The Mists of Antiquity

Bro.  W. J. (Jack) Collett, P.G.M.

When we talk about the origins of Freemasonry we frequently say
that they are buried in the "mists of antiquity." This means that
the beginnings of the Craft are not easily definable.  For some
students of Masonic history the "mists of antiquity" lie in the
history of Freemasonry previous to the origin of the four
Speculative Lodges that operated in London, England, and
ultimately came together to form the Grand Lodge of England in
1717.  This means a study of the great manuscripts that record
the "Charges of Freemasonry", such as the "Halliwell Manuscript",
also known as the "Regius Poem", which dates at approximately
1380 A.D., and the "Cooke Manuscript" which comes from about

For others it means an attempt to trace the origins of the Craft
back to the building of King Solomon's Temple at about 975 B.C.
This is because our ritual and the Hiramic Legend are so closely
connected with the events of the reign of King Solomon.  It is
doubtful that the moral teachings or, indeed, any of our ritual
came from that period.  Bailey and Kent, the authors of a
standard textbook called The History of the Hebrew Commonwealth,
make the startling comment that "If there was anything done in
Solomon's reign to strengthen the people in material or
intellectual ways, if there was any endeavour to purify religion
or elevate morals, we do not know of it.  No heroic or noble act
is recorded of anyone while Solomon was on the throne." Of
Solomon the scholars say, "The empire was his slave, and the sole
end of its toil was his pleasure.  No country can long stand such
a strain." These words are true historically.  After the reign of
King Solomon the empire that King David had built disintegrated,
and the years that followed were filled with chaos.

Masons, quite naturally, recoil from the verdict of such
scholarship.  The words strike at the very roots of some
teachings that we hold dear.  Did not the Legend of Hiram Abif
come out of King Solomon's reign? Did not Solomon mourn for the
loss of his architect and order that he be decently interred?
liere not the villains in the Legend given their just deserts? Of
all these things we have no real evidence in the Old Testament. 
It is true that in the First Book of Kings, Chapter VII, and in
the Second Book of Chronicles, Chapter II there are very brief
references to Hiram.  However, there are no real details.  The
legend that grew up around him dates from the early 1700's.  The
first real evidence that any Lodge used a dramatized version of
the Hiramic Legend puts the date as late as 1722.  Thus it is
that some of the Masonic traditions that are dearest to the
hearts of Masons are "buried in the mists of antiquity."

From whence then came the moral and spiritual teachings of
Freemasonry? From whence came many of the mystic rites that we
now perform?

In order to understand some of these difficult questions we must
first of all remind ourselves that Christianity and Freemasonry
were from the earliest times-closely bound together.  Our
forebears, the operative masons, were men who built the majestic
cathedrals of Europe to honour Jesus of Nazareth, who was of
humble origin and who, most certainly, would not feel at home in
some of the beautiful edifices erected in his honour. Indeed,
many of the intricate ceremonies conducted in those cathedrals
would be completely foreign to him.  Let us remember that his
public ministry lasted but three short years, and all he left
behind him were eleven followers who had to meet in secret,
because they feared the wrath of both the people and the
governments.  Later came an elaborate system called the Christian
Church, complete with numerous ceremonies and mystic rites.  With
that development Freemasonry was closely linked in spite of the
fact that today we claim it to be a Universal Science with no
special religious ties.  The latter claim is quite true, for
Freemasonry as well as Christianity attracted to itself many
practices other than those of the Hebrew Religion.

There existed both in the Greek and Roman cultures certain
practices known as the Mystery Religions.  These were not
confined to Greece and Rome.  Evidence of them may be found in
the early cultures of China, India, Egypt, and other ancient
civilizations.  They were secret religious assemblies with
special initiation rites, and most certainly were present in the
time of Jesus.  Undoubtedly they had an influence on the growth
of the ceremonies of early Christianity.  In fact, the Apostle
Paul in some of his letters found it necessary to protest against
the intrusion of pagan practices into the Christian Church.  In
one instance he warned the new Christian converts that they must
not drink to excess at the Lord's Supper.  At another point he
emphasized that he did not participate in the growing practice of
baptism.  Despite the warnings some of the customs of the Mystery
Religions became an integral part of Christian Ritual.  One only
needs to examine some of the mysticism surrounding the festivals
of Christmas and Easter to understand the syncretism that
occurred and has been Lost as the centuries have passed.  We
should remind ourselves again that the Roman Catholic Church,
with its elaborate ceremonies, was once the main support of
Freemasonry and the ceremonies connected with that order.  All of
the ceremonies of the Christian Church and of Freemasonry contain
overtones of the ancient Mystery Religions.

