FREEMASONRY AND THE CRUSADES
Albert G. Mackey
In all the legendary history of Freemasonry there is nothing more interesting or more romantic than the stories which connect its origin with the Crusades; nothing in which the judgment and reasoning powers have been more completely surrendered to the imagination of the inventors of the various theories on this subject or to the credulity of the believers. Before proceeding to discuss the numerous phases which have been given by different writers to the theory which traces the origin of Freemasonry to the Crusades, to the chivalric orders of the Middle Ages, and especially to the Knights Templars, it will be proper to take a very brief view of those contests between the Christians and the Saracens which, under the name of the Crusades, cost Europe so vast an amount of blood and treasure in the unsuccessful attempt to secure and maintain possession of the Holy Land. This view, or rather synopsis, need not be more than a brief one, for the topic has been frequently and copiously treated by numerous historians, from Joinville to Michaux and Mills, and must therefore be familiar to most readers.
About twenty years after the Moslems had conquered Jerusalem, a recluse of Picardy in France had paid a pious visit to the city. Indignant at the oppressions to which the Christians were subjected in their pious pilgrimages to the sepulchre of their Lord, and moved by the complaints of the aged patriarch, Peter the Hermit - for such is the name that he bears in history - resolved on his return to Europe to attempt to rouse the religious sentiment and the military spirit of the sovereigns, the nobles, and the populace of the West. Having first obtained the sanction of the Roman pontiff, Peter the Hermit travelled through Italy and France, and by fervent addresses in every place that he visited urged his auditors to the sacred duty of rescuing Palestine from the hands of infidels. The superstitious feelings of a priest-governed people and the military spirit of knights accustomed to adventure were readily awakened by the eloquence of a fanatical preacher. In every city and village, in the churches and on the highways, his voice proclaimed the wrongs and the sufferings of pious pilgrims, and his reproaches awoke the remorse of his hearers for their past supineness and indifference to the cause of their brethren, and stimulated their eagerness to rescue the sacred shrines from the pollution of their Saracen possessors.
The spirit of enthusiasm which pervaded all classes of the people - nobles and priests, princes and peasants - presented a wonderful scene, which the history of the world had never before and has never since recorded. With one voice war was declared by the nations of western Europe against the sacrilegious Moslems. Tradesmen and mechanics abandoned the pursuits by which they were accustomed to gain their livelihood, to take up arms in a holy cause; peasants and husbandmen left their fields, their flocks, and their herds; and barons alienated or mortgaged their estates to find the means of joining the expedition.
The numerous conflicts that followed for the space of two hundred years were called the Crusades, or, in French, Croisades, from the blood-red cross worn by the warriors on the breast or shoulder, first bestowed at the council of Clermont, by Pope Urban, on the Bishop of Puy, and ever afterward worn by every Crusader as a badge of his profession.
The first detachment of the great army destined for a holy war issued, in the year 1096, from the western frontiers. It consisted of nearly three hundred thousand men, composed for the most part of the lowest orders of society, and was headed by Peter the Hermit. It was, however, a huge, undisciplined mob rather than an army, whose leader was entirely without military capacity to govern it or to restrain its turbulence. The march, or rather the progress, of this immense rabble toward Asia Minor was marked at every step by crime. They destroyed the towns and plundered the inhabitants of every province through which they roamed in undisciplined confusion. The outraged inhabitants opposed their passage with arms. In many conflicts in Hungary and in Bulgaria they were slaughtered by thousands. Peter the Hermit escaped to the mountains, and of his deluded and debased followers but few reached Constantinople, and still fewer the shores of Asia Minor. They were speedily destroyed by the forces of the Sultan. The war of the Crusades had not fairly begun before three hundred thousand lives were lost in the advance guard of the army.
The first Crusade was undertaken in the same year, and speedily followed the advanced body whose disastrous fate has just been recorded. This body was composed of many of the most distinguished barons and knights, who were accompanied by their feudal retainers. At the head of this more disciplined army, consisting of a hundred thousand knights and horsemen and five times that number of foot-soldiers, was the renowned Godfrey of Bouillon, a nobleman distinguished for his piety, his valor, and his military skill. This army, although unwieldy from its vast numbers and scarcely manageable from the diverse elements of different nations of which it was composed, was, notwithstanding many reverses, more fortunate and more successful than the rabble under Peter the Hermit which had preceded it. It reached Palestine in safety, though not without a large diminution of knights and soldiers. At length Jerusalem, after a siege of five weeks, was conquered by the Christian warriors, in the year 1099, and Godfrey was declared the first Christian King of Jerusalem. In a pardonable excess of humility he refused to accept a crown of gems in the place where his Lord and Master had worn a crown of thorns, and contented himself with the titles of Duke and Defender of the Holy Sepulchre.
In the course of the next twenty-five years Palestine had become the home, or at least the dwelling-place, of much of the chivalry of Europe. The Latin kingdom of Jerusalem had extended eastward from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea to the deserts of Arabia, and southward from the city of Beritus (now Beirut), in Syria, to the frontiers of Egypt, besides the country of Tripoli, which stretched north of Beritus to the borders of the principality of Antioch.
The second Crusade, instigated by the preaching of the monk St. Bernard, and promoted by Louis VII. of France, was undertaken in the year 1147. The number of knights, soldiers, priests, women, and camp-followers who were engaged in this second Crusade has been estimated as approaching a million. At its head were the Emperor Conrad III of Germany and King Louis VII of France. This effort to relieve and to strengthen the decaying Christian power in Palestine was not a successful one. After a futile and inglorious attempt to take the city of Damascus, whose near vicinity to Jerusalem was considered dangerous to the Latin kingdom, Louis returned home with the small remnant of his army, in 1149, and was followed in the succeeding year by the Emperor Conrad. Thus ended abortively, the second Crusade, and the Christian cause in Palestine was left to be defended by the feeble forces but invincible courage of the Christian inhabitants.
The next thirty-five or forty years is a sad and continuous record of the reverses of the Christians. They had to contend with a new and powerful adversary in the person of the renowned Saracen, Sallah-ud-deen, better known as Saladin, who, after sixteen years of warfare with the Christian knights, in which he was sometimes defeated but oftener a victor, succeeded in taking Jerusalem, on the 2d of October, in the year 1187. Thus, after a possession by the Christians of eighty-eight years, the city of Jerusalem and the holy shrine which it contained fell again into the power of the Moslems.
When the tidings of its fall reached Europe, the greatest sorrow and consternation prevailed. It was at once determined to make a vigorous effort for its rescue from its infidel conquerors. The enthusiasm of the people for its recovery was scarcely less than that which had preceded the first and second Crusades under the eloquent appeals of Peter the Hermit and St. Bernard. The principal sovereigns of Europe, Spain alone excepted, which was engaged in its own struggles for the extirpation of the Moors, resolved to lead the armies of their respective nations to the reconquest of Jerusalem. Thus was inaugurated the third Crusade.
In the year 1188, innumerable forces from England, France, Italy, and other counties rushed with impetuous ardor to Palestine. In the year 1189 one hundred thousand Crusaders, under Guy de Lusignan, sat down before the city of Acre. The siege lasted for two years, with a vast consumption of lives on both sides. At length the city capitulated and the Mussulmans surrendered to the victorious arms of Richard the Lionhearted, King of England.
This third Crusade is remarkable for the number of European sovereigns who were personally engaged in it. Richard of England, Philip Augustus of France, Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, and the Dukes of Suabia and of Burgundy, had all left their dominions to be governed by regents in their absence and had joined in the pious struggle to redeem the Holy Land from Mohammedan rule.
But, notwithstanding many victories over Saladin in hard-fought fields, and the conquest of many important places, such as Acre, Ascalon, Jaffa, and Caesarea, the Crusaders failed in their great design of recovering Jerusalem, which still remained in the possession of Saladin, who, however, having made a truce with King Richard, granted, as one of the terms, free and undisturbed access to all pilgrims who should visit the holy city.
Thus terminated the third Crusade. It can scarcely be called an absolute failure, notwithstanding that Jerusalem still remained in the hands of the infidels, but the total ruin with which, at its commencement, the Latin kingdom had been threatened was averted; the conquering progress of the Mussulmans had been seriously checked; the hitherto victorious Saladin had been compelled to make a truce; the greater part of the seacoast of Palestine, with all its fortresses and the cities of Acre, Jaffa, Antioch, and Tyre, remained in the possession of the Christians.
