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FREEMASONS . The name for members of Freemasonry, the largest fraternal organization in the world, Freemasons are linked to numerous other rites, degrees, and orders collectively termed Masonic. Originally two words, Free Mason, the compound Freemason became standard by the nineteenth century. The term stands for "free and accepted mason," an accepted or "honorary" mason who is both freeborn (not bonded in servitude) and "free" from the original "operative" definition of masonry, the trade of stonecraft used to build churches and cathedrals throughout medieval Europe. Although there are records of noncraftsmen or "nonoperatives" joining earlier operative guilds, such as that of Elias Ashmole and Christopher Wren of Oxford, purely nonoperative "lodges" where Freemasons met were not publicly disclosed until the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in London in 1717. A Freemason (or simply "Mason") from about this time, and as outlined in the official Constitutions (1723 and 1738), was basically a "speculative" mason who, having undergone three degrees of initiation, lived a moral life devoted both to teachings derived from a symbolic understanding of the stonemason's craft and to the three great Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief, and truth.

Secrecyand a certain mystiquehas surrounded and continues to surround the Freemason rituals of initiation and moral instruction, yet Freemasonry, or "the Craft," is not in principle a "secret society" in the subversive social or political sense, since respect for lawful authority is a hallmark of Masonic teachings. Though sometimes viewed as representing a specific or even "revolutionary" political agenda, Freemasons have been found on both sides of major political and social conflicts in modern times. Moreover, information regarding the history, rituals, and proceedings of Freemasonry is readily available in public libraries, in bookstores, and on the Internet. In certain instances, the names of members and even the existence of the order in some parts of the world where Freemasonry has spread were withheld from political authorities that were undemocratic, dictatorial, or generally inimical, such as those of Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, Fascist Italy, Catholic Spain, and most Islamic countries today. On the other hand, political groups, such as the nineteenth-century Grand Orients in Spain and Portugal, have sometimes masqueraded as Freemasons.

As modern fraternal orders in secular societies, Masonic lodges and related organizations are open to public scrutiny, and membership is publicly displayed in almost all cases. Secrecy aside, one of the most engaging contemporary issues is whether Freemasonry is a "religion" or not. Membership requires a belief in a supreme being and the immortality of the soul, and there are ample references, albeit symbolic, to religious symbols, personalities, and places in the rituals. Yet while the order testifies to its own archaic religious and even mythical roots, Freemasonry today resists the appellation of "religion" in the sectarian sense, encouraging only "that religion to which all men agree." Also, not claiming tax exemption as a religious body, the order aims to transcend individual religious differences and unite men of diverse backgrounds in common cause under a symbolic notion of God as the great architect of the universe. Religious tolerance and liberty of conscience have been among the principles of Freemasonry since its inception.

Despite the great importance of Freemasonry and other secretive societies in any accurate description of the rise of Western civilization, few historians of religion have undertaken a comprehensive study of the history and cultural significance of Freemasonry in its various dimensions. In recent years, social scientists and historians of ideas (Clawson, 1989; Carnes, 1989; Jacob, 1991) have sought to understand the significance of Masonry within the larger spheres of religious fraternalism, gendered cultural systems, and the rise of modern democracy and civil society. In addition, competent historians within the fraternity (Hamill, 1992 and 1994; Roberts, 1961) have maintained active lodges of research with accessible archives. And as a wider net of scholars begin to tap the formidable amount of archival material available on Freemasonry worldwide, its significance as a vital factor in Western cultural history will be further appreciated. In addition, the rich symbolism found in Masonic rites can provide a treasure trove for ritual specialists, semioticians, phenomenologists, and gender scholars.


Recent scholarship has placed the historical emergence of Freemasonry either in England or Scotland between 1600 and 1717. Yet the origin of Freemasonry is still perceived by the lay observer as a tangled web of mystery and opacity, due partly to the institution's use of ancient legendary history in its rituals and ceremonies, and to the fragmentariness of the early records of Masonic meetings, many of which may have been destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The confusion is heightened by a surfeit of origin theoriespropounded by both Masons and non-Masonsthat are largely untenable, such as proposals that the order has roots in the Druids, Gnostics, Egyptian pharaohs, the mysteries of Isis and Osiris, Phoenicians, Dionysiac Artificers, Vedic Aryans, Zoroastrians, Rosicrucians, the Jewish Qabbalah, Hermeticism, Essenes, or the Crusades. While aspects of these traditions permeate some Masonic rites and derivative orders, their direct influence during the seventeenth century is elusive and has been difficult to document. In fact, the precise historical circumstances of the transition from a medieval operative guild system, largely Catholic in orientation, to a nonoperative, gradually de-Christianized, nondenominational fraternity still remains to be adequately described and analyzed. Notwithstanding these conditions, it is perhaps most useful to divide Masonic history into two parts: legendary, the period for which there is virtually no authentic documents but only myths and legends; and historic, the period for which authentic documents appear (c. fourteenth century and after).

Legendary Masonic history

The legendary period of Masonic history as outlined within the tradition is founded upon a unique blend of biblical, Greco-Roman, and Afro-Asiatic personalities, places, symbols, and events. James Anderson's Book of Constitutions of 1723 and 1738, with nearly 150 pages of Masonic "history" tracing Freemasonry from Adam right up to Anderson's own time, was a benchmark in establishing and perpetuating the more influential aspects of the legendary histories, including the Temple of Solomon. Anderson, a Scottish Presbyterian minister, drew upon earlier manuscripts known as Old Charges that were associated with operative guilds from the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries. From the perspective of these sources, stonemasonry was viewed in ancient times as nearly synonymous with geometry and architecture, knowledge of which was a privileged or secret possession available only through direct transmission between craftsmen. The legendary origins of stonemasonry, or the "royal art," as it was called by Anderson and understood by medieval craftsmen, formed the basis upon which modern speculative Freemasonry was constructed. As such, the following may be construed as a linear account of the legendary history of Freemasonry as understood by members of the Craft in the eighteenth century. While also historically untenable, this scenario follows what the mainstream tradition had more-or-less accepted within its ranks as representing the most effective means to convey symbolic teachings pertaining to Masonic truths and virtues.

The almighty architect (God) created the universe according to the principles of geometry, and lastly created Adam in his own image. Possessing the divine knowledge of geometry as delivered to him, Adam built the first temple or place of worship in Eden, and lived in an innocent state. Then, despite his fall from grace, Adam retained this wisdom and taught his sons Cain, who built a city, and Seth, who taught his offspring. Later, the sons of Lamech perfected the arts of metallurgy, music, and tent construction; Enoch, anticipating a cataclysm (flood), built two pillars and engraved on them the sciences of geometry and masonry. According to the oldest manuscripts of the Old Charges, it was Hermes in Egypt who recovered one of the pillars and was able to restore the art of geometry by passing it on to the Egyptian pharaohs. But, according to Anderson, it was Noah who built the ark by the principles of geometry and, with his sons and their descendents, brought masonry into the postdiluvian world after settling on the plain of Shinar (Tigris and Euphrates). Anderson refers to a mason as a "true Noachite," since the universal religious principles taught to Noah by God in the Bible represented important Masonic teachings. The descendants of Shem built the Tower of Babel under the direction of Nimrod who allegedly presided over the first Masonic organization in Babylon. After the destruction of the tower and the confusion of languages, the masons were able to preserve their teachings by devising a system of signs and passwords, and Nimrod succeeded in building an empire in Assyria at Nineveh, and passing on the wisdom to the Chaldean Magis of Persia. The descendants of Ham brought masonry into Egypt and Canaan, and the descendants of Japheth brought it into Greece, Italy, Great Britain, and America. The names of Pythagoras and Euclid are also included in these legendary histories, as well as the role of the mysteries of Osiris and Isis as prototypes for the use of symbolism in initiatory rituals.

Abraham, schooled in the builders' art in ancient Mesopotamia, answered God's call and moved his family to Canaan, where he taught geometry to the Canaanites, as well as to his own offspring. Their descendants, the Hebrews, were eventually enslaved in Egypt but rose up under Moses, who was learned in Egyptian masonry. After leading his people into the wilderness accompanied by an ark that was designed by divine geometrical instruction, Joshua and the Israelites established the masonic arts once again in Canaan, where preparations were later begun under King David for a magnificent temple to their God.

The biblical aspects of Freemasonry that relate to King Solomon's Temple reflect a closer alliance with recorded history. Though Solomon is briefly mentioned as part of the Masonic chain in the earliest manuscripts of the Old Charges, Solomon and his Temple are central to Anderson's account in which the Masonic lodge itself becomes a symbolic replica of the Temple, influencing successive generations of Freemasons. Anderson portrays King Solomon as the Grand Master of Jerusalem who was assisted in the construction of the Temple by "masons" and carpenters sent by Hiram, King (or Grand Master) of Tyre. Among the workers is the chief architect, Hiram Abif, a stonemason. In the biblical books of Kings and Chronicles (1 Kgs. 7:1350; 2 Chr. 4), there is mention of a Hiram from Tyre who is "filled with wisdom and understanding" and is primarily a worker in brass and metals. Building upon the biblical story, the Masonic version portrays Hiram Abif as a master mason who was murdered before completion of the Temple by ruffians for not revealing the secret master's word (i.e., password and signs). The legend of Hiram Abif, including his murder and "resurrection," became a death-and-rebirth allegory that is dramatized within the third degree ritual of today's Craft. The initiated master mason is imparted with the master's word and continues the line of succession, protecting this "intellectual property" into the future.

After describing events surrounding the destruction of the Second Temple, and its rebuilding under Herod, Anderson continues in his narration with Jesus Christ as the Grand Master of the Christians who rose again from the dead. Then he focuses primarily on the architectural achievements of the Romans and how the Royal art was then preserved through the Middle Ages by the patronage of the British monarchy, right up until the time of the stonemasons and the first nonoperative lodges.

Historic period

The Historic period of Freemasonry has been traced by scholars (Clawson, 1989; Jacob, 1991; Hamill, 1992 and 1994) to these same periodic gatherings and confraternities of operative stonemasons engaged in the building of medieval churches and cathedrals in England and Europe. The earliest manuscripts associated with the work and moral symbolism of the stonemasons, the Old Charges, date from the late fourteenth century and are also called the "Gothic Constitutions." Besides tracing the legendary history of the Craft of masonry, as shown above, they contain specific moral instructions that are enjoined upon members as apprentices, fellow craftsmen (or journeymen), and master masons. It is probable that secrecy dates from this period, when knowledge of the building techniques of individual master masons was restricted to guild members.

Freemasonry as an official public institution is normally dated from the establishment of the first national Masonic organization, the Grand Lodge of England, a result of the combination of four smaller lodges of nonoperative (noncraftsmen) masons at the Goose and Gridiron Alehouse, London, on June 24, 1717. While nonoperatives were included in operative masons clubs or guilds, no cooperative network of nonoperative lodges had been formally announced. The history of Freemasonry during this period is documented primarily through publications, private diaries, journals, minutes, and newspaper accounts. The Craft attracted royal patronage by 1720, and many of its early members in London were also connected to the Royal Society and the circle surrounding Isaac Newton.

The Masonic lodge became a radically new blend of aristocrat, commoner, Catholic, Protestant, and Jew, by which new ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity were celebrated. Many Masons in Europe at this time were distinguished figures of the Enlightenment, including Voltaire, Edward Gibbon, Goethe, Johann Herder, Johann Fichte, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and John Theophilus Desaguliers, an Anglican priest of Huguenot ancestry who became the order's third elected Grand Master. Mozart wrote an entire set of Masonic musical works for his lodge, as well as The Magic Flute (1791), an opera rich in Masonic symbolism.

