Monday, May 26, 2014

Freemasonry and Victorian Hermetic Orders

It is common among certain of the more conservative elements within Freemasonry to deny that Freemasonry has links to anything which, well, to be honest, anything which makes them at least mildly dyspeptic. The problem is that nearly everything makes them dyspeptic. This is symptomatic of the Masonic tendency to eat its own young. We believe in universal brotherhood, except for other Freemasons who have some microscopic difference of perspective from our own, or whom we think might conceivably have a microscopic difference of opinion with us. 

This derives ultimately from the fear that another Masonic organization may have something to offer that we don't. Since we are not able to burn them at the stake as they no doubt deserve, Masons are left with nothing more gratifying than to call them bogus, or fake. 

I am not writing for those dyspeptic Masons. (Frankly, I secretly hope that they will read this and being highly offended, will bestow upon me that most prized of titles, "Bogus.")  I am writing for the other 95% of the Masonic world who are tired of the same old story, and who, while probably not remotely interested in joining Memphis Misraim Freemasonry, or the revivalist Martinists, much less the Golden Dawn, the OTO, or some similar esoteric order, are interesting in hearing a rational sentence or two concerning the origins of these orders and their real relationship to Freemasonry, perhaps even to a form of Freemasonry much like their own.

Probably we should start with what some of the major organizations were, what their origins were, and who the main players were. Then we will be able to see just what their relationship to Freemasonry was. Since much has been written about the beliefs and practices of most of these groups, we will not delve into the question of what Rosicrucian beliefs are, or what it is that the Golden Dawn or the OTO do or did. We just wish to note where and when these groups came into being, and their most immediate connections to Freemasonry, of whatever variety. I'm not interested in territorial claims concerning legitimacy.

What are defined by the UGLE derived Masonic institutions in the United States as 'heretical denominations', and upon which they heap the opprobrium only possible from a jilted lover, are those institutions owing their origins ultimately to continental, which most frequently means French inspired Freemasonry. I refer primarily to both Memphis Misraim Masonry, and Cerneau's version of the Scottish Rite. But what of the sinful Masonic apostates of the Anglophone world? Since they no longer or in some cases never claimed they were Freemasonry, the only response left, which defies not only logic, but historical truth, is to argue that they were not really influenced by Freemasonry, or that those who founded them, were not really Freemasons. The two most famous (and most recent) examples of these, are the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the OTO. At a slightly further distance, but perhaps no less influential are orders such as the The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light. 

It all began a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. OK, so it didn't. It all began, as is the case of modern Freemasonic institutions, with a fiction. The fiction in this case was a series of documents describing a non-existent spiritual group which came to be known as Rosicrucianism.  Rosicrucianism was created. as far as anyone can ascertain, between 1607 and 1616, when two anonymous manifestos were published, first in Germany and later elsewhere in Europe. These were the Fama Fraternitatis RC (The Fame of the Brotherhood of Rose Cross) and the Confessio Fraternitatis (The Confession of the Brotherhood of the Rose Cross). Other documents followed. To say they contained internal contradictions would be an understatement. It was the ideas they contained rather than their claims concerning historical events that really mattered. The influence of these "revelations", presenting a laudable Order of mystic-philosopher-doctors and promoting a "Universal Reformation of Mankind", inspired an movement identified by Dame Frances Yates as the "Rosicrucian Enlightenment". 

Ultimately, after this new "Protestant Metaphysics" influenced a significant number of religious thinkers, most strongly in the German speaking world, in the 18th century with the growing fashion for Freemasonry, it was inevitable that the two would be united. Remember, this was before the fantasy that various obediences represented the masonic equivalent of the Vatican, and that their every pronouncement represented the word of the Almighty. Unlike the 19th and 20th Century hidebound rule of masonic legalese, the 18th Century was an epoch of creative vision and experimentation within Freemasonry. 

Some of these experiments were of questionable value, while others produced cogent philosophical thought and brilliant ritual. It should not be assumed that the best and the brightest went on to gain the most adherents, nor that those which survived had as much merit as those which did not. 

I will leave the topic of Hermetic, Egyptian, and Alchemical Masonic rites for another time. They deserve a separate examination. Instead, I will offer a brief description of several "Hermetic" and "Rosicrucian" orders, that while heavily modeled upon Freemasonry, may be viewed and indeed often asserted that they were not Masonic institutions. The justification for associating Hermetic and Rosicrucian orders together is that they themselves often associated these terms, and besides, what might be called one or another was often a "moving target."

• Fratres Lucis or Brotherhood of Light

Out of the various rites which combined Freemasonic ritual with Rosicrucian philosophy in the 18th Century, the majority of activity occurred or at least began in Germany, and often involved individuals associated with the Strict Observance. Among these efforts, one is most often cited as a source of influence upon the  late 19th Century organizations was the Fratres Lucis, or the Brotherhood of Light. 

There is a lot of disagreement about these matters, and the lack of standards in what passed for Masonic scholarship in the 19th Century doesn't help. However, the general consensus is that this order was founded by Baron Ecker Von Eckhoffen, who was also associated with the Golden Rosy+Cross and the founder of the Asiatic Brethren. Ultimately, many of the members of this latter order became members of a German masonic lodge called L'Aurore Naissante (or "the Nascent Dawn") founded in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1807.

