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Esoteric Freemasonry before 1717?

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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Fuxi and Nüwa

Fuxi (or Fu Hsi, Paoxi) and Nüwa make a nice, Chinese couple of which images often appear on fora, Facebook pages, etc. The image on the right is one of the better known depictions of the two creator Gods and as you can see, Nüwa is holding a pair of compasses and Fuxi a square. Ancient Eastern Freemasonry right? Especially because from Hermetic and alchemic literature we know another Siamese androgynous character known as “Rebis” who are also holding compasses and a square, the Chinese image supposedly shows ancient (Free)masonry. The image to the right is from the Tang dynasty, so 618 to 907. That not only massively predates modern Freemasonry (1717) and Western alchemy and Hermetica. But are these instruments really compasses and squares, or is this wishful thinking? As I said, Fuxi and Nüwa are creator Gods. The named instruments would be fitting for their joint role of… Read More »Fuxi and Nüwa

Comparing Völuspás

I am finally reading Maria Kvilhaug’s 2004 dissertation The Maiden With The Mead. In her introduction, Kvilhaug says:

There are, for example, three different versions of the poem Voluspá, all with rather fundamental differences from each other.

I never really thought about that. As probably many others I took it that what is printed in our Eddas as the first poem Völuspa is the text that comes from the Codex Regius that that was found in 1643 and probably compiled in the late 12th century. Many translations and translations of translations have been made, so it is sometimes hard to say which of the modern translations are anywhere close to the original text. Kvilhaugs remark brings another problem: if there are “three different versions” are the texts that we know all based on the same source?

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“he will never be a stupid atheist nor an irreligious libertine”

I am currently reading the massive Satanism: A Social History by Massimo Introvigne. This is a scholarly work published by the esteemed publisher Brill. It was first published in Italian in 1994 and was later translated, rewritten and expanded in various languages to (currently) end with the 655 pages that Brill published in 2016. There is something in this book that got me thinking about the early days of Freemasonry. There are many histories of these early days. Not all treat the rising of ‘modern’ lodges in the context of the late 16th, early 17th society. There are investigations showing that there were many social clubs, workers associations that either or not provided financial security in case of sickness, but besides social and philosophical clubs, there were also gatherings of another kind. You have probably heard of “the” Hellfire Club. Actually, there was not one Hellfire Club, there were several.… Read More »“he will never be a stupid atheist nor an irreligious libertine”

Tarot

Tarot is a subject that has only interested me mildly. I enjoy the symbolism of the cards, but that is about it. At some point I bought myself a ‘Crowley tarot’, mostly because the cards that are drawn by Frieda Harris (1877-1962). See the card on the right above. Some time ago I was reading something and the author kept referring to symbols on the Rider/Waite tarot (second from the right above) but without images. The images for this deck are drawn by Pamele Colman Smith (1878-1951) and designed by the (in)famous Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942). Rider was the company that first published the deck. I do not have the deck myself, so I grabbed my Crowley tarot and I remembered just how great these cards look. They were not all that helpful for the text that I was reading though. So I figured I should read up a bit… Read More »Tarot

Squaring the circle

“Squaring the circle” is an expression that I run into frequently, whether in a Hermetic/esoteric or a Masonic connection. Often the first image that pops into people’s minds is this image supposedly of Hermes Trismegistus. Recently I was reading the book Quadrivrium and ‘squaring the circle’ is mentioned four times, but quite different from the above. According to the authors, a ‘circled square’ (or ‘squared circle’) are a circle and a square with the same area. So the square would certainly be smaller than in the image above, more like this: Or like in Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” You can read all about the mathematical approach on Wikipedia. Later I was rereading a book by René Guénon (Symbols Of Sacred Science). He also mentions ‘squaring the circle’ a couple of times and with Guénon you can expect a different approach. Let us see. In this connection we should note… Read More »Squaring the circle

Fabio Venzi (1961-) esoteric Freemasonry

Recently (late 2019) the new book of Fabio Venzi was published by Lewis Masonic. It is called The Last Heresy and is about the relation between the Catholic Church and Freemasonry. It is an historical book and nothing like the previous two books that were published by the same publisher. It did make me go back to these two titles and since I was noting quotes, I figured I could just turn that into some sort of article that may give you an idea of the ideas of this Traditionalistic Italian Freemason who has been the Grandmaster of the Regulier Grand Lodge of Italy since 2001. Traditionalism In the two books, Studies On Traditional Freemasonry (2013) and Freemasonry, The Esoteric Tradition (2016), Venzi refers to René Guénon, but also to his more controversial fellow countryman Julius Evola. Guénon was initially of the opinion that Freemasonry is a genuine Western initiatic… Read More »Fabio Venzi (1961-) esoteric Freemasonry

Antaios

In 2009 or 2010 I was contacted by a man who wanted to revive the Antaios journal that was edited by Mircea Eliade and Ernst Jünger. There were plans to start with a website, but to eventually come to a printed magazine. The website could be found at new-antaios.net. The magazine had a flying start, but was short-lived.

I was asked to write a short biography of Franz Farwerck. It could be found on the website, was copied by another website called Euro Synergies and when it became clear that The New Antaios would fold, I republished it on this very website.

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More Masonic Traditionalism in Italy

My last two articles were about Masonic Traditionalism. One was based on a book by Mark Sedgewick about René Guénon, the other inspired by the books of the contemporary Masonic Traditionalist Fabio Venzi. Even though I had not, and have not, really been looking into the subject, I once again return to it. I recently ran into Christian Guidice’s thesis about Arturo Reghini. Reghini was a Freemason and a Traditionalist. There is an interesting twist to the story. Reghini’s story is in some regards similar to that of René Guénon. The two were contemporaries. Reghini was born in 1878, Guénon in 1886. Reghini passed away in 1946, Guénon in 1951. Both were interested in esotericism and occultism from a young age. Both were involved in the Theosophical Society, but Reghini more than Guénon. Reghini helped to found the society in Italy. Both later took firm distance from their Theosophical involvement… Read More »More Masonic Traditionalism in Italy