Deism, Esotericism and Gnosis in the Masonic Constitutions of 1723

FROM: CORRISPONDENZA ROMANA by Fr Paolo Siano

Published May, 2020. (Automatic online translation from Italian)

1723 is the year of the first Constitutions of the new Grand Lodge of London (later of England ) founded in 1717. The author is the Presbyterian pastor and Master Mason James Anderson (1679-1739). By now modern Freemasonry, that of the “Modern” Freemasons, no longer builds churches, but wants to rebuild Man, Society, social and religious relations.

In The Constitutions of the Free-Masons (London 1723), instead of the Old Charges , or Ancient Duties (for which cf. article here ), we find new Duties (“Charges”: Pp. 49-56), still valid in Freemasonry, for example in the Grand Orient of Italy from which I draw the Italian translation (GOI, Antichi Duty – Constitution – Regulation , Rome 2018) of some passages from the 1723 text.

New duties establish in Title I ( The Constitutions , p.50) that Freemasons are henceforth bound ” to that Religion in which all men agree, leaving them their particular opinions; that is, to be good and sincere men, or men of honor and honesty“.

In Title VI, 2 it is written that Freemasons belong to the aforementioned Universal Religion (“as Masons, of the Catholick Religion above mention’d “: p.54; catholic means universal). This religion, with which Freemasonry unites men of all religions or religious confessions (in an alchemical coincidentia oppositorum ), is not at all the Catholic Christian religion ( as, instead, some Catholic Freemasons of the pro-English area affirm ), but it is a natural, anthropocentric and rationalist religiosity that relegates the dogmas to mere opinions. It is Deism, as also admitted by English Freemasons [ AQC 78 (1965), pp.50-51.55].

Historian David Stevenson notes that Anderson, as pastor, hates Catholics and Deists in his sermons, but writing as a Freemason the Constitutions also includes Deism in the Masonic Universal Religion (cf. Heredom, vol. 10/2002, Scottish Rite Research Society , Washington DC , USA, pp. 97,115-116,119-121,127; p.136 note70).

There’s more: I discovered that even in the Constitutions of 1723 there are traces of Esotericism and Gnosis. Here they are in summary. On the cover or frontispiece there is the image of Phoebus-Apollo, the shining sun-god who, young and naked, travels the sky with his chariot. Phoebus, god of divination, gives life and death (alchemical death-rebirth?), Loves both Daphne and Giacinto (divine, initiatory bisexuality?). The image of the god Phoebus, together with that of the Cainite Tubalcain, is already in an alchemical booklet printed in Florence in the 14th century (cf. A Libretto di Alchemy engraved on lead sheets in the 14th century… , Città di Castello 1910, pp. 27.30). Again on the title page of the Constitutions, under the title there is a bird that seems to resemble the ibis, the symbol of Hermes Trismegistus.

I discovered that, in the seventeenth century, in London, in the Devil’s Tavern, in a room called the Oracle of Apollo, the Apollo Club met: a literary club that also recited odes to the Devil. In the Devil’s Tavern there was also a libertine and blasphemous circle, the Hell-Fire-Club to which belonged the Duke of Wharton, Freemason, depicted in the Constitutions of 1723 as newly elected Grand Master!

From 1722 in the Devil’s Tavern a lodge met that took that name, “Devil”. In the “Apollo” of the Devil’s Tavern, from 1725 to 1767, the Grand Lodge of London held at least 75 meetings (cf.The New England Freemason, N° 12, pp.543-544; AQC 11 (1898), p.30; cf. G. Oliver, in W. Hutchinson, Spirit of Masonry, 1843, p.12).

In the historical-legendary part of the Constitutions of 1723 the 4 sons of Lamech, Cainites, do not have a prominent position as in the previous Old Charges of the XV-XVIII centuries. Now it is God who directly transmits the Art / Science of Geometry / Masonry to Adam and these then to his sons Cain and Seth. Abel is not mentioned (pp. 1-2). Anderson does not say that, even according to the Jewish Kabbalah, God passed on the Secrets of the Kabbalah to Adam.

