W. J. (Jack) Collett, P.G.M.
we talk about the origins of Freemasonry we frequently say that they are
buried in the "mists of antiquity." This means that the beginnings of
the Craft are not easily definable.
For some students of Masonic history the "mists of antiquity" lie
in the history of Freemasonry previous to the origin of the four
Speculative Lodges that operated in London, England, and ultimately came
together to form the Grand Lodge of England in 1717.
This means a study of the great manuscripts that record the
"Charges of Freemasonry", such as the "Halliwell Manuscript", also known
as the "Regius Poem", which dates at approximately 1380 A.D., and the
"Cooke Manuscript" which comes from about 1450.
others it means an attempt to trace the origins of the Craft back to the
building of King Solomon's Temple at about 975 B.C. This is because our
ritual and the Hiramic Legend are so closely connected with the events
of the reign of King Solomon.
It is doubtful that the moral teachings or, indeed, any of our ritual
came from that period.
Bailey and Kent, the authors of a standard textbook called The History
of the Hebrew Commonwealth, make the startling comment that "If there
was anything done in Solomon's reign to strengthen the people in
material or intellectual ways, if there was any endeavour to purify
religion or elevate morals, we do not know of it.
No heroic or noble act is recorded of anyone while Solomon was on
the throne." Of Solomon the scholars say, "The empire was his slave, and
the sole end of its toil was his pleasure.
No country can long stand such a strain." These words are true
historically. After the reign of King Solomon the empire that King David
had built disintegrated, and the years that followed were filled with
Masons, quite naturally, recoil from the verdict of such scholarship.
The words strike at the very roots of some teachings that we hold
dear. Did not the Legend of
Hiram Abif come out of King Solomon's reign? Did not Solomon mourn for
the loss of his architect and order that he be decently interred? liere
not the villains in the Legend given their just deserts? Of all these
things we have no real evidence in the Old Testament. It is true that in
the First Book of Kings, Chapter VII, and in the Second Book of
Chronicles, Chapter II there are very brief references to Hiram.
However, there are no real details.
The legend that grew up around him dates from the early 1700's.
The first real evidence that any Lodge used a dramatized version of
the Hiramic Legend puts the date as late as 1722.
Thus it is that some of the Masonic traditions that are dearest to
the hearts of Masons are "buried in the mists of antiquity."
whence then came the moral and spiritual teachings of Freemasonry? From
whence came many of the mystic rites that we now perform?
to understand some of these difficult questions we must first of all
remind ourselves that Christianity and Freemasonry were from the
earliest times-closely bound together.
Our forebears, the operative masons, were men who built the majestic
cathedrals of Europe to honour Jesus of Nazareth, who was of humble
origin and who, most certainly, would not feel at home in
of the beautiful edifices erected in his honour. Indeed, many of the
intricate ceremonies conducted in those cathedrals would be completely
foreign to him. Let us
remember that his public ministry lasted but three short years, and all
he left behind him were eleven followers who had to meet in secret,
because they feared the wrath of both the people and the governments.
Later came an elaborate system called the Christian Church,
complete with numerous ceremonies and mystic rites.
With that development Freemasonry was closely linked in spite of
the fact that today we claim it to be a Universal Science with no
special religious ties. The
latter claim is quite true, for Freemasonry as well as Christianity
attracted to itself many practices other than those of the Hebrew
There existed both in the Greek and Roman cultures certain practices
known as the Mystery Religions.
These were not confined to Greece and Rome.
Evidence of them may be found in the early cultures of China,
India, Egypt, and other ancient civilizations.
They were secret religious assemblies with special initiation
rites, and most certainly were present in the time of Jesus.
Undoubtedly they had an influence on the growth of the ceremonies
of early Christianity. In
fact, the Apostle Paul in some of his letters found it necessary to
protest against the intrusion of pagan practices into the Christian
Church. In one instance he
warned the new Christian converts that they must not drink to excess at
the Lord's Supper. At
another point he emphasized that he did not participate in the growing
practice of baptism. Despite the warnings some of the customs of the Mystery
Religions became an integral part of Christian Ritual.
