|Some dare call it
|What THEY don't want
you to know!
“”"Yes, well, of course, this is just the sort of blinkered philistine pig ignorance I've come to expect from you non-creative garbage. You sit there on your loathsome, spotty behinds squeezing blackheads, not caring a tinker's cuss about the struggling artist. You excrement! You lousy hypocritical whining toadies with your lousy colour TV sets and your Tony Jacklin golf clubs and your bleeding masonic handshakes! You wouldn't let me join, would you, you blackballing bastards! Well I wouldn't become a freemason now if you went down on your lousy, stinking, purulent knees and begged me!"
|—John Cleese, Monty Python
The Freemasons (or just "Masons," and sometimes the Masonic Order) are a "society of secrets." Less glamorously, their official purpose is a club that promotes "mutual intellectual, social and moral improvement." They currently boast a membership of about 6 million worldwide.
Historically, the Freemasons claimed to be able to trace their origins to the craftsmen who built King Solomon's temple, or even the builders who built the pyramids in Egypt, but no one has even come close to providing good evidence for this. Its modern form dates at least as far back as the 18th century when the Mason's Grand Lodge of England was constructed, though it probably has origins in medieval masons and cathedral builders. The Freemasons' official stance is that they don't really know.
Masons traditionally recognize each other by various "secret" signs, including wearing a ring with a Masonic emblem, various lapel badges, and sometimes the famous Freemasons' handshake (when shaking hands, the thumb briefly strokes the other man's hand in a certain way), though the last one is mostly restricted to Freemasons in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Of course, these "secrets" all got leaked a long time ago, so modern Masons may well use different means of identifying each other, such as raising and donating millions of dollars per year to hospitals, relief organizations, and local causes. (The fiends!) The most famous Masonic charities are the Shriner children’s hospitals in North America.
Freemasonry (also called "The Craft") and its practices were inspired by the stonemasons' guilds that existed in the Middle Ages. These guilds were formed to protect and pass down trade secrets that were crucial to stonemasons, such as geometry, which enabled them to create huge, intricate cathedrals from small drawings. The secret handshakes and passwords now associated with Freemasonry were used by the stonemasons to identify each other, which was important for keeping secrets in the guild. The meeting place of modern Freemasons, the Lodge, was originally where stonemasons would put their tools and draw up their building plans.
During the Renaissance, when guilds became obsolete, it was decided that "operative masonry" (the actual construction of buildings from stone) would provide an excellent platform for a new breed of Enlightenment-style thinking, called "speculative masonry." Both speculative and operative masonry were called "the Craft."
Speculative masonry adopted the tools of operative masonry and used them as symbols to teach moral and ethical lessons. For instance, the Mason's level symbolized how, in the Lodge, every Freemason was "on the same level," no matter how grand or insignificant they were to the outside world.
During the 18th century Freemasonry was exported from the British Isles throughout most of the rest of the world, in particular Europe, the British Empire/Commonwealth, and the Americas. This resulted in unique qualities developing in various parts of the Masonic world, and as a result there exist substantial differences between, say, British, European, and North American Freemasonry. Different forms of ritual are used as well as different customs and usages, and what holds true for Freemasonry in Iowa may not hold true in France, New Zealand, or Japan. In some cases these variations can be significant — for instance, in the United States, to attain the 32nd Degree in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (an appendant body to masonry, see below) takes a couple of weekend classes and can be all done in a month. However, in places like England and Scotland, to attain the 32nd degree is the culmination of 20 or so years of loyal and dedicated effort.
Three other factors also assisted the diversification of Freemasonry. The first is that basic ‘Craft’ Freemasonry is not a unified, world-wide organization. In most places in which Freemasonry is present, Masons are governed by a completely autonomous ‘Grand Lodge’ which operates at a state or national level — hence Grand Lodge of Scotland, United Grand Lodge of England, Grand Lodge of California, Grand Lodge of Texas, Grand Lodge of Western Australia, Grand Orient of the Netherlands, etc.
