By a blog reader.
The subject of Freemasonry, owing to its enduring fascination has spawned an entire industry of books claiming to reveal all about it by both anti-masonic and masonic authors. The subject sells and sells well. Visceral anti-masonic authors, guilty of the same fundamental mistake of lumping all types of masonry together have made it their business to attribute to “freemasonry” all of society’s ills and of being behind every conceivable conspiracy.
Others like Marie Joseph Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès (pen name Leo Taxil) were outright fraudsters who made a fortune selling anti-masonic books to a gullible Catholic public by simply giving them what they wanted to hear, namely lurid tales that Freemasons were devil worshippers guilty of the most heinous crimes. Taxil was even granted an audience with Pope Leo XIII, who even rebuked the bishop of Charleston for denouncing the anti-Masonic confessions of Taxil as a fraud, which of course they were ultimately proven to be. This should have been a cautionary tale, that alas even intellectual giants like Pope Leo XIII could be so totally deceived because of his preconceived notions.
But many ‘masonic’ authors have also contributed greatly to the great confusion around the subject. Just as Roman patricians in the past claimed descent from the gods to enhance their families’ importance, so too it seems do many authors, to enhance the image of “freemasonry” not least by attributing to it every human achievement and with revelations of ever more fantastical new ‘historical facts’ to enhance masonry’s mystique and antiquity. From the Medieval guilds, the origin of speculative masonry has been extended to the Templars, up to ancient Egyptians, and now even the dawn of civilization itself.
A whole host of ‘masonic’ authors like Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, Laurence Gardner, Stephen Knight, Robert Lomas and even con men like Michel Roger Lafosse who claimed to be a descendent Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”) likewise made fortunes as best selling authors selling their own versions of made-up history to a credible public.
Unfortunately, their histories are riddled with shoddy and dubious research and the most basic logical fallacies.
That stone masons and their tools are as old as civilization is hardly surprising, and it is likewise hardly surprising that speculative masonic lodges that derived from medieval stone mason guilds would appropriate those tools, this time as symbols for ethical instruction. It is a great fallacy then to claim, that wherever symbols of these tools have been discovered must mean that there existed at the time a form of speculative masonry.
The Italian Fascist movement of the 20th had appropriated unto itself ancient Roman symbols such as the Roman fasces but no historian in his right mind would conclude that if symbols of the fasces were to be discovered in some remote part of the empire means then Italian fascists must have operated there!
The same logical fallacy runs throughout these books – The Templars were secretive and the Freemasons are secretive too. Carvings of masonry tools have been found at Templar sites so that must mean the Templars must be the forerunners of the Freemasons and so forth it goes. Rosalynn Chapel is of course central to propping this imaginary Templar-Freemasonry link, but unfortunately, the whole thing was conclusively debunked by none other than Robert L. D. Cooper who happened to be curator of the Grand Lodge of Scotland Museum and Library and a serious historian.
Sadly, books by popular ‘Masonic’ authors including Sworn in Secret which this site is proposing to its readers as essential reading if you wanted to learn about the Freemasons, are riddled with this kind of nonsense. Appealing to the fertile mind they may be but history they aren’t.
History is a science – that works preferably from primary and secondary sources, employing a variety of other sciences such as archeology, genealogy, numismatics etc – and among the most potent tools at its disposal, given that it deals mostly with historical records are philology, etymology and paleography. It is thanks to these tools that we now know for example that the Donation of Constantine was a forgery created to assist Pope Stephen II in his negotiations with Pepin the Short and up to the 13th century, in support of claims of political authority by the papacy. It was Lorenzo Valla, an Italian Catholic priest who exposed the forgery with solid philological arguments in 1439–1440.
This is another cautionary tale – just because a priest wrote something about the church does not necessarily make it true and likewise just because a ‘masonic’ author writes something about ‘freemasonry’ does not make it necessarily true either. Indeed where it concerns ‘masonry’ the likelihood of it probably being untrue is distinctly high given their propensity for a fertile imagination.
One of the greatest disservices the publishing industry has made was to create a genre called non-fiction.
Serious historians of Freemasonry have long established that the true origins and history of Freemasonry is far more prosaic but that does not make it less fascinating or consequential. Indeed by attributing and peddling all sorts of myths, these so-called ‘masonic’ authors not only misinform their readers but also do a great disservice to regular freemasonry by diluting its essence and historical importance.
For series masonic research particularly on the origins of Freemasonry, I recommend that the reader interested in the subject starts here. You don’t need to waste money on sensational books.