The Genesis of Freemasonry

The three Craft degrees of Freemasonry involve a form of initiation ‑ initiation through ritual into the mysteries of the craft. This culminates in the third degree of symbolic death and a rebirth. This rebirth, or resurrection, is seen as a necessary process in the journey from darkness into light.

This process, based on the Hiramic Legend central to Freemasonic ritual, has uncanny parallels with other initiatory systems, with other rituals of death and resurrection. A real Hiram may indeed have existed and been put to death ‑ but not in the manner in which the Hiramic Legend indicates. Rather than a murder victim, Hiram may well have been a sacrificial victim.

A motif of death and resurrection is central to many of the ancient mystery cults ‑ in particular those relating to the Egyptian Osiris, the Norse Balder, the Syrian Tammuz, the Greek Adonis, and the Western Asian Attis. This motif is also central to the mystery of Christ.

This motif is connected with the annual decay of life in winter and its annual revival in spring. The great anthropologist Sir James G. Frazer, in his monumental work, the Golden Bough, commented: "Nowhere, apparently, have these rites been more widely and solemnly celebrated than in the lands which border the eastern Mediterranean. Under the names of Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, and Attis, the peoples of Egypt and Western Asia represented the yearly decay and revival of life, especially of vegetable life, which they personified as a god who annually died and rose again from the dead".

The result of an illicit union between the earth‑god Seb and the sky­ goddess Nut, wife of the sun god Ra, Osiris was one of the greatest deities in the ancient Egyptian pantheon. At the moment of his birth, it was held, a voice was heard to declare: "The lord of all the earth is born". Two other children were born to Nut ‑ the god Set and the goddess Isis, who would become her brother Osiris's wife.

The myth of Osiris is that once he had become king of Egypt he set about civilizing his countrymen, teaching them how to cultivate the fruits of the earth and giving them laws to govern their life. He travelled around the world dispensing his wisdom ‑ but on his return his brother Set, jealous of his popularity, resolved to kill him. Secretly measuring Osiris's height, Set ordered an ornamental casket to be made of the same length. Anyone who could fit into this casket, he said, could keep it. After Osiris tried it for size, Set, aided by 72 other conspirators, immediately sealed the casket and carried it to the sea.

A distraught Isis set off in search of her husband, and learned that the casket containing his body had been carried by the waves to Byblos, where it had lodged in the branches of a bush, which in a short period of time had grown into a large and beautiful tree. The king of this country had ordered that the tree be cut down and that part of the trunk that contained the casket be used as a pillar to support the roof of his palace. Allowed by the king to retrieve and keep the casket, Isis opened it to find Osiris's corpse ‑ wrapped in fine linen. Returning to Egypt with the body she deposited it in a remote place, whereupon it was discovered by Set ‑ who tore it into pieces, dispersing them up and down different parts of the country.

In pity for Isis's sorrow, the sun‑god Ra helped her to piece together the broken body, wrapping it again in fine linen bandages ‑his penis, however, could not be found. Fanning the body with her wings, Isis helped to revive Osiris who reigned ever after as Lord of the Underworld, Lord of Eternity, and Ruler of the Dead.

Fertility rites based on this myth of Osiris flourished throughout Egypt, some lasting as long as eighteen days. These rites would recognise the 'triple‑nature' of Osiris ‑ as dead, dismembered, and finally made whole again. Through his death and resurrection Osiris personified the crops of corn, which die and come to life again every year. At the time of sowing, an effigy of Osiris would be buried in the soil, with funeral rites, in the hope that the corn, like Osiris, would be reborn. The 'underworld', meanwhile, personified the soil under the surface of the earth in which the seeds germinated.

Sacrificial victims representing Osiris would often be burned and their ashes scattered with winnowing fans over the earth, while at one stage in ancient Egypt's history it is possible that the king himself was sacrificed to ensure the corn crop.

Osiris became the god of resurrection ‑ with the Egyptian belief that as he had died and risen from the dead, so could they. Accordingly, corpses would be mummified, wrapped in fine linen in the same manner as Osiris. It was not thought that the actual physical body would be resurrected, however, but that the spiritual body (Sahu) would germinate from it and assume the form of the physical body. Through time the title 'Osiris' came to mean one who had risen from the dead.