The introduction of Freemasonry into France by 1725 signified the transition from a largely nonpolitical organization into a body that was also identified with the Jacobite cause for the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in England (King James). The descendants and followers of the exiled James II, who had died in 1701, found sympathizers on the continent, especially in Catholic France, who viewed Masonry as a means of infiltrating themselves back into English society. Though the Grand Lodge of France was nominally in control, there was a proliferation of new Masonic orders and exotic degrees that went beyond expectation. Under the direction of Chevalier Michael Ramsay, a Scottish pro-Stuart Catholic Freemason, the initial three-degree ritual of the English Craft tradition was enlarged into a system of hautes grades, or high degrees, which greatly influenced the nature of the fraternity. In order to align Freemasonry with Scotland and the Stuarts, Ramsay made the claim in a famous speech that Freemasonry really originated from the Knights Templar, a monastic order protecting the Crusades that had been disbanded and persecuted by the pope in the fourteenth century, but which had sought asylum in Scotland until it resurfaced as Freemasonry. The Templar origin theory continues today in the works of John Robinson and Michael Baigent, as well as in some recently popular novels and films. Appealing to the French taste for high-sounding titles and rituals, and the continental aversion toward building trades, Ramsay initially contrived a series of three chivalric degrees that initiated the candidates into a kind of knighthood unknown to the British lodges. Numerous degrees were later added that included Rosicrucian, Gnostic, qabbalistic, and Hermetic elements (Knight of the Sun, twenty-eighth degree in the Scottish Rite), so that by the end of the nineteenth century there were literally hundreds of degrees offered by various Masonic and quasi-Masonic organizations, many of which were open to women.

Regarding certain occult aspects of Freemasonry, recent scholarship has shed light on the Hermetic and possibly Rosicrucian influences on the historical founding of Freemasonry. Building upon the work of Francis Yates, David Stevenson has shown plausible connections between early Freemasonry in Scotland, Hermeticism, Rosicrucian "invisible" brotherhoods (Lutheran mystical groups), and the ancient art of memory in the sixteenth century. According to Stevenson, the art of memory, originally a technique for improving the memory by visualizing rooms in a building, became, under the influence of the sixteenth-century Hermeticist Giordano Bruno, a magico-religious art for the ascent of the soul, and it was adapted into Masonry to fix the mind on images and symbols in the Masonic temple. As such, late Renaissance fascinations with Egyptian hieroglyphics, alchemical searches for immortality, Neoplatonism, and architecture were all persuasive factors in the genesis of the fraternity.

The higher degrees that survived into mainstream Freemasonry were later grouped into two principal rites, or systems: the Scottish Rite of thirty-three degrees, which was originally derived from the French but flourished in America; and the York Rite, a system of advanced degrees said to originate in York, England. The Scottish Rite, built upon the earlier Rite of Perfection of twenty-five degrees, was brought to the West Indies by Stephen Morin and formally established in the United States by 1801 in Charleston, South Carolina, where it was enlarged to thirty-three degrees. Albert Pike (18091891) rewrote all of these degrees during his term as Supreme Commander of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.

British Freemasonry, organized into separate Irish, Scottish, and English grand lodges, remained nonpartisan during the political-religious disputes of the eighteenth century. While there were some Protestant Christian advocates among the members, the order removed any requirement that its initiates be Christians with the adoption of the Constitutions of 1723, revised in 1738 by James Anderson. Largely as a result of British imperial expansion, initially among the military, lodges of Freemasons were established in North America, India, the West Indies, and throughout the world.

During the latter half of the eighteenth century, a rival grand lodge was formed by disaffected Irish and Scottish Masons that divided English-speaking Freemasonry for sixty years. Calling themselves "Antients" and the others "Moderns," this schism was finally healed in 1813 with the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England under the leadership of the duke of Sussex, who had been Grand Master of the Moderns. This division had led to the addition of the Holy Royal Arch to the basic three-degree system. While not of the highly imaginative character of continental degrees, the York Rite or Royal Arch provided Freemasons with a set of degrees that proposed to impart the ineffable name of deity to the degree's recipient. This rite was incorporated into the British Masonic system and also included Knights Templar and Knights of Malta degrees. Initially an Antient invention, the York Rite won wide acceptance throughout the Masonic fraternity in the nineteenth century.

The vital contribution of Freemasonry toward the establishment of the United States is confirmed by modern scholarship. Founding fathers like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and James Monroe, as well as the Marquis de Lafayette and a host of others, played key roles in making the ideals of Freemasonry a reality by creating America as a kind of Masonic "Temple of Virtue" that produced model citizens. Many of the principles laid down in the United States Constitution are essentially Masonic principles: liberty, freedom of conscience, religious tolerance, pursuit of happiness, and separation of church and state. Most federal and state government buildings were consecrated with Masonic ceremonies. In addition, Freemasonry became almost synonymous with patriotism toward America's "civil religion." Famous patriotic Masons like Irving Berlin ("God Bless America") and John Philip Sousa ("Stars and Stripes Forever") wrote stirring songs and marches, while lesser-known Masons designed the capital city of Washington, D.C., created the Statue of Liberty, and sculpted the faces on Mount Rushmore.

Freemasonry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries continued to develop along the lines established by the differing English and French models. English, Irish, and Scottish Freemasonry shaped the fraternity and its teachings in Canada, the United States, the West Indies, India, and much of Africa. The impact of the French tradition, with its rationalistic and politicized emphasis, was more deeply felt in Austro-Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Latin America. By 1877, communication between these two groups had virtually ceased, when the Grand Orient of France removed the requirement that its initiates declare a belief in the existence of God as the "Great Architect of the Universe." In English-speaking areas, Freemasonry has in general prospered as a support to constitutional, democratic government.

One notable blemish on the Craft was the anti-Masonic episode in the United States. The abduction and suspected murder of William Morgan of Batavia, New York, in 1829 caused a widespread reaction against Freemasonry throughout the country. Morgan had published an exposé of its rituals and had brought considerable wrath upon himself from the fraternity, yet no solid evidence of his murder has been brought forward. Other secret societies, including Phi Beta Kappa and college social fraternities that are derived from the Freemasons, were also publicly affected, largely as a reaction against the perceived influence of political and social elites. This situation also precipitated the first American political party convention, that of the Anti-Masonic Party in 1832.

Masonic Teachings

Since 1717, Masonic teachings have retained a remarkable continuity and consistency. Membership in Freemasonry is comprised essentially of three steps or "degrees." The prospective candidate, after initial screening and interviewing, is initiated into the first degree as "entered apprentice," passed to second degree as "fellowcraft," and raised to the third degree as "master Mason," usually within a year. In place within Masonic ritual by 1730, the completion of all three degrees in succession made a man a full Mason, with all the rights and privileges of lodge fellowship, but also with expectations of participation in leadership succession, charitable work, and submission of dues. As part of the transformation from operative to speculative (initiated and living according to Masonic virtues) Masonry, each of the three degrees has employed within its structure "working tools" of the operative stonemasons, transformed from raw implements into symbols of Masonic teachings. The entered apprentice degree uses the 24-inch gauge and the common gavel, the former symbolic of dividing the hours of the day into three periods of service to God, charity, and rest, and the latter symbolic of removing vices and superfluities of life (i.e., forming the perfect ashlar out of the rough or imperfect stone, itself symbolic of the new candidate). The fellowcraft degree utilizes the plumb, square, and level to symbolize walking upright before God and fellow humans, honesty ("fair and square"), and equality ("on the level"). The third degree of master Mason utilizes the trowel in order to spread ("the cement of") brotherly love. In this degree, the legendary architect of King Solomon's Temple, Hiram Abif, is portrayed in a drama whereby he is symbolically slain by ruffians for not revealing Masonic secrets, and then "resurrected," thus serving as a paradigm for the rebirth of the candidates into a new life.

In addition to the above tools, there are three immovable "jewels" of the lodge, the rough ashlar (unpolished state of noninitiation), the perfect ashlar (ideal "polished" state of Masonic life), and the trestleboard (the rules and designs given by the "Great Architect of the Universe," the symbolic name for God). Each implement as used in the lodge both illustrates and confers specific Masonic teachings and obligations that are spoken as part of a "catechism" memorized by the candidate for each degree. All Masonic degrees are related to the transformation of the human personality from a state of darkness to light ("light in masonry"), symbolic of a higher level of human moral perfection destined to reach the "celestial lodge above," the term used for immortality beyond death.

Because Freemasonry has transposed a system of moral and noetic teaching upon a graded institutional structure, it has often been deemed a threat to confessional and orthodox religion. The basis for such assumptions is the fraternity's use of symbols that describe the change of personal moral character and human awareness by stages or degrees. These degrees have been interpreted as a plan for spiritual redemption without penance and forgiveness of sin. A study of the basic ceremonials and teachings, however, suggests that the goal of Masonic initiation is not actually redemption in the literal sense, but rather a shift in the initiate's perception toward the betterment of his personal moral character.

The lack of central authority and the multitude of Masonic degrees and ceremonials make it impossible to state unequivocally that Freemasonry is religious in any final or conclusive sense. Since Pope Clement XII's encyclical In eminenti in 1738, the Roman Catholic Church has proscribed Masonic affiliation for Catholics, with excommunication as the penalty. The emancipation of Jews was one of the by-products of the Enlightenment, and was ascribed to Masonic influence. As such, the free admission of Jews into lodges of equal fellowship with Christians evoked further condemnation by the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover, the identification of major southern European and Latin American revolutionary leaders, such as Giuseppe Mazzini, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Simón Bolívar, Bernardo O'Higgins, and José Julián Martí y Pérez, with Freemasonry created more tension by the end of the nineteenth century, especially during the First Vatican Council (18691870). More recently, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States and the General Conference of the Methodist Church in England and Wales have legislated claims that Freemasonry is a system of faith and morals outside of the Christian tradition.

Beside suspicions of philo-Semitism, including the fictional notion of a worldwide Jewish-Masonic conspiracy, Christian opposition to Freemasonry stems from the alleged elements of deism, natural religion, and Neoplatonism in Masonic rituals that suggest the perfectibility of humanity rather than its sinful nature and need of redemption in Christ (see Whalen, 1958). However, many churches that maintain a less exclusive understanding of revelation have been much more tolerant of Freemasonry's belief in a universal brotherhood of humanity under the fatherhood of God. Many Christians today continue to enjoy both Masonic and Christian fellowship. Moreover, in parts of the world where religions other than Christianity prevail, the volume of sacred law used in Masonic lodges corresponds to the prevalent book or scripture: in India, the Vedas or Bhagavadgītā; in Muslim countries where Masonry is permitted, the Qurʾān; and in Israel, the Torah. As such, Freemasonry does not advocate deism or any other specific religious doctrine, stressing that members pursue their religious life outside of the fraternity, yet live a moral life according to universal principles of brotherly love, relief, and truth.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Freemasonry has a worldwide membership of approximately seven million people. It is governed by independent national grand lodges, except in the United States, Canada, and Australia, where grand lodges are organized by state or province. All Freemasons maintain membership in a specific lodge, yet are welcomed as fellow Masons in most places of the world where Freemasonry thrives.

Freemasonry has also provided a working structure or model for secret organizations. During the nineteenth century, many new fraternal orders were created that in some way were derivative of Freemasonry. The Knights of Columbus is a Masonic-like order for Catholics only, and the Order of B'nai B'rith has a Jewish clientele. There is an endless list of these, including Odd Fellows, Elks, Moose, Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, and Eagles. Even such occult groups as Gardnerian Witchcraft, the Theosophical Society, and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn are not without Masonic influence.

More closely within the Masonic fold are the groups that require initiation into the three Craft degrees. Beside the Scottish and York Rites, there is the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (Shriners), which has a visible Islamic theme to its rituals, and, along with the Grotto, provides a recreational dimension to fraternity life that is also strongly committed to charity in the form of burn clinics and hospitals for crippled children. The Order of DeMolay is designed for young men, and Acacia is the name for the Masonic college fraternity.

