History of Freemasonry
Written By: RW Michael Neuberger, 2017 Grand Historian
What is the History of Freemasonry? What are our origins? Does it matter? The beginnings of our ancient fraternity are shrouded in mystery. Myths abound but hard facts are few and far between.
We do know that on June 24, 1717, the Grand Lodge of England, the first Grand Lodge was formed, when four existing London Lodges met at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in St. Paul’s Churchyard, and elected Anthony Sayer as Grand Master. Soon thereafter, The Grand Lodge of Ireland is believed to have been formed in June 1725 and The Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1736.
Elias Ashmole recorded “October 16, 1646 at 4:30pm, I was made a freemason at Warrington in Lancaster with Colonel Henry Mainwaring. The names of those that were then at the Lodge, Mr Richard Penket Worden, Mr James Collier, Mr Richard Sankey, Henry Little, John Ellam, Richard Ellam, and Hugh Brewer.”
The oldest known minutes of a Lodge (and yes, I’m sure they were read at the next meeting) are of The Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary’s Chapel) No 1 under the grand jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, dated July 1599.
The Halliwell Manuscript or Regius Poem, dated 1425, describes how masonry began in Ancient Egypt and was ultimately brought to England during the reign of King Athelstan in 926.
The myths of course, are much more fun. Each of the following groups have throughout history been connected with Freemasonry or deemed part of the origins of Freemasonry.
As mentioned, the Regius Poem suggests that masonry began in Ancient Egypt, where the mystery schools began. Under these mystery schools, initiates underwent ancient rituals as they advanced through multiple degrees of knowledge. Degrees were held in temples, with secret passwords and codes. Many of these degrees deal with the death and resurrection of Osiris, and in some of the sculptures left by the Egyptians to illustrate the rites of the Egyptian Mysteries the candidate is shown lying on a couch shaped like a lion from which he is being raised from the dead level to a living perpendicular. The bas-reliefs at Denderah make this very plain, though they represent the god Osiris being raised instead of a human candidate (sound familiar?). Similarly, other ancient societies, such as Mysteries of Eleusis, Mystery of Dionysus, or the Mystery of Mithras all deal with the death of a great man, followed by his resurrection and redemption.