Sovereign Grand Conservator General of the Rite



Brief History of Masonry

By E.J. Marconis de Negre

Excerpted from

"The Sanctuary of Memphis"

Published at Paris in 1849


The origin of Masonry, like that of all great institutions des­tined to exercise a powerful influence on the future of humanity, is lost in the mists of antiquity. Numerous contradictory opin­ions have been expressed on this subject and numerous theories have been suggested; up to the present, no particular theory has become generally acceptable. To try to count or analyze these different opinions is quite unnecessary and would be of little real use. Two points only seem to be generally accepted and these can serve as a stepping-off mark; the first is that Ma­sonry came from the East, and the second is that Masonry is the continuation of the Ancient Mysteries. Bro\Quantin says in his “Masonic Dictionary,“Whatever may be the source of Masonry, it is evident that it offers even in its most minute de­tails, traces of the ancient Initiation ceremonies.” Bro\ Valle-teau de Chabrefy says in his “Masonic Annals,“It is in Asia, the cradle of the human race, that we find the oldest institution of this sort—that of the Brahmins. From Asia the knowledge of these sublime mysteries passes to Africa, where the Rites of Isis are celebrated; and these Rites have a striking resemblance to Masonry.” These two passages I have quoted, express, with slight differences, the generally accepted opinions as to the origin of Masonry. The one and the other place it near the cradle of the human race and make it the guardian of primitive science. It is in this sense that St. Martin is able to say, “Ma­sonry is an emanation of the Deity,” and the Englishman Smith says that Adam was the trustee of Masonic Science, and that God Himself had given it to him.

If one wishes to be even more bold and attempt to explain the motives which have caused this curious science to be called “Masonry” one is free to choose between the opinion of those who derive it from the Tower of Babel, that first attempt of human power, and those who claim that it had its origin in Solomon’s Temple, that marvellous work of human art aided by divine inspiration, or even from those archeologists who

  Claim that in ancient times all science was symbolized in buildings, and that, to use poetical language, a town that had been built was not an accumulation of bricks but rather a foundation of institutions.

The banks of the Ganges and the Nile are then witnesses of the first initiations; the division into castes, common to the Egyptians and to the Indians, and their number (merchants, warriors and priests) show quite clearly the three degrees of the initiation reflecting in political institutions.

There are very few existing documents concerning the Indian initiation ceremonies; the Vedas (that the Rite of Memphis only commences to explore) will give us some light on this subject. The Egyptian ceremonies have always been well known throughout the world; all initiations had their origin in these ceremonies. The sacred books of the Hebrews render homage to these Egyptian Rites in saying that “Moses was instructed in all the science of the Egyptians,that is to say, that he was initiated. From Egypt, the Mysteries pass to Samothrace and from there they expand to Greece and Italy. Persia possessed them already. The civilizing effect of the Mysteries was such that Cicero did not hesitate to say, “The mysteries have given us food and life, they have taught ns morality and the laws of public life and have taught men to live as men.” Then Christianity came and enlarged the circle of the initiation; it extended to all men the benefits of the moral side of the Mysteries. As to the scientific side, the great founder of Christianity neglected this as being unnecessary to His Mission; He left it as a study for the wise and curious. Nevertheless, Christianity was far from absorbing entirely all the sacred sciences; philosophy preserved its independence, even when it became Christianized. Origen, Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Hermias and many other Fathers of the early centuries are proof of this. There were even philosophers who set themselves the self-imposed task of conciliating the Christian dogmas and the teachings of heathen philosophies, the Gnostics and the Manicheans, anathematized by the Church, attempted this work which after all possesses a certain grandeur.

  Manes, from whom the Manicheans take their name, was born A.D. 257. At that time there was in Egypt a man named Scythianus, an Arab by birth, who was an expert in the sciences. He understood hieroglyphics; astronomical mythology and he practised strict moral philosophy. He is the author of four books—Evangiles, Chapters, Mysteries and Treasures. His disciple, Ferbulio, inherited his fortune and his books. He went to Palestine and attempted to propagate the sect known as the “Magi”; persecuted, he fled to Persia, where he changed his name and was known as Buddhas; the Mythrian priests con­tinued to persecute him and he retired to a widow’s house where he died. This widow had bought a slave named Curbicus; this young man derived much scientific knowledge from the books of Ferbulio and, like him, he changed his name and took that of Manes which means “conversation”; he founded the sect which bears his name. Persecuted by the bishop of Cassan, Archeloeus, and by the priest Marcellus, he hid himself in the small castle of Arabia on the river Strenga. He was, however, betrayed by a priest named Triphon to the king of Persia who sent seventy-two guards to arrest him. He was arrested on the bridge of the Strenga just as he was about to leave for the neighboring town of Diodoride. The king condemned him to be burned alive.