The second factor is an internal tension within Freemasonry between traditionalists (who wish to stick to the traditional values of Freemasonry) and modernists (who see that as society evolves, so should Freemasonry). In some cases, this tension has caused the formation of schismatic Masonic organizations, most noticeably organized around the admission of women (or not) and the admission of atheists (or not) into Freemasonry. The overwhelming majority of Freemasonry keeps broadly to traditional lines, and as such the more modernist groups are broadly referred to as “Irregular Freemasons”.
The third diversifying factor is the establishment of a variety of ‘appendant bodies’ to Freemasonry. The Masonic legend concerns itself with a mythic narrative around the construction of King Solomon’s temple, and appendant bodies either extend this narrative (e.g. Cryptic Masonry) or delve into largely unrelated areas (Masonic Knights Templar). The theoretical relationship between these appendant bodies and Craft Freemasonry is that the appendant bodies are largely autonomous groups that just happen to draw their entire membership from the ranks of Master Masons, but in actuality, it varies greatly. For instance, the Grand Lodge of Ireland will expel a Mason belonging to any ‘Masonic’ society it does not approve of, but the Grand Lodge of New Zealand holds no opinion on any non-Craft Masonic body and thus is considerably more relaxed on the issue of appendant bodies.
For the sake of clarity, this article is written from the perspective of regular masonry from a predominantly English background.
For Freemasons, one of the most important ethical teachings is charity. In many English-derived lodges, the newly initiated Freemason is given an extensive lesson on the importance of charity to Freemasonry and Masonic values in “the Charge in the North East”. Drawing on this and other endorsements of charitable activity with the ritual and constitutions of Freemasonry, Freemasons are usually highly active in raising and distributing money (often anonymously) in communities. This differs from ‘Friendly Societies’ like the Oddfellows, Druids, Foresters. etc, which were formed as mutual support societies to provide a degree of financial security in the form of medical and employment insurance, widows' and orphans' benefits, etc. before public welfare became a government concern.
Freemasons raise and donate millions of dollars (or local equivalent) to various charities each year. This is particularly noticeable in the United States and England, but less so in Continental Europe and South America.
Masonic virtues and beliefs
There are three (and only three) degrees in Craft Freemasonry, inspired by the degrees of the operative mason's guilds:
- Entered Apprentice (1st degree)
- Fellowcraft (2nd degree)
- Master Mason (3rd degree)
There is an "extension" to the Master Mason degree, that of Past Master (after a Master Mason is elected and installed and completes his term as the Chairman of a lodge, usually taking a period of 1 year). In lodges operating under the constitution of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, the Mark Degree, an extension of the Fellow Craft, is awarded in Craft Lodges rather than separate Mark Lodges as is the case elsewhere. Any other degrees (such as being a 32nd or
33-1/3rd 33rd degree, VII Grade, or what have you) is, in the English speaking world and most of Western Europe, grades associated with one or other Masonic appendant bodies, not Craft Freemasonry per se.[note 1]
Each of the degrees teaches the Mason something of the mythical history of Freemasonry along with moral, ethical, and allegorical lessons on the conduct of life.
The Entered Apprentice focuses on the importance of charity and the need for a member to have a sound moral basis to their life.
The Fellowcraft degree is an exhortation to "learn such of the mysteries of nature and science as lies within your [abilities]."
Having taught the fundamentals of a good and proper life in the preceding two degrees, the Master Mason degree then summarizes the virtues and value of a life well led.