Freemasonry is by no means an exclusively male concern. Since ancient times, women have also bonded together into sisterhoods, both religious and secular. The Eleusinian Mysteries in ancient Greece, and the various women's orders in the Roman, medieval, and Renaissance periods, are precursors for what came to be referred to as adoptive Masonry, established in France about 1775. The Adoptive Rite, designed for wives, sisters, widows, and daughters of Freemasons, consisted of four degrees: apprentice, companion, mistress, and perfect mistress. Numerous Masonic rites and orders that included women proliferated in the nineteenth century, including Co-Masonry.

The most famous and successful of the adoptive or androgynous orders (orders that include both men and women) emerged in the United States in 1868 under the guidance of Robert Morris, an active Freemason. This group is called the Order of the Eastern Star, and it has over two million women members worldwide. Their rituals, utilizing a five-pointed star, consist of five degrees drawn from the examples of five biblical heroines: Adah (Jephtha's daughter; Judges 11: 2940), Ruth, Esther, Martha, and Electa (alluded to in 2 John ). Florence Nightingale was one of their famous patron members. Other Masonic orders for women include the White Shrine of Jerusalem and the Order of Amaranth, with Job's Daughters and Rainbow Girls for young women. Beside these, there are now several full-fledged women's grand lodges in the United States, which are independent of male Freemasonry. These groups, like most Masonic organizations, engage in various charitable activities. While Freemasonry is racially mixed, there are also independent, largely black, grand lodges. The largest of these African American lodges is Prince Hall, named after a freed slave in eighteenth-century Massachusetts who received a charter from London. Many notable African Americans, such as Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois were Prince Hall Masons, as were jazz musicians Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Nat King Cole.

Famous Masons

Any assessment of the Masonic fraternity must acknowledge the wide range of membership that cuts across religious, ethnic, cultural, and racial lines. The list below includes names of some Masons who have distinguished themselves in service to both Masonry and the society in which they lived.

Stephen Austin, "Father of Texas"; Luther Burbank, American naturalist; Robert Burns, Scottish poet; Marc Chagall, Russian artist; Walter Chrysler, American car manufacturer; Winston Churchill, English statesman; Ty Cobb, American baseball legend; Davy Crockett, American frontiersman; Cecil B. De Mille, American filmmaker; Arthur Conan Doyle, English author; W. C. Fields, American comedic actor; John Glenn, American astronaut; Pasha Ismail, Egyptian viceroy and builder of the Suez Canal; Jerome Kern, American composer; Rudyard Kipling, English writer; Charles Lindbergh, American aviator; Charles H. Mayo, American physician and co-founder of the Mayo Clinic; Andrew Mellon, American industrialist; Motilal Nehru, Indian politician and father of Jawaharlal Nehru; Norman Vincent Peale, American Protestant clergyman; Pedro I, first king of Brazil; Paul Revere, American Revolutionary War hero; Sugar Ray Robinson, American boxing champion; Roy Rogers, American actor; Antoine Sax, Belgian inventor of the saxophone; Walter Scott, Scottish novelist and poet; Jean Sibelius, Finnish composer; Arthur Sullivan, English composer; Leo Tolstoy, Russian author; Swami Vivekananda, Hindu ascetic and philosopher; John Wayne, American actor; and Oscar Wilde, Anglo-Irish writer.

United States presidents who were Masons include George Washington, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald R. Ford, and Ronald Reagan.

See Also

Esotericism; Rosicrucians.


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Stevenson, David. The First Freemasons: Scotland's Early Lodges and Their Members. Aberdeen, UK, 1988.

Stevenson, David. The Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland's Century, 15901710. Cambridge, UK, 1988.

Walkes, Joseph A., Jr. Black Square and Compass: 200 Years of Prince Hall Freemasonry. Richmond, Va., 1979.

Weisberger, R. William, Wallace McLeod, S. Brent Morris, eds. Freemasonry on Both Sides of the Atlantic: Essays concerning the Craft in the British Isles, Europe, the United States, and Mexico. New York, 2002.

Whalen, William J. Christianity and American Freemasonry. Milwaukee, Wis., 1958.

Yates, Frances A. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. London, 1972.

William H. Stemper, Jr. (1987)

Guy L. Beck (2005)


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An occult movement of the seventeenth century. Freemasonry emerged as the British form of revived gnosticism analogous to the Rosicrucian movement in Germany. While having its roots in the architectural and construction guilds of the Middle Ages, modern masonry is rooted in the post-Reformation revival of Gnostic thought and occult practice. The mythical history of masonry served to protect it in the religiously intolerant atmosphere operative in Great Britain at the time of its founding.

History and Mythic Origin

Although it would not be exactly correct to say that the history of Freemasonry was lost in the mists of antiquity, it is possible to say that although to a certain degree traceable, its records are of a scanty nature, and so crossed by the trails of other mystical brotherhoods that disentanglement is an extremely difficult process.

The ancient legend of its foundation at the time of the building of the Temple at Jerusalem is manifestly mythical. If one might hazard an opinion, it would seem that at a very early epoch in the history of civilization, a caste arose of builders in stone, who jealously guarded the secret of their craft. Where such a caste of operative masons might have arisen is altogether a separate question, but it must obviously have been in a country where working in stone was one of the principal arts. It is also almost certain that this early brotherhood must have been hierophantic with a leadership adept in the ancient mysteries. Its principal work to begin with would undoubtedly consist in the raising of temples and similar structures, and as such it would come into very close contact with the priesthood, if indeed it was not wholly directed by it.

In early civilization only two classes of dwelling received the attention of the architectthe temple and the palace. For example, among the ruins of Egypt and Babylon, remains of private houses are rare, but the temple and the royal residence are conspicuous everywhere, and we know that among the ruins of Central America temples and palaces alone remain, the huts of the surrounding dwellers having long ago disappeared. The temple was the nucleus of the early city. Commerce, agriculture, and all the affairs of life revolved around the worship of the gods.

A medieval cathedral took more than one generation to erect, and in that time many masons came and went. The lodge was invariably founded near the rising cathedral or abbey, and apprentices and others started work as opportunity offered. Indeed, a man might serve his apprenticeship and labor all through his life on one building, without ever seeing any work elsewhere.

The evidence as to whether the master-masons were also architects is very conflicting, and it has been held that the priests were the architects of the British cathedrals, the master-masons and operatives merely carrying out their designs. There is good evidence, however, that this is not wholly true. Of all arts, architecture is by far the most intricate. It is undoubtedly one that requires a long and specific training. Questions arise of stress and strain of the most difficult description, and it is obvious that ecclesiastics, who had not undergone any special training, would not be qualified to compose plans of the cathedrals.

Professional architects existed at a very early period, though instances are on record where the priests of a certain locality have taken upon themselves the credit of planning the cathedral of the diocese. Be this as it may, the "mystery" of building was sufficiently deep to require extensive knowledge and experience and to a great extent this justifies the jealousy with which the early masons regarded its secrets. Again, the jealousy with which it was kept from the vulgar gaze may have been racial in its origin, and may have arisen from such considerations as the following: "Let no stranger understand this craft of ours. Why should we make it free to the heathen and the foreigner?"

Masonry in Great Britain

In Great Britain, prior to the founding of the Grand Lodge, York and the north of England in general were regarded as the most ancient seat of the fraternity. Indeed, without stretching probabilities too far, the line of evolution so far as York is concerned is quite remarkable. In the early days of that city a temple of Serapis existed there, which was afterward a monastery of the Begging Friars, and the mysteries of this god existed beside the Roman Collegia or Craftsmen's Society.

Some have argued that the crypt of York Minster affords evidence of the progress of masonry from Roman to Saxon times. It is stated that it has a mosaic pavement of blue and white tiles laid in the form employed in the first degree of masonry. Undoubted is the fact that the craft occasionally met in this crypt during the eighteenth century.

Masonic tradition goes to show that even in the beginning of the fourteenth century, masonry in Britain was regarded as a thing of great antiquity. Lodge records for the most part only date back to the sixteenth century in the oldest instances, but ancient manuscripts are extant which undoubtedly relate to masonry.

Thus the old charges embodied in the Regius manuscript, which was unearthed in 1839 by Halliwell Phillips, are dated at 1390 and contain a curious legend of the craft that tells how the necessity of finding work of some description drove men to consult Euclid, who recommended masonry as a craft to them.It goes on to tell how masonry was founded in Egypt, and how it entered England in the time of King Athelstan (d. 940). The necessity for keeping close counsel as regards the secrets of the craft is insisted upon in rude verse.

The Cooke manuscript from the early fifteenth century likewise contains versions of the old charges. Egypt was regarded here as the motherland of masonry, and King Athelstan the medium for the introduction of the craft into the island of Britain. But that this manuscript was used among masons at a later date was proved by the 1890 discovery of a more modern version dated about 1687 and known as the William Watson manuscript. In all, about 70 of these old charges and pseudo-histories have been discovered since 1860. They all have much in common and are of English origin.

The Birth of Speculative Masonry

Whatever the ancient and medieval roots of masonry, in the seventeenth century it was given a new direction by the widespread acceptance into the lodges of non-masons who used the lodges as a home for their pursuit of spiritual wisdom apart from the theology of the established church, often while keeping a nominal membership in the Church of England. (By 1723, for example, all specific references to Christianity were removed from the movement's constitution; members had only to acknowledge God, the Great Architect of the Universe.) The first prominent speculative Freemason was astrologer Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), an officer in the court of Charles II. Ash-mole, and his contemporaries such as Robert Fludd (1574-1637), helped spread the revived gnosticism represented on the continent by Rosicrucianism. Through the century, speculative lodges consisting primarily if not exclusively of accepted masons spread throughout England and Scotland where they existed as a condoned (and somewhat unrecognized) form of religious dissent.

The coming of age of speculative masonry was signaled by the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, inaugurated on St. John the Baptist's Day 1717 by four of the old London lodges. Rev. John Theophilus Desguliers, who became Grand Master in 1719, was the chaplain to the Prince of Wales, and used his considerable influence to spread the movement both in England and France. The Grand Lodge provided the fraternity with its first central governing body, as prior to this time each lodge was self-governing. Many lodges speedily came under its aegis, and Ireland formed a Grand Lodge of her own in 1725, but Scotland did not follow until 1736, and even then many lodges held aloof from the central body, only 33 out of 100 falling into line.

From one or other of these three governing bodies all the regular lodges and variant rites throughout the world have arisen, so that modern masonry may truthfully be said to be of British origin. To say that Continental masonry is the offspring of the British lodges is not to say that no masonic lodges existed in France and Germany before the formation of the English Grand Lodge, but underscores the break between the masonry of the builders of the medieval architectual wonders and the speculative masonry of the seventeenth century. All of the modern speculative lodges in Europe date from the inception of the English central body. However, the Continental masonry possesses many rites that differ entirely from those found in the British craft.

In Germany, which existed at this time as a number of independent states, it was said that the Steinmetzin approximated very strongly in medieval times to the British masons, if they were not originally one and the same, but again, the modern lodges in Germany all dated from the speculative lodge founded in 1733.

We find the beginnings of modern French masonry in the labors of Martine de Pasqually, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, and perhaps to a some extent Cagliostro who toiled greatly to found his Egyptian rite in France. It is noticeable, however, that Cagliostro had become a member of a London lodge before attempting work on the Continent. In France, masonry had a more political complexion, being a source of the democratic thought underlying the French (and later the Italian) Revolution. Because of the political alignment of continental Freemasonry, an extreme enmity developed between Free-masonry and the Roman Catholic Church, which had aligned itself to the royal families of Europe. Masonry in England, a country that broke with Rome during the Reformation of the sixteenth century, had a much more apolitical stance.

