Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Religion of Freemasonry Illuminated by the Kabbalah [Westcott paper, 1887]

William Wynn Westcott (1848-1925) is best known as one of the founders of "The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn" (1887). By education he was a medical doctor, and he was a coroner by profession.

He joined Freemasonry in 1871 and was Master of his Lodge by 1874. 

 In 1880 he joined the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, where he was Chief after the death of Woodman in 1891.

In 1887, Westcott became the 15th "full member" of the Quatuor Coronati 2069 research lodge, where he was Master from 1893-1894.

He also published his translation of the Sefer Yetzirah in 1893.

In 1887, he delivered the following lecture to his Quatuor Coronati lodge (as recorded in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum Vol.1 [1888]):


8th SEPTEMBER, 1887.

Bro. Dr. William Wynn Westcott read the following paper:


FREEMASONRY, our English Craft, describes itself as a "system of morality veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols." A little consideration will, I feel sure, convince us that it is something more than this.

'Tis not the whole of life to live,
Nor all of death—to die,

wrote the poet Montgomery, and the aphorism is applicable also to Freemasonry. Our Ritual presents us with ample internal evidence that the mystery of the Craft lies deeper than a mere scheme of moral maxims. Our Ritual contains distinct prayers, addressed to the clearly defined one God ; the Unity of the God we address is the essence of his type.

Our Ritual includes several most serious obligations. To what? To morality? No, to secrecy. These obligations are taken subject to certain penalties. What penalties? Fine? Or seclusion? No, to penalties of whose nature we are all aware and which I need not therefore particularize.

Can any rational man believe that such formulae were originally designed for the purpose of veiling a scheme of morality; a system of morals suitable to all men, whose realization would be the achievement of earthly perfection ? Our Ritual emhodies and traces out a definite legend, or set of legends, it insists on the acceptance of these events as positive truth, wholly apart from any evidence from common history. Nay, even in spite of it. These events must be grasped by the perfect mason as masonic truth, and not believed only, but personally acted. Could such an unusual, not to say unnatural, claim on a man be made simply to veil a moral precept ? Could such a state of mind and body be made peremptory simply to paint a beautiful allegory?

Our mysteries are positively guarded by signs, tokens, and words, so stringently accorded and so carefully preserved, the profane are clearly convinced that even the most apparently reliable exposes of them are but make-believes. If these secret modes of recognizance shrouded but a scheme to make men more honest, or more charitable, is it reasonable to suppose that this sanctity would have grown up around them?

No, my brethren, it would have been but a vain and foolish association which should have been created to make a secret of morality.

Freemasonry, then, must be something more, much more. To us, the representatives of the Freemasonry of to-day it may be but a light thing, and I fear it often is. But let us remember our great claim, the early origin of our Order, there must be our hunting ground for the cause of our secrecy, for the constitution of the Fraternity, for the intense obligations imposed on each one of us.

And now I would ask each of you what is the greatest aim of an earthly existence? Is it not to prepare for another? Do we not all feel assured that we must come to an end of this terrene existence? Do we not feel that the "I," the " Ego" within each one of us cannot end with this world? "To sleep, to die, perchance to dream; ay, there's the rub."

The aim of each mortal, then, is to grasp at an ideal life, to prepare for another stage of existence; and how? How but through one's Creator? Who else could make or mar my life—but I and my Creator ? Religion is the name we mortals give to our aspirations towards our Creator, and to our schemes to read Him.

Religion, then, is the key to try in this secret lock ; a secret religion might need hiding, what from? Whom from? From one's Creator? No; from one's fellow man, who in time past as far as history can reach, has never failed to sully the face of this fair earth with blasphemies, with idolatry, with persecutions, with religious martyrdom. Religious zeal and intolerance have been too often but convertible terms.

To combat the risk of death what weapon should we expect to find chosen? What but the threat of death? Not a perfect Aveapon possibly, not air ideally perfect one, not a heavenly one; but one applicable and competent to protect against evil doers.