In short, Masonry encourages its members to be just, upright, and thoughtful men who are loyal citizens and worthy contributors to all that is good in society. If you do well enough, you get to drive around in a little car and wear a fez.[note 2]
There are two known branches of Freemasonry: the Regular (Guided by the United Grand Lodge of England) and the Liberal (Represented by the Grand Orient of France). To join Freemasonry, one must be a free-born individual, must be "of mature/lawful age" (21 in some Grand Lodges, 18 in others), and must ask to join of their own accord. Regular Freemasonry requests that its members be men and hold a belief in a Supreme Being (whatever interpretation or name they want to give to it), while some Liberal Freemasonry organizations like Le Droit Humain do accept women and/or atheists, and many allow one to substitute the laws of physics as God(s). Before new members are accepted, they have to be approved by a vote of the local Lodge members, who express their approval or disapproval of the candidate by placing black cubes or white balls into a box.[note 3]
The initiation ceremony itself is notoriously peculiar, and involves the initiate being blindfolded, with his left trouser leg rolled up to the knee and his shirt partially unbuttoned to expose his left nipple,[note 4] and
the Paddling of the Swollen Ass a noose placed around his neck. All of this supposedly has some arcane symbolism. The new member must promise to uphold Masonic traditions and not divulge any of the society's secrets. Traditionally, this promise was accompanied by various bloodthirsty punishments (such as having your tongue torn out and being buried alive below the high water mark); however, in deference to modern sensibilities (and the simple fact that that is not what Masons do), these lines have now been largely excised or euphemistically referred to as the "traditional penalties".
In its wider sense, Freemasonry also includes several appendant bodies, such as the Shriners, the Knights Templar (not to be confused with the historical Knights Templar, who some claim as the progenitors of Freemasonry based on the most flimsy of evidence), and the Order of the Eastern Star (which admits women in a non-Masonic ceremony and is thus accepted by much of the "regular" Masonic world). Also included are youth groups like Job's Daughters (which, like the Shriners, are largely confined to North America), The Order of the Rainbow for Girls (Rainbow Girls, for short), and The Order of DeMolay (The only group for boys, as the aforementioned are girls-only groups).
Many religions condemn Freemasonry, believing its ideals to be irreligious (i.e., "unChristian" or the equivalent), or even that it actually constitutes an occult religion and keeps this secret from the public.
Catholicism has traditionally opposed Freemasonry because it saw Freemasonry as a secularizing force that opposed the Church of Rome’s religious position as well as Freemasonry allegedly engaging in anti-Catholic political and social agitation in France, Italy, and the German states in the 18th and early 19th century. The truth of this position during the 18th and 19th century is contestable, but it is certainly not the case today — though the historical legacy of earlier Papal Bulls banning Freemasonry had left a great deal of confusion today as to whether or not Catholics can join Freemasonry as far as their church is concerned; soon thereafter, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed that the penalty of excommunication is still applicable and that joining Masonry would be a grave sin. However, this is one-sided, as Freemasons ask only whether a man believes in God, not what religion or denomination they are. In Ireland, the lodge historically provided a neutral meeting-ground for moderates of both sides of the religious divide and thus assisted in attempting to provide a more reasonable and sane solution to the sectarian troubles caused by British occupation. In 2023, Pope Francis confirmed that being a Mason is a "grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion".
Among Islamic opponents, Freemasonry is seen as a tool of European (and American) cultural imperialism as well as undermining the absolute uniqueness of Allah by admitting men of all faiths as equal (a similar criticism is leveled by Christian fundamentalists as well). Most Islamic states have banned freemasonry, Malaysia being one of the few that haven’t.
However, the most persistent, vociferous, and nutty critics of Freemasonry come from the evangelical Protestant community, who attribute any and every evil to Freemasonry, from infant cannibalism to sex-orgies to shadow conspiracies and (of course) Satan worship.
Masonic symbolism is another cause for suspicion, as it includes some traditionally "occult" symbols such as pentagrams and hexagrams, as well as the many emblems which associate Freemasonry with its origins in stonemasons' guilds, such as trowels, aprons, set-squares, and measuring compasses. The Order of the Eastern Star mentioned above (and which admits women) is often claimed to be satanic because of its logo, an inverted pentagram. While Satanists do use inverted pentagrams, the symbolism in the Eastern Star logo is different. It actually was meant to symbolize the star in the east that led the wise men to Jesus on Christmas Day (which is exactly why it points down — to point the way there). The irony is that the Eastern Star is one of the least Masonic and most Bible-orientated of the Masonic appendant bodies. But then again, conspiracy theorists are not good when it comes to grokking irony.
