I have heard it a million times and you have too. In fact, you may have spread these same stories. "Freemasonry is an organization that has an inner circle, an elite status within the order. If you don't know about it, you're just not high enough in the order." The educated will do their research and present quotes from great Masonic authors and scholars whose writings are revered and studied both inside and outside the craft which seem to back up the aforementioned claims. And the not so educated tends to repost these claims on social media, blogs and forums. Below are some examples and explanations.
|Albert G. Mackey 33|
Before we get started on the issue of the statement, let's look at Albert G. Mackey. Albert was born in a time when spiritualism was grasping at the world. Information was starting to become free flowing, especially in America. No longer did religious dogma choke off all independent thought. He was a doctor and he eventually abandoned medicine to study languages and the like. He began to research Freemasonry, becoming a member of the Fraternity in 1841 when he was 34 years old. He mastered several languages and enjoyed the study of the Talmud and Kabbalism. He was much inclined to study the Medieval period as well.
On to the statement. The first and foremost problem with this is that the Grand Orient of France is an unrecognized brand of the Fraternity (today). To those who do not understand this, here is the quick breakdown: It is agreed that Masonry has indeed existed from a time before we have recorded records however in 1717 a bunch of "Grand Lodges" decided to work together and formed the first United Grand Lodge. This was done as a way to have some quality control and streamline the fraternity among other things. When a new lodge wants to start, it needs a charter to do so. All Grand Lodges in the world who are "recognized" have a charter that has some root to the original 1717 pact and the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England or, the UGLE.
If a lodge doesn't have this charter, it is deemed irregular and spurious. They are not teaching the degree systems in the manner which is consistent throughout the rest of the Fraternity. Such is the case of The Grand Orient of France ( In Mackey's time it may have been a recognized). Today, they are considered spurious. An interesting fact: Ben Franklin was a member of this Orient and because of this, he was expelled from the Fraternity and was NOT granted a Masonic funeral service. (There is more to this story and it's super interesting. We will talk about it in a future blog post.)
So, whatever the Grand Orient is doing, is not necessarily the practice of any "regular" Masonic body. Regular, meaning recognized and legal. To say it as a matter of fact, the statement has nothing to do with (Regular) Freemasonry which is practiced throughout the world today.
|Manly Palmer Hall 33|
Example two, "Freemasonry is a fraternity within a fraternity -- an outer organization concealing an inner brotherhood of the elect ... it is necessary to establish the existence of these two separate and yet interdependent orders, the one visible and the other invisible. The visible society is a splendid camaraderie of 'free and accepted' men enjoined to devote themselves to ethical, educational, fraternal, patriotic, and humanitarian concerns. The invisible society is a secret and most August [defined as 'of majestic dignity, grandeur'] fraternity whose members are dedicated to the service of a mysterious arcannum arcandrum [defined as 'a secret, a mystery']." [Hall, Lectures on Ancient Philosophy, p. 433]
So as before, let's look at who said this; Manly P. Hall. Hall was an extremely interesting individual. He was one of the folks who did things in a bit of a different order. Most men I know, join the Fraternity and then after a number of years find themselves wholly immersed in the study of occultism, that is, the study of the secret arts. (This does NOT mean anything Satanic, it merely means things that perhaps Plato or Aristotle studied, perhaps things like the beauty of the "Golden Ratio", etc.) Not Manly P. Hall. Hall was a deeply influential spiritualist and occultist before he became a Mason. He was born in 1901, almost the pinnacle of the spiritual revolution of society. Men like Milton Pottenger (another amazing Masonic scholar) had just written Symbology (1905 and extremely rare), a book to which many Masonic intellectuals of the day had plagiarized, including Hall . Hall became a Freemason in 1954. At this point he had already written books like The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Freemasonry of the Ancient Egyptians (1937), and Masonic Orders of Fraternity, all before being a member of our Craft.
