The Historical Origins of Freemasonry


Before concluding this series of essays, as they might be called, on the legendary history of Freemasonry, it will be necessary, so that a completion may be given to the subject, to refer to a few Legends of a peculiar character, which have not yet been noticed.

These Legends form no part of the original Legend of the Craft.

There are, however, brief allusions in that document to them; so brief as almost to attract no especial observation, but which might possibly indicate that some form, perhaps a very mutilated one, of these Legends was familiar to the Mediaeval Masons, or, perhaps, which is more probable, that they have suggested a foundation for the fabrication of these legendary narratives at a later period by the Speculative Freemasons of the 18th century.

Or it may be supposed that both those views are correct, and that while the imperfect and fragmentary Legend was known to the Freemasons of the Middle Ages, its completed form was thereby suggested to the Fraternity at a later period, and after the era of the revival.

Whichever of these views we may accept, it is at least certain that at the present day, and in the present condition of the Order, these Legends form an important part of the ritualism of the Order.

They can not be rejected in their symbolic interpretation, unless we are willing with them to reject the whole fabric of Freemasonry, into which they have been closely interwoven. Of these Legends and of some minor ones of the same class, Dr. Oliver has spoken with great fairness in his Historical Landmarks, in the following words:

"It is admitted that we are in possession of numerous legends which are not found in holy writ, but being of very ancient date, are entitled to consideration, although their authenticity may be questioned and their aid rejected.

I shall not, however, in any case, use their evidence as a prima facie means of proving any doubtful proposition, but merely in corroboration of an argument which might probably be complete without their aid.

Our system of typical or legendary tradition adds to the dignity of the institution by its general reference to sublime truths, which were considered necessary to its existence or its consistency, although some of the facts, how pure soever at their first promulgation, may have been distorted and perverted by passing through a multitude of hands in their transmission down the stream of time, amidst the fluctuation of the earth and the downfall of mighty states and empires."

Without discussing the question of their great antiquity, or of their original purity and subsequent distortion and perversion, I propose to present these Legends to the Masonic reader, because they are really not so much traditional narratives of events that are supposed to have at some time occurred, but because they are to be 'considered really as allegorical attempts to symbolize certain ethical or religious ideas, the expression of which lies at the very foundation of the Masonic system.

So considered, they must be deemed of great value.

Their interest will also be much enhanced by a comparison of the facts of history that are interwoven with them, and to certain traditions of the ancient Oriental nations which show the existence of the same Legends among them.

These may, indeed, have been the foundation on which the Masonic ones have been built, the "distortion or perversion " being simply those variations which were necessary to connect the legendary statements more intimately and consistently with the Masonic symbolic ideas.

The first of these to which our attention will be directed is the Legend of Enoch, the seventh of the Patriarchs, of whom Milton has said:

"him the Most High, (Rapt in a balmy cloud with winged steeds) Did, as thou seest, receive to walk with God High in salvation and the claims of bliss, Exempt from death."

I shall first present the reader with the Masonic Legend, and then endeavor to trace out the idea which it was intended to convey. by a comparison of it with historical occurrences, with Oriental traditions of a similar nature, and with the Masonic symbolism which it seems to embody. The legend as accepted by the Craft, from a time hereafter to be referred to, runs to the following effect.

Enoch, being inspired by the Most High, and in obedience to a vision, constructed underground, in the bosom of Mount Moriah, an edifice consisting of nine brick vaults situated perpendicularly beneath each other and communicating by apertures left in the arch of each vault.

He then caused a triangular plate of gold to be made, each side of which was a cubit long; he enriched it with the most precious stones and engraved upon it the ineffable name of God. He then encrusted the plate upon a stone of agate of the same form, which he placed upon a cubical stone of marble, and deposited the whole within the ninth or innermost vault.

When this subterranean building was completed, Enoch made a slab or door of stone, and, attaching to it a ring of iron, by which it might, if necessary, be raised, he placed it over the aperture of the uppermost arch, and so covered it over with soil that the opening could not easily be discovered.

Enoch himself was not permitted to enter it more than once a year, and on his death or translation all knowledge of this building and of the sacred treasure which it contained was lost until in succeeding ages it was accidentally discovered while Solomon was engaged in building, a temple above the spot, on the same mountain.