The Mystery Religions were very selective in their membership. 
No uninitiated person was permitted to take part in the
ceremonies.  Note the relationship here with the Christian Holy
Communion, and also with the practices of Freemasonry.  The
Mystery Religions appear to have had a double purpose.  First,
they wished to hand down, from generation to generation, the
traditions associated with the gods in whose honour they were
organized.  Secondly, they taught very carefully how certain
rituals were to be performed, and then trained their initiates to
carry out those rituals exactly.  Under no circumstances were
there to be variations from the ancient traditions, even in the
words of the rituals.  The prime purpose of the Mystery Religions
was not to teach dogmatic religious beliefs; it was to strive for
the moral improvement of their membership.  The rituals were
designed not only to improve the morals of the adherents, but
also to implant in their membership a hope for the life that
would go on after death.

The first remarkable resemblance between the Mysteries and
Freemasonry is that membership rested on the voluntary choice of
the individual.  No one was ever invited to belong to a mystery
religion.  The individual had to volunteer to become a member. 
If the individual indicated his desire and if he were accepted,
then he had to submit himself to the Initiation Rites.  These
rites were designed to provide for the candidate an emotional
experience that would tie him forever to his religion.  When that
was done he was accepted into a fellowship, designed to give him
support as he became more and more absorbed into a community of
regenerated individuals.

The ultimate goal of the Mystery Religions was to establish a
relationship between the individual and the gods.  It was
supposed to be an intimate and personal type of communication,
that would bring to the individual the particular help he needed
to live the type of life expected of him as a member of the
religion.  For the Mysteries the initiation rites sought to bring
the individual, no matter what his age, a sense of being born
again and, as he grew in knowledge, to admit him to a sense of
maturity that he did not possess before.  After he was initiated
and as he was transformed from childhood to maturity, he was
expected to share in the social duties of the religion.  The
social and moral issues that faced the particular nation became
his responsibility.

One of the most important aspects of the Mystery Religions was
the program of instruction for the Initiates.  Each new member
was required to take time to go through a course of instruction. 
He was taught how he should act in the ceremonies of the group,
and what he should do in his relationships with his fellow
members and his community.  He was encouraged to think in terms
of the philosophy of the religion and the means of transfering
the thought into action.

There are many things about the Mystery Religions that are not
known.  The reason is that the religions had an inviolable rule
that all Initiation Rites and instruction were transmitted by
word of mouth.  It was forbidden that anything be written.  Thus
the customs and traditions were handed on orally from individual
to individual and from group to group.  We have never been able
to discover, for instance, what exactly happened in the Ceremony
of Initiation.  On the other hand it is known that the total
effect of a Mystery Religion was to weld a chain of continuity
that lasted through the ages.  The system disappeared with the
growth of the Christian Religion, and the collapse of the Roman
culture in the early years of this era.  When Rome was overrun by
the barbarians of Europe in the First Century A.D., the Mystery
Religions, as such, disappeared, although remnants of heir
practices survived.

The Mystery Religions were always connected with a god.  The
ancient peoples generally worshipped many gods, but from that
variety of divinities a Mystery Religion adopted one that it
worshipped and to which it paid special loyalty.  They
customarily selected a god that had something to do with
fertility and growth.  Hence, some of them became associated with
fertility rites, and out of that some practices grew up that put
some of the religions into disrepute.  There were cults that
developed systems of male prostitution and homosexual acts.  From
such things arose an aura of suspicion over the secret meetings
of the mysteries, and questions were raised constantly about what
actually went on in the initiation rites.  It is safe to assume
that the majority of the mysteries sincerely sought to raise the
moral life of their membership, and the abuses of secrecy were

