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Chapters of Masonic History





The paper below is the first of a new series of Study Club articles to cover, chapter by chapter, the more important periods and features of Masonic history. I have condensed and simplified to the limit of my ability but even so I know that beginners may find some passages difficult. This difficulty lies in the subject matter, which is stubborn and complicated to a degree, and therefore means that readers themselves must cooperate by a willingness to read and re-read, and to study. Surely the subject is worth it! Vibert's 'Freemasonry Before the Existence of Grand Lodges,' Vibert's 'Story of the Craft,' Newton's 'The Builders,' and Gould's 'Concise History of Freemasonry' may be read in conjunction with these papers. Of the many articles on Masonic history that have already appeared in THE BUILDER lists will be printed at the end of each monthly instalment so also with titles of books consulted. By the time the series is completed the reader will have traversed the whole field of the general history of the Craft and be all the happier in his Masonic life in consequence, and much better equipped to take a part in its activities. Hitherto we have carried in the department a stereotyped page of suggestions to Study Club members and leaders for the sake of space, which grows more valuable each month, we are omitting such matter. In its place we have printed a booklet on 'How to Organize and Maintain a Study Club' which will be furnished free to any brother asking for it.




THE WORD Gothic has become associated in our minds with much that is most beautiful in the world - cathedrals, churches, spires and an old manner of decoration - but to the Italian artists of the Renaissance who gave the world its currency it had quite a different meaning, and was used by them as a term of reproach to signify the culture of the northern barbarians, especially of German blood, who had broken off from classical traditions. Vasari appears to have been responsible above any other individual for this usage.

Gothic was at first applied to the whole barbarian (I use the word here in its Renaissance sense) culture but later, and after men had begun to understand and to appreciate it, was more narrowly applied to that which was most distinctive in barbarian culture, the architecture and at a still later period, and through popular usage, it became associated almost entirely with religious architecture, and more especially with the cathedrals, so that we find the great New English Dictionary giving it the following definition:

'The term for the style of architecture prevalent in Western Europe from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century, of which the chief characteristic is the pointed arch applied also to buildings, architectural details, and ornamentation. The most usual names for the successive periods in this style in England are Early English, Decorative, and Perpendicular.'

This definition is not as accurate as it might be. Many authorities on the history of architecture would not agree with the statement that 'the chief characteristic is the pointed arch' they have other theories of the matter. Nor is it safe to apply the word only to architecture, because there were Gothic styles in dress, in bridges, in walls, in furniture, in ornamentation, in manners, and even in household utensils. It happens that little is left of Gothic save church edifices, but that is because war has destroyed everything else.

Some of the best writers on the subject, Lethaby for example, whose work is to be recommended for its energy, interest and scholarliness, make Gothic to be equivalent to everything specifically medieval in art, which would include stained glass, manuscripts, poetry, etc. These writers point out that it was not until the nineteenth century archaeologists had come, under the leadership of De Caumont and his fellows, that men began to give a narrow usage to the word. 'The word,' writes Arthur Kingsley Porter, 'first applied as an epithet of approbrium to all medieval buildings by the architects of the Renaissance, was given a technical meaning by De Caumont and the archaeologists of the nineteenth century, who employed it to distinguish buildings with pointed arches from those with round arches, which were called Romanesque.' Some writers continue to refuse to use the word at all Rickman prefers 'English Architecture' and Britton, 'Christian Architecture.' Dr. Albert G. Mackey says, 'that Gothic architecture has therefore very justly been called 'The Architecture of Freemasonry'' but of that more anon.

The old Roman style of building, on which all subsequent styles in Western Europe were based until the coming of Gothic, and which came to be called Romanesque, was organized on a very simple principle, and had its beginnings, at least so far as temples, churches, and cathedrals were concerned, in the ancient basilica. A flat roof was laid across four walls, like the lid on a box. If the roof was ridged or arched the walls had to be thickened in order to take care of the side thrust, so that in the largest buildings, where much interior space was needed, the walls were necessarily given a massive thickness and this thickness in turn made it necessary to use small windows lest the anchorage furnished by the walls be weakened and the building collapse. In consequence of this, Romanesque buildings were like military fortifications in their squatness, their ponderousness, and their interior gloom. The Gothic architects escaped from these unfortunate results by employing the pointed arch which enabled them greatly to increase their interior heights and they learned how to take up the side thrusts of these arches by means of flying buttresses, rather than by heavy pier-like walls. This removed the great weight from the side walls and enabled the builders to substitute glass for stone, thus destroying at once the old unpleasant gloominess. In the course of time the system of pillars, arches and flying buttresses became a kind of thing in itself, like the frame-work of a machine, so that the skeleton of a building became self-sufficient, and might be said to dispense with walls altogether. It is this frame-work, so organized as to be self-supporting, that most distinguishes Gothic as a whole from its predecessor, Romanesque such features as made this feat possible - the arch, rib vaulting, and the buttress - being secondary.

This is the point of Violet-le-Duc's famous description of Gothic, ably summarized by C. H. Moore in these words: 'A system which was a gradual evolution out of Romanesque and one whose distinctive characteristic is that the whole character of the building is determined by, and its whole strength is made to reside in, a finely organized and frankly confessed, frame-work, rather than in walls.'