Saladin had survived the truce which he had made with Richard but a few months, and on his death his dominions were divided between three of his sons and his brother Saphadin. The last of these, to whom most of the veterans who had fought under Saladin adhered, secured for himself a sovereignty in Syria.
The death of their renowned and powerful foe had encouraged the Christians of Palestine to make renewed efforts to recover Jerusalem as soon as the truce had expired. To aid in this design, a new Crusade was invoked in Europe. The appeal, heard with apathy in England and France met with more favour in Germany. Three large armaments of German chivalry arrived at Acre in 1195. The campaign lasted, however, less than two years, and the troops, having effected no decisive results, were recalled to Germany in consequence of the death of the Emperor Henry VI. This, which has been dignified by some writers with the name of a fourth Crusade, has, however, more generally been considered as a mere episode in the history of the Holy Wars.
The fourth Crusade proper began in the year 1203, when a large armament of knights and men-at-arms of France, Germany, Italy, and Flanders sailed for Constantinople in transports furnished by the Venetians and commanded by the blind Doge Dandolo. The throne of the Byzantine Empire had been usurped by the elder Alexius, who had imprisoned his brother, the legitimate monarch, after having caused his eyes to be put out. The first object of the Crusaders was to dethrone the usurper and to restore the government to Isaac and his son, the younger Alexius, who had instigated the enterprise and accompanied the expedition.
The siege and the conquest of Constantinople is told in the graphic language of Gibbon; but it is so wholly unconnected with the subject of our present inquiry as not to claim further attention. It is sufficient to say that by it the Crusaders were entirely diverted from the great object for which they had left Europe. None ever reached or sought to reach the land of Palestine, and the fourth Crusade terminated without a blow having been struck for the recovery of Jerusalem and the deliverance of the Holy Sepulchre from the pollution of its Paynim possessors.
The fifth Crusade commenced in the year 1217. In this war the Crusaders attacked Egypt, believing that that country was the key to Palestine. At first they were successful, and besieged and captured the city of Damietta. But, influenced and directed by the cupidity and ignorance of the papal legate, they refused the offer of the Saracens, that if the Christians would evacuate Egypt they would cede Jerusalem to them, they continued the campaign with most disastrous results, and, finally abandoning the contest, the Crusaders returned to Europe in 1229, never having even seen the shores of the Holy Land.
A sixth Crusade was undertaken by the French in 1238. They were subsequently joined by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, the nephew of Richard the Lionhearted. The military capacity and prowess of this able leader led to successful results, and in 1240 to the restoration of Jerusalem to the Christians. The Crusade ended with the return of the Earl of Cornwall to England in 1240.
The fortifications of Jerusalem were rebuilt by the Knights Templars, but the necessary measures for defense had scarcely been completed when the Christian kingdom was attacked by a new enemy. The descendants of those barbaric tribes of Tartars who, under the name of Huns, had centuries before overwhelmed the Roman Empire, now commenced their ravages in Asia Minor. Twenty thousand Turcoman horsemen, under Barbacan, their chief, assisted by Egyptian priests, were enabled in 1242 to wrest Jerusalem from the Christians, who never again recovered it. The war continued with scarcely varying disasters to the Christians. Palestine was overrun by the barbarous hordes of Turcomans. The Moslems of Damascus, Aleppo, and Ems, forgetful of their ancient hatred and religious conflicts, united with the Knights Templars to oppose a common enemy.
But the effort to stay the progress of the Turcoman invasion was vain. Every city of the Latin kingdom, such as Tiberias, Ascalon, Jaffa, and others, were conquered. Acre alone remained to the Christian chivalry, and the Holy Sepulchre was again in the possession of the infidels. A seventh Crusade was commenced in 1245, to recover what had been lost. It was undertaken by the chivalry of England and France. Louis IX commanded the French portion of the forces in person, and William Longsword, who had distinguished himself in the fifth Crusade, with many other English knights and nobles, vowed that they would serve under his banner.
Egypt was again made the objective point of the expedition, and after an unnecessary and imprudent delay of eight months at Cyprus, Louis sailed, in 1248, for Egypt, with a force of fifty thousand men. The history of this Crusade is but a narrative of the defeats of the Christians, by the arms of their enemies, by famine, and by pestilence. At Mansora, in 1250, the Crusaders were totally routed; thirty thousand Christians were slain, among them the flower of the French and English chivalry, and King Louis himself was taken prisoner. He was only ransomed by the surrender of Damietta to the Turks, the conquest of which city had been almost the only successful trophy of the Christian arms. The king proceeded to Acre, almost the only possession of the Christians in Syria, and soon afterward returned to France, thus ending the seventh and penultimate Crusade, in the year 1254.
For fourteen years Syria and Palestine were left to the inadequate protection that could be afforded by the Knights Templars and Hospitallers, two Orders who even in the face of their common foe could not restrain their own bitter rivalry and dissensions. These feelings culminated at length in a sanguinary battle between them, in which the Templars were almost completely destroyed.
The Latin kingdom of Palestine being thus enfeebled by the intestine broils of its defenders, city after city was surrendered to the Moslems, until Acre alone remained in the hands of the Christians. In 1268 the heaviest blow was inflicted by the fall of Antioch, the proud capital of Syria. Forty thousand Christians were slain at the time of its surrender and one hundred thousand were sold into slavery.
The fall of the Christian state of Antioch was a catastrophe that once more aroused the military ardor and the pious spirit of Europe, and a new Crusade was inaugurated - the eighth and last - for the recovery of the Holy Land, the restoration of the Latin kingdom, and the extirpation of the infidels from the sacred territory.
This Crusade was conducted entirely by Prince Edward, afterward Edward I of England. It is true that Louis IX of France, undeterred by the disasters which had previously befallen him, had with undiminished ardor sought to renew his efforts for the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre, and sailed from France for that purpose in 1270. But he had stopped short at Tunis, the king and people of which he had hoped to convert to Christianity. But, although no decisive battles took place between the Moors and the Christians, the army of the latter was soon destroyed by the heat of the climate, by fatigue, by famine and pestilence, and the king himself died but little more than a month after his arrival on the shore of ancient Carthage. Prince Edward had joined the French army at Tunis with a slender body of knights, but, after the death of the French monarch and the abandonment of the enterprise, he had sailed for Syria with an army of only one thousand knights and men-at-arms, and landed at Acre in 1270. But the knights of the chivalry of Palestine gathered eagerly around his standard and increased his force to seven thousand. With this insignificant body of soldiery, weak in numbers but strong in courage and in the capacity of their leader, Edward attacked the immense horde of Moslems who had been besieging Acre, caused them to retire, and, following them to Nazareth, captured that city, after a battle in which the infidels were defeated with great slaughter.
But the reduction of Nazareth closed the military career of Edward in Palestine. After narrowly escaping death from a poisoned wound inflicted by a Moslem assassin, he returned to England, in 1271, having first effected a truce of ten years with the Sultan of Egypt. The defense of Palestine, or rather of Acre, the only point occupied by the Christians, as the titular capital of the Latin kingdom, was left to the knights of the three Orders of Chivalry, the Templars, the Hospitallers, and the Teutonic knights. By them the truce was repeatedly violated and peaceable Moslem traders often plundered. Redress for these aggressions having been demanded in vain, the Sultan at length determined to extirpate the "faithless Franks", and marched against Acre with an army of two hundred thousand men.
After a siege of little more than a month, in which prodigies of valour were performed by the knights of the three military orders, Acre was taken, in 1271, by assault, at the cost of sixty thousand Christian lives. The inhabitants who did not submit to the Moslem yoke escaped to Cyprus with the remains of the Templars, the Hospitallers, and the Teutonic knights who had survived the slaughter.
Thus, after a sanguinary contest of two hundred years, the possession of the Holy Land was abandoned forever to the enemies of the Cross. Thus ends the history of the Crusades. For fifty years afterward the popes endeavoured to instigate new efforts for the recovery of the holy places, but their appeals met with no response. The fanatical enthusiasm which had inspired the kings, the nobles, and the knights of Europe for two centuries had been dissolved, and the thirst for glory and the love of arms were thenceforth to be directed in different channels.
It is not my intention to inquire into the influence exerted by the Crusades on the state of religion, of education, of commerce, or of society in Europe. The theme is an interesting one, but it is foreign to the subject of our discussion, which is the possible connection that may have existed between them and the origin of Freemasonry. But, in so far as they may have favoured the growth of municipal freedom and the perpetuation of the system of chivalry, it may be necessary in a future part of this discussion that these points should demand some attention.
