The System, as taught in the regular Lodges, may have some Redundancies or Defects, occasion'd by the Ignorance or Indolence of the old members. And indeed, considering through what Obscurity and Darkness the Mystery has been deliver'd down; the many Centuries it has survived; the many Countries and Languages, and Sects and Parties it has run through; we are rather to wonder that it ever arrived to the present Age, without more Imperfection. It has run long in muddy Streams, and as it were, under Ground. But notwithstanding the great Rust it may have contracted, there is much of the old Fabrick remaining: the essential Pillars of the Building may be discov'd through the Rubbish, tho' the Superstructure be overrun with Moss and Ivy, and the Stones, by Length of Time, be disjointed. And therefore, as the Bust of an old Hero is of great Value among the Curious, tho' it has lost an Eye, the Nose or the Right Hand; so Masonry with all its Blemishes and Misfortunes, instead of appearing ridiculous, ought to be receiv'd with some Candor and Esteem, from a Veneration of its Antiquity.
—Defence of Masonry, 1730
Whatever may be dim in the history of Freemasonry, and in the nature of things much must remain hidden, its symbolism may be traced in unbroken succession through the centuries; and its symbolism is its soul. So much is this true, that it may almost be said that had the order ceased to exist in the period when it was at its height, its symbolism would have survived and developed, so deeply was it wrought into the mind of mankind. When, at last, the craft finished its labors and laid down its tools, its symbols, having served the faith of the worker, became a language for the thoughts of the thinker.
Few realize the service of the science of numbers to the faith of man in the morning of the world, when he sought to find some kind of key to the mighty maze of things. Living amidst change and seeming chance, he found in the laws of numbers a path by which to escape the awful sense of life as a series of accidents in the hands of a capricious Power; and, when we think of it, his insight was not invalid. "All things are in numbers," said the wise Pythagoras; "the world is a living arithmetic in its development—a realized geometry in its repose." Nature is a realm of numbers; crystals are solid geometry. Music, of all arts the most divine and exalting, moves with measured step, using geometrical figures, and cannot free itself from numbers without dying away into discord. Surely it is not strange that a science whereby men obtained such glimpses of the unity and order of the world should be hallowed among them, imparting its form to their faith.100 Having revealed so much, mathematics came to wear mystical meanings in a way quite alien to our prosaic habit of thinking—faith in our day having betaken itself to other symbols.
Equally so was it with the art of building—a living allegory in which man imitated in miniature the world-temple, and sought by every device to discover the secret of its stability. Already we have shown how, from earliest times, the simple symbols of the builder became a part of the very life of humanity, giving shape to its thought, its faith, its dream. Hardly a language but bears their impress, as when we speak of a Rude or Polished mind, of an Upright man who is a Pillar of society, of the Level of equality, or the Golden Rule by which we would Square our actions. They are so natural, so inevitable, and so eloquent withal, that we use them without knowing it. Sages have always been called Builders, and it was no idle fancy when Plato and Pythagoras used imagery drawn from the art of building to utter their highest thought. Everywhere in literature, philosophy, and life it is so, and naturally so. Shakespeare speaks of "square-men," and when Spenser would build in stately lines the Castle of Temperance, he makes use of the Square, Circle, and Triangle:101
The frame thereof seem'd partly circulaire
And part triangular: O work divine!
Those two the first and last proportions are;
The one imperfect, mortal, feminine.
The other immortal, perfect, masculine,
And twixt them both a quadrate was the base,
Proportion'd equally by seven and nine;
Nine was the circle set in heaven's place
All which compacted made a goodly diapase.
During the Middle Ages, as we know, men revelled in symbolism, often of the most recondite kind, and the emblems of Masonry are to be found all through the literature, art, and thought of that time. Not only on cathedrals, tombs, and monuments, where we should expect to come upon them, but in the designs and decorations of dwellings, on vases, pottery, and trinkets, in the water-marks used by paper-makers and printers, and even as initial letters in books—everywhere one finds the old, familiar emblems.102 Square, Rule, Plumb-line, the perfect Ashlar, the two Pillars, the Circle within the parallel lines, the Point within the Circle, the Compasses, the Winding Staircase, the numbers Three, Five, Seven, Nine, the double Triangle—these and other such symbols were used alike by Hebrew Kabbalists and Rosicrucian Mystics. Indeed, so abundant is the evidence—if the matter were in dispute and needed proof—especially after the revival of symbolism under Albertus Magnus in 1249, that a whole book might be filled with it. Typical are the lines left by a poet who, writing in 1623, sings of God as the great Logician whom the conclusion never fails, and whose counsel rules without command:103
Therefore can none foresee his end
Unless on God is built his hope.