Official opposition to Freemasonry by the Roman Catholic Church dates back to Papal bulls of 1738 and 1751 and is a tangled story of suspicion and intrigue relating to masonic secrecy and to complex political developments of the time. Much antagonism has been deliberately fostered by mischief makers. For example, during the nineteenth century, the French journalist Gabriel Jogand-Pagés, writing under the name Leo Taxil, perpetrated an extraordinary and prolonged hoax in which he claimed to have exposed a Satanist activity within Freemasonry. The motive appears to have been to embarrass the Roman Catholic Church, but it also added to traditional Church prejudices against Freemasonry and caused much trouble for masons.

The plot involved the claim that a certain Diana Vaughan, claimed to have been a High Priestess of Satanic Freemasonry and dedicated to overthrowing Christianity and winning the world for Satanism, had been converted to the Roman Catholic faith. The memoirs of "Diana Vaughan," written by Jogand, were read by Pope Leo XIII, and Jogand himself was received in private audience by the pope, and an anti-masonic congress was summoned in 1887 at Trent.

On Easter Monday 1897, at a press conference to present Diana Vaughan, Jogand confessed to his conspiracy and the details of his complex hoax are now generally known. But, great damage had already been done to relations between Roman Catholics and Freemasons. In 1917 the church declared that anyone who joined a masonic lodge was automatically excommunicated.

The Masonic Worldview

The Freemasons instituted an initiatory degree system by which members were step-by-step brought into the inner working of the lodge. Initially there were three degrees, but these could never satisfy the true gnostics. Various elaborate systems of degrees were developed to picture the levels leading from this world to God and to symbolize the journey of the knowing soul back home. The most famous, due to its success and longevity, was the 30° system placed upon the original three degrees that emerged as the 33° system of the Ancient and Accepted Rite, the system operative in the United Grand Lodge. This system became integral to the dominant American masonic body, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, and its teachings as illustrated in the writings of Albert Pike, its dominant intellectual leader.

As speculative masonry emerged, it espoused the idea that masonry was a restatement of the ancient religion of human-kind. At one time, the masons suggested, there were two religions, one for the educated and enlightened and one for the masses. The one religion of the enlightened became the base upon which the various historic faiths emerged. Through the centuries, however, adepts (masters) kept the original teachings intact, and they were eventually passed in their purity to the masonic leadership. In the modern age, due to the evolution of the race, more people are now capable of receiving and safely handling that secret wisdom that is now being disseminated by the masonic lodges. That secret wisdom came from the ancient East and Middle East, and both Eastern religions (especially Hinduism) and Western mystical systems such as Kabalism assist the process of describing it.

The ancient wisdom myth of Freemasonry found an origin in the Bible, a significantly more acceptable source to a Christian establishment than Arabia and the Muslim countries of Rosicrucianism. In 1 Kings 7:13-45, the masons found the story of Hiram. Hiram was employed by King Solomon to work on the temple in Jerusalem. After his work, he disappeared from both the pages of the Bible and from history. Freemasons, however, developed his biography that included a murder by his artisan colleagues. Hiram, in working on the temple, became aware of the "Word of God" inscribed in the secret parts of the temple. He would not reveal what he had learned and his non-collegial reticence cost him his life. His death then became integral to the ritual initiation of members who symbolically die and are reborn into the craft.

The masonic worldview begins with three fundamental realities. First, there is a omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle that is ineffable, beyond any limiting descriptors of human language, the end-point of all metaphysical speculation, the rootless root and the uncaused cause. Natural law is a representation of the permanency of the absolute. Second, there exists what we term space in the abstract. Space is a symbol of divinity as it is basic to all experience; it is fathomless but at the same time integral to all human concepts. Third, there exists motion, another abstract notion, representing unconditioned consciousness that manifests as spirit and matter. Spirit and matter are two facets of the absolute.

The universe is seen as a boundless plane, a playground upon which numerous universes come and go. There is an eternal flex in which new universes begin to develop and are absorbed back into the boundless space out of which they were formed. Creation of a universe begins as space becomes turgid and produces a first or potential matter called the akasa. Operating on this matter is absolute abstract motion, latent potential energy, consciousness, and cosmic ideation.

Thus at the beginning is the universal energy (fofat) and the universal substance (akasa) behind which stands consciousness and ultimately the absolute. As creation proceeds, it will occur in steps of seven. Seven plans of creation will be formed from the purely spiritual to physical substance. These seven planes of existence are reflected throughout the universe. Each human also possesses these seven levels. The seven levels are: atma, buddhi, manas, kama, astral, life principle, and physical. The operation of these seven planes in the universe and in the individual provide much room for speculative elaboration and would later provide material upon which Theosophy would build.

Masonry in America

Through the eighteenth century, Freemasonry had aligned itself with the Enlightenment and with the anti-monarchial ideals of the late-century revolutionaries. Masonic and Rosicrucian ideals flowed through the salons of France and supplied vital ideological components of the new revolutionary ethos that allowed the complete overthrow of an obsolete government system and the institution of a new democratic system. The Marquis de Lafayette, who joined in the American Revolution, was a mason. In the United States James Madison; James Monroe; Benjamin Franklin, who financed much of the revolution; and George Washington, who led its armies, were Free-masons. The input of Freemasonry in the founding of the republic can now be found on the dollar bill, which hails the coming of the "ordo nuevo seculorum," the "new order of the ages" and the pyramid topped with the all-seeing eye.

But masonry had established itself in America long before the revolution. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts dates from 1733 and that of South Carolina was founded just four years later. The General Grand Chapter of the Royal Arch Masons of the U.S.A. was founded in Boston in 1797 by representatives from Massachusetts and New York. The Supreme Council 33 of Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States of America was formed in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1801. Albert Pike, the most noteworthy of nineteenth century masons, was the leader of this latter organization for many years (1859-1891). The Order of the Eastern Star, an auxiliary for female relatives of masons, was founded in 1876. The masonic movement now encompasses millions of members primarily in lodges affiliated to its larger organizations, but also in a variety of smaller masonic groups that follow various patterns of different speculative rites.

Understanding the origins of speculative masonry as an occult movement, and the essentially gnostic nature of its thought, does much to explain why many prominent occultists such as Manly Palmer Hall trumpeted their masonic connections. It also shows how masonic thought served as a basis for Theosophy, and the manner in which masonic organizations provided the substructure upon which modern Rosicrucianism emerged at the end of the nineteenth century. Masonry supplied the organizational model not only for Rosicrucianism, but for ceremonial magic groups such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis.


Coil, Henry. Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia. Richmond, Va.: Macoy Publishing, 1961.

. Freemasonry Through Six Centuries. 2 vols. Richmond, Va.: Macoy Publishing, 1961.

Hall, Manly P. Lost Keys of Freemasonry. Richmond, Va.: Macoy Publishing, 1923.

Haywood, H. I. The Newly Made Mason. Richmond, Va.: Macoy Publishing, 1948.

Knight, G. Norman, and F. Smyth. The Pocket History of Free-masonry. London: Fred K. Muller, 1977.

Knight, Stephen. The Brotherhood: The Secret World of the Free-masons. New York: Stein & Day, 1984.

Mackey, Albert G. Mackey's Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. Richmond, Va.: Macoy Publishing, 1909.

Mellor, Alec. Our Separated Brethren: The Freemasons. London: George G. Harp, 1964.

Voorhis, Harold V. B. Masonic Organizations and Allied Orders and Degrees. N.p.: Press of Henry Emmerson, 1952.

Waite, A. E. A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. 2 vols. London: William Rider; New York: David McKay, 1921. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1970. Reprint, New York: Weatherwane, 1971.


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FREEMASONRY. Organized locally in secret societies known as lodges, freemasonry attracted adherents in every major European state over the course of the eighteenth century. Freemasonry, with its humanitarian emphasis on moral improvement, religious toleration, and universal brotherhood, showed clear traces of Enlightenment influence. Although freemasons were avowedly nonpolitical in their aims, some scholars have linked them in France and elsewhere with proto-democratic movements of the later eighteenth century.


The origins of freemasonry are shrouded in colorful myths passed down by generations of masons. Some masons traced their beginnings back to the building of Solomon's temple in biblical times. Others dated their order back to the Templars, the knightly crusading order of the twelfth century. But most historians now see eighteenth-century freemasonry as evolving out of English and Scottish stonemason guilds of the seventeenth century. Master stonemasons were highly skilled craftsmen whose trade demanded considerable technical knowledge in engineering and architecture. Taking pride in their craft, they had developed over the centuries a rich repository of legends and rituals highlighting their history as the builders of palaces and churches. In the seventeenth century their myths and ceremonies began to attract the attention of individuals outside the guild, including those with philosophical and scientific interests who saw masonry as a fount of ancient wisdom. By the early eighteenth century masonic organizations had begun to lose their identity as occupational associations and had evolved into fraternal lodges devoted to charitable activity and the provision of fellowship and mutual aid to their members. As such, the rise of freemasonry was symptomatic of the more general proliferation of clubs, reading societies, salons, and other institutions of sociability that occurred throughout Europe in the age of Enlightenment. Those from the middling ranks of society, especially merchants, comprised a large segment of British freemasons, although members also included aristocrats and even royalty (at the end of the eighteenth century almost all male members of the royal family were members). By 1725 London lodges, which in 1717 had confederated themselves into the Grand Lodge of London, numbered thirty-seven, and by 1780 England as a whole boasted almost four hundred.


With a social base that was urban, mercantile, and hence geographically mobile, freemasonry spread quickly to the Continent. A Parisian lodge was in existence by 1725, and on the eve of the French Revolution there were an estimated 600 lodges in the monarchy as a whole. In 1770 Paris alone had some 10,000 freemasons, and in 1789 France's masonic population ranged between 50,000 and 100,000. In the Dutch Republic lodges were established in The Hague and in Amsterdam in the 1730s, and in Germany some 450 lodges were founded between 1737 and 1789. Freemasonry took root somewhat later in Austria, where the devoutly Catholic Maria Theresa (ruled 17401780) was hostile to the order after the papacy formally condemned it (1738) on the grounds of its alleged deism. But her son and successor, Joseph II (ruled 17801790), himself joined a lodge and encouraged the movement during the early, liberal years of his reign. By 1784 there were sixty-six lodges in the monarchy, although Joseph's successor, the archconservative Francis II, outlawed freemasonry in 1794 as a subversive Jacobin import. The spread of freemasonry was also belated elsewhere on the European periphery. Madrid's first lodge was founded relatively early (1728) by an exiled English Jacobite, but opposition by the church curbed the growth of Spanish freemasonry until the enlightened reign of Charles III (ruled 17591788). Russia's first lodges were founded by and for foreigners, but under Catherine the Great (ruled 17621796) freemasonry for a brief time became fashionable among enlightened circles at the University of Moscow. But by the 1790s Catherine, like her Austrian counterpart, had begun to suppress freemasonry as politically subversive.


Such official persecution has led some to see freemasonry as a proto-democratic, egalitarian, and even revolutionary movement. In her 1991 study of British, Dutch, and French freemasonry, Margaret Jacob argued that masonic lodges served to spread British constitutionalist ideas and practices throughout the Continent. Masons called the rules of their lodges "constitutions" and practiced principles of majority rule in elections of officers and members. Masonic sociability and ceremony also had a distinctly egalitarian flavor. Masonic meetings, where titles were dropped and members referred to each other as "brother," momentarily suspended differences in social rank. Inspired in part by the work of the Catholic royalist historian Augustin Cochin, who found organizational and ideological parallels between pre-Revolutionary French lodges and post-1789 Jacobin clubs, other scholars have viewed freemasonry in a more ominous light. Reinhart Koselleck and François Furet have seen the abstract moralism and egalitarianism of freemasonry as foreshadowing a modern totalitarian quest for ideological purity and unity.

