The Historical Origins of Freemasonry


This is the most important of all the legends of Freemasonry.

It will therefore be considered in respect to its origin, its history, and its meaning. Before, however, proceeding to the discussion of these important subjects, and the investigation of the truly mythical character of Hiram Abif, it will be proper to inquire into the meaning of his name, or rather the meaning of the epithet that accompanies it.

In the places in Scripture in which he is mentioned he is called at one time (in 2 Chronicles ii., 13), by the King of Tyre, in the letter written by him to King Solomon, Churam Abi; in another place (in 2 Chronicles iv., 16), where the writer of the narrative is recording the work done by him for Solomon, Churam Abiv, or, as it might be pronounced according to the sound of the Hebrew letters, Abiu.

But Luther, in his German translation of the Bible, adopted the pronunciation Abif, exchanging the flat v for the sharp f. In this he was followed by Anderson, who was the first to present the full name of Hiram Abif to the Craft.

This he did in the first edition of the English book of Constitutions.

And since his time at least the appellation of Hiram Abif has been adopted by and become familiar to the Craft as the name of the cunning or skillful artist who was sent by Hiram, King of Tyre, to assist King Solomon in the construction of the Temple.

In Chronicles and Kings we find Churam or Huram, as we may use the initial letter as a guttural or an aspirate, and Chiram or Hiram, the vowel u or i being indifferently used. But the Masonic usage has universally adopted the word Hiram.

Now, the Abi and Abiv, used by the King of Tyre, in the book of Chronicles form no part of the name, but are simply inflections of the possessive pronouns my and his suffixed to the appellative Ab.

Ab in Hebrew means father, i is my, and in, iv, or if is his. Abi is therefore my father, and so he is called by the King of Tyre when he is describing him to Solomon, "Hiram my father;" Abif is his father, and he is so spoken of by the historian when he recounts the various kinds of work which were done for King Solomon by "Hiram his father."

But the word Ab in Hebrew, though primarily signifying a male parent, has other derivative significations. It is evident that in none of the passages in which he is mentioned is it intended to intimate that he held such relationship to either the King of Tyre or the King of Israel.

The word "father " was applied by the Hebrews as a term of honor, or to signify a station of preeminence.

Buxtorf [i] says it sometimes signifed Master, and he cites the fourth chapter of Genesis, where Jabal is called the father of cattle and Jubal the father of musicians.

Hiram Abif was most probably selected by the King of Tyre to be sent to Solomon as a skillful artificer of preeminent skill that he might execute the principal works in the interior of the Temple and fabricate the various utensils intended for the sacred services.

He was a master in his art or calling, and properly dignified with a title which announced his distinguished character.

The title of Father, which was given to him, denotes, says Smith, [ii] the respect and esteem in which he was held, according to the similar custom of the people of the East at the present day.

I am well pleased with the suggestion of Dr. McClintock that "Hiram my father seems to mean Hiram my counsellor; that is to say, foreman or master workman" [iii]

Applying this meaning to the passages in Chronicles which refer to this artist, we shall see how easily every difficulty is removed and the Craftsman Hiram placed in his true light.

When King Hiram, wishing to aid the King of Israel in his contemplated building, writes him a letter in which he promises to comply with the request of Solomon to send him timber from Lebanon and wood-cutters to hew it, as an additional mark of his friendship and his desire to contribute his aid in building "a house for Jehovah," he gives him the services of one of his most skillful artisans and announces the gift in these words: "And now I have sent a skillful man, endued with understanding, my master workman Hiram."

And when the historian who wrote the Chronicles of the kingdom had recapitulated all the work that Hiram had accomplished, such as the pillars of the porch, the lavers and the candlesticks, and the sacred vessels, he concludes by saying that all these things were made for King Solomon by his master-workman Hiram, in the Hebrew gnasah Huram Abif Lammelech Schelomoh.

Hiram or Huram was his proper name. Ab, father of his trade or master-workman, his title, and i or if, any or his, the possessive pronominal suffix, used according to circumstances.

The King of Tyre calls him Hiram Abi, "my master-workman." When the chronicler speaks of him in his relation to King Solomon, he calls him Hiram Abif "his master-workman." And as all his Masonic relations are with Solomon, this latter designation has been adopted, from Anderson, by the Craft.

Having thus disposed of the name and title of the personage who constitutes the main point in this Masonic Legend, I proceed to an examination of the origin and progressive growth of the myth.

"The Legend of the Temple-Builder," as he is commonly but improperly called, is so intimately connected in the ritual with the symbolic history of the Temple, that we would very naturally be led to suppose that the one has always been contemporary and coexistent with the other.

The evidence on this point is, however, by no means conclusive or satisfactory, though a critical examination of the old manuscripts would seem to show that the writers of those documents, while compiling from traditional sources the Legend of the Craft, were not altogether ignorant of the rank and services that have been subsequently attributed by the Speculative Masons of the present day to Hiram Abif.

They certainly had some notion that in the building of the Temple at Jerusalem King Solomon had the assistance of a skillful artist who had been supplied to him by the King of Tyre.