The Leo Taxil/Diana Vaughan hoax is one of the most well-known and far-reaching efforts of anti-Masonic propagandists. In 1885, a journalist named Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès, a rabid anti-Catholic who joined the Freemasons but was soon kicked out, decided that he could get revenge on both organizations by publishing a lurid hoax.
After feigning a conversion to Catholicism, Jogand-Pagès wrote two books (the first of which was a four-volume series) under the alias Leo Taxil. They told all about the satanic orgies and child sacrifices that the Freemasons practiced. He also wrote that they worshiped a demon called Baphomet. Needless to say, it was bollocks of the most preposterous order, but the French Catholic Church, which was at the time fighting a losing battle against secularism, seized upon the Taxil hoax and popularized it, leading to its adoption by contemporary and later anti-Masonic writers.
However, most damaging for the Freemasons was not the accusations of child sacrifice and orgies (which only the most bat-shit insane anti-Mason still believes), but rather a false quote purported to be from Albert Pike’s Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. The Scottish Rite is (in the English-speaking world) only one of many Masonic appendant bodies, but because of Pike (a major historical and literary figure in the history of the rite), the fact that it possesses 33 degrees (and thus ‘obviously’ is more important than 3-degree Freemasonry), and the fact that it likes to consider itself the crème de la crème of Freemasonry, has caused controversy out of all proportion to its actual significance. This fake quote published by Taxil has become possibly the single most repeated Masonic passage on conspiracy websites and used as proof of Masons worshipping Lucifer:
That which we must say to the world is that we worship a god, but it is the god that one adores without superstition. To you, Sovereign Grand Inspectors General, we say this, that you may repeat it to the brethren of the 32nd, 31st and 30th degrees: The masonic Religion should be, by all of us initiates of the higher degrees, maintained in the Purity of the Luciferian doctrine. If Lucifer were not God, would Adonay and his priests calumniate him?
Yes, Lucifer is God, and unfortunately Adonay is also god. For the eternal law is that there is no light without shade, no beauty without ugliness, no white without black, for the absolute can only exist as two gods; darkness being necessary for light to serve as its foil as the pedestal is necessary to the statue, and the brake to the locomotive.
Thus, the doctrine of Satanism is a heresy, and the true and pure philosophical religion is the belief in Lucifer, the equal of Adonay; but Lucifer, God of Light and God of Good, is struggling for humanity against Adonay, the God of Darkness and Evil.
Later on, Jogand-Pagès called a press conference where he promised to introduce one of his informants, named Diana Vaughan. Instead, he confessed his hoax, lampooned the priests in attendance, then thanked them for their part in spreading the tale and went on to retire in luxury. Needless to say, the confession is overlooked by most conspiracy theorists, and when it is acknowledged, it is (in that logical twist so characteristic of conspiracy theorists), dismissed as Jogand-Pagès falling victim to nefarious Masonic pressure and presumably including to blame his death some months later of unknown causes on them.
In 1906, Jogand-Pagès was quoted in an interview about the whole affair:
The public made me what I am, the arch-liar of the period, for when I first commenced to write against the Masons my object was amusement pure and simple. The crimes laid at their door were so grotesque, so impossible, so widely exaggerated, I thought everybody would see the joke and give me credit for originating a new line of humour. But my readers wouldn't have it so; they accepted my fables as gospel truth, and the more I lied for the purpose of showing that I lied, the more convinced became they that I was a paragon of veracity.
Then it dawned upon me that there was lots of money in being a Munchausen of the right kind, and for twelve years I gave it to them hot and strong, but never too hot. When inditing such slush as the story of the devil snake who wrote prophecies on Diana (Vaughn)'s back with the end of his tail, I sometimes said to myself: 'Hold on, you are going too far,' but I didn't. My readers even took kindly to the yarn of the devil who, in order to marry a Mason, transformed himself into a crocodile, and, despite the masquerade, played the piano wonderfully well.