In the present point of view, the most important subject to attract our attention is the organization during the Crusades of three military Orders of Knighthood, the Knights Hospitallers, the Knights Templars, and the Teutonic Knights. It is through these, but principally through the second, that the attempt is made to find the origin of the Masonic institution in the time of the Crusaders.
Whatever may have been the origin of the institution of chivalry, whether from the equestrian order of the Romans, from the Scandinavians, the Arabians, the Persians, or, what is far more probable, from the peculiar influences of the feudal system, it is certain that form of knighthood which was embodied in the organization of religious and military orders took its rise in Palestine during the wars of the Crusades, and that before that era no such organizations of knighthood were known in Europe.
The Knights Hospitallers of St. John, now better known as the Knights of Malta, was the first of the military and religious Orders that was established in Palestine. Its origin must be traced to the Hospitallers of Jerusalem, a purely charitable institution established by certain merchants of Amalfi, in the kingdom of Naples, who, trading in the East, built hospitals in Jerusalem for the entertainment and relief of poor and sick pilgrims, about the middle of the 11th century. After the first Crusade had begun, many knights, laying aside their arms, united with the Hospitallers in the pious task of attending the sick. At length Gerard, the Rector of the Hospital, induced his brethren to assume the vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity, and to adopt a peculiar costume consisting of a black robe bearing a white cross of eight points on the left breast. This was in the year 1099. The knights, however, continued their peaceful vocation of attending the sick until 1118, when Gerard, having died, was succeeded by Raymond de Puy as Rector. The military spirit of Raymond was averse to the monastic seclusion which had been fostered by his predecessor. He therefore proposed a change in the character of the society, by which it should become a military order devoted to the protection of Palestine from the attacks of the infidels. The members gladly acceded to this proposition, and, taking new vows at the hands of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, the military Order of Knights of St. John of Jerusalem was established, in the year 1118. The Order continued to reside in Palestine during its occupation by the Christians of the Latin kingdom, taking an active part in all the wars of the eight Crusades.
When the city of Acre fell beneath the victorious army of the Sultan of Egypt, the Hospitallers, with the knights of the other two Orders, who had escaped the slaughter which attended the siege and followed on the surrender, fled to Cyprus. Thence they repaired to the island of Rhodes, where they remained for two hundred years under the title of the Knights of Rhodes, and afterward permanently established themselves at Malta, where, with a change of name to that of the Knights of Malta, they remained until the island was taken possession of by Napoleon, in the year 1798. This was virtually the end of the career of these valiant knights, although to this day the Order retains some remnant of its existence in Italy.
The Order of Knights Templars was established in the year 1118 by Hugh de Payens, Godfrey de St. Aldemar, and seven other knights whose names history has not preserved. Uniting the characters of the monk and the soldier, they took the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in the presence of the Patriarch of Jerusalem; Baldwin, the King of Jerusalem, assigned them as a residence a part of his palace, which stood near the site of the former Temple, and as a place for an armory the street between the palace and the Temple, from which circumstance they derived their name of Templars. The Templars took a most active part in the defense of Palestine during the two centuries of the Crusades. They had also established houses called Preceptories in every country of Europe, where many of the knights resided. But the head of the Order was always in Palestine. At the close of the contests for the conquest of the Holy Land, when Acre fell and the Latin kingdom was dissolved, the Templars made their escape to Europe and were distributed among their various Preceptories.
But their wealth had excited the cupidity and their power the rivalry of Philip the Fair, King of France, who, with the assistance of a corrupt and weak Pope, Clement V, resolved to extirpate the Order. Charges of religious heresy and of moral licentiousness were preferred against them; proofs were not wanting when proofs were required by a King and a Pontiff; and on the 11th of March, 1314, De Molay, the Grand Master, with the three principal dignitaries of the Order, were publicly burnt at the stake, fifty-four knights having suffered the same fate three years before.
The Order was suppressed in every country of Europe. Its vast possessions were partly appropriated by the different sovereigns to their own use and partly bestowed upon the Knights of Malta, between whom and the Templars there had always existed a rivalry, and who were not unwilling to share the spoils of their ancient adversaries. In Portugal alone they were permitted to continue their existence, under the name of the Knights of Christ.
The Teutonic Knights, the last of the three Orders, was exclusively German in its organization. Their humble origin is thus related: During the Crusades, a wealthy gentleman of Germany, who resided at Jerusalem, built a hospital for the relief and support of his countrymen who were pilgrims. This charity was extended by other Germans coming from Lubeck and Bremen, and finally, during the third Crusade, a sumptuous hospital was erected at Acre, and an Order was formed under the name of Teutonic Knights, or Brethren of the Hospital of our Lady, of the Germans of Jerusalem. The rule adopted by the knights closely resembled that of the Hospitallers or Templars, with the exception that none but Germans could be admitted into the Order. Like the knights of the other two Orders, they remained in Palestine until the fall of Acre, when they returned to Europe. For many years they were engaged in a crusade for the conversion of the Pagans of Prussia and Poland, and afterward in territorial struggle with the Kings of Poland, who had invaded their domains. After centuries of contests with various powers, the Order was at length abolished by Emperor Napoleon, in 1809, although it still has a titular existence in Austria.
In an inquiry into any pretended connection of the Crusaders with Freemasonry, we may dismiss the two Orders of the Knights of Malta and the Teutonic Knights with the single remark that in their organization they bore not the slightest resemblance to that of Freemasonry. They had no arcana in their system, no secret form of initiation or admission, and no methods of recognition. And besides this want of similarity, which must at once preclude any idea of a connection between the Masonic and these Chivalric Orders, we fail to find in history any record of such a connection or the faintest allusion to it.
If Freemasonry owed its origin to the Crusades, as has been asserted by some writers, or if any influence was exerted upon it by the Knights who returned to Europe after or during these wars, and found Freemasonry already existing as an organization, we must look for such connection or such influence to the Templars only.
The probabilities of such a connection have been based upon the following historic grounds. The Knights Templars were a secret society, differing in this respect from the other two Orders. They had a secret doctrine and a secret ceremony of initiation into their ranks. This secret character of their ceremonies was made the subject of one of the charges preferred against them by the pope. The words of this charge are that "when they held their chapters, they shut all the doors of the house or church in which they met so closely that no one could approach near enough to see or hear what they were doing or saying." It is further said, in the next charge, that when they held their secret chapter "they placed a watchman on the roof of the house or church in which they met, to foresee the approach of any one."
Again, it is supposed that the Templars had held frequent and intimate communication with some of the secret societies which, during the Crusades, existed in the East, and that from them they delved certain doctrines which they incorporated into their own Order and introduced into Europe on their return, making them the basis of a system which resulted, if not in the creation of the entire Masonic institution, at least in the invention of the high degrees.
While it may not be possible to sustain this theory of the intercommunion of the Templars and the secret societies of the East by any authentic historical proof, it derives some feature of possibility, and perhaps even of probability, from the admitted character of the Templar Knights during the latter days of their residence in Palestine. They have not been supposed to have observed with strictness their vows of chastity and poverty. That they had lost that humility which made them at first call themselves "poor fellow-soldiers of Christ" and adopt as a seal two knights riding on one horse, is evident from the well-known anecdote of Richard I of England, who, being advised by a zealous preacher to get rid of his three favourite daughters, pride, avarice, and voluptuousness, replied: "You counsel well. I hereby dispose of the first to the Templars, the second to the Benedictines, and the third to my bishops." In fact, the Templars were accused by their contemporaries of laxity in morals and of infidelity in religion. The Bois du Guilbert drawn by the graphic pen of Walter Scott, although a fiction, had many a counterpart in history. There was, in short, nothing in the austerity of manners or intolerance of faith which would have prevented the Templars of the Crusades from holding frequent communications with the infidel secret Societies around them, The Druses, indeed, are said by some modern writers to have Templar blood in them, from the illegal intercourse of their female ancestors with the Knights.
Of these secret Societies three at least demand a brief attention, from the supposed connection of the Templars with them. These are the Essenes, the Druids, and the Assassins.
The Essenes were a Jewish sect which at the time of the Crusades were dwelling principally on the shores of the Dead Sea. Of the three schools of religion which were cultivated by the Jews in the time of our Saviour, the Pharisees and the Sadducees were alone condemned for their vices and their hypocrisy, while neither He nor any of the writers of the New Testament have referred in words either of condemnation or of censure to the Essenes. This complete silence concerning them has been interpreted in their favour, as indicating that they had not by their doctrines or their conduct incurred the displeasure of our Lord or of his disciples. Some have even supposed that St. John the Baptist, as well as some of the Evangelists and Apostles, were members of the sect - an opinion that is at least not absurd; but we reject as altogether untenable the hypothesis of De Quincey, that they were Christians.
