Closed, Cloistered, Secret Sect

or

Open, Fraternal, Society Partner

by Wor. Bro. Frederic L. Milliken

 

This article could have been titled “The Castration of Freemasonry, Part 2” but I have chosen a new title so that both articles can stand on their own separately, not that there won’t be a fair amount of repetition between the two. Somehow I just keep seeing more and more material related to this subject, almost if an angelic messenger was shoving new considerations under my nose.

 

The original article, Part 1, has been published by A Partir Pedra and can also be read here, http://www.phoenixmasonry.org/the_castration_of_freemasonry.htm.  It will perhaps provide some needed background to a continuation of the same theme. The title of this article has no bearing in reality; rather it is what is perceived by the general public not actually authored by the fraternity. In essence it is an exaggeration that does point to different schools of Masonic practice.

 

A number of Masonic writers and thinkers have mentioned that Freemasonry around the world has different priorities and focus.  It has been pointed out that European Masonry’s main focus is philosophical, North America’s social and South America’s political or to put it another way – passive, neutral and proactive in its role with society.  All practices are charitable although the U.S.A. carries its mission of relief to an extreme position.

 

Could it be that European Masonry, using Britain as a model, over time after The Enlightenment became accepted and codified into law and practice, evolved by melding with a governmental structure that promoted an official state religion, and that influenced Freemasonry to remain private?  If Freemasonry here is a quasi governmental/religious structure, some say captured by them, might that prevent it from entering into any kind of rebellion, reform or societal change and mold it into an organization which withdraws within itself mirroring that privacy found in English Gentlemen’s Clubs? Perhaps France with its French Revolution is the exception here that might explain their fracture into multiple Grand Lodges.

 

Could it be that North American Masonry, using the U.S.A. as a model, actually became so identified with the overthrow of British rule, reform and remaking and restructuring of the entire society, always placing the leaders of the Craft in the public eye, the end result being a system of checks and balances and separation, separation of church and state, that it actually programmed itself to walk away from being allied with church and state (Washington refused positions as both President for life and national Grand Master)? The United States Constitution, its political, legal and judicial systems were all crafted democratically, with heavy Masonic influence, to be a new way of doing things that reversed and corrected the odious tyrannical despotism of its European heritage. And because of all that, might we be able to say that North American Masonry accomplished its mission of liberty, equality and fraternity and now went on to just develop social relationships?

 

And could it be that South American Freemasonry because it was never able to ally itself with a religion, as most of the area was Roman Catholic, nor with government because it was most often undemocratic and tyrannical, never developed into the European model? Is it not true that the Roman Catholic Church often did ally itself with the government so that what Masonry fought elsewhere to reform – freedom of religion, free public schools instead of parochial church schools, democracy and separation of church and state – never got implemented in South America until much later?  So could we not say that Masonry, a product of the Enlightenment, was still fighting to get the Enlightenment implemented into society in South America? And that of course would explain it being tagged as political.

 

Then perhaps we could say that European Masonry, which implemented the Enlightenment without a complete remake and restructure of church and state, was able to ally or attach itself to these institutions and thus Masonry became passive. And North American Masonry, which became the leading philosophical influence on political thought and actual leadership of a complete societal remake, revolution and writing a Constitution from scratch, accomplished its mission and separated itself according to the rules it drew up and thus became neutral.  And South American Masonry, which neither blended with the rulers of society nor was successful in implementing the Enlightenment, fought on and thus became pro active.

 

But these, as you can see, are all only questions.  And what I am hoping for are others in the Craft more knowledgeable to offer correction and refinement of these musings. There are so many exceptions to the hypotheses, France and Italy, Canada and Brazil and others. Perhaps we have really only been talking about British, United States and Mexican Masonry.  But it does seem that the course society takes has a direct correlation with the course Masonry takes.

 

But there have been other influences on Masonry besides society. Another influence on how it sees its role is Masonry’s origin.  What are Masonry’s roots and how has its traditions made it into what we see today? Heretofore, two schools of thought as to Masonry’s origin held the most public prominence.  One school said that Masonry came out of the stonemason guilds while a second postulated that Masonry started with the Knights Templar.  Of course there are some who desire the best of both possible worlds by stating that Masonry was an amalgamation of the two.

 

Mark E. Koltko-Rivera, writing in Heredom, formulates another hypothesis. He backs up Mackey in stating that Masonry roots are in esoteric knowledge passed down from generation to generation in many different forms.