The origin of the Legend must be looked for in the Scriptural account of the building of the Temple of Jerusalem, The story, as told in the books of Kings and Chronicles, is to this effect.

On the death of King David, his son and successor, Solomon, resolved to carry into execution his father's long-contemplated design of erecting a Temple on Mount Moriah for the worship of Jehovah.

But the Jews were not a nation of artisans, but rather of agriculturists, and had, even in the time of David, depended on the aid of the Phoenicians in the construction of the house built for that monarch at the beginning of his reign.

Solomon, therefore, applied to his ally, Hiram, King of Tyre, to furnish him with trees from Lebanon and with hewers to prepare them, for, as he said in his letter to the Tyrian King, "thou knowest that there is not any among us that can skill to hew timber like unto the Sidonians."

Hiram complied with his request, and exchanged the skilled workmen of sterile Phoenicia for the oil and corn and wine of more fertile Judea.

Among the artists who were sent by the King of Tyre to the King of Israel, was one whose appearance at Jerusalem seems to have been in response to the following application of Solomon, recorded in the second book of Chronicles, the second chapter, seventh verse:

"Send me now therefore a man cunning to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in iron, and in purple and in crimson, and blue, and that can skill to grave with the cunning men that are with me in Judah, and in Jerusalem, whom David my father did provide."

In the epistle of King Hiram, responsive to this request, contained in the same book and chapter, in the thirteenth and fourteenth verses, are the following words:

"And now I have sent a cunning man, endued with understanding, of Huram my father's.

The son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father was a man of Tyre, skillful to work in gold and in silver, in brass, in iron, in stone, and in timber, in purple, in blue, and in fine linen, and in crimson; also to grave any manner of graving, and to find out every device which shall be put to him, with thy cunning men, and with the cunning men of my lord David, thy father."

A further description of him is given in the seventh chapter of the first book of Kings, in the thirteenth and fourteenth verses, and in these words:

"And King Solomon sent and fetched Hiram out of Tyre. He was a widow's son of the tribe of Naphtali-and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in brass; and he was filled with wisdom and understanding, and cunning to work all works in brass, and he came to King Solomon and wrought all his work."

It is very evident that this was the origin of the Legend which was incorporated into the Masonic system, and which, on the institution of Speculative Freemasonry, was adopted as the most prominent portion of the Third Degree.

The mediaeval Masons were acquainted with the fact that King Solomon had an assistant in the works of the Temple, and that assistant had been sent to him by King Hiram.

But there was considerable confusion in their minds upon the subject, and an ignorance of the scriptural name and attributes of the person.

In the Halliwell MS., the earliest known to us, the Legend is not related.

Either the writers of the two poems of which that manuscript is composed were ignorant of it, or in the combination of the two poems there has been a mutilation and the Hiramic Legend has been omitted.

In the Cooke MS., which is a hundred years later, we meet with the first allusion to it and the first error, which is repeated in various forms in all the subsequent manuscript constitutions.

That manuscript says:

"And at the makyng of the temple in Salamonis tyme as lit is seyd in the bibull in the iii boke of Regum in tertio Regum capitulo quinto, that Salomoii had iiii score thousand masons at his werke.

And the kyngis sone of Tyry was his master mason."

The reference here made to the third book of Kings is according to the old distribution of the Hebrew canon, where the two books of Samuel are caged the mat and second books of Kings.

According to our present canon, the reference would be to the fifth chapter of the first book of Kings. In that chapter nothing is said of Hiram Abif, but it is recorded there that "Adoniram was over the levy." Now the literal meaning of Adoniram is the lord Hiram.

As the King of Tyre had promised to send his workmen to Lebanon, and as it is stated that Adoniram superintended the men who were there hewing the trees, the old legendist, not taking into account that the levy of thirty thousand, over whom Adoniram presided, were Israelites and not Phoenicians, but supposing that they had been sent to Lebanon by Hiram, King of Tyre, and that he had sent Adoniram with them and viewing the word as meaning the lord Hiram, hastily came to the conclusion that this Lord or Prince Hiram was the son of the King.

And hence he made the mistake of saying that the son of the King of Tyre was the person sent to Solomon to be his, master-mason or master-builder.

This error was repeated in nearly all the succeeding manuscripts, for they are really only copies of each other, and the word Adon, as meaning lord or prince, seems to have been always assumed in some one or other corrupted form as the name of the workman sent by King Hiram to King Solomon, and whom the Freemasons of the present day know as Hiram Abif.

Thus in the Dowland MS., conjecturally dated at A.D. 1550, it is said:

"And furthermore there was a Kinge of another region that men called IRAM, and he loved well Kinge Solomon and he gave him tymber to his worke.

And he had a sonn that height (was called) AYNON, and he was a Master of Geometrie and was chief Master of all his Masons, and was Master of all his gravings and carvings and of all manner of Masonrye that longed to the Temple."

There can be no doubt that Aynon is here a corruption of Adon. In the Landsdowne MS., whose date is A.D. 1560, the language is precisely the same, except that it says King Iram " had a sonne that was called a man."

