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part I - the heritage of freemasonry

W. M. Don Falconer PM, PDGDC

Unlike other animals, humans have an insatiable curiosity concerning their origins.


Speculative foundations


Speculative freemasonry is a natural extension of the spiritual and mental attempts of humans to unravel their origins, to comprehend the meaning of life and to perceive their ultimate destiny. Although purely speculative lodges are of recent origin, speculative freemasonry is as old as the operative art itself. Moreover, those who established the first purely speculative lodges that led to the formation of the early Grand Lodges in the eighteenth century, did not invent the speculative rituals. These early speculative freemasons were intellectual men who saw great value in existing rituals, which they culled, collated and codified into the form used in speculative ceremonials. In so doing they were careful to ensure that every passage of ritual was expressed appropriately in the best language of the day. The resulting rituals neither did nor could include all the available material, because the work in operative lodges had many local variations, but were a sound basis for the speculative ceremonials.


It must be emphasised that those who established the early speculative lodges did not see the ritual work as an end in itself, but rather as a foundation for philosophical discussion. The ceremonials used in the lodge room should be an unobtrusive vehicle, subsidiary to the primary function of communicating one’s thoughts to others. These ceremonials have been standardised to relieve the participants’ minds of extraneous matters, that otherwise might impede clear thought and hinder the delivery of the charges. However, word perfect delivery of the ritual has no value unless communicated to the recipient in such a manner as to engage his mind, arouse his interest and incite his comprehension. Nor should the words of the ritual be the sole instruction, because they are intended to provide a sound basis on which to establish discussions on subjects of relevance and interest. Unlike other animals, humans have an insatiable curiosity concerning their origins and the environment in which they live. Since recorded history began some 6,000 years ago, there is continuing evidence of mythologies and religions being developed in an attempt to provide answers to these concerns, which also is the purpose of speculative freemasonry. To appreciate how freemasonry developed and influenced humanity, it is important to consider the origins of the human race and the evolution of human beings themselves.


Mankind in pre-history


It is presently considered that the physical universe as we now know it has existed for about 20,000 million years, although our solar system is much younger, having been formed only about 4,600 million years ago. Although the first living organisms on earth probably came into existence about 3,500 million years ago, they appear to have remained unchanged for several thousand million years. Life first flourished in the seas, but dry land was not successfully colonised until about 400 million years ago, when all the present continents were still intact, forming a single continent called Pangaea. It was about 100 million years ago when the present continents began to split apart, reaching their present configuration around 40 million years ago at the height of the last great Ice Age, when so much water was locked up in the polar ice caps that the sea level fell, exposing most of the continental shelf areas. The ice caps and glaciers had retreated to roughly their present positions by about 8000 BCE.


The most recent investigations of archaeologists and palaeontologists suggest that the ramapithecines, which lived from 14 to 8 million years ago and flourished across Africa, Asia and Europe, might be our earliest hominid ancestors, distinguishing us from all other primates. But this is by no means certain, because the ramapithecines are followed by a gap of some 4 million years in the fossil record, after which several hominid species begin to appear. A more recent and more certain ancestor is called Homo habilis, which signifies skilful man,  who lived in the Rift Valley of East Africa about 2 million years ago and survived for almost a million years. Our most recent forebear seems to have been Homo erectus, which signifies upright man, who lived for about 1.5 million years. Modern humans have been in existence for 100,000 years or so and belong to the branch Homo sapiens, which signifies wise man. Human occupation of the earth has been for a very short period indeed when compared with the age of the universe.