Their ceremonies and their tenets are involved in great obscurity, notwithstanding the laborious researches of the learned Ginsburg. From him and from Josephus, who is the first of the ancient writers who has mentioned them, as well as from Philo and some other authorities, we get possession of the following facts.
The forms and ceremonies of the Essenes were, like those of the Freemasons, eminently symbolical. They were all celibates, and hence it became necessary to recruit their ranks, which death and other causes decimated from time to time, by the admission of new converts. Hence they had adopted a system of initiation which was divided into three degrees. The first stage was preceded by a preparatory novitiate which extended to three years. At the end of the first degree, the trials of which continued for twelve months, he was presented with a spade, an apron, and a white robe, the last being a symbol of purity. In the second degree or stage he was called an approacher, which lasted for two years, during which time be was permitted to join in some of the ceremonies of the sect, but not admitted to be present at the common. He was then accepted as an associate. If his conduct was approved, he was finally advanced to the third degree and received into full membership as a companion or disciple.
Brewster, in the work attributed to Lawrie, seeks to find a common origin for the Freemasons and the Essenes, and supports his opinion by the following facts, which, if they do not sustain the truth of his hypothesis, are certainly confirmed by other authorities. He says: "When a candidate was proposed for admission, the strictest scrutiny was made into his character. If his life had hitherto been exemplary, and if he appeared capable of curbing his passions and regulating his conduct according to the virtuous though austere maxims of the Order, he was presented at the expiration of his novitiate with a white garment as an emblem of the regularity of his conduct and the purity of his heart. A solemn oath was then administered to him, that he would never divulge the mysteries of the Order, that he would make no innovations on the doctrines of the society, and that he would continue in that honourable course of piety and virtue which he had begun to pursue. Like Freemasonry they instructed the young members in the knowledge which they derived from their ancestors. They, admitted no women into their Order. They had particular signs for recognizing each other, which have a strong resemblance to those of Freemasons. They had colleges or places of retirement, where they resorted to practice their rites and settle the affairs of the society; and after the performance of these duties they assembled in a large hall, where an entertainment was provided for them by the president or master of the college, who allotted a certain quantity of provisions to every individual. They abolished all distinctions of rank, and if preference was ever given, it was given to piety, liberality, and virtue. Treasurers were appointed in every town to supply the wants of indigent strangers."
Josephus gives the Essenian oath more in extenso. He tells us that before being admitted to the common meal, that is, before advancement to full membership, the candidate takes an oath "that he will exercise piety toward God and observe justice toward men; that he will injure no one either of his own accord or by the command of others; that he will hate the wicked and aid the good; that he will be faithful to all men, especially to those in authority; that if ever placed in authority he will not abuse his power nor seek to surpass those under him in the costliness of his garments or decorations; that he will be a lover of truth and a reprover of falsehood; that he will keep his hands clear from theft and his soul from unlawful gains; that he will conceal nothing from the members of his own sect, nor reveal their doctrines to others, even at the hazard of his life; nor will he communicate those doctrines to any one otherwise than as he has himself received them; and, finally, that he will preserve inviolate the books of the sect and the names of the angels."
This last expression is supposed to refer to the secrets connected with the Tetragrammaton or Four-lettered Name and the other names of God and the angelical hierarchy which are comprised in the mysterious theosophy taught by the Cabalists and accepted, it is said, by the Essenes. The mystery of the name of God was then, as it is now, a prominent feature in all Oriental philosophy and religion.
I am inclined to the opinion of Brunet, who says that the Essenes were less a sect of religion than a kind of religious order or association of zealous and pious men whom the desire of attaining an exalted state of perfection had united together. (1) But whether they were one or the other, any hypothesis which seeks to connect them with Freemasonry through the Knights Templars is absolutely untenable.
At the time of the Crusades, and indeed long before, the Essenes had ceased to hold a place in history. What little remained of them was to be found in settlements about the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. They had decreased almost to a fraction in numbers, and had greatly corrupted their doctrines and their manners, ceasing, for instance, to be celibate and adopting the custom of marriage, while they had accepted much of the philosophy of Plato, of Pythagoras, and of the school of Alexandria.
They still retained, however, their Judaic faith and much of their primitive austerity, and it is therefore improbable that there could have been any congenial intercommunion between them and the Templars. Their poverty and insignificance would have supplied no attraction to the Knights, and their austerity of manners and Judaism would have repelled them.
As to the similarity of Essenism and Freemasonry in the establishment by each of a brotherhood distinguished by love, charity, and a secret initiation, we can draw no conclusion from these coincidences that there was a connection of the two associations, since the same coincidences will be found in all fraternities ancient and modern. They arise from no spirit of imitation or fact of descent, but are the natural outgrowth of the social condition of man, which is ever developing itself in such mystical and fraternal association
But this subject will be treated more at length when, in a subsequent chapter of this work, I come to treat of the theory which deduces Freemasonry from Essenism by a direct descent, without the invocation of a Christian chivalric medium. It has, however, become inevitable, in considering the Secret Societies of the East at the period of the Crusades, to anticipate to some extent what will have to be hereafter said.
The Druses were another mystical religion with which the Templars are said to have come in contact and from whom they are said to have derived certain dogmas and usages which were transmitted to Europe and incorporated into the system of Freemasonry.
Of the communication of the Templars with the Druses there is some evidence, both traditional and historic, but what influence that communication had upon either Templarism or Masonry is a problem that admits only of a conjectural solution. The one proposed by King, in his work on the Gnostics, will hereafter be referred to.
The Druses are a mystical sect who have always inhabited the southern side of Mount Lebanon and the western side of Anti-Lebanon, extending from Beirut in the north to Sur in the south, and from the shores of the Mediterranean to the city of Damascus. They trace their origin to Hakim, who was Sultan of Egypt in 926, but derive their name from Mohammed Ben Israel Darasi, under whose leadership they fled from Egypt in the 10th century and settled in Syria, in that part around Lebanon which they still inhabit.
Their religion appears to be a mixture of Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism, although what it precisely is it is impossible to tell, since they keep their dogmas a secret, which is imparted only to those of their tribe who have passed through a form of initiation.
Of this initiation, Churchill says that there is a probation of twelve months before the candidate can be admitted to full membership. In the second year, the novitiate having been complete, the Druse is permitted to assume the white turban as a badge of his profession, and is permitted to participate in all the mysteries of his religion.
These mysteries refer altogether to dogma, for their religion is without ceremonies of any kind, and even without prayer.
Their doctrines have been summarized as follows: There is one God, unknown and unknowable, without personal form and of whom we can only predicate an existence. Nine times he has appeared on earth in the form of man. These were not incarnations, for God did not assume flesh, but merely put on flesh as a man puts on a garment. There are five invisible intelligences, called Ministers of Religion, and who have been impersonated by five Druse teachers, of whom the first is Universal Intelligence, personated by Hamsa, whose creation was the immediate work of God. The second is the Universal Soul, personated by Ismael, and is the female principal as to the first, as the Universal Intelligence is the male. From these two proceed the Word, which is personated by Mohammed Wahab. The fourth is the Right Wing, or the Proceeding, produced from the Word and the Universal Soul and personated by Selama. The fifth is the Left Wing or the Following, produced in the same way from the Proceeding and personated by Moctana Behoedeen.
These form the religious hierarchy of Drusism as the ten sephiroth make the mystical tree of the Cabalists, from which it is probable that the Druses borrowed the idea. But they are taken, as Dr. Jessup says, "in some mysterious and incomprehensible sense which no Druse, man or woman, ever understood or can understand." (1) Yet their sacred books assert that none can possess the knowledge of Drusism except he knows all these Ministers of Religion.
They have also seven precepts or commandments, obedience to which is enjoined but very seldom observed by the modern Druses, and never in their intercourse with unbelievers.
- To speak the truth.
- To render each other mutual assistance.
- To renounce all error.
- To separate from the ignorant and wicked.
- To always assert the eternal unity of God.
- To be submissive under trials and sufferings.
- To be content in any condition, whether of joy or sorrow.