One only needs to examine some of the mysticism surrounding the
festivals of Christmas and Easter to understand the syncretism that
occurred and has been Lost as the centuries have passed. We should remind ourselves again that the Roman Catholic
Church, with its elaborate ceremonies, was once the main support of
Freemasonry and the ceremonies connected with that order.
All of the ceremonies of the Christian Church and of Freemasonry
contain overtones of the ancient Mystery Religions.
Mystery Religions were very selective in their membership. No
uninitiated person was permitted to take part in the ceremonies.
Note the relationship here with the Christian Holy Communion, and
also with the practices of Freemasonry.
The Mystery Religions appear to have had a double purpose.
First, they wished to hand down, from generation to generation, the
traditions associated with the gods in whose honour they were organized.
Secondly, they taught very carefully how certain rituals were to be
performed, and then trained their initiates to carry out those rituals
exactly. Under no
circumstances were there to be variations from the ancient traditions,
even in the words of the rituals.
The prime purpose of the Mystery Religions was not to teach dogmatic
religious beliefs; it was to strive for the moral improvement of their
The rituals were designed not only to improve the morals of the
adherents, but also to implant in their membership a hope for the life
that would go on after death.
remarkable resemblance between the Mysteries and Freemasonry is that
membership rested on the voluntary choice of the individual. No one was ever invited to belong to a mystery religion.
The individual had to volunteer to become a member. If the
individual indicated his desire and if he were accepted, then he had to
submit himself to the Initiation Rites.
These rites were designed to provide for the candidate an emotional
experience that would tie him forever to his religion.
When that was done he was accepted into a fellowship, designed to
give him support as he became more and more absorbed into a community of
ultimate goal of the Mystery Religions was to establish a relationship
between the individual and the gods.
It was supposed to be an intimate and personal type of
communication, that would bring to the individual the particular help he
needed to live the type of life expected of him as a member of the
religion. For the Mysteries
the initiation rites sought to bring the individual, no matter what his
age, a sense of being born again and, as he grew in knowledge, to admit
him to a sense of maturity that he did not possess before.
After he was initiated and as he was transformed from childhood to
maturity, he was expected to share in the social duties of the religion.
The social and moral issues that faced the particular nation became
of the most important aspects of the Mystery Religions was the program
of instruction for the Initiates.
Each new member was required to take time to go through a course of
instruction. He was taught how he should act in the ceremonies of the
group, and what he should do in his relationships with his fellow
members and his community.
He was encouraged to think in terms of the philosophy of the religion
and the means of transfering the thought into action.
There are many things about the Mystery Religions that are not known.
The reason is that the religions had an inviolable rule that all
Initiation Rites and instruction were transmitted by word of mouth.
It was forbidden that anything be written.
Thus the customs and traditions were handed on orally from
individual to individual and from group to group.
We have never been able to discover, for instance, what exactly
happened in the Ceremony of Initiation.
On the other hand it is known that the total effect of a Mystery
Religion was to weld a chain of continuity that lasted through the ages.
The system disappeared with the growth of the Christian Religion,
and the collapse of the Roman culture in the early years of this era.
When Rome was overrun by the barbarians of Europe in the First
Century A.D., the Mystery Religions, as such, disappeared, although
remnants of heir practices survived.
Mystery Religions were always connected with a god.
The ancient peoples generally worshipped many gods, but from that
variety of divinities a Mystery Religion adopted one that it worshipped
and to which it paid special loyalty.
They customarily selected a god that had something to do with
fertility and growth.
Hence, some of them became associated with fertility rites, and out of
that some practices grew up that put some of the religions into
There were cults that developed systems of male prostitution and
homosexual acts. From such
things arose an aura of suspicion over the secret meetings of the
mysteries, and questions were raised constantly about what actually went
on in the initiation rites.
It is safe to assume that the majority of the mysteries sincerely sought
to raise the moral life of their membership, and the abuses of secrecy
ancient people lived continually on the edge of starvation. They were
not knowledgeable enough of the world to understand the inevitable
change of seasons, and were often surprised when the long period of
winter arrived and nothing grew.
Of course, they frequently did not have the expertise to store food for
the time when the land did not produce.
