The Ashlar Company - Masonic Shop
For the good of the craft...
We will beat any competitors price by 5%.
Back to Encyclopedia
Subject-matter, And Masonic History
Subject-matter is itself a subject, profound and profoundly interesting, and it is hard to guess why philosophers, literary critics, art critics, and historians have so seldom analyzed and examined it. Just as any given building has its own particular material--brick, or stone, or lumber, or adobe, or concrete--so is each one of the arts and sciences composed of a "material" peculiarly its own. It is always a given sort or kind of subject-matter which calls an art or science into existence; conversely, each art or science is capable of dealing with its own subject matter and none other; and just as working in wood calls for tools designed for it--hammer, saw, axe, plane, etc.--so are the techniques of each art or science designed for dealing with its own special material. A landscape-painter may go about for weeks looking for a picture; he may see countless trees, hills, streams, mountains, waters, etc., but until he comes upon those natural objects in a very rare and a very special form (or composition) he has found no picture, and it is Pictures which are the subject-matter of his art.
A mathematician can tell what belongs and what does not belong to his own subject-matter-- he sees at a glance, for example, the difference between the literary use of numbers ("Twelve guests came to dinner"), and the Mathematical use of numbers ("12 X 1 = 12"). so with the historian, who does not have the whole of the past for his subject-matter, as is popularly believed but only certain subjects in the past; and by a sweep of the eye, if he is trained for his profession, can separate historical themes out from the general matrix of past events, and sees what belongs to himself, and vs hat belongs to the chronicler, and to the biographer, and to the serologist, etc., and what is mere debris (or ana) which has no use, and is nothing but a mass of things in the past. What is the subject-matter of Masonic history? Even if an historian were omniscient, if he knew in detail each and every event or occurrence of the u hole past of the Whole world, but knew not the subject matter belonging to Freemasonry, he could not write a history of Freemasonry because Masonic history is nothing more than an account of the Masonic subject-matter, insofar as what it now contains is from the past.
He observes Freemasonry as it now is; he notes what "material" it is composed of, which means what its subject-matter is; and he tracks each component of that subject-matter back to its origin, and then gives an account of its progress from that tine to this; if he cannot discover what is Freemasonry's subject-matter, if he confuses it with the subject-matter belonging to other subjects, if he writes a history of a subject-matter which does not belong to Freemasonry, he is incompetent as a Masonic historian. It is as important for a Masonic historian to see what Freemasonry is not, as to see what it is, because between that is and that is not lies the boundary-line within which the subject-matter of Freemasonry is contained. Hundreds of Panasonic historical writings are worthless because their authors could not find, or else they ignored, that boundary line.
This absolute and inviolable principle of the subject matter in Freemasonry explains why no sufficiently competent Masonic historian can possible espouse the theory that freemasonry originated in one of the Ancient Mysteries, or in one of those forms of Medieval occultism which are represented by astrology, alchemy, mysticism, Rosierucianism, Kabbalism, magic, etc. If he has the learning he needs for his own purpose, he knows what subject-matter belonged to any one of those occultist circles; if he does, he knows that its subject-matter is world's apart from Freemasonry's subject-matter; to confuse the two is as deadly a solecism as to confuse the subject-matter of mathematics with the subject-matter of landscape painting. To prove that Freemasonry is not a disguised occultism it is not necessary to accumulate whole volumes of data or detail belonging to either; it is only necessary to contrast the subject-matter of any Medieval circle of occultism (alchemy would serve) with the subject-matter of the existing Fraternity. The differences are abysmic, and therefore cannot be bridged; the few points of similarity are superficial and are not even points of similarity, if that term be rigorously construed, but rather are points of analogy.
Any given subject-matter exists independently of a man. It is outside of him. It is one of the components of the world, and lies alongside the other components of it. No artist ever created the landscape which lies "out there" for him to paint.
