Hermetic Philosophy and
By Wor. Bro. Frederic L.
John Tolbert and Frederic L.
Recently I attended a Festive Board of Jewel P.
Lightfoot Lodge No 1283, Grand Lodge of Texas AF & AM. The guest speaker DDGM
John Tolbert made a passionate presentation on Hermeticism and Freemasonry
using slides as illustrations. That made his presentation peppered with
pictures which is what this article will look like. Jewel P. Lightfoot, the
founder of this Lodge, had a marked interest in Hermeticism as you will see.
This made the Presentation all the more personal to the members of this Lodge
assembled. Tolbert was kind enough to allow me to reprint his presentation
with his pictures which you will find below.
HERMETIC PHILOSOPHY AND FREEMASONRY
by Brother John
Have you ever wondered why all
of the words and passwords that we use in our degrees are in Hebrew and that
every prayer we use in our degrees are from the Old Testament?
Have you noticed that a Masonic
Lodge room is full of diametrically opposed objects and symbols which
represent polar concepts or ideas? Examples of these opposites are:
and Boaz / Wisdom and Strength
and Celestial Globes
Pavement / Black and White pavers
West…North and South
Sun and Moon
upon the right and left feet
and Eavesdroppers Ascending and Descending
Isn’t it interesting that Masons
are encouraged from the very beginning to control their passions and to pursue
a virtuous and pure life? It’s interesting, because the Greeks demanded the
very same thing from their candidates before they were admitted into the
Ancient Mystery Schools, and the
School of Pythagoras (you can see a map of the school
After reading thousands of pages
written by Masonic scholars, I am convinced that Freemasonry was not
“invented” by the English (nor the Scots) in the seventeenth or eighteenth
century. Yes, in the early eighteenth century, Freemasonry was developed into
a regulated institution and rituals were developed from existing initiatory
rites of operative Lodges, but something else was going on beneath the surface
and intellectuals of the time could sense that there was more.
In the most recent issue of
Heredom, the annual publication of the Scottish Rite Research Society, on
page 61 (a paper about the 1738 anti-Masonic Papal Bull by Marsha Keith
Schuchard) it reads:
“In January 1721, when the
William Stukeley (close friend of Newton and Desaguliers) determined to
join the fraternity, “suspecting it to be the remains of the mysteries of the
This illustrates that even from
the first years of organized Freemasonry, educated men were recognizing
something about Freemasonry that led them to believe that it was rooted in
ancient philosophy and concepts.
The namesake of this Lodge,
Jewel P. Lightfoot, speaks candidly to the Texas Mason concerning the mystical
and spiritual aspects of the Craft. Please listen carefully to the following
quote from the INTRODUCTORY in our current monitor, written
by Lightfoot many decades ago.
“ The presence in the
modern Masonic system, of many of the emblems, symbols and allegories of the
ancient Temples of Initiation, as well as certain rites performed therein,
has persuaded the most learned among Masonic scholars to conclude that
Masonry is of very ancient origin, and is, in some aspects, the modern
successor of, and heir to, the sublime Mysteries of the Temple of Solomon,
and the Temples of India, Chaldea, Egypt, Greece, and Rome [I am certain
that he was referring to the cult of Mithras], as well as the basic doctrine
of the Essenes, Gnostics and other Mystic Orders“
With this single quote, Brother
Lightfoot clearly asserts that Masonry contains remnants of the symbols and
rites of the Ancient Mysteries and Masonry also contains the
basic doctrines of known esoteric groups, which he terms, Mystic Orders.
This is precisely what the
antiquarian William Stukeley had noticed in 1721; there were aspects of
Freemasonry that seemed to have similarities to known rites and cults of the
This presentation is
specifically written to explore one well known stream of thought from the
ancient world, broadly called Hermetic Philosophy,
and its potential influence on the early progenitors of our Craft. Remember
that Stukeley was a close friend of Newton and Desaguliers.
John Theophilus Desaguliers is generally credited with the early
development of our three degree system, he was the secretary / research
assistant for Newton for twenty years, and he was also the third Grand Master
of English Lodges.
NOTE – The association of
Desaguliers with Isaac Newton is well worth researching; Newton was a
practicing alchemist, obsessed with King Solomon’s Temple, and concealed his
heretical religious views in enciphered writings, which were supposed to be
burned at his death but were retained and translated in the twentieth century.
Hermetic Philosophy focuses
around an entity called Hermes; this entity has also been named Thoth
(Egyptians), Mercury (Romans), and
Hermes Trismegistus or Hermes Thrice Great.
Thoth, Hermes, Hermes
Trismegistus, may or may not have been just a single person, but the name and
legend could have been inspired by some incredibly intelligent human (like
Plato, Pythagoras, or Hypatia) who had such a capacity for knowledge, that
their writings evolved into myth and legend, and sometimes converted into God
forms. Plato is a perfect example of how one very intelligent person can have
profound influence on entire civilizations, and the effects can last for
Most esoterically minded Masons
are already aware of the great intellect of “Hermes” and his contributions of
science and knowledge to mankind, but let’s examine how Hermetic Philosophy
was evident in 15th-18th century literature, art, and
direct Masonic connections.