Of their outward forms and ceremonies we have no reliable information, for their worship is a secret one. In their sacred edifices, which are embowered among high trees or placed on the mountain summit, there are no ornaments. They have no prescribed rites and do not offer prayer, but in their worship sing hymns and read the sacred books. Churchill gives evidence of the profound secrecy in which the Druses envelop their religion. "Two objects," he says, "engrossed my attention - the religion of the Druses and the past history of the races which now occupy the mountain range of Lebanon. In vain I tried to make the terms of extreme friendship and intimacy which existed between myself and the Druses available for the purpose of informing myself on the first of these points. Sheiks, akkals, and peasants alike baffled my inquiries, either by jocose evasion or by direct negation."
Finally, as if to complete their resemblance to a secret society, we are told that to enable one Druse to recognize another a system of signs and passwords is adopted, without an interchange of which no communication in respect to their mysteries is imparted.
The Rev. Mr. King, in his work on the Gnostics, thinks that "the Druses of Mount Lebanon, though claiming for their founder the Egyptian caliph Hakim, are in all probability the remains of the numerous Gnostic sects noticed by Procopius as flourishing there most extensively in his own times," (2) which was in the 6th century. And he adds that "the popular belief among their neighbours is that they, the Druses, adore an idol in the form of a calf, and hold in their secret meetings orgies similar to those laid to the charge of the Ophites in Roman times, of the Templars in medieval, and of the continental Freemasons in modern times." This statement I have found confirmed by other writers. But Mr. King thinks it an interesting and significant point that "the Druses hold the residence of their Supreme head to be in Scotland;" a tradition which, he says, has been "evidently handed down from the times when the Templars were all-powerful in their neighbourhood." This would prove, admitting the statement to be true, rather that the Druses borrowed from the Templars than that the Templars borrowed from the Druses; though it would even then be very difficult to understand why the Templars should have traced their head to Scotland, since the legend of Scottish Templarism is of more recent growth.
We may, however, judge of the weight to be attached to Mr. King's arguments from the fact that he deems it to be a "singular coincidence" that our Freemasons are often spoken of by German writers as the "Scottish Brethren." Not being a Mason, he was ignorant of the meaning of the term, which refers to a particular rite of Masonry, and not to any theory of its origin, and is therefore no coincidence at all. The hypothesis of the supposed connection of the sect of Gnostics with Freemasonry will be the subject of future consideration.
But there was another secret society, of greater importance than the Druses, which flourished with vigour in Syria at the time of the Crusaders, and whose connection with the Templars, as historically proved, may have had some influence over that Order in moulding, or at least in suggesting, some of its esoteric dogmas and ceremonies. This was the sect of the Assassins.
The Ishmaeleeh, or, as they are more commonly called, the Assassins, from their supposed use of the herb hashish to produce a temporary frenzy, was during the Crusades one of the most powerful tribes of Syria, although their population is now little more than a thousand. The sect was founded about the end of the 11th century, in Persia, by Hassan Sahab. From Persia, where they are supposed to have imbibed many of the doctrines of the philosophical sect of the Sofis, they emigrated to Asia Minor and settled in Syria, to the south of Mount Lebanon. Their chief was called Sheikh-el-Jeber, literally translated "the Old Man of the Mountain," a name familiar to the readers of the Voyages of Sindbad.
Higgins, who, when he had a theory to sustain, became insane upon the subject of etymology, translates it as "the sage of the Kabbala or Traditions," but the plain Arabic words admit of no such interpretation.
The credulity and the ignorance of the Middle Ages had assigned to the sect of the Assassins the character of habitual murderers, an historical error that has been perpetuated in our language by the meaning given to the word assassin. This calumny has been exploded by the researches of modern scholars, who now class them as a philosophical sect whose doctrines and instructions were secret. Of the Sofis, from whom the Ishmaeleeh or Assassins derived their doctrine, it will be necessary soon to speak.
Von Hammer, who wrote a history of the Assassins, has sought to trace a close connection between them and the Templars. He has shown himself rather as a prejudiced opponent than as an impartial critic, but the sophistry of his conclusions does not affect the accuracy of his historical statements. Subsequent writers have therefore, in their accounts of this sect, borrowed largely from the pages of Von Hammer.
The Assassins were a secret society having a religion and religious instructions which they imparted only to those of their tribe who had gone through a prescribed form of initiation. According to Von Hammer, that system of initiation was divided into three degrees. They administered oaths of secrecy and of passive obedience and had modes of mutual recognition, thus resembling in many respects other secret societies which have at all times existed. He says that they were governed by a Grand Master and had regulations and a religious code, in all of which he supposes that he has found a close resemblance to the Templars. Their religious views he states to have been as follows : "Externally they practice the duties of Islamism, although they internally renounce them; they believe in the divinity of Ali, in uncreated light as the principle of all created things, and in the Sheikh Ras-ed-dia, the Grand Prior of the Order in Syria, and contemporary with the Grand Master Hassan II., as the last representative of the Deity on earth."
The Rev. Mr. Lyde, who travelled among the remains of the sect in 1852, says that they professed to believe in all the prophets, but had a chief respect for Mohammed and his son-in-law Ali, and he speaks of their secret prayers and rites as being too disgusting to be mentioned.
During the Crusades, the Templars entered at various times into amicable arrangements and treaty stipulations with the Assassins, in whose territory several of the fortresses of the Knights were built, and we may therefore readily believe that at those periods, when war was not raging, there might have been a mutual interchange of courtesies, of visits and of conferences.
Now, the Assassins were by no means incapable of communicating some elements of knowledge to their knightly neighbours. The chivalry of that age were not distinguished for leaning and knew, little more than their profession of arms, while the Syrian infidels had brought from Persia a large portion of the intellectual culture of the Sofis. Von Hammer, whose testimony is given in the face of his adverse prejudices, admits that they produced many treatises on mathematics and law, and he confesses that Hassan, the founder of the sect, possessed a profound knowledge of philosophy, and of the mathematical and metaphysical sciences. We can not therefore deny the probability that in the frequent communications with this intellectual as well as warlike tribe the Templars may have derived some of those doctrines and secret observances which characterized the Order on its return from Palestine, and which, distorted and misinterpreted by their enemies, formed the basis of those charges which led to the persecution and the eventual extinction of Knight Templarism.
Godfrey Higgins, whose speculations are seldom controlled by a discreet judgment, finds a close connection between the Freemasons and the Assassins, through the Templars. "It is very certain," he says "that the Ishmalians or Society of Assassins is a Mohammedan sect; that it was at once both a military and religious association, like the Templars and Teutonic Knights; and that, like the Jesuits, it had its members scattered over extensive countries. It was a link that connected ancient and modern Freemasonry." And he subsequently asserts that "the Templars were nothing but one branch of Masons." And so he goes on speculating, that Templarism and Ishmaelism were identical, and Freemasonry sprung from them both, or rather from the latter through the former. But as Higgins has advanced several other theories of the origin of Masonry, we may let the present one pass.
We may be prepared, however, to admit that the Templars possibly modified their secret doctrines under the influence of their friendly conferences with the Assassins, without recognizing the further fact that the Templars exercised a similar influence over the Freemasons. I have said that the Assassins are supposed to have derived their doctrines from the sect of the Sofis in Persia. Indeed, the Sofis appear to have been the common origin of all the secret societies of Syria, which will account for their general resemblance to each other. In any inquiry, therefore, into the probable or possible connection of Templarism with these societies, Sofism, or the doctrine of the Sofis, will form an interesting element.
The sect of the Sofis originated in Persia, and was extended over other countries of the East. The name is generally supposed to be derived from the Greek Sophia, wisdom, and they bore also the name of philosauph, which will easily suggest the word philosopher. Dr. Herbelot, however, derived the name from the Persian sauf or sof, wool, because, as he said, the ancient Sofis dressed in woolen garments. The former derivation is, however, the most plausible.
Sir John Malcolm, who has given a very good account of them in his History of Persia, says that among them may be counted some of the wisest men of Persia and the East. The Mohammedan Sofis, he says, have endeavoured to connect their mystic faith with the doctrine of the prophet in a manner that will be better shown from Von Hammer. That the Gnostic heresy was greatly infused in the system of Sofism is very evident, and at the same time there appears to have been some connection in ideas with the school of Pythagoras. The object of all investigation is the attainment of truth, and the labours of the initiate are symbolically directed to its discovery.
