FROM WHENCE CAME WE?
SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.X   October, 1932   No.10
by: Unknown
By common consent, the Missouri river flows into the Mississippi 
river.  Yet, had geographers named them otherwise, the upper 
Mississippi might have flowed into the Missouri!
Stand near the mouth of the mighty river which drains a continent and 
none will dispute you when you say “This is the Mississippi!”  No man 
may pick up a cup of its water and say “this is the Missouri River 
water, yonder is a drop or two of the Ohio; beyond flows some of the 
Arkansas river.”  We know that the Mississippi river is made up that 
tiny stream which rises in Lake Iraska in northern Minnesota, joined 
by the Missouri, the Ohio, the Arkansas, the Red river, the 
Minnesota, the Des Moines, the Illinois, the Yazoo.  Each of these 
has a hundred tributaries; each of these tributaries is formed by 
thousands of creeks, springs, runs, brooks - all combined flow into 
the Gulf of Mexico as the mighty Mississippi. 
It is a commonplace of primary education that the first colonies on 
this continent began in Massachusetts, New York and Virginia.  
Thirteen states formed the United States. An Empire was won by war 
with the Indians, purchases from other nations and conquest of the 
West.  Into this land of opportunity have poured people from all 
other nations.  Negroes were imported from the savage African wilds a 
few hundred years ago.  Irish, French, Germans, Russians, Polanders, 
East Indians, Swedes and Norwegians; all came, settled, married, 
intermarried - the melting pot melted, and from the poured metal came 
the race of Americans.
But - “from whence came the United States?  Where does the 
Mississippi really rise?”
No man may answer because the truth is so complex and has so many 
ramifications.  Only when we lump them all in one phrase and say “The 
United States originated in the world” and “the Mississippi comes 
from all over the continent” do we phrase the truth and then, while 
truthful, it is not an answer!
Much the same is true of Freemasonry.  “From whence came we?” is as 
unanswerable in a sentence, a paragraph, a page - aye, in a book - as 
in a query as to the origin of the nation, or its mightiest river.  
The United States is a product of time and all peoples; the 
Mississippi is a product of a thousand streams; Freemasonry is the 
product of a hundred cults, religions, organizations, crafts, guilds, 
beliefs ideas and associations.
Masonic historians are generally agreed on its course for a hundred 
years back, at least.  The most cautious critic will not deny that 
the Mississippi is the Mississippi, and not some other river or 
combination of rivers, at least from the Gulf to Cairo, where the 
Ohio empties - or it is the Mississippi which empties into the Ohio?  
Documentary evidence sufficient for any court of law carries the 
Masonic stream back at least two hundred and fifteen years, to the 
formation of the Mother Grand Lodge in London, in 1717.
The vast majority of Masonic historians go confidently much further.  
Comparatively few dispute that Freemasonry as we know it 
(Speculative) is an outgrowth of an older Operative Masonry, composed 
of builders, architects, stone cutters and setters.  But before them 
- what?
Our earliest document (Regius Poem) is dated with considerable 
confidence about A.D. 1390  But it is obviously a copy of an older 
document or documents, and speaks of a Craft evidently full grown, 
working and organized.  From whence came it?
A chorus answers “From York, England, in the year 926!” 
And before it can be interrupted, it speaks of the Regius Poem, the 
Cooke Manuscript, the labors of Hughan, Mackey and others, as 
evidence that the General assembly of Masons actually was held in the 
old city at the date set forth.
Without prejudice let us agree for the moment - but then, from whence 
came those ancient York Masons?
This time the answering chorus is deafening!  A very learned student 
(A.E. Waite) offers the mystical theory - that Freemasonry is the 
modern repository of the “Secret Doctrine” supposed to have been 
preserved in many religions, in many lands, in all ages.  Leader 
Scott and W. Ravenscroft (to mention only two) argue convincingly 
that the Collegia, driven from Rome, took refuge on the island of 
Comancina in Lake Como, there to preserve for centuries the arts and 
knowledge of the masons of Rome, until the world was again ready for 
the Master Builders.  The theories that Freemasonry originated among 
the Kaballists, the Hermetists, the Rosicrucians, the Essenes or the 
Drues have many devout believers.  Le Plongeon, the explorer, found 
evidence which satisfied him that Freemasonry in a certain form 
existed among the Mayas nearly twelve thousand years ago!
Agree for a moment on one of these theories - consider that modern 
Freemasonry is, indeed, a lineal descendant from the Roman Collegia, 
“Via” the Comacine Masters.  Again we come to the question - from 
whence came the Roman Collegia?
Answers are not lacking!  “From the Dionysian Articifers, from the 
Eleusinian Mysteries, from the religion of ancient Egypt” - the 
choice is wide and the field free.  But always the searcher for truth 
ends with a question; no matter how far back he carries his stream of 
investigation; no matter how well satisfied he is that it is the 
Missouri which flows into the Mississippi; that Americans are direct 
descendants from Anglo-Saxons; always the question remains - From 
whence?  From whence comes the first river?  From whence came those 
who founded the nation?  From whence came those who began the 
Eleusinian Mysteries; the progenitors of the Dionysian Articifers; 
where did the priests of Egypt obtain the legend of Isis and Osiris?
The average brother in Lodge is apt to retort “Oh Well, these are all 
side issues!  There must be have been some one main stem of 
Freemasonry.  Perhaps all these other sources had something to do 
with it, just as water from the Red River does get into the 
Mississippi.  But there must be some one parent, some backbone of the 
system, just as there is one stream which flows north and south, and 