Moore has himself furnished a definition yet more famous, and easily comprehended:

'In fine, then, Gothic architecture may be shortly defined as a system of construction in which vaulting on an independent system of ribs is sustained by piers and buttresses whose equilibrium is maintained by the opposing action of thrust and counterthrust. This system is adorned by sculptures whose motives are drawn from organic nature, conventionalized in obedience to architectural conditions, and governed by the appropriate forms established by the ancient art, supplemented by colour designs on opaque ground and more largely in glass. It is a popular church architecture - the product of secular craftsmen working under the stimulus of national and municipal aspiration and inspired by religious faith.'

Moore finds the key to Gothic in the flying buttress. Other authorities have other theories. Porter finds it in the rib vault Phillips in the pointed arch, which he makes to be the alpha and omega of the whole system Gould believes that stone-vaulting is paramount while Lethaby appears to find the quintessence of Gothic not in this one feature or in that but in the general medieval character of it as a whole.


There has been a great deal of difference of opinion among the historians of architecture as to where and when Gothic began. English writers, who have a very natural desire to claim for their own land the glory of the discovery of the art, date it at 1100 A.D. or earlier, and find its first manifestations at Durham whereas French writers almost unanimously hold that Gothic began first of all in the region round about Paris, in what was once called the Ile de France, and say that the Abbey Church of St. Denis, begun in 1140, is to be regarded as the first known Gothic monument. It appears that a majority of the more modern writers incline to agree with the French theory. Porter dates the new style as beginning in Paris about 1163, and says that it reached its culmination in the year 1220, with the nave of Amiens.

Goodyear, in his Roman and Medieval Art, gives a fairly accurate and quite condensed account of the origin and growth of Gothic in a paragraph very suitable for quotation in this connection. He say's that 'the late Gothic is known in France as the 'flamboyant' i.e., the florid (or flaming). Otherwise the designation of 'early,' 'middle' and 'late' Gothic are accepted. It must be understood that there are no definite limits between these periods. Speaking generally, the late twelfth century was the time of Gothic beginnings in France, and it is rarely found in other countries before the thirteenth century the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries are both periods of great perfection, and the fifteenth century is the time of relative decadence. Both in Germany and in England the thirteenth century was the time of the introduction of Gothic. In Italy it was never fully or generally accepted. Within the field of the Gothic proper (i.e., excluding Italy), England is the country where local and national modifications are most obvious, many showing that the style was practised more or less at second hand. In picturesque beauty and general attractiveness the English cathedrals may be compared with any, but preference must be given to the French in the study of the evolution of the style.' (Page 283.)

Whence did the Gothic architects derive the secret of their new art? Theories are as numerous as they are various, and they range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Lascelles believed that the builders had learned their pointed arches from cross-sections of Noah's ark! Stukeley and Warburton held that they stumbled upon their new principle while trying to imitate the secret groves of the Druids. Ranking argued that Gothic is Gnostic in character, and brings to bear a great mass of data. Christopher Wren argued that it had been borrowed from the Saracens. Findel and Fort both attribute the discovery of the art to the Germans with this Leader Scott agrees in her now famous Cathedral Builders, except that she seems to hold that the Comacine Masters were the missionaries who carried it into France and into England. Dr Milner believed Gothic to have been a modification of Romanesque arches, a theory with which many agree. In a contribution to Ars Quatuor Coronatorum that made much of a stir at the time, Hayter Lewis urged that such a definite and clearly articulated principle must have been the work of one man, and suggested Suger, the minister of King Louis le Gros of France, which country was at that date a little strip about Paris not much larger than Ireland. Governor Pownall believed that Gothic was derived from timber work practices whereas some Scotch theorists have believed it derived from wicker work. Gilbert Scott, a writer of great authority in his day, rejected all these particular derivations and argued that Gothic evolved gradually, orally, and inevitably out of conditions already existing in architecture and in society with this Gould agreed, as do a majority of present day writers. Gould is the whole matter up in a sentence: 'The researches of later and better informed writers, however, have made it clear that the Gothic was no imitation or importation, but an indigenous style, which arose gradually but almost simultaneously in various parts of Europe.' (History of Freemasonry, Vol. I, p. 255.)


At the time that Gothic made its appearance almost all art, including architecture, was still under control by the monastic orders but with the development of the cathedrals art passed into lay control. It believed by some that the scarcity of records concerning the builders themselves is due to the pride of chroniclers, almost always ecclesiastic, who disdained to mention the workmen except in the most general way. These workmen, like almost all other craftsmen of their period, were organized into guilds. Guilds differed among themselves very much with time and place but through all their various changes retained well defined characteristics. Each guild was a stationary organization which usually possessed a monopoly of trade in its own community, the laws of which were binding on the craftsmen. The guilds of one trade wielded no control over those of another, but all together agreed on certain rules and practices, such as those that appertained to apprenticeship, buying raw materials, marketing, and all that. In some communities, the guilds became so powerful that a few historians have confused their government with that of their city, but it is probable that this never happened frequently, if at all.

It is believed that, owing to peculiarities in their art, the guilds that had cathedral building in charge became differentiated from others in some very important particulars. If this really happened it was a most natural result of the circumstances under which the cathedral builders laboured. Theirs was a unique calling. All other buildings were wholly unlike cathedrals, and it was not often that cities were able to afford the luxury of one, so that there never was a great plenty of work for them to do. Also, their craft was peculiarly difficult, and involved the possession and learning of many uncommon trade secrets, so that the very nature of the work differentiated the cathedral building craftsman from other guild members. It is believed by cautious historians that after a while the authorities, recognizing the uniqueness of the cathedral builders' art, granted them certain privileges and immunities, and permitted them to move about at will from place to place, which in itself set them sharply apart from the stationary guilds, each of which was not permitted to do work outside its own incorporated limits and many writers believe that because of this freedom to move about unrestricted by the usual medieval curtailments of privilege, that these guilds, or Masons (the word means 'builders'), came at last to be called 'Freemasons.' Governor Pownall wrote a page once to prove that even the popes granted these builders special privileges, but subsequent researches in the Vatican library never enabled him, or other researchers after him, to unearth the papal bulls.