The Legend proceeds to inform us that after Enoch had finished the construction of the nine vaults, fearing that the principles of the arts and sciences which he had assiduously cultivated would be lost in that universal deluge of which he bad received a prophetic vision, he erected above-ground two pillars, one of marble, to withstand the destructive influences of foe, and one of brass, to resist the action of water on the pillar of brass he engraved the history of the creation, the principles of the arts and sciences, and the doctrines of Speculative Masonry as they were then practiced; and on the pillar of marble he inscribed in hieroglyphic characters the information that near the spot where they stood a precious treasure was deposited in a subterranean vault. 

Such is the Legend of Enoch, which forms a very important part of the legendary history of the High Degrees. As a traditional narrative it has not the slightest support of authentic history, and the events that it relates do not recommend themselves by an air of probability.

But, accepted as the expression of a symbolic idea, it undoubtedly possesses some value. That part of the Legend which refers to the two pillars is undoubtedly a perversion of the old Craft Legend of Lamech's sons, which has already been treated in this work.

It will need no further consideration.

The germ of the Legend is the preservation through the efforts of the Patriarch of the Ineffable Name. This is in fact the true symbolism of the Legend, and it is thus connected with the whole system of Freemasonry in its Speculative form. There is no allusion to this story in the Legend of the Craft.

None of the old manuscript Constitutions contain the name of Enoch, nor does he appear to have been deemed by the Mediaeval Masons to be one of the worthies of the Craft. The Enoch spoken of in the Cooke MS. is the son of Cain, and not the seventh Patriarch.

We must conclude, therefore, that the Legend was a fabrication of a later day, and in no way suggested by anything contained in the original Craft Legend. But that there were traditions outside of Masonry, which prevailed in the Middle Age, in reference to subterranean caves in Mount Moriah is evident from the writings of the old historians.

Thus there was a tradition of the Talmudists that when King Solomon was building the Temple, foreseeing that at some future time the edifice would be destroyed, he caused a dark and intricate vault to be constructed underground, in which the ark might be concealed whenever such a time of danger should arrive; and that Josiah, being warned by Huldah, the prophetess, of the approaching peril, caused the ark to be hidden in the crypt which had been built by Solomon.

There was also in this vault, as in that of Enoch, a cubical stone, on which the ark was placed.[i] There is a tradition also, among the Arabians, of a sacred stone found by Abraham beneath the earth, and made by him the stone of foundation of the temple which Jehovah ordered him to erect a temple the tradition of which is confined to the Mohammedans.

But the most curious story is one told by Nicephorus Callistus, a Greek historian of the 14th century, in his Ecclesiastical Histories. When detailing the events that occurred while Julian the Apostate was making his attempt to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem, he narrates the following fable, but of whose fabulous character the too credulous monk has not the slightest notion.

"When the foundations were being laid, as has been said, one of the stones attached to the lowest part of the foundation was removed from its place and showed the mouth of a cavern which had been cut out of the rock.

But as the cave could not be distinctly seen, those who had charge of the work, wishing to explore it, that they might be better acquainted with the place, sent one of the workmen down tied to a long rope.

When he got to the bottom he found water up to his legs. Searching the cavern on every side, he found by touching with his hands that it was of a quadrangular form. When he was returning to the mouth, he discovered a certain pillar standing up scarcely above the water.

Feeling with his hand, he found a little book placed upon it, and wrapped up iii very fine and clan linen Taking possession of it, he gave the signal with the rope that those who had sent him down, should draw him up. Being received above, as soon as the book was shown all were struck with astonishment, especially as it appeared untouched and fresh notwithstanding that it had been found in so dismal and dark a place.

But when the book was unfolded, not only the Jews but the Greeks were astounded. For even at the beginning it declared in large letters: IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD WITH GOD, AND THE WORD WAS GOD.

To speak plainly, the writing embraced the whole Gospel which was announced in the Divine tongue of the Virgin disciple." [ii]

It is true that Enoch has been supposed to have been identical with Hermes, and Keriher says, in the OEdipus Egyptiacus, Idris among the Hebrews, has been called Enoch, among the Egyptians Osiris and Hermes, and he was the first who before the Flood had any knowledge of astronomy and geometry.