The first 50,000 years of the existence of Homo sapiens was almost at the end of the Old Stone Age, which had lasted for nearly 250,000 years. This was the period of the Early Hunters, during which cultural advance was very slow. Nevertheless, they made a wide range of stone implements and weapons and also achieved the control of fire, although they could not kindle it. They could cut and stitch fur clothing, approaching the standard of modern Eskimos, whilst both men and women ornamented themselves with necklaces and bracelets of shells, teeth, ivory beads, mother of pearl and stone. However, their most significant cultural advance towards the end of this period, probably was that they buried at least some of their dead with ceremony. It was not uncommon for graves to be marked with stones or horns and for food and implements to be placed beside the bodies. Thus, for the first time, human beings were manifesting a belief in some form of after-life, heralding the “age of wisdom” signified by Homo sapiens. Thereafter human development accelerated at an ever increasing rate.


The Early Hunters usually lived in limestone and sandstone caves where these were prevalent. In other areas they gradually learnt to use locally available materials such as grass, reeds, mud and even mammoth bones to construct huts, as well as to make tents from the skins of animals. In the Mediterranean region the Early Hunters developed into Advanced Hunters at the height of the last great Ice Age, between 35000 BCE and 30000 BCE, then into the Late Hunters who brought about the Agricultural Revolution from region to region during the New Stone Age, which in various locations began at different times, ranging from about 10000 BCE to about 8000 BCE. The Advanced Hunters developed a remarkable artistic genius and were the originators of representational art.


The Gravettians of eastern and central Europe used ivory, bone, clay and even stone to make small figurines of women and also some lively animal carvings. But the greatest achievement of the Advanced Hunters was to develop painting, principally in the southwest of France and in Spain. The earliest known paintings are attributed to the Magdalenians, who most probably were descendents of the Gravettians. Their paintings were made between 15000 BCE and 10000 BCE, mostly deep inside caves and far from the hearth and living area. Many of their cave roofs are crowded with paintings of bison and other animals in the polychrome style, using powdered ochre, haematite and manganese applied moist with brush, pad or blowpipe. This period also is noted for being the first when stone was used in construction, albeit in the simplest form. Although natural caves are quite common in the eastern Mediterranean, huts with circular stone footings were built in Palestine and Syria, probably with light domed coverings made from twigs and daub. There is evidence that at about the same time on the plains of Mesopotamia, where there are no caves, shelters with stone footings were also used, probably with superstructures of reeds. These people, the Advanced Hunters of around 10000 BCE, therefore were the unlikely progenitors of architecture and masonry.


The earliest freemasons


The humble beginnings of the Agricultural Revolution, ushered in by the Late Hunters in the New Stone Age, laid the foundation of civilisation and provided the necessary impetus for its subsequent growth. True farming was first developed in the uplands that sweep to the east and north on the flanks of the valley of the fertile crescent formed by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. This was the natural area for development, because the wild ancestors of wheat, barley, sheep and goats were all native there, while the upland valleys generally provided fertile soil and good water supplies. The oldest known evidence of the domestication of sheep and goats is to be found in this area, dating from about 8200 BCE, possibly earlier. As the cropping and grinding of cereals and the herding and domestication of animals developed, the small upland settlements extended down into the fertile valley, where villages began to form in about 6000 BCE. Mixed farming had been carried to the fertile plain of Thessaly in Greece at about the same time, thence southwards to the Peloponnese, to Crete and to Cyprus.


The population grew in line with these developments and settlements became larger and more permanent. As a result of this impetus, mud bricks were first made in Mesopotamia and the Eastern Mediterranean and used to construct houses. The early bricks were shaped by hand, as at Jericho, but later the mud was rammed into moulds. The use of stone for walls and dykes also became more prevalent. The largest villages may then have held up to 5,000 people, but generally were much smaller. Jericho is probably the oldest city in the world and when constructed around 8000 BCE it occupied 4 hectares. It was surrounded by a massive stone wall 3 metres thick and 4 metres high, against which was constructed at least one circular tower of rock 10 metres in diameter and 8.5 metres high, with a built in stairway. This is the world’s oldest structure known at present. Jericho was abandoned for a period, but was colonised again in about 7000 BCE. The town walls were not renewed, but rectangular houses of mud brick with high quality plastered walls and floors spread over the whole site. Jericho was abandoned and reoccupied a number of times thereafter and perhaps is best known for its destruction by Joshua in Biblical times.


