ORIGIN OF FREEMASONRY
by Thomas Paine
The following is the conclusion of an essay by Thomas Paine, the first part having appeared in the September, 1994 issue of THINK!.
ORIGIN OF FREEMASONRY II
It is said, II Kings xxiii, 5, "And [King Josiah] put down all the idolatrous priests . . . that burned incense unto . . . the sun, the moon, the planets, and all the host of heaven." And it is said at the eleventh verse: "And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entering in of the house of the Lord . . . and burned the chariot of the sun with fire"; verse 13, "And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the King of Israel had builded for Ashtoreth, the abomination of the Zidonians" (the very people that built the temple) "did the king defile."
Besides these things, the description that Josephus gives of the decorations of this temple, resembles on a large scale those of a Mason's lodge. He says that the distribution of the several parts of the Temple of the Jews represented all nature, particularly the parts most apparent of it, as the sun, moon, the planets, the zodiac, the earth, the elements; and that the system of the world was retraced there by numerous ingenious emblems.
These, in all probability, are, what Josiah, in his ignorance, calls the abominations of the Zidonians.* Everything, however, drawn from this temple,H and applied to Masonry, still refers to the worship of the sun, however corrupted or misunderstood by the Jews, and consequently to the religion of the Druids.
Another circumstance, which shows that Masonry is derived from some ancient system, prior to and unconnected with the Christian religion, is the chronology, or method of counting time, used by the Masons in the records of their lodges. They make no use of what is called the Christian era; and they reckon their months numerically, as the ancient Egyptians did, and as the Quakers do now.
I have by me, a record of a French lodge, at the time the late Duke of Orleans, then Duke de Chartres, was Grand Master of Masonry in France. It begins as follows: "the thirteenth day of the sixth month of the year of the Venerable Lodge, 5773.
By what I observe in English books of Masonry, the English Masons use the initials A. L. and not V. L. By A. L. they mean in the year of Light, as the Christians by A.D. mean in the year of our Lord. But A. L. like V. L. refers to the same chronological era, that is, to the supposed time of the Creation.
In the chapter on the Christian religion, I have shown that the cosmogony, that is the account of the Creation with which the book of Genesis opens, has been taken and mutilated from the Zend-Avesta of Zoroaster, and was fixed as a preface to the Bible after the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon, and that the rabbins of the Jews do not hold their account in Genesis to be a fact, but mere allegory. The six thousand years in the Zend-Avesta, is changed or interpolated into six days in the account of Genesis.
The Masons appear to have chosen the same period, and perhaps to avoid the suspicion and persecution of the Church, have adopted the era of the world, as the era of Masonry. The V. L. of the French, and the A. L. of the English Mason, answer to the A. M. Anno Mundi, or year of the world.
Though the Masons have taken many of their ceremonies and hieroglyphics from the ancient Egyptians, it is certain they have not taken their chronology from thence. If they had, the Church would soon have sent them to the stake; as the chronology of the Egyptians, like that of the Chinese, goes many thousand years beyond the Bible chronology.
The religion of the Druids, as before said, was the same as the religion of the ancient Egyptians. The priests of Egypt were the professors and teachers of science, and were styled priests of Heliopolis, that is, of the City of the Sun.
The Druids in Europe, who were the same order of men, have their name from the Teutonic or ancient German language; the Germans being anciently called Teutons. The word Druid signifies a wise man. In Persia they were called magi, which signifies the same thing.
"Egypt, says Smith, "from whence we derive many of our mysteries, has always borne a distinguished rank in history, and was once celebrated above all others for its antiquities, learning, opulence, and fertility. In their system, their principal hero-gods, Osiris and Isis, theologically represented the Supreme Being and universal nature; and physically the two great celestial luminaries, the sun and the moon, by whose influence all nature was actuated.
"The experienced brethren of the Society" says Smith in a note to this passage, "are well informed what affinity these symbols bear to Masonry, and why they are used in all Masonic lodges."
In speaking of the apparel of the Masons in their lodges, part of which, as we see in their public processions, is a white leather apron, he says, "the Druids were appareled in white at the time of their sacrifices and solemn offices. The Egyptian priests of Osiris wore snow-white cotton. The Grecian and most other priests wore white garments. As Masons, we regard the principles of those who were the first worshipers of the true God, imitate their apparel, and assume the badge of innocence."
"The Egyptians," continues Smith, "in the earliest ages constituted a great number of lodges, but with assiduous care kept their secrets of Masonry from all strangers. These secrets have been imperfectly handed down to us by oral tradition only, and ought to be kept undiscovered to the laborers, craftsmen, and apprentices, till by good behavior and long study they become better acquainted in geometry and the liberal arts, and thereby qualified for masters and wardens, which is seldom or never the case with English Masons."
Under the head of Freemasonry, written by the astronomer Lalande, in the French Encyclopedia, I expected from his great knowledge in astronomy, to have found much information on the origin of Masonry; for what connection can there be between any institution and the sun and twelve signs of the zodiac, if there be not something in that institution, or in its origin, that has reference to astronomy?
Everything used as a hieroglyphic has reference to the subject and purpose for which it is used, and we are not to suppose the Freemasons, among whom are many very learned and scientific men, to be such idiots as to make use of astronomical signs without some astronomical purpose.
But I was much disappointed in my expectation from Lalande. In speaking of the origin of Masonry, he says, the origin of Masonry, like many others, loses itself in the obscurity of time. When I came to this expression, I supposed Lalande a Mason, and on inquiry found he was. This passing over saved him from the embarrassment which Masons are under respecting the disclosure of their origin, and which they are sworn to conceal.
There is a society of Masons in Dublin who take the name of Druids; these Masons must be supposed to have a reason for taking that name.
I come now to speak of the cause of secrecy used by the Masons.
The natural source of secrecy is fear. When any new religion over-runs a former religion, the professors of the new become the persecutors of the old. We see this in all instances that history brings before us.
When Hilkiah the priest and Shaphan the scribe, in the reign of King Josiah, found, or pretended to find, the law, called the law of Moses, a thousand years after the time of Moses (and it does not appear from II Kings, xxii, xxiii, that such a law was ever practiced or known before the time of Josiah) he established that law as a national religion, and put all the priests of the sun to death.
When the Christian religion over-ran the Jewish religion, the Jews were the continual subject of persecution in all Christian countries. When the Protestant religion in England over-ran the Roman Catholic religion, it was made death for a Catholic priest to be found in England.
As this has been the case in all the instances we have any knowledge of, we are obliged to admit it with respect to the case in question, and that when the Christian religion over-ran the religion of the Druids in Italy, ancient Gaul, Britain, and Ireland, the Druids became the subject of persecution.
This would naturally and necessarily oblige such of them as remained attached to their original religion to meet in secret, and under the strongest injunctions of secrecy. Their safety depended upon it. A false brother might expose the lives of many of them to destruction; and from the remains of the religion of the Druids, thus preserved, arose the institution which, to avoid the name of Druid, took that of Mason, and practiced under this new name the rites and ceremonies of Druids.
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