But the authors of the Legend of the Craft were hardly likely to be acquainted with this piece of archeology, and the Hermes to whom, with a very corrupt spelling, they refer as the son of Cush, was the Hermes Trismegistus, popularly known as the " Father of Wisdom."

Enoch is first introduced to the Craft as one of the founders of Geometry and Masonry, by Anderson, in the year 1723, who, in the Constitutions printed in that year, has the following passage:

"By some vestiges of antiquity we find one of them (the offspring of Seth) prophesying of the final conflagration at the day of Judgment, as St Jude tells and likewise of the general deluge for the punishment of the world.

Upon which he erected his two large pillars (though some ascribe them to Seth), the one of stone and the other of brick, whereon were engraven the liberal sciences, etc. And that the stone pillar remained in Syria until the days of Vespasian, the Emperor."' [iii]

Fifteen years afterward, when he published the second edition of the Constitutions, he repeated the Legend, with the additional statement that Enoch was " expert and bright both in the science and the art " of Geometry and Masonry, an abridgment of which he placed on the pillars which he had erected.

He adds that " the old Masons firmly believed this tradition," but as there is no appearance of any such tradition in the old records, of which since his date a large number have been recovered (for in them the building of the pillars is ascribed to the sons of Lamech), we shall have to accept this assertion with many grains of allowance, and attribute it to the general inaccuracy of Anderson when citing legendary authority.

But as the first mention of Enoch as a Freemason is made by Anderson, and as we not long afterward find him incorporated into the legendary history of the Order, we may, I think, attribute to him the suggestion of the Legend, which was, however, afterward greatly developed.

It was not, however, adopted into the English system, since neither Entick nor Northouck, who subsequently edited the Book of Constitutions, say anything more of Enoch than had already been said by Anderson.

They, indeed, correct to some extent his statement, by ascribing the pillars either to Seth or to Enoch, leaning, therefore, to the authority of Josephus, but, equally with Anderson, abandoning the real tradition of the old Legend, which gave them to the children of Lamech.

It is, I think, very evident that the Legend of Enoch was of Continental origin, and I am inclined conjecturally to assign its invention to the fertile genius of the Chevalier Ramsay, the first fabricator of high degrees, or to some of his immediate successors in the manufactory of Masonic Rites.

Ramsay was too learned a man to be ignorant of the numerous Oriental traditions, Arabic, Egyptian, and Rabbinical, concerning Enoch, that had been long in existence. Of this we have evidence in a very learned work on The Philosophical Principles of Natural and Revealed Religion, published by him in 1749.

In this work [iv] he refers to the tradition extant in all nations, of a great man or legislator who was the first author of sacred symbols and hieroglyphics, and who taught the people their sacred mysteries and religious rites.

This man, he says, was, among the Phoenicians, Thaut; the Greeks, Hermes; the Arabians, Edris.

But he must have known that Thaut, Hermes, and Edris were all synonymous of Enoch, for he admits that " all these lived some time before the universal deluge, and they were all the same man, and consequently some antediluvian patriarch."

And, finally, he adds that "some think that this antediluvian patriarch was Enoch himself" And then he presents, in the following language, those views which most probably supplied the suggestions that were afterward developed by himself, or some of his followers, in the full form of the Masonic legend of Enoch.

"Whatever be in these conjectures," says Ramsay, " it is certain, from the principles laid down, that the antediluvian or Noevian patriarches ought to have taken some surer measures for transmitting the knowledge of divine truths to their posterity, than by oral tradition, and, consequently, that they either invented or made use of hieroglyphics or symbols to preserve the memory of these sacred truths." And these he calls the Enochian symbols.

He does not, indeed, make any allusion to a secret depository of these symbols of Enoch, and supposes that they must have been communicated to the sons of Noah and their descendants, though in time they lost their true meaning.

But the change made in the Masonic Legend was necessary to adapt it to a peculiar system of ritualism.

It is singular how Enoch ever became among the ancients a type of the mysteries of religion. The book of Genesis devotes only three short verses to an account of him, and nothing is there said of him, his deeds, or his character, except an allusion to his piety.

The Oriental writers, however, abound in traditionary tales of the learning of the Patriarch. One tradition states that God bestowed upon him the gift of knowledge, and that he received thirty volumes from Heaven, filled with all the secrets of the most mysterious sciences.

