Paul Rich, 32°
University of the Americas–Puebla
Sta. Catarina Martir
Cholula, Puebla, 72820 Mexico
Today, a revival of a wildly imaginative Masonic history exploits
what careful 19th-century Masonic scholars worked to eradicate.
Recently, there has been a flood of sensationalist books dealing with Freemasonry that have found their way onto drugstore racks. They are not written by individuals who have played a role in the research Lodges and research societies that are part of the Masonic mainstream.1 Of course, there is no patent on Masonic research, and there is no reason why participation in Masonic research institutions should be a requirement to writing about the Craft. But the authors certainly could have benefited from such associations.
Many of these new titles are full of unsubstantiated and even weird speculations, the kind of fiction which led nineteenth-century Masons to call for a more scientific and responsible Masonic scholarship and which was one of the main reasons for the establishment of research Lodges and groups, such as the Scottish Rite Research Society, that promote real scholarship. One consistent theme is that Masonic origins are far older than any responsible member of the Fraternity would claim: "The overriding message contained in these rituals is that Freemasonry has come from a source that was ancient even to the first Jews, and that its message was taught by Jesus and his brother and heir, James. From them it was transmitted to the Knights Templar...."2
The claim is made that these ancient origins have been kept a secret, not only from the public but also from most members of the Fraternity. This may have happened through negligence: "But the English Masonic system, which was extensively revised in the eighteenth century, adopted an exclusively Western doctrine wherein Thoth, the traditionally styled 'Great Architect', was figuratively supplanted by the Judeo-Christian God. By virtue of this adjustment, it is claimed that the original secrets of Freemasonry have been lost—but rather more to the point is that the old mysteries were shunned by the Hanoverian inventors of the English system (based upon a York Rite), which retains only vague allegories and obscure ritual. There is no alchemical science now taught in these Lodges, as was the case with the early Scottish Rite; the emphasis is now on worthy charitable works, coupled with meaningless ceremonies that leave Lodge members quite bewildered as to the true scientific nature of the Order."3
The explanation more to the taste of these volumes is that, "Those people who have accused Freemasonry of concealing a great secret from the rest of mankind were right all along—although today's Freemasons are themselves completely innocent of any conspiracy because they too have been excluded from the truth. It was hidden in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by people such as the Duke of Sussex and Albert Pike."4
In fact, the Duke of Sussex, who was Grand Master of the English Grand Lodge for many years in the early nineteenth century, was extremely conservative about collateral Masonic Bodies and resisted the proliferation of Degrees. So enthusiasts for the Scottish Rite and for the Templar Degrees do not find him an altogether congenial figure, but he was the opposite of being a mystic determined to keep concealed, even from his fellow Masons, the truth about Masonic history. As for Albert Pike, the usual criticism of him is that he added a great deal of cabalist thought to the Degrees, not that he spent his time hiding their esoteric content and real nature. Nevertheless, the accusation is made that "...the secrets have long been withheld from the brethren of modern Freemasonry whose leaders, for the past two centuries or more, have elected to pursue a spurious and strategically contrived allegorical ritual which teaches nothing of the true art of the original Master Craftsmen."5
This is a revival of a wildly imaginative Masonic history, which nineteenth-century Masonic scholars worked to eradicate. Unfortunately, scepticism only confirms its advocates in their view that there is a conspiracy to keep the facts from public exposure. The situation is rather like that with the endless argument over whether Shakespeare wrote the plays of Shakespeare. The anti-Shakespeare zealots want to dig up his grave at Stratford on the supposition that some sort of coded manuscript or brass plate will be found that will confirm their theories. Similarly the writers who are renewing the claims about two-thousand-year-old Masonic inner secrets want to dig up Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, a favourite place for conspiracy advocates: "When Rosslyn is excavated the truth will conquer all."6
Rosslyn justly receives attention because of its magnificent stonework, some of which is of Masonic interest, but it seems highly unlikely that tearing it apart for secret chambers is going to be productive. But improbability makes it no less difficult to deal with claims of arch conspiracies and ingenious concealments since the more one protests their non-existence, the more the enthusiasts can cite the disclaimers as evidence of how clever the conspiracy must be. There is, for example, the assertion that these secrets have been removed from the rituals: "It seemed to us that they must contain something very important to have been suppressed so completely."7
Nonsense about ancient Egyptian mystery schools competes with assertions that the thirty-three vertebrae of the spinal column and the workings of the pituitary gland are part of the "Lost Keys" of Freemasonry.8 Somehow this is related to Count Dracula, whom it turns out attended the Masonic-related Austrian School of Solomon where he learned about melatonin and serotonin, which explain his aversion to sunlight. This in turn has a connection with the Masonic collateral group in England, the Rosicruciana Anglicae, which is connected with something called the Dragon Court with a knowledge of the lost Masonic secrets.9 The fact is that the Rosicruciana Anglicae is a Masonic study group of rather sedate members of the Craft who have research interests, and their ties with the agents of a Dragon Court conspiracy seem unlikely.
What then is one to think about this veritable avalanche of books claiming to revise the history of Freemasonry? The general claims could well be offensive to some people as they include that there are secret Masonic-related societies concealing knowledge of descendants of Jesus as well as the possession and use of relics of the Last Supper and Calvary The hidden leaders are supposedly keeping this information from those who have not received the so-called Higher Degrees.
Laurence Gardner, who had an earlier bestseller with Bloodline of the Holy Grail, thinks that the Masons are involved with an anti-gravitational science of the pyramids, the Philosopher's Stone, something called "monatomic gold," and the truth about the clinical cloning of Adam and Eve. All of this, the publisher's cover blurb of his most-recent book, Genesis of the Grail Kings, assures us, is "essential reading for everyone interested in the untold history of the civilized world."
Those of us who thought we knew something about Masonry will be surprised at what has really been going on in the Lodge Room on Wednesday nights. The bottom line, when it comes to these sensational fantasies about the Craft, is that they ignore careful work done over many years by Masonic scholars. Their efforts to turn the New Testament into a Masonic movie and promote the idea that the Fraternity is concealing remarkable evidence about the Shroud of Turin and other religious relics are embarrassing. Freemasonry has a long and highly interesting history without such lurid improvisations. Every issue of Heredom, the transactions of the Scottish Rite Research Society, has stories about the Craft which are fascinating, exciting, true, and substantiated. Count Dracula needs the proverbial stake.
1 See Laurence Gardner, Genesis of the Grail Kings: The Explosive Story of Genetic Cloning and the Ancient Bloodline of Jesus. London and New York: Bantam Books, 2000. Also Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, The Second Messiah: Templars, The Turin Shroud and the Great Secret of Freemasonry. London: Arrow, 1998.
2 Knight and Lomas, 291.
3 Gardner, 224.
4 Knight and Lomas, 292–293.
5 Gardner, 305.
6 Knight and Lomas, 299.
7 Ibid., 88
8 Gardner, 178.
9 Ibid., 315–315.
Paul Rich is a Fellow at The Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and Professor of International Relations and History at The University of the Americas–Puebla, Mexico. He is President Elect of the American Policy Studies Association, Endowment Chair of the American Culture Association, and active in Harvard alumni affairs.
Permission to use this article was granted by Bro., Dr. Paul Rich to the webmaster of Lodge Stirling Royal Arch No.76 who acknowledges Paul Rich as the author.