It seems almost certain that the initial letter a in this name has been, by careless writing, dislocated from the remaining letters, man, and that the true reading is Aman, which is itself an error, instead of Amon, and this a manifest corruption of Adon.

This is confirmed by the York MS., Number 1 which is about forty years later (A.D.1600), where the name is spelled Amon.

This is also the name in the Lodge of Hope MS., dated A.D. 1680. In the Grand Lodge MS., date of A.D. 1632, he is again called the son of the King of Tyre, but his name is given as Aynone, another corrupted form of Adon.

In the Sloane MS., Number 3,848, A.D. 1646, it is Aynon, the final e being omitted. In the Harleian MS., Number 1942, dated A.D. 1670, both the final e and the medial y are omitted, and the name becoming Anon approximates still nearer to the true Adon. In the Alnwick MS., of A.D. 1701, the name is still further corrupted into Ajuon.

In all of these manuscripts the Legend continues to call this artist the son of the King of Tyre, whose name is said to be Hiram or more usually Iram; and hence the corrupted orthography of Amon, Aynon, or Anon, being restored to the true form of Adon, with which word the old Masons were acquainted, as signifying Lord or Prince, we get, by prefixing it to his father's name, Adon-Iram or Adoniram, the Lord or Prince Hiram.

And hence arose the mistake of confounding Hiram Abif with Adoniram, the chief of the workmen on Mount Lebanon, who was a very different person. The Papworth MS., whose date is A. D. 1714, is too near the time of the Revival and the real establishment of Speculative Masonry to be of much value in this inquiry.

It, however, retains the statement from the Old Legend, that the artist was the son of King Hiram. But it changes his name to that of Benaim.

This is probably an incorrect inflection of the Hebrew word Boneh, a builder, and shows that the writer, in an attempt to correct the error of the preceding legendists who had corrupted Adon into Anon or Amon, or Ajuon, had in his smattering of Hebrew committed a greater one. The Krause MS. is utterly worthless as authority.

It is a forgery, written most probably, I think I may say certainly, after the publication of the first edition of Anderson's Constitutions, and, of course, takes the name from that work.

The name of Hiram Abif is first introduced to public notice by Anderson in 1723 in the book of Constitutions printed in that year. In this work he changes the statement made in the Legend of the Craft, and says that the King of Tyre sent to King Solomon his namesake Hiram Abif, the prince of architects.

Then quoting in the original Hebrew a passage from the second book of Chronicles, where the name of Hiram Abif is to be found, he excels it "by allowing the word Abif to be the surname of Hiram the Mason;" furthermore he adds that in the passage where the King of Tyre calls him " Huram of my father's," the meaning is that Huram was "the chief Master Mason of my father, King Abibalus," a most uncritical attempt, because he intermixes, as its foundation, the Hebrew original and the English version.

He had not discovered the true explication, namely, that Hiram is the name, and Ab the title, denoting, as I have before said, Master Workman, and that in, or iv, or if, is a pronominal suffix, meaning his, so that when speaking of him in his relation to King Solomon, he is called Hiram Abif, that is Hiram, his or Solomon's Master Workman.

But Anderson introduced an entirely new element in the Legend when he said, in the same book, that "the wise King Solomon was Grand Master of the Lodge at Jerusalem, King Hiram was Grand Master of the Lodge at Tyre, and the inspired Hiram Abif was Master of Work."

In the second or 1738 edition of the Constitutions, Anderson considerably enlarged the Legend, for reasons that will be adverted to when I come, in the next part of this work, to treat of the origin of the Third Degree, but on which it is here unnecessary to dwell.

In that second edition, he asserts that the tradition is that King Hiram had been Grand Master of all Masons, but that when the Temple was finished he surrendered the pre-eminence to King Solomon.

No such tradition, nor any allusion to it, is to be found in any of the Old Records now extant, and it is, moreover, entirely opposed by the current of opinion of all subsequent Masonic writers.

From these suggestions of Anderson, and from some others of a more esoteric character, made, it is supposed, by him and by Dr. Desaguliers about the time of the Revival, we derive that form of the Legend of Hiram Abif which has been preserved to the present day with singular uniformity by the Freemasons of all countries.

The substance of the Legend, so far as it is concerned in the present investigation, is that at the building of the Temple there were three Grand Masters-Solomon, King of Israel; Hiram, King of Tyre, and Hiram Abif, and that the last was the architect or chief builder of the edifice.

As what relates to the fate of Hiram Abif is to be explained in an altogether allegorical or symbolical sense, it will more appropriately come finder consideration when we are treating, in a subsequent part of this work, of the Symbolism of Freemasonry.

Our present study will be the legendary character of Hiram Abif as the chief Master Mason of the Temple, and our investigations will be directed to the origin and meaning of the myth which has now, by universal consent of the Craft, been adopted, whether correctly or not we shall see hereafter.

