Long before the establishment of
Freemasonry as a fraternity, a group of mystics founded in Europe
what was called the "Society of Unknown Philosophers."
Prominent among the
profound thinkers who formed the membership of this society were
the alchemists, who were engaged in transmuting the political
and religious "base metal" of Europe into ethical and
spiritual "gold"; the Qabbalists who, as investigators
of the superior orders of Nature, sought to discover a stable
foundation for human government; and lastly the astrologers who,
from a study of the procession of the heavenly bodies, hoped to
find therein the rational archetype for all mundane procedure.
Here and there is to be found a character who contacted this society.
By some it is believed that both Martin Luther and also that great
mystic, Philip Melanchthon, were connected with it. The first
edition of the King James Bible, Bible, which was edited by Francis
Bacon and prepared under Masonic supervision, bears more Mason's
marks than the Cathedral of Strasburg. The same is true respecting
the Masonic symbolism found in the first English edition of Josephus'
History of the Jews.
For some time, the
Society of Unknown Philosophers moved extraneous to the church.
Among the fathers of the church, however, were a great number
of scholarly and intelligent men who were keenly interested in
philosophy and ethics, prominent among them being the Jesuit Father,
Athanasius Kircher, who is recognized as one of the great scholars
of his day. Both a Rosicrucian and also a member of the Society
of Unknown Philosophers, as revealed by the cryptograms in his
writings, Kircher was in harmony with this program of philosophic
reconstruction. Since learning was largely limited to churchmen,
this body of philosophers soon developed an overwhelming preponderance
of ecclesiastics in its membership. The original anti-ecclesiastical
ideals of the society were thus speedily reduced to an innocuous
state and the organization gradually converted into an actual
auxiliary of the church.
A small portion of
the membership, however, ever maintained an aloofness from the
literati of the faith, for it represented an unorthodox class—the
alchemists, Rosicrucians, Qabbalists, and magicians. This latter
group accordingly retired from the outer body of the society that
had thus come to be known as the "Order of the Golden and
Rose Cross" and whose adepts were elevated to the dignity
of Knights of the Golden Stone. Upon the withdrawal of these initiated
adepts, a powerful clerical body remained which possessed considerable
of the ancient lore but in many instances lacked the "keys"
by which this symbolism could be interpreted. As this body continued
to increase in temporal power, its philosophical power grew correspondingly
The smaller group
of adepts that had withdrawn from the order remained inactive
apparently, having retired to what they termed the "House
of the Holy Spirit," where they were enveloped by certain
"mists" impenetrable to the eyes of the profane. Among
these reclusive adepts must be included such well-known Hermetic
Philosophers as Robert Fludd, Eugenius Philalethes, John Heydon,
Michael Maier, Henri Khunrath, Baron Tchoudy, Gitchel, Michael
Sendivogius, Louis de Saint Martin the eminent German Rudolph
Salzmann, Jacob Boehme and Honoré de Balzac.
These adepts in their retirement
constituted a loosely organized society which, though lacking
the solidarity of a definite fraternity, occasionally initiated
a candidate and met annually at a specified place.
It was the Comte de Chazal, an
initiate of this order, who "raised" Dr. Sigismund Bacstrom
while the latter was on the Isle of Mauritius. In due time, the
original members of the order passed on, after first entrusting
their secrets to carefully chosen successors. In the meantime,
a group of men in England, under the leadership of such mystics
as Ashmole and Fludd, had resolved upon repopularizing the ancient
learning and reclassifying philosophy in accordance with Bacon's
plan for a world encyclopedia. These men had undertaken to reconstruct
ancient Platonic and Gnostic mysticism, but were unable to attain
their objective for lack of information. Elias Ashmole may have
been a member of the European order of Rosicrucians and as such
evidently knew that in various parts of Europe there were isolated
individuals who were in possession of the secret doctrine handed
down in unbroken line from the ancient Greeks and Egyptians through
Boetius and the early Christian Church.
The efforts of the English group
to contact such individuals were evidently successful. Several
initiated Rosicrucians were brought from the mainland to England,
where they remained for a considerable time designing the symbolism
of Freemasonry and incorporating into the rituals of the order
the same divine principles and philosophy that had formed the
inner doctrine of all great secret societies from the time of
the Eleusinia in Greece. In fact, the Eleusinian Mysteries themselves
continued in Christendom until the sixth century after Christ.