Now Freemasonry has, it has appeared, a grand central idea, a creator, a One God. Does history give us any record that the holders of such a dogma have been the mass of the inhabitants, or the greatest men throughout the world, or throughout the centuries ? Or does history show us that believers in a unique impersonal Deity, pure and undefiled, not consenting unto iniquity, have ever been aught but a minority, often persecuted, and always reviled ? The minority has doubtless been a growing one, and has of late been too important to be crushed by threats of death, and in a parallel mode we now find as I pointed out at first we have even arrived at the stage of having forgotten why our obligations were designed.

Such, my brethren, is the suggestion of my theme; our present system of allegorical morality is the lineal descendant of true veiled Monotheism, which in a pagan and persecuting world had need in every clime and in every age of some scheme of self-defence.

We may not be able to trace in definite order every step in the vast procession of forms through which the Monotheistic secret has been shrouded, veiled, and preserved, or even to trace a distinct groove in the wheel of time in any one nation or century, but history is at no time free from the survival of scraps of evidence that a mystic association was at work, preserving and consecrating some high ideal, some great dogma.

The absence of distinct and definite histories of secret Monotheistic societies is really an evidence of their reality and of their successful operation, and the vast number of forms assumed by the true Believers, at one time resembling a military organization, at another a priesthood, at another a philosophic sect, at another time the secret held by three, two, or even one man—a king—at others of wide-spread significance, is to me but evidence of the reality of my contention.

And I affirm, and could afford considerable evidence in support of the view that even among the priesthood of what have apparently been the most debased and extravagant
religions, there has always existed an esoteric doctrine held by a select hierarchy, and that doctrine the Unity of God, as a Creator, Designer, and Ruler, apart from the modes of His manifestation to us mortals, whether by processes and sublime emanations, or by Sonship, or by influence of the Holy Spirit, or by the development in sex, or by maternity ; all of these modes of representing the action of a unique impersonal God, in relation to His works.

The Jews have ever been true Monotheists and have been ever persecuted, and the Old Testament, their own narrative of themselves, is perhaps the chief extant volume recording struggles to preserve a pure Theocracy, to preserve a religion of Monotheism, pure and free from idolatry. And although at times we find, superficially speaking, the whole Jewish nation gone astray, yet there is collateral evidence that there were at every epoch some true believers.

As the Jewish power declined, and at length fell, pure Monotheism trembled, and had to shroud its head for a long period from the dominant pagan conquerors. Hence arose one
series of secret associations which has extended down to our own times, and whose development is now in our midst as Freemasonry, to me the lineal descendant of the early schemes and associations designed to perpetuate a pure religion and a corresponding system of moral ethics.

Our secret brotherhood, note, has a specially Judaic basis, our main legend is connected with that greatest Jewish law giver and ruler, Solomon. Our present doctrine is a Unitarianism, clothed with the Christian virtues. If Freemasonry arose as an entirely new scheme in the 16th or 17th century it must have arisen in a Christian land, and would certainly have been marked by specially Trinitarian features, which would have remained permanent.

Now as collateral evidence of my contention I pray you to follow me into the consideration that in our Freemasonry may yet be traced allusions and references to that system of esoteric teaching and dogma, which was undeniably the result of the destruction of the exoteric Montheism of Judea, I mean the Jewish Kabbalah—which first took shape as a definite secret Sophia, wisdom or doctrine after the Fall of Jerusalem, and which was founded on the basis of the Monotheistic truths accumulated during centuries of more or less pure outward observance of a Monotheistic religion.

This Kabbalah then crystallized gradually into a theological scheme, and became more and more elaborated through the dark ages following the ruin of the Augustan era ; to dominant paganism followed utter ignorance of the masses until a dawn arose in Europe and a Monotheism was developed anew, not Jewish, but Christian, and became exoteric, and its exoterism became its weakness, and its priesthood became once more self seeking, and neglected the primal truth—yet even through this period the esoteric purity was preserved by the few, by the learned, by the pious.

I will not wander into the area of discussion which rages around the sole origin of Freemasonry from trade guilds, from Templarism, from the Jewish race, from the Hermeticists, or from the Rosicrucians.

I am content to recognize that all these associations have been concerned in its growth, and am content that our present system points boldly to the cardinal truth, confessing that in its progression along the ladder of time it has been assisted by each and all of these, and has survived them, and has thus proved its right to exist. To say the least of it the mystery would only be increased by a dogma that the officials of Freemasonry in the seventeenth century were so intensely learned that they constructed proprio motu, such a system, in which the doctrines and essays of the most ancient Aporreta shine forth.