The Babylonians supposed him to have been intimately acquainted with the nature of the stars, and they attribute to him the invention of astrology. The Jewish Rabbis maintained that he was taught by Adam how to sacrifice and to worship the Deity aright.

The Cabalistic book of Raziel says that he received the divine mysteries through the direct line of the preceding Patriarchs. Bar Hebraeus, a Jewish writer, asserts that Enoch was the first who invented books and writing; that he taught men the art of building cities-thus evidently confounding him with another Enoch, the son of Cain that he discovered the knowledge of the Zodiac and the course of the stars; and that he inculcated the worship of God by religious rites.

There is a coincidence in the sacred character thus bestowed upon Enoch with his name and the age at which he died, and this may have had something to do with the mystical attributes bestowed upon him by the Orientalists.

The word Enoch signifies, in the Hebrew, initiated or consecrated, and would seem, as all Hebrew names are significant, to have authorized, or, perhaps, rather suggested the idea of his connection with a system of initiation into sacred rites.

He lived, the Scriptures say, three hundred and sixty-five years. This, too, would readily be received as having a mystical meaning, for 365 is the number of the days in a solar year and was, therefore, deemed a sacred number.

Thus we have seen that the letters of the mystical word Abraxas, which was the Gnostic name of the Supreme Deity, amounted, according to their numerical value in the Greek alphabet, to 365, which was also the case with Mithras, the god to whom the Mithraic mysteries were dedicated.

And this may account for the statement of Bar Hebraeus that Enoch appointed festivals and sacrifices to the sun at the periods when that luminary entered each of the zodiacal signs.

Goldziher, one of the latest of the German ethnologists, has advanced a similar idea in his work on Mythology Among the Hebrews. He says:

"The solar character of Enoch admits of no doubt.

He is brought into connection with the buildingof towns-a solar feature.

He lives exactly three hundred and sixty-five years, the number of days of the solar year; which can not be accidental.

And even then he did not die, but Enoch walked with Elohim, and was no more (to be seen), for Elohim took him away.' In the old times when the figure of Enoch was imagined, this was doubtless called Enoch's Ascension to heaven, as in the late traditional legends Ascensions to heaven are generally acknowledged to be solar features."' [v]

These statements and speculations have been objected to, because they would tend to make Enoch an idolater and a sun-worshipper.

This is a consequence by no means absolutely necessary, but, as the whole is merely traditionary, we need waste no time in defending the orthodox character of the Patriarch's religious views.

After all, it would appear that the Legend of Enoch, being wholly unknown to the Fraternity in the Middle Ages, unrecognized in the Legend of the Craft, and the name even, not mentioned in any of the old records, was first introduced into the rituals of some of the higher degrees which began to be fabricated toward the middle of the 18th century; that it was invented by the Chevalier Ramsay, or by some of those ritual-mongers who immediately succeeded him, and that in its fabrication very copious suggestions were borrowed from the Rabbinical and Oriental traditions on the same subject.

It is impossible then to assign to this Legend the slightest historical character. It is made up altogether out of traditions which were the inventions of Eastern imagination. We must view it, therefore, as an allegory; but as one which has a profound symbolic character.

It was intended to teach the doctrine of Divine Truth by the symbol of the Holy Name-the Tetragrammaton-the Name most reverently consecrated iii the Jewish system as well as in others, and which has always constituted one of the most important and prominent symbols of Speculative Masonry.

In the Continental system of the High Degrees, this symbol is presented in the form of the Legend of Enoch. From the English system of Ancient Craft Masonry, that Legend is rejected, or rather it never has been admitted into it.

In its place, there is another esoteric Legend, which, differing altogether in details, is identical in result and effects the same symbolism. But this will be more appropriately discussed when the symbolism of Freemasonry is treated in a future part of this work.


[i] Lightfoot, "Prospect of the Temple," ch. xv. 

[ii] Nicephori Callisti "Ecclesiasticae Historiae," tom. ii., lib. x., cap. Xxxiii

[iii] "Constitutions," 1723, p. 3, notes

[iv] Vol. ii., p. 12 et seq. 

[v] Chap v., sect. viii., p. 127, Martineau's Translation. 

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


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