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Origins of Freemasonry

“The origin of Freemasonry is one of the most debated, and debatable, subjects in the whole realm of historical inquiry. One has to distinguish between the legendary history of Freemasonry and the problem of when it actually began as an organized institution. According to Masonic legend, Freemasonry is as old as architecture itself.” Prof. Francis A. Yates

It is not known where Freemasonry began. The earliest recorded ‘making’ of a Freemason in England is that of Elias Ashmole in 1646. Organized Freemasonry began with the founding of the Grand Lodge of England on 24 June 1717, (St John’s Day), the first Grand Lodge in the world. Ireland followed in 1725 and Scotland in 1736. All the regular Grand Lodges in the world trace themselves back to one or more of the Grand Lodges in the British Isles.

There are two main theories of origin. According to one, the operative stonemasons who built the great cathedrals and castles had lodges in which they discussed trade affairs. They had simple initiation ceremonies and, as there were no City and Guilds certificates, dues cards or trade union membership cards, they adopted secret signs and words to demonstrate that they were trained masons when they moved from site to site. In the 1600s, these operative lodges began to accept non-operatives as “gentlemen masons”. Gradually these non-operatives took over the lodges and turned them from operative to ‘free and accepted’ or ‘speculative’ lodges.

The other theory is that in the late 1500s and early 1600s, there was a group, which was interested in the promotion of religious and political tolerance in an age of great intolerance when differences of opinion on matters of religion and politics were to lead to bloody civil war. In forming Freemasonry, they were trying to make better men and build a better world. As the means of teaching in those days was by allegory and symbolism, they took the idea of building as the central allegory on which to form their system. The main source of allegory was the Bible, the contents of which were known to everyone even if they could not read, and the only building described in detail in the Bible was King Solomon’s Temple, which became the basis of the ritual. The old trade guilds provided them with their basic administration of a Master, Wardens, Treasurer and Secretary, and the operative mason’s tools provided them with a wealth of symbols with which to illustrate the moral teachings of Freemasonry. Source: The Freemason at Work by Harry Carr

Masonic writers over the years have tried to claim a venerable lineage, associating the Craft with the Knights Templar, the Roman Colleges of Artificers, the Essenes, the Dionysian and Eleusinian mystery schools, Mithraic mystery schools, King Solomon and, even more fantastical, Noah and Adam. There are striking similarities between the rituals of Freemasonry and many ancient mystery schools, at least those few parts that have survived.

The original medieval Order of Knights Templar was established after the First Crusade, and existed from approximately 1118 to 1312. There is no known historical evidence to link the medieval Knights Templar and Masonic Templarism, nor do the Masonic Knights Templar organizations claim any such direct link to the original medieval Templar organization. Though its affiliation with Masonry is based on texts that indicate persecuted Templars found refuge within the safety of Freemasonry.

Freemasons have no interest in any dogma or doctrine, the occult or world domination. We are however dedicated to the basic Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth; and by their consistent practice, we strive to lessen the aggregate of human suffering and promote the true and lasting happiness of Mankind. We begin to make a better world by building within ourselves, our family, our community, and our country. This is our true history.

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