In Sofism there is a system of initiation, which is divided into four degrees. In the first or preparatory degree, the novice is required to observe the rites of the popular religion in its ordinary meaning. In the second degree, called the Pale of Sofism, he exchanges these exoteric rites for a spiritual and secret worship. The third degree is called Wisdom, and in this the initiate is supposed to be invested with supernatural knowledge and to have become equal with the angels. The fourth and last degree is called Truth, which the candidate is now supposed to have attained, and to have become united with the Deity. Sir William Jones has given a summary of their doctrines, so far as they have been made known, as follows:
Nothing exists absolutely but God; the human soul is but an emanation from His essence, and, though temporarily separated from its divine source, will eventually be united with it. From this union the highest happiness will result, and therefore that the chief good of man in this world consists in as perfect a union with the Eternal Spirit as the incumbrances of flesh will permit.
Von Hammer's history of the rise, the progress, and the character of Sofism is more minute, more accurate, and therefore more interesting than that of any other writer. In accepting it for the reader, I shall not hesitate to use and to condense the language of Sloane, the author of the New Curiosities of Literature.
The German historian of the Assassins says that a certain House of Wisdom was formed in Cairo at the end of the 10th century by the Sultan, which had thus arisen. Under Maimun, the seventh Abasside Caliph, a certain Abdallah established a secret society, and divided his doctrines into seven degrees, after the system of Pythagoras and the Ionian schools. The last degree inculcated the vanity of all religion and the indifference of actions, which are visited by neither future recompense or punishment. He sent missionaries abroad to enlist disciples and to initiate them in the different degrees, according to their aptitude.
In a short time Karmath, one of his followers, improved this system. He taught that the Koran was to be interpreted allegorically, and, by adopting a system of symbolism, made arbitrary explanations of all the precepts of that book. Prayer, for instance, meant only obedience to a mysterious Imam, whom the Ishmaeleeh said that they were engaged in seeking, and the injunction of alms-giving was explained as the duty of paying him tithes. Fasting was only silence in respect to the secrets of the sect.
The more violent followers of Karmath sought to subvert the throne and the religion of Persia, and with this intent made war upon the Caliphs, but were conquered and exterminated.
The more prudent portion, under the general name of Ishmaelites, continued to work in secret, and finally succeeded in placing one of their sect upon the throne. In process of time they erected a large building, which they called the House of Wisdom, and furnished it with professors, attendants, and books, and mathematical instruments. Men and women were admitted to the enjoyment of these treasures, and scientific and philosophical disputations were held. It was a public institution, but the secret Order of the Sofis, under whose patronage it was maintained, had their mysteries, which could only be attained by an initiation extending through nine degrees. While Sofism has by most writers been believed to be a religio-philosophical sect, Von Hammer thinks that it was political, and that its principal object was to overthrow the House of Abbas in favour of the Fatimites, which could only be effected by undermining the national religion.
The government at length interfered, and the operations of the society were suspended. But in about a year it resumed its functions and established a new House of Wisdom. Extending its influences abroad, many of the disciples of Sofism passed over into Syria about the close of the 10th century, and there established those secret societies which in the course of the Crusades came into contact, sometimes on the field of battle and sometimes in friendly conferences during temporary truces with the Crusaders, but especially with the Knights Templars. The principal of these societies were the Ishmaeleeh or Assassins and the Druses, both of whom have been described.
There were other societies in Syria, resembling these in doctrine and ceremonies, who for some especial reasons not now known had seceded from the main body, which appears to have been the Assassins.
Such were the Ansyreeh, who were the followers of that Karmath of whom I have just spoken, who had seceded at an early period from the Sofis in Persia and had established his sect in Syria, on the coast, in the plain of Laodicea, now Ladikeeh.
From them arose another sect, called the Nusairyeh, from the name of their founder, Nusair. They settled to the north of Mount Lebanon, along the low range of mountains extending from Antioch to Tripoli and from the Mediterranean to Hums, where their ascendants, numbering about two hundred thousand souls, still remain.
It is from their frequent communications with these various secret societies, but especially with the Assassins, that Von Hammer and Higgins, following Ramsay, have supposed that the Templars derived their secret doctrines and, carrying them to Europe, communicated them to the Freemasons. Rather, I should say, that Von Hammer and Higgins believed these Syrian societies to be Masonic, and that they taught the principles of the institution to the Templars, who were thus the founders of Freemasonry in Europe.
Of such a theory there is not the slightest scintilla of historic evidence. When we come to examine the authentic history of the origin of Freemasonry, it will be seen how such an hypothesis is entirely without support.
But that the Templars did have frequent communication with those secret societies, that they acquired a knowledge of their doctrines, and were considerably influenced in the lives of many of their members, and perhaps in secret modifications of their Order, is an hypothesis that can not be altogether denied or doubted, since there are abundant evidences in history of such communications, and since we must admit the plausibility of the theory that the Knights were to some extent impressed with the profound doctrines of Sofism as practiced by these sects.
Admitting, then, that the Templars derived some philosophical ideas more liberal than their own from these Syrian secret philosophers who were more learned than themselves, the next question will be as to what influences the Templars exerted upon the people of Europe on their return, and in what direction and to what ends this influence was exerted; and to this we must now direct our attention.
But, before entering upon this subject, we may as well notice one significant fact. Of the three Orders of Knighthood who displayed their prowess in Palestine and Syria during the two centuries of the Crusades, the Hospitallers, the Teutonic Knights, and the Templars, it is admitted that the Templars were more intimately acquainted with the Ishmaeleeh or Assassins than either of the others. It is also known that while the admission to membership in the Hospitaller and Teutonic Orders was open and public, the Templars alone had a secret initiation, and held their meetings in houses guarded from profane intrusion.
Now, at what time the Templars adopted this secret formula of initiation is not known. The rule provided for their government by St. Bernard at the period of their organization makes no allusion to it, and it is probable that there was no such secret initiation practiced for many years after their establishment as an order.
Now, this question naturally suggests itself: Did the Templars borrow the idea and in part the form of their initiation from the Assassins, among whom such a system existed, or, having obtained it from some other source, was it subjected at a later period of their career, but long before they, left Palestine, to certain modifications derived from their intercourse with the secret societies of Syria? This is a question that can not be historically solved. We must rest for any answer on mere conjecture. And yet the facts of the Templars being of the three Orders the only secret one, and of their intercourse with the Assassins, who were also a secret order, are very significant. Some light may be thrown upon this subject by a consideration of the charges, mainly false but with certain elements of truth, which were urged against the Order at the time of its suppression.
Let us now proceed to an investigation of the theory that makes the Templars the founders of the Order of Freemasonry, after the return of the Knights to Europe. Rejecting this theory as wholly untenable, it will, however, be necessary to inquire what were the real influences exerted upon Europe by the Knights.
It must be remembered that if any influence at all was exercised upon the people of Europe, the greater portion must be attributed to the Templars. Of the three Orders, the Hospitallers, when they left Palestine, repaired directly to the island of Rhodes, where they remained for two hundred years, and then, removing to Malta, continued in that island until the decadence of their Order at the close of the last century. The Teutonic Knights betook themselves to the uncivilized parts of Germany, and renewed their warlike vocation by crusades against the heathens of that country. The Templars alone distributed themselves in the different kingdoms and cities of the continent, and became familiar with the people who lived around their preceptories. They alone came in contact with the inhabitants, and they alone could have exercised any influence upon the popular mind or taste.
It has been a generally received opinion of the most able architects that the Templars exerted a healthy influence upon the architecture of the Middle Ages. Thus Sir Christopher Wren says that "the Holy Wars gave the Christians who had been there an idea of the Saracens' works, which were afterward imitated by them in their churches, and they refined upon it every day as they proceeded in building."
But the most positive opinion of the influence of the Crusaders upon the architecture of Europe was given in 1836 by Mr. Westmacott, a distinguished artist of England. In the course of a series of lectures before the Royal Academy, he thus spoke of the causes of the revival of the arts.
There were, he said, two principal causes which tended materially to assist the restoration of literature and the arts in England and in other countries of Europe. These were the Crusades and the extension or the establishment of the Freemason's institution in the north and west of Europe. The adventurers who returned from the Holy Land brought back some ideas of various improvements, particularly in architecture, and along with these a strong desire to erect castellated, ecclesiastical, and palatial edifices, to display the taste that they had acquitted; and in less than a century from the first Crusade above six hundred buildings of the above description had been erected in southern and western Europe. This taste, he thinks, was spread into almost all countries by the establishment of the Fraternity of Freemasons who, it appears, had, under some peculiar form of Brotherhood, existed for an immemorial period in Syria and other parts of the East, whence some bands of them migrated to Europe, and after a time a great efflux of these men, Italian, German, French, Spanish, etc., had spread themselves in communities through all civilized Europe; and in all countries where they settled we find the same style of architecture from that period, but differing in some points of treatment as suited the climate.
