How Freemasonry Started

How Freemasonry Started

In the ceremonies Freemasons are told that Freemasonry was in 
existence when King Solomon built the Temple at Jerusalem and 
that the masons who built the Temple were organised into 

Freemasons are also told that King Solomon, King Hiram of Tyre 
and Hiram Abif ruled over those lodges as equal Grand Masters.  
The ceremonies, however, are built up of allegory and symbolism 
and the stories they weave around the building of the Temple 
are obviously not literal or historical facts but a dramatic 
means of explaining the principles of Freemasonry. Freemasonry 
neither originated nor existed in Solomon's time.

Many well-meaning but misguided historians, both Masons and 
non-Masons, have tried to prove that Freemasonry was a lineal 
descendant or a modern version of the mysteries of classical 
Greece and Rome or derived from the religion of the Egyptian 
pyramid builders. Other theories reckon that Freemasonry sprang 
from bands of travelling stonemasons acting by Papal authority. 
Others still are convinced that Freemasonry evolved from a band 
of Knights Templar who escaped to Scotland after the order was 
persecuted in Europe.

Some historians have even claimed that Freemasonry derives in 
some way from the shadowy and mysterious Rosicrucian 
Brotherhood which may or may not have existed in Europe in the 
early 1600s. All of these theories have been looked at time and 
again but no hard evidence has yet been found to give any of 
them credibility.

The honest answers to the questions when, where and why 
Freemasonry originated are that we simply do not know. Early 
evidence for Freemasonry is very meagre and not enough has yet 
been discovered - if indeed it even exists - to prove any 
theory. The general agreement amongst serious masonic 
historians and researchers is that Freemasonry has arisen, 
either directly or indirectly, from the medieval stonemasons 
(or operative masons) who built great cathedrals and castles.

Those who favour the direct descent from operative masonry say 
there were three stages to the evolution of Freemasonry. The 
stonemasons gathered in huts (lodges) to rest and eat. These 
lodges gradually became not the hut but the grouping together 
of stonemasons to regulate their craft. In time, and in common 
with other trades, they developed primitive initiation 
ceremonies for new apprentices.

As stonemasons could easily travel all over the country from 
one building site to another, and as there were also no trade 
union cards or certificates of apprenticeship they began to 
adopt a private word which a travelling stonemason could use 
when he arrived at a new site, to prove that he was properly 
trained and had been a member of a lodge. It was, after all, 
easier to communicate a special word to prove that you knew 
what you were doing and were entitled to the wages it deserved 
that to spend hours carving a block of stone to demonstrate 
your skills.

We know that in the early 1600s these operative lodges began to 
admit men who had no connection with the trade - accepted or 
'gentlemen' masons. Why this was done and what form of ceremony 
was used is not known. As the 1600s drew to a close more and 
more gentlemen began to join the lodges, gradually taking them 
over and turning them into lodges of free and accepted or 
speculative masons, no longer having any connection with the 
stonemasons' craft.

The only problem with this theory is that it is based solely on 
evidence from Scotland. There is ample evidence of Scottish 
operative lodges, geographically defined units with the backing 
of statute law to control what was termed 'the mason trade'.  
There is also plenty of evidence that these lodges began to 
admit gentlemen as accepted masons, but no evidence so far that 
these accepted members were other than honorary masons, or that 
they in any way altered the nature of the operative lodges. No 
evidence has come to light, after more than a hundred years of 
searching building archives, for a similar development in 
England. Medieval building records have references to mason's 
lodges but after 1400, apart from masons' guilds in some towns, 
there is no evidence for operative lodges.

Yet it is in England that the first evidence of a lodge 
completely made up of non-operative masons is found. Elias 
Ashmole, the Antiquary and Founder of the Ashmolean Museum in 
Oxford, records in his diary for 1646 that he was made a Free 
Mason in a lodge held for that purpose at his father-in-law's 
house in Warrington. He records who was present, all of whom 
have been researched and have been found to have no connection 
with operative masonry. English evidence through the 1600s 
points to Freemasonry existing apart from any actual or supposed 
organisation of operative stonemasons.