Writers of the old school used to believe, almost unanimously, that these medieval Freemasons were bound together into one great unified fraternity operating under single control from some center, such as London, Paris, York, and they argued that this it 'one big fraternity,' with certain important but not revolutionary changes, existed right down to our own time, and that the Freemasonry of today is virtually that same organization that it was then. R. F. Gould, (see note) who spoke for a whole group of first-class English Masonic scholars as well as for himself, flatly denied this whole theory in the most sweeping and unequivocal manner. 'I have shown,' he said, on page 295 of the first volume of his History of Freemasonry, 'that the idea of a universal body of men working with one impulse and after one set fashion, at the instigation of a cosmopolitan body acting under a certain direction..... is a myth.' On page 262 of the same volume he remarks that the theory of a universal brotherhood 'is contradicted by the absolute silence of all history.' With this verdict, Arthur Kingsley Porter, who wrote solely as a historian of medieval architecture, and not with any of the problems of Freemasonry in mind, agrees, and on very much the same grounds.

Gould bases his negation almost entirely on the testimony of the buildings themselves, and argues that whereas a writer here and there might be mistaken the buildings cannot be, and he holds that they one and all offer a united testimony that they were not the work of 'one big fraternity' but represent local peculiarities not to be overlooked. His examination of the Gothic architecture of the various countries, with the purpose in view of revealing their testimony on this important point, is one of the most magnificent achievements in his monumental History. It is probable that the great majority of present day historians of medieval architecture would agree with him.

The history of the various arts and devices that made Gothic possible seems to corroborate this position. Every fact known concerning the evolution of Gothic proves that it came into existence gradually, and that no organization ever possessed its secrets at any one time, and that the arch, the flying buttress, the rib vault, and the other features so characteristic, were learned through painful experience, and independently of each other. Porter speaks of the flying buttress as 'a new principle' and one 'that more than any other assured the triumph of the rib vault and a principle whose discovery marks the moment when Gothic architecture first came into existence.' On page 92 of Volume II of his great work, Medieval Architecture, a masterly production the reading of which is urged upon every student of Freemasonry, he writes as follows: 'Hence it is probable that the advantages and possibilities of the flying buttress were not immediately appreciated at their full value, and, while the new construction was freely applied in cases where the threatened fall of the vault demanded its application, edifices even of considerable dimensions still continued to be erected without its aid.' This important feature, without which Gothic could never have come into being, was the work of gradual experiment, and builders learned about it slowly, here a little, there a little, and in some places they never mastered it at all: had the secret of the flying buttress been known in advance to any one big fraternity of craftsmen, all this painful and costly evolution would have been unnecessary.

The same thing may be said of the pointed arch which was so essential to Gothic that it has often given its own name to the style. Porter shows that the arch as a unit of construction was very old, and used long before the Crusaders took Jerusalem and that it was adopted by Gothic builders slowly and only under compulsion its use for ornamental purposes alone came late, and in the beginnings of Gothic the builders clung to their use of the old-time round arch as long as possible.

There is no need to multiply instances. Geometry, which was sometimes used as being synonymous with the art of building itself, and more particularly with Gothic, and which was of such obvious importance, was never known as a merely abstract science, and came gradually to hand after countless experiments and trials of failure and success. There is no evidence that any body of men ever possessed it at once and in its entirety, which is what would have been necessary to 'one big fraternity' having the enterprise of medieval building in hand. The history of Romanesque ornamentation in Gothic structures tells a similar tale and so also the use of stained glass, which Porter traces to the Ile de France, and which came into existence gradually and by slow degrees.

In short, the history of the art verifies the testimony of the buildings themselves all was a gradual evolution, and after the usual fashion, out of contemporaneous conditions and from preexisting methods and customs. When one casually glances back on medieval history from the ease of his armchair, and looks upon it as a spectacle hanging in the air, Gothic may appear to have come into existence almost at once, like the goddess rising from the head of Zeus but a more careful examination of the facts proves that the old theory of one big fraternity bestowing on the world a whole new art and a whole new culture to be a pleasant delusion.

One could also add to the argument the testimony of history, which is the testimony of silence. If Gothic art was the possession of one big fraternity, then that astonishing society must have had also in hand the building of highways, bridges, walls, private dwellings, fortresses, miles, and it must also have taught the people how to make their garments and to ornament their residences because, as has already been said, Gothic art was continuous with medieval art it society endowed with such wisdom, and working in every center in Europe, would have been as universal as the Catholic Church of those days, and would have left as voluminous a record but as the fact stands there is such a lack of records, even of the cathedral builders, that even now, and after a century of constant research on the ground by experts, very little is known of the cathedral builders, so that it is necessary to feel one's way in the dark whenever one sets out to learn something about them.