The question before us, let it be understood, is not as to the historic truth of the Hiramic legend, as set forth in the Third Degree of the Masonic ritual-not as to whether this be the narrative of an actual occurrence or merely an allegory accompanied by a moral signification-not as to the truth or fallacy of the theory which finds the origin of Freemasonry in the Temple of Jerusalem-but how it has been that the Masons of the Middle Ages should have incorporated into their Legend of the Craft the idea that a worker in metal-in plain words, a smith-was the chief builder at the Temple.

This thought, and this thought alone, must govern us in the whole course of our inquiry. Of all the myths that have prevailed among the peoples of the earth, hardly any has had a greater antiquity or a more extensive existence than that of the Smith who worked in metals, and fabricated shields and swords for warriors, or jewelry for queens and noble ladies.

Such a myth is to be found among the traditions of the earliest religions, [iv] and being handed down through ages of popular transmission, it is preserved, with various natural modifications, in the legends of the Middle Age, from Scandinavia to the most southern limit of the Latin race, long before this period it was to be found in the mythology and the folk-lore of Assyria, of India, of Greece, and of Rome.

Freemasonry, in its most recent form as well as in its older Legend, while adopting the story of Hiram Abif, once called Adon Hiram, has strangely distorted its true features, as exhibited in the books of Kings and Chronicles; and it has, without any historical authority, transformed the Scriptural idea of a skillful smith into that of an architect and builder.

Hence, in the Old Legend he is styled a "Master of Geometry and of all Masonry," and in the modern ritual of Speculative Masonry he is called " the Builder," and to him, in both, is supposed to have been intrusted the super- intendence of the Temple of Solomon, during its construction, and the government and control of those workmen-the stone squarers and masons-who were engaged in the labor of its erection

To divest this Legend of its corrupt form, and to give to Hiram Abif, who was actually an historic personage, his true position among the workmen at the Temple, can not affect, in the slightest degree, the symbolism of which he forms so integral a part, while it will rationally account for the importance that has been attributed to him in the old as well as in the new Masonic system.

Whether we make Hiram Abif the chief Builder and the Operative Grand Master of Solomon's Temple, or whether we assign that position to Anon, Amon, or Ajuon, as it is in the Old Legend, or to Adoniram, as it is done in some Masonic Rites, the symbolism will remain unaffected, because the symbolic idea rests on the fact of a Chief Builder having existed, and it is immaterial to the development of the symbolism what was his true name.

The instruction intended to be conveyed in the legend of the Third Degree must remain unchanged, no matter whom we may identify as its hero; for he truly represents neither Hiram nor Anon nor Adoniram nor any other individual person, but rather the idea of man in an abstract sense,

It is, however, important to the truth of history that the real facts should be eliminated out of the mythical statements which envelop them. We must throw off the husk, that we may get at the germ.

And besides, it will add a new attraction to the system of Masonic ritualism if we shall be able to trace in it any remnant of that oldest and most interesting of the myths, the Legend of the Smith, which, as I have said, has universally prevailed in the most ancient forms of religious faith.

Before investigating this Legend of the Smith in its reference to Freemasonry and to this particular Legend of Hiram Abif which we are now considering, it will be proper to inquire into the character of the Legend as it existed in the old religions and in the mediaeval myths.

We may then inquire how this Legend, adopted in Freemasonry in its stricter ancient form of the Legend of Tubal Cain, became afterward confounded with another legend of a Temple-Builder.

If we go back to the oldest of all mythologies, that which is taught in the Vedic hymns, we shall find the fire-god Agni, whose flames are described as being luminous, powerful, fearful, and not to be trusted."

The element of fire thus worshipped by the primeval Aryans, as an instrument of good or of evil, was subsequently personified by the Greeks: the Vedic hymns, referring to the continual renovation of the flame, as it was fed by fuel, called it the fire-god Agni; also Gavishtha, that is, the ever young.

From this the Greeks got their Hephaestus, the mighty workman, the immortal smith who forged the weapons of the gods, and, at the prayer of Thetis, fabricated the irresistible armor of Achilles.

The Romans were indebted to their Aryan ancestors for the same idea of the potency of fire, and personified it in their Vulcan, a name which is evidently derived from the Sanskrit Ulka, a firebrand, although a similarity of sound has led many etymologists to deduce the Roman Vulcan from the Semitic Tubal Cain.

Indeed, until the modern discoveries in comparative philology, this was the universal opinion of the learned. Among the Babylonians an important god was Bil-can. He was the fire-god, and the name seems to be derived from Baal, or Bel, and Cain, the god of smiths, or the master smith.

George Smith, in his Chaldaen Account of Genesis, thinks that there is possibly some connection here with the Biblical Tubal Cain and the classical Vulcan. From the fragments of Sanchoniathon we learn that the Phoenicians had a hero whom he calls Chrysor. He was worshipped after his death, in consequence of the many inventions that he bestowed on man, under the name of Diamichius; that is, the great inventor.

To him was ascribed the invention of all those arts which the Greeks attributed to Hephaestus, and the Romans to Vulcan. Bishop Cumberland derives the name of Chrysor from the Hebrew Charatz, or the Sharbener, an appropriate designation of one who taught the use of iron tools. The authorized version of Genesis, which calls Tubal Cain " an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron," is better rendered in the Septuagint and the Vulgate as a sharpener of every instrument in brass and iron."

