I could, of course, just say “yes” and that would be it, but it wouldn’t be fair, would it? So, let me be fair and present a more systematic answer.
We have 143 manuscripts which we call “Old Charges”, the oldest being “Regius”, dated 1390 followed by Cooke MS dated 1410. All these MSS contain two important parts, which are the center of this presentation. They contain a legendary history, which is the story of the Creation (in capital C!) of Masonry. Interwoven in this story there are rules and regulations which govern the behavior of the operative masons both viz a viz their employers as well as between themselves. These rules are called “Charges” and are summarized in the following part of the MSS. I will try to prove that the legendary history contains figures which create a Masonic mythology.
In order to do so, we have to start by admitting that the terms ‘legend” and “myth” are very close. Let us start with 2 definitions of “myth” in the Webster dictionary:
– A usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world-view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomena.
– A popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or a segment of society.
I share the view of those masonic researchers who consider the “Old Charges” MSS as containing the traditions and regulations prevalent among the operative masons in their lodges. These traditions and regulations spread all over England because the journeying masons went from one site to another and were, so to speak, the ‘carriers of the disease’. If this conclusion is correct, then the MSS fit perfectly both definitions I quoted from the Webster dictionary.
The Legendary History
The story begins at times with Adam but more often with Nimrod, who is connected to the Tower of Babylon. Then Lamech enters the scene with his 4 children who are said to have discovered the seven ‘Liberal Arts’. The fifth of them is Geometry, which is defined as synonymous with Masonry. Knowing that God will take vengeance for man’s sins, they wrote their findings on two columns. Noah appears now and after the deluge the columns are found and Abraham brings the knowledge of masonry and the masons’ Charges to the Promised Land. Because of the famine, Abraham goes to Egypt where he taught Euclid. The craft and the Charges are taught to Hermes Trismegistus, who in turn passes them on to the Princes of Egypt. The Israelites bring the knowledge back to the Promised Land and here the biggest achievement is reached in the building of Solomon’s Temple. From here, the story tells us, a curious man passes on the art of masonry and the Mason’s Charges to France, to Charles Martel. From France, the knowledge is taken to England, to St. Alban and the climax is reached in an assembly of all Master Masons of the Realm in York in 926, where they codified the Charges of Masons. Rather abruptly, the legendary history stops here.
Is It a Myth?
The real question is whether we continue accepting it as a legend or, following the definitions I quoted from the Webster dictionary, should we regard it as a myth?Our first definition was: “A traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world-view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomena”. According to this, my answer must be: YES, it is a myth.
Now let’s turn to the latter part of the second definition: “…especially one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or a segment of society”. I claim that the regulations (Charges) are embodying the ideals and institutions of the operative journeying masons, so again it is a myth. Let us, now, examine the Biblical and other figures mentioned in our story.
Do we need to argue that he is a mythological figure?
Genesis 10:8 says “Nimrod; he began to be a valiant warrior on the earth” and later tells us that his kingdom included Babylon and that he built Nineveh and other cities. This passage appears in full in the Cooke MS. Since the story of the Tower of Babylon is a legend of Mesopotamia and the Eastern Mediterranean, Nimrod too must be regarded as a mythological figure, adopted by masons as a builder.
Lamech was the 7th generation from Adam, a mystical number in itself. It is claimed that Lamech was awarded a rather lengthy passage, including one of the oldest pieces of poetry in the Bible. In Genesis 4:23-4 Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah! Listen to me! You wives of Lamech, hear my words! I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for hurting me. If Cain is to be avenged seven times as much, then Lamech seventy-seven times”. Again the significant 7 and 77!
Because the Biblical story attributes the discovery of crafts to the children of Lamech, he seems a ‘natural’ link in the mythological chain concerned with the creation of our craft. In our story they are said to have written their findings on 2 columns so as to save them from great fire or flood.
Well, the story of the deluge is a known myth, quite common in this part of the world. He also appears in the Ugaritic manuscripts, together with Job and Daniel. We can thus say that including Noah and the deluge in our tradition is mythological in nature too. It follows the two columns which were found after the deluge.
The inclusion of a Patriarch is typically mythological. They all are. Abraham is needed to bring the craft of masonry and its’ charges from Ararat & Ur to the land of Canaan, and from here to Egypt. He is needed as a link to teach the craft to the Egyptians.
Not surprisingly, here comes Euclid – probably because of his 47th proposition – although he is still partly an enigma. Again, we have a link which is both connected to geometry – hence they claimed: masonry – and to whom great works were attributed about 800 years after he lived, thus making him a legendary hero. In our MSS Euclid is the teacher of both the Egyptian Princes and Hermes Trismegistus.