One day when lecturing at Lille, I told my audience that I had just had an apparition of Nautilus, the most daring affront on human credulity I had so far risked. But my hearers never turned a hair. 'Hear ye, the doctor has seen Nautulius,' they said with admiring glances. Of course no one had a clear idea of who Nautilus was, I didn't myself, but they assumed that he was a devil.
Ah, the jolly evenings I spent with my fellow authors hatching out new plots, new, unheard of perversions of truth and logic, each trying to outdo the other in organized mystification. I thought I would kill myself laughing at some of the things proposed, but everything went; there is no limit to human stupidity.
Freemasons are famous for their nepotism, allegedly often granting favors for fellow Masons, either for reasons of fellowship and reciprocity or sometimes at the insistence of a superior. Nepotism and elitism naturally attracts criticism in that it leads to unfair advantages to individuals regardless of personal merit. Added to this, the nature of a secret society means that outsiders cannot be certain to what extent this nepotism is happening. In the UK, civil service organizations dealing with criminal justice, such as the National Probation Service and the Crown Prosecution Service — but bizarrely not the police force — require new employees to sign a declaration stating that they are not a member of any fellowship organization such as the Freemasons to avoid nepotism issues.
Criminal conspiracy theories
One common allegation that draws on the "conspiracy of silence" that Freemasonry is supposed to inculcate is that Freemasons were behind the series of attacks attributed to Jack the Ripper. The Ripper's mutilation of his victims was supposed to represent the symbolic penalties imposed on a Brother who revealed the secrets of the Lodge. According to people like Stephen Knight and Walter Sickert, it was a plot devised by Sir William Gull to cover up the fact that Edward, Duke of Clarence and heir to the throne, had secretly married a prostitute and fathered a child. (In fact, Sir William Gull was not even a Freemason, but this doesn't discourage the story.) Even the mysterious message left behind by the Ripper, "The Juwes Are The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing", was supposed to be masonic,[note 5] with "the Juwes" referring to the 3 masons of masonic ritual who murdered Hiram Abif: Jubela, Jubelo, and Jubelum. These men have never been called "the Juwes" before this (because Knight simply made that part up, along with most of the rest of his "research"). This, however, overlooks that almost all Masonic oaths (and certainly the ones in England, Scotland, and Ireland) require the Masonic initiate to swear to uphold the civil laws and authorities.
Many believe Freemasons to be prominent at high levels in many industries, financial sectors, and some government departments; they have long been the target of conspiracy theories. Freemasons are often associated with the Illuminati and the "New World Order", and believed by some to be pulling the strings behind the United States government and others. Some of these conspiracy theories are explicitly or implicitly anti-Semitic, associating Freemasonry with an "international Jewish conspiracy".
However, these allegations of a world-wide conspiracy of domination can be dismissed on two counts:
- Anti-Masons have obviously never seen a lodge committee try and decide between sandwiches or sausage-rolls for supper. Most Masonic committees would have difficulty in organising a piss-up in a brewery, never mind controlling the minds and goals of 8 billion people.
- If Masons really were in positions of power in industry and politics, we would have better jobs by now.
Some nations, especially those under totalitarian governments, have gone as far as making Freemasonry illegal — most famously, Nazi Germany (where Freemasons were liable for arrest and imprisonment in concentration camps and made to wear the red triangle).[note 6]
In 1943, the Nazi occupation government in France created a propaganda film entitled Force Occulte (translates into Occult Forces or Hidden Forces). This cinematic oddity attempts to link Freemasonry to all sorts of "Jewish conspiracies" around the world, including world domination. The film's director, Jean Mamy (credited on the film under the pseudonym "Paul Riche"), was executed after the war as a Nazi collaborator.
Today, some people think their secrets can be found on the deep web.
The Anti-Masonic Party was a US political party in the 1820s and 1830s; it had some electoral success, although did not win a majority in Congress or any state senate. It was formed following the disappearance and murder of ex-Mason William Morgan, who was rumored to have been killed by Masons in response to having announced the publication of a book revealing Freemasonry's secrets. US presidents Millard Fillmore and William Henry Harrison were both involved in the Anti-Masonic Party, but like many other members, they later switched to the Whig Party.
