[NOTE: This essay appeared in New York, 1818, with an anonymous preface of
which I quote the opening paragraph: "This tract is a chapter belonging to the
Third Part of the "Age of Reason," as will be seen by the references made in it
to preceding articles, as forming part of the same work. It was culled from the
writings of Mr. Paine after his death, and published in a mutilated state by
Mrs. Bonneville, his executrix. Passages having a reference to the Christian
religion she erased, with a view no doubt of accommodating the work to the
prejudices of bigotry. These, however, have been restored from the original
manuscript, except a few lines which were rendered illegible." Madame Bonneville
published this fragment in New York, 1810 (with the omissions I point out) as a
pamphlet. -- Dr. Robinet (Danton- Emigre, p. 7) says erroneously that Paine was
a Freemason; but an eminent member of that Fraternity in London, Mr. George
Briggs, after reading this essay, which I submitted to him, tells me that "his
general outline, remarks, and comments, are fairly true." Paine's intimacy in
Paris with Nicolas de Bonneville and Charles Frangois Dupuis, whose writings are
replete with masonic speculations, sufficiently explain his interest in the
subject. -- Editor.]
IT is always understood that Free-Masons have a secret which they carefully
conceal; but from every thing that can be collected from their own accounts of
Masonry, their real secret is no other than their origin, which but few of them
understand; and those who do, envelope it in mystery
The Society of Masons are distinguished into three classes or degrees. 1st.
The Entered Apprentice. 2d. The Fellow Craft. 3d. The Master Mason.
The Entered Apprentice knows but little more of Masonry than the use of signs
and tokens, and certain steps and words by which Masons can recognize each other
without being discovered by a person who is not a Mason. The Fellow Craft is not
much better instructed in Masonry, than the Entered Apprentice. It is only in
the Master Mason's Lodge, that whatever knowledge remains of the origin of
Masonry is preserved and concealed.
In 1730, Samuel Pritchard, member of a constituted lodge in England,
published a treatise entitled Masonry Dissected; and made oath before the Lord
Mayor of London that it was a true copy. "Samuel Pritchard maketh oath that the
copy hereunto annexed is a true and genuine copy in every particular." In his
work he has given the catechism or examination, in question and answer, of the
Apprentices, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason. There was no difficulty in
doing this, as it is mere form.
In his introduction he says, "the original institution of Masonry consisted
in the foundation of the liberal arts and sciences, but more especially in
Geometry, for at the building of the tower of Babel, the art and mystery of
Masonry was first introduced, and from thence handed down by Euclid, a worthy
and excellent mathematician of the Egyptians; and he communicated it to Hiram,
the Master Mason concerned in building Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem."
Besides the absurdity of deriving Masonry from the building of Babel, where,
according to the story, the confusion of languages prevented the builders
understanding each other, and consequently of communicating any knowledge they
had, there is a glaring contradiction in point of chronology in the account he
Solomon's Temple was built and dedicated 1004 years before the christian era;
and Euclid, as may be seen in the tables of chronology, lived 277 before the
same era. It was therefore impossible that Euclid could communicate any thing to
Hiram, since Euclid did not live till 700 years after the time of Hiram.
In 1783, Captain George Smith, inspector of the Royal Artillery Academy at
Woolwich, in England, and Provincial Grand Master of Masonry for the county of
Kent, published a treatise entitled, The Use and Abuse of Free-Masonry.
In his chapter of the antiquity of Masonry, he makes it to be coeval with
creation, "when," says he, "the sovereign architect raised on Masonic principles
the beauteous globe, and commanded the master science, Geometry, to lay the
planetary world, and to regulate by its laws the whole stupendous system in just
unerring proportion, rolling round the central sun."
"But," continues he, "I am not at liberty publicly to undraw the curtain, and
openly to descant on this head; it is sacred, and ever will remain so; those who
are honored with the trust will not reveal it, and those who are ignorant of it
cannot betray it." By this last part of the phrase, Smith means the two inferior
classes, the Fellow Craft and the Entered Apprentice, for he says in the next
page of his work, "It is not every one that is barely initiated into
Free-Masonry that is entrusted with all the mysteries thereto belonging; they
are not attainable as things of course, nor by every capacity."
