Jul 5, 2011
John Larsen talks to George Miller about the history of Masonry prior to Mormonism.
Podcast: Play in new window
By John Larsen
Tags: alter, Bible, craft, egypt, England, geometric coin, Ireland, Joseph Smith, knights templar, Lineage, lore, masonic guilds, masonic lodge, Masonry, Mormonism, Nauvoo, passwords, pseudepigrapha, Scottish Rite, temple, William Shaw
When my son was he had a horrible habit of correcting people – usually on small, meaningless, utterly trivial points. We told him it was his super-power and his hero name was Pedanto (catch prhase: “well, ACTUALLY….”). Now I realize it’s totally genetic.
Well, ACTUALLY, passion plays, and their later developments, mystery plays, miracle plays etc while definitely ritualistic (developing from the lenten ritual) were never secret but were performed publicly first in the cathedral itself and later outside.
Totally not the point, but it seemed that the implication was that these were plays performed secretly in abbeys as part of an indoctrination ceremony or something which isn’t actually accurate. Hey, you know… a pedant must when a pedant can, right?
To try to make even a teeny stab at relevancy, the interesting point about these plays is their importance in common life – they were one of the few church-approved forms of public entertainment, and because they formed out of liturgy that link to the sacred rituals was very, very strong. It is very tempting to say that private, secret ritual was created as a natural extension of this public, cultural ritual (ie this expression of the culture of the time was dramatic and ritualistic and was given authority through ties to biblical stories and hagiographies). I like the idea of mystery plays sort of providing a bridge: sacred ritual in the church — faith-linked ritual in the marketplace — secular ritual in guilds.
Sorry: ‘when my son was small… just one of the errors I now see. For a pedant I have a horrible lack of attention to detail!
Hey Megan- You are entirely correct that mystery plays like this were preformed in the open and that many guilds performed them. However, this type of ritual re-enactment of biblical stories entirely disappears from Masonic ritual for a substantial period of time. It is not until the early 1700s that a ritual drama was added to the Masonic ceremony in the form of the Master Mason degree. As such there is no strong direct intellectual genetic connection between the guild passion plays and the drama performed in the Master Mason’s degree. If, due to the nature of the organic discussion occurring between me and John, that was not made clear, then I apologize profusely.
I think that there is much to be said about and for the psychological and spiritual impact that these passion and mystery plays served in religious education. Having said that, I was in particular trying to address a common misconception given by some conservative religious scholars who have written about the Mormon-Masonic connection. They would like to claim a secret spiritual tradition contained within the the guild passion plays is conveyed via the Operative Masonic guild to modern Free Masonic and thus came to be enshrined in our present Masonic ritual. I have found no strong evidence for such a tradition; and the available evidence argues strongly against this possibility.
Yes – I made the mistake of commenting before I listened to part 2! I was fascinated by how late ritual dramatization was brought in – sad, natch, to abandon that lovely theory about direct cultural influence, but fascinated! No worries about misconceptions though, they were mine and mine alone!
Do you feel that there was a cultural influence that produced this urge for dramatic ritual? Meaning, was this a meme of the time – a sort of archaism combined with a desire for the dramatic perhaps – that was picked up, or was it original to the man who introduced it?
I think you definitely and clearly got across the point that masonry was creating rather than preserving their rites and rituals, concatenating them from various cultural sources in response to their own contemporary needs and interests. Out of curiosity, would you say that the masonic rituals that supposedly carry that direct link to antiquity contain anachronisms – rather like those found in the Book of Mormon, expressing people of that time believed or desired to be true about biblical figures?
“Do you feel that there was a cultural influence that produced this urge for dramatic ritual?”
I do think there was a cultural influence. However, the reason is terribly mundane. When the Masonic lodges were closely associated with the operative Masonic guilds, the rituals served the purpose of laying out the rights and responsibilities incumbent on both masters and apprentices and extracted an oath from the newly made apprentice to keep the trade secrets of the guild inviolate. As such the ritual was simple and straightforward.
As the guilds switched from operative to speculative and the Craft became a social and dinner club, the rituals had to in turn change. Since this was the Age of Enlightenment and every good gentleman wanted to dine with the cultured and intelligent, the ritual changed to emphasize these elements. The other purpose, however, of these social gentleman’s clubs was one of entertainment. Adding a drama to the presentation served to entertain the candidate and those sitting on the sidelines, and gave the participants to chance at acting.
You also asked about anachronisms. Yes I think these abound in the history of the craft. For example one of the oldest Masonic documents is the Cooke Manuscript in which Euclid (300 B.C) is declared to be a student of Abraham. Other anachronistic elements also exist, like discussions of how Adam and Enoch were Grand Masters of Freemasonry, despite the fact that even the inkling of a Grand Lodge didn’t exist till the early 1700s.
Megan, I hope you made your son a cape with his very own PEDANTO logo. That is awesome!
I’m about 30 minutes in and I’ve just got to say that I’m saddened that women aren’t allowed. I knew that before listening to this but it still saddens me. I’ve been fascinated by Masonry since I learned about its connection to the temple. I’d love to be a Mason.
Hey Heather – There are actually some options if you are truly interested. While not recognized by most established Grand Lodges, (something BTW I wish would change) there are Masonic bodies under the auspices of the Supreme Council of American Co-Masonry which includes men and women of
every race, nationality and religion. The organization is substantially smaller than male only fraternity, and thus you might need to live near a largish city to have this be a viable option.
Your second option is to perhaps join the Order of the Eastern Star. This is a female auxiliary organization for women interested in Masonry. Think the Masonic version of the Relief Society. They have their own ritual based on Masonic ritual which teaches many of the same principles. Some of the wives of my Masonic brothers have joined the organization and speak highly of the organization.That being said, it is not for everyone.
the mason history,very romantic,kind or dan brown stuff.feeling the gaps with whatever possible words,what about being a secret violent organizacion worshiping another god,astrying people from the true religion of jesus and the bible,now they are like mormonism have changed to look better to the public,and people just jump in.
First of all Freemasonry is not a religion and does NOT nor has it ever dictated any beliefs concerning God. You suggest that Masons “worship another God” but the truth of the matter is that Freemasons come from ALL religious stripes and simply worship the form and flavor of God that the choose. I would suggest reading a good introductory text to Freemasonry to clear yourself of what is clearly an mistaken view.
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