Gothic architecture was not the outcome of the labours of any one group but of all the groups and classes that made up the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries in Europe and in England. In the latter country one need only recall the reigns of Henry II and of King John, from whom Magna Charta was wrested to remember what a ferment everything was in, and how vigorous was the communal life. In western Europe it was the same. The successors to the Capets created in the Frankish territories, and with Paris as its center, an empire comparable to old Rome itself. It was the time when cities arose to independency, when kings became powerful monarchs as against the divisive rule of feudal lords and barons when the papacy extended its power to the limits of Christendom, with the consequence that something like unity was affected in the moral and religious life of the peaces and this moral and religious life became powerful enough to send the crusaders into Palestine for the capture of Jerusalem. 'The greatest of all the marvels of the Gothic cathedral is the age which produced it. Amid the broils of robber-barons, amid the clamour of communes and contending factions, amid the ignorance and superstitution of the Church, this lovely art, at once so intellectual and so ideal, suddenly burst into flower. It seems almost like an anachronism, that this architecture should have arisen in the turbulent Middle Ages. Yet Gothic architecture, although in a sense so distinctly opposed to the spirit of the times, was none the less deeply imbued with that spirit of the times, and can be understood only when considered in relation to contemporary political, ecclesiastical, economic, and social conditions. For the XII century, despite its darkness, was yet a period far in advance of what had gone before - so far that M. Luchaire does not hesitate to name it 'la Renaissance francaise.'.....

'The intellectual revolution was accompanied by an economic upheaval no less radical. Herr Schmoller has even compared it to that which took place in the XIX century. In the cities the workmen were freed from serfage, and commenced to unite themselves into free corporations and the same process was at work in a less degree among the villeins or serfs of the country. The economic advantages of this emancipation were incalculable. The pilgrimages, the journeys of the French chivalry into all parts of Europe, above all, the crusades, opened to the merchants a field of activity undreamed of heretofore. The guilds of merchants, which ever became more numerous and stronger the commercial relations that were established between Normandy and England the redoubled prosperity of Montpellier and Marseille the multiplication of markets the increasing importance of the great fairs Champagne - all these conditions betray a radical transformation in the material condition of the population. Everywhere the condition of the labourer was made easier everywhere the cities increased their economic productions, and extended their traffic everywhere bridges were rebuilt and repaired everywhere new roads were opened. And with commerce, came wealth.' (Pages 145, 147, Porter's Medieval Architecture Vol. II)

This new life also manifested itself in theological speculation, some of which was so audacious that men were martyred at the stake for the sake of their opinions in philosophy and the study of law in polities and in art. A new life broke forth everywhere, and out of its richness there came, as its consummate blossom, the Gothic cathedral.

But how, it may be reasonably inquired, are we to amount for the unity of Gothic art at a time when the world was very much divided, and intercommunication among countries very difficult? The question is well taken, but it can be easily answered. The unity of the craft was due to the unity of the work done by the craft Gothic technique imposed its own unity upon the workmen and their activities as such things always do. Phillips has shown that if one will lay out a chart showing the building of each French cathedral in succession the sites will begin thickly about Paris and then widen out in concentric curves, thus proving that the new architectural knowledge learned at the center radiated itself out, as knowledge is apt to do.

We have in our midst abundant examples of such a progress. The world is now full of steam engines of various kinds, but not for that reason do we believe that the secret of steam has even been the private property of a secret organization we know that the steam engine began with Watt in 1789 and that each inventor has copied the work of his predecessor and added improvements and modifications of his own. There are hundreds of medical schools over this land and in other countries which use the same technical terminology (comparable to the 'secret language' of the old cults) they employ the same types of instruments have similar rules and one and all furnish their students such an education as is formally recognized in other schools across the world. We know that this unity of medical organization was never brought about in the beginning by 'one big fraternity' it grew out of the nature of the technique employed the formal unity now possessed by national medical associations is not the cause, but the result, of the unity imposed by the profession itself.

I believe that a similar thing happened as regards Masonic guilds in the Middle Ages. Those bodies had a unity, but it was due to the nature of the work, and came about inevitably. They exchanged memberships, as medical, or law, or art societies now do, and that because the work done was everywhere pretty much the same. They developed an ethic of their own profession and held all guilds strictly thereto, as did the stationary guilds, and as do local medical and similar societies, always self-governing, in our own day. The unity which thus developed out of the nature of the work itself gradually crystallised into constitutions and traditions and this unity finally, in England of the eighteenth century, and owing to profound changes in the conditions under which the guilds, or lodges, operated, became transformed into the formal unity that is represented by the authority and power of Grand Lodges. From the time early in the twelfth century when the cathedral building guilds first began to be, until Speculative Freemasonry was born in 1717 as a formally organized society, there was never a break in the historical continuity but there were very important evolutionary changes. Legally and technically our present Freemasonry began in London in 1717 historically, and in a wider view, it began in Europe in the eleventh or twelfth centuries.

But even in those early days the builders did not begin from the beginning. They had predecessors and ancestors upon whose shoulders they stood, and out of whose art they evolved their own. It will be necessary to take these into account, in order to complete the picture this will be done in a few chapters to follow, and as introductory to a further development of the theme presented in this.

Note: Gould's 'History of Freemasonry' was in reality the work of a group of men and it was the original intention to have the names of all appear on the title page. I have this information direct from one of the members of the group. H. L. H.


What did the word Gothic originally mean? What is the definition given by the New English Dictionary? How does Lethaby define Gothic ? Give substance of Porter's description of Gothic. What was the principle upon which Romanesque architecture was based ? Describe the general principle of Gothic architecture as explained by Brother Haywood. Give Moore's explanation in your own words. Can you name any specimen of Gothic architecture in your own community? Can you name any Gothic cathedrals in the United States? Why is Gothic architecture deemed particularly appropriate for church buildings? Have you ever in your own mind connected Gothic architecture with Freemasonry? If so, what has been your theory of that connection?