The learned, but unfortunate Doctor Dodd, Grand Chaplain of Masonry, in his
oration at the dedication of Free-Mason's Hall, London, traces Masonry through a
variety of stages. Masons, says he, are well informed from their own private and
interior records that the building of Solomon's Temple is an important era, from
whence they derive many mysteries of their art. "Now (says he,) be it remembered
that this great event took place above 1000 years before the Christian era, and
consequently more than a century before Homer, the first of the Grecian Poets,
wrote; and above five centuries before Pythagoras brought from the east his
sublime system of truly masonic instruction to illuminate. our western world.
But, remote as this period is, we date not from thence the commencement of our
art. For though it might owe to the wise and glorious King of Israel some of its
many mystic forms and hieroglyphic ceremonies, yet certainly the art itself is
coeval with man, the great subject of it. "We trace," continues he, "its
footsteps in the most distant, the most remote ages and nations of the world. We
find it among the first and most celebrated civilizers of the East. We deduce it
regularly from the first astronomers on the plains of Chaldea, to the wise and
mystic kings and priests of Egypt, the sages of Greece, and the philosophers of
From these reports and declarations of Masons of the highest order in the
institution, we see that Masonry, without publicly declaring so, lays claim to
some divine communication from the creator, in a manner different from, and
unconnected with, the book which the christians call the bible; and the natural
result from this is, that Masonry is derived from some very ancient religion,
wholly independent of and unconnected with that book.
To come then at once to the point, Masonry (as I shall show from the customs,
ceremonies, hieroglyphics, and chronology of Masonry) is derived and is the
remains of the religion of the ancient Druids; who, like the Magi of Persia and
the Priests of Heliopolis in Egypt, were Priests of the Sun. They paid worship
to this great luminary, as the great visible agent of a great invisible first
cause whom they styled " Time without limits." [NOTE: Zarvan-Akarana. This
personification of Boundless Time, though a part of Parsee Theology, seems to be
a later monotheistic dogma, based on perversions of the Zendavesta. See Haug's
"Religion of the Parsees." -- Editor.]
The christian religion and Masonry have one and the same common origin: both
are derived from the worship of the Sun. The difference between their origin is,
that the christian religion is a parody on the worship of the Sun, in which they
put a man whom they call Christ, in the place of the Sun, and pay him the same
adoration which was originally paid to the Sun, as I have shown in the chapter
on the origin of the Christian religion. [NOTE: Referring to an unpublished
portion of the work of which this chapter forms a part. -- American Editor, 1819
[This paragraph is omitted from the pamphlet copyrighted by Madame Bonneville in
1810, as also is the last sentence of the next paragraph. -- Editor.]
In Masonry many of the ceremonies of the Druids are preserved in their
original state, at least without any parody. With them the Sun is still the Sun;
and his image, in the form of the sun is the great emblematical ornament of
Masonic Lodges and Masonic dresses. It is the central figure on their aprons,
and they wear it also pendant on the breast in their lodges, and in their
processions. It has the figure of a man, as at the head of the sun, as Christ is
At what period of antiquity, or in what nation, this religion was first
established, is lost in the labyrinth of unrecorded time. It is generally
ascribed to the ancient Egyptians, the Babylonians and Chaldeans, and reduced
afterwards to a system regulated by the apparent progress of the sun through the
twelve signs of Zodiac by Zoroaster the law giver of Persia, from whence
Pythagoras brought it into Greece. It is to these matters Dr. Dodd refers in the
passage already quoted from his oration.
The worship of the Sun as the great visible agent of a great invisible first
cause, "Time without limits," spread itself over a considerable part of Asia and
Africa, from thence to Greece and Rome, through all ancient Gaul, and into
Britain and Ireland.
Smith, in his chapter on the antiquity of Masonry in Britain, says, that
"notwithstanding the obscurity which envelopes Masonic history in that country,
various circumstances contribute to prove that Free-Masonry was introduced into
Britain about 1030 Years before Christ." It cannot be Masonry in its present
state that Smith here alludes to. The Druids flourished in Britain at the period
he speaks of, and it is from them that Masonry is descended. Smith has put the
child in the place of the parent.
