The United Grand Lodge of England has always styled itself as the world’s premier Masonic organisation. This organisation can certainly trace itself back to 1717 when the first Grand Lodge was formed. Logically for a Grand Lodge to form there is a clear implication that there must have been other lodges in existence prior to this date. As one would expect documentation of this age is rare. This would be especially so for an organisation unwilling to share its secrets with the world at large. But documentation does exist. It is these snippets of information which provide a path back through time.
Solid evidence exists for Freemasonry being in existence in Scotland at least 100 years before this date. The reason this has never been publicly acknowledged and is tied to the politics of the time and is not really the subject of this article. Suffice to say that the reasoning applied to the United Grand Lodge of England regarding the implications of Freemasonry being older than the start date given, applies equally to the documentation showing Masonry existing in Scotland in 1600.
But what of the assertion that the craft traces its roots back to the building of King Solomon’s first temple. The first thing to grasp here is, while legend often contains grains of truth, separating legend from fact is well-nigh impossible. So why make such an assertion in the first place. For this we have to look at the rituals of Freemasonry itself. The chronicles of the craft are closely tied to the story of Hiram Abiff who was the chief architect at the construction of this building. There is not a lot of evidence for the historical existence of this figure, but the story woven in to the rituals is not only compelling of itself, but provides a basis upon which all Masons can strive to live their lives.
To some the story of Hiram Abiff is an illustration of the power of life over death. To many others its historical overtones provide the basis for a fundamental belief. Whatever the case, there is little doubt that the story provides a colourful backdrop to the rituals enacted within the closed doors of modern Freemasonry.