A counterpart of this dying god of vegetation is that of the Norse god Balder, whose name, in common with 'Osiris', 'Tammuz', Attis, and Jesus ‑ and, as we shall find, Hiram  - means 'Lord'.

The myth of Balder is that, anxious for his safety, he communicated with the gods who arranged to seek protection for him from every conceivable kind of harm, Oaths were extracted from fire and water, every type of metal, stones, earth, trees, diseases, beasts, birds, poisons, and serpents that they would never harm Balder. The Prose Edda relates that it soon became a pastime at gatherings of the gods to stand Balder up as an 'Aunt Sally' and fire spears at him, throw stones etc; but no matter what they did, no harm ever befell him.

But Loki, the Prose Edda relates, went in disguise to the goddess Frig, who told him the mistletoe plant could harm Balder. Returning to the assembly of the gods, Loki asked the blind god Hother why he was not shooting at Balder. Replying that he had no weapons, Loki handed him a twig of mistletoe, which he fired at Balder, thereby killing him. Great sorrow ensued, and Balder's body was taken to his ship, Ringhorn, and placed on a funeral pyre, along with his wife and his horse with all its trappings.

Ceremonies relating to this myth of Balder took place at midwinter, or Yule‑tide. There still exists a tradition involving the burning of a Yule log at Christmas, while it was once the custom to first sprinkle it with corn. In the Middle Ages the Festival would be marked by choosing someone to act the part of the Lord of Misrule, who would reign for twelve days (the 'twelve days of Christmas'). His reign would end on the twelfth night and the custom, which exists to this day of kissing under the mistletoe, is associated with the death of this Lord of Misrule.

Earliest records of the Adonis myth stem from ancient Babylon. In Syria he was known as Tammuz, and his lover was Astarte/Ashtoreth. In Egypt she was known as Isis.

Every year, the myth of Adonis/Tammuz relates, he would die and pass into a subterranean world, a land "from which there is no returning, in the house of darkness, where dust lies on door and bolt".

His disappearance would coincide with winter ‑ when nothing grew, when nature's productive cycle had come to an end. Every year at this time, however, Ishtar would enter this subterranean world in search of her lover. The god Ea would send messengers to the underworld and demand that its Queen, Allatu, would return Ishtar, who meanwhile had passed through the seven gates of the underworld ‑ at all of which she was forced to pay a fee to the Warder of the Gate. This fee consisted of her clothing, until she at last appeared, naked, before the Goddess of the Underworld. Despite this sacrifice, the goddess refused to release Tammuz ‑ but a messenger from the gods arrived and sprinkled both Ishtar and Tammuz with the water of life, enabling them to return to the upper world and thus revive nature.

Again, we see the motif of death and revival, or resurrection, of nature ‑ with Tammuz as the god who must die at the time of his 'decay' to be reborn, or revitalised.

Some of the rituals involving Adonis ‑ in the Eleusinian Mysteries ‑ involved turning a torch, or firebrand, down to imply the descent of Persephone into the underworld, and another then raised to symbolise resurrection. This has an odd echo in a former custom of the Melrose lodge of Freemasons in Scotland, when on Midsummer's Eve lodge members would gather at the ruins of Melrose Abbey "and go in procession bearing torches in their hands. When they reach the chancel they turn down these torches and beat them out on the ground".

Gospels exist relating to the life and teaching of Christ, which the early Church fathers expressly chose not to include in what has come down to Christianity as the established Gospel texts. These Gnostic gospels hint that Christ may have been an adept of the mystery cults, and that even his death may have been part of an elaborate mystery ritual.

It should be noted that Osiris was 'wrapped in fine linen' when his body was recovered, and it was in fine linen that that he was resurrected. Wrapped in fine linen and mummified the ancient Egyptians also sought to be 'Osirified', or resurrected. Christ, Scripture tells us, was also wrapped in fine linen after being taken down from the Cross.

He was placed in a cavern, or cave, and 'rose again' on the third day. Lazarus, meanwhile, was three days 'dead' before being 'raised'.

Bethlehem, where Jesus, according to Scripture, was born, was also the site of a grove sacred to Tammuz, "where the women wept for Tammuz even at the time of Christ”. 'Bethlehem' also means 'The House of Bread', which has parallels with Tammuz as a corn god.