Where and when did Gothic begin? Give in your own words a sketch of Gothic history. What are some of the various theories of the origin of Gothic? What has all this to do with the history of Freemasonry?

What was a Guild? Why were the Gothic buildings different from others? What is the meaning of the word Mason? How did the word 'Freemasonry' come into existence?

What was the theory of 'one great fraternity'? What is Gould's verdict concerning this theory? In what way does the history of Gothic art tend to disprove the 'one great fraternity theory'? Give examples to show that Gothic architecture developed gradually. Tell something about the age in which Gothic came into existence. How do you account for the unity of the Craft in the Middle Ages? Give some modern examples. The majority of historians of 'Freemasonry' agree that our fraternity had its rise among Guilds of the Middle Ages: how would you state that theory in your own words? What bearing has this theory on our interpretations and obligations of present day Freemasonry?


Medieval Art - W.R. Lethaby.

Westminster Abbey and the King's Craftsmen - W.R. Lethaby.

Architecture - W.R. Lethaby.

Freemasonry before the Existence of Grand Lodges - Lionel Vibert.

Story of the Craft - Lionel Vibert.

Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Vol. III, p. 13 70.

Ibid., Vol. XXXIII, p. 114.

New English Dictionary on Historical Principles.

History of Freemasonry - R.F. Gould, Vol. I, chapter 6, p.253.

Medieval Architecture - Arthur Kingsley Porter, Vol. II.

Mackey's Revised History of Freemasonry - Robert I. Clegg, p. 814.

Early History and Antiquities of Freemasonry - G.F. Fort.

History of Freemasonry - J.G. Findel, p. 76, (1869 edition).

Freemason's Monthly Magazine, (Boston), Vol. XIX, p. 281. Hole Craft and Fellowship of Masonry - Edward Conder The Cathedral Builders - Leader Scott The Comacines - W. Ravenscroft.

A Concise History of Freemasonry - R.F. Gould, 1920.

Roman and Medieval Art - Wm. H. Goodyear.

Development and Character of Gothic Architecture - Charles Herbert Moore.

History of Architecture - James Fergusson.

History of Architecture - Russell Sturgis.

Art and Environment - L.M. Phillips.

How to Know Architecture - Frank A. Wallis.

History of Freemasonry and Concordant Orders - Hughan and Stillson, p.


The Builders - J.F. Newton, p. 97.

Freemasonry and the Ancient Gods - J.S, Ward, part 1, chapter 6.


Mackey's Encyclopedia - (Revised Edition):

Antiquity of the Arch, p. 74 Architecture, p. 75 Basilica, p. 99 Bridge Builders of the Middle Ages, p. 117 Builder, p. 123 Cathedral of Cologne, p. 159 Cathedral of Strasburg, p. 729 Freemasons of the Church, p. 150

Gilds, p. 296 Giblim or Stone-squarers, p. 296 Geometry, p. 295 Gothic Architecture, p. 304 Implements, p. 348 Operative Masonry, p. 532 Secret Vault p 822 Sir Christopher Wren, p. 859 Stone-Masons of the Middle Ages, p. 718 Stone of Foundation, p. 722 Stone Worship, p. 727

Symbolism of the Temple, p. 774 Traveling Masons, p. 792.


Vol. I (1915) - Regensburg Stonemason's Regulations, pp. 171, 195

Whence Came Freemasonry? p. 181.

Vol. II (1916) - Masonry Universal, p. 29 Steinbrenner, p. 158 Masonic Traditions, p. 189 Joseph Findel, p. 221 A Significant Chapter in the Early History of Freemasonry, Nov. C.C.B. 4 Operative Masonry, Dec. C.C B. 1.

Vol. III (1917) - Antiquities, p. 181 Masonic History, p. 204 The Guild and York Rites, p. 242 Freemasonry and the Medieval Craft Guilds, pp. 342, 361 Worthy Operatives Cathedral Builders, p. 349.

Vol. IV (1918) - George Franklin Fort, p. 171 The Masonic Writings of George Franklin Fort, p. 210.

Vol. V (1919) - Mackey's History of Freemasonry, p. 53 Legendary Origin of Freemasonry, p. 297 Quatuor Coronate, p. 300.

Vol. VI (1920) - Speculative Masonry, p. 130 A Bird's-Eye View of Masonic History, p. 236.

Vol. VII (1921) - Whence Came Freemasonry? p. 90 Three Good Books on the Guild Question, p. 195 'The Evolution of Freemasonry,' p. 360.

Vol. VIII (1922) - Gould's Concise History of Freemasonry, p. 23 Masonic Legends and Traditions, p. 57 Craft Guilds and Trade Unions, p. 63

Traveling Craftsmen, p. 102 A New Brief History of Freemasonry, p. 120

'Freemasonry and the Ancient Rites,' p. 151 Freemasonry of the Middle Ages and International Society, p. 331.






THE THEORY that modern Freemasonry is m some sense a direct descendant from the ancient Mysteries has held a peculiar attraction for Masonic writers this long time, and the end is not yet, for the world is rife with men who argue about the matter up and down endless pages of print. It is a most difficult subject to write about, so that the more one learns about it the less he is inclined to ventilate any opinions of his own. The subject covers so much ground and in such tangled jungles that almost any gra nd generalization is pretty sure to be either wrong or useless. Even Gould, who is usually one of the soundest and carefullest of generalizers, gets pretty badly mixed up on the subject.

