THE CRAFT: Freemasonry began in Scotland

Where did Freemasonry begin?

Although many Masons will claim that Masonry began when the Grand Lodge of England was founded in London in 1717, there is ample evidence that Freemasonry actually began over one hundred years earlier. Lodge began in a land to the north that has always been looked down upon by the perennially status conscious British empire. So exactly where did Freemasonry begin? According to The Craft by esteemed historian John Dickie, Masonic Lodges began as Schaw Lodges in 16th century Scotland. Does this enhance my social status because I am a Scottish Mason? I certainly hope not. Superficial social status has become quite irrelevant to me in my blissful old age.

Social Status is in the eye of the beholder

What a pity that that the Brethren of Santa Monica-Palisades Masonic Lodge #307 are so status conscious as to exclude me from their secret inner circle as I would love to discuss The Craft with amateur historian and head status master James Lincoln Warren, P.M. Well, that is the whole point in having a blog such as this, I can speak to Bro. Warren by way of articles such as this, my social status be dammed! In a very inconvenient truth to the upper crust English Masons, James Dickie and others have postulated that Freemasonry had its beginnings under the aegis of King James VI of Scotland. The remainder of this blog has been lifted verbatim without authorization from The Craft, which should be required reading for any man who has the temerity to identify as a Freemason. As a Mason with a Scottish last name I am proud to say that whenever the question is asked: Where did Freemasonry begin? I can honestly answer that Freemasonry began in Scotland!

Woodcut showing the Scottish King, James VI [later, James I of England] overseeing the torturing of witches at Edinburgh, circa 1590. From the 1591 edition of ‘Newes from Scotland.’

ROYAL STATUS: Proto-Mason William Schaw

“(King) James built an administration, loyal only to him, from among the ranks of the gentry and intellectuals. One of those new men was William Schaw, who was a well-travelled and cultivated minor nobleman. Schaw was appointed Maister o’ Wark (Master of Works). His job entailed responsibility for the construction, repair and maintenance of all the King of Scotland’s buildings. He was also in charge of arranging royal ceremonies.” pp. 33-34.

Schaw’s Lodges

“Schaw’s Lodges were secret, hidden from the eyes of the guilds and local authorities. Although the minutes of Lodge meetings were to be written down, they were to be concealed from outsiders; and even then, only the practical affairs of the building trade were to be recorded. But there was much, much more to Schaw’s Lodges than practicalities. As one document from a seventeenth-century Scottish Lodge put it, there were ‘secrets which must never be written’. But we can identify clues to those unwritten secrets — and the first of them is to be found in the agreement drawn up between Schaw and the stonemasons.” pp. 35-36.

Where did Freemasonry begin? The mason’s mark on William Schaw’s tomb at Dunfermline Abbey. This appears in multiple places across the monument and is believed to be that of David Scougal of Crail.
Stonemasons became Hermeticists thanks to William Schaw

“Schaw was effectively telling the Scots stonemasons that they too were Hermeticists. Though they had not realized it, they were right at the forefront of humanity’s most exalted philosophical endeavor. Just as Vitruvius had recommended in De architectura, they were intellectuals as well as builders. Hermeticism chimed powerfully with many of the bits and pieces of folklore that were already there in the stonemasons’ Old Charges. Geometry. Arcane wisdom handed down since time immemorial. Hermes Trismegistus: the same wise man who, according to the Old Charges, had found masonic wisdom engraved on a pillar after the Flood. Secret societies devoted to the pursuit of occult truth. Great buildings as stores of sacred knowledge. The Art of Memory. And then, of course, symbols, symbols everywhere. Under Schaw’s influence, the Lodges remained full of operative stonemasons, but they also became speculative in the sense that they engaged in rituals with a philosophical aim — to use the terms employed by Masonic historians. Schaw’s negotiations with the stonemasons never reached a satisfactory conclusion. He drew up statutes for the Lodges, but died in 1602. Nevertheless, Schaw’s network of territorially based Lodges did survive and spread. By 1710, there were around thirty of them across Scotland. There is no English Masonic Lodge that can boast a documented date of birth earlier than 1716. Yet 80 per cent of the Scottish Lodges we know about from Schaw’s time still exist today. Kilwinning, Edinburgh, Stirling: these are the oldest Masonic Lodges in the world, and have now been around for more than four centuries. Scottish Masons are very proud of this continuity over time.” pp. 37-38.

The Prejudiced Brits write Scotland out of Masonic history

“Several things account for the way Scotland was edited out of Masonic history by The Constitutions of the Freemasons in 1723. The first is prejudice. At a time when lots of Scots like (James) Anderson were moving to London, English perceptions of them were stereotypical: a funny accent, red hair, ignorance of the proper way to use a privy, etc. More significantly, Scotland inspired nervousness because of its religious extremism: both Catholic Jacobitism and Protestant nonconformity were strong north of the border. Finally, Scotland was the ancestral home of the Stuart dynasty, to which Tories and Jacobites were attached. Scotland meant controversy, which was the one thing the Whig Masons grouped around the Grand Lodge wanted to avoid. So the crucial role that Scotland had played in the early history of the Craft was excised. Shaw may have taught Craftsman the Art of Memorie in Edinburgh, but the Constitutions taught hem the art of forgetting in London. No wonder Freemasons since then have had such a hard time tracing their true lineage.” p. 62