Even greater than their distress over the winter season was their awe
and surprise when spring arrived, and the world appeared to be born
again, with new growth and an abundance of food.
In their minds, however, there was no
that spring would follow winter and that harvest would follow the
This routine always, in their minds, was subject to the whim of the
gods. If the gods were
pleased, then growth would follow.
If the gods were angry, then famine would occur.
It was essential for them to find ways of keeping the
good humour, and thus to assure the return of the spring. Many of the
rituals connected with the Ancient Religions were directed towards the
pleasing of the gods. Even
in the Old Testament we read that the smoke from the sacrifices in the
temple was pleasing to God and he rewarded his people.
Because the ancient peoples were so concerned about survival and the
assuring of the regular succession of seasons, their great legends had
to do with their great concerns.
It came about, too, that the contents of the Mystery Religions were
mainly communicated by means of legends.
In the legends the Earth is usually thought of as the great Goddess of
Fertility, This goddess grew old and feeble as the autumn season
approached and was continually in danger of death.
If the Goddess of Fertility died, that would mean that the
primitive man would suffer from hunger and, perhaps, starvation.
The idea of the Goddess of Fertility dying filled the early peoples
with terror. Therefore, it
was essential that a magical rite be performed that would assist the
Goddess of Fertility to survive the dangerous period of winter.
Through this magical rite the goddess, in danger of dying and
making the earth barren, would be brought to life again and once more
possess a young and vigorous body.
The result would be that fertility would be restored to the earth and
people would be able to eat once more.
Adonis Myth very likely originated in Babylon but it is best known in
its Greek version. Adonis
was the vigorous and youthful lover of the great Mother Goddess.
Her name was Ishtar and she embodied all the reproductive
possibilities and energies of nature.
If Adonis died, Ishtar was without a lover, and she
be fertilized and consequently would fail to reproduce. Each year
Adonis, the vigorous lover, would die and pass into the world of the
Each year after his death Ishtar desired
fertilized and she would seek unceasingly to find her lost lover, for
without Adonis the period of reproduction would cease. The situation was
so desperate that messengers would be sent to the Queen of the
Underworld, pleading for the return of Adonis to the bed of Ishtar. In
the meantime Ishtar herself, barren and cold, would go to the underworld
to seek for her lover. She
passed through the seven gates of the underworld and each time
had to pay a fee, which was one of her garments.
Finally, naked and alone, the Great Mother Goddess would appear
before the Queen of the Underworld.
The Queen would refuse to release Adonis until the messengers of the
gods arrived, to sprinkle the Water of Life on both Adonis and Ishtar. When this was done they were raised from the tomb of death to
the upper world. When the
raising was complete the wonderful world of nature was revived and hope
reborn for the fertility of the world.
legend is significant because it embodies several facets of the
Christian Religion. The
sprinkling of water, the descent of the hope of the world into the
realms of darkness, the revival of life and hope for the world.
It also has within it elements of the legend of Hiram Abif.
The lost hero, the search for the lost heroine, and the raising
from darkness into the newness of life.
legend has in it Adonis, a beautiful child, whom Aphrodite deeply loves.
In order not to be deprived of the love of Adonis, Aphrodite
conceals Adonis in a chest, and leaves the chest in charge of
Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld. Persephone looks in the chest
and sees the beautiful youngster.
immediately falls in love with him and refuses to return the chest to
Aphrodite. To recover the
lost love Aphrodite herself descends into the realms of darkness in a
desperate effort to recover the lost child.
The dispute between Aphrodite and Persephone rages, so that the
whole of the underworld is in disarray.
At length the god Zeus is forced to intervene.
He rules that the child must remain for half of the year with
Aphrodite, and with Persephone the other half.
During the part of the year that Adonis is with Aphrodite the world
is warm and it is a period of reproduction, growth, and plenty.
When Adonis is with Persephone the world is cold, lacking in
growth, and unproductive.
When the time comes for Adonis to live with the Queen of the Underworld
he is lowered into her presence with great sorrow and lamentations.
When the vital words are spoken and the time has come to restore
Adonis to Aphrodite, the child is raised very carefully from the
darkness into the light.