For present purposes it has seemed to me wise to attention to one only of the Mysteries, letting it stand as a type of the rest, and I have chosen for that purpose MITHRAISM, one of the greatest and one of most interesting, as well as one possessing as many parallelisms with Freemasonry as any of the others.


Way back in the beginning of things, so we may learn from the Avesta, Mithra was the young god of the sky lights that appeared just before sunrise and lingered after the sun had set. To him was attributed patronship of the virtues of truth, life-giving, and youthful strength and joy. Such qualities attracted many worshippers in whose eyes Mithra grew from more to more until finally he became a great god in his own right and almost equal to the sun god himself. 'Youth will be served,' even a youthful god and Zoroastrianism, which began by giving Mithra a very subordinate place, came at last to exalt him to the right hand of the awful Ormuzd, who had rolled up within himself all the attributes of all gods whatsoever.

When the Persians conquered the Babylonians, who worshipped the stars in a most thoroughgoing manner, Mithra got himself placed at the very center of star worshipping cults, and won such strength for himself that when the Persian Empire went to pieces and everything fell into the melting pot with it, Mithra was able to hold his own identity, and emerged from the struggle at the head of a religion of his own. He was a young god full of vigour and overflowing with spirits, capable of teaching his followers th e arts of victory, and such things appealed mightily to the bellicose Iranian tribesmen who never ceased to worship him in one form or another until they became so soundly converted to Mohammedanism centuries afterwards. Even then they did not abandon him altogether but after the inevitable manner of converts rebuilt him into Allah and into Mohammed, so that even today one will find pieces of Mithra scattered about here and there in what the Mo hammedans call their theology.

After the collapse of the Persian Empire, Phrygia, where so many religions were manufactured at one time or another, took Mithra up and built a cult about him. They gave him his Phrygian cap which one always sees on his statues, and they incorporated in his rites the use of the dreadful 'taurobolium,' which was a baptism in the blood of a healthy young bull. In the course of time this gory ceremony became the very center and climax of the Mithraic ritual, and made a profound impression on the hordes of po or slaves and ignorant men who flocked into the mithrea, as the Mithraic houses of worship were called.

Mithra was never able to make his way into Greece (the same thing could be said of Egypt, where the competition among religions was very severe) but it happened that he borrowed something from Greek art. Some unknown Greek sculptor, one of the shining geniuses of his nation, made a statue of Mithra that served ever afterwards as the orthodox likeness of the god, who was depicted as a youth of overflowing vitality, his mantle thrown back, a Phrygian cap on his head, and slaying a bull. For hundreds of year s this statue was to all devout Mithraists what the crucifix now is to Roman Catholics. This likeness did much to open Mithra's path toward the west, for until this his images had been hideous in the distorted and repellant manner so characteristic of Oriental religious sculpture. The Oriental people, among whom Mithra was born, were always capable of gloomy grandeur and of religious terror, but of beauty they had scarcely a touch it remained for the Greeks to recommend Mithra to men of good taste.

After the Macedonian conquests, so it is believed, the cult of Mithra became crystallized it got its orthodox theology, its church system, its philosophy, its dramas and rites, its picture of the universe and of the grand cataclysmic end of all things in a terrific day of judgment. Many things had been built into it. There were exciting ceremonies for the multitudes much mysticism for the devout a great machinery of salvation for the timid a program of militant activity for men of valour and a lofty ethic for the superior classes. Mithraism had a history, traditions, sacred books, and a vast momentum from the worship of millions and millions among remote and scattered tribes. Thus accoutered and equipped, the young god and his religion were prepared to enter the more complex and sophisticated world known as the Roman Empire.


When Mithridates Eupator - he who hated the Romans with a virulency like that of Hannibal, and who waged war on them three or four times - was utterly destroyed in 66 B.C. and his kingdom of Pontus was given over to the dogs, the scattered fragments of his armies took refuge among the outlaws and pirates of Cilicia and carried with them everywhere the rites and doctrines of Mithraism. Afterwards the soldiers of the Republic of Tarsus, which these outlaws organized, went pillaging and fighting all round the Mediterranean, and carried the cult with them everywhere. It was in this unpromising manner that Mithra made his entrance into the Roman world. The most ancient of all inscriptions is one made by a freedman of the Flavians at about this time.

In the course of time Mithra won to his service a very different and much more efficient army of missionaries. Syrian merchants went back and forth across the Roman world like shuttles in a loom, and carried the new cult with them wherever they went. Slaves and freedmen became addicts and loyal supporters. Government officials, especially those belonging to the lowlier ranks, set up altars at every opportunity. But the greatest of all the propagandists were the soldiers of the various Roman armies. Mit hra, who was believed to love the sight of glittering swords and flying banners, appealed irresistibly to soldiers, and they in turn were as loyal to him as to any commander on the field. The time came when almost every Roman camp possessed its mithreum.

Mithra began down next to the ground but the time came when he gathered behind him the great ones of the earth. Antoninus Pius, father-in-law of Marcus Aurelius, erected a Mithraic temple at Ostia, seaport of the city of Rome. With the exception of Marcus Aurelius and possibly one or two others all the pagan emperors after Antaninus were devotees of the god, especially Julian, who was more or less addle-pated and willing to take up with anything to stave off the growing power of Christianity. The early C hurch Fathers nicknamed Julian 'The Apostate' the slur was not altogether just because the young man had never been a Christian under his skin.