To the claims of the quote, this example is a better example and has more truth than you might think. The "Visible Society" Hall speaks of is absolutely true and is a necessary organization in order to open the mind of an initiate. This is where the Masonic Fraternity ends, in a sense. Due to the esoteric nature of the degrees, some men decide to further study what they went through. Many lodges today are putting an emphasis on Masonic education which has been somewhat lost in the many years preceding. So in those times, AMD chapters and Lodges of Research were formed. AMD is Allied Masonic Degrees and are styled as chapters which are by invitation only and are limited to 27 members. This is a society within a society, is it not? Only the scholar is invited, only those of higher mind. This is because the AMD has a mission which is to preserve certain other degrees (degrees which are no longer "Worked" except in the AMD), education and the study of our Craft and its mysteries. Members are required (usually) to write papers on all sorts of Masonic topics.
There are in fact, even more organizations within our Fraternity which are invitation only as well Consider the Honorary 33rd degree (A degree for those in the utmost administration) within the AASR [Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite]. Other organizations that exist within the Fraternity which study the "mysterious arcannum arcandrum" are groups of Masons who start independent clubs and form ceremonies which are again, unrecognized. Then of course there are Masons who are 33rd degree and have started other spin off groups for esoteric study which are only open to other 33rd degree Brothers. This is a reality and why I say "The Great Half Truth". There is no regulation stating that a group of people can't start a study group which consists of members who all share something in common like AMD or 33rd degree. What they decide to study together is their business. The study of the "mysterious arcannum arcandrum" can be any number of things. It is whatever the people decide is their great truth.
|An original styled Tarot Deck|
One final thing to consider in all this, is the biography of the gentlemen quoted. Both Hall and Mackey lived in times where the spiritual revolution was happening. The Terot, Fortune Tellers, Magick, Occult Studies and Reincarnation were all very popular. Groups like The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn were started by Freemasons. Mackey himself was rumored to have been a member of the Golden Dawn. Curious that his book was called "The Encyclopedia of Freemasonry AND ITS KINDRED SCIENCES". This title implies a study of the occult, and if you read it, you will see it. Another group which counts Freemasons among its members is the OTO or the Ordo Templi Orientis, which sometimes gets a bad rap because of its association with Aleister Crowley. It is no surprise that Masons like Manly P. Hall and Mackey were interested in these things. They had a personal view that Freemasonry whereas the blue lodge (The three degrees) is considered but a waiting room of sorts for members until they find out there are other groups within the craft that give them what they joined for, which is in most cases is the exoteric and esoteric discourses. It is a sign of the times. The age of Aquarius, the spiritual revolution. I would challenge anyone who still doesn't understand this to find a true member of the Fraternity living today, that is, a "Regular and Recognized" Brother of the craft, who has written a book and has the same claims which Hall and Mackey claim, and that are not saying the same thing I am saying here.
Today, there are several groups to which I and my Masonic friends are members. I myself am a member of two different scholar groups; The 1st NE District Scholars Club and the Reebis Research Society. I am a member of the AMD as well. I am also a member of some other study groups which are Masonic only in membership requirement. I have friends who are members of the Golden Dawn, the OTO, the Memphis Mizraim Rite of masonry (unrecognized). The list goes on and on.
In conclusion, to say that Freemasonry is an organization within an organization is only partially true. To become a Freemason is to take and complete your three craft degrees and that is it. Plain and simple. That said, there are organizations which crop up and are as numerous as the grains of sand in the world whose membership requirements include membership in the Masonic Fraternity. That by itself does not make those organizations Masonic, only that it values the tenets of the Fraternity and that they believe it is a good starting point.
Bro. Robert Johnson, 32° is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the First North-East District of Illinois. He belongs to Waukegan Lodge No. 78. He is also a member of the York Rite bodies Royal Arch, Cryptic Council, Knights Templar, AMD, The Illinois Lodge of Research and a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Chicago as well as a charter member of the Society of King Solomon, a charity organization run by the Grand Lodge of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts a weekly Podcast (internet radio program) Whence Came You? which focuses on topics relating to Freemasonry. In addition, he produces video shorts focusing on driving interest in the Fraternity and writes original Masonic papers from time to time. He is a husband and father of three. He works full time in the safety industry and is also a photographer on the side as well as an avid home brewer. He is currently working on a book of Masonic essays.