which is the Mississippi, and into which all others flow.”
Alas, “There must have been” is not an argument!  It is merely a 
supposition, based on everyday analogies; the tree has a trunk, and 
many branches; the flower has a stem, and many leaves.  Therefore, 
Freemasonry must have had trunk, and many branches; therefore, our 
Order must have descended from this, or the other previous 
association.
It would be an intense satisfaction to many if “there must have been 
a main stem of Freemasonry” could be proved to be true.  So far the 
“proof” is of so many “main stems” that the logical minded cannot 
admit any one to the exclusion of the others.
No one can read Ravenscroft and Leader Scott - even the Comacine 
article in the modern edition of Mackey’s encyclopedia - and not be 
convinced that there is “something in it.”  But if the Comacine 
theory is the real truth, we must cast aside a number of other 
theories, each of which has excellent arguments and some evidence to 
attest its verity.
Questions as to origins are the more difficult of answer, because the 
line of reasoning which satisfies one man leaves another critically 
unbelieving.  One historian demands documents, written evidence, 
something he can hold in his hand and read with his eye.  Another is 
content to reason by similarities of practice.  Thus, 
circumambulation is a descendant, through many religions, rites and 
secret associations, from nature worship in general and fire worship 
in particular.  Therefore, says this believer, the real origin of 
Freemasonry must be looked for among the fire worshippers!  A third 
man is led (or misled) by similarities of symbols.  The Chinese used 
the square as a moral symbol at least four thousand years ago; the 
“principle of acting on the square” was enunciated in the Far East 
long before our Golden Rule was phrased.  But few, if any, contend 
for ancient China as the cradle of modern Freemasonry.  As well 
believe that because we trace the point within a circle to the most 
ancient religion of India, therefore among the Parsees or the 
Brahmins are the beginnings of Freemasonry to be found.
Man’s early culture in all lands had certain similarities, which seem 
to have been inevitable.  The bow and shaft was a means of making 
fire in many primitive tribes.  No one race can claim the discovery 
of weaving; indeed. primitive looms in lands as widely separated as 
South America and Ireland show similarities of spreader and heddle, 
which seem impossible, except as separate inventions of the same 
thing by different people because of similar needs.
It is reasonable to suppose that square, point and circle, triangle, 
circumabulation, pillars, altar, compasses, gavel (to mention only a 
few of the older symbols) were not the inventions or discoveries of 
any one people, religion, association, priesthood or Craft; but the 
product of needs as far flung as the ancient peoples of the earth.  
If, indeed, there was “one point of origin” on the earth’s surface, 
at which the first man came into being and from whose tribe all other 
peoples are descended; and, if it could be proved that this one tribe 
had a religion in which these symbols were associated with moral 
teachings; then, indeed, we might with confidence answer the question 
“From Whence Came We?”
Needless to say, there is no such point, tribe, religion or symbol 
known!
It will be obvious that this paper does not attempt to answer the 
question which is its title, with any hard and fast dogma.  Even the 
orthodox school does not attempt a dogma.  Perhaps the most generally 
accepted (orthodox) belief as to the beginning of Freemasonry may be 
phrased somewhat as follows:  the Craft is a descendant of Operative 
Masons.  There Operatives inherited from unknown beginnings, of which 
there may have been several and probably many, practices and some 
form of ritual.  Speculative Masonry, reaching back through Operative 
Masonry, touches hands with those who followed unknown religions in 
which, however, many of the Speculative principles must have been 
taught by the use of symbols as old as mankind and therefore 
universal, and not the product of any one people or time.
This phrasing may draw criticism from those who are convinced of the 
sufficiency of our knowledge of these “unknown beginnings.”  The 
proponent of the Comacine theory will point to his Comacine knots, 
and defy the orthodox to disprove the decent of modern Freemasonry 
from the Roman Guilds.  He who believes that the legend of Hiram Abif 
is the heart and center of Freemasonry in all ages, will demand 
disproof of his belief that Isis and Osiris were its father and 
mother!
But the burden of proof rests with those who propose a theory!
Freemasonry had no one origin, at any one city, in any one nation.  
It was not formed by any one set of men, any one guild or 
association, at any one building.
Here a root descends to a religion; there a branch waves in the air 
of an old mystery.  Yonder is a path to a guild of craftsmen; here a 
devotee lays a symbol on its altar.  From primitive magic, from 
ancient religions, from mysticism, symbolry, the occult, 
architecture, history, Pagan rite and Christian observance; come each 
with some influence.  The Jews had a part in it.  “The Greeks had a 
word for it.”  Savages contributed; servants influenced it; 
Kings made laws about it; humble men followed it.  Ages of time, 
millions of men, thousands of cults, hundreds of localities, beliefs 
as many as men who subscribed to them, all were drops which ran over 
sands and rocks, the hills and the valleys of history, to unite in 
this stream, that brook, this spring, that creek, this rivulet, that 
water fall; which, running each into each, uniting one at a time, 
gradually formed the river which we call Freemasonry.
So consider, “all” the hypotheses may be correct.  No other theory 
can reconcile the evidence and the arguments, nor is any other 
viewpoint sufficiently elevated to get a true perspective of what we 
know of this mighty torrent which we call the Ancient Craft.

 

 

 

         

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