The ancient people lived continually on the edge of starvation. 
They were not knowledgeable enough of the world to understand the
inevitable change of seasons, and were often surprised when the
long period of winter arrived and nothing grew.  Of course, they
frequently did not have the expertise to store food for the time
when the land did not produce.  Even greater than their distress
over the winter season was their awe and surprise when spring
arrived, and the world appeared to be born again, with new growth
and an abundance of food.  In their minds, however, there was no
certainty that spring would follow winter and that harvest would
follow the spring.  This routine always, in their minds, was
subject to the whim of the gods.  If the gods were pleased, then
growth would follow.  If the gods were angry, then famine would
occur.  It was essential for them to find ways of keeping the
gods in good humour, and thus to assure the return of the spring. 
Many of the rituals connected with the Ancient Religions were
directed towards the pleasing of the gods.  Even in the Old
Testament we read that the smoke from the sacrifices in the
temple was pleasing to God and he rewarded his people.

Because the ancient peoples were so concerned about survival and
the assuring of the regular succession of seasons, their great
legends had to do with their great concerns.  It came about, too,
that the contents of the Mystery Religions were mainly
communicated by means of legends.  In the legends the Earth is
usually thought of as the great Goddess of Fertility, This
goddess grew old and feeble as the autumn season approached and
was continually in danger of death.  If the Goddess of Fertility
died, that would mean that the primitive man would suffer from
hunger and, perhaps, starvation.  The idea of the Goddess of
Fertility dying filled the early peoples with terror.  Therefore,
it was essential that a magical rite be performed that would
assist the Goddess of Fertility to survive the dangerous period
of winter.  Through this magical rite the goddess, in danger of
dying and making the earth barren, would be brought to life again
and once more possess a young and vigorous body.  The result
would be that fertility would be restored to the earth and people
would be able to eat once more.

The Adonis Myth very likely originated in Babylon but it is best
known in its Greek version.  Adonis was the vigorous and youthful
lover of the great Mother Goddess.  Her name was Ishtar and she
embodied all the reproductive possibilities and energies of
nature.  If Adonis died, Ishtar was without a lover, and she
would not be fertilized and consequently would fail to reproduce. 
Each year Adonis, the vigorous lover, would die and pass into the
world of the shadows.  Each year after his death Ishtar desired
to be fertilized and she would seek unceasingly to find her lost
lover, for without Adonis the period of reproduction would cease. 
The situation was so desperate that messengers would be sent to
the Queen of the Underworld, pleading for the return of Adonis to
the bed of Ishtar. In the meantime Ishtar herself, barren and
cold, would go to the underworld to seek for her lover.  She
passed through the seven gates of the underworld and each time
she had to pay a fee, which was one of her garments.  Finally,
naked and alone, the Great Mother Goddess would appear before the
Queen of the Underworld.  The Queen would refuse to release
Adonis until the messengers of the gods arrived, to sprinkle the
Water of Life on both Adonis and Ishtar.  When this was done they
were raised from the tomb of death to the upper world.  When the
raising was complete the wonderful world of nature was revived
and hope reborn for the fertility of the world.

This legend is significant because it embodies several facets of
the Christian Religion.  The sprinkling of water, the descent of
the hope of the world into the realms of darkness, the revival of
life and hope for the world.  It also has within it elements of
the legend of Hiram Abif.  The lost hero, the search for the lost
heroine, and the raising from darkness into the newness of life.

Another legend has in it Adonis, a beautiful child, whom
Aphrodite deeply loves.  In order not to be deprived of the love
of Adonis, Aphrodite conceals Adonis in a chest, and leaves the
chest in charge of Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld. 
Persephone looks in the chest and sees the beautiful youngster. 
She immediately falls in love with him and refuses to return the
chest to Aphrodite.  To recover the lost love Aphrodite herself
descends into the realms of darkness in a desperate effort to
recover the lost child.  The dispute between Aphrodite and
Persephone rages, so that the whole of the underworld is in
disarray.  At length the god Zeus is forced to intervene.  He
rules that the child must remain for half of the year with
Aphrodite, and with Persephone the other half.  During the part
of the year that Adonis is with Aphrodite the world is warm and
it is a period of reproduction, growth, and plenty.  When Adonis
is with Persephone the world is cold, lacking in growth, and
unproductive.  When the time comes for Adonis to live with the
Queen of the Underworld he is lowered into her presence with
great sorrow and lamentations.  When the vital words are spoken
and the time has come to restore Adonis to Aphrodite, the child
is raised very carefully from the darkness into the light.  This
is a time of great joy, feasting and rejoicing.