No mathematician ever made mathematics. Chemicals were in the world long before any chemist was. History exists before the historian is born. Yet these subject matters are necessary to man, else he cannot have knowledge, arts, sciences, or things needed by him to remain in being, therefore one set of men must separate themselves out from among men in order to make one of those subject-matters his specialty. For this reason it may be said that the subject-matter calls the art or science into existence. Also, the subject-matter dictates to the artist, scientist, or other worker what tools he will employ, what means, what devices, what techniques. The arts, sciences, disciplines, systems of observations, subjects, and systems of thought which comprise culture were not invented by men, but are a slay man has of dealing with the world; the world itself is such as to make them necessary.
The subject-matter of Freemasonry consists of Ancient Craft Lodges and Grand Lodges, their ceremonies, rituals, officers, purposes, history, landmarks, customs, usages, and traditions, and of the High Grades which have their basis in it, and expand or elaborate it. A student, historian, interpreter, or analyst of Freemasonry is confined to this subject matter, and can employ only such techniques as the material in it caps for. He may be either a Mason, who knows his subject-matter at firsthand; or a non-Mason, who must take the word of Masons for what Masonry is. where a non-Mason refuses to accept that word he is ruled out of court by non-Masonic scholars and thinkers as well as by Masonic, because it is the first law of scholarship that a scholar must be true to his subject-matter. Many books which call themselves Masonic are not Masonic because they are a violation of that law; if non-Masonic books have much in them which is true about the subject-matter of Masonry, it is only because Masons themselves adjudge them to have it. A scholar in Masonry is one who knows and understands the whole of its subject-matter.
A number of the worthless books about Freemasonry would not have missed fire if only their authors had noted how many different themes are not in the subject-matter of Freemasonry. Certain of these omitted themes are what on a superficial view would be among the first to be expected in a ritual; their absence is therefore a fact of first importance; the theme omitted is as significant--and because it is omitted--as any of the themes included. It is striking that in Freemasonry, and more especially in the Ritual, such as the following are omitted: 1. There is next to nothing about women, or about children, or about the home. This theme is silently presupposed, but nowhere emerges into view. 2. Nature. The Ancient Mysteries originally were nature cults; some of them were fertility cults, and now and then one of them was a cult of death; but nature worship, or any nature cult, is almost completely absent from the Ritual. 3. Such occult things as smell or smack of magic charms, spells, horoscopes, zodiacs, witchcraft, demonology, satanism, exorcisms, ete., are as a theme conspicuous by its absence. At a few points there are faint references to them, or far-off echoes of them, but as a theme they are passed over. 4. Systematized and organized and established theologies and philosophies are absent. Pythagoras is alluded to, but as a geometrician, not as a philosopher (he is said to have coined that word). 5. The great theme of political government is missing. Such subjects as monarchy, republicanism, oligarchy, aristocracy, democracy, capitalism communism etc., are as old as the world, and as wide, but they do not emerge anywhere in the Ritual.
(A number of learned Masonic writers of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century would, if they were here to do it, question No. 2 above; they believed, or over and over again were tempted to believe, that Freemasonry was one of the Ancient Mysteries which had somehow, and by a miracle, survived out of the Ancient World. It would now be necessary to ask them, Which Ancient Mystery? It is no longer possible to lump them together, as if they had somehow been versions of one thing, because archeology has proved beyond question that Ancient Mysteries differed radically among themselves, and as much as Christianity differs from Judaism, and as either differs from Mohammedanism; moreover, a given Mystery Cult was antithetic to any other; they were foes of each other; and it would have been impossible for Freemasonry to descend from all of them; if not, from which one did it descend? If it descended from any one, why has that Mystery Cult disappeared out of the Ritual? Why do we nowhere encounter it in either fact or name? Why is not it in the subject matter of Masonry?)
Remember, if you don't see the Ashlar "A", it's not authentic.
By Brothers, For Brothers & always For the good of the craft...
© 2023 Ashlar Group, LLC