The Words Mysteryand Masonry

Q. Is there any connection between the words "mystery" and


A. If, in fact, the masonic institution, as Mackey and Oliver both admit, was descended from the ancient "Mysteries," there should be some close connection between the words "mystery" and "masonry," even if the latter is not directly derived from the former. The word "mystery," which originally had an exclusive meaning, came in process of time to have three different meanings, all derived from the original one:

1. It was the name of the sacred drama which constituted the ceremony of initiation into the secret religious associations of the ancients, which were so named from the fact that the "aspirant" for initiation was blindfolded. The word "mystery" is derived from the Latin mysterium, from the Greek nuarrfpioi/, from i-ivarrjs-, from ixveiv, to shut the eyes.

2. In the middle ages it came to be applied to a different sort of "sacred drama," founded on the legends of the Chris tian religion. These "Mysteries" or religious dramas, were, however, performed in public, and had no element of secrecy about them.

3. Another use of the word "mystery" arose from the fact that all scientific knowledge was formerly concealed in the ancient Mysteries, and communicated only to the initiated. Great skill, therefore in any art which required scientific knowledge, anciently implied initiation into the Mysteries. Hence, in process of time, and even after the Mysteries themselves were suppressed, the word "mystery" was applied to any art which required scientific knowledge in addition to manual dexterity. The art of architecture is one which requires not only a proficiency in geometry, but several other sciences. In more ancient times, owing to the peculiar position and construction of temples, considerable knowledge of astronomy, even, was required by the architect. This art was therefore preeminently above all others denominated a "mystery," and the words "mystery" and "masonry"—i.e., architecture—became synonymous in meaning. Architecture was thus probably the first one of the arts called a "mystery"; this name, however, at length came to be applied to all the arts without distinction, including even those wholly mechanical.

There can be no doubt that all the early architects, at least, like the Tyrian artists who directed the work at the building of King Solomon's temple, derived the scientific knowledge required for their profession from having been initiated into the Mysteries of Dionysus. The word "masonry" has been thought to be derived from several different roots, by different writers, but it is not so far removed either in form or meaning from the word "mystery" but that it might not have been derived either directly or indirectly from it. In fact, Hutchinson, in his "Spirit of Masonry," advances the idea that the word is derived from a corruption of the Latin mysterium, but fails to give any satisfactory reason for his opinion. The foregoing considerations, however, tend to show that his conjecture is not without some support. The derivation of the word "mason" from the french "magon," a house, will only take us back to the Mysteries by another path, for the word "magon" is derived from the Latin maceria, a wall or inclosure, which carries with it the idea of secrecy, and the exclusion of all who have not a right to enter. Thus, all those who were not initiated into the Mysteries were called the profane—i.e., pro-fano, those without the temple—and who had no right to enter at all times. The words "temple" and "house" were also anciently synonymous. (See 2 Kings 6:7-9; also, 2 Chron. 3.) Brother J. H. Little, formerly G. H. P. of Virginia, derives the word "Freemasonry" directly from the Egypto-Coptic, and uses the following language on the subject:

Great mistake has arisen from the very name we bear, and many do not understand what we are, or what our name itself means. Masons are not free, in the sense in which the word is sometimes use; they are positively bound by absolute laws, they are the slaves of truth and their word—unqualified obedience to their duty. The profane are free, the mason is not. The origin of our name shows this. Our title is "Freemason," and this is not an English word, nor is our Order of English origin. The name is not of any of the languages of modern Europe, nor is it found in the classic tongues of Greece and Rome; nor is it a part of the languages of Syria, Tyre, or Chaldea, nor is it Hebrew. More ancient than all, it comes from a nation that had organization, architecture, and literature, before Abraham first beheld the stars glitter above the plains of Shinar. It is from the language of ancient Egypt; that wonderful land where all antediluvian science and art was preserved and extended, where a system of priestly and kingly government was carried out which has been the wonder of the world; that land where men of science, organized into a close and secret organization, ruled; where they created a mystic language, and where they erected those mighty works of architectural skill whose undestroyed firmness still amazes the world—among these ancient sages the sun was an object of veneration, as the visible power of life and light. In their language it is called Phre, and in the same language mas means a child. Hence, being born of light, that is, knowledge of every kind, physical, moral, and intellectual, they called themselves Phre-massen—Children of the Sun, or Sons of Light. They inculcated and practiced purity and perfection of the body, control of all the passions, or moral purity, and devoted themselves go the intense study of all intellectual acquirements. Now, this is Freemasonry—we are true Sons of Light.