And if we here below would learn
By Compass, Needle, Square, and Plumb,
We never must o'erlook the mete
Wherewith our God hath measur'd us.
For all that, there are those who never weary of trying to find where, in the misty mid-region of conjecture, the Masons got their immemorial emblems. One would think, after reading their endless essays, that the symbols of Masonry were loved and preserved by all the world—except by the Masons themselves. Often these writers imply, if they do not actually assert, that our order begged, borrowed, or cribbed its emblems from Kabbalists or Rosicrucians, whereas the truth is exactly the other way round—those impalpable fraternities, whose vague, fantastic thought was always seeking a local habitation and a body, making use of the symbols of Masonry the better to reach the minds of men. Why all this unnecessary mystery—not to say mystification—when the facts are so plain, written in records and carved in stone? While Kabbalists were contriving their curious cosmogonies, the Masons went about their work, leaving record of their symbols in deeds, not in creeds, albeit holding always to their simple faith, and hope, and duty—as in the lines left on an old brass Square, found in an ancient bridge near Limerick, bearing date of 1517:
Strive to live with love and care
Upon the Level, by the Square.
Some of our Masonic writers104 —more than one likes to admit—have erred by confusing Freemasonry with Guild-masonry, to the discredit of the former. Even Oliver once concluded that the secrets of the working Masons of the Middle Ages were none other than the laws of Geometry—hence the letter G; forgetting, it would seem, that Geometry had mystical meanings for them long since lost to us. As well say that the philosophy of Pythagoras was repeating the Multiplication Table! Albert Pike held that we are "not warranted in assuming that, among Masons generally—in the body of Masonry—the symbolism of Freemasonry is of earlier date then 1717."105 Surely that is to err. If we had only the Mason's Marks that have come down to us, nothing else would be needed to prove it an error. Of course, for deeper minds all emblems have deeper meanings, and there may have been many Masons who did not fathom the symbolism of the order. No more do we; but the symbolism itself, of hoar antiquity, was certainly the common inheritance and treasure of the working Masons of the Lodges in England and Scotland before, indeed centuries before, the year 1717.
Therefore it is not strange that men of note and learning, attracted by the wealth of symbolism in Masonry, as well as by its spirit of fraternity—perhaps, also, by its secrecy—began at an early date to ask to be accepted as members of the order: hence Accepted Masons.106 How far back the custom of admitting such men to the Lodges goes is not clear, but hints of it are discernible in the oldest documents of the order; and this whether or no we accept as historical the membership of Prince Edwin in the tenth century, of whom the Regius Poem says,
Of speculatyfe he was a master.
This may only mean that he was amply skilled in the knowledge, as well as the practice, of the art, although, as Gould points out, the Regius MS contains intimations of thoughts above the heads of many to whom it was read.107 Similar traces of Accepted Masons are found in the Cooke MS, compiled in 1400 or earlier. Hope suggests108 that the earliest members of this class were ecclesiastics who wished to study to be architects and designers, so as to direct the erection of their own churches; the more so, since the order had "so high and sacred a destination, was so entirely exempt from all local, civil jurisdiction," and enjoyed the sanction and protection of the Church. Later, when the order was in disfavor with the Church, men of another sort—scholars, mystics, and lovers of liberty—sought its degrees.