The latter part of this statement requires confirmation. I do not think that there is any historical evidence of the ingress into Europe of bands of the Syrian secret fraternities during or after the Crusades, nor is there any probability that such an ingress could have occurred. But the historical testimonies are very strong that the literature and arts of Europe, and especially its architecture, were materially advanced by the influence of the returning Crusaders, whose own knowledge had been enlarged and their taste cultivated by their contact with the nations of the East.
This topic appertains, however, to the historical rather than to the legendary study of Masonry, and will at a future time in the course of this work command our attention. At present we must restrict ourselves to the consideration of the theory that traditionally connects the Crusaders, and especially the Knights Templars, with the establishment of the Masonic institution, through their intercourse with the secret societies of Syria.
The inventor of the theory that Freemasonry was instituted in the Holy Land by the Crusaders, and by them on their return introduced into Europe, was the Chevalier Michael Ramsay, to whom Masonry is indebted (whatever may be the value of the debt) for the system of high degrees and the manufacture of Rites.
In the year 1740 Ramsay was the Grand Orator, and delivered a discourse before the Grand Lodge of France, in which he thus traces the origin of Freemasonry.
Rejecting as fabulous all hypotheses which trace the foundation of the Order to the Patriarchs, to Enoch, Noah, or Solomon, he finds its origin in the time of the Crusades.
"In the time," he says, "of the Holy Wars in Palestine, many princes, nobles, and citizens associated themselves together and entered into vows to re-establish Christian temples in the Holy Land, and engaged themselves by an oath to employ their talents and their fortunes in restoring architecture to its primitive condition. They adopted signs and symbolic words, derived from religion, by which they might distinguish themselves from the infidels and recognize each other in the midst of the Saracens. They communicated these words only to those who had previously sworn a solemn oath, often taken at the altar, that they would not reveal them. Some time after, this Order was united with that of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, for which reason in all countries our Lodges are called Lodges of St. John. This union of the two Orders was made in imitation of the conduct of the Israelites at the building of the second Temple, when they held the trowel in one hand and the sword in the other.
"Our Order must not, therefore, be regarded as a renewal of the Bacchanalian orgies and as a source of senseless dissipation, of unbridled libertinism and of scandalous intemperance, but as a moral Order instituted by our ancestors in the Holy Land to recall the recollection of the most sublime truths in the midst of the innocent pleasures of society.
"The kings, princes, and nobles, when they returned from Palestine into their native dominions, established Lodges. At the time of the last Crusade several Lodges had already been erected in Germany, Italy, Spain, France, and from the last in Scotland, in consequence of the intimate relations which existed between those two countries. "James Lord Steward of Scotland was the Grand Master of a Lodge established at Kilwinning in the west of Scotland, in the year 1236, a short time after the death of Alexander III., King of Scotland, and a year before John Baliol ascended the throne. This Scottish Lord received the Earls of Gloucester and Ulster, English and Irish noblemen, as Masons into his Lodge.
"By degrees our Lodges, our festivals, and solemnities were neglected in most of the countries in which they had been established. Hence the silence of the historians of all nations, except Great Britain, on the subject of our Order. It was preserved, however, in all its splendor by the Scotch, to whom for several centuries the kings of France had intrusted the guardianship of their person.
"After the lamentable reverses of the Crusades, the destruction of the Christian armies, and the triumph of Bendocdar, the Sultan of Egypt, in 1263, during the eighth and ninth Crusades, the great Prince Edward, son of Henry III., King of England, seeing that there would be no security for the brethren in the Holy Land when the Christians should have retired, led them away, and thus a colony of the Fraternity was established in England. As this prince was endowed with all the qualities of mind and heart, which constitute the hero, he loved the fine arts and declared himself the protector of our Order. He granted it several privileges and franchises, and ever since the members of the confraternity have assumed the name of Freemasons. From this time Great Britain became the seat of our sciences, the conservatrix of our laws, and the depository of our secrets. The religious dissensions which so fatally pervaded and rent all Europe during the 16th century caused our Order to degenerate from the grandeur and nobility of its origin. Several of our rites and usages, which were opposed to the prejudices of the times, were changed, disguised, or retrenched. Thus it is that several of our brethren have, like the ancient Jews, forgotten the spirit of our laws and preserved only the letter and the outer covering. But from the British islands the ancient science is now beginning to pass into France."
Such was the theory of Ramsay, the principal points of which he had already incorporated into the Rite of six degrees which bears his name. This Rite might be called the mother of all the Rites which followed it and which in a few years covered the continent with a web of high degrees and of Masonic systems, all based on the hypothesis that Freemasonry was invented during the Crusades, and the great dogma of which, boldly pronounced by the Baron Von Hund, in his Rite of Strict Observance, was that every Freemason was a Templar.
It will be seen that Ramsay repudiates all the legends which ascribe Masonry to the Patriarchs or to the ancient Mysteries, and that he rejects all connection with an Operative association, looking to chivalry alone for the legitimate source of the Fraternity.
Adopting the method of writing Masonic history which had been previously pursued by Anderson, and which was unfortunately followed by other writers of the 18th century, and which has not been altogether abandoned at the present day, Ramsay makes his statements with boldness, draws without stint upon his imagination, presents assumptions in the place of facts, and cites no authority for anything that he advances.
As Mossdorf says, since he cites no authority we are not bound to believe him on his simple word.
Ramsay's influence, however, as a man of ability, had its weight, and the theory of the origin of Freemasonry among the Crusaders continued to be taught in some one form or another by subsequent writers, and it was infused by the system-makers into most of the Rites that were afterward established. Indeed, it may be said that of all the Rites now existing, the English and American are the only ones in which some feature of this Templar theory may not be found.
The theory of Hutchinson varied somewhat from that of Ramsay, inasmuch as while recognizing the influence of the Crusades upon Masonry he is inclined to suppose that it was carried there by the Crusaders rather than that it was brought thence by them to Europe. After alluding to the organization of the Crusades by Peter the Hermit, and to the outpouring from Europe into Palestine of tens of thousands of saints, devotees, and enthusiasts to waste their blood and treasure in a barren and unprofitable adventure, he proceeds to say that "it was deemed necessary that those who took up the sign of the Cross in this enterprise should form themselves into such societies as might secure them from spies and treacheries, and that each might know his companion and fellow-laborer by dark as well as by day. As it was with Jephtha's army at the passes of the Jordan, so also was it requisite in these expeditions that certain signs, signals, watchwords, or passwords should be known amongst them; for the armies consisted of various nations and various languages."
"No project or device," he thinks, "could answer the purpose of the Crusaders better than those of Masonry. The maxims and ceremonials attending the Master's Order had been previously established and were materially necessary on that expedition; for as the Mohammedans were also worshippers of the Deity, and as the enterprisers were seeking a country where the Masons were in the time of Solomon called into an association, and where some remains would certainly be found of the mysteries and wisdom of the ancients and of our predecessors, such degrees of Masonry as extended only to their being servants of the God of Nature would not have distinguished them from those they had to encounter, had they not assumed the symbols of the Christian faith."
The hypothesis of Hutchinson is, then, that while there was some Masonry in Palestine before the advent of the Crusaders, it was only that earlier stage which he had already described as appertaining to the Apprentice's degree, and which was what both he and Oliver have called "Patriarchal Masonry." The higher stage represented by the Master's degree was of course unknown to the Saracens, as it was of Christian origin, and the possession of this degree only could form any distinctive mark between the Crusaders and their Moslem foes. This degree, therefore, he thinks, was introduced into Palestine as a war-measure to supply the Christians with signs and words which would be to them a means of protection. The full force of the language bears only this interpretation, that Freemasonry was used by the Crusaders not for purposes of peace, but for those of war, a sentiment so abhorrent to the true spirit of the institution that nothing but a blind adhesion to a preconceived theory could have led so good a Mason as Hutchinson to adopt or to advance such an opinion.
Differing still more from Ramsay, who had attributed the origin of Masonry to the Knights and nobles of the Crusades, Hutchinson assigns the task of introducing it into Palestine to the religious and not the military element of these expeditions.