In fact, modern Freemasonry presents itself as an initiatory society and as a spiritual art that binds the Initiates to each other and to the Divine. In a hymn attached to the Constitutions , Freemasonry is defined as divine art revealed by Heaven ( “Craft divine!… From Heav’n reveal’d“: P. 83). Even in Anderson’s Constitutions, Cain figures as the first Mason who builds a city.

Anderson writes that Cain is the Prince of one half of humanity and his posterity has imitated his royal example in improving Science and Masonry (p. 2). Then, in a note, the descendants of Cain (Tubalcain, Jabal…) are credited with the invention of metalworking, architecture and other arts (p. 2). Among the keepers of the Masonry, Nimrod, king of Babylon, is also praised; in footnote Anderson specifies that Nimrod means Rebel and that he was revered as Baal and Bacchus (p. 4).

Anderson mentions the wise men of the Chaldeans, the “Magi,” – hence the term: magic, and the priests of ancient Egypt as custodians and transmitters of Masonry; he specifies that about the Chaldeans, the Magi, Hiram Abiff and Moses, it is necessary to speak only in a constituted Lodge! Another keeper of the Muratoria is Cam (“Ham”), one of Noah’s sons. Pythagoras and Euclid are also among the keepers of the Masonry (cf. pp. 4-5, 8, 16, 20-21). It is good to know that in magical literature, at least since the sixteenth century, Cam is associated with black magic (cf. BE Jones, Freemasons’ Guide and Compendium , London 1950, p. 314).

In the Constitutions, Anderson praises the architect, Vitruvius, (p.25) and affirms that in times of ignorance geometry was considered to be the evocation of spirits (p. 36, note *). The scholar, Frances Yates, (1899-1981) sees a similarity between these statements by Anderson and what the magician, John Dee, (1527-1608) wrote in his preface to Euclid’s Mathematics: Dee praised Vitruvius and called out those who accused him of evoking spirits (The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, London – New York 2002, pp. 271-272). Scholar Susann Mitchell Summers found that Anderson possessed the writings of John Dee and other wizards and occultists (cf. The Square , December 2018, Addlestone, UK, p. 18).

In the Constitutions 1723 there is mention of the ” shining and free Genius ” of the Freemasons, then in one of the songs in the appendix to the Constitutions the powerful Genius of the Upper Lodge is praised (” The Mighty Genius of the lofty Lodge “: p.80). Later in the title page of the Constitutions of 1784 will appear ” the Genius of Masonry “, a winged angel bearing light (a lucifer), defined as she (“She”). Initiatory androgyny? In Title II of Masonic Duties , Anderson writes that even if a Mason commits a crime against the State, he cannot be expelled from the Lodge and maintains an irrevocable bond (“indefeasible “), or indelible, with the Lodge (p. 50)

Also interesting is Anderson’s 1738 New Book of Constitutions approved by the Grand Lodge of London at the Devil’s Tavern . After Anderson’s preface, there is the image of a seated woman, surrounded by various objects including the Caduceus of Mercury (p. X), that is the winged staff with two entwined snakes, symbol of Hermes Trismegistus. In the appendix to The New Book of Constitutions there is a pamphlet from 1730, A Defense of Masonry , in which the rites and principles of Freemasonry are linked to those of ancient pagan, Egyptian, Pythagorean, Druid, Qabalist Mysteries (pp. 216- 226).

In 1739 a posthumous, non-Masonic work by Anderson, ” News from Elysium: or Dialogues of the Dead ” was published in two volumes in London . On the title page of both volumes stands the figure of Hermes Trismegistus flying in the sky and carrying his Caduceus (cf. AQC 18 (1905) pp. 34-37). In the second image Hermes / Mercury appears to have female breasts. Androgyny? 

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