Two other events in this period also were of particular significance, these being the construction of some of the earliest known religious buildings at Çatal Hüyük in Turkey and the construction of what have become known as beehive houses at Khirokitia in Cyprus. The beehive houses were circular in plan, around 8 to 10 metres in diameter, with high thresholds to keep out surface water. Their foundations were of stone, which was carried to a height of about 2 metres, while the superstructures were corbelled vaults constructed of mud brick and of sufficient height to accommodate a bedroom gallery accessed by ladder or stairway. The ground level compartment was partitioned as required with mud brick walls which also served as supports for the gallery. These beehive houses continued to be used in Cyprus until supplanted by more conventional houses in about 5000 BCE, perhaps even more recently. The mud brick vaulted arch was a significant advance in architectural design and construction, paving the way for arch construction in stone. The beehive houses in Cyprus typified the advances made in design and construction by the earliest masons.


Çatal Hüyük was occupied from about 6500 BCE to 5500 BCE and covered an area of 13 hectares. It is thought to have had a population of 6,000 at its peak, comprising three different races nowhere else found together in that period. The houses were rectangular timber framed structures, with mud brick exterior walls and flat mud roofs placed on closely packed timber poles supported by timber rafters, furnished with hearths, platforms, benches and ovens. Among the houses was a series of elaborately decorated shrines, which were similar to the houses in construction and furnishings, though frequently larger. Their sanctuaries were decorated with wall paintings, plaster reliefs, cult statues and animal heads. The richly coloured wall paintings frequently depicted hands and ritual or magic hunting scenes, but the most unusual painting found was a unique landscape depicting a terraced town of individual houses and blocks of houses and shrines, with a volcano erupting in the background. The dead of successive generations of the same family were buried with appropriate grave goods within the platforms of the shrines. This indicates a significant advance in religious thought, even though the crude and sometimes barbarous manifestations within the shrines are in stark contrast with the religious inspiration of architecture and art that was soon to blossom with civilisation.


Operative freemasonry, by its nature, requires repeated speculation concerning the siting of the structure and the building work in progress, no matter how primitive the building might be. Before work commences it is necessary to consider the availability of materials and their suitability for the intended structure, having regard to the type and dimensions of the building and the conditions at the site. The best location and orientation of the structure must be determined for the available site. Sound and level foundations must be provided to support the structure properly. Care must be taken to provide suitable and adequate drainage. The dimensions must be delineated on the ground before erection can commence. The walls must be plumbed, the corners must be squared and the tops of walls must be levelled during erection, to ensure that the structure is both stable and pleasing to the eye. Even the earliest stonemasons had to accomplish some or all of these operations, which required constructive thought that inevitably would heighten their awareness to things other than their immediate requirements. For example, after they had constructed walls of rough stones, they soon realised the advantages of regular bricks and used their ingenuity to provide them. Later when tools were available to cut stones, they saw the advantage of using larger stone blocks. Thus, in a practical sense, speculative freemasonry was born from a consideration of physical requirements, which led to a contemplation of the tools and actions required to achieve the desired outcomes and hence their symbolic meaning.


The development of literacy


The next important period of development was from 5000 BCE to 3000 BCE, roughly coinciding with the copper age and ushering in the first of monumental architecture found in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Using the simplest of raw materials, principally mud brick and imported timber, the local inhabitants achieved remarkable results. Egypt concentrated on huge royal tombs. The mastaba tombs of the First Dynasty are typical and were decorated externally to represent a palace facade. Efforts in Mesopotamia were concentrated on temple building. Their temples rapidly grew larger, more complex and externally more impressive, as typified by Eridu, in Sumer, where a continuous series of temples has been distinguished from about 5500 BCE to 3000 BCE. At Arpachiya, in northern Mesopotamia, circular houses were constructed similar to the earlier beehive houses of Cyprus, which were usually extended by a rectangular gable roofed wing, the unit being called a tholos. Another notable development was the fortified settlement at Dimini in Greece, one of the earliest towns known in Europe, which was dominated by the megaron palace with its pillared porch. Dimini was encircled by six concentric walls of undressed limestone and was provided with narrow gateways and passages to form a defensive system.


