How to Kill a Sacred Cow

A Guide for the Masonic Iconoclast

Jerry Marsengill

An icon (originally EIKON) is the Greek word for a sacred statue, or as it is today used in the Greek Orthodox religion, the holy picture or emblem. The klastes was, in the Greek, one who destroys or smashes. Therefore an iconoclast is literally, an idol-smasher. The word has come to mean one who destroys some well-entrenched, and cherished, but false belief. The Masonic iconoclast is one who develops the truth about some well known tradition and, in so doing, proves the fallacy of the belief: and consequently causes a revision in Masonic thinking about some particular historical area. Needless to say, the iconoclast is never a popular figure, and his work is always subjected to the closest scrutiny. Far too many times, regardless of proof the old ideas are so well entrenched that any proof of their falseness is ignored und the same old myths are reiterated again and again. One good example of this attitude is the position taken, by many Masons, toward the work of Ronald Heaton and James R. Case where they have proved conclusively, time and time again, that only nine of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were members of the Masonic fraternity. Go to the next patriotic observance connected in any way with the Masonic fraternity, and listen to the speaker carefully, with a completely open mind, and be sure that you note all of his statements. Then, considering that you are still interested in Masonic research and in discovering the truth; Happy sacred cow kicking!

One of the strangest forms of human worship is that which worships the old fertility goddess and which typifies her under the form of sacred cattle. These cows are kept in Temples, which were in all reality sacred dairy barns, and their herdsmen took on the status of priests. Other than giving milk which was carefully saved and given to the worshippers they were absolutely useless. In Joseph Campbell's work on Oriental Mythology "The Masks of God," (Viking, New York, 1962), he states: . . . "Furthermore, in South India, in the Nilgiri hills, there is a tribe, the Todas, unrelated radically to its neighbors, whose little temple compounds are dairies, where they keep cattle that they worship; and, at their chief sacrifice-which is of a calf, the symbolic son of the mother . . ."

At one time this type of worship was fairly widespread, and, indeed, elements of it have crept into orthodox Brahmanism. Other than milking these sacred cattle, and occasionally sacrificing one of them, they were not used. Consequently, should one of these sanctified beasts take the notion to lie down in the middle of the street, the population would be forced to walk around it. Should one of them enter a place of business, the proprietor was required to let the animal do any damage which it might feel like doing. Not only were these animals totally useless, they were sacrosanct, to a degree which we would have difficulty imagining. Should one of the natives strike, kick, or otherwise abuse one of these sacred cows, the other worshippers would immediately slay him. Through this, the words "sacred cow" have come to mean something which is of no use, but so entrenched in human minds that any attempt to change anything about it, or to clarify any point, will subject the one who does so to much abuse and much ill feeling from its votaries.

Freemasonry, like all human organizations, has its sacred cows. Probably one of the best known is the old fallacy that "the Masonic institution was responsible for the War for Independence." Along with this one we find the statements that "most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons," "all of Washington's generals were Freemasons," "The Boston Tea Party was planned in a Masonic lodge," and many, many others of the same type.

Regardless of how proud we are of the Masonic membership of Washington, Franklin, Paul Revere, John Paul Jones, Lafayette and a number of others, the Revolution was not a Masonic-sponsored affair. There were many Masons, and good Masons on the British side. Actually, the Revolution was not a planned affair. The War for Independence was simply a rebellion of Englishmen who felt as if their fundamental rights as Englishmen had been trampled upon. The idea of Independence was long in coming. Certainly, no one can deny that there were a number of Freemasons engaged in the war, on both sides. These men, however, were there as citizens, not Freemasons. The same can be said for all other wars in which we have been engaged. During our own Civil War, or War between the states, brother fought brother, cousin fought cousin, and Freemason fought Freemason.

Now these statements, which many will consider the rankest of hell-hatched heresy, will make absolutely no difference in what some people wish to believe. They will believe whatever they wish to believe.

To check upon this, try the following test. Go to the next Masonic patriotic observance, listen carefully to the speaker, and observe whether or not he stays within the bounds of these statements:

  1. Only nine of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons.
  2. Approximately half of Washington's general officers were Freemasons.
  3. Although Washington was the charter Master of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, there is no documentary record that he ever actually presided.
  4. There is no record that Freemasons (as such) had any more to do with the Boston Tea Party than any other group. (Note: The minute book of St. Andrew's Lodge, supposedly marked with a capital "T" is deliberate falsification. As I write this, I have a photostatic copy of the pertinent pages of the minute book before me, and there is no letter "T" nor is there anything which remotely resembles a letter "T" on these pages!)
  5. Rather than Washington's being such an active Freemason, as many would have us believe, there are only 15 documented instances when Washington had any connection with the fraternity, and only six documented instances when he attended a tiled meeting. (This does not prove that he could not have visited at other times, but there should be some written record before the statement is verified!)

Now these statements are correct, in the light of our present day knowledge, and can be proved. At the meeting, listen carefully to the speaker and observe his statements, then you have the beginning of your first kick at the sacred cow.