Tubal Cain has been derived, in the English lectures of Dr. Hemming, and, of course, by Dr. Oliver, from a generally received etymology that Cain meant worldly possessions, and the true symbolism of the name has been thus perverted. The true derivation is from kin, which, says Gesenius, has the especial meaning to forge iron, whence comes Kain, a spear or lance, an instrument of iron that has been forged.

In the cognate Arabic it is Kayin.

"This word," says Dr. Goldziher in his work on Mythology Among the Hebrews:

"which with other synonymous names of trades occurs several times on the so-called Nabatean Sinaitic inscriptions, signifies Smith, maker of agricultural implements [v] and has preserved this meaning in the Arabic Kayin and the Aramaic kinaya, whilst in the later Hebrew it was lost altogether, being probably suppressed through the Biblical attempt to derive the proper name Cain etymologically from kana, " to gain." Here it is that Hemming and Oliver got their false symbolism of "worldly possessions."

Goldziher attempts to identify mythologically Cain the fratricide with the son of Lamech. Whether he be correct or not in his theory, it is at least a curious coincidence that Cain, which I have shown to mean a smith, should have been the first builder of a city, and that the same name should have been assigned to the first forger of metals, while the old Masonic Legend makes the master smith, Hiram of Tyre, also the chief builder of Solomon.

It will, I think, be interesting to trace the progress of the myth which has given in every age and every country this prominent position among artisans to the smith.

Hephaestus, or Vulcan, kindling his forges in the isle of Lemnos, and with his Cyclops journeymen beating out and shaping and welding the red-hot iron into the forms of spears and javelins and helmets and coats of mail, was the southern development of the Aryan fire- god Agni.

"Hephaestus, or Vulcan," says Diodorus Siculus, "was the first founder in iron, brass, gold, silver, and all fusible metals, and he taught the uses to which fire might be applied by artificers." Hence he was called by the ancients the god of blacksmiths.

The Scandinavians, or northern descendants of the Aryan race, brought with them, in their emigration from Caucasus, the same reverence for fire and for the working of metals by its potent use.

They did not, however, bring with them such recollections of Agni as would invent a god of fire Eke the Hephaestus and Vulcan of the Greeks and Romans. They had, indeed, Loki, who derived his name, it is said by some, from the Icelandic logi, or flame. But he was an evil principle, and represented rather the destructive than the creative powers of fire.

But the Scandinavians, interpolating, like all the northern nations, their folk-lore into their mythology, invented their legends of a skillful smith, beneath whose mighty blows upon the yielding iron swords of marvelous keenness and strength were forged, or by whose wonderful artistic skill diadems and bracelets and jewels of surpassing beauty were constructed.

Hence the myth of a wonderfully cunning artist was found everywhere, and the Legend of the Smith became the common property of all the Scandinavian and Teutonic nations, and was of so impressive a character that it continued to exist down to mediaeval times, and traces of it have ex- tended to the superstitions of the present day.

May we not justly look to its influence for the prominence given by the old Masonic legendists to the Master Smith of King Hiram among the workmen of Solomon? Among the Scandinavians we have the Legend of Volund, whose story is recited in the Volunddarkvitha, or Lay of Volund, contained in the Edda of Saemund.

Volund (pronounced as if spelled Wayland) was one of three brothers, sons of an Elf-king; that is to say, of a supernatural race. The three brothers emigrated to Ulfdal, where they married three Valkyries, or choosers of the slain, maidens of celestial origin, the attendants of Odin, and whose attributes were similar to those of the Greek Parcae, or Fates.

After seven years the three wives fled away to pursue their allotted duty of visiting battle-fields. Two of the brothers went in search of their errant wives; but Volund remained in Ulfdal. He was a skillful workman at the forge, and occupied his time in fabricating works in gold and steel, while patiently awaiting the promised return of his beloved spouse.

Niduth, the king of the country, having heard of the wonderful skill of Volund as a forger of metals, visited his home during his absence and surreptitiously got possession of some of the jewels which he had made, and of the beautiful sword which the smith had fabricated for himself Volund, on his return, was seized by the warriors of Niduth and conducted to the castle.

There the queen, terrified at his fierce looks, ordered him to be hamstrung. Thus, maimed and deprived of the power of escape or resistance, he was confined to a small island in the vicinity of the royal residence and compelled to fabricate jewels for the queen and her daughter, and weapons of war for the king. [vi]

It were tedious to recount all the adventures of the smith while confined in his island prison. It is sufficient to say that, having constructed a pair of wings by which he was enabled to fly (by which we are reminded of the Greek fable of Daedalus), he made his escape, having by stratagem first dishonored the princess and slain her two brothers.

This legend of " a curious and cunning workman " at the forge was so popular in Scandinavia that it extended into other countries, where the Legend of the Smith presents itself under various, modifications. In the Icelandic legend Volund is described as a great artist in the fabrication of iron, gold and silver.