 

Mackey’s claim was:

 

  1. Knowledge of the reality of God and the immortality of the soul was transmitted through a line of biblical personages, from Adam to Solomon and beyond.
  2. After the biblical period, this knowledge was preserved, over the course of human history, in the civilizations of late antiquity and on until the European Enlightenment, through societies of esoteric knowledge and initiation, culminating in modern Freemasonry.
  3. And the manner of transmission involved imitations employing symbolism and allegory.(1)

 

Koltko-Rivera refines Mackey’s assessment of biblical personages to mean communities of esoteric philosophy operating in the name of those biblical personages, so he talks about the communities of Adam, Seth, Enoch, Noah and Abraham. After the biblical period he talks about the Eleusinian initiatory mysteries, the Qumran sect, Gnostic groups and the rite of Five Seals, Jewish Hekhalot and Merkavah mysticism, Hermetic societies in Egypt, other mystery schools in Greece and Rome, on to the Kabbalah, Elias Asmole, Sir Isaac Newton and the Rosicrucians. Although we might have left out a few groups along the way, we have enough to get a clear picture of where this school of thought is taking us. Perhaps it is quite a stretch to link all these parts into a whole or to say they were all interconnected. Personal genealogy is hard enough to research, but group or organizational genealogy going that far back would seem to many schooled in the scientific method to be a giant guess. What is important, however, is not the veracity of the claim but what kind of influence has this kind of thought had on Masonry?

 

Recently there has been a revival in Gnostic adherence since the discoveries at Nag Hammadi and the Kabbalah especially among Masons. These esoteric teachings and schools steer Masonry into being a philosophical society teaching Gnostic thought, that is that Masonry really does have some secret, special, superior knowledge over and above what the obvious, literal reading of its ritual says.  Even Wilmshurst will tell us that. Thus we have in Freemasonry a society that possesses this Gnostic esoteric knowledge of a superior life making Masonry an elite, closed organization that can only reveal the secrets of a better life to those who become part of the inner circle. This looks close to the European Model of above.

 

But is Masonry another mystery school or is it today a maker of leaders?  Is Masonry perhaps more open, declining any special secret or superior knowledge?  Can it be that Masonry is most successful at putting together a complete package of education and ethics along with toleration and non-judgmental acceptance of every school of thought and practice, race, religion and standing in life? Can it not support justice and freedom and show the world how it can live together peacefully? Can Masonry not help guide society and turn out leaders from its ranks to work in society to make for a better world? This looks closer to the above models of North and South America.

 

So the question really is, is Masonry’s purpose to just privately improve its own members who then are keepers of the sacred knowledge or is it to prepare men to be leaders within society in the various disciplines of politics, science, business, medicine and religion etc, to stand for what is just, right and ethical in a fallen world and to be a beacon of light for peace and harmony among all peoples and nations and to actively work for such?

 

What is most important, what one believes or what one does?  It sounds like the Christian argument of salvation by faith or by works.

 

We read in Ephesians (2:8-9):

 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this not your own doing: it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

 

 

We read in the book of James (2:14-17 & 24)

 

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?  Can faith save you?  If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your full,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead………You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

 

An American friend transplanted in Britain almost 20 years ago and raised a British Mason, after reading “The Castration of Freemasonry” E-Mailed me some comments.

 

“There is a real and tangible difference between Freemasonry in England/Wales and Freemasonry in the United states,” he said.  “Here there is a slight tinge of stink attached to being a Freemason.  People don’t know why they think this, but there has always been the suspicion that Freemasonry is a gentlemen’s club in which one hand scratches the other’s back.  Thus many local councils prohibit Freemasons from public employment, and police authorities and the judiciary require that their members and employees disclose Masonic membership.”

 

“People here generally do not wear Masonic rings or ornaments outside the Lodge.  You don’t normally discuss Masonry or your membership with every one of your best friends.  You might discuss it with close friends, or mention it if someone shows interest, but you don’t talk about it very much.  There are no items such as Masonic number plates for cars, nor are there signs at town and city borders telling you when the local Masonic lodge meets.”

 

“I believe the best way to combat all forms of intolerance is to start from within and work outwards.  Each man builds his own Temple inside, making it strong, watertight, and integral within itself.  When everyone has done this, the world will be a better place.”

 

From an American viewpoint, I would counter with that there is a certain price to be paid for being so closely associated with the rulers and power structure of society.  And that being so private as to be labeled secret arouses all sorts of public jealousy and suspicions.  It is the fire that fuels conspiracy theories.  And finally if we wait until everyone builds a better Temple for himself, we will wait until hell freezes over.  It was Martin Luther King, a friend of Masonry, and Brother Jesse Jackson who saw a need to go public and to openly tweak the conscience of society.

 

So again we ask what is most important what one believes or what one does? And we ask the same question of Masonry.  What is most important for Masonry, its privately held knowledge and belief system which one has to be initiated into or its public doings partnered with society thereby bolstering freedom, liberty, equality, opportunity and justice for all and its positive influence on world peace?

 

We as individuals are all products of our traditions, our culture and our upbringing.  We are also products of the society we live in.  The same can be said of Masonry. Can we as individuals change and take on a different persona? There is nothing we can’t do but remaking yourself is one of the hardest tasks you can attempt. And so we must conclude the same for Freemasonry.

 

(1)        “The Transmission of Esoteric Knowledge & The Origins of Modern Freemasonry: Was Mackey Right” by Mark E. Koltko-Rivera, Heredom, Volume 15, pg. 184

 

 

         

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