The Kabbalah as a system of Theosophy has pre-eminent claims to be considered primus inter pares, among all the theistic speculations of mankind, which have a bearing on, and have taken part in the formation of, the Masonic Aphanism. I shall briefly point out a few masonic points which are illuminated by a  comparison with the Kabbalah. Some references to the mysteries are conveniently interspersed, of these there is much evidence that the Egyptian forms are the oldest; now it must be specially remembered that the Lecture on the Tracing Board of the first degree actually refers to these customs of the ancient Egyptians as the fount of origin for many masonic points ; it refers also to the doctrines of Pythagoras whose five poined star I mention later on.

Among the masonic points which have been derived from the ancient mysteries, I notice the triple degrees of the system corresponding to the mysteries of Serapis, Iris, and Osiris. Now our second degree has feminine suggestions; note, Shibboleth, the ear of corn, the water, for corn refers to the goddess Ceres, female, or Demeter, Gemeter. earth mother, and water is female in all old languages ; compare Binah. mother deity ; and our third is a very close approximation to that which represented the slaying of Osiris. The battery of acclamation when the candidate is restored to light is a direct imitation of the sudden crash of feigned thunder and lightning by w^hich the neophyte of the Eleusinian mysteries was greeted. The death of Osiris and resurrection as Horus are represented as the decease of the fellow craft and the raising of a new master mason.

The entered apprentice is referred to three lights, these are Osiris in the east, Isis in the west, and Horus. who was master or living lord in place of Osiris, in the south. Note also that there is no light in the north, the type of night and of darkness, in this also theidea is an ancient one. The three great, though emblematic lights compose a bright triangle the three lesser lights an inferior or darker one, the two combined may be considered in a group as a six-pointed star, the Hexapla, or Seal of Solomon, which was also a notable emblem in all the old initiations. The Hexapla was a type of the number six, esteemed a male number assigned by the Kabbalists to Microprosopus, the Vau of the Hebrew alphabet and of the Tetragrammaton, the six middle Sephiroth, especially the median 6th, the Tiphereth, or Beauty of the Deity.

The Pentalpha., or emblem of health, the Pythagorean emblem, is the five-pointed Masonic star, five in the Hebrew He, a female potency according to the Kabbalah, and may be either the superior He, the mother idea, or the lower He, the Bride of God, the Church, the Kingdom, the two together constitute the Elohim, a feminine plural noun, constantly used as a title for creative power in the narrative of Genesis in chapter one, and up to the end of verse four of chapter two, where the Jehovist narrative commences.

It is a curious coincidence that the Acacia referring to the burial of H.A., and which the fellow crafts, dressed in white, carried in their hands as emblems of their innocence is the same word as the Greek aKaKia, which means innocence ; it was also an emblem of immortality.

The insistance on a candidate for masonry proving himself free from deformity is a requirement which was common to the selection from among the Levites of a priest of the Jews (see Leviticus xxi., 18), and to the reception of a neophyte in both the Egyptian and the Eleusinian mysteries, and a further point of resemblance is seen in the refusal to admit a slave, or any but a free man. If the whole aim of Freemasonry were to propagate brotherly love and charity, why refuse to extend its blessings to the cripple, or the maimed or to him in subjection.

The legend of the Three Grand Masters, of whom one is lost—becomes removed to the invisible world—is a curious image of the Kabbalistic first triad of the emanations of the unseen and unknowable Ain Soph Aur, the boundless one, boundless light, first is Kether the Crown, thence proceed Chochmahand Binah, wisdom and understanding, and then is the Crown concealed and lost to perception in its exaltedness, the word is lost, and replaced by other titles.

In the Ten Sephiroth, as in our Lodges, we are taught of two great pillars, one on the right and on the left, the pillars of Mercy and Judgment ; then a third exists between them that of severity, tempered by mercy, and called pillar of Mildness. These are similar to the Masonic pillars of Wisdom, Strength and Beauty, while the Ain Soph Aur above them is the Mystic Blazing Star in the East. Wisdom, Strength and Beauty are the Sephirotic Triad of Chochmah, Geburah, and Tiphereth.