This total lack of evidence for the existence of operative 
Lodges but evidence of 'accepted' masons has led to the theory 
of an indirect link between operative stonemasonry and 
Freemasonry. Those who support the indirect link argue that 
Freemasonry was brought into being by a group of men in the late 
1500s or early 1600s. This was a period of great religious and 
political turmoil and intolerance. Men were unable to meet 
together without differences of political and religious opinion 
leading to arguments. Families were split by opposing views and 
the English civil war of 1642-6 was the ultimate outcome. Those 
who support the indirect link believe that the originators of 
Freemasonry were men who wished to promote tolerance and build a 
better world in which men of differing opinions could peacefully 
co-exist and work together for the betterment of mankind. In the 
custom of their times they used allegory and symbolism to pass 
on their ideas.

As their central idea was one of building a better society they 
borrowed their forms and symbols from the operative builders' 
craft and took their central allegory from the Bible, the common 
source book known to all, in which the only building described 
in any detail is King Solomon's Temple. Stonemasons' tools also 
provided them with a multiplicity of emblems to illustrate the 
principles they were putting forward.

A newer theory places the origin of Freemasonry within a 
charitable framework. In the 1600s there was no welfare state, 
anyone falling ill or becoming disabled had to rely on friends 
and the Poor Law for support. In the 1600s many trades had what 
have become known as box clubs. These grew out of the convivial 
gatherings of members of a particular trade during meetings of 
which all present would put money into a communal box, knowing 
that if they fell on hard times they could apply for relief from 
the box. From surviving evidence these box clubs are known to 
have begun to admit members not of their trade and to have had 
many of the characteristics of early masonic lodges. They met in 
taverns, had simple initiation ceremonies and pass-words and 
practised charity on a local scale. Perhaps Freemasonry had its 
origins in just such a box club for operative masons.

Although it is not yet possible to say when, why or where 
Freemasonry originated it is known where and when "organised" 
Freemasonry began. On 24 June 1717 four London lodges came 
together at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House in St Paul's 
Churchyard, formed themselves into a Grand Lodge and elected a 
Grand Master (Anthony Sayer) and Grand Wardens.

For the first few years the Grand Lodge was simply an annual 
feast at which the Grand Master and Wardens were elected, but in 
1721 other meetings began to be held and the Grand Lodge began 
to be a regulatory body. By 1730 it had more than one hundred 
lodges under its control (including one in Spain and one in 
India), had published a Book of Constitutions, began to 
operate a central charity fund, and had attracted a wide 
spectrum of society into its lodges.

In 1751 a rival Grand Lodge appeared, made up of Freemasons of 
mainly Irish extraction who had been unable to join lodges in 
London. Its founders claimed that the original Grand Lodge had 
departed from the established customs of the Craft and that they 
intended practising Freemasonry 'according to the Old 
Institutions'. Confusingly they called themselves the Grand 
Lodge of Antients and dubbed their senior rival 'Moderns'. The 
two rivals existed side by side, both at home and abroad, for 63 
years, neither regarding the other as regular or each other's 
members as regularly made Freemasons. Attempts at a union of the 
two rivals began in the late 1790s but it was not until 1809 
that negotiating committees were set up. They moved slowly and 
it was not until His Royal Highness Augustus Frederick, Duke of 
Sussex became Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge and his 
brother, His Royal Highness Edward, Duke of Kent, became Grand 
Master of the Antients Grand Lodge, both in 1813, that serious 
steps were taken.

In little more than six weeks the two brothers had formulated 
and gained agreement to the Articles of Union between the two 
Grand Lodges and arranged the great ceremony by which the United 
Grand Lodge of England came into being on 27 December 1813.

The formation of the premier Grand Lodge in 1717 had been 
followed, around 1725, by the Grand Lodge of Ireland and, in 
1736, the Grand Lodge of Scotland. These three Grand Lodges, 
together with Antients Grand Lodge, did much to spread 
Freemasonry throughout the world, to the extent that all regular 
Grand Lodges throughout the world, whatever the immediate means 
of their formation, ultimately trace their origins back to one, 
or a combination, of the Grand Lodges within the British Isles.