Although great advances were made in architecture and the development of cities during this period, the greatest achievement undoubtedly was the dawning of literate civilisation. The Sumerians of the southern plain of Mesopotamia, in about 4500 BCE, first drew cuneiform pictograms that represented actual material objects, to assist in the recording of inventories for grain, cattle and other commodities. The turning point came when it was realised that a sign could also stand for a sound, when phonetic writing began. But as the scribal profession and schools developed, the system of combined ideograms and phonetics became extremely complicated and it was not until about 3500 BCE that writing had been forged into a practical vehicle for the communication of language. Meanwhile the Egyptians were developing hieroglyphic writing, incorporating a combination of signs for ideas and also for sounds like our alphabet. Hieroglyphs were first used about 3300 BCE. The Egyptian word for writing signified “speech of the gods”, which reflected its use for inscriptions of the divine pharaohs, contrasting with the cuneiform writing which was used in Sumeria primarily for the keeping of accounts.


Emphasis on the erection of larger and more complex buildings, palaces, temples, shrines, monumental works and sepulchral structures increased continually, which meant that construction was no longer a simple task for a small gang of stonemasons, so that larger and more highly skilled gangs of freemasons began to develop. To enable the work to be carried out successfully it would have been necessary for the chief of the builders, or master mason, to arrange training and supervision for very large gangs of masons and allied workers. This must have been an extremely difficult task, especially as working instructions could not then be given in writing. The only means of tuition available to them was by catechism, aided by sketches on slate or an earthen floor, which constituted their tracing boards. Archaeological investigations have provided overwhelming proof that, despite these difficulties, the early masons constructed many outstanding edifices with a remarkably high standard of finish.


Instruction in the speculative aspects of freemasonry must have begun in this fashion, from which the modern systems developed. Moreover, the continuing involvement in the construction of shrines, temples, cathedrals, monuments and sepulchral buildings that masons have had through all ages, must have induced them to contemplate the meaning of life and the certainty of death, as well as to seek an understanding of the hereafter, much more so than would have been usual among the general population. This would have contributed significantly to the speculative aspects of masonry and would also have fostered symbolic explanations of the mason’s implements of labour. As in the present day, many relevant masonic expressions became a part of the everyday languages of those ancient times, which were recorded with the advent of cursive script. The philological evidence proves beyond doubt that at least some elements of symbolism and speculative thought must have been included in the instruction given in lodges of operative freemasons from the earliest days.


A host of symbolic references in masonic terms are to be found in the scriptures, many of which are as well known as the following examples. During his visit to Bethel in about 745 BCE, Amos prophesied the fall of Israel about thirty years before the event, when he said in Amos 7:7-9 that the Lord had “measured his people Israel with a plumb line” and found them to be irremediably warped by sin. In the reign of Manasseh, the murderous and idolatrous king who ruled from 696 BCE to 642 BCE, the captivity of Judah by Babylon around 606 BCE was foretold in II Kings 21:13, when the Lord said he would “stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria and the plummet of the house of Ahab”. In Isaiah 28:16, which was written between 750 BCE and 700 BCE, the coming of Christ is foretold in the words “Behold I am laying in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone, a precious corner stone, of a sure foundation.” This prophesy is referred to in I Peter 2:6-8, in about 60 CE, when the death of the Messiah is alluded to and “for those who do not believe” the following significant words were added: “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner, a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall”. Other passages from the book of Genesis, together with many of the traditions preserved in Sumerian, Assyrian and Hebrew literature, also provide some interesting sidelights on masonry.