It sometimes happens, as well in writing as in conversation, that a person
lets slip an expression that serves to unravel what he intends to conceal, and
this is the case with Smith, for in the same chapter he says, "The Druids, when
they committed any thing to writing, used the Greek alphabet, and I am bold to
assert that the most perfect remains of the Druids' rites and ceremonies are
preserved in the customs and ceremonies of the Masons that are to be found
existing among mankind." "My brethren" says he, "may be able to trace them with
greater exactness than I am at liberty to explain to the public."
This is a confession from a Master Mason, without intending it to be so
understood by the public, that Masonry is the remains of the religion of the
Druids; the reasons for the Masons keeping this a secret I shall explain in the
course of this work.
As the study and contemplation of the Creator [is] in the works of the
creation, the Sun, as the great visible agent of that Being, was the visible
object of the adoration of Druids; all their religious rites and ceremonies had
reference to the apparent progress of the Sun through the twelve signs of the
Zodiac, and his influence upon the earth. The Masons adopt the same practices.
The roof of their Temples or Lodges is ornamented with a Sun, and the floor is a
representation of the variegated face of the earth either by carpeting or Mosaic
Free Masons Hall, in Great Queen-street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, is a
magnificent building, and cost upwards of 12,000 pounds sterling. Smith, in
speaking of this building, says (page 152,) "The roof of this magnificent Hall
is in all probability the highest piece of finished architecture in Europe. In
the center of this roof, a most resplendent Sun is represented in burnished
gold, surrounded with the twelve signs of the Zodiac, with their respective
After giving this description, he says, "The emblematical meaning of the Sun
is well known to the enlightened and inquisitive Free-Mason; and as the real Sun
is situated in the center of the universe, so the emblematical Sun is the center
of real Masonry. We all know (continues he) that the Sun is the fountain of
light, the source of the seasons, the cause of the vicissitudes of day and
night, the parent of vegetation, the friend of man; hence the scientific
Free-Mason only knows the reason why the Sun is placed in the center of this
The Masons, in order to protect themselves from the persecution of the
christian church, have always spoken in a mystical manner of the figure of the
Sun in their Lodges, or, like the astronomer Lalande, who is a Mason, been
silent upon the subject. It is their secret, especially in Catholic countries,
because the figure of the Sun is the expressive criterion that denotes they are
descended from the Druids, and that wise, elegant, philosophical religion, was
the faith opposite to the faith of the gloomy Christian church. [NOTE: This
sentence is omitted in Madame Bonneville's publication. -- Editor.]
The Lodges of the Masons, if built for the purpose, are constructed in a
manner to correspond with the apparent motion of the Sun. They are situated East
and West. [NOTE: The Freemason's Hall in London, which Paine has correctly
described, is situated North and South, the exigencies of the space having been
too strong for Masonic orthodoxy. Though nominally eastward the Master stands at
the South. -- Editor.] The master's place is always in the East. In the
examination of an Entered Apprentice, the Master, among many other questions,
Q: How is the lodge situated?
A: East and West.
Q: Why so?
A: Because all churches and chapels are, or ought to be so."
This answer, which is mere catechismal form, is not an answer to the
question. It does no more than remove the question a point further, which is,
why ought all churches and chapels to be so? But as the Entered Apprentice is
not initiated into the druidical mysteries of Masonry, he is not asked any
questions a direct answer to which would lead thereto.
Q: Where stands your Master?
A: In the East.
Q: Why so?
A: As the Sun rises in the East and opens the day, so the
Master stands in the East, (with his right hand upon his left breast, being a
sign, and the square about his neck,) to open the Lodge, and set his men at
Q: Where stand your Wardens?
A: In the West.
Q: What is their business?
A: As the Sun sets in the West to close the day, so the
Wardens stand in the West, (with their right hands upon their left breasts,
being a sign, and the level and plumb rule about their necks,) to close the
Lodge, and dismiss the men from labor, paying them their wages."