(St. Louis "Freemason's Monthly," January, 1872)

Q. How came operative architects, or masons, to be the last custodians of the secrets of the ancient Mysteries?

A. It has no doubt been a puzzle to more than one, why the architects and temple-builders of antiquity should have been so intimately connected with the Mysteries, and thus have been in a position to hand down their essential secrets and philosophical teachings, from generation to generation, to those skilled workmen who came after them. In other words, how was it that the operative masons, or architects, became special guardians, and their guilds, or associations the depositories of these philosophical mysteries? If a good and sufficient answer to this question can be found, one great stumbling block and source of skepticism will be removed. This question we think we can answer. The ancient Mysteries, as is well known, were celebrated in the hidden recesses of the temples. In order to present the grand and impressive drama of initiation, many secret chambers, doors, and labyrinthian passages had to be constructed within the interior; also, much ingenious mechanism, by which wonderful and sublime spectacular effects were produced. It was, therefore, a matter of necessity that the building of a temple (except the bare outside walls) should be intrusted only to those who had been duly initiated. Any "tattling mechanic" might otherwise disclose the whole secret. Such operative architects and artists, therefore, who were known and distinguished as the most cunning workmen, were initiated in all branches of the Mysteries, because their services were imperatively necessary.

Among the buildings uncovered at Pompeii is a temple of Isis, which is a telltale of the Mysteries of the Egyptian deity, for the secret stairs which conducted the priests unseen to an opening back of the statue of the goddess, through whose marble lips pretended oracles were given and warnings uttered, now lies open to the day, and reveals the whole imposition. ("A Day in Pompeii," "Harper's Magazine," vol. ii.)

When the sages of India conducted Apollonius to the temple of their god, singing hymns and forming a sacred march, the earth, which they struck with their staves in cadence, was agitated like a boisterous sea, and raised up nearly two feet, then calmed itself and resumed its usual level. The act of striking with their sticks betrays the necessity of warning workmen, who were placed beneath, to raise a moving stage covered with earth—an operation plainly effected by the aid of mechanism, very easy to be comprehended. It is probable a similar secret existed in other temples. English travelers who visited the remains of the temple of Ceres, at Eleusis, observed that the pavement of the sanctuary is rough and unpolished, and much lower than that of the adjacent portico. It is therefore probable that a wooden floor on a level with the portico covered the present floor, and concealed a vault designed to admit of the action of machinery beneath the sanctuary for moving the floor. In the soil of an interior vestibule they observed two deeply indented grooves, or ruts, and as no carriage could possibly be drawn into this place, the travelers conjectured that these were grooves to receive the pulleys which served in the Mysteries to raise a heavy body—"perhaps," said they, "a moving floor." In confirmation of this opinion, they perceived further on other grooves which might have served for the counterbalances to raise the floor; and they also detected places for wedges, to fix it immovable at the desired height. These were eight holes fixed in blocks of marble, and raised above the floor, four on the right and four on the left, adapted to receive pegs of large dimensions.

We are also informed that, in order to descend into the caves of Trophonius, those who came to consult the oracle placed themselves before an aperture apparently too narrow to admit a middle sized man; yet, as soon as the knees had entered it, the whole body was rapidly drawn in by some invisible power. The mechanism used for this purpose was connected with other machinery, which at the same time enlarged the entrance to the grotto. The person who went to consult this oracle was obliged to make certain sacrifices, to bathe in certain rivers, and to anoint his body with oil. He was then clothed in a linen robe, and, with a cake of honey in his hand, he descended into the grotto in the manner before described. What passed there was never revealed, but the person on his return generally looked pale and dejected. The individual whose name this cave bore was an architect of great skill, and in conjunction with his brother, Agamides, was the architect of the temple of Apollo, at Delphi; and they were, of course, the designers and constructors of all the mechanical secrets of that temple, no doubt far more ingenious and terrifying in their nature than those of the oracular cave just described. The Mysteries being also celebrated in the temple, the demand for secrecy was imperative, and the priests, fearing that the initiation of Trophonius and Agamides would not insure their silence, resorted to assassination. The brothers were desired by the god, through the priests, to be cheerful, and to wait eight days for their reward; at the end of which period they were found dead in their beds—the result of poison, or some other secret means of murder. (See Salverti's "Philosophy of Magic," vol. 1, Chapter XI).

Instances might be multiplied of the secrets involved in the construction of ancient temples, which made it a matter of necessity that the architects should be initiated, if allowed to live. But enough has been advanced to make it plain that the initiation of operative architects was a matter of absolute necessity, When the Mysteries were discontinued, after the advent of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire, it was no longer necessary for the temple-builders to belong to any such organization, but by that time operative architects had found that the bond of union which the initiation into the Mysteries had established among them was useful and profitable. It enabled them to keep the higher secrets of their art among themselves, thus giving them a monopoly of the whole business of temple-building. They were thus also enabled to assume an independence and consequence, upon which followed the favor of princes and those high in authority, who desired their services to erect a palace or build a cathedral. The operative architects, therefore, kept up their secret organization, and thus preserved the occult tie which originally united them in the Mysteries, of whose legends, signs, and emblems they became the last custodians, after the Mysteries themselves had fallen into disuse, and ceased to be celebrated either at Athens or Rome. Thus originated those mysterious "travelling Freemasons" of the middle ages, who left so many "massive monuments of their skill" as early as the ninth and tenth centuries. Thus, also, originated those famous guilds of operative masons of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries. No other hypothesis will satisfactorily account for the strange character and mysterious nature of those secret associations of operative architects.