In Genesis 4:19-22 we read that Lamech, a descendant of Cain, had two wives Adah and Zillah. Adah bore two sons, Jabal and Jubal, the former being recorded as “the father of those who dwell in tents and have cattle” and the latter as “the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe”. Traditionally, Jabal is also said to be the founder of geometry and the first mason who built stone walls and houses of stone. Zillah bore a son Tubal-cain and a daughter Naamah. Tubal-cain is recorded as “the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron” and Zillah is referred to in the traditions as the founder of weaving. These four are thus credited with the origin of civilised society. We also read in Genesis 10:8-11 that Nimrod was “the first man on earth to be a mighty man”, that he was “a mighty hunter” and that “he built Nineveh . . . . that is the great city”. In the traditional histories of the medieval operative freemasons it is said that masons first came into prominence during the building of the Tower of Babel, which is the first structure mentioned in the scriptures, in Genesis 11:1-9. The traditional history also says that Nimrod was a master mason who loved the craft, formed his masons into lodges and gave them a charter and a charge when he sent them forth to build all the cities in his kingdom. Although it is impossible at present to date events such as these with any accuracy, they must have occurred around the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution, when civilisation was being established after the flood.


Monumental masonry


By 3000 BCE the Egyptians had developed a calendar with 365 days to the year, from which time their historical records are accurate. The development of writing and literature continued apace in Sumeria, but Egypt was supreme in the visual arts and architecture. Civilisation began to flourish and monumental masonry developed on an immense scale and with unprecedented complexity. The three Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt and the huge Ziggurat of Urnammu in Mesopotamia are typical of this period. Although the scale of building in Mesopotamia was not as huge as in Egypt, the Mesopotamians were more innovative in their use of the arch, which they used extensively in tombs. The oldest true arches presently known were found in the Sumerian tombs of the Royal Cemetery at Ur, constructed from 2700 BCE to 2370 BCE. The art of writing continued to develop in the Near East and its use was becoming more widespread. Signs unearthed at Byblos in Lebanon, dating from about 2500 BCE, are in a script similar to that then used in Syria. Pottery from the period 2100 BCE to 1700 BCE found at Byblos and Sidon, also in Lebanon, provide some of the earliest evidence of the use of a linear script that is called pseudo-hieroglyphics. This was an early form of non-Egyptian alphabetic script variously designated as Canaanite, Sinaitic or proto-Phoenician.


This simpler script progressively replaced the syllabic cuneiform scripts of Babylonia and Syria and the complex hieroglyphic writing of Egypt, so that by about 1500 BCE an alphabet was in general use. From this alphabet were progressively derived the Phoenician about 1000 BCE, early Hebrew about 700 BCE, old Greek also about 700 BCE and formal Greek about 500 BCE, whence the Roman was derived. The development of writing as a familiar medium in an era of prodigious monumental construction, while moral and religious teaching was advancing, must have fostered the speculative aspects of freemasonry. They would also have received considerable impetus during the building of the magnificent temple of King Solomon completed at Jerusalem in about 950 BCE. The later desecration of the temple and its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar about 587 BCE must have had a serious impact on the faith of the freemasons, but it would have been renewed by the decree issued by Cyrus in 538 BCE, allowing the captives in Babylon to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the house of the Lord. The Bible records that the foundations were laid under the leadership of Sheshbazzar, but that the turbulence of the people in the surrounding areas impeded the work and necessitated Zerubbabel’s return to Babylon to obtain the support of Cyrus in quelling the disturbances. The reconstruction of the temple was completed by Joshua in about 515 BCE, under the leadership of Zerubbabel. It has been suggested that Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel were the same person, but research indicates that Sheshbazzar almost certainly was Zerubbabel’s uncle. The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, records in Antiquities that 1,000 priests were trained as masons when Zerubbabel’s temple was restored and enlarged by Herod during the period 20 BCE to 64 CE. Although they were mainly engaged in building the shrine, the priest-masons must have influenced speculative freemasonry significantly.


