A question that interests me is when Freemasonry ‘became esoteric’. An unavoidable question when looking at that is ‘how did it ‘start’ in the first place?’
For centuries very different theories have been worked out. The most common is that in the days of the guilds there were also masons guilds and from these “operative” lodges, over time “speculative” Freemasonry grew. How, when and why non craftsmen joined is a matter of dispute. An often heard theory is that lodges asked ‘higher ups’ in society to join to raise their own prestige. Another idea is that these men joined by their own initiative because they thought to find something in these lodges. That ‘something’ can hardly be craft secrets, so what then? Interest in architecture as Knoop and Jones suggest? (1)
Fabio Venzi suggests (2) that initially Freemasonry was not yet esoteric, but this was introduced by the so-called “Cambridge Platonists” in the 17th century. He writes:
Elias Ashmole, Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton were all scientists, members of the Royal Society who continued to practise alchemy side by side with the experimental methods applied by modern science.
Studies p. 190
So that is before the foundation of the ‘premier Grand Lodge’ in 1717. Yet, most old texts even from around 1717 are not very esoteric. The rituals were only developed later. Perhaps there are a few things to say about this.
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