Here I am back on even safer ground. If it were Hermes, the Greek God, surely we are in the realm of mythology. In our case our Hermes is a fictional title given by the neo-Platonists to the Egyptian God Toth, so we are back in the sphere of mythology. For obvious reasons, we cannot say more about the neo-Platonists, but I hope you agree with me that here is yet another mythological figure.
The Israelites brought the craft and the charges of a mason from Egypt and here masonry achieved the climax in Solomon’s Temple. I would like to make just 3 short remarks because otherwise we’ll need many hours.
a. The Biblical record of the building of the Temple is devoid of allegories, whereas we attach to it legendary importance; certainly in the legend of Hiram Abif. In the traditions of Mediaeval masons it became a myth, not merely a legend.
b. King Solomon was a mythological hero all through the Middle Ages, which were common in the culture of that period. After all, having been able to speak with birds and animals was supernatural …!
c. The rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem became an issue in the latter part of the 17th century all over Europe. (J.J.Leon & his model).
In his Encyclopedia, Mackey wrote about King Solomon: It is the business of the Masonic biographer to relate all that has been handed down by tradition in connection with the life of Solomon. It would be the duty of the severer critic to seek to separate out of all these materials that which is historical from that which is merely mythical.”It seems to me that this is enough for our case here.
“A Curious Mason” (Naemus Graecus)
Here appears a necessary link which is to connect King Solomon and Europe. It didn’t matter that about 1,700 years separate King Solomon and the French ruler who received the craft and the Charges from this ‘curious mason’.
Charles Martel was the first key to my thesis. Martel ruled France in the years 714-41 and was a warrior, not a builder. I asked myself: what was his unique contribution to gain such an important place in our traditions? Well, it cannot be other than his great victory at Tours against the invading Moslem armies from Spain, which caused them to retreat back across the Pyrenees. In other words, his great importance to Christian Europe was saving it from Moslem rule. I fail to find any other possible reason for adopting him into our mythological story.
Funnily enough, the craft of Masonry and its’ Charges are said to have been brought to England and taught to St. Alban, who actually lived 400 years earlier. At any rate, here we have not only adopted the first Christian martyr of England, but also a Saint who was a central figure in the legends of St. Alban and St. Amphiball, which were part and parcel of Mediaeval English culture Bro. Aston showed it in detail in his article in AQC 102.
Our story jumps from St. Alban to Athelstan, who reigned in 924-39. This king was my second key to the riddle, since again we have adopted a great warrior. Why did we adopt him? In another paper by Aston (AQC.99) he proved that Athelstan was the hero of a known legend in verse, which was common in English Mediaeval English culture. Athelstan was not only the grandson of King Alfred the Great – an admired Saxon king – but was also the first Saxon king who drove the Vikings away, put an end the Daneland, and created the first united Saxon kingdom all over England and south of Scotland. Wasn’t he worth a place of honor in our traditions? Surely there could not be a better candidate to be accorded the codification of the Charges of a mason?! So, our mythological tradition ends in York in the year 926. This is our York Legend. I find it interesting that both Charles Martel and Athelstan have similar characteristics and that they both gained their place in our traditions as a result of their success in wars and not as builders. Actually, this is what made me go over the so-called legendary history and propose a new view.
I tried to examine the old MSS and their contents in an attempt to understand how and why we adopted the legendary history, so well known to most. The only answer I came with was: it is the story of the Creation of Masonry, and therefore is actually our Masonic mythology. It centers on mythological figures in a continuous chain until it reaches England prior to the Norman Conquest. What remains unanswered is the question why were the glorious periods of building of Greece and Rome completely left out, and why did they stop at a period when there was hardly any building in stone in England, and therefore there couldn’t have been Master Masons to convene in York in 926 It is my view, that the legendary history included in the “old Charges” MSS is an ethos developed among our Mediaeval forefathers in their lodges. The ‘Charges’ listed at the end of each manuscript are the regulations which these journeymen developed in their lodges to regulate their being together in the various lodges.
The adoption of these MSS by the non-operative masons was, in my view, because they included a very respectable ancestry of which they could be proud of.
by R.W. Bro. Daniel Doron 33°
PM Reuven Lodge #1
PM Gvill Lodge of Research #82
PM Montefiore Lodge of Installed Masters #78
PGDist.Sup., PGDC, GL of the State of Israel
PZ. Second G. Principal SGRAC of Israel
Grand Chancellor, Supreme Council, Israel
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