Freemasons have featured in movies, books, and numerous conspiracy theories. Even with famous members like Winston Churchill, Rudyard Kipling, and Sir Alexander Fleming, aspects of this fraternal organization are still shrouded in mystery. Let’s dive deeper into the ideas behind this historical order and how it inspired another secret society, the Illuminati.
Who Are The Freemasons?
The Freemasons are a fraternal organization with over 300 years of history. They are one of the world’s oldest social and charitable organizations, rooted in the medieval stonemason tradition.
They have no political or religious affiliations and encourage their members to lead moral lives and value the qualities of tolerance, charity, honor, and equality. Core to their members is a belief in a Supreme Being.
Smaller units of members are called Lodges, united under one Grand Lodge. Their ceremonies are based on three core principles: to look after those less fortunate, self-improvement, and living life well so they are remembered for the right reasons.
Freemasonry is a global organization with more than 6 million members worldwide. Although traditionally a society for men over 18, women’s masonic orders worldwide exist.
A Brief History of Freemasonry
The origins of Freemasonry are unclear, but most Freemason scholars agree that the organization’s roots can be found in medieval stonemason guilds.
Early Freemasons were influenced by their legends, imagery, and customs. Medieval stonemasons traveled to find work and had to demonstrate their level of qualification, using special hand grips, words, and sounds.
The first recorded evidence of an English Freemason was Elias Ashmole in 1646, with more evidence of Freemasonry in the 1660s. In 1717, four London lodges came together and declared themselves the Grand Lodge, appointing Anthony Sayers as the first Grandmaster. This would be the first Grand Lodge in the world.
Core Principles of Freemasonry
Freemasons have four core principles that they teach their members.
First is integrity, Freemason organizations work towards building good people. Membership provides the structure and a sense of purpose that can make members feel bonded through an understanding of unity and equality.
Friendship is the second core belief, being a Freemason forms a common foundation for friendships. Being a Freemason means different things to different people, but a core belief system allows for bonds of brotherhood and friendship.
The third principle is respect, Freemasonry brings together people of different races and religions, irrespective of their perceived differences. This principle focuses on the fact that everyone deserves respect and the three degrees of Freemasonry are open to all members.
The fourth principle is charity, Freemasons are encouraged to contribute positively to their communities and charitable causes. They do this through fundraising and volunteer work.
The Three Degrees of Freemasonry
Members can achieve three degrees of Freemasonry based on the three grades of medieval craft guilds. Members are taught organization secrets, hand grips, and symbols as they progress through the degrees.
When initiates embark on the first degree, they become known as an ‘Entered Apprentice.’ The ceremony associated with this degree reminds members that they are all equal and should help those less fortunate than themselves. During the first degree, members learn the rituals, symbols, and beliefs of Masonry.
After completing the second degree, members are known as ‘Fellowcraft Freemasons.’ Completing this degree encourages members to better themselves through education and self-development.
The third degree teaches members how to live life wisely and be remembered for the right reasons. The third degree represents maturity, and members are shown the tools and duties needed to be called a Master Mason. This final degree can take years to complete.
Symbolism: Square and Compasses
Freemasonry is rich with imagery, but the most iconic is the square and compasses, which are thought to have roots in medieval stonemason guilds.
The square is used to teach the lesson of morality, honesty, and fairness. For example, buildings use a square to form a 90-degree angle, ensuring a building is structurally sound and strong.
The compasses symbolize self-restraint as members attempt to live a balanced life. The compass is a crucial element of architectural planning and indicates to members that they should draw a defining line around those things that would stop them from achieving their goals.
The square and compasses serve as a reminder that leading a life of integrity requires balancing your actions towards others with your own needs.
The letter ‘G’ can also be found in the symbol, although more commonly found in American Freemasonry. Some believe it stands for geometry and the original tools of stonemasons, while others believe it stands for God or the “Great Architect of the Universe.”
Masonic lodges are known as traditional male spaces, however there are in fact two female-only Grand Lodges, the Order of Women Freemasons and HFAF Freemasonry for Women. These organizations use the same guidelines, ceremonies, and regalia as their fraternal counterpart.
The Order of Women Freemasons is the oldest and largest Masonic organization for women in England and began in 1908. To become a member, a woman should be older than 21, be of good character, and believe in a Supreme Being. This order was initially open to men and women, but by the early 1920s, there was a move to restrict admission, and by 1935 it was an exclusively female Masonic lodge.
In 1999 the United Grand Lodge Of England acknowledged the sincerity of women’s Freemasonry but still does not formally recognize it, and their members may not participate. There is a cooperation between the male and female counterparts of Freemasonry in that they often share premises for lodge meetings, although not at the same time.
History of the Illuminati
When talking about the Illuminati, it is usually referencing the late 18th-century Bavarian group founded by Adam Weishaupt in 1776.
He wanted to promote the spread of the Enlightenment and the pursuit of knowledge through reason, human happiness, and fraternity outside the reach of church and state.
This quasi-masonic society was initially called the Covenant of Perfectibility, but Adolf Franz Friederich Knigge changed the name to the Order of Illuminati in 1778. He was a German diplomat and helped spread illuminism by recruiting from Freemason lodges. The Order was closely based on the grading system of the Freemasons. Each member had a unique, classical name and used a cipher for internal correspondence.
The Bavarian ruler Karl Theodore banned all secret societies in 1784 and, in 1785, designated the Illuminati as a branch of Freemasonry, a known illegal organization. In 1786, after a raid on a senior member’s home, a document containing Illuminati members’ names was published, and members went into hiding.
Symbolism and Beliefs
The supreme goal of the Bavarian Illuminati was to live without government and religious interference. Weishaupt’s vision was to create a new world order through a universal
republic where everyone would live in a world of equality, social fraternity, and atheism. He believed in reason and science free of moral and religious constraints.
These were radical ideas in a time when the Roman Catholic Church controlled philosophy and science, and the order was concealed using other names and occupations.
The Owl of Minerva was a symbol associated with the Illuminati, and it stood for knowledge, wisdom, and learning. The All-Seeing Eye or Eye of Providence is commonly associated with the Illuminati, particularly in modern times. The eye enclosed in a triangle surrounded by rays of light has also been associated with Freemasonry and serves as a reminder that God always observes humanity’s thoughts and deeds.
Illuminati Conspiracy Theories
The Illuminati conspiracy theories suggest they are an elitist group with media, industrial, economic, and political control trying to bring about a New World Order.
There have been conspiracy theories involving the Illuminati since their dissolution in 1786. Augustin Barruel accused them of orchestrating the French Revolution in 1789, and British politicians pushed the idea to prevent the spread of revolutionary ideas in England.
John Robison accused them of infiltrating the Freemasons in 1797, and in 1798, George Washington wrote a letter to William Russell addressing the Illuminati threat. Links to Freemasonry caused paranoia in the United States in 1828, and the anti-masonic party formed in response.
In the 1970s, the Illuminati myth made a comeback with the popular books by Robert Shaw and Robert Anton Wilson entitled The Illuminatus Trilogy. Today, many celebrities, including Jay-Z and Beyonce, are accused of being part of the Illuminati conspiracy. Dan Brown’s popular book Angels and Demons, made into a Hollywood movie, has only added fuel to the Illuminati conspiracy theory fire.