adolphus Frederick Alexander Woodford, Walter Besant, John Paul Rylands, Sisson Cooper Pratt, William James Hughan and George William Speth.
A warrant was granted by the Grand Master, under date of November 28, 1884, naming Sir Charles Warren as first Worshipful Master. Owing to the absence of Sir Charles from the country the lodge was not constituted until January 12, 1886. Its by-laws contained a provision that the membership should never exceed forty. Later, at the suggestion of George William Speth, its first secretary, the lodge organized its Outer Circle, through which Masons in all parts of the world have opportunity to procure the published transactions of its deliberations.
In a brief speech at the time of consecration, Sir Charles set forth the purpose of Quatuor Coronati Lodge in one succinct sentence. "This Lodge," he said, "will be the platform where literary Masons can meet together to assist each other in developing the history of the Craft." Seldom has a plan adopted at the inception of such an enterprise been more faithfully or more successfully carried out. From 1886 until today Quatuor Coronati Lodge has continued to publish its yearly volumes under the title Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, now a household word among studious Masons. It is no exaggeration to say that these volumes constitute the most important set of Masonic books in existence and that they set up a standard in the field of Masonic history to which scholarship must conform if it is to maintain its self-respect.
Honest craftsmanship of this kind is slow and laborious, but it is the only kind truly worth doing. It has meant painstaking examination of diffuse and incomplete records. Often it has encountered formidable resistance of obstinate secrecy, resistance firmly rooted in the esoteric character of much Masonic doctrine. Men are naturally persuaded more by their emotions than by reason, and such historical spade-work is in itself anything but emotional. It has been hard to convince many skeptics that Freemasonry has everything to gain and nothing to lose by a scientific appraisal of its records and traditions; that while a few illusions may be lost in the process, it will establish realities infinitely more valuable than the illusions.
Yet that is the truth. Gradually the old mists and fogs are lifting even from the vales; everywhere the strong sunlight of reality discloses the handiwork of patient and sturdy human endeavor. Freemasonry has always been what it is today, a society or societies of men, unequipped with supernatural faculties, unendowed with mysterious gifts of magic, men living out their lives in the human world as other men do, acting always upon their environment and in turn being forever acted upon by it. The Fraternity as it is came slowly and gradually into existence, drew freely from innumerable other human cultures and experiences as all human societies have done. To penetrate to its inward life, and to trace the development of that life from century to century and from place to place, is a discipline in culture that carries within itself its own reward. The history of Masonry is one chapter, written at divers times and often in strange alphabets, of the great history of mankind. It has its Tintagels and Camelots, shrouded in the golden haze of myth and legend; it has its own strong and material edifice, built foursquare to all the winds that blow, the foundations going down to the bedrock of human nature and its soaring towers pointing upward to God.
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