In the images of the Virgin and the child Jesus, Egyptians saw a parallel with the image of Isis and Horus.

Many of the Christian ceremonies were simply grafted onto ceremonies marking so‑called 'pagan' rituals. The Midsummer solar festival on June 24th became the Festival of St John the Baptist, while the Midwinter Festival on December 27th became the Festival of St John the Evangelist ‑ both, moreover, are regarded as the patron saints of Freemasonry.

It was not until the middle of the fourth century AD, that December 25th was chosen as the date of the birth of Christ.

It had previously marked the date of the birth of the sun god at the winter solstice. The Conception of the Virgin, on February 2nd, was formerly the Roman Conception of Juno, while the Feast of All Souls in November was the time of the former Festival of the dead. Easter, which Christians mark as the time of Christ's resurrection, also marks the annual revival of vegetation in spring.

Isis was patroness of seamen, and it is through this that the Virgin Mary may have derived her odd title of Stella Maris ‑ Star of the Sea.

On solar cults, it is interesting to note that Druidism was a form of sun worship, involving at times human sacrifice. In tests carried out on the body of a Druid prince who was recovered from the peat of Lindow Moss, near Manchester, in England, in 1984, it was discovered he had been ritually sacrificed to propitiate his gods at the time of the Claudian invasion of Britain in 43 AD.

With astonishing parallels to the legend of the death of Hiram, it was revealed he had suffered a triple‑death ‑ from three blows from an axe, garrotting, and then symbolically drowned. The three axe blows involved two to the crown of the head and one to the base of the skull.

The Freemasonic Legend of Hiram centres on the building of the Temple of Solomon. It was in the middle of the l0th century BC that this temple was built, only to be destroyed by the Babylonians in 585 BC. It was re‑dedicated in 515 BC, enlarged in 20 BC, and finally destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

David, father of Solomon, had resolved to build the Temple to house the Ark of the Covenant. God, the Scriptures relate, refused him permission to do so, since he had shed so much blood in his wars with the Jebusites, whose city of Jerusalem he had captured. The task was delegated to Solomon.

Freemasons have long assumed that the Temple was built by Solomon as a temple to the Lord ‑ on the surface, that is what the Scriptures tell us, but the temple incorporated many pagan elements. Jerusalem, where the temple was built, had long been a seat to the worship of Tammuz/Ishtar, while the Song of Solomon itself may well be a hymn to Ishtar, e.g.: "Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and the speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of pomegranate within thy locks" (Song of Solomon, IV, v 3).

Scripture also records that Solomon "loved many strange wives", and through their influence he worshipped other Gods: "For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. "For Solomon went after Ashtoreth (Ishtar/Astarte) the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites". (I Kings, II, v 4, 5).

The Temple was not only raised on the foundations of a floor used for threshing grain, but the fertility symbolism was carried through to its design - the free‑standing pillars, for example, representing Canaanite fertility symbols.

The Freemasonic Hiramic Legend of the building of the Temple has Hiram Abiff as the principal architect. But there is no mention of a "Hiram Abiff" in the account of the building of the Temple which appears in First Kings ‑ only one of Hiram, King of Tyre, and one Hiram from Tyre described as 'a widow's son', and worker in brass whom Solomon employed to cast and decorate two pillars of brass ‑ Jachin and Boaz.

Hiram, King of Tyre, according to Kings, who had loved David, father of Solomon, supplied cedars from Lebanon for the timberwork required in the building of the Temple. Solomon's builders were supplied by Hiram of Tyre to hew and dress the stones. It was not until after the main building work was completed, however, that Hiram ‑ whom Freemasons equate with Hiram Abiff ‑ was "fetched out of Tyre", to prepare the brass pillars.

Who, then, is this mysterious Hiram Abiff ‑ the figure so central to Freemasonry?

Kings IV, v 6, mentions a third Hiram ‑ or Adoniram ‑ who held office under Solomon. He is named as the son of Abda. It is also possible to identify him as a priest king in Lebanon.

'Abiff', meanwhile, means 'father of'. It is therefore possible to identify "Abda' as the father of Hiram, King of Tyre.