This is a time of great joy, feasting and rejoicing.
ancient legends of the raising of an individual from darkness into life
are many. The details of
the event are varied. The
main outline remains throughout them all.
Involved are fertility and growth, the discovery of some secret
means to do the raising, then the change from death to resurrection.
Basically the legends all contain the same story.
A god dies and the earth becomes unproductive.
The god is restored to life and the earth becomes fertile and
productive. Each Mystery
Religion in every early culture had its legends, illustrated by
accompanying rites and ceremonies.
Only those who have been properly initiated know the particular legend.
Those who are permitted to perform the rite of resurrection are the
ones who have been taught carefully and are skilful in performing the
required ceremonies, that will ensure the resurrection of the god.
Connected with the ceremonies are certain signs and symbols.
These are revealed to the new initiates when they have received
sufficient instruction to appreciate the essential essence of the
purpose of the religion into which they have been received after
was the son of the earth god Seb and of the sky goddess Nut. He had two brothers, Horus, the elder, and Set.
There were also two sisters, Isis and Metphthys.
Notice that the family comprised a total of seven, and that there
are five children including three boys.
Osiris taught the Egyptians how to grow corn.
Set, the god of evil, was jealous of the popularity of Osiris.
He conspired with 72 villains to murder him.
They made a chest and persuaded Osiris to get into it.
When Osiris got into the chest they nailed it down securely, and
flung it into the River Nile. Osiris was discovered to be missing, and there was great
concern over the fact that the great teacher had been lost. Isis, on hearing the news, was greatly distressed.
She had her hair cut and put on clothes of mourning.
Then she set out in search of the body.
In the meantime the chest had floated down the Nile to the town of
Byblos, in Syria, and there it became stranded on the sand.
An Erica tree grew up over the chest and completely enclosed it in
its trunk. The King of
Syria decided that the tree should be cut down and that it would be used
to form a great pillar in his palace.
Isis arrived in Syria and went to the King's Palace.
She begged for the pillar and her pleas were heard.
She cut it open, found the chest and within it the body of Osiris.
Isis threw herself on the body and brought it back to life.
Osiris was raised from the chest in a great ceremony.
The 72 villains were discovered and put to death. Osiris, having
been raised from darkness to renewed his vows to serve his people. He returned to Egypt and continued to teach his people how to
make their soil fertile, how to produce crops of corn and how to feed
Space will not permit to relate more of the fascinating legends that
have been preserved out of the "mists of antiquity," yet it is hoped
that the Masonic reader recognizes the similarities between them and the
Legend of Hiram Abif.
Certainly the legend does not come from the Old Testament.
The story in the Old Testament tells of Hiram, King of Tyre,
sending another Hiram, the son of a widow, to help Solomon build a
temple (II Chronicles 2:13 and I Kings 7:13).
If the story is read carefully it can be seen that Hiram, the
widow's son, was not so much the architect as he was a skilled worker in
brass, stone and purple. Chronicles says that Hiram's mother was "of the
daughters of Dan" while his father was a man of Tyre.
Tyre, by the way, was one of the great centres of the cult of
Adonis. Beyond these scanty facts the Old Testament tells us nothing.
There is no record of the murder of Hiram, not even any indication
that he died. It is evident
that he had dropped out of the picture by the time that the temple was
stated at the beginning we do not know where the Legend of Hiram
originated, but we do know that it did not become current until the
eighteenth century. In this
the legend does not differ very much from the lack of knowledge as to
the origin of much of our ritual.
It is feasible to speculate that it was written by some scholar who had
steeped himself in the legends of the Mystery Religions.
Certainly all the ingredients are there; the murder of a productive
god, the disposal of the body by the powers of darkness, the discovery
of the body by the powers of light, the raising of the body from
darkness to light, and the return to productive living.
