At the start of writing this paper my mind was focused on the true meaning of the word Freemason. Like I do for many things, I turned to the internet. I went to my old friend Google and typed in “Freemason Etymology”. What could be simpler? Almost instantly, I was presented something in the vicinity of 170,000 results. There was quite a few to look through and I am sure I was not going to get through all of them. But undaunted, I started to scan down the page.
The first few were along the lines; Freemason (n.) - Online Etymology Dictionary. I opened it to discover that the writers had broken the word into two parts. Without further ado I was informed that free comes from the French “frère” meaning brother and the mason part from the French “Macon” meaning builder of walls. Voila, the meaning is brother builder. End of story.
I was somewhat dissatisfied with that so moved a little further down Mr. Google’s first page. Wiktionary. That should tell me something useful. Here is what it told me.
From Middle English masoun, machun, from Anglo-Norman machun, masson, from Old Low Frankish *mattio, from Proto-Germanic *maitô (compare German obsolete Metz, Steinmetz), from *maitaną (“to cut, hew”) (compare Old High German meizan, East Frisian matje, Old Norse meita), from Proto-Indo-European *mai-d- (“to alter”) (compare Old Lithuanian apmaitinti (“to wound”), Latvian màitât (“to spoil, destroy”)), enlargement of Proto-Indo-European *mei- (“to change, exchange”). More at mean, mutate. Yes! Well that is etymology. I moved on.
I came upon the Catholic encyclopaedia. If anyone would have a view, for good or for bad, on Freemasons it would be the Catholics. I won’t reproduce the full text here because it would go on for several pages but to say the least, parts of it are indeed enlightening.
Here are some of the things it had to say. “The compound term Freemason occurs first in 1375 — according to a recently found writing, even prior to 1155 …(and) means primarily a mason of superior skill, though later it also designated one who enjoyed the freedom, or the privilege, of a trade guild. In the former sense it is commonly derived from freestone-mason, a mason hewing or building in free (ornamental) stone in opposition to a rough (stone) mason…In English law the word freemason is first mentioned in 1495”
But look at the dates. This is three to five hundred years before the founding of the first Grand Lodge in 1717. How interesting. Suddenly I found myself forgetting about my original quest and wanted to read on. This site may have some very interesting things to say about Freemasonry.
I got very excited when I saw quotes from Albert Mackey. I thought we were finally looking at a balanced view of the craft even from such an unlikely source. But alas, I was soon to be disappointed.
The first thing the author of this site does is quote Mackey; “The historical portion of old records … as written by Anderson, Preston, Smith, Calcott and other writers of that generation, was little more than a collection of fables, so absurd as to excite the smile of every reader.”
The author of the site then goes on to make this link; “The germs of nearly all these fantastic theories are contained in Anderson's "The Constitutions of Free Masons".”
In my view Mackey is not saying that these authors were writing fantastic theories based on fanciful notions, rather that had they been writing these things in his time they may well have had a different view of the world. In the same way some of Mackey’s views are not considered to be where Freemasonry is at in our more modern world. Darwin’s views have been moderated in light of our better and more detailed knowledge. This does not make Darwin wrong, nor does it mean Mackey is wrong or indeed Preston or Calcutt for that matter.
But then like everyone else who is opposed to Freemasonry the more fanciful charges are laid out. Here are a few;
- Freemasonry (is) coextensive with geometry
- insinuates that God … founded Freemasonry,
- that it had for patrons, Adam, the Patriarchs, the kings and philosophers of old
- Jesus Christ is included in the list as Grand Master of the Christian Church
- the building of Noah's Ark, the Tower of Babel, the Pyramids,
The author is correct. These are flights of fancy but one would have to question in whose mind. I have to say I have never heard anything like the list above in the last 25 years. Something tells me I won’t in the future either. The church itself spent five hundred years burning “heretics” and seems to have thought at the time that this was totally reasonable.
The author also makes a point of telling us, “Before entering upon this and the following divisions of our subject it is necessary to premise that the very nature of Freemasonry as a secret society makes it difficult to be sure even of its reputed documents and authorities.” He then goes on to make bald statements of fact about which even he acknowledges it is difficult to be sure.
Of course, most Freemasons know this also. We don’t know what the past is beyond a few decades before 1717. If I have a fervent belief that we were founded by a race of ET’s and I hear of a UFO sighting, will this not confirm my belief in how I came to be here. Like every one else we speculate about what we know to be the truth. And yes, we will look for those things which seem to favour our own beliefs and reject those which don’t. Is that not what every one else does?