This article about the history of Freemasonry is based on the book De Kinderen Van Hiram (‘the children of Hiram’) by Andries van den Abeele. This book is not only out of print, but it seems to have never been available in English either. It was published in 1991, so probably written / finished in 1990.
The writer claims to give the history of Freemasonry for the first time based on the latest scientific findings. “The result is stirring: myths fall, accepted history becomes legend, exorbitant stories are brought back to their actual proportions.”
The book actually deals with the history of Freemasonry in Belgium, but because it isn’t an exclusive Belgian phenomenon, the history of Freemasonry in general is dealt with to give a wider picture. I will make a short summery of the findings.
The official history of Freemasonry, says that ever since the time of Adam secret knowledge has been passed from generation to generation and many great names from the bible and history in general were “Macons” with lodges and “grandmasters”.
On 24 june 1717 the secret tradition got a new impulse when a group of stately civilians formed the “Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Rightfull Fraternity of the Free-Masons”. The group originated from the guild of masons, that was originally only accessible for masons (architectures, contruction workers, contractors, etc.), but later when the guilds started to disappear and everybody could start with any craft he liked, people from outside the craft were let it and slowly the guild of masons grew into an esoteric group with the secrecy and symbolism of the masonic guild.
This -at least- is the ‘official’ version of the origin of the society, but Van den Abeele has his doubts.
It is only in 1723 that the first sign of Free-Masonic life was detected with a little book from the hand of James Andersson (1662-1739) claiming to give the history, duties, regulations, etc. of Freemasony. The book names historical “Freemasons” in the form of a great many historical and often biblical figures going back to Adam himself, but excluding Jesus of Nazareth. Actually this is the history as we mostly still know it today and that is shortly sketched above.
Abeele finds this history unsatifying and even accuses Freemasons of making up their own history to make their movement seem more valueble. He came to other conclusions during his year-long investigation and his version is as follows.
John Theophile Desaguliers (1683-1744) was a brilliant French student with a Calvinistic upbringing. On the university of Oxford (UK) he quickly promoted from student to teacher, following up John Keill (1671-1721) who taught the revolutionary theories of Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Desaguliers took over Keills manner of teaching with philosophical and mathemetical approaches to the new sciences.
With a swift flight Desaguliers was not only recruted in Newton’s “Royal Society Of Sciences” in 1714, but he also became an Anglican clergyman, wrote and translated countless books, invented a lot of usefull equipment and travelled all around the world.
During his many visits to the duke of Chandos (James Brydges 1673-1744) he met a great many of the big names of his time (George Friedrich Händel (1685-1759), Jonathan Swift (1677-1745), Alexander Pope (1688-1744) to name a few) of which many were Freemasons.
However it is not a proven fact, it is almost certain that Desaguliers was there when the order of Free-Masons was formed. In 1719 he became the third Grandmaster and during his travels around the world, he founded numerous lodges. The four gentlemen clubs that first formed the “Grand Lodge…” in 1717 had become 25 by 1723, but the real growth came after 1725.
In the motionfull periode in which the “Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Rightfull Fraternity of the Free-Masons” was formed, a great many kindred societies were founded in London all looking for a background to use for their symbolism and (made up) history. Most of them didn’t survive and only a handfull flourished like the Freemasons.
When Irish and Scottish lodges found that the rituals drifted away too much from the medieval traditions, that the lodges didn’t differ all that much from sociabillity clubs and that the society went back too much to the Christian faith, they decided to found their own “Grand Lodge of England according to the Old Institutions” in 1739. From 1751 they called themselves the “antients” while the original “Grand Lodge” were called the “moderns” trying to throw them back to the second position.
Many other lodges also separated themselves from the original “Grand Lodge” forming their own grand lodges with long and important-sounding names. That is how theistic, deistic, agnostic and atheistic lodges came into being.
Freemasonry in France was also founded by Britons. Some of them were banished, others left Britany freely, but they formed their own small society in France. When they read about the foundation of the “Grand Lodge Of Freemasons” in the newspaper, they decided to found their own lodge in Paris. This was in 1725 or 1726. All members were Catholic and politically supporters of the Brittish opposition (‘Stuart-minded’ or ‘Jacobites’) which made the first French lodge very different from the ones on the Brittish isles.
Also in France lodges popped up everywhere, but only in 1732 the first French lodge was officially recognised by the English “Grand Lodge”. It was the 90’est recognised lodge in total. Recognition means that the “Grand Lodge” approves with the regulations, goals and objectives of a lodge which is then allowed to be a part of the greater whole. A lodge recognised by the “Grand Lodge Of England”is called “regular”.
Around the same time, the first publications about the new order were written by non-masons.
In 1736 the first lodges were founded in France that did not consist only of noblemen and ‘statues’ civilians and for the first time there was freemasonry for the people. Still a nobleman had to be ‘protector’ of the lodges, but they were often no active members and mostly for protection against authorities and status to the outside world.
The lodges for the common man flourished and their number increased rapidly.
1737 Was the year of the first pursecutions by the authorities in the man of René Hérault (1691-1741) under command of cardinal De Fleury (1653-1743) who suspected the new sect of political and religious conspiracies. For the second time a woman was hired to filch the secrets of Freemasonry from one of its followers. This resulted in the book “Mystérieuse réception des membres de la célèbre des franc-maçons” (1738 Hérault) which instead of causing a pursecution by the folk, resulted in a gigantic interest in this mysterious organisation.
On 4 may of the same year (1738) pope Clemens XII issued a bull in which he condemned Freemasonry and introduced the punishement of excommunication for Catholic members of the sect. This was more succesfull.
