The Rosicrucian connection
The question of the origins of Freemasonry has not been helped by writers over the years - both opponents of Freemasonry and Masonic 'historians' - spouting wild theories, accepting dubious connections, and believing (or creating) fake documents.
John Hamill and his co-author R.A. Gilbert, in their World Freemasonry: An Illustrated History - a model of clarity and common sense - are determined, however, to separate Freemasonry from Rosicrucianism. They accept that the two movements share some ideals, 'and it is also not inherently improbable that some aspects of Rosicrucian thought may have inspired those who created the first speculative Masonic Lodges,'25 but they describe any closer connection than that as 'nonsense'.
The general thesis of the present book is that the links between the different movements and organizations covered are, in most cases, links of ideas and ideals rather than of a direct lineage; which is much the same as what Hamill and Gilbert say of Rosicrucianism influencing Freemasonry. But in the case of these two movements one suspects that they are perhaps being a little disingenuous.
First, a glance at the list of the many higher degrees, or more correctly 'side degrees' of Freemasonry, shows a vast range of high-sounding chivalric and historically resonant names, many of which show a connection with Rosicrucianism or earlier esoteric movements: the Knights Templar and Knights of Malta, the Red Cross of Constantine, and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and St John the Evangelist; the fifth degree of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia is a qualification for membership of the Order of Eri, which includes the grades of Man-at-Arms, Esquire and Knight, under the leadership of the Enlightened Knight Commander; while a member of the Royal Order of Scotland progresses from being a Brother of Harodim to being a Knight of the Rosy Cross. The best-known sequence of side degrees, the Ancient and Accepted Rite, is generally known as the Rose Croix.
Today's Masonic historians say that these side degrees, and their impressive names and titles, were simply the attempts of enthusiastic but perhaps misguided late eighteenth or nineteenth-century Masonic luminaries to add mystique to the whole business. This is certainly quite possible, but if they were simply choosing mysterious names, why these particular mysterious names?
* (In passing, it should be noted that these chivalric titles, like all Masonic titles, have no force outside their particular Orders. According to Hamill,
A senior rank in the Ancient and Accepted Rite confers no seniority or rank in the Craft or any of the other Orders. Masonic ranks have no relevance outside the particular Order of Freemasonry which has conferred them. They certainly have no status outside Freemasonry, and anyone using their Masonic ranks in non-Masonic circumstances could lay themselves open to charges of advertising their membership for improper reasons.26
Even if the titles claimed by the spurious HRH Prince Michael of Albany27 and the speculative historian Laurence Gardner ['the Chevalier Labhran de Saint Germain, Prior of the Celtic Church's Sacred Kindred of Saint Columba, Presidential Attache to the European Council of Princes, Jacobite Historiographer Royal' etc]28 had any validity, they should not be used outside whatever supposed orders they relate to.) *
Second, many of the leading lights in either Freemasonry or Rosicrucianism in the early years were also in the other. It is of course possible that there was no more link here, for some people, than there is in someone belonging to, for example, both the Methodist Church and the Labour Party. In that example, though, a Christian Socialist might find that each body complemented the other, that one aimed to put the spiritual ideals of the other into social action. Perhaps the same could be said of Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry.
Third, and perhaps most compelling, is the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, the Rosicrucian Society of Freemasons, which will be examined in the next chapter.
It is worth looking at how a few other Masonic historians treat the possibility of a link with the Rosicrucians. Douglas Knoop and G.P. Jones don't even mention Rosicrucianism, or anything in the slightest esoteric, in their Genesis of Freemasonry (1947); for them, everything is traced back to the operative masons. Haywood and Craig, in A History of Freemasonry (1927), spend only two pages on 'the obscure and troublesome problem of the Rosicrucians and kindred occult societies'. They mention that 'there are survivals in the modern Masonic ritual which strongly suggest hermetic influence', and suggest that it would have been 'rather curious' if someone involved in one were not also involved in the other - and then drop the whole subject.
Haywood and Craig do, however, point out that those involved in 'Kabalism, astrology, alchemy, and various mystical philosophies. . . were the scientists of their day, and to their labours may be traced the beginnings of modern chemistry, physics and astronomy.'29 This is in stark contrast to the views of Bernard E. Jones, another extremely respected Masonic historian, who states that the seventeenth-century Rosicrucians:
were now 'scientific' dabblers, whatever else they were. As to their 'philosophy' and 'science', it must be said frankly that much of what passed under these names in the minds of many men - even educated men - in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would to-day be regarded as nonsense. Chemical philosophers, alchemists, astrologers, hermetic philosophers - all at some time or other regarded themselves as Rosicrucians, and apparently any educated person with a gift for words could find a place under the Rosicrucian banner.30
Jones's stance is a product of the mechanistic world-view of the nineteenth century, which although quite brilliant in some ways, was utterly blinkered in others. Much the same can be said of the views of anti-Masonic writer Walton Hannah, who complains that 'Freemasonry is frankly humanist in tone, and yet at the same time includes a great deal of mystical and symbolic nonsense about geometry and astronomy which no educated Mason in this enlightened age would dream of taking seriously.'31
It cannot be seriously doubted that there was some form of causative link, direct or indirect, between the Rosicrucians and the early speculative Freemasons.
