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Antiquity of Freemasonry

Years ago in writing an article on this subject under the impressions made upon me by the fascinating theories of Doctor Oliver, though I never completely accepted his views, 1 was led to place the organization of Freemasonry, as it now exists, at the building of Solomon's Temple. Many years of subsequent research have led me greatly to modify the views I had previously held.

Although I do not rank myself among those modern iconoclasts who refuse credence to every document whose authenticity, if admitted, would give to the Order a birth anterior to the beginning of the last century, I confess that I cannot find any incontrovertible evidence that would trace Freemasonry, as now a organized, beyond the Building Corporations of the Middle Ages. In this point of view I speak of it only as an architectural brotherhood, distinguished by signs, by words, and by brotherly ties which have not been essentially changed, and by symbols and legends which have only been developed and extended, while the association has undergone a transformation from an operative art to a speculative science.

But then these Building Corporations did not spring up in all their peculiar organization- different, as it was, from that of other gilds-like Autochthones, from the soil. They, too, must have had an origin and an archetype, from which they derived their peculiar Character. And I am induced, for that purpose, to look to the Roman Colleges of Artificers, which were spread over Europe by the invading forces of the empire. But these have been traced to Numa, who gave to them that mixed practical and religious character which they are known to have possessed, and in which they were imitated by the medieval architects.

We must, therefore, look at Freemasonry in two distinct points of view: First, as it is-a society of Speculative Architects engaged in the construction of spiritual temples, and in this respect a development from the Operative Architects of the tenth and succeeding centuries, who were themselves offshoots from the Traveling Freemasons of Como, who traced their origin to the Roman Colleges of Builders. In this direction, I think, the line of descent is plain, without any demand upon our credulity for assent to its credibility.

But Freemasonry must be looked at also from another standpoint. Not only does it present the appearance of a speculative science, based on an operative art, but it also very significantly exhibits itself as the symbolic expression of a religious idea. In other and plainer words, we see in it the important lesson of eternal life, taught by a legend which, whether true or false, is used in Freemasonry as a symbol and an allegory. But whence came this legend? Was it invented in 1717 at the revival of Freemasonry in England? We have evidence of the strongest circumstantial character, derived from the Sloane manuscript No. 3,329, exhumed from the shelves of the British Museum, that this very legend was known to the Freemasons of the seventeenth century at least.

Then, did the Operative Masons of the Middle Ages have a legend also? The evidence is that they did. The Compagnons de la Tour, who were the offshoots of the old Masters' Gilds, had a legend. We know what the legend was, and we know that its character was similar to, although not in all the details precisely the same as, the Masonic legend. It was, however, connected with the Temple of Solomon.

Again : Did the builders of the Middle Ages invent their legend, or did they obtain it from some old tradition? The question is interesting, but its solution either way would scarcely affect the Antiquity of Freemasonry. It is not the form of the legend, but its spirit and symbolic design, wish which we have to do.

This legend of the Third Degree as we now have it, and as we have had it for a certain period of two hundred and fifty years, is intended, by a symbolic representation, to teach the resurrection from death, and the Divine dogma of eternal life. All Freemasons know its character, and it is neither expedient nor necessary to dilate upon it.

But can we find such a legend elsewhere? Certainly we can. Not indeed the same legend; not the same personage as its hero; not the same details; but a legend with the same spirit and design; a legend funereal in character, celebrating death and resurrection, solemnized in lamentation and terminating in joy.

Thus, in the Egyptian Mysteries of Osiris, the image of a dead man was borne in an argha, ark or coffin, by a procession of initiates; and this enclosure in the coffin or interment of the body was called the aphanism, or disappearance, and the lamentation for him formed the first part of the Mysteries.

On the third day after .the interment, the priests and initiates carried the coffin, in which was also a golden vessel, down to the river Nile. Into the vessel they poured water from the river; and then with a cry of ............"We have found him, let us rejoice," they declared that the dead osiris, who had descended into Hades, had returned from thence, and was restored again to life ; and the rejoicings which ensued constituted the second part of the Mysteries.

The analogy between, this and the legend of Freemasonry must be at once apparent. Now, just such a legend, everywhere coinciding in particulars, but everywhere coinciding in general character, is to be found in all the old religions-in sun worship, in tree worship, in animal worship. It was often perverted, it is true, from the original design. Sometimes it was applied to the death of winter and the birth of spring, sometimes to the setting and the subsequent rising of the sun, but always indicating a loss and a recovery.

Especially do we find this legend, and in a purer form, in ahe Ancient Mysteries. At Samothrace, at Eleusis, at Byblos-in all places where these ancient religions and mystical rites were celebrated-we find the same teachings of eternal life inculcated by the representation of an imaginary death and apotheosis.

And it is this legend, and this legend alone, that connects Speculative Freemasonry with the Ancient Mysteries of Greece, of Syria, and of Egypt.

The theory, then, that I advance on the subject of the Antiquity of Freemasonry is this: I maintain that, in its present peculiar organization, it is the successor, with certainty, of the Building Corporations of the Middle Ages, and through them, with less certainty but with great probability,, of the Roman Colleges of Artifieers. Its connection with the Temple of Solomon, as its birthplace, may have been accidental-a mere arbitrary selection by its inventors-and bears, therefore, only an allegorical meaning; or it may be historical, and to be explained by the frequent communications that at one time took place between the Jews and the Greeks and the Romans. This is a point still open for discussion. On it I express no fixed opinion. The historical materials upon which to base an opinion are as yet too scanty. But I am inclined, I confess, to view the Temple of Jerusalem and the Masonic traditions connected with it as a part of the great allegory of Freemasonry.

But in the other aspect in which Freemasonry presents itself to our view, and to which I have already adverted, the question of its antiquity is more easily settled.

As a brotherhood, composed of symbolic Masters and Fellows and Apprentices, derived from an association of Operative Masters, Fellows, and Apprentices-those building spiritual temples as these built material ones-its age may not exceed five or six hundred years. But as a secret association, containing within itself the symbolic expression of a religious idea, it connects itself with all the Mysteries, which, with similar secrecy, gave the same symbolic expression to the same religious idea. These Mysteries were not the cradles of Freemasonry, : they were only its analogues.

But I have no doubt that all the Mysteries had one common source, perhaps, as it has been suggested, some body of priests; and I have no more doubt that Freemasonry has derived its legend, its symbolic mode of instruction, and the lesson for which that instruction was intended, either directly or indirectly from the same source. ln this view the Mysteries become interesting to the Freemason as a study, and in this view only.

And so, when I speak of the Antiquity of Freemasonry, I must say, if I would respect the axioms of historical science, that its body came out of the Middle Ages, but that its spirit is to be traced to a far remoter period.

The foregoing digest of his conclusions is by Doctor Mackey.

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