Both caused by efforts to make French freemasonry more according to the Brittish model, a more Catholic approach and the internal quarrels that all this caused, the French “Grande Loge” almost perished but was saved by Anne-Charles, duke of Montmorency-Luxembourg (1737-1803) who replaced the “Grande Loge” by the “Grand Orient de France” in 1773. The “Grand Orient” flourished until the beginning of the French revolution around 1787. However Freemasons are often accused of being the driving force behind the revolution, most of them always were taught to be loyal supporters of the crown and they were totally surprised by the events and many masons who hadn’t been quick enough to leave the country, died under the guillotine.
Chapter IV of the book deals with the higher grades. “Blue Freemasonry” only has the three original and mostly symbolic grades of “apprentise”, “workman” and “master” (I hope I got the English names right), but with and after Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686-1743) many masons formed the craving to put extra elements to their masonic concept. One of these elements were the higher grades, however they were invented in France, they were called “Scottish grades” because l’abbé Perau wrote in 1744 that Scottish freemasonry is more elevated than normal freemasonry. Still today the (regular) grand lodges are the highest institution of “blue freemasonry” and the higher grades are under jurisdiction of (for example, but mostly) the “High Council of the ancient and agreed Scottish Rite”. This is also called “Red Freemasonry”. The number of grades varies from 3 extra up to 39.
The book only shortly touches upon a certain subject that I want to bring under your attention, namely the subject of “Judeo-Masonry” and in particular “the Protocolls of the elderly Brothers of Sion”.
In Europe both the Jews and masons were often blamed for many things that went wrong. Especially after 1933 this was united to one group of enemies: Judeo-masons. An often used weapon or prove that the accusations were justly were “the Protocolls of the elderly Brothers of Sion”. This document is said to be a coverage of a meeting of the “Wize men of Sion” in which they discuss preparations for the international Jewish community for world domination. One of the ways to walk was the use of Freemasonry.
Even in that time it appeared soon that this supplement to the book “The Antichrist as prospective political possibility” that was published in 1903 in Russia, was nothing more than a slightly reworked version of the little book “Dialogue aux enfers entre Machiavel et Montesquieu” from the hand of Maurice Joly and which was published in Brussels in 1864. This rework was done by the “Ocrana”, the secret service of the Tsar for means of harming the Russian Jewish society and the Bolsjeviks that after Marx and Engels conspired against the Holy Russia.
The “Protocolls” are still used as evidence for a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy to the present day. The best-known episode herein is of course WWII.
Further the book (of course) deals for a large part with Freemasonry in Belgium. In a way this is rather interesting, because the Belgians have always been a side-slip in the international masonic community.
Since the beginning they have had the twist of aiming for a more latitudinarian / liberal approach of freemasonry, not according the original English version. Also politics have played a great part in Belgian masonry, even resulting in the forming of political parties that became part of local and national governments. Originally it was not allowed to discuss relgious and political subjects in the temples, but the Belgian walked a completely different path around 1870.
Also severe arguments with the Church (especially about the eduction system) caused a break in 1835, resulting in an anti-religious approach that you still find in many Belgian lodges today.
Belgian freemasonry has had several extremely difficult times, and the grand lodges often scratched themselves on the heads to find the most suitable path to walk, varying from extremely political to anti-political and a ‘regular’ Christian to an anti-religious approach.
Also the quest for regularity has played parts in Belgian Freemasonry. This has always been a hard struggle, because many Belgian masons want a more liberal kind of masonry, while the “Grand Lodge Of England” prescribes more Christian elements in order to make a (Grand) lodge ready for recognition. Many internal quarrels, the forming of new grand lodges and orients, seperate lodges leaving and joining these different grand lodges and orients and going back after a few years in the end resulting in Belgium being one of the few countries in which Freemasonry is for the largest part irregular. 29 Regular to 204 irregular lodges (1000 vs 14900 members) in Belgium when the book was written, while in most countries this is the other way around.
Also the a large part the book consists of facts and figures, which are not too interesting, because they are probably outdated since the book is almost 10 years old.
Many different subjects are dealt with in depth, which makes the book a very good reference book, so it is a shame that it is out of print and that it has never been available in another than the Dutch language. In my opinion they should update and revise the book a little and publish it again.
And should you wonder, no the writer is not a mason! In the beginning of the book (and especially the introduction) I had the feeling that he is very anti-Masonic and wanted to take off the movement’s mysticism and legendary, but in the end it proves that Andries van den Abeele highly respects the masonic movement, but he did want to give an objective view of the historical facts which indeed takes away quite a lot of the mysticism of freemasonry. It seems that it isn’t a link in the ever present continuing passing of Ancient Knowledge from generation to generation nor part of the Gnostic (western esoteric) tradition of the Cathars, Knight Templars, etc. and not even inheritant of the secret parts of the craft of medieval masonry who granted us the gothic cathedrals and architecture in general.
Still freemasonry has always has its place in society hiding and bringing forth many great names, having a vast influence on society and history (we all know the one dollar bill, right?), bringing fear to the established authorities. Also their art (painting, sculpture, etc.) is often beautiful and full of symbolism, so there definately must be some knowledge there.
Besides, I don’t know if you believe the ‘myth of the Mahatmas’ who are said to (have) work(ed) behind the screens of the Theosophical Society, but from their letters to A.P. Sinnett I understand that they not only worked with the Theosophical Society, but also the freemasons and rosicrucians, so what was started as a social club of well off civilians, may have later been injected with genuine occultism.
The completely opposital version can be read in the book review of “The Temple And The Lodge” by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh.
– added note 1/10/03. Andries contacted me. he is thinking about updating the book. further he noted that the Dutch text is available from his page and a French version will be soon! visit www.andriesvandenabeele.cjb.net –