Return to main page

Masonic History

Masonic Archaeology

By Frank Higgins, F.R.N.S.,
President of the Magian Society, Etc.

WITH reference to all those things which come within the various provinces of the seven liberal arts and sciences, Masonry occupies an extremely anomalous position. The theory of the Craft we all know. From one degree to another, we have paraded before us, assumptions of all knowledge, human and Divine. We are supposed to be the custodians of a mysterious arcana descended to us from remote ages, which must be hedged about with safeguards and pledges, which could not be more exacting, if they constituted a system of defense for the fabled treasures of Golconda, actually materialized.

Yet there is not a Masonic student, among those hold enough to proclaim that there is at least a substratum of truth at the bottom of these pretensions, who does not find himself continually in the minority, among a vast army of brethren, who refuse to contemplate anything in the ritual of Masonry, transcending an agreeable series of moral platitudes, collated within a comparatively modern period for the unmixed purpose of "making Masons."

The degrees of the Craft are, in this respect, very much like those honorary titles conferred by Universities upon benefactors, who, had they actually elected to shine in the domains of Law, Arts, Letters or Sciences, suggested by their alphabetical dignities, instead of Coal, Iron or Commerce would never have figured in the history of pedagogics as patrons of learning.

In consideration of the hugely preponderating part played by at least the presumption of Science in its construction, one might imagine that Masonry would have long since specially attracted to itself an unusual quota of scientific men, men of the schools, competent through plediliction and training to give extension to the manifold hints of our ritual. But with notable exceptions, this has not proven the case.

The chief among Masonic students, whose reputations for more or less scientific research into the latent meanings of Masonic allusions, have become classic in the Craft, have been gifted amateurs, who have no reputation outside of our exclusive ranks. Such science as has been brought to the support of Masonry has been purely accidental. Owing to the nature of our institution, we are unable to turn for guidance to the very men who could most and best enlighten us. We may take no, however learned, scientist into Masonic confidence and invite him to diagnose a landmark, having a pointed scientific application, for the benefit of the craft, unless he is a member thereof and the conflict between Science and Religion has, since the organization of the modern speculative craft, given rise to a special reason which has closed its doors to many of the very men who could have been most depended on to enlighten it.

For these and other reasons Masonic symbolism has remained for several centuries in the hands of brethren who, however lovable and amiable their personal characters, or however they have adorned the Craft by their personal virtues, have been the last men in the world to perceive either its origin or its tendencies on the purely intellectual plane. The progress of true Masonic enlightenment has therefore been slower than that of any branch of human contemplation open to examination, dissection and suggestion from unbiased scholars.

Brilliant as have been the many scholarly Protestant Divines who have given lustre to Masonry by their high qualities as men and Masons, the majority of these have been content to regard the numerous scriptural allusions and parallels introduced to attention, from the literal and unquestioning attitude of sectarian orthodoxy. Thus it has remained for a future age to reveal many things, which might have been discovered and brought to light years ago, if there had been systematic search. The true story of humanity's struggle toward the light during the past twenty centuries of the Christian era has yet to be written. It involves elements which numerous historians have approached closely enough, but which they have never been able to grasp, because of fundamental error in view point.

For nigh upon two thousand years, the true nature and meanings of the ancient mysteries upon which modern Masonry has erected her symbolic Temple, have remained in the grasp and custody of an institution, equally founded upon them, which has employed every artifice of sophistry to conceal and every instrument of physical repression to guard from the assaults of the curious. The history of this conflict is the history of "Heresy," concerning which we will sum the whole in one all embracing statement.

The entire totality of the various historical heresies which are recorded as having been subdued at one and another age of the Church, have been simply outcroppings of one and the same original gnosis, under different names, until the translations of the Bible into vulgar tongues, produced a new variety of schism, shifting the controversial premises from the original ground, which dealt with the Mysteries alone, to questions of historicity and literal interpretations of an inassailable Scripture, all sense of the cabalistic character of which had been hopelessly lost.

The battle of the last two centuries has raged altogether around questions affecting the total or partial authenticity of the Biblical narrative taken as a record of human history rendered infallible by Divine interference. Its uncompromising literal interpretations, the strict Puritan sense, have given rise to a long line of splendidly intellectual, but less misguided than unguided materialists, whose violent attitudes, in opposition to so called "revealed" religion, were provoked by the stubborn and uncompromising defense of sticklers for the historical veracity of a thousand physically impossible and completely unnatural narratives. That these narratives might have a concealed sense and convey the spiritual lessons of the "ancient mysteries" of their derivation, no more flashed across the minds of men like Voltaire, Thomas Paine, or to come down to our own day, Robert G. Ingersoll, than over those of Martin Luther or John Calvin.

To recapitulate the influences which have resulted in the gradual readjustment of the situation, rescuing us from the danger of a sullen and uncompromising conflict between the grossest and most blasphemous negation of Divinity and a blind Credence, in the exercise of which man must stand ready to surrender every prompting of reason or God-given common sense, would be to largely recapitulate the work which has been slowly and painfully accomplished within the ranks of the Masonic craft since the emergency of speculative Masonry from its underground crypt, under the liberal institutions of Protestant England, Germany, and later, of Republican France.

