By Edwin A. Quick
|Duke of Connaught, Prince of Wales, and Duke of Clarence|
The name of no fraternity or society of any kind is so universally known as that of the Free and Accepted Masons. At the same time, there is probably no other great organization of which the outside world has so little real knowledge. It is remarkable, too, that a body whose membership mounts into the millions should have so short and scanty a recorded history, and that its origin should be a matter of controversy and uncertainty.
Freemasonry is founded upon principles that are elementary and eternal. It may be set down as a self-evident proposition that man is a duality, a compound of the physical and the spiritual. He seeks his fellows to find aid and assistance in protecting and asserting the physical side of his being. In the intuitive belief that there is something above him, something stronger and better than himself, he unites with other men the better to satisfy his spiritual nature. As the "Masonic Monitor" puts it, "a survey of Nature and the observance of her beautiful proportions first determined man to imitate the divine plan and study symmetry and order. This gave rise to societies and birth to every useful art."
"The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man" is the motto which the Masonic order has emblazoned upon its banners. It recognizes the equality of man in all the relations of life, and propounds a beautiful system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. As a living body, it finds its beginnings in the days when men first formed societies and organized fraternities. Of the precise time and place of its origin, however, there is no authentic account. The existing Masonic records go back only as far as the year 1717.
THE ANCIENT ORIGIN OF MASONRY
|Duke of Connaught|
Some authorities on Freemasonry have ascribed the foundation of the system to the master—builders and artists engaged in the construction of the first Jewish temple, during the reign of Solomon. Others have attempted to trace it to the Eleusinian mysteries of classic Greece, which are said to have taught the immortality of the soul and other sublime truths of natural religion. Some, again, have attributed its establishment to the sainted heroes of the Crusades; while others have endeavored to penetrate the almost forgotten mysteries of the Druids, and to discover its origin amongst the wise men of ancient Britain.
Early Masonry is distinguished as either operative or speculative. To the former category belong the "traveling Freemasons," who went about Europe from country to country and from city to city for the purpose of erecting religious edifices. Some of the finest of the buildings that stand today as monuments of the middle ages are evidences of the skill of these journeymen masons. It is not impossible that the medieval bodies had their origin and owed their existence to the Roman colleges of artificers founded by Numa some seven hundred years before Christ. Freemasonry of today is purely speculative —that is, it has no connection with the actual work of building.
THE MOTHER LODGE OF KILWINNING
Existing records, as has been said, date back to 1717, in which year, on the 24th of June, four lodges in London erected themselves into a grand lodge and selected a grand master. A Scottish lodge, known as the Mother Lodge of Kilwinning, claims to have been established long before that date. The early records of this body are lost, but its own historians assert that it owes its birth to the founding of Kilwinning Abbey, near Irvine, in Ayrshire, by one Hugh Morville in the year 1140.
|Masonic Home at Utica, New York|
Not all Masonic writers agree concerning the date of the Kilwinning Lodge. Dr. Mackey, who made careful searches for evidence bearing on the subject, says:
I look upon the legend, and the documents that contain it, with some favor as at least furnishing the evidence that there has been among the fraternity a general belief in the antiquity of the Kilwinning Lodge.
Other authorities positively assert that this and several other lodges existed in Scotland as early as the twelfth century.
THE ATHELSTAN LEGEND
Another of the ancient traditions of Freemasonry is one that gives to the ancient city of York the honor of ranking as the birthplace of the craft in England. The York Legend, or, as it is sometimes called, the Athelstan Legend, places the date of the first assembly in the year 926. It runs thus:
This craft came into England, as I tell you, in the time of good King Athelstan's reign ; he made them both hall and also bower and lofty temples of great honor to take his recreation in both day and night, and to worship his God with all his might.
This good lord loved his craft full well, and purposed to strengthen it in every part on account of various defects that he discovered in the craft.
|Thomas J. Shryock|
He sent about into all the land after all the masons of the craft to come straight to him, to amend all these defects by good counsel if it might so happen. He then permitted an assembly to be made of divers lords in their rank, dukes, earls, and barons, also knights, squires, and many more, and the burgesses of that city, they were all there in their degree; these were there each one in every way to make laws for the estate of these masons. There they sought by their wisdom how they might govern it; there they found out fifteen articles and there they made fifteen points.
The Athelstan Legend has been generally accepted by Masonic writers, and for nearly a century after the formation of a grand lodge in London, in 1717, the York Lodge disputed the authority of the metropolitan body. In 1813 the Dukes of Kent, Sussex, and Atholl two princes and a Scottish noble brought about an agreement, the supreme council being known thereafter as the United Grand Lodge of England.
MASONRY AND ITS CRITICS
During the last two hundred years Freemasonry has thriven and grown until to-day its lodges are to be found throughout the habitable globe. In many countries it has encountered unjust opposition, and even persecution, but its advance has not been halted. It has never attempted to retaliate upon its assailants; on the contrary, its consistent adhesion to the Golden Rule has sometimes turned its opponents into supporters. It has always been actuated by the spirit of brotherly love to all mankind. It has succored the helpless, aided the unfortunate, and applied a broad and practical charity to all classes and creeds.