Why did all these great fellows, along with the philosophers and literary men who obediently followed suit, take up the worship of a foreign god, imported from amidst the much hated Syrians, when there were so many other gods of home manufacture so close at hand? Why did they take to a religion that had been made fashionable by slaves and cutthroats? The answer is easy to discover. Mithra was peculiarly fond of rulers and of the mighty of the earth. His priests declared that the god himself stood at the r ight hand of emperors both on and off the throne. It was these priests who invented the good old doctrine of the divine right of kings. The more Mithra was worshipped by the masses, the more complete was the imperial control of those masses, therefore it was good business policy for the emperors to give Mithra all the assistance they could. There came a time when every Emperor was pictured by the artists with a halo about his head that halo had origin ally belonged to Mithra. It represented the outstand ing splendour of the young and vigorous sun. After the Roman emperors passed away the popes and bishops of the Roman Catholic Church took up the custom they are still in the habit of showing their saints be-haloed.

Mithraism spread up and down the world with amazing rapidity. All along the coast of northern Africa and even in the recesses of the Sahara through the Pillars of Hercules to England and up into Scotland across the channel into Germany and the north countries and down into the great lands along the Danube, he everywhere made his way. London was at one time a great center of his worship. The greatest number of mithrea were built in Germany. Ernest Renan once said that if ever Christianity had become s mitten by a fatal malady Mithraism might very easily: have become the established and official religion of the whole Western World. Men might now be saying prayers to Mithra, and have their children baptised in bull's blood.

There is not here space to describe in what manner the cult became modified, by its successful spread across the Roman Empire. It was modified, of course, and in many ways profoundly, and it in turn modified everything with which it came into contact.

Here is a brief epitome of the evolution of this Mystery. It began at a remote time among primitive Iranian tribesmen. It picked up a body of doctrine from the Babylonian star worshippers, who created that strange thing known as astrology. It became a mystery, equipped with powerful rites, in the Asia Minor countries. It received a decent outward appearance at the hand of Greek artists and philosophers and it finally became a world religion among the Romans. Mithraism reached its apogee in the second century it went the way of all flesh in the fourth century and flickered out entirely in the fifth century, except that bits of its wreckage were salvaged and used by a few new cults, such as those of the various forms of Manicheeism.


After overthrowing its hated rival, the early Christian Church so completely destroyed everything having to do with Mithraism that there have remained behind but few fragments to bear witness to a once victorious religion. What little is accurately known will be found all duly set down and correctly interpreted in the works of the learned Dr. Franz Cumont, whose books on the subject so aroused the ire of the present Roman Catholic Hierarchy that they placed them on the Index, and warned the faithful away f rom his chapters of history. Today, as in Mithra's time, superstitions and empty doctrines have a sorry time when confronted with known facts.

The pious Mithraist believed that back of the stupendous scheme of things was a great and unknowable deity, Ozmiuzd by name, and that Mithra was his son. A soul destined for its prison house of flesh left the presence of Ormuzd, descended by the gates of Cancer, passed through the spheres of the seven planets and in each of these picked up some function or faculty for use on the earth. After its term here the soul was prepared by sacraments and discipline for its re-ascent after death. Upon its return jou rney it underwent a great ordeal of judgment before Mithra. Leaving something behind it in each of the planetary spheres it finally passed back through the gates of Capricorn to ecstatic union with the great Source of all. Also there was an eternal hell, and those who had proved unfaithful to Mithra were sent there. Countless deons, devils and other invisible monsters raged about everywhere over the earth tempting souls, and presided over the tortures in the pit. Through it all the planets continued to ex ercise good or evil influence over the human being, according as his fates might chance to fall out on high, a thing imbedded in the cult from its old Babylonian days.

The life of a Mithraist was understood as a long battle in which, with Mithra's help, he did war against the principles and powers of evil. In the beginning of his life of faith he was purified by baptism, and through all his days received strength through sacraments and sacred meals. Sunday was set aside as a holy day, and the twenty-fifth of December began a season of jubilant celebration. Mithraic priests were organized in orders, and were deemed to have supernatural power to some extent or other.

It was believed that Mithra had once come to earth in order to organize the faithful into the army of Ormuzd. He did battle with the Spirit of all Evil in a cave, the Evil taking the form of a bull. Mithra overcame his adversary and then returned to his place on high as the leader of the forces of righteousness, and the judge of all the dead. All Mithraic ceremonies centered about the bull slaying episode.

The ancient Church Fathers saw so many points of resemblance between this cult and Christianity that many of them accepted the theory that Mithraism was a counterfeit religion devised by Satan to lead souls astray. Time has proved them to be wrong in this because at bottom Mithraism was as different from Christianity as night from day.


Masonic writers have often professed to see many points of resemblance between Mithraism and Freemasonry. Albert Pike once declared that Freemasonry is the modern heir of the Ancient Mysteries. It is a dictum with which I have never been able to agree. There are similarities between our Fraternity and the old Mystery Cults, but most of them are of a superficial character, and have to do with externals of rite or, organization, and not with inward content. When Sir Samuel Dill described Mithraism as 'a s acred Freemasonry' he used that name in a very loose sense.