Masons, anti-Masons, and the general public alike sometimes refer to Freemasons as "Goat Riders" or some-such. The connection between Freemasonry and goats is a long-standing one and its origins are lost in the mists of time. Undoubtedly, anti-Masons would say that it is proof positive that Masons worship the devil in the form of Baphomet, as the goat skull forms an inverted pentacle… yawn…
The phrase "riding the goat" is often used in a joking manner around the Lodge, mostly in conjunction with initiations. However, no goats are ever ridden. It is possible that "goat" is a corruption of GAOTU, or Great Architect of the Universe.[note 7]
Sometimes it backfires. In the early days of Johannesburg, several wives of Lodge brethren came across a goat, wandering near the Masonic Hall. Thinking it belonged to the Lodge, they — with some difficulty — (wo)manhandled it onto the Lodge grounds, where it was later found by its irate owner.
Why are so many influential people Freemasons? Probably because people that wish to be influential join organizations — one as old as the Freemasons is bound to attract their interest. And a list of Freemasons who never gained any fame would make a very, very long list.[note 8]
- Grand Orient of France
- Masonic Info (a site which takes the time to answer critics of freemasonry)
- United Grand Lodge of England
- Freemasonrywatch (conspiracy theorist site)
- The International Order of Freemasonry for Men and Women Le Droit Humain American Federation
- Forces Occulte - The abovementioned anti-Masonic propaganda film.
- Freemasons reveal all![note 9]
- In some parts of the world, Craft Freemasonry is governed by the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, and thus for them, Freemasonry is ruled by 33rd Degree Masons. But this is mostly in South America and some parts of Eastern Europe.
- If you're in the Shriners (a subset of Freemasonry found in the U.S. and Canada), that is.
- Originally, both black and white balls were once used, but black cubes were introduced to differentiate them from discolored white balls. Incidentally, this is where the term "blackballed" comes from.
- Which may help to discourage women from trying to join.
- And, presumably, not antisemitic.
- For instance, Cuba is the only Communist state which allows Freemasonry to exist.
- This replaced the original term, "God Of All Things" (GOAT), which may have been the original source of the confusion.
- Wikipedia keeps a list of even more notable Freemasons: List of Freemasons
- There are quite a few imitator groups out there that Conspiracy Theorists love to quote, so it would be a good idea to look out for those.
- Episode 17, "Architect Sketch", Monty Python's Flying Circus, 1970.
- "Thinking of becoming a Mason?" United Grand Lodge of England. 2009.
- Those men with the fezzes.
- The Irish Catholic Daniel O'Connell was famously the Master ("Chairman") of the Dublin Lodge 189, before leaving the organization when the Church outlawed it among Catholics. As a partial response to both Freemasonry and the Catholic prohibition of it, American Catholics created their own "secret society" called the Knights of Columbus.
- Vatican confirms ban on Catholics becoming Freemasons (November 15, 20233:51 AM PST) Reuters.
- Your Amazing Mystic Powers by Henry C. Clausen (1985) The Supreme Council (Mother Council of the World). Clausen was a Sovereign Grand Commander of Freemasons in California (33°).
- Chick has produced three anti-Masonic tracts: Good Ol' Boys, That's Baphomet?, and The Unwelcome Guest
- Copied from http://www.freemasonry.bcy.ca/anti-masonry/anti-masonry06.html#universal See also http://188.8.131.52/web/SRpublications/DeHoyos.htm#i11
- From The Story of Freemasonry by W.G. Sibley, printed in The Lion's Paw Club (1913), archived at MasonicWorld.com
- Apparently, there were rival fraternal groups who used the "riding the goat" gag as part of their initiation. In 1930, DeMoulin Bros. & Co. published a catalog listing a "bucking goat" intended to be ridden by the initiate and pushed by a fraternity member.
- A Century of Brotherhood, DEG Vieler, 1996, pg 248
- MasonicInfo.com: Famous Freemasons; A-L
- MasonicInfo.com: Famous Freemasons; M-Z