These interpretations vary in details, but all tend to see freemasonry as inherently antagonistic to the social and political structures of the Old Regime. Yet freemasonry looked to the past as well as to the future, and its political manifestations were varied. Like the Old Regime itself, lodges were hierarchical in structure, with members advancing from a lower to a higher rank through service to the order and mastery of its secrets. Admission to and advancement within the order were ostensibly based on merit, but initiation fees, membership dues, and literacy requirements in practice made membership a preserve of the propertied. Freemasonry was also overwhelmingly male in composition, although there is evidence that some French lodges admitted women as well as men. The more traditional features of eighteenth-century freemasonry are also evident in the order's quasi-religious character. In some ways lodges hearkened back to lay confraternities and religious orders in providing members with fellowship, mutual aid, and outlets for charitable work. As with a church, freemasonry's elaborate ceremonies and esoteric symbolism fostered a sense of spiritual mystery as well as a belief that members had access to a higher wisdom closed to those outside the order. Finally, lodges could be found across the political spectrum. In the 1760s many British masons became associated with the cause of popular radicalism through their support of John Wilkes and his demands for parliamentary reform, but by the 1790s British lodges had become solidly loyalist and conservative in character. In France, not all lodges were sympathetic to the Revolution: in Toulouse about one-third of the 250 individuals who can be identified as freemasons were royalist in their sympathies, and some Parisian lodges were hostile to the Revolution from its very inception.

Eighteenth-century freemasonry was innovative not so much for its politics, but rather as a prototype for the voluntary associations and clubs that democratic political theorists have viewed as defining features of modern civil society. Freemasonry was the first secular, voluntary, and pan-European association in modern times, and as such became a model for civic organizations and clubs throughout the West.

See also Enlightenment ; Guilds ; Revolutions, Age of .


Dülmen, Richard van. The Society of the Enlightenment: The Rise of the Middle Class and Enlightenment Culture in Germany. Translated by Anthony Williams. New York, 1992.

Furet, François. Interpreting the French Revolution. Translated by Elborg Forster. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1981.

Halévi, Ran. Les loges maçonniques dans la France d'ancien régime: Aux origines de la sociabilitédémocratique. Paris, 1984.

Jacob, Margaret C. Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry in Eighteenth-Century Europe. New York, 1991.

Koselleck, Reinhart. Critique and Crisis: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society. Cambridge, Mass., 1988.

James Van Horn Melton


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masonic rituals and organizations
some prominent freemasons
masonic terminology and abbreviations
political and historical engagements

A selective fraternal organization based on private initiation rituals, whose symbols and customs are allegedly derived from medieval stonemasons, Freemasonry was first established in England by 1717. Masonic lodges soon appeared elsewhere in France, the Netherlands, the German and Italian states, and Russia. By 1789 perhaps as many as fifty thousand European Masons, most often from the royal courts, landed nobility, and professional middle classes, professed in their lodges the Enlightenment principles of social equality, religious toleration, and moral virtue. For the next 125 years, however, largely in response to the dramatic historical consequences of political and industrial revolution, Freemasons on the Continent especially developed substantially new versions of their initiation rituals and the organizations that regulated their authenticity; they grew in political influence and controversy even as their social status became more diffuse and less prominent. In short, they participated actively in the troubled, uneven evolution of modern civic culture in nineteenth-century Europe.

masonic rituals and organizations

Fundamental to Freemasonry were its secret rituals. The initiations of new Masons took them symbolically in three discrete stages from the "profane" world to the values of brotherhood, charity, and truth. The first degree or grade, the Entered Apprentice, learned what distinguished the Mason from the non-Mason; the second degree, the Fellowcraft or Journeyman, acknowledged the transition to a new life in Masonry; and the third degree, the Master Mason, welcomed the initiate to full rights and responsibilities to vote on admission of new members and take a leadership role in their initiation. Additional degrees, such as those worked by the Knights Templar or the Scottish Rite, built on these foundational grades. In the nineteenth century, the tendency was to add many more degrees; by 1900 the rites of the Memphis-Misraïm worked up to ninety-nine of them.

Dramatizing the symbolic changes in a Mason's status, the specifics of these rituals varied considerably over time and are the main reason for Masonic secrecy: every Mason was sworn not to reveal the ritual mysteries of the craft to noninitiates. Nevertheless, the indiscretions of individual Masons, such as Leo Tolstoy's father, or the efforts of hostile profanes, such as Roman Catholic officials, led to revelationsor exposés not officially sanctioned by Freemasonry. Forms and customs once tied to the medieval stonemasons increasingly gave way to mystical and esoteric rituals, even though the obediences disapproved and tried to limit these novelties in Masonic symbolism.

some prominent freemasons

Philippe-Égalité, duc d'Orléans (initiated 1771), regicide cousin of Louis XVI

Marquis de Lafayette (1775), French general and statesman, "Hero of Two Worlds"

Nikolai Novikov (1775), Russian statesman, confidant of Catherine the Great

Alexander Radishchev (c. 1780), Russian political reformer

George, Prince of Wales (1790), George IV of England

Duke of Wellington (1791), English general and statesman, victor of Waterloo

François Guizot (1804), French historian and statesman in the July Monarchy

Filippo Buonarroti (c. 1806), Italian-born French revolutionary and leader of the Carbonari

James Rothschild (1810), English banker

Alexander Pushkin (1821), Russian poet

William I (1840), king of Prussia and emperor of Germany

Franz Liszt (1841), Hungarian musician and composer of Romantic music

Giuseppe Garibaldi (1844), Italian revolutionary nationalist

Albert Edward (1869), Prince of Wales, Edward VII of England

Léon Gambetta (1875), French patriot and republican political leader

Jules Ferry (1875), French politician, architect of French public education

Rudyard Kipling (1886), English author and champion of British Empire

Annie Besant (1902), English political activist and theosophist

Louise Michel (1904), French revolutionary and Communard

Alexander Kerensky (c. 1910), prime minister, Provisional Government of Russia Philippe-E

A product of liberal Enlightenment ideals, Masonic lodges valued their independence from centralizing authority. Yet coordination of membership among the different lodges, especially those practicing the same ritual, was desirable to foster organizational order. Accordingly, the English were the first to create a Grand Lodge in London, often called the "Moderns" (1717), but they soon encountered resistance from lodges working different rituals in York (1725) and elsewhere in London, better known as the "Antients" (1751). In December 1813 this rivalry ended in the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), which elected a new Grand Master (the Duke of Sussex), crafted a common constitution, and created a uniform philosophic framework for the first three degrees. From then onward, all subsequent Masonic activity, including the recognition of new lodges in England and Wales, was subject to the authority of the UGLE.

masonic terminology and abbreviations


The practice of initiating women under a special system of rituals. Adoption appeared first and most pervasively in polite society in France before 1789. After a brief vogue during the Napoleonic Empire, adoption was not revived again until 1901.

Apprentice or Entered Apprentice:

The first degree in Free-masonry. Symbolically, the initiation suggests the end of the new Mason's previous life and the beginning of a new one.


The 1723 document by the Reverend James Anderson laying out the rules of Masonic activity, which is foundational to Freemasonry as an institution. The 1738 revision of the Constitutions provided a historical explanation of "speculative" or symbolic Masonry, much of it an elaborate mythology underlying the organization's rituals.

Grand Architect of the Universe:

The Supreme Being—as Creator of Heaven and Earth—recognized by all Freemasons initiated into the rituals overseen by the United Grand Lodge of England, but not the Grand Orient of Belgium (since 1871) and the Grand Orient of France (since 1877).


Grand Lodge of France, the rival obedience to the Grand Orient of France, founded in 1895.


Grand Orient of France, the most important obedience in France.


Grand Symbolic Lodge of France, the first obedience to consider initiating women in annual convents in the 1890s.

Journeyman or Fellowcraft:

The second degree in Freemasonry. This intermediary grade between the Entered Apprentice and the Master Mason was often granted at the same time as the first.

Le Droit Humain:

The International Mixed Masonic Order, established in France in 1894 by Maria Desraismes and Georges Martin, and the first and most prominent obedience for both men and women.


The local gathering of Masons for the working of the craft or degrees.

Master Mason:

The third degree in Freemasonry. The culmination of the Apprentice and Journeymen degrees, Master Masons were entitled to full participation in their lodges, including the right to vote on new members and the leading of initiation rituals.


The organizational authority of Masonic lodges observing the same rituals, generally referred to as the "Grand Lodge" or the "Grand Orient," which grants permission to individual lodges to initiate and to work degrees or grades. The most widely recognized Masonic obediences are the United Grand Lodge of England and the Grand Orient of France.

Royal Art or the Craft:

Freemasonry's universal symbolism.

Scottish Rite, Ancient and Accepted:

The system of higher, or side, degrees beyond that of Master Mason. The Scottish Rite has developed thirty-three degrees, which are often associated with certain elitist, knightly, and Christian tendencies in Freemasonry outside the English context.


United Grand Lodge of England, the largest and most widely recognized authority in European Freemasonry, founded in 1813.

These efforts at centralization in England, however, were unwelcome on the Continent. The French were particularly creative in establishing another Grand Lodge (1738) and then a rival Grand Orient (1773), until 1799 when these two merged into the Grand Orient of France

(GOF). Other obediences were obliged briefly to coordinate their activities. In 1804 the Scottish Rite entered into an agreement with the GOF, only to regain its independence a year later. Also in 1804 the Supreme Council assumed responsibility for regulating the first three degrees, including the creation of new lodges (after 1820), and in 1805 the Grand Directory of Rites, later the Grand College of Rites (1826), took charge of regulating all other degrees.

The largest proliferation of French obediences occurred after 1850. The Grand Symbolic Lodge of France (GSLF), an emanation of the Supreme Council, started under another name in 1880; the Grand Lodge of France (GLF), following the Scottish Rite, was founded in 1895 and fused with the GSLF in 1896. The Grand Lodge of the Ancient and Primitive Rite of Memphis-Misraïm appeared in 1899. Finally, after years of interest expressed by women in participating, the International Mixed Masonic Order: Le Droit Humain was organized in 1894, and the adoptive lodges under the auspices of the GLF began in 1901. In Masonic history, France was an innovator in ritual and organization.

Freemasonry had even less central authority in the other European countries. Freemasons were regulated for less than ten years during France's First Empire (1804–1814), when the GOF was authorized to oversee Masonic activity everywhere French hegemony prevailed, in the Netherlands, many of the German and Italian states, and Spain. Immediately after the empire, European lodges worked the craft most often in secret because the reactionary Restoration regimes outlawed them as revolutionary cells. The establishment of nation-states, especially in the wake of Italian and German unification in 1870 and 1871, respectively, reinforced the decentralization of Masonic authority. In Russia Freemasonry was forbidden until 1918.

political and historical engagements

Under the long, stable reign of Queen Victoria (r. 1837–1901), English Freemasons enjoyed an uninterrupted detachment from politics. Princes of the realm and their relatives regularly served as Grand Masters and Provincial Grand Masters of the UGLE without controversy primarily because of a studious political disengagement in the lodges. The Masonic enthusiasm of Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales (1841–1910), enabled the UGLE to prosper before his accession to the throne (as Edward VII) in 1901. Finances from dues-paying Masons increased more than threefold during the nineteenth century. The principal concerns remained the rapid expansion of lodges in the British Empire.

Elsewhere Freemasons were often embroiled in political conflict. In 1789 Masons appeared in the tumultuous Estates-General; 103 out of 578 deputies in the revolutionary National Assembly were Freemasons. Consequently, archconservatives such as the Abbé Augustin de Barruel created the myth of a Masonic conspiracy, even though sixteen of Napoleon I's twenty-six marshals became members and lent Masonry an official legitimacy. With the Restoration in 1815, however, a comparable movement, the Carbonari, actually used its secrecy for revolutionary purposes in France and the Italian states. Individual Masons were active in much revolutionary activity in Russia (1825), in France and the Italian and German states (1830 and 1848), and again in France (1870–1871), despite the explicit policy of the main obediences not to challenge political authority, especially after unification in Italy and Germany.

