Masonic Lodge. The Origins Of Freemasonry
FREEMASONRY HAS TWO SEPARATE HISTORIES. Maconic Lodge. It has a ritual history that begins in the Masonic Year of Light, or Anno Lucis (A.L.). According to ritual myths, Freemasonry began with Adam, was passed down the lines of the patriarchs to the builders of Solomon’s Temple, and continued down to the present day. The Masonic calendar begins in the year 4000 B.C.E., said to be the year Adam was created, and is known as the year 1 A.L. The Masonic calendar is 4,000 years longer than the Christian calendar of Anno Domini (A.D.) In other words, the year 2016 A.D. (or C.E.) is 6016 A.L. in the Masonic Calendar.
It begins with the names, date, and place where the masters of the first Free-masonic Lodge began to use the ritual history as a teaching aid to help them and their members develop an understanding of themselves and the world in which they lived. It proceeds to tell the story of how Freemasonry was spread and by whom. The teaching method of Freemasonry is based on a simple idea. It is generally easier to grasp a concept if the facts are explained to you as a memorable story and then you then act out the story to help learn its lessons. Thus, the teaching principle adopted by the first Freemasons is summarized in the adage, Freemasonry involves members in its stories so they can understand the deep morals contained in them and appreciate the meaning of ancient symbols that predate written language.
The first Freemasons stumbled upon two powerful concepts. The first was that symbols can convey feelings and insights that are beyond the ability of language to capture but that may contain Truth. The second was that a story tells far more than a list of facts does. But what is the extra information that a story conveys?
When we tell a story about someone, we relate a series of episodes from their life that describes how they developed as a person in response to things that happened to them. What separates a story from a list of events is all the connections we instinctively feel between the sequence of events. If we believe there is a purpose to life, then we will search for connections between actions and their consequences.
A Peculiar System of Morality
Freemasonry describes itself in ritual as “a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.” It began when a small group of illiterate individuals recognized that there were two types of things in the world. There were things like stones or hammers that could be explained completely by listing their properties. For a stone, these included such attributes as its roughness, its smoothness, and its squareness or crookedness when used as a building block. For a hammer, weight and balance helped a working Mason to visualize or describe it. But there were also things—such as kings, temples, and symbols—that could be explained only by telling their stories. For this second type of thing, a simple description was not enough. For example, you had to hear a story to explain why Solomon wanted to build a temple, why a temple would need two pillars at its entrance, and why the center of a perfect circle is a magical point.
By good fortune, we know the names two of the individuals who had this insight. They were David Menzies and Matthew Wright, members of a lodge of working stonemasons who, by their study of symbols and stories, first devised the processes of Freemasonry. Their actions were recorded in the minutes of the Burgh Council of Aberdeen, and their insights survive in a wonderful drawing of the symbols they used for teaching. Menzies and Wright recognized that people, symbols, and cultures are not simply things, but are processes that unfold over time. Although they wouldn’t have explained it that way, they certainly saw that there are only two types of things—objects and processes. Objects don’t change, but processes do. Moreover, processes can change objects.
If you want to change yourself and understand the world in which you live, then you must do more than simply learn facts. You must search for a way of changing and improving yourself. The analogy Menzies and Wright used was that of the most beautiful building in the ancient world, King Solomon’s Temple. It was created by shaping many rough stones into highly polished parts of a graceful and beautiful structure.
The First Recorded Lodge
The first written reference to a lodge of Masons appears in the records of the Aberdeen Burgh Council on June 27, 1483. According to the entry, the council decided that David Menzies, the master of church work, would be appointed master of the Masons of the Lodge. A later notation in the Aberdeen Burgh Council minutes, from 1493, says that Alexander Stuart, then the Master of the Lodge, was also elected to serve as an Alderman on the council. His Masonic training, it seemed, was helping make him a more effective member of society. The lodge taught prospective members the methods of self-improvement used by the lodge, and they went on to become important members of Aberdeen society.
