Kenneth MacKenzie, the progenitor of the Golden Dawn, as well as S.L. MacGregor Mathers, W.Wynn Wescott and Robert Woodman, who founded the Golden Dawn under its present name in 1888, were all Freemasons. The initiation rituals of both the Golden Dawn's First and Second Orders all have a decidedly Freemasonic structure.
Freemasonry was an occult movement of the seventeenth century. Freemasonry emerged as the British form of revived gnosticism analogous to the Rosicrucian movement in Germany. While having its roots in the architectural and construction guilds of the Middle Ages, modern masonry is rooted in the post-Reformation revival of Gnostic thought and occult practice. The mythical history of masonry served to protect it in the religiously intolerant atmosphere operative in Great Britain at the time of its founding.
The Birth of Speculative Masonry
Whatever the ancient and medieval roots of masonry, in the seventeenth century it was given a new direction by the widespread acceptance into the lodges of non-masons who used the lodges as a home for their pursuit of spiritual wisdom apart from the theology of the established church, often while keeping a nominal membership in the Church of England. (By 1723, for example, all specific references to Christianity were removed from the movement's constitution; members had only to acknowledge God, the Great Architect of the Universe.) The first prominent speculative Freemason was astrologer Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), an officer in the court of Charles II. Ashmole, and his contemporaries such as Robert Fludd (1574-1637), helped spread the revived gnosticism represented on the continent by Rosicrucianism. Through the century, speculative lodges consisting primarily if not exclusively of accepted masons spread throughout England and Scotland where they existed as a condoned (and somewhat unrecognized) form of religious dissent.
The coming of age of speculative masonry was signaled by the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, inaugurated on St. John the Baptist's Day 1717 by four of the old London lodges. Rev. John Theophilus Desguliers, who became Grand Master in 1719, was the chaplain to the Prince of Wales, and used his considerable influence to spread the movement both in England and France. The Grand Lodge provided the fraternity with its first central governing body, as prior to this time each lodge was self-governing. Many lodges speedily came under its aegis, and Ireland formed a Grand Lodge of her own in 1725, but Scotland did not follow until 1736, and even then many lodges held aloof from the central body, only 33 out of 100 falling into line.
From one or other of these three governing bodies all the regular lodges and variant rites throughout the world have arisen, so that modern masonry may truthfully be said to be of British origin. To say that Continental masonry is the offspring of the British lodges is not to say that no masonic lodges existed in France and Germany before the formation of the English Grand Lodge, but underscores the break between the masonry of the builders of the medieval architectual wonders and the speculative masonry of the seventeenth century. All of the modern speculative lodges in Europe date from the inception of the English central body. However, the Continental masonry possesses many rites that differ entirely from those found in the British craft.
In Germany, which existed at this time as a number of independent states, it was said that the Steinmetzin approximated very strongly in medieval times to the British masons, if they were not originally one and the same, but again, the modern lodges in Germany all dated from the speculative lodge founded in 1733.
We find the beginnings of modern French masonry in the labors of Martine de Pasqually, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, and perhaps to a some extent Cagliostro who toiled greatly to found his Egyptian rite in France. It is noticeable, however, that Cagliostro had become a member of a London lodge before attempting work on the Continent. In France, masonry had a more political complexion, being a source of the democratic thought underlying the French (and later the Italian) Revolution. Because of the political alignment of continental Freemasonry, an extreme enmity developed between Free-masonry and the Roman Catholic Church, which had aligned itself to the royal families of Europe. Masonry in England, a country that broke with Rome during the Reformation of the sixteenth century, had a much more apolitical stance.
Official opposition to Freemasonry by the Roman Catholic Church dates back to Papal bulls of 1738 and 1751 and is a tangled story of suspicion and intrigue relating to masonic secrecy and to complex political developments of the time. Much antagonism has been deliberately fostered by mischief makers. For example, during the nineteenth century, the French journalist Gabriel Jogand-Pagés, writing under the name Leo Taxil, perpetrated an extraordinary and prolonged hoax in which he claimed to have exposed a Satanist activity within Freemasonry. The motive appears to have been to embarrass the Roman Catholic Church, but it also added to traditional Church prejudices against Freemasonry and caused much trouble for masons.
The plot involved the claim that a certain Diana Vaughan, claimed to have been a High Priestess of Satanic Freemasonry and dedicated to overthrowing Christianity and winning the world for Satanism, had been converted to the Roman Catholic faith. The memoirs of "Diana Vaughan," written by Jogand, were read by Pope Leo XIII, and Jogand himself was received in private audience by the pope, and an anti-masonic congress was summoned in 1887 at Trent.
On Easter Monday 1897, at a press conference to present Diana Vaughan, Jogand confessed to his conspiracy and the details of his complex hoax are now generally known. But, great damage had already been done to relations between Roman Catholics and Freemasons. In 1917 the church declared that anyone who joined a masonic lodge was automatically excommunicated.
Masonry in America
Through the eighteenth century, Freemasonry had aligned itself with the Enlightenment and with the anti-monarchial ideals of the late-century revolutionaries. Masonic and Rosicrucian ideals flowed through the salons of France and supplied vital ideological components of the new revolutionary ethos that allowed the complete overthrow of an obsolete government system and the institution of a new democratic system. The Marquis de Lafayette, who joined in the American Revolution, was a mason. In the United States James Madison; James Monroe; Benjamin Franklin, who financed much of the revolution; and George Washington, who led its armies, were Free-masons. The input of Freemasonry in the founding of the republic can now be found on the dollar bill, which hails the coming of the "ordo nuevo seculorum," the "new order of the ages" and the pyramid topped with the all-seeing eye.
But masonry had established itself in America long before the revolution. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts dates from 1733 and that of South Carolina was founded just four years later. The General Grand Chapter of the Royal Arch Masons of the U.S.A. was founded in Boston in 1797 by representatives from Massachusetts and New York. The Supreme Council 33 of Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States of America was formed in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1801. Albert Pike, the most noteworthy of nineteenth century masons, was the leader of this latter organization for many years (1859-1891). The Order of the Eastern Star, an auxiliary for female relatives of masons, was founded in 1876. The masonic movement now encompasses millions of members primarily in lodges affiliated to its larger organizations, but also in a variety of smaller masonic groups that follow various patterns of different speculative rites.
Understanding the origins of speculative masonry as an occult movement, and the essentially gnostic nature of its thought, does much to explain why many prominent occultists such as Manly Palmer Hall trumpeted their masonic connections. It also shows how masonic thought served as a basis for Theosophy, and the manner in which masonic organizations provided the substructure upon which modern Rosicrucianism emerged at the end of the nineteenth century.