Here the name of the Sun is mentioned, but it is proper to observe that in
this place it has reference only to labor or to the time of labor, and not to
any religious druidical rite or ceremony, as it would have with respect to the
situation of Lodges East and West. I have already observed in the chapter on the
origin of the christian religion, that the situation of churches East and West
is taken from the worship of the Sun, which rises in the east, and has not the
least reference to the person called Jesus Christ. The christians never bury
their dead on the North side of a church; [NOTE: In many parts of Northern
Europe the North was supposed to be the region of demons. Executed criminals
were buried on the north side of churches. -- Editor.] and a Mason's Lodge
always has, or is supposed to have, three windows which are called fixed lights,
to distinguish them from the moveable lights of the Sun and the Moon. The Master
asks the Entered Apprentice,
Q: How are they (the fixed lights) situated?
A: East, West, and South.
Q: What are their uses?
A: To light the men to and from their work.
Q: Why are there no lights in the North?
A: Because the Sun darts no rays from thence."
This, among numerous other instances, shows that the christian religion and
Masonry have one and the same common origin, the ancient worship of the Sun.
The high festival of the Masons is on the day they call St. John's day; but
every enlightened Mason must know that holding their festival on this day has no
reference to the person called St. John, and that it is only to disguise the
true cause of holding it on this day, that they call the day by that name. As
there were Masons, or at least Druids, many centuries before the time of St.
John, if such person ever existed, the holding their festival on this day must
refer to some cause totally unconnected with John.
The case is, that the day called St. John's day, is the 24th of June, and is
what is called Midsummer-day. The sun is then arrived at the summer solstice;
and, with respect to his meridional altitude, or height at high noon, appears
for some days to be of the same height. The astronomical longest day, like the
shortest day, is not every year, on account of leap year, on the same numerical
day, and therefore the 24th of June is always taken for Midsummer-day; and it is
in honor of the sun, which has then arrived at his greatest height in our
hemisphere, and not any thing with respect to St. John, that this annual
festival of the Masons, taken from the Druids, is celebrated on Midsummer-day.
Customs will often outlive the remembrance of their origin, and this is the
case with respect to a custom still practiced in Ireland, where the Druids
flourished at the time they flourished in Britain. On the eve of Saint John's
day, that is, on the eve of Midsummer-day, the Irish light fires on the tops of
the hills. This can have no reference to St. John; but it has emblematical
reference to the sun, which on that day is at his highest summer elevation, and
might in common language be said to have arrived at the top of the hill.
As to what Masons, and books of Masonry, tell us of Solomon's Temple at
Jerusalem, it is no wise improbable that some Masonic ceremonies may have been
derived from the building of that temple, for the worship of the Sun was in
practice many centuries before the Temple existed, or before the Israelites came
out of Egypt. And we learn from the history of the Jewish Kings, 2 Kings xxii.
xxiii. that the worship of the Sun was performed by the Jews in that Temple. It
is, however, much to be doubted if it was done with the same scientific purity
and religious morality with which it was performed by the Druids, who, by all
accounts that historically remain of them, were a wise, learned, and moral class
of men. The Jews, on the contrary, were ignorant of astronomy, and of science in
general, and if a religion founded upon astronomy fell into their hands, it is
almost certain it would be corrupted. We do not read in the history of the Jews,
whether in the Bible or elsewhere, that they were the inventors or the improvers
of any one art or science. Even in the building of this temple, the Jews did not
know how to square and frame the timber for beginning and carrying on the work,
and Solomon was obliged to send to Hiram, King of Tyre (Zidon) to procure
workmen; "for thou knowest, (says Solomon to Hiram, i Kings v. 6.) that there is
not among us any that can skill to hew timber like unto the Zidonians." This
temple was more properly Hiram's Temple than Solomon's, and if the Masons derive
any thing from the building of it, they owe it to the Zidonians and not to the
Jews. -- But to return to the worship of the Sun in this Temple.
It is said, 2 Kings xxiii. 5, "And [king Josiah] put down all the idolatrous
priests ... that burned incense unto ... the sun, the moon, the planets, and all
the host of heaven." And it is said at the 11th verse: "And he took away the
horses that the kings of Judah had given to the Sun, at the entering in of the
house of the Lord, ... and burned the chariots of the Sun with fire"; verse 13,
"And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of
the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had builded for
Ashtoreth, the abomination of the Zidonians" (the very people that built the
temple) "did the king defile."