After his death the number of his followers increased ex­ceedingly and even amongst the highest intellectual classes; even St. Augustine was a Manichean. The connection between the Manicheans and the doctors of antiquity is shown by a fact that has hitherto escaped notice. The Catholic Church re­proached them for having two beliefs, and consequently two gods; the reproach was unjustified for they were merely fol­lowing the three grades prescribed by the Egyptians in their teachings: (1) Dualism or the belief in two principles. (2) Zabaothism or the adoration of the forces of nature, and (3) Jobaism or the cult of one god only, the great sovereign, entirely independent of the material world. They did not there­fore teach Dualism as the true doctrine but only as a means of arriving at the manifestation of the real Truth. Several centuries later, the Templars adopted this doctrine and celebrated the Mysteries in great secrecy; they took in honor of Manes the name of the “Sons of the Widow” and symbolized his death under the name of Hiram, the architect of the temple of Solomon.

On arriving at the order of the Templars, we see the history of Masonry getting dearer and becoming more certain. The Temple was not the cradle of Masonry but it was its most noble expression; it preserved, during its brilliant career, the essen­tial unity and after its destruction, we can follow the various ramifications, which split up Masonry. Rut from which of the Templars had come the greatest part of the Masonic science. From the brethren of the Orient, the founder of which was an Egyptian sage named Ormus who had been con­verted to Christianity by St. Mark. Ormus purified the Egyp­tian doctrines, according to his Christian ideas. About the same time the Essenes and other Jews founded a school of science according to Solomon’s teaching and joined Ormus. The fol­lowers of Ormus, up to 1118, were the only trustees of the ancient doctrines of Egypt, purified, of course, by Christianity and the teachings of Solomon. These doctrines they communi­cated to the Templars. They were in consequence known under the name of “Knights of Palestine” or “Brethren of the Rosy Cross of the Orient”; the “Rite of Memphis” claims these Brethren as its immediate founders,

In 1150, eighty-one of them under Garimont went to Sweden, presented themselves to the archbishop of Usal and explained their Masonic doctrines to him. It was these eighty-one Masons who established Masonry in Europe.

After the death of Jacques Molay, the Scottish Templars, who had become apostates at the instigation of King Robert Bruce, joined a new order which this king had founded and which resembled in many ways the Order of the Templars. It is in this new Order that one must search in order to find the origin of Scottish Masonry and even other Masonic Rites. The Scottish Templars were excommunicated by Harminius in 1324. This date agrees with that given by Bro\ Chereau concerning the separation of the Edinburgh Masons from those of Memphis, which took place in 1322. The Masons of Mem­phis remained faithful to the ancient tradition; the others founded a new Rite under the name of Heredom of Kilwinning or of Scotland. Thus, we find at the end of the fourteenth century two existing Rites—the Rite of Memphis (or the Orient), and the Scottish rite. The one and the other con­tinued to find followers in every part of Europe.

It should be noted, however, that Masonry did not become public in France until the beginning of the 18th century. Its first promoters were, in 1725, Lord Derwentwater, Maskelyne and d’Heguelly who formed the first Masonic lodge in Palls in the street of “Boucheries-St. Germain”; this Lodge was con­stituted the 7th of May 1729 by the Grand Lodge of England and received the name of St. Thomas. Lord Harnouester suc­ceeded Lord Derwentwater as Grand Master on the 24th of De­cember, 1736. He was replaced on the 11th of December, 1743, by the Count Clermont. In this same year, the English Grand Lodge of France was established at Paris and declared itself in­dependent in 1756. However, Bro\ Lacorne, delegated by Count Clermont, formed in 1761 a Grand Lodge that at first dis­agreed with the English Grand Lodge of France and later, with the help of Bro\ Chaillon de Gouville, worked in harmony with it. In 1765, however, these two Grand Lodges separated and did as much harm as possible to each other, so much so that both ceased to work in 1767 (24th of June). In 1722 (21st of June), the first of these Grand Lodges recommenced its work and on the 24th of December of the same year the second Grand Lodge also recommenced its work but took the name of the Grand Orient, the name by which it continued to be know.

On the 5th of March, 1773, the first meeting of the Grand Orient took place, and it was proclaimed on the 9th of March. On 24th of July the Grand Master the Duke of Luxembourg in­stalled the three sections into which the G.O. was divided and on the 28th of October Louis-Phillilip-.Joseph of Orleans was elected Grand Master. The other Grand Lodge declared, on the 17th of June, 1774, that the Grand Orient was an usurper and was irregular, but owing to the fact that the Grand Lodge had no leaders of note or ability all it could do was to make war on the Grand Orient by means of pamphlets and by useless decisions. During this time the Grand Orient made great prog­ress towards a unified Masonry and made many improvements. The 14th of June, 1773, it suppressed the rule which had made Masters of Lodges hold this office for life. The 23rd of October it gave for the first time a word to be used during the following six months and this practice is still carried on. The 27th of December, 1774, it substituted the phrase “Masonic Order” for that of “The Regular Art.” On the 13th of May, 1793, the office of G.M. became vacant owing to the abdication of the Duke of Orleans. Both Grand Lodges resumed work in 1796. Through the efforts of Bro\Roitier de Monthalon a union of the two Grand Lodges was signed on the 21st of May, 1799, and the re-union took place on the following 22nd of June. The Grand Orient absorbed the Grand Lodge. So ended a scandal­ous state of affairs; anathemas were withdrawn and exclusions were revoked,

