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Masonic Myth Making

The Falsified Sufferings of John Coustos for Free-Masonry

FROM THE CRAFT by John Dickie: In Lisbon on March 14, 1743, a forty-year old Swiss jeweler from London named John Coustos was abducted by the Holy Office of the Inquisition. His scalp was shaved, he was stripped naked and confined to a dungeon where he was charged with belonging to the horrid, sacrilegious and sodomite Sect of the Free-Masons. He was racked in an iron collar, and rings were attached to his arms and legs. He was stretched so tight that his blood spattered the floor beneath him. Between his cries he was repeatedly questioned. What is Freemasonry? What are its constitutions? What goes on at Lodge meetings? Eventually he passed out and was carried back to the dungeons whereupon he passed away the agonizing weeks by contemplating writing a book entitled, The Sufferings of John Coustos for Free-Masonry and for His refusing to turn Roman Catholic.

The dreaded strappado

Six weeks later, the Inquisitors tried again, this time with the dreaded strappado until his arms were broken and pulled from his shoulder sockets and blood poured from his mouth. Is Freemasonry a religion? Why do you not admit women? Is it because you are sodomites?

When the doctors had reset his bones and he had spent two months recovering, the torture resumed. This time, a chain was wound around his torso and attached to his wrists. Pulleys drew the chain ever tighter, squeezing his insides, and dislocating his wrists as well as his shoulders. Why all the secrecy in Freemasonry? What do you have to hide?

Coustos writes that he spent sixteen months in total in the dungeons of the Estaus Palace, endured nine bouts of torture and was condemned to four years as a galley slave. However despite being tortured and enslaved Coustos never once revealed any of the secrets of Freemasonry.

A STAR IS BORN: Timing is everything

When he finally reached London he satisfied the public appetite for books documenting the barbarities of the Roman Catholic Church. The Sufferings of John Coustos for Free-Masonry, complete with engravings of all the tortures its author had endured, was published at the perfect moment. Coustos became a celebrity. The book was widely translated and remained in print well into the nineteenth century. Here was a martyr for Freemasonry and its secrecy.

Most of it never really happened

Except for one major problem. Not much of Coustos sufferings actually happened. He was racked twice. For a little over fifteen minutes each time. But he was never subjected to the strappado or the nameless torture with the chain around his torso. He made the latter up.

Something else that Coustos neglected to tell his readers is that the so-called secrets of Freemasonry had already been published and were quite widely known. Literary exposure of Freemasonry is nearly as old as Freemasonry itself. Masonic secrets have never really been all that secret.

The secret is that there are no Masonic secrets

Coustos evidently found the temptation to pass himself off as a hero just too strong. So once back at liberty he doctored his story to perpetuate a beguiling myth: the idea that Freemasons are the bearers of some momentous or dangerous truth, to which only the chosen few can have access, and which they are bound by oath to safeguard at any cost. –The Craft, pp. 1-6

John Coustos (1703-1746)