Besides these things, the description that Josephus gives of the decorations
of this Temple, resembles on a large scale those of a Mason's Lodge. He says
that the distribution of the several parts of the Temple of the Jews represented
all nature, particularly the parts most apparent of it, as the sun, the moon,
the planets, the zodiac, the earth, the elements; and that the system of the
world was retraced there by numerous ingenious emblems. These, in all
probability, are, what Josiah, in his ignorance, calls the abominations of the
Zidonians. [NOTE by PAINE: Smith, in speaking of a Lodge, says, when the Lodge
is revealed to an entering Mason, it discovers to him a representation of the
World; in which, from the wonders of nature, we are led to contemplate her great
original, and worship him from his mighty works; and we are thereby also moved
to exercise those moral and social virtues which become mankind as the servants
of the great Architect of the world. -- Author.] Every thing, however, drawn
from this Temple [NOTE by PAINE: It may not be improper here to observe, that
the law called the law of Moses could not have been in existence at the time of
building this Temple. Here is the likeness of things in heaven above and in
earth beneath. And we read in I Kings vi., vii., that Solomon made cherubs and
cherubims, that he carved all the walls of the house round about with cherubims,
and palm-trees, and open flowers, and that he made a molten sea, placed on
twelve oxen, and the ledges of it were ornamented with lions, oxen, and
cherubims: all this is contrary to the law called the law of Moses. -- Author.]
and applied to Masonry, still refers to the worship of the Sun, however
corrupted or misunderstood by the Jews, and consequently to the religion of the
Another circumstance, which shows that Masonry is derived from some ancient
system, prior to and unconnected with the christian religion, is the chronology,
or method of counting time, used by the Masons in the records of their Lodges.
They make no use of what is called the christian era; and they reckon their
months numerically, as the ancient Egyptians did, and as the Quakers do now. I
have by me, a record of a French Lodge, at the time the late Duke of Orleans,
then Duke de Chartres, was Grand Master of Masonry in France. It begins as
follows: "Le trentieme jour du sixieme mois de l'an de la V.L. cinq mille sept
cent soixante treize;" that is, the thirteenth day of the sixth month of the
year of the Venerable Lodge, five thousand seven hundred and seventy-three. By
what I observe in English books of Masonry, the English Masons use the initials
A.L. and not V.L. By A.L. they mean in the year of Light, as the Christians by
A.D. mean in the year of our Lord. But A.L. like V.L. refers to the same
chronological era, that is, to the supposed time of the creation. [NOTE: V.L.
are the initials of Vraie Lumiere, true light; and A.L. of Anne Lucis, in the
year of light. This and the three preceding sentences (of the text) are
suppressed in Madame Bonneville's pamphlet, 1810. -- Editor.] In the chapter on
the origin of the Christian religion, I have shown that the Cosmogony, that is,
the account of the creation with which the book of Genesis opens, has been taken
and mutilated from the Zend-Avesta of Zoroaster, and was fixed as a preface to
the Bible after the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon, and that the
Robbins of the Jews do not hold their account in Genesis to be a fact, but mere
allegory. The six thousand years in the Zend-Avesta, is changed or interpolated
into six days in the account of Genesis. The Masons appear to have chosen the
same period, and perhaps to avoid the suspicion and persecution of the Church,
have adopted the era of the world, as the era of Masonry. The V.L. of the
French, and A.L. of the English Mason, answer to the A.M. Anno Mundi, or year of
Though the Masons have taken many of their ceremonies and hieroglyphics from
the ancient Egyptians, it is certain they have not taken their chronology from
thence. If they had, the church would soon have sent them to the stake; as the
chronology of the Egyptians, like that of the Chinese, goes many thousand years
beyond the Bible chronology.
The religion of the Druids, as before said, was the same as the religion of
the ancient Egyptians. The priests of Egypt were the professors and teachers of
science, and were styled priests of Heliopolis, that is, of the City of the Sun.
The Druids in Europe, who were the same order of men, have their name from the
Teutonic or ancient German language; the German being anciently called Teutones.