In no sense is the fraternity a charitable institution, dispensing guaranteed benefits in return for fixed dues or fees; but it never turns empty handed from its doors a worthy applicant for assistance. Its homes and places of refuge for the orphan, the widowed, and the aged are found in many lands, and they are amply supported by nearly every grand lodge in the world.
An objection often made to the order is its secrecy. It may be said in reply that there is no point in human life whose edges do not border on the realm of light and darkness. The ceremonies attending the conferring of degrees and the methods of recognition among Masons are of a secret character; but all other matters connected with the aims and purposes of the order are as an open book, to be seen and read by all men.
The religious aspect of the order is frequently commented upon, and the statement is made that Masonry seeks to formulate a religion of its own. This is a misrepresentation. The fraternity has no law or regulation, written or unwritten, which in any way or manner is intended to exert an influence for or against any church, creed, or sect. The ancient constitutions contain the following concerning this subject:
|George Washington dressed in Masonic Regalia|
A mason is obliged by his tenure to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the art he will never be a stupid atheist nor an irreligious libertine.
In ancient times, Freemasons were charged to adhere to the religion of the country in which they lived. Today the case is different. Every member of the order is free to follow the dictates of his individual conscience, provided only that he must testify to his belief in two grand principles—the existence of God and the immortality of the human soul. The charge to the initiate contains the following:
There are three great duties which you are charged to inculcate—to God, your neighbor, and yourself. To God, in never mentioning his name but with that reverential awe which is due from a creature to his Creator; to implore his aid in all your laudable undertakings, and to esteem him as the chief good; to your neighbor, in acting upon the square, and doing unto him as you wish he should do unto you; and to yourself, in avoiding all irregularity and intemperance which may impair your faculties or debase the dignity of your profession.
There are certain requisites for membership in the order. The candidate seeking admission must be a man, free born and well recommended, in full possession of his mental and physical faculties. The bondman, the man of unsound mind or physically deformed, and the atheist, are disqualified. Nor can a woman gain admission, though there have been three authentic cases where this last regulation has been ignored.
|Daniel Coxe, First American Grandmaster|
Ancient Freemasonry, as understood at the present time, embraces but three degrees—those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow-craft, and the Master Mason. To these have been added, from time to time, a series of degrees which have involved the formation of various special orders and societies. These are separate and distinct from the Blue Lodge, but in every case they are in perfect concordance with it, and admit to membership only those who have received the first three degrees. The Royal Arch Chapter includes four degrees; the Council, two degrees; the Commandery or Order of Knights Templars, three degrees. The Ancient and Accepted or Scottish Rite includes a series of degrees known as the "ineffable degrees." The concluding or thirty-third degree is only conferred on those elected to the supreme council, which is the governing body of the Ancient and Accepted Rite; and as its number of active members cannot exceed nine, comparatively few Masons can receive this degree. Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, was the first to receive it, in 1762, and it was not bestowed upon any one else until 1786.
WOMEN AS FREEMASONS
An Irish lady, the Hon. Mrs. Aldworth, daughter of Viscount Doneraile, was famous, in the latter part of the eighteenth century as "the female Mason." It seems that at a meeting of Lodge No. 44, at Doneraile, in County Cork, she secreted herself, and witnessed the first and second degrees. She was discovered, a consultation was held, and she consented to receive these two degrees. She became an ardent Mason, and, being possessed of a large fortune, she was enabled to devote much of her time and means to charity. Her biographer says:
It has been remarked of her that her custom was to seek out bashful misery and retiring poverty, and with a well-directed liberality soothe many a bleeding heart.
|Colonel E. M. L. Ehlers|
Another case was that of an Englishwoman, Mrs. Beaton, who died in 1802, aged eighty-five. A history of the County of Norfolk, published in 1829, says that she contrived to conceal herself behind the wainscot of a lodge-room, and thus secured the coveted secrets. She never divulged what she had seen.
The third instance was that of Mme. de Xaintrailles, who was initiated in a French lodge. She applied for admission in the masculine uniform of a captain of cavalry, but it was discovered that she was the wife of General de Xaintrailles. Nevertheless, the members of the lodge offered to admit her to the fraternity.
"I have been a man for my country," she replied, "and I will again be a man for my brethren."
She was forthwith initiated.
Other women may have been equally successful in obtaining the secrets of the fraternity; but if so, they have carefully guarded their discoveries.
NO POLITICS IN MASONRY
|Masonic Temple in Philadelphia|
While Freemasonry has grown to vast proportions, and extends all over the world, it can never be used to exert any frailties of men. Its mission is peace combined influence in political or ecclesiastical affairs. It is built upon too broad lines to be diverted from its proper aims. It receives as members men of all nations, creeds, and beliefs. Its supporters come from every rank and class in society. It gathers to its counsels and about its altar men whose birth, early environment, training, and experiences have been widely different, and unites them for pure and blameless purposes. It recognizes no sect and has no politics.
Freemasonry is the handmaid of all seeking truth, light, and right. It is generous to a fault in dealing with the frailties of men. Its mission is peace and good-will on earth.
It inculcates the mutual obligations of man to man in every walk of life. It enforces the practice of every duty man may owe to his Creator, to his neighbor, and to himself. It brings together upon a common level the prince and the peasant, the artist and the artisan, the rich and the poor, uniting, all in a universal brotherhood.
From Munsey's Magazine, October 1901.