In addition there are the accompanying signs and symbols, which are
kept secret. There is also
the dedicated journey of those who sought for the body and the ultimate
discovery of it, and the punishment of those who sought for the hero's
death and the honour bestowed upon the person who was raised.
are attempting in this paper to discover origins, but we must also note
that the Legend of Hiram has been carefully refined and adapted to the
lessons that the science of Freemasonry teaches; to wit:
Hiram, in the Masonic Legend, is not restored to life as are the gods of
the Mystery Religions. The
Christian Religion follows the Mystery Religions to this conclusion. To have life restored in the Masonic Ritual would introduce a
strange and jarring note.
The writer of the Hiramic Legend appropriately ends it with having the
remains properly interred.
However, the signs and symbols remain.
They are transferred to the candidate, who is urged to remember the
noble example of a man who would rather suffer death than betray a
sacred trust that had been vested in him at his initiation and
throughout the instruction that he received after his voluntary entry
into the order.
The raising of Hiram in the Legend symbolizes the entrance of the human
soul into a new and better stage of experience.
It points out that it is the duty of all men to prepare themselves
for a new life, by following the glorious example of dedication and
perfection. it should be noted that an element of resurrection remains.
Although the bones are interred, the new life, the resurrected one,
is transferred to the candidate.
What more meaningful idea of the resurrection can there be than that the
goodness of the person who has died lives on in those for whom he lived?
Hiramic Legend in Freemasonry does not have the magical
that are common to the legends of the Mystery Religions.
one of the versions of the Osiris Legend, Isis, a virgin, throws herself
on the dead body of Osiris and immediately becomes pregnant, and later
is the virgin mother of the god Horus. The reason for raising the body
was so that it might be interred in consecrated ground.
Certain signs are learned by those who raise the body, but they are
not the genuine secrets.
Those have yet to be discovered.
The quest does not end with the raising of the body.
The search must go on, for the purpose is the unending search for
eternal truth. It is only
by constant struggle to attain the elusive truth that we can live the
life triumphant. This version comes as close as we can get in the
ancient legends to the teaching of the Hiramic Legend, namely that the
search for the missing word must go on into eternity.
Hiramic Legend does not end in crass materialism as do most of the
mysteries. The conclusions
of the Legends of the Mysteries indicate that the ancient peoples,
because of their exploits, assure themselves of material gain, such as
the return of food after the winter barrenness.
The lesson we learn in Freemasonry is that there is another way of
living that is far higher than the material one.
It is the world of brotherhood and service in this present life.
After that, when this transient
existence is ended, we may find a happier and more abundant life. Until
the time of transition arrives from the present to the eternal future,
we must be faithful to our obligations and to our duties.
We must learn to live at peace within the mysteries that constantly
impossible to assert with any certainty exactly where the Legend of
Hiram Abif originated, or to find any documented
account of its direct relationship to the Mystery Religions of the ancient
It is possible for us to say that the Hiramic Legend and all the
ancient legends form a part of humanity's great quest for the meaning of
life and death. That originated
with man as he became a conscious and thinking being, and will not end until
man vanishes from the face of this earth, either because of his own
foolishness or because of his disappearance in the process of evolution.
The legend is a part of the ongoing stream of human thought.
take a speculative journey through the Mystery Religions, for this author,
enhances the Legend of Hiram Abif and greatly enriches its meaning.
No longer is Hiram only a man of honour who is willing to sacrifice
his life rather than betray a sacred trust.
He stood for something far greater.
He became a part of humanity, reaching out to an unknown power
seeking for some assurance of permanency and love.
Man has frequently fallen into the error of thinking that if he could
make corn grow, if he could amass corn, so that he had to pull down the
small granaries and build larger ones, he would have attained something that
could not be destroyed, namely wealth and power.
The legends, especially the Hiramic one, say something more.
They say there is more to life than material wealth and strength.
long succession of prophets, priests and kings, including Hiram Abif, have
been sacrificed on the altar of crass materialism. Even in death these men
have not been silenced, but have lived on in the lives of those who seek the
truth embedded within the legends.
There is a life beyond and that is the life of the spirit. It is the life of the spirit that holds the true secrets, and
they rest only in the thoughts of the Master Mason of all Mankind.
not the first builder to be @lain nor was he the last. Today the eternal
temple will not be built by men who seek for advantages of their own, but it
will be built with devotion,
sacrifice, death, and resurrection.
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