Under the pontificate of Pius IX (r. 1846–1878), the Roman Catholic Church actively combated the rival religion it saw in Freemasonry. Repeated papal bulls threatened all Catholic Masons with excommunication. Church officials condemned the Masonic principles of religious tolerance, which had led many assimilated Jews to join. The GOF in 1877 dropped from its texts and rituals all references to the Grand Architect of the Universe, that is, to a Supreme Being, despite the opposition of the more traditional UGLE and its Continental affiliates. The rupture between the GOF and the UGLE continued into the twenty-first century. The basis for the sweeping Catholic condemnation of Masonry, due in part to the Vatican's struggle with recently unified Italy, seemed justified by the anticlerical politics of many GOF Masons in the French Third Republic, culminating in Émile Combes's forced separation of church and state in 1905.

Because of its selective secrecy, Freemasonry soon acquired a distinctive historical mythology. Masons borrowed the suggestions of James Anderson's 1738 imaginative history to elaborate their own lore, derived from the Bible and cultures with impressive stone monuments, to legitimize their organization and to enrich the symbolism of their rituals. Scottish Rite Masons, for example, adopted the myth of the Knights Templar, which formed the basis for their many medieval degrees. These efforts were given force by creative works such as Charles Gounod's opera The Queen of Sheba (1862) and Tolstoy's novel War and Peace (1865–1869). But they did so in the face of powerful countermyths promoted by the church and a popular culture eager to seize on Freemasonry's deliberate mystifications. In 1892, the unscrupulous French publicist Léo Taxil took advantage of widespread fascination with the occult and of fierce anticlericalism to write a best-selling revelation of a self-professed female Mason, Miss Diana Vaughan, which turned out to be an elaborate hoax.

The controversies over Freemasonry eased with the rapid proliferation of civic culture in liberal societies on the eve of World War I. Masons probably represented more than 10 percent of the adult male population in Britain and France by 1914, and had begun to attract a growing number of women in Le Droit Humain and the new

lodges of adoption, which had been reconstituted in France, Spain, and Italy. Since the eighteenth century, Freemasons had included many more members of the newer, middling social groups created by a century of industrialization. Teachers, office managers, salesmen, and government functionaries joined social and political elites in the lodges, often for mixed motives such as employment networks and charitable activities, mostly in small towns. By the end of the long nineteenth century, Freemasonry had become a widely recognized if not exemplary civic organization in modern Europe.

See alsoAnticlericalism; Carbonari; Pius IX.


Primary Sources

Anderson, James. The Constitutions of the Free Masons. London, 1723. Reprint, London, 1976.

Lane, John, ed. Masonic Records, 1717–1894. 2nd ed. London, 1895.

Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Translated by Constance Garnett. 3 vols. New York, 1994.

Secondary Sources

Hamill, John. The History of English Freemasonry. Addlestone, Surrey, U.K., 1994.

Headings, Mildred J. French Freemasonry under the Third Republic. Baltimore, Md., 1949.

Katz, Jacob. Jews and Freemasons in Europe, 1723–1939. Translated by Leonard Oschry. Cambridge, Mass., 1970.

Roberts, John M. The Mythology of Secret Societies. London, 1972.

Smyth, Frederick, comp. A Reference Book for Freemasons. London, 1998.

James Smith Allen


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FREEMASONS , members of a secret society which developed out of craftmen's associations, originally consisting of masons proper. From the 17th century the society existed mainly as a social organization and cultivated a tradition of doctrines, passwords, and symbols, a ritual which is supposed to derive from the building of the First Temple in Jerusalem. The coat of arms of the English lodges is said to have been adapted from one painted by Jacob Judah Leon *Templo. Modern Freemasonry began in England around 1717; in 1723 the London Grand Lodge adopted a constitution formulated by the Reverend James Anderson, based on some older traditions. A printed constitution facilitated the foundation of new lodges on the basis of a recognized authority. During the next decades the lodges spread, in Britain, France, Holland, Germany, and many other countries. All the lodges regarded themselves as belonging to the same fraternity, and a Freemason appearing at any lodge with a certificate of membership was admitted to the work of the lodge and entitled to hospitality and help in case of need. The first paragraph of the constitution stated that anyone found to be true and honest, of whatever denomination or persuasion, was to be admitted. The constitution obliged the member only to hold "to that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves," a declaration of religious tolerance based on the current Deist trend, which postulated a Supreme Being who could be conceived of by any rational being. It is not known whether the possible aspiration of Jews to be accepted in the lodges influenced the wording of the constitution; yet it is formulated in a way that includes Jews as possible members. Thus, when a Jew asked for admission in 1732, one of the London lodges accepted him. The doors of the English lodges remained open to Jews in principle, although in practice there was some discrimination.

The Deistic declaration in the constitution did not remove some traces of Christian practice, including the New Testament, playing a part in the lodges. Nevertheless in the middle of the 18th century Jews joined the lodges, not only in England but also in Holland, France, and Germany. A Jewish lodge, the Lodge of Israel, was established in London in 1793.

Masonic tolerance weakened as a result of attacks made on it by the traditional sectors of all religions, who feared its all-embracing intentions. The Catholic Church banned – and still bans – Freemasonry in a bull promulgated by Pope Clement xii in 1738. The Deism of Freemasonry was clearly contrary to Church doctrines, and conservative Protestants and Jews also felt that its rituals were in conflict with their religious beliefs. To the objection of the Churches and other conservative elements in society, the Masons reacted by an apology which, in the main, tried to prove that Freemasonry was not an un-Christian institution, an argument supported by the fact that the Masonic fraternity consisted exclusively of Christians: Jews, Muslims, and pagans were not and should not be accepted. However, in England and Holland no objection in principle to Jewish applicants existed and in France the objections were swept away with the Revolution. Here Freemasonry became a kind of secular church in which Jews could participate freely. Adolphe *Crémieux was not only a Freemason from his early youth but in 1869 became the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the Scottish Rite in Paris.

In Germany objection to Jewish membership persisted, remaining a matter of controversy for generations. Until the 1780s only a few German Jews were admitted to Masonry. About this time Jewish applications for admission to the Masonic lodges became frequent. Though there were some attempts to open the lodges to Jews, no German Freemason of any standing at that time advocated Jewish admittance. Some German Jews became Freemasons when traveling abroad in England, Holland, and, particularly, in post-revolutionary France. In Germany itself French or French-initiated lodges were established during the Napoleonic occupation. A Jewish lodge, L'Aurore Naissante, was founded in Frankfurt, authorized in 1808 by the Grand Orient in Paris. These ventures, however, hardened the resistance of the indigenous lodges in Frankfurt and in other German towns, and some Masonic fraternities introduced amended constitutions specifically excluding Jews.

In the 1830s German intellectuals who were Freemasons protested against this exclusion, joined by Masons from Holland, England, France, and even by a lodge in New York, who resented the fact that their Jewish members were refused entrance to German lodges. By 1848 some lodges admitted Jews, if not as full members at least as visitors. The years of the 1848 Revolution swept away some of the paragraphs excluding Jews, and the Frankfurt Jewish lodges were now acknowledged by their Christian counterparts. The exceptions were the Prussian lodges, controlled by law from 1798 by the mother lodges from Berlin. In 1840 there were 164 Prussian lodges with a membership of 13,000. No Jew could ever be admitted to these, not even as a visitor, but many members, and sometimes entire lodges, wanted to reintroduce the original English constitution which excluded the attachment of Freemasonry to any specific religion. By the early 1870s most branches admitted Jews as visitors, sometimes even as permanent visitors, and in one of the branches of the Prussian lodges the restrictive paragraph was removed in 1872. A new wave of antisemitism, however, soon swept over the Bismarckian Reich, and by 1876 the lodges were already adopting an antisemitic tone. Those Jews who had been accepted by Prussian lodges left during the antisemitic outbreaks, followed by some liberal-minded Christians who were shocked by the behavior of a society ostensibly committed to the ideal of brotherhood.

Some Freemasons genuinely believed that confessing the Jewish faith was a disqualification for Freemasonry, which they regarded as a Christian institution, a view contested by those who adhered to the original English constitution and called themselves humanistic Freemasons. The struggle between the two trends continued during the 19th century.

In Germany in the 1860s Jews and Freemasons began to be identified as twin agencies responsible for undermining traditional society. This combined criticism of the two groups was transplanted to France, where a succession of books stressed "le peril judéo-maçonnique." The notion of a sinister alliance between the two played a conspicuous part in the *Dreyfus Affair and it became an antisemitic commonplace. The Protocols of the *Elders of Zion (first published in Russia in 1904) included the idea of a Jewish-Masonic plot to control the world. In Germany up to this time, Freemasonry was still thought of as a conservative and partly antisemitic association. When the Protocols were translated into German and English in the 1920s, Jews and Freemasons were identified as the sinister agents of the outbreak of World War i and of the German defeat. The slogan Juden und Freimaurer became a battle cry of the German right wing, and was utilized by Hitler in his rise to power. During World War ii, Freemasons together with "Bolsheviks and Jews" were persecuted by the Nazis.

[Encyclopaedia Hebraica]

In the U.S.

Jewish names appear among the founders of Freemasonry in colonial America, and in fact it is probable that Jews were the first to introduce the movement into the country. Tradition connects Mordecai Campanall, of Newport, Rhode Island, with the supposed establishment of a lodge there in 1658. In Georgia four Jews appear to have been among the founders of the first lodge, organized in Savannah in 1734. Moses Michael Hays, identified with the introduction of the Scottish Rite into the United States, was appointed deputy inspector general of Masonry for North America in about 1768. In 1769 Hays organized the King David's Lodge in New York, moving it to Newport in 1780. He was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts from 1788 to 1792. Moses *Seixas was prominent among those who established the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island, and was Grand Master from 1802 to 1809. A contemporary of Hays, Solomon *Bush, was deputy inspector general of Masonry for Pennsylvania, and in 1781 Jews were influential in the Sublime Lodge of Perfection in Philadelphia which played an important part in the early history of Freemasonry in America. Other early leaders of the movement included: Isaac da *Costa (d. 1783), whose name is found among the members of King Solomon's Lodge, Charleston, in 1753; Abraham Forst, of Philadelphia, deputy inspector general for Virginia in 1781; and Joseph Myers, who held the same office, first for Maryland, and later for South Carolina. In 1793 the cornerstone ceremony for the new synagogue in Charleston, South Carolina, was conducted according to the rites of Freemasonry.

The later history of Freemasonry in the United States shows a number of prominent Jewish names, but nothing corresponding to their influence in the earlier period. In 1843 the Grand Lodge in New York addressed a letter to the Mutterloge in Berlin complaining against the refusal of German lodges to accept registered Masons of the American Lodge because they were Jewish. Nonsectarianism in matters of religion has always characterized American Freemasonry, and regulations excluding Jews have not been part of their constitutions, though whether admissions policies have ever been restrictive would be difficult to establish. The apparatus of secrecy, ritual, and regalia which was a feature of *B'nai B'rith in its early years no doubt reflected the influence of Masonic practice as well as a desire to offer a substitute within the Jewish community.