Nevertheless, the resemblances are often startling. Men only were admitted to membership in the cult. 'Among the hundreds of inscriptions that have come down to us, not one mentions either a priestess, a woman initiate, or even a donatress.' In this the mithrea differed from the collegia, which latter, though they almost never admitted women as members, never hesitated to accept help or money from them. Membership in Mithraism was as democratic as it is with us, perhaps more so slaves were freely admitt ed and often held positions of trust, as also did the freedmen of whom there were such multitudes in the latter centuries of the empire.

Membership was usually divided into seven grades, each of which had its own appropriate symbolical ceremonies. Initiation was the crowning experience of every worshipper. He was attired symbolically, took vows, passed through many baptisms, and in the higher grades ate sacred meals with his fellows. The great event of the initiate's experiences was the taurobolium, already described. It was deemed very efficacious, and was supposed to unite the worshipper with Mithra himself. A dramatic representation of a dying and a rising again was at the head of all these ceremonies. A tablet showing in bas relief Mithra's killing of the bull stood at the end of every mithreum.

This, mithreum, as the meeting place, or lodge, was called, was usually cavern shaped, to represent the cave in which the god had his struggle. There were benches or shelves along the side, and on these side lines the members sat. Each mithreum had its own officers, its president, trustees, standing committees, treasurer, and so forth, and there were higher degrees granting special privileges to the few. Charity and Relief were universally practised and one Mithraist hailed another as 'brother.' The Mith raic 'lodge' was kept small, and new lodges were developed as a result of 'swarming off' when membership grew too large.

Manicheeism, as I have already said, sprang fr the ashes of Mithraism, and St. Augustine, who did so much to give shape to the Roman Catholic church and theology was for many years an ardent Manichee, an through him many traces of the old Persian creed found their way into Christianity. Out of Manicheeism, or out of what was finally left of it, came Paulicianism, and out of Paulicianism came many strong medieval cults - the Patari, the Waldenses, the Hugenots, and countless other such developments. Throug h these various channels echoes of the old Mithraism persisted over Europe, and it may very well be, as has often been alleged, that there are faint traces of the ancient cult to be found here and there in our own ceremonies or symbolisms. Such theories are necessarily vague and hard to prove, and anyway the thing is not of sufficient importance to argue about. If we have three or four symbols that originated in the worship of Mithra, so much the be tter for Mithra!

After all is said and done the Ancient Mysteries were among the finest things developed in the Roman world. They stood for equality in a savagely aristocratic and class-riddled society they offered centers of refuge to the poor and the despised among a people little given to charity and who didn't believe a man should love his neighbour and in a large historical way they left behind them methods of human organization, ideals and principles and hopes which yet remain in the world for our use and profit. It a man wishes to do so, he may say that what Freemasonry is among us, the Ancient Mysteries were to the people of the Roman world, but it would be a difficult thing for any man to establish the fact that Freemasonry has directly descended from those great cults.

[Note: Kipling, who has never wearied of handling themes concerned with Freemasonry, often writes of Mithraism. See in especial his Puck of Pook's Hill, page 173 of the 1911 edition, for the stirring Song to Mithras.]


The Secret Tradition in Freemasonry, Vol. II, Waite. The Book of Acts, Expositor's Bible. Mystery Religions and the New Testament, Sheldon. Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, Sir Samuel Dill. The Works of Franz Cumont. Le Culte de Mithra, Gasquet. On Isis and Osiris, Plutarch. Life of Pompey, Plutarch. Annals, Tacitus. Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum. Mythrasliturgie, Dielitch. De Corona, Tertullion. History of France, Vol. V, Vol. VI, Vol. VII, Duruy. Neoplatonism, Bigg. Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire, Sir Samuel Dill. Menippus, Lucian. Thebaid, Statius. See bibliography in Hasting's Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. VIII, p. 752. Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Vol. III, p. 109 Vol. IV, p. 32 Vol. XIII, p. 90. The History of Freemasonry, Vol. I, Gould.

Mackey's Encyclopedia-(Revised Edition):

Allah, 46, Babylon, 89. Egyptian Mysteries, 232-233. Egyptian Priests, Initiations of the, 234. Gnostics, 300-301. Legend, 433. Manichaeans, 462. Mithras, Mysteries of, 485-487. Mohammed, 488. Mysteries, Ancient, 497-500. Mystery, 500. Myth, 501. Myth, Historical, 501. Mythical History, 501. Mythology, 501. Myth, Philosophical, 501. Ormuzd, 539. Persia, 558 Pike, Albert, 563. Roman Colleges of Artificers, 630-634.


Vol. 1, 1915. - Symbolism, The Hiramic Legend, and the Master's Word, p. 285 Symbolism in Mythology, p. 296.

Vol. II, 1916. - Masonry and the Mysteries, p. 19 The Mysteries of Mithra, p. 94 The Dionysiacs, p. 220 The Mithra Again, p. 254

The Ritual of Ancient Egypt, p. 285 The Dionysiaes, p. 287.

Vol. III, 1917. - The Secret Key, p. 158 Mithraism, p. 252 Vol.

IV, 1918. - The Ancient Mysteries, p. 223.

Vol. V, 1919. - The Ancient Mysteries Again, p. 25 The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites, pp. 143, 172 The Mystery of Masonry, p. 189

The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites, pp. 218, 240.

Vol. VI, 1920. - A Bird's-Eye View of Masonic History, p. 236.

Vol. VII, 1921. - Whence Came Freemasonry, p. 90 Books on the Mysteries of Isis, Mithras and Eleusis, p. 205.

Vol. VIII, 1922. - A Mediating Theory, p. 318 Christianity and the Mystery Religions, p. 322.

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