Freemasonry in its modern form has existed since the 18th century, although the origins of this mysterious organization are shrouded in secrecy and much has been speculated about the origins of Freemasonry. In this article, we’ll discuss this in detail the origins of Freemasonry by throwing light on several well-known and little-known facts.
History of Freemasonry since the establishment of several lodges in England and continental Europe is well documented, but there is a dearth of reliable resources when it comes to the period before the establishment of Masonic lodges in the early 18th century.
Enter Hiram Abiff
There are several myths about the origins of Freemasonry and due to the secretive nature of this society coupled with the fact that relatively few pieces of literature have survived over the time which may have told us more about how the freemasonry came into being, makes it even more difficult to pinpoint an exact point in time and space when this unique organization came into existence.
Indeed, the myth of Hiram Abiff, who is the main architect of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and is regarded by many freemasons as the first freemason gives a biblical credibility to Freemasonry. As Hiram Abiff is a name which has been mentioned in Hebrew Bible and there is no doubt that a person with this name was indeed involved in the construction of Solomon’s Temple.
To put weight to this argument it must be noted that Hiram Abiff was himself an architect or mason and was indeed involved in the construction of an important historical building. Some have doubted the veracity of this story and there is an alternate version of events which also points towards antiquity.
A Masonic manuscript known as Regius Poem or Halliwell Manuscript provides a sequence of events which are beautifully mentioned in 64 vellum pages written in Middle English. This poem describes the origins of Freemasonry in Ancient Egypt or modern city of Alexandria to be precise.
It mentions that Euclid counterfeited geometry and gave it a new name of masonry. This was done to attract children of nobility in Ancient Egypt to this profession. This poem also mentions the spread of masonry to diverse and far away lands.
This document states that the craft of masonry was brought to England during the reign of King Athelstan who reigned as the king of Anglo Saxons from 924 A.D to 939 A.D. According to this poem, masons came to the King for directions and him along with the nobility and landed gentry crafted fifteen rules to live by for every Mason.
These 15 points are mentioned in this manuscript and are considered as moral codes by which every Freemason must live.
This manuscript has been dated to 1390 AD and this at least proves that Freemasonry existed during medieval ages and it’s not certainly a modern phenomenon as speculated by some of its detractors. The oldest lodge in the world has been Mary’s Chapel located at 19 Hill Street, Edinburgh, Scotland.
It has been in operation since 1599 AD and as such is certainly a lodge which must be paid attention. Modern United Grand Lodge of England came into existence around 1717 and it simply means that Mary’s Chapel was in existence even a century before the Grand Lodge of England was established.
Another important point which needs to be mentioned in this article is the middle eastern origins of Freemasonry as almost in every origin myth or story associated with Freemasonry, this organization is known to have been born in the Middle East during medieval or ancient times.
Freemasonry & The Knights Templar?
Freemasonry is banned in most middle eastern countries as it was considered an arm of western colonizers and empires which dominated this region throughout 19th and 10th centuries. Indeed, middle eastern symbols are omnipresent in various rites and rituals of Freemasonry and we must not overlook the fact that all Abrahamic religions also originated in the Middle East.
So, it’s beyond questioning that there is some sort of middle eastern connection of Freemasonry. Some have also presented evidence which suggests that Freemasonry may have something to do with the crusaders and orders established by them such as Knights Templars, or the Knights Hospitaller.
Due to several theories abound regarding origins of Freemasonry and the secretive nature of this organization it’s quite difficult to discover the true origins of Freemasonry. We can just make educated guesses. But one thing is certain that Freemasonry was in existence in pre-renaissance medieval Europe and this is particularly true for England and Scotland.
William Schaw was the Master of Works for King James VI of Scotland (Also known as James I of England) who oversaw the construction of several castles, palaces, and forts on behalf of the king throughout Britain.
He is one real personality whose association with Freemasonry is crystal clear and there is no doubt that he was closely linked with masons during the reign of King James I of England during late 16th and early 17th centuries.
He is known for three masonic Statues which he drafted between 1598 and 1601. These statues are important manuscripts for anyone who is interested in learning more about Freemasonry as they give you an idea of how masons used to live and work during his time.
He is regarded as the chief freemason who was responsible for all masons in England. So, we can say with surety that modern Freemasonry can be traced back to him and the slightly earlier period of England when Regius poem was written in 1390.
It’d be far-fetched to speculate about the earlier history of Freemasonry in the Middle East or in antiquity as there are very few reliable records left from that period.