It has been speculated that this Hiram Abiff, whose vitality had ebbed in old age, was killed as consecration sacrifice at the completion of the Temple. The Masonic scholar Ward wrote: "I consider that the Phoenician workmen, with or without the consent of Solomon, killed the old king of Tyre, Abibaal, or Hiram Abiff, as a consecration sacrifice. It may be that it was done on their own responsibility, and that they were subsequently punished for it ... the Phoenician and Jewish followers of the old Tammuz cult no doubt felt that the Great Goddess had been cheated of her just dues when Hiram Abiff was not slain, on the accession of his son, and were confident that if he were not sacrificed when the Temple was completed its future and stability would be endangered.

"It is, however, quite possible that all three kings, including Hiram Abiff, quite realised that the old king, the god‑man, representing Tammuz, must be slain, and arranged to allow him to live until the Temple was finished so that he might have a peculiarly glorious end".

Ward further speculated that it might even have been Solomon, Hiram, King of Tyre, and Adoniram, who slew Hiram Abiff.

The Mason Word

Death and resurrection, we have seen, was the theme of the ancient mysteries. In Freemasonry, this is most dramatically expressed in the ceremony for the 'raising' of the Master Mason, in the Third Degree ritual.

Connected with the Mason Word revealed in the Third Degree ritual ‑ MACHABEN, MACHBINNA, or MAHABYN ‑ is the form of ‘raising’ through the Five Points of Fellowship ... foot to foot, knee to knee, breast to breast, cheek to cheek, and hand to back. The ceremony involves attempting to elicit a secret from a dead body ‑ in this case the Master Mason's word. In this it is distinctly necromantic, and has parallels not only with the ceremonies associated with the ancient mysteries, but events recorded in the Bible. In 2 Kings 1V. 34‑35, for example, we hear of Elisha, who raised the son of a Shunammite woman: "And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm.

"Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes".

There is also an ancient legend concerning Noah, which has uncanny parallels with the Five Points of Fellowship. Three of his sons, attempting to discover some sort of secret, determined to examine their father's grave. Raising his corpse on the Five Points of Fellowship, one of the sons said, "here is yet marrow in this bone". The Graham MS of 1726 continues "...and the second said but a dry bone and the third said it stinketh. So they agreed for to give it a name as it is known to free masonry to this day."

Thus we can see a possible derivation of the word MAHABONE ‑ from "marrow in the bone". It should also be noted, that, up until the 19th century, "marrow" also denoted "fellow", or "mate".

Whatever the derivation of the Mason Word, the earliest known reference to it links it with 'magical' properties properties associated with witchcraft.

Henry Adamson's The Muses Threnodie, written in 1638, states: "...For what we do presage is not in grosse, For we be brethren of the Rosie Crosse; We have the Mason Word and second sight, Things for to come we can foretell aright"

Robert Kirk, minister of Aberfoyle, described the Mason Word thus, in 1691: "The Mason‑Word, which the some make a Misterie of it, I will not conceal a little of what I know; its like a Rabbinacal tradition in a way of comment on Iachin and Boaz the two pillars erected in Solomon's Temple; with an addition of some secret sign delivered from hand to hand, by which they know, and become familiar one with another.”

Modern day witchcraft ritual, meanwhile, is largely the invention of Gerald B. Gardner, author in the early 1950s of Witchcraft Today. Gardner, who died in 1964, and claimed to be the leader of Britain's witches, claimed modern‑day witches - those who followed the 'Way of the Wise' - were direct descendants of practitioners of ancient fertility cults.

Borrowing heavily from Freemasonic ritual, he claimed witchcraft had three degrees, or grades ‑ those of Initiate, High Priest, and the third a degree known as the Great Rite. In imitation of the Five Points of Fellowship, he developed a form of coven ritual known as the 'five‑fold salute', or 'five‑fold kiss' ‑ the kissing of the feet, the knee, the genitals, the breast, and the lips. Modern‑day practitioners of witchcraft, blissfully unaware that their rituals are in the main inventions of Gardner, also have ‑ in common with Freemasons ‑ secret signs and words. The Greeting Sign ‑ also known as the Sign of the Horned God ‑ involves raising the little and fourth fingers as the thumb covers the folded index and third fingers. The greeting is 'Blessed Be'.

While modern day witchcraft ritual has a pedigree less than 50 years old, Freemasonry's pedigree is much older. It is a pedigree that is also inextricably linked to a mysterious band of warrior monks – the Knights Templar.

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