"All the learning of Europe in those times," he continues, "was possessed by the religious; they had acquired the wisdom of the ancients, and the original knowledge which was in the beginning and now is the truth; many of them had been initiated into the mysteries of Masonry, they were the projectors of the Crusades, and, as Solomon in the building of the Temple introduced orders and regulations for the conduct of the work, which his wisdom had been enriched with from the sages of antiquity, so that no confusion should happen during its progress, and so that the rank and office of each fellow4aborer might be distinguished and ascertained beyond the possibility of doubt; in like manner the priests projecting the Crusades, being possessed of the mysteries of Masonry, the knowledge of the ancients, and of the universal language which survived the confusion of Shinar, revived the orders and regulations of Solomon, and initiated the legions therein who followed them to the Holy Land - hence that secrecy which attended the Crusades."
Mr. Hutchinson concludes this collection of assumptions, cumulated one upon another, without the slightest attempt to verify historically a single statement, by asserting that "among other evidences which authorize us in the conjecture that Masons went to the Holy Wars, is the doctrine of that Order of Masons called the Higher Order," that is to say, the higher degrees, which he says that he was induced to believe was of Scottish origin. He obtained this idea probably from the theory of Ramsay. But be that as it may, he thinks "it conclusively proved that the Masons were Crusaders;" a conclusion that it would be difficult to infer from any known rules of logic. The fact (if it be admitted) that these higher degrees were invented in Scotland by no means proves that the Masons who possessed them went to the Crusades. It is impossible, indeed, to find any natural connection or sequence between the two circumstances. But the legend which refers to the establishment in Scotland of a system of Masonry at the time of the suppression of the Order and the martyrdom of de Molay, belongs to another portion of the legendary history of Freemasonry and will be treated in a distinct chapter.
Von Hammer shows to what shifts for arguments those are reduced who pretend that the institution of Freemasonry was derived at the Crusades, by the Knights Templars, from the secret societies of the East. He says, as a proof of the truth of this hypothesis, which indeed he makes as a charge against the Templars, that their secret maxims, particularly in so far as relates to the renunciation of positive religion and the extension of their power by the acquisition of castles and strong places, seem to have been the same as those of the Order of Assassins. The similarity also of the white dress and red fillet of the Assassins with the white mantle and red cross of the Templars he thinks is certainly remarkable.
Hence he assumes that as the Assassins were a branch of the Ishmaeleeh, whom he calls the "Illuminate of the East," and as the former were a secret society of revolutionary principles, which is a characteristic that he gratuitously bestows upon the Freemasons, he takes it for granted that the Assassins supplied the Templars with those ideas of organization and doctrine out of which they created the system of Freemasonry that they afterward introduced into Europe.
A series of arguments like this is scarcely worthy of a serious refutation. The statement that the Templars ever renounced the precepts of positive religion, either at that early period of their career or at any subsequent time, is a mere assumption, based on the charges made by the malevolence of a wicked King and a still more wicked Pope. The construction of fortresses and castles for their protection, by both the Templars and the Assassins, arose from the military instinct which teaches all armies to provide the means of defense when in the presence of an enemy. And lastly, the argument drawn from the similarity of the costumes of both Orders is so puerile as to require no other answer than that as the mantle and cross of the Templars were bestowed upon them, the former by Pope Honorius and the latter by Pope Engenius, therefore they could not have been indebted to the Assassins for either. The best refutation of the slanders of Von Hammer is the fact that to sustain his views he was obliged to depend on such poverty of argument.
Recognizing as historically true the fact that the Templars, or rather, perhaps, the architects and builders, who accompanied them and were engaged in the construction of their fortresses and castles in the Holy Land, the remains of some of which still exist, brought with them to Europe some new views of Saracenic architecture which they communicated to the guilds of Freemasons already established in Europe, we may dismiss the further consideration of that subject as having nothing to do with the question of how much Freemasonry as a secret society was indebted for its origin to Templarism.
On the subject of the direct connection of the Templars with Freemasonry at the time of the Crusades, there are only two propositions that have been maintained. One is that the Templars carried Freemasonry with them to Palestine and there made use of it for their protection from their enemies, the Saracens.
Of this theory there is not the slightest evidence. No contemporary historian of the Crusades makes any mention of such a fact. Before we can begin to even discuss it as something worthy of discussion, we must find the proof, which we can not, that in the 11th and 12th centuries Freemasonry was anything more than an Operative institution, to which it was not likely that any Crusaders of influence, such as the nobles and knights, were attached as members. As a mere conjecture it wants every clement of probability. Hutchinson, the most prominent writer who maintains the theory, has evidently confounded the Crusaders of the 11th and 12th centuries, who fought in Palestine, with the Templars, who are said to have fled to Scotland in the 14th century and to have there invented certain high degrees. This manifest confusion of dates gives a feature of absurdity to the argument of Hutchinson.
Another form has been given to this theory by a writer in the London Freemasons Magazine, which has the air of greater plausibility at least. The theory that he has advanced will be best given in his own language: "The traveling bodies of Freemasons (who existed in Europe at the time of the Crusades) consisted of brethren well skilled in every branch of knowledge; among their ranks were many learned ecclesiastics, whose names survive to the present day in the magnificent edifices which they assisted to erect. The Knights of the Temple, themselves a body of military monks partaking both of the character of soldiers and priests, preserved in their Order a rank exclusively clerical, the individuals belonging to which took no part in warfare, who were skilled in letters, and devoted themselves to the civil and religious affairs of the Order; they were the historians of the period, and we know that all the learning of the time was in their keeping in common with the other ecclesiastics of the time. From the best information we are possessed of regarding the Order, we believe there can be little doubt that these learned clerks introduced the whole fabric of Craft Masonry into the body of the Templars, and that not only was the Speculative branch of the science by them incorporated with the laws and organization of the Knights, but to their Operative skill were the Templars indebted for their triumphs in architecture and fortification. And it is worthy of remark that in the records of the Order we find no mention of individual architects or builders; we may therefore not unfairly draw the inference that the whole body were made participators in the knowledge and mysteries of the Craft."
To this theory there is the same objection that has been already made to the other, that it is wholly unsupported by historical authority, and that it is a mere congeries of bold assumptions and fanciful conjectures. Very strange, indeed, is the reasoning which draws the inference that all the Templars were builders because there is no mention of such a class in the records of the Order. Such a silence would rather seem to indicate that there was no such class among the Knights. That they employed architects and builders, who may have belonged to the guilds of Traveling Freemasons before they went to Palestine, is by no means improbable; but there is no evidence, and it is by no means likely, that they would engage in anything more than the duties of their profession, or that there would be any disposition on the part of the Knights devoted to a warlike vocation to take any share in their peaceful association.
The second theory is that the Templars derived their secret doctrines and ceremonies from the sect of the Assassins, or from the Druses of Mount Lebanon, and that on their return to Europe they organized the Fraternity of Freemasons. This theory is the direct opposite of the former, and, like it, has neither history to sustain its truth as a statement nor probability to support it as a conjecture.
It was the doctrine of a German writer, Adler, who advanced it in his treatise, De Drusis Montis Libani, published in 1786 at Rome. But its most prominent advocate was Von Hammer, an avowed and prejudiced foe of both Templarism and Freemasonry, and who made it the basis of his charges against both institutions. Notwithstanding this, it has been accepted with his wonted credulity by Higgins in his ponderous work entitled Anacalypsis.
Brewster, in the work attributed to Lawrie on the History of Freemasonry, has adopted the same hypothesis. "As the Order of the Templars," he says, "was originally formed in Syria, and existed there for a considerable time, it would be no improbable supposition that they received their Masonic knowledge from the Lodges in that quarter." But as Brewster, or the author of the work called Lawrie's History, had previously, with equal powers of sophistry and with a similar boldness of conjecture, attributed the origin of Freemasonry to the ancient Mysteries, to the Dionysiac Fraternity of Artificers, to the Essenes, the Druids, and to Pythagoras, we may safely relegate his hypothesis of its Templar origin to the profound abyss of what ought to be, and probably are, exploded theories. All these various arguments tend only to show how the prejudices of preconceived opinions may warp the judgment of the most learned scholars.
On the whole, I think that we will be safe in concluding that, whatever may have been the valiant deeds of the Crusaders, and especially of the Templars, in their unsuccessful attempt to rescue the Holy Sepulcher from the possession of the infidels, they could scarcely have diverted their attention to the prosecution of an enterprise so uncongenial with the martial spirit of their occupation as that of inventing or organizing a peaceful association of builders. With the Crusades and the Crusaders, Freemasonry had no connection that can be sustained by historical proof or probable conjecture. As to the supposed subsequent connection of Templarism with the Freemasonry of Scotland, that forms another and an entirely different legend, the consideration of which will engage our attention in the following chapter.