In the meantime, other Rites had become established in France. The 15th of April, 1747, Charles Edward Stuart had instituted at Arras a Chapter of Scottish Jacobites. In 1754, de Bonneville had formed a Chapter of Clermont. The “Knights of the Empire of the East and West” was formed at Paris in 1758 and the following year a Chapter of the P (Princes?) of King Solomon was established at Bordeaux. The 22nd of July 1762, Pirlet founded the Council of the Knights of the Orient and the 24th of September of the same year, the Council of the Empires (or Emperors ?) of the East and West together with that of King Solomon completed the 25th degree of Masonry?

The Jew, Stephen Morin, had received in 1761 the authority of the Council of the Emperors of the East and West to spread Masonry in America from where Bro. Hocquet in 1803 and Bro. Grasse-Tilly in 1804 brought it back to France—the first with 25 and the second with 33 degrees. In 1786 Matheus formed at Rouen a Supreme Grand Lodge of the order of Heredon of Kilwinning.

  The Grand Orient had hoped for a long time to re-unite under its obedience these various Rites. The 27th of December, 1801, it took under its wing the Chapter of Arras; the 5th of December, 1804, it received the Scottish Grand Lodge of the Ancient Rite but this latter union was broken. The year fol­lowing, a definite agreement was fixed upon and a council was formed which administered degrees above those of the 18th. The 19th of December, 1804, the G.O. declared that it recog­nized all Rites and named a Director of Rites who was installed the 25th of July, 1805. This directorate was replaced by a Grand College divided into as many sections as there are Rites, that is to say, French Rite, Rite of Heredom, Scottish Rite, Ancient and Accepted, Kilwinning, and the Philosophic Rite or Rectified Rite. In this same year, Joseph Napoleon was elected Sixth Grand Master.

Is it necessary to speak here of a new Rite which taking ad­vantage of the tolerance of the G.O. tried to establish itself in 1813 under the name of the Rite of Misraim? This Rite had for its inventors and founders the two brothers Bedarride. They pretended that their Rite existed in France in 1782 and that at the beginning of the century it had Chapters in Naples, Venice and the Ionian Islands. Both these statements are false. In France, the Rite of Misraim was unknown until 1817 when the G.O. proscribed it. Neither did it exist at Venice, the Ionian Isles or Naples. (Author’s Note. “The Ionian Isles,” says Bro. Dubreuil, in his History of Freemasons, 1839, p. 176, “only profess today the English and Scottish Rites and under French rule have only known the primordial and Scottish Rite. Venice, in the matter of Egyptian Rites has only known that introduced by Cagliostro aided by the zeal of the Zuliani who held the 36th degree of the Order of Memphis.”)

If we pass from its origin to its acts, we find that this new order, unable from the very beginning to progress unaided, in 1816 requested recognition from the G.O.

On the 14th of November, 5816, the Grand Orient appointed a commission to study this question and as a result refused recognition of the Order (27th of Oct., 5817) stating that the Brothers Bedarride had not even one regular Ritual and that they had been unable to prove that they were Masons at all. Realizing the inconvenience as well as the irregularity of this Rite the G.O. issued another circular dated the 10th day of the eighth month of 5821. This circular confirmed the previous circular of 27th of Oct., 5817, and forbade, under the most severe penalties, every Lodge under its obedience to admit any member of the Rite of Misraim.

However, let us leave these regrettable discussions, which are not exactly creditable to either side and let us realize that Masonry is too fine a work to be sullied by passions, which hide them­selves under cover of its protection.

One important fact emerges so far—it is that Masonic unity is lost. That is a very sad admission, for after all the success of an institution depends to a very great extent on its unity. But why dispute the fact? It would be ridiculous to deny it or to fight against it. But there is, however, a means of counter­acting this pernicious influence, it is to call the attention of all Masons, of all Rites, to the importance of the moral and scientific side of Masonry and to reconstruct the unity of “thought” even if we cannot hope to reconstruct unity of action and power.

That is the principal aim of the Rite of Memphis. Trustee of our traditions, the oldest existing Rite, it shows a great ex­ample of self-abnegation, of Masonic charity and of disinter­ested devotion to the prosperity of Freemasonry. Fortunate would it be if such an example had many imitators.



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