Scholarly Masons, who are duly qualified, did fail to recognize likenesses between Masonic terminologies and traditions of the Ancient Mysteries preserved in the Greek classics and in the allusions of early alchemistic and "magical" writings. This led to an examination of innumerable hints contained in the homilies of the early fathers, concerning the mysteries, both Pagan and Christian, of the early days of the Church. Like putting together, bit by bit, the pieces of an enormous "cut out" puzzle, fragment after fragment has been brought together and joined to the main body.

The labors of the Abbe Constant, known best by his pen name of Eliphas Levi, did more than anything else to acquaint the western mind with the precise nature of spiritual mysteries and ancient methods of concealment, in his exposition of the long, jealously guarded Jewish Kabbalah. Upon this imperfect beginning have been based the Masonic writings of the venerable Albert Pike and from the same inspiration and greatly amplified by independent research, the published works of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, with whose theosophical conclusions we shall not, however, concern ourselves. They have, however, had great influence over subsequent Masonic writers-like Dr. Buck and the Rev. Charles H. Vail.

The labor of Oriental Students has thrown open to the world the treasure houses of ancient Zend, Sanscrit and Arabic literature, which have supplied the connecting links in the great story of the inception of an age old scientific gnosis, materially set forth to the western world in the philosophies of the ancient students of Eastern lore, Aristotle, Plato and Pythagoras. The work of the Assyrologists and Egyptologists has furnished other links to the chain, extending our vision and broadening its range, until we are brought face to face with a wonderful, new and magnificently supported conclusion--that the significant symbolism of this great institution of ours, was indeed selected at some remote period of human history and handed down for the express purpose of discovering to us the origin of man's highest spiritual contemplations, and to enable us like the fathers of our race to climb otherwise inaccessable heights and view our Creator "face to face."

The consensus of all that has been discovered in this respect develops the fact that, way back in the dawn of history, probably long before it, there originated at some point on earth's surface, (indications which point to Northern India are not lacking) a curiously interlocking geometrical, mathematical and astronomical gnosis. From purely natural experiments was derived a conception of the three hundred and sixty degrees of the circle, triangle and quadrangular equations, by means of squares (the Mosaic pavement) and the equilateral triangle, the Alphabet and the Decimal system. Adding the factors of the perceptible phenomena of the Universe, the mutual relations of divers geometrical figures of equal quantities and the elements of organic generation, mainly as phallicism, a great system, intended to account for the wonders of Nature, was devised, credited to the One; Absolute Mind ruling the Universe and placed under the government of the College of primitive scientists, to which later ages gave the name of the Magi.

The only difference between elementary Masonry and Theosophy, is the assumption by the latter that the most spiritual of those men achieved successive reincarnations on increasing scales of Divine inspiration and possession, which led them, in the course of time, to become the founders of the world's greatest religions, and has perpetuated their conscious personalities, even to our own day, under the generic title of "the Masters." Both are children of the legendary "Secret Doctrine."

As a point of departure for the assumption of a special science of Masonic Archaeology, we are, while prepared to allow the most complete liberty of thought with regard to historic cities and anthropomorphic conceptions, compelled to assume that wherever the knowledge and attributes of God have been demonstrated by means of the Square and Compasses, for the purpose of awakening the spiritual sense latent in all mankind, there existed Masonry. With this single proposition in view, there is not an acre of earth's surface, at one time or another trodden by the foot of intelligent man, which does not furnish its countless mute testimonies to the existence and cultivation of the primordial gnosis, of which we speak, passed from race to race and land to land.

It does not consist in structural architectural remains alone, but in geometrical symbolisms and decorative ornaments, in which the proportions of edifices, the shape and dimensions of stones, the decorative features of Temples and supposed Idols, especially the Pyramidal forms of Egypt and America, are made, by the translations of their geometrical angles and proportions into mathematical quantities, to give the precise length of the Solar year, the period of the precession of the Equinoxes, the period of human gestation, important planetary cycles and other great natural facts. The expression of these same quantities and formulae in the letters of the ancient alphabets, represented by their numbers, compose the various sacred names of diverse scriptures of humanity, so that we rest stupefied before the astounding fact, that the greatest message of our own Great light has yet to be read through Masonic eyes, by the light of the Ages past.

Masonic Archaeology is no chimera, nor product of an exalted imagination. It can be read, character by character, on countless objects in the Museums of every country in the world, possessing such, on the facades of and in the proportions of ancient Temples, from Delphi to Delhi, from Athens to Ang-Kor. The ancient monuments of Mexico are supercharged with it and the evidences that this gnosis was the faith and practice of the ancient, aboriginal inhabitants of these United States are incontrovertible.

It stares the craft in the face from every corner of lodge and Chapter, and every word, letter, syllable and character thereof is stamped with God's own signature, the ineffable Tetragrammaton.

The London times, in its issue of October 30th, has a most interesting sketch and appreciation of Genral Joffre, the Commander-in-Chief of the French armies - a simple man, quiet, efficient, who does his duty and does not talk about it. Incidentally, the writer tells us that General Joffree is an enthusiastic Freemason - a fact which will give an added interest to his achievements as a soldier of the republic.

- Source: The Builder January 1915

more masonic history