The Historical Origins of Freemasonry


In reality, there is no Legend of Noah to be found in any of the Masonic Rituals.

There is no myth, like that of Enoch or Euclid, which intimately connects him with the legendary history of the institution. And yet the story of his life has exercised a very important influence in the origin and the development of the principles of Speculative Masonry.

Dr. Oliver has related a few traditions of Noah which, he says, are Masonic, but they never had any general acceptance among the Craft, as they are referred to by no other writer, and, if they ever existed, are now happily obsolete.

The influence of Noah upon Masonic doctrine is to be traced to the almost universal belief of men in the events of the deluge, and the consequent establishment in many nations of a system of religion known to ethnologists as the "Arkite worship." Of this a brief notice must be taken before we can proceed to investigate the connection of the name of Noah with Speculative Masonry.

The character and the actions of Noah are to be looked upon from a twofold standpoint, the historic and the legendary. The historic account of Noah is contained in portions of the sixth and seventh chapters in the Book of Genesis, and are readily accessible to every reader, with which, however, they must already be very familiar.

The legendary account is to be found in the almost inexhaustible store of traditions which are scattered among almost all the nations of the world where some more or less dim memory of a cataclysm has been preserved. If we examine the ancient writers, we shall find ample evidence that among all the pagan peoples there was a tradition of a deluge which, at sonic remote period, had overwhelmed the earth.

This tradition was greatly distorted from the biblical source, and the very name of the Patriarch - who was saved was forgotten and replaced by some other, which varied in different countries. Thus, in different places, he had received the names of Xisuthrus, Prometheus, Deucalion, Ogyges, and many others, where the name has been rendered very unlike itself by terminations and other idiomatic changes.

But everywhere the name was accompanied by a tradition, which also varied in its details, of a deluge by which mankind had been destroyed, and the race had, through the instrumentality of this personage, been renewed.

It is to be supposed that so important an event as the deluge would have been transmitted by the Patriarch to His posterity, and that in after times, when, by reason of the oral transmission of the history, the particular details of the event would be greatly distorted from the truth, a veneration for this new founder of the race of men would be retained.

At length, when various systems of idolatry began to be established, Noah, under whatever name he may have been known, would have been among the first to whom divine honors would be paid.

Hence arose that system known to modern scholars as the "Arkite worship," in whose rites and mysteries, which were eventually communicated to the other ancient religions, there were always some allusions to the events of the Noachic flood to the ark, as the womb of Nature, to the eight persons saved in it, as the ogdoad or sacred number-and to the renovation of the world, as symbolizing the passage from death to immortal life.

It is not, therefore, surprising that Noah should have become a mystical personage, and that the modern Speculative Masons should have sought to incorporate some reference to him in their symbolic system, though no such idea appears to have been entertained by the Operative Masons who preceded them.

On examining the old records of the Operative Masons it will be found that no place is assigned to Noah, either as a Mason or as one of the founders of the "science." He receives only the briefest mention in the Halliwell Poem his name and the flood are merely referred to as denoting an era of time in the world's history.

It is only a statement that the tower of Babel was begun many years after "Noees fled." In the Cooke MS. the record is a little more extended, but still is but an historical narrative of the flood, in accordance with the biblical details. In the Dowland MS. and in all the other manuscripts of the Legend of the Craft that succeeded it, the reference to Noah is exceedingly meager, his name only being mentioned, and that of his sons, from whom descended Hermes, who found one of the pillars and taught the science thereon described to other men.

So far, Noah has had no part in Masonry.

Anderson, who, in the Book of Constitutions modified and enlarged the old Craft Legends at his pleasure, calls Noah and his three sons "all Masons true," and says that they brought over from the flood the traditions and arts of the antediluvians and communicated them to their growing offspring. And this was perhaps the first time that the Patriarch was presented to the attention of the Fraternity in a Masonic character.

Anderson seems to have cherished this idea, for in the second edition of the Constitutions he still further develops it by saying that the offspring of Noah, "as they journeyed from the East (the plains of Mount Ararat, where the ark rested) towards the West, they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt there together as NOACHIDAE, or sons of Noah." And, he adds, without the slightest historical authority, that this word "Noachidae" was "the first name of Masons, according to some old traditions." It would have puzzled him to specify any such tradition.

Having thus invented and adopted the name as the distinctive designation of a Mason, he repeats it in his second edition or revision of the "Old Charges" appended to the Book of Constitutions.

The first of these charges, in the Constitutions of 1723, contained this passage: "A Mason is obliged by his tenure to obey the moral law." In the edition of 1738, Dr. Anderson has, without authority, completed the sentence by adding the words "as a true Noachida." This interpolation was reached by Entick, who edited the third and fourth editions in 1756 and 1767, and by Northouck, who published the fifth in 1784, both of whom restored the old reading, which has ever since been preserved in all the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of England.

Dermott, however, who closely followed the second edition of Anderson, in the composition of his Ahiman Rezon of course adopted the new term. About that time, or a little later, a degree was fabricated on the continent of Europe, bearing the name of "Patriarch Noachite," one peculiar feature of which was that it represented the existence of two classes or lines of Masons, the one descending from the Temple of Solomon, and who were called Hiramites, and the other tracing their origin to Noah, who were styled Noachites.