At any rate, the custom began early and continued through the years, until Accepted Masons were in the majority. Noblemen, gentlemen, and scholars entered the order as Speculative Masons, and held office as such in the old Lodges, the first name recorded in actual minutes being John Boswell, who was present as a member of the Lodge of Edinburgh in 1600. Of the forty-nine names on the roll of the Lodge of Aberdeen in 1670, thirty-nine were Accepted Masons not in any way connected with the building trade. In England the earliest reference to the initiation of a Speculative Mason, in Lodge minutes, is of the year 1641. On the 20th of May that year, Robert Moray, "General Quarter-master of the Armie off Scottland," as the record runs, was initiated at Newcastle by members of the "Lodge of Edinburgh," who were with the Scottish Army. A still more famous example was that of Ashmole, whereof we read in the Memoirs of the Life of that Learned Antiquary, Elias Ashmole, Drawn up by Himself by Way of Diary, published in 1717, which contains two entries as follows, the first dated in 1646:
Octob 16.4 Hor. 30 Minutes post merid. I was made a Freemason at Warrington in Lancashire, with Colonel Henry Wainwaring of Kartichain in Cheshire; the names of those that were there at the Lodge, Mr. Richard Panket Warden, Mr. James Collier, Mr. Richard Sankey, Henry Littler, John Ellam, Richard Ellam and Hugh Brewer.
Such is the record, italics and all; and it has been shown, by hunting up the wills of the men present, that the members of the Warrington Lodge in 1646 were, nearly all of them—every one in fact, so far as is known—Accepted Masons. Thirty-five years pass before we discover the only other Masonic entries in the Diary, dated March, 1682, which read as follows:
About 5 p.m. I received a Summons to appear at a Lodge to be held the next day, at Masons Hall, London. Accordingly I went, and about Noone were admitted into the Fellowship of Free Masons, Sir. William Wilson, Knight, Capt. Richard Borthwick, Mr. Will. Woodman, Mr. Wm. Grey, M. Samuell Taylor and Mr. William Wise.
I was the Senior Fellow among them (it being 35 years since I was admitted). There were present beside myselfe the Fellowes afternamed: [Then follows a list of names which conveys no information.] Wee all dyned at the halfe moone Taverne in Cheapside at a Noble Dinner prepared at the charge of the new-accepted Masons.
Space is given to those entries, not because they are very important, but because Ragon and others have actually held that Ashmole made Masonry—as if any one man made Masonry! 'Tis surely strange, if this be true, that only two entries in his Diary refer to the order; but that does not disconcert the theorists who are so wedded to their idols as to have scant regard for facts. No, the circumstance that Ashmole was a Rosicrucian, an Alchemist, a delver into occult lore, is enough, the absence of any allusion to him thereafter only serving to confirm the fancy—the theory being that a few adepts, seeing Masonry about to crumble and decay, seized it, introduced their symbols into it, making it the mouthpiece of their high, albeit hidden, teaching. How fascinating! and yet how baseless in fact! There is no evidence that a Rosicrucian fraternity existed—save on paper, having been woven of a series of romances written as early as 1616, and ascribed to Andreae—until a later time; and even when it did take form, it was quite distinct from Masonry. Occultism, to be sure, is elusive, coming we know not whence, and hovering like a mist trailing over the hills. Still, we ought to be able to find in Masonry some trace of Rosicrucian influence, some hint of the lofty wisdom it is said to have added to the order; but no one has yet done so. Did all that high, Hermetic mysticism evaporate entirely, leaving not a wraith behind, going as mysteriously as it came to that far place which no mortal may explore?109
Howbeit, the fact to be noted is that, thus early—and earlier, for the Lodge had been in existence some time when Ashmole was initiated—the Warrington Lodge was made up of Accepted Masons. Of the ten men present in the London Lodge, mentioned in the second entry in the Diary, Ashmole was the senior, but he was not a member of the Masons' Company, though the other nine were, and also two of the neophytes. No doubt this is the Lodge which Conder, the historian of the Company, has traced back to 1620,
"and were the books of the Company prior to that date in existence, we should no doubt be able to trace the custom of receiving accepted members back to pre-reformation times."110
From an entry in the books of the Company, dated 1665, it appears that there was hanging up in the Hall a list of the Accepted Masons enclosed in a "faire frame, with a lock and key." Why was this? No doubt the Accepted Masons, or those who were initiated into the esoteric aspect of the Company, did not include the whole Company, and this was a list of the "enlightened ones," whose names were thus honored and kept on record, probably long after their decease.... This we cannot say for certain, but we can say that as early as 1620, and inferentially very much earlier, there were certain members of the Masons' Company and others who met from time to time to form a Lodge for the purpose of Speculative Masonry.111
Conder also mentions a copy of the Old Charges, or Gothic Constitutions, in the chest of the London Masons' Company, known as The Book of the Constitutions of the Accepted Masons; and this he identifies with the Regius MS. Another witness during this period is Randle Holme, of Chester, whose references to the Craft in his Acadamie Armory, 1688, are of great value, for that he writes "as a member of that society called Free-masons." The Harleian MS is in his handwriting, and on the next leaf there is a remarkable list of twenty-six names, including his own. It is the only list of the kind known in England, and a careful examination of all the sources of information relative to the Chester men shows that nearly all of them were Accepted Masons. Later on we come to the Natural History of Staffordshire, by Dr. Plott, 1686, in which, though in an unfriendly manner, we are told many things about Craft usages and regulations of that day. Lodges had to be formed of at least five members to make a quorum, gloves were presented to candidates, and a banquet following initiations was a custom. He states that there were several signs and passwords by which the members were able "to be known to one another all over the nation," his faith in their effectiveness surpassing that of the most credulous in our day.