There is, of course, one thing which should be taken into consideration. The sacred cattle were of the Brahma type, a breed not noted for the sweetness of its temper. If one had the courage to kick one of these cattle in order to move it out of the way, he faced a double danger. If he were not gored by the sacred cow, itself, he would, most probably, have been folded, bent, spindled or otherwise mutilated, by the worshippers of the sanctified beast.

Thus it is with the Masonic sacred cows. Don't expect to be popular when you have just kicked the supports from under someone's cherished fable. When Alphonse Cerze wrote some articles on "Masonic Misinformation" for the Midwest Conference on Masonic Education, one Grand Lodge officer, (not from Iowa, thank goodness) stated: "We must allow the members to believe in their traditions." In other words, we must allow the falsehood to persist, because it is easier to believe than the truth.

However, if you are one who believes that we should endeavor to discover the truth about our history, whether favorable or unfavorable, then you are on the right track to being an iconoclast, if you think that "mighty is truth and it shall prevail" and are willing to risk your own popularity, then stand back, contemplate the sacred cow, and kick her, not gently, but firmly in the brisket. Then stand your ground, entrenched with, and fortified by, your proof, and wait for the arguments which are bound to follow.

I once made the statement that none of the supposed origins of so-called "Prince Hall Masonry" had been documented, with the exception of the actual charter which Prince Hall, himself, had received from the Grand Lodge of England. Although no documentary evidence was ever presented, I received letter after letter, both from Prince Hall Masons and from their Caucasian supporters, informing me that my position was absolutely wrong. Never, though, was any evidence contrary to my statements produced. With all due respect to the Caucasian, or white, supporters, the Prince Hall Masons were gentlemanly and scholarly in their objections to my stand. Their white supporters were more or less abusive.

Of course, sacred cow kicking works two ways. Some of your own most cherished and firmly held beliefs may be proved false. When this happens, and it definitely will happen, be as ready to rearrange your own thinking as you are to change the thinking of others. When I first heard their story of how Colonel Thomas Hart Benton, Grand Master of Masons in Iowa, had saved Albert Pike's Masonic library from destruction during the Civil War, I was nearly certain that I had discovered a "Masonic myth." However, after extensive research and much help from many people, I was amazed, and extremely happy, to learn that, far from being a myth, this was a true instance of the power of the "mystic tie."

One thing which must always be guarded against when the sacred cow is kicked is to keep personalities out of your work. No doubt you will get some highly personalized abuse when you have trod on someone's pet corn, (and tread hard when you find it necessary to tread.) However, do not make the mistake, as some of our leading researchers have done, of thinking that those who make some of our favorite misstatements do so intentionally, and out of a spirit of malice. Most of these brethren have read, in one or another place, one of these falsehoods and repeat it without bothering to check. Never think that these brethren are not well meaning and sincere in their beliefs because most of them definitely are. A good case in point here is the story which Kipling told of himself, that he was initiated by a Mohammedan, passed by an Englishman and raised by a Hindu. Many scholarly Masons believed his statement and it was repeated and re-repeated in Masonic publications for many years. However, investigation proved that the statement was in error. Kipling was initiated and raised by one Englishman and passed by another. We will hear the false story for many more years, though, because it had been given such wide circulation and sounds much more romantic than the true one.

If you are still determined to be an iconoclast, be prepared to take your lumps, and to bear the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." Regardless of whatever tactics those who criticize you personally may use do not enter into mere personal name-calling. If you allow yourself to be drawn into personalities, then you have completely missed the entire purpose of iconoclastism. Personal attacks have no place in Freemasonry. If you are not able to criticize a brother's ideas without lowering yourself to personal attacks on that brother, you have missed one of the most important lessons in Freemasonry. Difference of opinion is a healthy sign for any body. If no brother dares to express a dissident opinion because of some fear of reprisal, the fraternity is thereby harmed. When out to kick the sacred cow, kick and kick heartily, but be prepared to accept the penalty imposed by the worshippers of the aforesaid animal.

Naturally, you are not going to be able to change anyone's thinking, unless he is ready for that change, but, eventually, with enough iconoclasts in the world, thinking will be changed and truth accepted. It may be many years before the first agreement with your researchers and your opinions comes, but if your scholarship is well entrenched and well documented, it will come. The first of the breed (Masonic iconoclasts, that is) was Robert Freke Gould, Past Senior Grand Deacon of the Grand Lodge of England. Gould brought Masonic history out of a shadowy half-existence and established it as a true Masonic art. Many were not in agreement with his opinions at that time and even Albert Gallatin Mackey made the statement that Gould was completely wrong when he demanded documentary proof for all assertions. Mackey was of the opinion that a brother's unsubstantiated word should be sufficient proof. Yet Gould, Hugan and others of the same school have become more and more respected during the years and Mackey's extravagant claims, like those of his contemporary. Albert Pike have become largely discredited.

Again don't expect complete agreement with any of your theories, don't expect your researches to be received with great enthusiasm. especially when you discredit some popular story, but rather expect your satisfaction is knowing that you have contributed to the advancement of Masonic knowledge, you may eventually become known as an iconoclast. Some may even come to know you by much more colorful terms. You now have been presented with the working tools and the formula. It is up to you to go out and kick the sacred cow.