Neither Preston nor Hutchison, nor any other writer of the 18th century, appear to have accepted the term. But it was a favorite with Dr. Oliver, and under his example it has become of so common use that - Noachida and Freemason have come to be considered as synonymous terms.

What does this word really signify, and how came Anderson to adopt it as a Masonic term? The answers to these questions are by no means difficult. Noachida, or Noachides, from which we get the English Noachite, is a gentilitial name, or a name designating the member of a family or race, and is legitimately formed according to Greek usage, where Atrides means a descendant of Atreus, or Heraclides a descendant of Heracles.

And so Noachides, or its synonyms Noachida or Noachites, means a descendant of Noah. But why, it may be asked, are the Freemasons called the descendants of Noah? Why has he been selected alone to represent the headship of the Fraternity? I have no doubt that Dr. Anderson was led to the adoption of the word by the following reason.

After Noah's emergence from the ark, he is said to have promulgated seven precepts for the government of the new race of men of whom he was to be the progenitor. These seven precepts are: 1, to do justice; 2, worship God; 3, abstain from idolatry; 4, preserve chastity; 5, do not commit murder; 6, do not steal; 7, do not eat the blood.

These seven obligations, says the Rev. Dr. Raphall [i] are held binding on all men, inasmuch as all are descendants of Noah, and the Rabbis maintain that he who observes them, though he be not an Israelite, has a share in the future life, and it is the duty of every Jew to enforce their due observance whenever he has the power to do so.

In consequence of this the Jewish religion was not confined during its existence in Palestine to the Jewish nation only, but proselytes of three kinds were freely admitted. One of these classes was the "proselytes of the gate." These were persons who, without undergoing the rite of circumcision or observing the ritual prescribed by the law of Moses, engaged to worship the true God and to observe the seven precepts of Noah, and these things they were to do whether they resided in Judea or in foreign lands.

They were not, however, admitted to all the privileges of the Jewish religion; marriage with Israelites was forbidden, and they were not permitted to enter within the sacred inclosure of the temple. So that, although they were Noachidoe, they were not considered equal to the true children of Abraham.

Anderson, who was a theologian, was, of course, acquainted with these facts, but, with a more tolerant spirit than the Jewish law, which gave the converted Gentiles only a qualified reception, he was disposed to admit into the full fellowship of Freemasonry all the descendants of Noah who would observe the precepts of the Patriarch; these being the only moral laws inculcated by Masonry.

In giving the history of the introduction of the word into Masonry, I have not cited among the authorities the document known as the Stonehouse MS., because it was verified by a person of that name, but more usually the Krause MS., because it was first published in a German translation by Dr. Krause in his Three Oldest Documents.

It is alleged to be a copy of the York Constitutions, enacted in 926, but is generally admitted by scholars to be spurious. Yet, as it is probable that it was originally written by a contemporary of Anderson, and about the time of the publishing of the Constitutions Of 1738, it may be accepted, so far as it supplies us with a suggestion of the motive that induced Anderson to interpolate the word "Noachida " into the "Old Charges."

In the Krause MS., under the head of "The Laws or Obligations laid before his Brother Masons by Prince Edwin," we find the following article. (I translate from the German of Krause, because the original English document is nowhere to be found.)

"The first obligation is that you shall sincerely honor God and obey the laws of the Noachites, because they are divine laws, which should be obeyed by all the world. Therefore, you must avoid all heresies and not thereby sin against God."

The language of this document is more precise than that of Anderson, though both have the same purpose. The meaning is that the only religious laws which a Freemason is required to obey are those which are contained in the code that has been attributed to Noah.

This sentiment is still further expressed toward the close of the " Old Charges," where it is said that the Mason is obliged only " to that religion in which all men agree," excluding, therefore, atheism, and requiring the observance of such simple laws of morality as are enjoined in the precepts of Noah.

Anderson had, however, a particular object in the use of the word "Noachida." The Krause MS. says that the Mason "must obey the laws of the Noachites; " that is, that he is to observe the seven precepts of Noah, without being required to observe any other religious dogmas outside of these-a matter which is left to himself.

But Anderson says he "must obey the moral law as a true Noachida," by which he intimates that that title is the proper designation of a Mason. And he has shown that this was his meaning by telling us, in a preceding part of his book, that , Noachidae was the first name of Masons, according to some old traditions."

Now the object of Anderson in introducing this word into the second edition of the Constitutions was to sustain his theory that Noah was the founder of the science of Freemasonry after the flood. This was the theory taught by Dr. Oliver a century afterward, who followed Anderson in the use of the word, with the same meaning and the same object, and his example has been imitated by many recent writers.

But when Anderson speaks of a Noachida or a Noachite as a word synonymous with Freemason, he is in error; for although all Freemasons are necessarily the descendants of Noah, all the descendants of Noah are not Freemasons.

And if by the use of the word he means to indicate that Noah was the founder of post-diluvian Freemasonry, he is equally in error; for that theory, it has heretofore been shown, can not be sustained, and his statement that Noah and his three sons were " all Masons true " is one for which there is no historical support, and which greatly lacks an clement of probability.

It is better, therefore, when we speak or write historically of Freemasonry, that this word Noachida, or Noachite, should be avoided, since its use leads to a confusion of ideas, and possibly to the promulgation of error.


[i] "Genesis, with Translation and Notes," by Rev. Morris J. Raphall, p. 52

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