Freemasonry appeared shortly after the Rosicrucians, who grew out of the Hermetic Philosophers of the Renaissance.
Could it be that Freemasonry began as a socially acceptable 'outer court' for the 'inner court' of the Rosicrucians, safe from accusations of heresy? This is, of course, only an hypothesis, but it would explain both the very definite connection, and Freemasonry's usual determination to deny any such connection. Freemasonry was, on the whole, publicly acceptable; it was a cross between a gentlemen's club, a mutual benefit society, and a charitable institution. It had religious ideals, and some semi-religious rituals and teachings, but these could be interpreted in many different ways. For many - perhaps most - members, all of Freemasonry's symbolism and allegory was simply interesting dramatic spectacle. But for those who looked more deeply into it, and who wanted to look still more deeply into it, Freemasonry could introduce them to people who, after a suitable period of 'vetting', might initiate them into another society with more overtly esoteric teachings. It should be noted that membership of most of the side degrees is by invitation only.
A 1777 document from a German Rosicrucian Order, the Brotherhood of the Golden and Rosy Cross, might add considerable weight to this thesis. In its 'traditional history' it is stated:
That the better to conceal their real purpose the Superiors of the Order established those lower Degrees which pass under the name of Freemasonry. That they served, moreover, as a seminary or preparation for the higher curriculum of the Rosicrucian Order and as a kind of spiritual prolegomenon... it [Freemasonry] remains the preparatory school of the Rosy Cross . . .32
The counter-argument, of course, is that the Brotherhood of the Golden and Rosy Cross in actuality might have been no more than an early side degree itself, equivalent to the Rose Croix: in other words, that it was a minor extension of Freemasonry, rather than Freemasonry having been created as its 'preparatory school'.
The direction of the cause-and-effect arrow cannot any longer readily be determined.
But if there is anything at all in this Outer Court hypothesis, it could be that as Freemasonry developed over the years, and lost touch with its origins, the founders of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, among others, determined to restore some of the lost esoteric spiritual content. Two quotations will suffice to show that there are some Masons who believe that such a restoration is not only necessary, but essential, if Freemasonry is to have any meaning at all today.
Foster Bailey (died 1977) is best known as the co-founder with his wife Alice Bailey of the Arcane School and the Lucis Trust publishing house. He was both a Theosophist and a 32° Freemason, albeit in a Co-Masonic Order; this is a form of Freemasonry open to both sexes, and not acknowledged by United Grand Lodge. However, his book The Spirit of Masonry is on sale in the Masonic bookshops across the road from Freemasons' Hall in London. In it he writes:
All mankind of every race and creed are the children of the one God. This Masonry from time immemorial has always known and taught its members ... Masonry has oft been proclaimed as a spiritual quest. If it is not so understood, it is an ancient but empty shell.33
Another senior Freemason said in 1962,
It may be that we Freemasons of the twentieth century are the modern representatives of the ancient Magi, or Wise Men of the East, though sadly shrunken in stature from those great and gifted men. The secrets and mysteries which they knew and understood have become for us a formula of words, of which the inner, esoteric meaning is seldom even suspected.34
ONCE MORE WE SEE THE ORIGINS WAS CERTAINLY NOT CHRISTIAN, THE BIBLE AND CHRIST PLAY NO CENTRAL THEME WITH THE FREEMASONS. THE BEST THAT CAN BE SAID IS THEY HELD THERE WAS A GOD, BUT ALL KINDS OF SECTS AND CULTS OF RELIGION HOLD THAT TO BE TRUE. YOU ALSO SEE ANY SO-CALLED "DEGREES" OR STEPS OF THE LADDER CANNOT BE USED OUTSIDE THE MASONIC GROUP ITSELF. AGAIN JUST SO MUCH GROUP VANITY AND SELF-EGO, THOUGH MEMBERS WOULD DENY THE LATTER TWO.
ANYTHING THAT IS CLOSED IN SECRECY WILL NOT BE ALLOWED IN THE AGE TO COME…… THE TRUTHS OF THE BIBLE AND THE GOSPEL ARE OPEN, AND TO BE SPREAD WITHOUT CHARGE OR SECRECY TO ALL, BOTH NEAR AND FAR.