Although the Mysteries themselves are traced back historically to the days of ancient Egypt, yet there is no chronological impossibility, or even improbability, of their connection with the societies above mentioned, for they were celebrated in some form as late as the eighth and perhaps twelfth century, while the traveling Freemasons are traced back to the eighth or tenth century. Notwithstanding the celebration of the Mysteries was prohibited by the Christian emperors succeeding

Constantine, as being connected with the pagan worship, yet many of their rites continued to be observed under assumed names and the pretense of convivial meetings, for a long time afterward (Gibbon, Chapter XXVIII). Maximus, Bishop of Turin, writes in the middle of the fifth century against the ancient worship, and speaks of it as if existing in full force in the neighborhood of his city. The Eleusinian Mysteries at Athens, indeed, seem to have enjoyed a special exemption, for Gibbon informs us that the Emperor

Valentinian immediately admitted the petition of Pra-etextatus, proconsul of Achaia, who represented that the life of the Greeks would become dreary and comfortless if they were deprived of the invaluable blessing of the Eleusinian Mysteries.

This petition was, no doubt, accompanied with an assurance that the secret doctrines taught in the Mysteries, being those of the unity and spiritual nature of God, and the immortality of the soul, were not inconsistent, but rather in harmony, with the Christian religion, which would account for the petition being so promptly granted. The Mysteries at Athens, in consequence, although suspended, do not seem to have ever been totally suppressed, but continued to be celebrated in some form as late as the eighth century. It is also certain that the Mysteries, under various forms, continued to be celebrated in Britain and on the Continent as late as the tenth century. Dr. Oliver says, in his "History of Initiation,"

We are assured, on undoubted authority, namely, from the bardic writings of that period, that they were celebrated in Wales and Scotland down to the twelfth century of Christianity.

This brings us down to an era when it is admitted on all hands that the travelling Freemasons existed, by whom, some claim, our fraternity was invented. It is not, however, claimed that the Mysteries in their purity or original splendor existed at so late a period. No doubt they had become corrupt, and many of their secrets had been lost. No doubt they had become obscure, but still they existed, impressed with their original character. The connection is therefore close between them and the mysterious secret rites and ceremonies of those societies of operative masons and architects above mentioned. When, in process of time, the celebration of the ancient Mysteries in a modified form was confined to these associations of operative architects, for the reasons before given, then it was that the term Freemason began to be descriptive of the initiated. This would more rationally account for the present name of our fraternity than the ingenious derivation of the words "free-mason" from the Egyptian roots, Phre-massen (Children of Light) as advanced by Brother J. H. Little.

Salverti, in his "Philosophy of Magic," is of the opinion that the occult sciences, possessed by the secret societies of the middle ages in Europe were derived from the learning taught in the Mysteries. He says:

It is certain that, in that age of ignorance, learned men have conveyed the charge of their knowledge to secret societies, which have existed almost in our day. One of the brightest geniuses who shed honor upon Europe and the human race, Leibnitz, penetrated into one of these societies at Nuremberg, and, from the avowal of his panegyrist [Fontenelle, "Eloge de Leibnitz"], obtained there instructions which, perhaps, he might have sought for in vain elsewhere. Were these mysterious reunions the remains of the ancient initiations? Everything conduces to the belief that they were, not only the ordeal and the examination, to which it was necessary to submit before obtaining an entrance to them, but, above all, the nature of the secrets they possessed, and the means they appear to have employed to preserve them. (See "Philosophy of Magic," vol. 1, Chapter XI)

But if, as Salverti learnedly argues, the scientific secrets of the Mysteries were thus transmitted to the secret societies of the middle ages, we may be certain that not only the form of initiation in substance, but also many of the legends or scientific allegories, as well as the symbols and emblems connected therewith, were also handed down in like manner, and the same may probably be said of many of the signs and modes of recognition. In this connection it is worthy of remark that none of the passwords of Freemasonry are either English, German, or French, nor indeed of any modern spoken language. Had Freemasonry been invented, or fabricated, either in Germany, England, or France, such would not have been the case. We might as well expect to find the armies of France, Germany, England, or America, using Coptic, Chaldean, and Hebrew countersigns, as the Freemasons do, had our fraternity originated in either England, France or Germany.

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