It is important to recall at
this point that the typical European citizen had been enduring centuries of
civil unrest, violent revolutions, constant wars, disease epidemics, cruel
oppression from monarchs and religious authorities, public torture spectacles,
and the raw uncertainty of life itself. In light of these long term social
stresses, it is no wonder that a new, mysterious, and apparently ancient
spirituality would capture the fascinations of intellectuals and develop into
obsessions of looking for a better world, a pure un-corrupt religious
experience, and a closer relationship to God. These are the allures of
so-called Hermetic Philosophy.
The term Hermeticism, doesn’t
really have a dogmatic or well defined definition, but in general, it includes
the study of alchemy, gnostic spirituality, Kabbalah, theurgy, astrology, and
other mystical approaches to relating the physical reality to the spiritual
realm. Almost any occult science could be included under the Hermetic
The following is a brief and
certainly incomplete list of known references to the interest in Hermeticism
in 15-18th century Europe.
translation of what is now called the Corpus Hermeticum brought
Hermes and the mysterious writings into the focus of philosophers and the
ecclesiastic authorities. The Hermetic writings were interpreted as having
predicted the coming of Christ and therefor acceptable; a beautiful marble
floor panel in Siena Cathedral (1480s) in Italy depicts Hermes Trismegistus as
being a contemporary of Moses.
2. Hermes was a
central character in the Sloane (1646) manuscript Constitutions. Hermes
discovers the two pillars, one of brick and one of marble, which contain the
preserved wisdom and knowledge of the ancient masters.
being within the scope of Hermetic Philosophy is everywhere in Europe during
this period. The Medici funded translations of ancient scrolls rescued from
Byzantium revealed to the Western mind the concepts of alchemy. The
Rosicrucian manifestos of the early 1600’s, likely written by Johanne
Valentine Andreae and his associates, set off what is called a furor of
interest in alchemy as well.
4. Giordano Bruno
is travelling around Europe (the late 1500s) promoting controversial
mathematical and astronomic theories; he is also promoting the Hermetic Art of
Memory, which is not just a mnemonic strategy of memory, but a mystical
technique. Bruno was burned at the stake in early 1600 for his heretical
scientific and spiritual views.
5. William Shaw,
the Master of Werks for James VI, declares in the Second Shaw Statutes (1599)
that all craft fellows and prentices shall “Tak tryall of the art of
memory”. William Fowler, a colleague of Shaw, had met with Bruno in
London in the 1580s and it is feasible that this is how Shaw became exposed to
the Hermetic Art of Memory.
the Grand archivist of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, makes many references to
Hermeticism in his book
Cracking the Freemasons Code. Brother Cooper asserts Hermeticism
as being a component of Scottish Freemasonry in the 1500-1600s.
7. The interest in
Alchemy, astrology, magick, and the Kabbalah
are very evident in the circles of Royal Society members, and well known
Masonic persons. Elias Ashmole, Isaac Newton, Thomas Vaughn, and others were
known alchemists and studied occult subject matter; their personal libraries
are evidence of these interests. John Byrom maintained a group of
intellectually inclined Brothers who convened in an occasional gathering
called the Cabala Club, and Lodges in London have minutes showing that papers
were presented in Lodges about John Dee, Rosicrucians, and Jacob Boehme.
Boehme’s visionary spiritual writings as well as John Dee’s books of angel
magic and alchemy were of extreme interest to many intellectuals and free
thinkers during this time period.
8. Kabbalah teacher
Rabbi Leone Yahudahdi Modena, in 1680, lectured in London about Solomon’s
Temple, Lawrence Dermott, the Grand Secretary of the Antients refers to the
Rabbi, as Architect, Hebraist, and Brother.
9. Acception – There
existed in the 1600’s an elite organization, which was closely associated with
the London Mason’s Company, the operative organization of stone Masons. This
elite and secretive group was called
The Acception and only “accepted” very few members (one being
Elias Ashmole); the cost of membership was very high, and one had to be highly
educated and well respected. The early 20th century Masonic scholar
and writer Reverend Castells, asserts that the name “The Acception” is
synonymous to Kabbalah, which in Hebrew means “to receive.” Reverend Castells
is convinced that “The Acception” was a purely speculative Masonic
10. Medieval Kabbalists
held Hermes in great veneration, no wonder, since he is considered (in some
legends) as having given the Kabbalah to Moses. The Zohar contains phrases
which closely parallel the well known Hermetic motto, “As above so
below.” “Come and see: the world above and the world below are
perfectly balanced.” (Zohar 2:176b) Kabbalah and
Hermeticism share the all important mystical understanding of the balanced
interrelations of heaven and earth.