It does not, however, connect him with supernatural beings, but attributes to him great skill in his art, in which he is assisted by the power of magic. The Germans had the same legend at a very early period. In the German Legend the artificer is called Wieland, and he is represented as the son of a giant named Wade.

He acquires the art of a smith from Minner, a skillful workman, and is perfected by the Dwarfs in all his operations at the forge as an armorer and gold smith. He goes of his own accord to the king, who is here called Nidung, where he finds another skillful smith, named Amilias, with whom he contends in battle, and kills him with his sword, Mimung.

For this offense he is maimed by the king, and then the rest of the story proceeds very much like that of the Scandinavian legend. Among the Anglo-Saxons the legend is found not varying much from the original type. The story where the hero receives the name of Weland is contained in an ancient poem, of which fragments, unfortunately, only remain.

The legend had become so familiar to the people that in the metrical romance of Beowulf the coat of mail of the hero is described as the work of Weland; and King Alfred in his translation of the Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, where the author allude,, to the bones of the Consul Fabricius, in the passage "ubi sunt ossa Fabricie? " (where now are the bones of Fabricius?), thus paraphrases the question: Where now are the bones of the wise Weland, the goldsmith that was formerly so famed?" Geoffrey of Monmouth afterward, in a Latin poem, speaks of the gold, and jewels, and cups that had been sculptured by Weland, which name he Latinizes as Gueilandus.

In the old French chronicles we repeatedly encounter the legend of the skillful smith, though, as might be expected, the name undergoes many changes. Thus, in a poem of the 6th century, entitled Gautier a la main forte, or Walter of the strong hand, it is said that in a combat of Walter de Varkastein he was protected from the lance of Randolf by a cuirass made by Wieland.

Another chronicle, of the 12th century, tells us that a Count of Angouleme, in a battle with the Normans, cut the cuirass and the body of the Norman King in twain at a single stroke, with his sword Durissima, which had been made by the smith Walander.

A chronicle of the same period, written by the monk John of Marmontier, describes the magnificent habiliments of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Duke of Normandy, among which, says the author, was " a sword taken from the royal treasury and long since renowned.

Galannus, the most skillful of armorers, had employed much labor and care in making it." Galans, for Walans (the G being substituted for the W, as a letter unknown in the French alphabet), is the name bestowed in general on this skillful smith, and the romances of the Trouveres and Troubadours of northern and southern France, in the 12th and 13th centuries, abound in references to swords of wondrous keenness and strength that were forged by him for the knights and paladins.

Whether the name was given as Volund, or Wieland, or Weland, or Galans, it found its common origin in the Icelandic Volund, which signifies a smith. It is a generic term, from which the mythical name has been derived.

So the Greeks called the skillful workman, the smith of their folk-lore, Daedalus, because there is a verb in their language daidallo, which means to do skillful or ornamental work. Here it may not be irrelevant to notice the curious fact that concurrently with these legends of a skillful smith there ran in the Middle Ages others, of which King Solomon was the subject.

In many of these old romances and metrical tales, a skill was attributed to him which makes him the rival of the subordinate artisan. Indeed, the artistic reputation of Solomon was so proverbial at the very time when these legends of the smith were prevalent, that in the poems of those days we meet with repeated uses of the expression " l'uevre Salemon," or "the work of Solomon," to indicate any production of great artistic beauty.

So fully had the Scandinavian sagas the German chronicles, and the French romances spoken of this mythical smith that the idea became familiar to the common people, and was handed down in the popular superstitions and the folk-lore, to a comparatively modern period.

Two of these, one from Germany and one from England, will suffice as examples, and show the general identity of the legends and the probability of their common origin.[vii]

Herman Harrys, in his Tales and Legends of Lower Saxony, tells the story of a smith who dwelt in the village of Hagen, on the side of a mountain, about two miles from Osnabruck.

He was celebrated for his skill in forging metals; but, being discontented with his lot, and murmuring against God, he was supernaturally carried into a cavernous cleft of the mountain, where he was condemned to be a metal king, and, resting by day, to labor at night at the forge for the benefit of men, until the mine in the mountain should cease to be productive.

In the coolness of the mine, says the legend, his good disposition returned, and he labored with great assiduity, extracting ore from its veins, and at first forging household and agricultural implements. Afterward he confined himself to the shoeing of horses for the neighboring; farmers.

In front of the cavern was a stake fixed iii the ground, to which the countryman fastened the horse which he wished to have shod, and on a stone near by he laid the necessary fee.

He then retired.

On returning in due time he would find the task completed; but the smith, or, as he was called, the Hiller, i.e., Hider, would never permit himself to be seen. Similar to this is the English legend, which tells us that in a vale of Berkshire, at the foot of White Horse Hill, evidently, from the stones which lay scattered around, the site of a Druidic monument, formerly dwelt a person named Wayland Smith.

It is easily understood that here the handicraft title has been incorporated with the anglicized name, and that it is the same as the mediaeval Weland the Smith. No one ever saw him, for the huge stones afforded him a hiding-place.

He, too, was a Hiller, for the word in the preceding legend does not mean "the man of the hill," but is from the German hullen, to cover or conceal, and denotes the man who conceals himself.