Jean-Pascal Ruggiu traces a series of associations which imply that Eliphas Lévi who was alleged to be a member of this Brotherhood, represents the link between 18th Century Rosicrucian Freemasonry and the later 19th Century institutions such as the Societas Rosicruciania in Anglia, The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, and ultimately both the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis.

• Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA) was founded around 1860-1865 by the freemason Robert Wentworth Little . He claimed to have in his possession Rosicrucian documents deriving from an authentic ancient order. The SRIA seems to have operated as an alternative to Freemasonry. One of its important members was Kenneth Mackenzie, who assisted Little in running the society. Mackenzie was allegedly in contact with a "Count Apponyi" of Austria-Hungary, and is said to have received some sort of lineage from him. The more probable source was the Societas Rosicruciana in Scotia which eventually went silent at the end of the 19th century. Many well-known individuals of that time were members of the SRIA, including John Yarker, P.B. Randolph, A.E. Waite, E. Bulwer-Lytton, Dr. W.W. Westcott, Eliphas Levi, Theodor Reuss, Frederick Hockley, and William Carpenter. The SRIA was originally nothing but a study group, and initially did not work rituals. It eventually spread overseas with offspring in North America including one founded as the result of a charter received by Albert Pike from a Canadian organization. 

• The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor was an initiatic organisation that first became public in late 1884, although it claimed to have begun in 1870. According to  Peter Davidson, the order was founded by Max Theon, who was initiated in England by "an adept of the serene, ever-existing and ancient Order of the original H. B. of L". These men formed this order that included practical magical work. The Hermetic Brotherhood of Light, or Luxor was mostly forgotten after the turn of the twentieth century. Jocelyn Godwin and others began researching the history of the order in the last decades of the 20th Century. The order apparently was similar to the later Golden Dawn having an Outer Order and an Inner Order. The “Outer Circle" offered a correspondence course on practical occultism which was advertised in print. Its curriculum included the writings of Hargrave Jennings and Paschal Beverly Randolph. The influence of the Rosicrucians and Masons is visible in the structure of its initiation rituals. We find the same basic initiatory rituals that were being used throughout Europe by "mainstream" Rosicrucian and Masonic orders of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. These included a system of degrees such as found in the majority of lodge systems. 

• The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (HOGD) was founded in 1888 by Freemasons and members of the SRIA. HOGD was established by Samuel Liddel MacGregor Mathers, William Robert Woodman, William Wynn Westcott, and they were all initiates of the SRIA as well. The Rosicrucian connection allegedly derived from a mysterious German adept; Fraulein Anna Sprengel, whom they contacted after having encountered some old cypher-manuscripts belonging to her lodge. Some researchers have seen a possible relation between the HOGD and the Fratres Lucis/Asiatic Brethren, of which one of its descendants was the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light/Luxor. The HOGD became an indisputable success, and attracted many prominent persons of its time, including A.E. Waite, Mina Bergson, Edvard Munch, August Strindberg, Rider Haggard, R.F. Felkin, "Aleister" Alexander Edward Crowley, William Butler Yeats , Allan Bennett, Bram Stoker, Rev. William Alexander Ayton, Frederick Leigh Gardner, and Florence Farr. The HOGD is the source to most of the modern ritual magic flourishing on the occult market today.

• Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) was originally founded by Carl Kellner, Heinrich Klein, and Franz Hartmann around 1895. Albert Karl Theodor Reuss Willsson succeeded Kellner as chief in 1902, and not until this point did it become a real operative order. Reuss was more of a typical continental occultist and Mason. He was chartered by Westcott of the HOGD, John Yarker of the Memphis-Mizraim, and Leopold Engel of the revived Illuminati Order. Reuss' energic efforts spread the OTO throughout the world. Many famous occultists of the time were in one way or the other linked to Reuss or the OTO,  — Papus, Rudolph Steiner, Jack W. Parsons, Ron L. Hubbard, Gerald Gardner, George Plummer, and Israel Regardie. It was brought to the Americas by Charles Stansfeld Jones (Frater Achad). The post-Reussian lineages of OTO are controversial to say the least. There are those who claims that Crowley was not the real heir to Reuss, and until to the present, many groups have either splintered away from the main order, or others have been founded claiming to represent the authentic order. 

That there have been many splinter groups and organizations that faded away is nothing surprising. This has been true of any organization made up of talented people as these are often opinionated (in the best of ways). It certainly has been true of Freemasonry in its more creative and dynamic aspects.  In any case, it is foolish to deny the profound influence that Freemasonry had upon Hermetic and Rosicrucian movements over the past few hundred years. We can see that even if some of these organizations are not with us today, their offspring are.  I wonder if the GM of Florida appreciates the irony in the probability that Wicca is a not so distant derivative of Freemasonry. If it's any consolation, I suspect that there are as many Wiccans who are made uncomfortable by that idea as there are Freemasons. 

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