The Lodge of Aberdeen created drawings of the ancient symbols still employed in Masonic teaching today. The symbols were depicted on a decorated canvas carpet, known as a floorcloth. It was laid in the center of the lodge so the Masons could walk a ritual path of pilgrimage through the symbols. This was a powerful way of studying them. The original floorcloth moved to Orkney in 1786, when William Graham gifted it to Lodge Kirkwall Kilwinning. (Graham’s merchant father had acquired it while trading in Aberdeen.) According to carbon dating, the central panel of the cloth dates to 1430–1530; the outer sections date to 1780–1840, the period in which it was given to the Kirkwall Lodge.
To answer that question, we have to go even farther back in time. In 1411, a powerful Scottish noble decided to build an alternative religious center to rival the Abbey of the Holyrood. The Abbey of the Holyrood was said to house a fragment of the True Cross that had been brought to Scotland by Queen Margaret, the mother of King David I. The Holy Rood (Scots for Holy Cross) was owned by the Stuart kings of Scotland and was said to have protected David from a raging stag. This miracle, still symbolized in the entrance to ruins of the abbey, showed the common people that God favored the Stuart line of kings.
William St Clair, Lord Chancellor and High Admiral of Scotland, was the second-most powerful man in the kingdom. Between 1411 and 1446, he set out to build a shrine for his family that would match the power of Holyrood. Hoping it would inspire divine respect from the common people, he employed a man well-versed in the arts of symbolism, storytelling, architecture, and politics. That man was Sir Gilbert Hay, the author of three textbooks: The Book of Armies, which deals with the principles of warfare; The Book of the Order of Knighthood, a manual of knightly chivalry; and The Book of the Governance of Princes, which explains methods of gaining and using political power.
Hay assembled and supervised a large workforce of stonemasons to the south of Edinburgh in the village of Roslin, adjacent to the St Clair Castle. He set them to work carving a wonderfully ornate chapel, which survives to this day. The chapel was based on the layout of Solomon’s Temple. Hay insisted that all its symbols were first carved into wood, and he inspected them before they were cut into stones for the building. In this way, the masons who worked for him saw the power of displaying symbols to tell stories in public buildings.
William St Clair’s motive for building Rosslyn Chapel was to create a mausoleum collegiate church. He hoped it would provide a public focus for the St Clair family and promote him as a potential king for a partitioned Scotland. He intended to split the Stuart kingdom of Scotland into three parts—a third for himself; a third for John MacDonald, the Lord of Isles; and a third for Edward IV of England. The plot failed, and William’s empire was broken up to ensure that the St Clair family could never again be strong enough to try to seize the throne of Scotland.
The building had a political purpose and, when it was completed, took on a life of its own in the public mind. The craftsmanship and skill in the use of stories and symbols that went into its construction has stood the test of time. Whatever William St Clair and Gilbert Hay had in mind when they cooperated in the design of the stonework, surely they did not expect it to be a source of mythical inspiration for over half a millennium.
An immediate effect of the failure of William St Clair’s coup was that construction at Roslin stopped and the masons were fired. William had accidentally created a workforce of skilled Scots masons by recruiting an international band of stoneworkers for a job that lasted the better part of 40 years. Many of them decided to seek work in Scotland rather than return to the lands their fathers, or even grandfathers, had left four decades before.
If they wanted work in Scotland, Aberdeen was where the action was. St. Nicholas’s Kirk was being extended by the Burgh Council. The Masons who moved to Aberdeen from Roslin had worked on a building whose stone-carved fabric provides the earliest evidence of what was to become Masonic ritual and symbolism. The group of former Roslin masons, led by David Menzies, drew these symbols on a ritual floorcloth to teach their meaning.
The newly redundant workers from Roslin were inspired by what they learned from Gilbert Hay’s use of symbolism and mythical stories. After seeing him create a building with a powerful presence, they decided to study symbols and allegory themselves. They created a visual aid—now called the Kirkwall Scroll—and started to perform rituals to explain the meaning of the symbols to their apprentices. Their startling success launched a worldwide spiritual self-help movement that has survived for over 600 years.
You can see the symbols they used by examining the Kirkwall Scroll. They based their allegorical stories on the construction of King Solomon’s Temple as described in the Bible.
“Freemasonry for beginners” by Robert Lomas