In this studious concealment of their persons by both of these smiths we detect the common origin of the two legends. When his services were required to shoe a horse, the animal was left among the stones and a piece of money placed on one of them.

The owner then retired, and after some time had elapsed he returned, when he found that the horse was shod and the money had disappeared. The English reader ought to be familiar with this story from the use made of it by Sir Walter Scott in his novel of Kenilworth.

It is very evident, from all that has been here said, that the smith, as the fabricator of weapons for the battle-field and jewels for the bourdoir, as well as implements of agriculture and household use, was a most important personage in the earliest times, deified by the ancients, and invested by the moderns with supernatural gifts.

It is equally evident that this respect for the smith as an artificer was prevalent in the Middle Ages. But in the very latest legends, by a customary process of degeneration in all traditions, when the stream becomes muddled as it proceeds onward, he descended in character from a forger of swords, his earliest occupation, to be a shoer of horses, which was his last.

It must be borne in mind, also, that in the Middle Ages the respect for the smith as a "curious and cunning " workman began by the introduction of a new clement, brought by the Crusaders and pilgrims from the East to be shared with King Solomon, who was supposed to be invested with equal skill.

It is not, therefore, strange that the idea should have been incorporated into the rituals of the various secret societies of the Middle Ages and adopted by the Freemasonry at first by the Operative branch and afterward, in a more enlarged form, by the Speculative Masons.

In all of the old manuscripts constitutions of the Operative Masons we find the Legendof the Craft, and with it, except in one instance, and that the earliest, a reference to Tubal Cain as the one who " found [that is, invented] the Smith Craft of gold and silver, iron and copper and steel."

Nothing but the universal prevalence of the mediaeval legend of the smith, Volund or Weland, can, I think, account for this reference to the Father of Smith Craft in a legend which should have been exclusively appropriated to Stone Craft.

There is no connection between the forge and the trowel which authorized on any other ground the honor paid by stone-masons to a forger of metals-an honor so marked that in time the very name of Tubal Cain came to be adopted as a significant and important word in the Masonic ritual, and the highest place in the traditional labors of the Temple was assigned to a worker in gold and brass and iron.

Afterward, when the Operative Art was superseded by the Speculative Science, the latter supplemented to the simple Legend of the Craft the more recondite Legend of the Temple. In this latter Legend, the name of that Hiram whom the King of Tyre had sent with all honor to the King of Israel, to give him aid in the construction of the Temple, is first introduced under his biblical appellation.

But this is not the first time that this personage is made known to the fraternity. In the older Legends he is mentioned, always with a different name but always, also, as "King Solomon's Master Mason."

In the beginning of the 18th century, when what has been called the Revival took place, there was a continuation of the general idea that he was the chief Mason at the Temple; but the true name of Hiram Abif is, as we have already said, then first found in a written or printed record. Anderson speaks of his architectural abilities in exaggerated terms.

He calls him in one place "the most accomplished Mason on earth," and in another "the prince of architects." This character has adhered to him in all subsequent times, and the unwritten Legend of the present day represents him as the, Chief Builder of the Temple," the Operative Grand Master," and the "Skillful Architect" by whose elaborate designs on his trestle-board the Craft were guided in their labors and the edifice was constructed.

Now, it will be profitable in the investigation of historic truth to compare these attributes assigned to Hiram Abif the older and more recent legendists with the biblical accounts of the same person which have already been cited.

In the original Hebrew text of the passage in the book of Chronicles, the words which designate the profession of Hiram Abif are Khoresh nekhoshet,- literally, a worker in brass.

The Vulgate, which was the popular version in those days and from which the old legendists must have derived their knowledge of biblical history, thus translates the letter of King Hiram to King Solomon: "Therefore I have sent to thee a wise and most skillful man, Hiram the workman or smith, my father "Hiram fabrem Patrem meum.

Indeed, in the close of the verse in the Authorized Version he is described as being "cunning to work all works in brass." And hence Dr. Adam Clarke, in his, Commentaries, calls him "a very intelligent coppersmith."

The error into which the old legendists and the modern Masonic writers have fallen, in supposing him to have been a stone-mason or an architect, has arisen from the mistranslation in the Authorized Version of the passage in Chronicles where he is said to have been "skillful to work in gold and in silver, in brass, in iron, in stone, and in timber." The words in the original are Baabanim vebagnelsim, in stones and in woods,- that is, in. Precious stones and in woods of various kinds.

That is to say, besides being a coppersmith he was a lapidary and a carver and gilder. The words in the original Hebrew are in the plural, and therefore the translation "in wood and in timber" is not correct.

Gesenius says - and there is no better authority for a Hebraism - that the word eben is used by way of excellence, to denote a precious stone, and its plural, abanim, means, therefore, precious stones. In the same way gnetz, which in the singular signifies a tree, in the plural denotes materials of wood, for any purpose.

The work that was done by Hiram Abif in the Temple is fully recounted in the first book of Kings, the seventh chapter, from the fifteenth to the fortieth verse, and is briefly recapitulated in verses forty-one to fifty.