[Sefton D. Temkin]

In Israel

In the Masonic world Jerusalem has always been regarded as the birthplace of Freemasonry; according to its tradition, there were Masonic lodges in the Holy Land at the time of the erection of King Solomon's Temple. Lodges are known there from the middle of the 19th century. During the Ottoman regime, six lodges were established in the country. The first regular one was founded in Jerusalem in May 1873, under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Canada. In 1891 another was established in Jaffa under the National Grand Lodge of Egypt. During the years 1910–11 the Grand Lodge of Scotland founded three lodges. During the British mandatory regime, Freemasonry flourished under several jurisdictions, in the main those of the Grand Lodges of Palestine and of Scotland. In 1932, four lodges in Jerusalem, holding under the National Grand Lodge of Egypt, constituted themselves into the National Grand Lodge of Palestine. Later, three of other jurisdictions joined it.

With the establishment of the State of Israel, a number of changes occurred: the lodges holding under the Grand Lodge of England and one holding under the Grand Lodge of Scotland moved out of the area. The remaining lodges of foreign origin and the five holding under the German Symbolic Grand Lodge in Exile joined the National Grand Lodge of Palestine. The five remaining lodges holding under the Grand Lodge of Scotland started to negotiate with their Grand Lodge to consecrate a Sovereign Grand Lodge of the State of Israel, which would encompass all the Masonic lodges in the country. The United Grand Lodge of the State of Israel was constituted in 1953 and since its consecration is the only sovereign grand lodge in Israel. In 1970 it consisted of 64 lodges, with some 3,500 active members drawn from all communities; Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze. The activities of the Grand Lodge and its several lodges included a mutual insurance fund; the Masonic old age home at Nahariyyah; Masonic temples all over the country; and a museum and library. By the early 21st century the number of lodges had increased to over 80.

[Abraham Fellman]


J. Katz, Jews and Freemasons (1970); idem, in: jjso, 9 (1967), 137–47; J.G. Findel, Die Juden als Freimaurer (1901); D. Wright, The Jews and Freemasonry (1930); S. Oppenheim, in: ajhsp, 19 (1910), 1–94; A.M. Friedenberg, ibid., 95–100; H. Loewe, in: Masonic News, 1 (1928), 14–15.


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Freemasonry, America's oldest and most important voluntary society, experienced enormous change during the generation after the Revolution. The fraternity entered a period of unprecedented growth in prestige and popularity, but a powerful new movement opposing it in the 1820s led to a dramatic decline in membership.

origins and the revolution

An international fraternity of men using secret rituals and meetings open only to members to promote morality, charity, and fellowship, the modern order of Free and Accepted Masons developed out of British craft organizations. Details of this transition remain obscure, but the years surrounding the 1717 formation of a grand lodge in London were crucial. By the end of the 1720s, Masonry had assumed much of its distinctive form: a series of local lodges supervised by grand lodges; a secret ritual system made up of three levels known as degrees, augmented by a less well-defined series of further, "higher," degrees; metaphorical use of building tools to represent moral truths; and an ideal of brotherhood encompassing men of differing political, religious, national, and ethnic affiliations. This new "speculative" Masonry (so-called to distinguish it from "operative" builders) spread rapidly to the European continent and America. Lodges met in Philadelphia by 1730 and Boston by 1733. But the colonial fraternity remained small. Before the 1760s, it included only a couple of dozen lodges in coastal cities, made up primarily of well-todo elites seeking to assert status as enlightened gentlemen.

The Revolutionary years brought major challenges. The break with England, the source of Masonic legitimacy, forced a reorganization that placed final Masonic authority in the hands of state grand lodges rather than in Britain or the national grand lodge some brothers favored. Issues of loyalty also caused problems. Barred by rule from discussing politics and religion, the fraternity took no official stand on the conflict itself, but individual brothers had to make choices. Many remained loyal to the king. Many others, however, became leaders in the Revolutionary cause, including Masonic officers Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, and George Washington. The proportion of Masons at the Continental Congress that approved the Declaration of Independence and at the Constitutional Convention was far higher than their proportion in the general public. Of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration, nine (perhaps twelve) were Masons (at least 16.1 percent); twelve (perhaps fifteen) of the fifty-five members of the Constitutional Convention were Freemasons (at least 21.8 percent). The fraternity proved even more popular in the Continental Army. Ten military lodges, generally limited to officers, met in its camps. About 42 percent of the army's generals were or later became Masons.

post-revolutionary masonry

These connections with the Revolution helped spur a generation of Masonic expansion. By 1806 New York alone had more than a hundred lodges; twenty years later, it had five times that many. A Masonic meeting in 1822 estimated national membership (conservatively) at eighty thousand. By then, lodges met in nearly every village, town, and city in the country. Post-Revolutionary brothers celebrated this growth as evidence of the fraternity's identification with the ideals of the Revolution and the new nation. Like the Republic, they proclaimed, the fraternity supported learning, education, morality, and non-sectarian Christianity. Its rituals and fraternal oversight provided a particularly effective means of teaching these values. As a Massachusetts minister, Preserved Smith, argued in 1798, Masonry was "the great instrument of civilization."

Such bold claims partly responded to anxieties about the problem of preserving the Republic. But they also spoke to continuing criticism of the fraternity, questions that focused primarily on Masonic secrecy and religious diversity (the exclusion of women also was a common issue). These doubts, however, remained secondary except in a few rural areas and some conservative religious groups. Even the attacks on the Illuminati first raised by the clergyman Jedidiah Morse and others in 1798, claiming that this subversive order had caused the French Revolution partly through infiltration of continental Masonic lodges, generally explicitly exempted the American fraternity. Ministers and church members often joined and led lodges. Churches even called on the fraternity to dedicate their buildings. Such cornerstone-laying ceremonies became popular for all sorts of public structures, including the United States Capitol (1793), the University of Virginia (1817), and the Bunker Hill Monument (1825).

More than public ideals made Masonry attractive. Membership also conferred private advantages. Lodges and grand lodges provided substantial charitable aid to needy brothers and their families. More important, Masonic affiliation also helped build contacts that could prove extremely valuable in business and politics. Members typically joined the fraternity in their twenties as they were moving into manhood, a pattern followed by such prominent leaders as New York governor DeWitt Clinton, Kentucky senator and U.S. secretary of state Henry Clay, and President Andrew Jackson. Fraternal membership helped establish an honorable reputation and develop relationships with local and national leaders. According to the idea of "preference" that became widespread in these years, Masons were obligated to help and support brothers over similarly qualified non-Masons.

As Masonry grew both in size and significance, the fraternity itself changed as well. What had been a series of scattered lodges now became a well-organized institution with complex rules and organizations. Reform-minded brothers carefully revised rituals to make them more powerful and more uniform—and pressed for exact memorization of these new ceremonies. Higher degrees also became popular. Established in organizations outside the lodge, these new ceremonies included what would later become the Scottish Rite (founded in 1802, but relatively small until the twentieth century) as well as the York Rite (a system that included the degrees of the Royal Arch and the Knights Templar).

the rise of anti-masonry

Success, however, also brought problems. Expansion sharpened tensions inherent in Masonry itself, between public and private goals, between inclusiveness and exclusivity, between adherence to religious ideals and acceptance of diversity. These fault lines were exposed when, in September 1826, a number of Masons, acting unofficially, kidnapped and possibly murdered William Morgan, a Freemason who had announced plans to publish a volume containing the rituals of both the original three degrees and some higher degrees. Morgan's disappearance, and an attempted cover-up by the fraternity, sparked a huge reaction. The anti-Masonic movement that emerged from this anger attacked the fraternity as a threat to both Christianity and republicanism. American Masonry was weakened in the South and nearly destroyed in the North. Membership began to revive only after 1840 with the weakening of anti-Masonic anger. This revival marked the start of another, even more substantial expansion lasting into the middle of the twentieth century.

See alsoAnti-Masons; Continental Congresses; Franklin, Benjamin .


Bullock, Steven C. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730–1840. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Goodman, Paul. Towards a Christian Republic: Antimasonry and the Great Transition in New England, 1826–1836. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Lipson, Dorothy Ann. Freemasonry in Federalist Connecticut. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977.

Steven C. Bullock


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FREEMASONS. This international quasi-religious fraternity is properly called the Ancient and Accepted Order of Freemasons. The number of freemasons in the United States crested at four million around 1960. In terms of freemasons as a percentage of the population, their popularity was greatest in the United States from after the Civil War until the 1920s. Freemasons traditionally were white, native-born, and Protestant. The primary purpose of the freemasons is to meet the social and personal needs of their members. An important activity of freemasons is the performance of various secret rituals, held within Masonic temples. Symbolizing the temple of King Solomon, the temples are usually located in prominent places within urban areas. Freemason rituals are infused with religious allegories that emphasize the omnipotence of God, the importance of a moral life, and the possibility of immortality. Over the course of the twentieth century, in an effort to respond to younger members' interests as well as reverse declining membership, free-masons have increasingly emphasized community service over religious symbolism. Today there are perhaps slightly more than three million freemasons in the United States, distributed among some fourteen thousand Grand Lodges.

The term "freemason" dates from the fourteenth century, when stonemasons in Europe bound themselves together for their mutual protection and training. During the Reformation freemasonry became open to men other than stonemasons. On 24 June 1717 a group met in London to found the first Grand Lodge. The first freemason to live in the British colonies in America was Jonathan Belcher, who joined the freemasons in England in 1704 and later became the governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The first lodge in the United States was established in Philadelphia in 1731, and in 1734 Benjamin Franklin became its Grand Master.

Freemasons were prominent during the revolutionary and constitutional periods, and have held important positions in modern politics. Fourteen presidents have been freemasons, most recently Gerald R. Ford. George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Benedict Arnold, all generals of the Continental Army, were freemasons, and it is possible that Washington selected his generals partly on the basis of their freemason status. Before the Revolution Franklin represented colonial interests in England, and after the war he was the American minister to France, and as he undoubtedly consulted with other free-masons in both countries, his fraternal standing could have served his diplomatic purposes. Franklin's efforts to expand the U.S. Constitution's protection of religious belief also accord with his freemasonry background.

While an important principle for freemasons is the acceptance of all religions, they have been denounced by the Catholic Church, in part because at certain periods they were involved with anti-immigrant or racist causes, for instance that of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. The greatest controversy in freemason history, however, involved one William Morgan of Batavia, New York. In retaliation for the order's refusal to permit him to form a local lodge, in March 1826 Morgan contracted to publish a pamphlet that revealed the secrets of freemasonry. In September Morgan was abducted and probably drowned in the Niagara River. His pamphlet, Illustrations of Masonry, was published in October 1826. Because of its exclusive membership (perhaps 32,000 members in 1820) and its secrecy, freemasonry was already suspected as anti-democratic. Morgan's pamphlet, and the alleged cover-up of his abduction by judges and jurors who themselves were freemasons, greatly galvanized anti-Masonic feeling across the country. In 1828 Thurlow Weed, a prominent newspaper publisher, organized a political party known as the Anti-Masonic Party. The party was the first to hold a convention for the nomination of a presidential candidate. In 1832 William Wirt, a former U.S. attorney general, headed the ticket. Anti-Masonic political activity spread to New England and the Northwest, but by the early 1840s there was little national interest in the party's agenda.

The Masonic affiliation of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, was perhaps the most long-lived, if incidental, legacy of this controversy. Smith, a freemason, founded his church in 1830 in Palmyra, New York, and was murdered by an anti-Mormon mob on 27 June 1844. While freemasons may have taken part in the crime, Smith's successor, Brigham Young, also a freemason, held the Order of Freemasons blameless. The influence of the rituals of freemasonry upon the ceremonies and rites of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is still apparent today.

Another incidental consequence of the practice of freemasonry was the rise of Negro freemasonry. A black man named Prince Hall founded a lodge in 1775. Due to racist resistance by white freemasons, Prince Hall Masonry did not gain general acceptance as a legitimate order until the 1960s. Thus the exclusivity of white free-masons was possibly an important factor in the forging of the group self-consciousness of middle-class blacks.