Still another striking record is found in The Natural History of Wiltshire, by John Aubrey, the MS of which in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, is dated 1686; and on the reverse side of folio 72 of this MS is the following note by Aubrey: "This day [May 18, 1681] is a great convention at St. Pauls Church of the fraternity, of the free [then he crossed out the word Free and inserted Accepted] Masons; where Sir Christopher Wren is to be adopted a Brother: and Sir Henry Goodric of ye Tower and divers others."112 From which we may infer that there were Assemblies before 1717, and that they were of sufficient importance to be known to a non-Mason. Other evidence might be adduced, but this is enough to show that Speculative Masonry, so far from being a novelty, was very old at the time when many suppose it was invented. With the great fire of London, in 1666, there came a renewed interest in Masonry, many who had abandoned it flocking to the capital to rebuild the city and especially the Cathedral of St. Paul. Old Lodges were revived, new ones were formed, and an effort was made to renew the old annual, or quarterly, Assemblies, while at the same time Accepted Masons increased both in numbers and in zeal.
Now the crux of the whole matter as regards Accepted Masons lies in the answer to such questions as these: Why did soldiers, scholars, antiquarians, clergymen, lawyers, and even members of the nobility ask to be accepted as members of the order of Free-masons? Wherefore their interest in the order at all? What attracted them to it as far back as 1600, and earlier? What held them with increasing power and an ever-deepening interest? Why did they continue to enter the Lodges until they had the rule of them? There must have been something more in their motive than a simple desire for association, for they had their clubs, societies, and learned fellowships. Still less could a mere curiosity to learn certain signs and passwords have held such men for long, even in an age of quaint conceits in the matter of association and when architecture was affected as a fad. No, there is only one explanation: that these men saw in Masonry a deposit of the high and simple wisdom of old, preserved in tradition and taught in symbols—little understood, it may be, by many members of the order—and this it was that they sought to bring to light, turning history into allegory and legend into drama, and making it a teacher of wise and beautiful truth.
100 There is a beautiful lecture on the moral meaning of Geometry by Dr. Hutchinson, in The Spirit of Masonry—one of the oldest, as it is one of the noblest, books in our Masonic literature. Plutarch reports Plato as saying, "God is always geometrizing" (Diog. Laert., iv, 2). Elsewhere Plato remarks that "Geometry rightly treated is the knowledge of the Eternal" (Republic, 527b), and over the porch of his Academy at Athens he wrote the words, "Let no one who is ignorant of Geometry enter my doors." So Aristotle and all the ancient thinkers, whether in Egypt or India. Pythagoras, Proclus tells us, was concerned only with number and magnitude: number absolute, in arithmetic; number applied, in music; and so forth—whereof we read in the Old Charges (see "The Great Symbol," by Klein, A. Q. C., x, 82).
101 Faerie Queene, bk. ii, canto ix, 22.
102 Lost Language of Symbolism, by Bayley, also A New Light on the Renaissance, by the same author; Architecture of the Renaissance in England, by J.A. Gotch; and "Notes on Some Masonic Symbols," by W.H. Rylands, A. Q. C., viii, 84. Indeed, the literature is as prolific as the facts.