The word Druid signifies a wise man. [NOTE: German drud, wizard. Cf. Milton's
line: "The star-led wizards haste with odours sweet." The word Druid has also
been derived from Greek ####;, an oak; Celtic 'deru,' an oak and 'ndd,' lord;
British 'deruidhon,' very wise men; Heb. 'derussim,' contemplators; etc. --
Editor.] In Persia they were called Magi, which signifies the same thing.
Egypt," says Smith, "from whence we derive many of our mysteries, has always
borne a distinguished rank in history, and was once celebrated above all others
for its antiquities, learning, opulence, and fertility. In their system, their
principal hero- gods, Osiris and Isis, theologically represented the Supreme
Being and universal Nature; and physically the two great celestial luminaries,
the Sun and the Moon, by whose influence all nature was actuated." "The
experienced brethren of the society, [says Smith in a note to this passage] are
well informed what affinity these symbols bear to Masonry, and why they are used
in all Masonic Lodges." In speaking of the apparel of the Masons in their
Lodges, part of which, as we see in their public processions, is a white leather
apron, he says, "the Druids were apparelled in white at the time of their
sacrifices and solemn offices. The Egyptian priests of Osiris wore snow-white
cotton. The Grecian and most other priests wore white garments. As Masons, we
regard the principles of those 'who were the first worshipers of the true God,'
imitate their apparel, and assume the badge of innocence."
"The Egyptians," continues Smith, "in the earliest ages constituted a great
number of Lodges, but with assiduous care kept their secrets of Masonry from all
strangers. These secrets have been imperfectly handed down to us by oral
tradition only, and ought to be kept undiscovered to the laborers, craftsmen,
and apprentices, till by good behavior and long study they become better
acquainted in geometry and the liberal arts, and thereby qualified for Masters
and Wardens, which is seldom or never the case with English Masons."
Under the head of Free-Masonry, written by the astronomer Lalande, in the
French Encyclopedia, I expected from his great knowledge in astronomy, to have
found much information on the origin of Masonry; for what connection can there
be between any institution and the Sun and twelve signs of the Zodiac, if there
be not something in that institution, or in its origin, that has reference to
astronomy? Every thing used as an hieroglyphic has reference to the subject and
purpose for which it is used; and we are not to suppose the Free-Masons, among
whom are many very learned and scientific men, to be such idiots as to make use
of astronomical signs without some astronomical purpose. But I was much
disappointed in my expectation from Lalande. In speaking of the origin of
Masonry, he says, "L'orgine de la maconnerie se Perd, comme tant d'autres, dans
l'obscurite des termps;" That is, the origin of Masonry, like many others, loses
itself in the obscurity of time. When I came to this expression, I supposed
Lalande a Mason, and on enquiry found he was. This passing over saved him from
the embarrassment which Masons are under respecting the disclosure of their
origin, and which they are sworn to conceal. There is a society of Masons in
Dublin who take the name of Druids; these Masons must be supposed to have a
reason for taking that name.
I come now to speak of the cause of secrecy used by the Masons.
The natural source of secrecy is fear. When any new religion over-runs a
former religion, the professors of the new become the persecutors of the old. We
see this in all instances that history brings before us. When Hilkiah the priest
and Shaphan the scribe, in the reign of King Josiah, found, or pretended to
find, the law, called the law of Moses, a thousand years after the time of
Moses, (and it does not appear from 2 Kings, xxii., xxiii., that such a law was
ever practiced or known before the time of Josiah), he established that law as a
national religion, and put all the priests of the Sun to death. When the
christian religion over-ran the Jewish religion, the Jews were the continual
subject of persecution in all christian countries. When the Protestant religion
in England over-ran the Roman Catholic religion, it was made death for a
Catholic priest to be found in England. As this has been the case in all the
instances we have any knowledge of, we are obliged to admit it with respect to
the case in question, and that when the christian religion over-ran the religion
of the Druids in Italy, ancient Gaul, Britain, and Ireland, the Druids became
the subject of persecution. This would naturally and necessarily oblige such of
them as remained attached to their original religion to meet in secret, and
under the strongest injunctions of secrecy. Their safety depended upon it. A
false brother might expose the lives of many of them to destruction; and from
the remains of the religion of the Druids, thus preserved, arose the institution
which, to avoid the name of Druid, took that of Mason, and practiced under this
new name the rites and ceremonies of Druids.
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