We will rule out the responses of non-esoteric Masons, who would give the knee-jerk reaction of: No! Never! That aside, every so often I hear a Mason or read something by a Mason that argues that Freemasonry is magic. Not that the fraternity, its rituals, its teachings, et cetera are some card trick or sleight of hand, but really is magic. This has long bothered me.
Firstly, to address this, we need some sort of working definition of what magic is, or at least understand what are the processes and operations involved in magic to compare to Masonry. There are endless definitions, but ultimately we will acknowledge that magic is some process of harnessing and wielding supernatural powers. Personally, I work from a spirit model: magic is the process of working with spirits, disembodies intelligences, conscious immaterial entities the magician will invoke and conjure (Latin, conjurare, to swear together, i.e. make a pact — even the term exorcism is similar, but comes from Greek, exorkismos, to bind with an oath), and once in agreement with the spirit, the spirit will fulfill the magician’s petitions. Even in an animist model, every material thing has a spirit, a being residing within it that will be bound to the magician’s will. We even see this sort of thing in the Catholic Mass, wherein exorcising the water (i.e. making Holy Water), the priest will exorcise the “creature of salt” before putting salt into the water. We see something similar in alchemical ideas, such as the spirit of mercury, the spirit of the fire (i.e. salamander), et al. Even the way we talk about alcohol, a “spirit,” is directly related to this animist view of a spirit living in a substance.
Throughout history, we see time and time again magic being a ritualistic operation of coercing, binding, and making use of spirits to achieve things that otherwise cannot be achieved through normal, natural means. Sometimes it is super simple and really does not involve much effort. For instance, the Psalms have regularly been employed in a great deal of European magic, and in many cases, just reciting a Psalm is sufficient, depending on what the magician is trying to achieve. If you want to protect your pregnant wife and ensure a safe delivery, a daily recitation of Psalm 1 is perfect. If you want to make more friends, recite Psalm 133 daily. The Psalms are prayers that were made by mighty and holy patriarchs, and the Lord listened to those prayers, so they are believed to hold great efficacy on their own. Prayer is an essential aspect of any magical practice. (For more on Psalm magic, see my essay in Hadean Press’s Conjure Codex, Vol. 5, Black Edition, 2022).
Then one can go much further. One can go full in and conduct the complete eighteen-month-long ritual of the Abramelin, conjuring their Holy Guardian Angel and binding it to their head. Or maybe a little easier is the Heptameron and conjuring the Djinn Kings via the seven Archangels. Or they can just make some magical charms, endowed with powers by virtue of certain spirits or astrological aspects, and never have to conjure any spirits. It depends on what the magician wants to do, how far they want to go, and how badly they want it.
Yes, there is ritual involved, like Freemasonry has ritual involved. In magic, it is usually a lot of prayers, invocations of sacred names, a lot of commands to the spirits, et cetera. But it is not really the same thing as Masonic ritual. In magic, the ritual has a certain function in conjuring and binding spirits for the magician’s use. You first need to purify yourself, which can be weeks-long dieting, fasting, abstaining from sex and masturbation, abstaining from alcohol, being honest in business dealings, confessing sins, et al. All the implements in the ritual need a certain level of consecration. For instance, in the Heptameron the Mass of the Holy Spirit should be conducted over the sword and other implements that will be used in the ritual. Then there are offerings to the spirits, a calling of the spirits to come forth, and if they do not, a harsher invocation to coerce them to come forth, a welcoming of the spirits, a binding of them so that they don’t leave before you are done with them, then your petition to be given to them, and so forth. Sometimes it seems that the easiest way to get what you want is to not do magic. It can be exhausting, and it still does not always work. The spirits may show up, but it doesn’t mean they want to listen to you.
Is Freemasonry anything like this? No, and such would probably actually scare away a lot of guys if we were calling angels and all their grandeur and terror into the Lodge room. Seriously, angels are pretty scary. Are there similarities between Masonic rituals and any number of magical rituals? Sure, because it is ritual, but not because the two are inherently related or even the same thing.
For instance, there are some who argue that magical rituals should all be memorized, and that may be an option for some, but really, I don’t think many people memorize the entirety of any magical ritual. And historically we know it was not all memorized. Hence why we have grimoires: books of magic for the magician to reference and read. At this point in my life, I practically have the exorcism of the fire and incense memorized because anytime I go to pray, I light incense and recite this exorcism, though I usually have my Key of Solomon beside me regardless. Do I have the entire Mass of the Holy Spirit memorized? No. Not even close, and it is not something I regularly do, so I don’t really have any interest in memorizing it. I mean, watch any Catholic priest do the Mass and you will notice they tend to have a cheat sheet next to them on the altar.
I have heard it argued that memorizing rituals helps our memory, like magic. Yeah… here’s the thing, there is a grimoire to assist memory: the Ars Notoria, a grimoire for rapid learning. And good memory has always been viewed as kind of magical, something Francis Yates traces in her The Art of Memory. But just doing root memorization is not the same as how Ars Notoria does it, which is practically learning by osmosis. Literally, you will sleep with the book you are learning from under your pillow. And you certainly don’t memorize the Ars Notoria, if one ever could.
I have heard it argued that Freemasonry is “symbolic magic” — i.e. it is magic, but done symbolically. I really don’t know what that means. The point of magic is to achieve something, be it to get money, to receive a prophecy, to destroy one’s enemies (e.g. half the Psalms), to cure an ailment, et al. If you are not actually achieving something, then it isn’t magic. It’s what we call LARPing (live-action role play).
I have heard it argued as well that the Masonic ritual raises our consciousness. Eh… I guess. I won’t deny one can and will have profound spiritual experiences in Freemasonry. I certainly did, but that is not necessarily magic. Meditation can “raise consciousness,” so can drugs, and so can therapy. But that is not necessarily magic. It can be “magical,” but not “magic.” The Order of the Temple, especially during the fifth libation is “magical,” but certainly not magic.
I could probably go on and on about every last thing that really differentiates Freemasonry from magic. My point is that, just because we regard our experiences in Freemasonry to be powerful, life-changing, and spiritually profound, this does not mean it is necessarily magic. If you went through the Degrees of Masonry with the intent of becoming a millionaire, and after you became a Master Mason you miraculously received a vast inheritance, then yeah, somehow that person turned their Masonic initiation into a magical ritual without anyone knowing it. Otherwise, it is just a profound experience, one that alters our lives forever. But it is not magic.
Patrick M. Dey is a Past Master of Nevada Lodge No. 4 in the ghost town of Nevadaville, Colorado, and currently serves as their Secretary, and is also a Past Master of Research Lodge of Colorado. He is a Past High Priest of Keystone Chapter No. 8, Past Illustrious Master of Hiram Council No. 7, Past Commander of Flatirons Commandery No. 7, and serves as the Secretary-Recorder of all three. He currently serves as the Exponent (Suffragan) of Colorado College, SRICF of which he is VIII Grade (Magister), and is a member of Gofannin Council No. 315 AMD and Kincora Council No. 8 Knight Masons. He is a facilitator for the Masonic Legacy Society, is the Editor of the Rocky Mountain Mason magazine, serves on the Board of Directors of the Grand Lodge of Colorado’s Library and Museum Association, and is the Deputy Grand Bartender of the Grand Lodge of Colorado (an ad hoc, joke position he is very proud to hold). He holds a Masters of Architecture degree from the University of Colorado, Denver, and works in the field of architecture in Denver, where he resides with wife and son.