History of Freemasonry
ceremonies, Freemasons are told that Freemasonry was in existence when King
Solomon built the
are also told that King Solomon, King Hiram of
well-meaning but misguided historians, both Masons and non-Masons, have tried
to prove that Freemasonry was a lineal descendant or a modern version of the
mysteries of classical
historians have even claimed that Freemasonry derives in some way from the
shadowy and mysterious Rosicrucian Brotherhood, which may or may not have
The honest answers to the questions when, where and why Freemasonry originated are that we simply do not know. Early evidence for Freemasonry is very meager and not enough has yet been discovered - if indeed it even exists - to prove any theory. The general agreement amongst serious masonic historians and researchers is that Freemasonry has arisen, either directly or indirectly, from the medieval stonemasons (or operative masons) who built great cathedrals and castles.
Those who favor the direct descent from operative masonry say there were three stages to the evolution of Freemasonry. The stonemasons gathered in huts (lodges) to rest and eat. These lodges gradually became not the hut but the grouping together of stonemasons to regulate their craft. In time, and in common with other trades, they developed primitive initiation ceremonies for new apprentices.
As stonemasons could easily travel all over the country from one building site to another, and as there were also no trade union cards or certificates of apprenticeship they began to adopt a private word which a travelling stonemason could use when he arrived at a new site, to prove that he was properly trained and had been a member of a lodge. It was, after all, easier to communicate a special word to prove that you knew what you were doing and were entitled to the wages it deserved that to spend hours carving a block of stone to demonstrate your skills.
We know that in the early 1600s these operative lodges began to admit men who had no connection with the trade - accepted or gentlemen masons. Why this was done and what form of ceremony was used is not known. As the 1600s drew to a close more and more gentlemen began to join the lodges, gradually taking them over and turning them into lodges of free and accepted or speculative masons, no longer having any connection with the stonemasons’ craft.
problem with this theory is that it is based solely on evidence from
This total lack of evidence for the existence of operative Lodges but evidence of accepted masons has led to the theory of an indirect link between operative stonemasonry and Freemasonry. Those who support the indirect link argue that Freemasonry was brought into being by a group of men in the late 1500s or early 1600s. This was a period of great religious and political turmoil and intolerance. Men were unable to meet together without differences of political and religious opinion leading to arguments. Opposing views split families and the English civil war of 1642-6 was the ultimate outcome. Those who support the indirect link believe that the originators of Freemasonry were men who wished to promote tolerance and build a better world in which men of differing opinions could peacefully co-exist and work together for the betterment of mankind. In the custom of their times they used allegory and symbolism to pass on their ideas.
As their central idea was one of building a better society they borrowed their forms and symbols from the operative builders craft and took their central allegory from the Bible, the common source book known to all, in which the only building described in any detail is King Solomon’ s Temple. Stonemasons tools also provided them with a multiplicity of emblems to illustrate the principles they were putting forward.
A newer theory places the origin of Freemasonry within a charitable framework. In the 1600s, there was no welfare state; anyone falling ill or becoming disabled had to rely on friends and the Poor Law for support. In the 1600s, many trades had what have become known as box clubs. These grew out of the convivial gatherings of members of a particular trade during meetings of which all present would put money into a communal box, knowing that if they fell on hard times they could apply for relief from the box. From surviving evidence these box clubs are known to have begun to admit members not of their trade and to have had many of the characteristics of early masonic lodges. They met in taverns, had simple initiation ceremonies and passwords and practiced charity on a local scale. Perhaps Freemasonry had its origins in just such a box club for operative masons.
Although it is not yet possible to say when, why or where Freemasonry originated it is known where and when "organized" Freemasonry began. On 24 June 1717 four London lodges came together at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House in St Pauls Churchyard, formed themselves into a Grand Lodge and elected a Grand Master (Anthony Sayer) and Grand Wardens.
first few years the Grand Lodge was simply an annual feast at which the Grand
Master and Wardens were elected, but in 1721 other meetings began to be held
and the Grand Lodge began to be a regulatory body. By 1730 it had more than one
hundred lodges under its control (including one in
a rival Grand Lodge appeared, made up of Freemasons of mainly Irish extraction
who had been unable to join lodges in
little more than six weeks the two brothers had formulated and gained agreement
to the Articles of Union between the two Grand Lodges and arranged the great
ceremony by which the United Grand Lodge of England came into being on
formation of the premier Grand Lodge in 1717 had been followed, around 1725, by
the Grand Lodge of Ireland and, in 1736; the Grand Lodge of Scotland. These
three Grand Lodges, together with Antients Grand
Lodge, did much to spread Freemasonry throughout the world, to the extent that
all regular Grand Lodges throughout the world, whatever the immediate means of
their formation, ultimately trace their origins back to one, or a combination,
of the Grand Lodges within the
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