The ancient legends of the raising of an individual from darkness
into life are many.  The details of the event are varied.  The
main outline remains throughout them all.  Involved are fertility
and growth, the discovery of some secret means to do the raising,
then the change from death to resurrection.  Basically the
legends all contain the same story.  A god dies and the earth
becomes unproductive.  The god is restored to life and the earth
becomes fertile and productive.  Each Mystery Religion in every
early culture had its legends, illustrated by accompanying rites
and ceremonies.  Only those who have been properly initiated know
the particular legend.  Those who are permitted to perform the
rite of resurrection are the ones who have been taught carefully
and are skilful in performing the required ceremonies, that will
ensure the resurrection of the god.  Connected with the
ceremonies are certain signs and symbols.  These are revealed to
the new initiates when they have received sufficient instruction
to appreciate the essential essence of the purpose of the
religion into which they have been received after requesting

Osiris was the son of the earth god Seb and of the sky goddess
Nut.  He had two brothers, Horus, the elder, and Set.  There were
also two sisters, Isis and Metphthys.  Notice that the family
comprised a total of seven, and that there are five children
including three boys.  Osiris taught the Egyptians how to grow
corn.  Set, the god of evil, was jealous of the popularity of
Osiris.  He conspired with 72 villains to murder him.  They made
a chest and persuaded Osiris to get into it.  When Osiris got
into the chest they nailed it down securely, and flung it into
the River Nile.  Osiris was discovered to be missing, and there
was great concern over the fact that the great teacher had been
lost.  Isis, on hearing the news, was greatly distressed.  She
had her hair cut and put on clothes of mourning.  Then she set
out in search of the body.  In the meantime the chest had floated
down the Nile to the town of Byblos, in Syria, and there it
became stranded on the sand.  An Erica tree grew up over the
chest and completely enclosed it in its trunk.  The King of Syria
decided that the tree should be cut down and that it would be
used to form a great pillar in his palace.  Isis arrived in Syria
and went to the King's Palace.  She begged for the pillar and her
pleas were heard.  She cut it open, found the chest and within it
the body of Osiris.  Isis threw herself on the body and brought
it back to life.  Osiris was raised from the chest in a great
ceremony.  The 72 villains were discovered and put to death. 
Osiris, having been raised from darkness to renewed his vows to
serve his people.  He returned to Egypt and continued to teach
his people how to make their soil fertile, how to produce crops
of corn and how to feed the people.

Space will not permit to relate more of the fascinating legends
that have been preserved out of the "mists of antiquity," yet it
is hoped that the Masonic reader recognizes the similarities
between them and the Legend of Hiram Abif.  Certainly the legend
does not come from the Old Testament.  The story in the Old
Testament tells of Hiram, King of Tyre, sending another Hiram,
the son of a widow, to help Solomon build a temple (II Chronicles
2:13 and I Kings 7:13).  If the story is read carefully it can be
seen that Hiram, the widow's son, was not so much the architect
as he was a skilled worker in brass, stone and purple. 
Chronicles says that Hiram's mother was "of the daughters of Dan"
while his father was a man of Tyre.  Tyre, by the way, was one of
the great centres of the cult of Adonis.  Beyond these scanty
facts the Old Testament tells us nothing.  There is no record of
the murder of Hiram, not even any indication that he died.  It is
evident that he had dropped out of the picture by the time that
the temple was dedicated.

As stated at the beginning we do not know where the Legend of
Hiram originated, but we do know that it did not become current
until the eighteenth century.  In this the legend does not differ
very much from the lack of knowledge as to the origin of much of
our ritual.  It is feasible to speculate that it was written by
some scholar who had steeped himself in the legends of the
Mystery Religions.  Certainly all the ingredients are there; the
murder of a productive god, the disposal of the body by the
powers of darkness, the discovery of the body by the powers of
light, the raising of the body from darkness to light, and the
return to productive living.  In addition there are the
accompanying signs and symbols, which are kept secret.  There is
also the dedicated journey of those who sought for the body and
the ultimate discovery of it, and the punishment of those who
sought for the hero's death and the honour bestowed upon the
person who was raised.