Especially in the twentieth century the freemasons have undertaken important reform and charitable causes. The widespread illiteracy of American men became apparent during the World War I era. As a result freemasons began lobbying for a federal department of education, which eventually came to fruition. Over their history the freemasons have spawned close to one hundred affiliated groups that emulate the freemason's secret rituals and modern commitment to public service. The first large-scale labor organization, the Knights of Labor, adapted many Masonic motifs and phrases. The most prominent affiliated groups today are the Knights Templar, the Scottish Rite, and the Shriners. The last group has raised millions of dollars for medical treatment of children.


Carnes, Mark C. Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989.

Demott, Bobby J. Freemasonry in American Culture and Society. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1986. A revealing but often excessively favorable account.

Dumenil, Lynn. Freemasonry and American Culture, 1880–1930. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984.

Kutolowski, Kathleen Smith. "Freemasonry and Community in the Early Republic: The Case for Antimasonic Anxieties." American Quarterly 34 (1982): 543–561.

Muraskin, William Alan. Middle-Class Blacks in a White Society: Prince Hall Freemasonry in America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.

Additionally, various state Grand Lodges publish annual Journals of Proceedings that contain administrative, charitable, and historical information.

Timothy M.Roberts

See alsoAnti-Masonic Movements ; Latter-day Saints, Church of Jesus Christ of .


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A secret fraternal order.

Drawing on guild practices of the masons and deriving its "oriental" origins from the period of Solomon's temple in Jerusalem, the order of Free and Accepted Masons recognizes some six million members worldwide. The order's first Grand Lodge was organized in London in 1717. Incorporating a complex system of secret rituals, rites, and decrees, the society admits members who profess a belief in God, but keep the particulars of their faith private. Members include Muslims, Christians, and Jews. There is no central authority. Freemasonry advocates religious toleration, fellowship, and political compromise, and members work for peace and harmony between peoples.

Freemasonry in the Middle East is traced initially to individuals, most notably Iranians who, serving as diplomats, were invited to join lodges by Europeans and upon their return disseminated the ideology. Masonic lodges in the region were established by Europeans in areas they influenced and were used by the French and the British to cultivate local individuals. Lodges in Calcutta (founded in 1730) attracted Hindus and Muslims, and the philosophy probably entered Iran at this time with Iranian merchants who lived in India.

The establishment in the Middle East of masonic lodges affiliated with the European movement, however, dates from Napoléon's invasion of Egypt, when French soldiers established chapters in Cairo (1798) and in Alexandria (1802). Italian émigrés, after their abortive revolution in Italy (1830), set up Italian lodges, and the British and the Germans became active in the 1860s. In Iran, the first lodge (a nonaffiliated one) was set up in 1858 by an Armenian convert to Islam, Mirza Malkom Khan, and was short lived. The French masonic lodge in Istanbul, L'Union d'Orient, dates from 1865. During the Ottoman period, there were lodges in Beirut and Jerusalem, and the society flourished under the Palestine mandate. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim members support a mutual insurance fund, an oldage home, a library, and masonic temples in Israel. There have been lodges in most Middle Eastern countries at one time or another, depending upon the regime in power.

Although it never attracted many members on the popular level, freemasonry in the Middle East was a significant component of Middle Eastern reform politics during the latter part of the nineteenth century until World War I. Because it incorporated unique rites, a clandestine apparatus, and a select membershipfeatures familiar in Sufi, futuwwa, and other Islamic movementsand was a convenient vehicle for the dissemination of European ideas, it drew Islamic modernists and political activists such as the Egyptian Muhammad Abduh, the Iranian Jamal al-din al-Afghani, and the Algerian Abd alQadir.

Masonic lodges were convenient covers for clandestine activities. Because they were, by and large, Western institutions protected under the capitulations, governments could not penetrate them or monitor their activities. Members were also able to draw upon the support of European masons in defense of local members. During the 1870s, the movement was used as a tool by Prince Halim of Egypt who was denied succession and conspired to rule. Khedive Ismaʿil and his successor, Tawfiq, banished a number of prominent members who were also active in reformist political activitiesYaʿqub Sanu and Afghani, among others. Ottoman modernists of the Tanzimat period were responsible for Ottoman Sultan Murat V's brief rule in 1876. In Iran, lodges existed sporadically in the nineteenth century and were allowed under Mohammad Ali Shah until 1911 and the end of the constitutional movement. Iranians, Egyptians, and Ottomans met at lodges throughout the Middle East when they traveled, but there is no evidence that any unified political actions emerged.

For the Young Turks, exposed to freemasonry largely in the Balkans and Constantinople (now Istanbul), the lodges were convenient meeting places to bring together Christians and Muslims, and to plan the overthrow of the regime of Sultan Abdülhamit II. The existence of so many Freemasons in the large secular leadership of the Committee for Union and Progress generated polemical literature of a conspiratorial nature against the regime just before Turkey's entry into World War I on the side of Germany.

See also Abd al-Qadir; Abduh, Muhammad; Abdülhamit II; Afghani, Jamal al-Din al-; Capitulations; Committee for Union and Progress; Malkom Khan, Mirza; Sanu, Yaʿqub; Tanzimat; Young Turks.


Algar, Hamid. "An Introduction to the History of Freemasonry in Iran." Middle Eastern Studies 6 (1970).

Hanioğlu, M. Sükrü. "Notes on the Young Turks and Freemasons, 18751908." Middle Eastern Studies 25 (1989).

Kedourie, Elie. "Young Turks, Freemasons, and Jews." Middle Eastern Studies 7 (1971).

Landau, Jacob M. "Prolegomena to a Study of Secret Societies in Modern Egypt." Middle Eastern Studies 1 (1964).

Reeva S. Simon


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Freemasonry came to Russia as part of the eighteenthcentury expansion that made the craft a global phenomenon. Although at first it was one of several social institutions, including salons, societies, and clubs, that made their way to Russia in the course of Westernization, Freemasonry soon acquired considerable importance, evolving into a widespread, variegated, and much vilified social movement.

Despite the legends that attributed the origins of Russian Freemasonry to Peter the Great (who purportedly received his degree from Christopher Wren), the first reliable evidence places the beginnings of the craft in Russia in the 1730s and early 1740s. The movement expanded in the latter half of the eighteenth century, especially between 1770 and 1790, when more than a hundred lodges were created in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and the provinces.

Freemasonry was an important element of the Russian Enlightenment and played a central role in the evolution of Russia's public sphere and civil society. The lodges were self-governed and open to free men (but not women) of almost every nationality, rank, and walk of life, with the notable exception of serfs. While many lodges were nothing but glorified social clubs, there were numerous brethren who saw themselves as on a mission to reform humankind and battle Russia's perceived "barbarity" by means of charity and self-improvement. They regarded the lodges as havens of righteousness and nurseries of virtue in a depraved world.

The history of Russian Freemasonry followed a tortuous path. Most of the lodges, especially in the provinces, were shortlived, and Russian Freemasonry was very fragmented. Some lodges were subordinated to the Grand Lodge of England; others belonged to the Swedish Rite, the Strict Observance, or some other jurisdiction. Contemporaries made a distinction between Freemasonry proper and Martinism, a mystical strand in the movement that claimed the famous mystic Claude SaintMartin as its founder. A group of Moscow Rosicrucians headed by JohannGeorg Schwarz and Nikolai Ivanovich Novikov were the most important Martinists. Often referred to as "Novikov's circle," they enjoyed close ties with the university, the government, and even the local diocese and initiated numerous educational and charitable initiatives, such as the Friendly Learned Society, the Typographical Company, and the Philological Seminary. Novikov's circle was an important episode in the history of the Russian Enlightenment. Its activities, however, came to an end in 1792, when Novikov was arrested, interrogated, and sentenced to life in prison.

Many aspects of the so-called Novikov affair are still unclear. The government of Catherine II may have had political motives for arresting Novikov, given the Rosicrucians' ties to foreign powers as well as to the future Emperor Paul I and his entourage. The affair may also, in large part, have been caused by the fear of occult secret societies and antiMasonic sentiment that was spreading through Europe. AntiMasonry later became an important political factor in imperial and post-Soviet Russia.

Russian Freemasonry enjoyed a brief period of relatively unhampered existence in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The craft counted among its members practically every politician, military leader, and intellectual of note, including Mikhail Kutuzov and Alexander Pushkin; many of the Decembrists belonged to the Astrea lodge in St. Petersburg. After 1822, when Alexander I imposed a ban on all secret societies, the situation changed. The ban, confirmed by Nicholas I in 1826, signified the official end of Freemasonry, although some clandestine lodges continued to operate, particularly during a brief revival on the eve of World War I. Freemasonry was again outlawed in Soviet Russia in the early 1920s. The ban ended in the 1990s, when the French National Grand Lodge established lodges in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Voronezh, and chapters of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite were also organized.

See also: catherine ii; enlightenment, impact of; novikov, nikolai ivanovich; paul i


Smith, Douglas. (1999). Working the Rough Stone: Freemasonry and Society in Eighteenth-Century Russia. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press.

Olga Tsapina


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Freemasonry is a worldwide fraternal order that insists on belief in God as a condition of membership. Masonry traces its roots to the formation of the first Grand Lodge in London, England, on June 24, 1717. The first American Lodge was chartered in Boston on July 30, 1733. George Washington was a Mason. Membership in the various branches of Masonry reached over four million through the mid-twentieth century, but declined to two and a half million by 1991. Masons are initiated through the Blue Lodge but can later become members of the York or Scottish Rites. Masonry has been popularized through the social impact of the Shriners, famous for their charitable efforts in children's hospitals and burn centers.

There has been considerable debate over whether Freemasonry is a religion. While the rituals contain religious language and moral themes, Masons are free to belong to any religion that affirms belief in God and are forbidden to discuss the topic of religion in Lodge meetings. Conservative Christian and secular writers continue to argue that Masons exercise enormous international power for evil purposes. Stephen Knight, a British journalist, created a storm with The Brotherhood, his political exposé of Masonry. His untimely death after the book's publication led to charges that he was murdered under orders from the Lodge. Fundamentalist critics Jim Shaw and Tom McKenney contend in The Deadly Deception that key Masonic symbols are sexual in nature and represent a revival of both pagan mystery religion and overt Satanic worship. Another critic, William Schnoebelen, alleges that Masons are involved in fifty thousand ritual murders every year in the United States.

Various Masonic scholars (Wallace McLeod, Art DeHoyos, and Brent Morris) have provided compelling arguments against such staggering claims. For example, while Masons are to care for fellow members, their oaths forbid them to break the law or harbor any criminal. Accusations about Masonic murders are strong in only one case, a famous one involving ex-Mason William Morgan. This New York resident was killed in 1826, probably at the hands of a few zealous Masons who were enraged by his betrayal of the fraternity.

Critics have often attacked Masonry over its alleged secret and bloody oaths. In fact, the rituals were made public as early as 1730 in Samuel Prichard's Masonry Dissected. Furthermore, Masons do not take the oaths literally, but borrowed them from military history as a symbolic way to assert the importance of loyalty and commitment to one's comrades. Increasingly Masons are asserting the independence of the rituals from overt religious meaning. Scottish Rite leaders are reworking some of the more contentious wording and dramatic acts that are employed in the various degrees.

The history of Masonry reflects something of the deeper currents in changing religious ideology in America. The earliest Masonic writings manifest a more explicitly Christian focus. Then, in the nineteenth century, the growing attention to the world's religious pluralism led Masons to downplay the Christian interpretation of Masonic rites. With the rise of secularism in the twentieth century, and with a greater sensibility to specific religious claims, most Masons are now very insistent that that the Lodge is not a church of any sort.

See alsoSecret Societies.


Leazer, Garg. Fundamentalism and Freemasonry. 1995.

James A. Beverley