103 J.V. Andreae, Ehreneich Hohenfelder von Aister Haimb. A verbatim translation of the second line quoted would read, "Unless in God he has his building."
104 When, for example, Albert Pike, in his letter, "Touching Masonic Symbolism," speaks of the "poor, rude, unlettered, uncultivated working Stone-masons," who attended the Assemblies, he is obviously confounding Free-masons with the rough Stone-masons of the Guilds. Over against these words, read a brilliant article in the Contemporary Review, October, 1913, by L.M. Phillips, entitled, "The Two Ways of Building," showing how the Free-masons, instead of working under architects outside the order, chose the finer minds among them as leaders and created the different styles of architecture in Europe. "Such," he adds, "was the high limit of talent and intelligence which the creative spirit fostered among workmen.... The entire body being trained and educated in the same principles and ideas, the most backward and inefficient, as they worked at the vaults which their own skillful brethren had planned, might feel the glow of satisfaction arising from the conscious realization of their own aspirations. Thus the whole body of constructive knowledge maintained its unity.... Thus it was by free associations of workmen training their own leaders that the great Gothic edifices of the medieval ages were constructed.... A style so imaginative and so spiritual might almost be the dream of a poet or the vision of a saint. Really it is the creation of the sweat and labor of workingmen, and every iota of the boldness, dexterity and knowledge which it embodies was drawn out of the practical experience and experiments of manual labor." This describes the Comacine Masters, but not the poor, rude, unlettered Stone-masons whom Pike had in mind.
105 Letter "Touching Masonic Symbolism."
106 Some Lodges, however, would never admit such members. As late as April 24, 1786, two brothers were proposed as members of Domatic Lodge, No. 177, London, and were rejected because they were not Operative Masons (History Lion and Lamb Lodge, 192, London, by Abbott).
107 "On the Antiquity of Masonic Symbolism," A. Q. C., iii, 7.
108 Historical Essay on Architecture, chap. xxi.
109 Those who wish to pursue this Quixotic quest will find the literature abundant and very interesting. For example, such essays as that by F.W. Brockbank in Manchester Association for Research, vol. i, 1909-10; and another by A.F.A. Woodford, A. Q. C., i, 28. Better still is the Real History of the Rosicrucians, by Waite (chap. xv), and for a complete and final explosion of all such fancies we have the great chapter in Gould's History of Masonry (vol. ii, chap. xiii). It seems a pity that so much time and labor and learning had to be expended on theories so fragile, but it was necessary; and no man was better fitted for the study than Gould. Perhaps the present writer is unkind, or at least impatient; if so he humbly begs forgiveness; but after reading tomes of conjecture about the alleged Rosicrucian origin of Masonry, he is weary of the wide-eyed wonder of mystery-mongers about things that never were, and which would be of no value if they had been. (Read The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception, or Christian Occult Science, by Max Heindel, and be instructed in matters whereof no mortal knoweth.)
110 The Hole Craft and Fellowship of Masons, by Edward Conder.
111 Ibid., Introduction.
112 Whether Sir Christopher Wren was ever Grand Master, as tradition affirms, is open to debate, and some even doubt his membership in the order (Gould, History of Masonry). Unfortunately, he has left no record, and the Parentalia, written by his son, helps us very little, containing nothing more than his theory that the order began with Gothic architecture. Ashmole, if we may trust his friend, Dr. Knipe, had planned to write a History of Masonry refuting the theory of Wren that Freemasonry took its rise from a Bull granted by the Pope, in the reign of Henry III, to some Italian architects, holding, and rightly so, that the Bull "was comfirmatory only, and did not by any means create our fraternity, or even establish it in this kingdom" (Life of Ashmole, by Campbell). This item makes still more absurd the idea that Ashmole himself created Masonry, whereas he was only a student of its antiquities. Wren was probably never an Operative Mason—though an architect—but he seems to have become an Accepted member of the fraternity in his last years, since his neglect of the order, due to his age, is given as a reason for the organization of the first Grand Lodge.
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