We are attempting in this paper to discover origins, but we must
also note that the Legend of Hiram has been carefully refined and
adapted to the lessons that the science of Freemasonry teaches;
to wit:

1. Hiram, in the Masonic Legend, is not restored to life as are
the gods of the Mystery Religions.  The Christian Religion
follows the Mystery Religions to this conclusion.  To have life
restored in the Masonic Ritual would introduce a strange and
jarring note.  The writer of the Hiramic Legend appropriately
ends it with having the remains properly interred.  However, the
signs and symbols remain.  They are transferred to the candidate,
who is urged to remember the noble example of a man who would
rather suffer death than betray a sacred trust that had been
vested in him at his initiation and throughout the instruction
that he received after his voluntary entry into the order.

2. The raising of Hiram in the Legend symbolizes the entrance of
the human soul into a new and better stage of experience.  It
points out that it is the duty of all men to prepare themselves
for a new life, by following the glorious example of dedication
and perfection. it should be noted that an element of
resurrection remains.  Although the bones are interred, the new
life, the resurrected one, is transferred to the candidate.  What
more meaningful idea of the resurrection can there be than that
the goodness of the person who has died lives on in those for
whom he lived?

3. The Hiramic Legend in Freemasonry does not have the magical
elements that are common to the legends of the Mystery Religions. 
In one of the versions of the Osiris Legend, Isis, a virgin,
throws herself on the dead body of Osiris and immediately becomes
pregnant, and later is the virgin mother of the god Horus. The
reason for raising the body was so that it might be interred in
consecrated ground.  Certain signs are learned by those who raise
the body, but they are not the genuine secrets.  Those have yet
to be discovered.  The quest does not end with the raising of the
body.  The search must go on, for the purpose is the unending
search for eternal truth.  It is only by constant struggle to
attain the elusive truth that we can live the life triumphant. 
This version comes as close as we can get in the ancient legends
to the teaching of the Hiramic Legend, namely that the search for
the missing word must go on into eternity.

4. The Hiramic Legend does not end in crass materialism as do
most of the mysteries.  The conclusions of the Legends of the
Mysteries indicate that the ancient peoples, because of their
exploits, assure themselves of material gain, such as the return
of food after the winter barrenness.  The lesson we learn in
Freemasonry is that there is another way of living that is far
higher than the material one.  It is the world of brotherhood and
service in this present life.  After that, when this transient
existence is ended, we may find a happier and more abundant life. 
Until the time of transition arrives from the present to the
eternal future, we must be faithful to our obligations and to our
duties.  We must learn to live at peace within the mysteries that
constantly surround us.

It is impossible to assert with any certainty exactly where the
Legend of Hiram Abif originated, or to find any documented
account of its direct relationship to the Mystery Religions of
the ancient cultures.  It is possible for us to say that the
Hiramic Legend and all the ancient legends form a part of
humanity's great quest for the meaning of life and death.  That
originated with man as he became a conscious and thinking being,
and will not end until man vanishes from the face of this earth,
either because of his own foolishness or because of his
disappearance in the process of evolution.  The legend is a part
of the ongoing stream of human thought.

To take a speculative journey through the Mystery Religions, for
this author, enhances the Legend of Hiram Abif and greatly
enriches its meaning.  No longer is Hiram only a man of honour
who is willing to sacrifice his life rather than betray a sacred
trust.  He stood for something far greater.  He became a part of
humanity, reaching out to an unknown power seeking for some
assurance of permanency and love.  Man has frequently fallen into
the error of thinking that if he could make corn grow, if he
could amass corn, so that he had to pull down the small granaries
and build larger ones, he would have attained something that
could not be destroyed, namely wealth and power.  The legends,
especially the Hiramic one, say something more.  They say there
is more to life than material wealth and strength.

A long succession of prophets, priests and kings, including Hiram
Abif, have been sacrificed on the altar of crass materialism. 
Even in death these men have not been silenced, but have lived on
in the lives of those who seek the truth embedded within the
legends.  There is a life beyond and that is the life of the
spirit.  It is the life of the spirit that holds the true
secrets, and they rest only in the thoughts of the Master Mason
of all Mankind.

Hiram was not the first builder to be @lain nor was he the last. 
Today the eternal temple will not be built by men who seek for
advantages of their own, but it will be built with devotion,
sacrifice, death, and resurrection.


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