It is also enumerated in the third and fourth chapters of second Chronicles, and in both books care is taken to say that when this work was done the task of Hiram Abif was completed.

In the first book of Kings (vii. 40) it is said: "So Hiram made an end of dung all the work that he made King Solomon for the house of the Lord." In the second book of Chronicles (iv. 2) the statement is repeated thus: "And Hiram finished the work that he was to make for King Solomon for the house of God."

The same authority leaves us in no doubt as to what that work was to which the skill of Hiram Abif had been devoted. "It was," says the book of Chronicles, "the two pillars, and the pommels and the chapiters which were on the top of the pillars; and four hundred pomegranates on the two wreaths; two rows of pomegranates on each wreath, to cover the two pommels of the chapiters which were upon the pillars.

He made also bases, and lavers made he upon the bases; one sea and twelve oxen under it. The pots also, and the shovels and the flesh hooks and all their instruments, did Huram his father (Hiram Abif) make to King Solomon, for the house of the Lord, of bright brass."

Enough has been said to show that the labors of Hiram Abif in the Temple were those of a worker in brass and in precious stones, in carving and in gilding, and not those of a stonemason. He was the decorator and not the builder of the Temple.

He owes the position which he holds in the legends and in the ritual of Freemasonry, not to any connection which he had with the art of architecture, of which there is not the slightest mention by the biblical authorities, but, like Tubal Cain, to his skill in bringing the potency of fire under his control and applying it to the forging of metals.

The high honor paid to him is the result of the influence of that Legend of the Smith, so universally spread in the Middle Ages, which recounted the wondrous deeds of Volund, or Wieland, or Wayland.

The smith was, in the mediaeval traditions, in the sagas of the north and in the romances of the south of Europe, the maker of swords and coats of mail; in the Legends of Freemasonry he was transmuted into the fabricator of holy vessels and sacred implements.

But the idea that of all handicrafts smith-craft was the greatest was unwittingly retained by the Masons when they elevated the skillful smith of Tyre, the "cunning" worker in brass, to the highest place as a builder in their Temple legend. The spirit of critical iconoclasm, which strips the exterior husk from the historic germ of all myths and legends, has been doing much to divest the history of Freemasonry of all fabulous assumptions.

This attempt to give to Hiram Abif his true position, and to define his real profession, is in the spirit of that iconoclasm. But the doctrine here advanced is not intended to affect in the slightest degree the part assigned to Hiram Abif in the symbolism of the Third Degree.

Whatever may have been his profession, he must have stood high in the confidence of the two kings, of him who sent him and him who received him, as "a master workman" and he might well be supposed to be entitled in an allegory to the exalted rank bestowed upon him in the Lege d of the Craft and in the modern ritual.

Allegories are permitted to diverge at will from the facts of history and the teachings of science. Trees may be made to speak, as they do in the most ancient fable extant, and it is no infringement of their character that a worker in brass may be transmuted into a builder in stone to suit a symbolic purpose.

Hence this "celebrated artist," as he is fairly called, whether smith or mason, is still the representative, in the symbolism of Freemasonry, of the abstract idea of man laboring in the temple of life, and the symbolic lesson of his tried integrity and his unhappy fate is still the same.

As Freemasons, when we view the whole Legend as a myth intended to give expression to a symbolic idea, we may be content to call him an architect, the first of Masons, and the chief builder of the Temple; but as students of history we can know nothing of him and admit nothing concerning him that is not supported by authentic and undisputed authority.

We must, therefore, look upon him as the ingenious artist, who worked in metals and in precious stones, who carved in cedar and in olive-wood, and thus made the ornaments of the Temple.

He is only the Volund or Wieland of the olden legend, changed, by a mistaken but a natural process of transmuting traditions, from a worker in brass to a worker in stone.

[i] "Lexicon Talmudicum."

[ii] "Cylopaedia of Biblical Literature."

[iii] "Cyclopeadia of Biblical, Theological, and Classical Literature."

[iv] "Vala, one of the names of Indra, in the Aryan mythology, is traced," says Mr. Cox, "through the Teutonic lands until we reach the cave of Wayland Smith, in Warwickshire." "Myhtology of the Aryan Nations," vol., p. 326

[v] He confines the expression to "agricultural" to enforce a particular theory then under consideration. He might correctly have been more general and included all other kinds of implements, warlike and mechanical as well as agricultural.

[vi] All these smiths of mythology and folk-lore are represented as being lame, like Hephaestus, who broke his leg in falling from heaven.

[vii] For many of the details of these two legends, as well as for much that has already been said of the mythological smith of the Middle Ages, I have been indebted to the learned Dissertation of M.M. Depping and Michel. It has been ably translated from the French, with additions by Mr. S.W. Singer, London, 1847.

"If I have seen further than
others, it is by standing
upon the shoulders of giants."


Comasonic Logo

Co-Masonry, Co-Freemasonry, Women's Freemasonry, Men and Women, Mixed Masonry

Copyright © 1975-2024 Universal Co-Masonry, The American Federation of Human Rights, Inc. All Rights Reserved.