Classical masonry


The emergence of Greece as a colonising nation and centre of learning, art, and religious thought in the eastern Mediterranean, in about 1100 BCE, heralded the era of classical masonry. Their first stone temples were erected at Corinth and Isthmia before 650 BCE, whence the Doric order originated, followed by the temples at Corfu and Ephesus within the next hundred years, whence the Ionic order originated. The Corinthian order was first used in Delphi around 390 BCE. Even in Rome, Greek architecture prevailed around the Mediterranean and temples proliferated until the ascendancy of Rome itself. Without doubt the most famous classical Greek structures are the Parthenon of Athens and its surrounding structures, built between 447 BCE and 432 BCE. Because of the importance that the Greeks placed on the ancient Mysteries in classical times and which continued into the turbulent period of Roman rule, the Mysteries inevitably would have been the prototype for moralistic reasoning and ritualistic procedures in those days and are still reflected in masonic ceremonials.


Rome began to expand her territory by taking Carthage and Corinth in 146 BCE and Pergamum in 133 BCE. By 100 BCE Rome’s territory nearly encircled the Mediterranean and by 117 CE the Roman empire was at its greatest in strength and extent. Rome developed cities and constructed amphitheatres and temples apace throughout its region of influence, particularly in the Middle East. Of the Roman era, the two most celebrated structures probably are the Colosseum in Rome and the temple complex at Baalbek in Lebanon, about 50 kilometres inland from Beirut. This temple complex was built in several stages on the podium of an ancient temple, over a period of almost 300 years, finally being completed in about 260 CE. When Baalbek became part of Ptolemy’s Egyptian empire in 332 BCE, until the Roman occupation in about 30 BCE, it was the religious centre of the region and called Heliopolis in Phoenicia. The temples are remarkable for their size and architectural finish. Many stones in the foundation courses are 4 metres square in cross-section and 20 metres long, each weighing up to 800 tonnes. There also are monolithic columns of pink granite that were brought from Aswan in Egypt and stand 19.6 metres tall. It would have been a major feat to transport those columns from the quarries in Aswan by land to the Nile River; load them onto barges and transport them almost 1,000 kilometres down the Nile River and about 500 kilometres across the Mediterranean Sea, probably to Saidon or Tyre; unload them from the barges and then haul them overland for almost 200 kilometres, crossing a mountain range in the process to reach Baalbek, which is in a valley at an elevation of about 1,150 metres above sea level. Even in modern times this would be a substantial project.


Cathedral masonry


The decline and fall of the Roman empire heralded the beginning of the final phase in speculative evolution, the medieval period of almost continuous cathedral building in Britain and Europe that lasted from 500 until at least 1700. In England the operative or Guild Masons worked with royal approval at least from their Annual Assembly that is reputed to have been authorised and encouraged by King Athelstan and held in 926. Lodges of operative freemasons were organised under the guardianship of craft guilds, which originally were religious fraternities. Masters of lodges were responsible for the moral and religious welfare of their employees, especially the indentured apprentices, as well as for their practical training in the craft. The Ancient Charges testify to this. The Guild Masons continued to operate as religious fraternities until all such fraternities were disendowed in 1547 under an Act issued by Henry VIII. It is clear from the old catechisms and other records that have come down to us from the operative lodges, especially in Scotland where the Reformation was less drastic in its effect, that moral instruction was an integral part of the ceremonies. It is clear that the working tools were used symbolically from an early date and that various aspects of a mason’s work were used to communicate moral instruction. Dr James Anderson and other early speculative ritualists adopted these methods when preparating the rituals in use today. Thus it is evident that the first Grand Lodges in England, Ireland and Scotland were formed solely for the establishment of alliances and the consolidation of the ritual procedures. They were not the beginning of speculative freemasonry, but only the continuation of an evolutionary process that began in prehistoric times.

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