The several emanations of the Sephiroth of the Kabbalah, one proceeding from the other, produce, as they are always designed in visible form, a tortuous path, at once reminding us of the Winding Staircase. Indeed one form of the contemplation of the Eternal was described by the Kabbalists as ascending by the Sephirotic names and descending by the paths. This tortuous path is also like the lightning flash, as is said in the " Sepher yetzirah " or " Book of Formations," which has been translated by myself and is now published at Bath, and is, perhaps, the oldest monotheistic philosophical tract in existence. Note, the Son of God is also spoken of as the " Light of the World."

Four tassels refer to four cardinal virtues, says the first degree Tracing Board Lecture these are temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice ; these again were originally branches of the Sephirotic Tree, Chesed first, Netzah fortitude, Binah prudence, and Geburah justice. Virtue, honour, and mercy, another triad, are Chochmah, Hod, and Chesed.

Another well-known Sephirotic Triad deserves mention here, the concluding phrase of the Lord's Prayer, of the Prayer Book version, which, however, is not found in the Douay version, nor in the revised New Testament, viz : the kingdom, the power, and the glory Malkuth, Netzah, and Hod.

As may be seen by the diagram many triads may be formed, and different authors speak of different numbers ; thus Frater S. C. Gould, of Manchester, New Hampshire describes nine ; Fra. MacGregor Mathers, notes ten ('Kabbalah', pg 267) but even more may be formed of course, if relative sequence be not insisted upon.

The Winding Staircase consisted of 3, 5, 7 steps, if not of more, of these three referred to the three Rulers of a Lodge, these are the three mother letters of the Hebrew alphabet, A, M, S, typical again of fire, air, and water, the three first Sephiroth. Five to hold a Lodge and seven to make it perfect, these are the Hebrew seven double letters, parallel emblems to seven planets and seven lower Sephiroth. Three, five and seven amount to fifteen, which is equivalent to JAH, God, Yod, and He, ten and five ; every Hebrew word is also a number and the reverse. These seven persons, again, are typical of the seven most learned Rabbis who held the Assembly named in the Zohar, Idra Suta, in which the essence of Deity is discussed as a Holy Mystery. The still more Holy Assembly of Rabbis, the Idra Rabba included three more, these formed the Keepers of the Veils of the original R. A. Chapter, for whom the lower offices of Treas., I. G. and Sentinel are now substituted; some very learned patron of the order caused this change to be made, fearing that it might be a blasphemy to represent these three highest powers in a Lodge which might become too ordinary a business. They were types of the first Sephirotic Triad. Freemasons little know how close they have been to the personation of the most exalted types of Omnipotence.

The letter G. in the centre of a Fellow Crafts Lodge, has received several explanations; I would add that it has a relation to Ghimel, the Hebrew G, the third letter of the alphabet, the three, meaning Trinity of Deity ; the third Sephira is Binah, the mother of Microprosopus, the son, a feminine potency, Mother of God, with uncial Greek capital G. The present masonic interpretation is folly, the idea of a modern ornamental lecturer. 

Again the two parallel lines, the one Moses, the other King Solomon, enclosing a circle, bearing a central point, is purely Kabbalistic. The point is Tiphereth, beauty of conduct within a circle of virtues and bounded by the pillars Mercy and Justice. 

Regard for a moment the varying titles; Great Architect, the Foundation, Jesod the centre of the lowest triad. 

Grand Geometrician, the beauty of design, Tiphereth, centre of the median triad. 

Most High, the awful Kether, the Crown, partly concealed, at sight of whose face a mortal, unprepared, must die. Notice the grandeur and mystery increases as we pass up the Masonic ladder or the Sephirotic Tree.

The perambulation by the candidate under appropriate guidance is an apt imitation of the ceremony in the Ancient Mysteries.

Another remnant of the same form was until recently, and may be still, extant in Scotland, the highland custom Deasil was to walk three times round a person in the direction of the sun, for favourable effect. To perambulate against the sun was called Widdershins, and was an evil omen and act.

Freemasonry, as one special development of a long series of Monotheistic secret associations, being constituted on a basis of masonic operations by masculine operatives, has perhaps necessarily excluded females; many military and hierarchical mystical societies have also from their essence consisted of males alone. The very low state of female culture in the ancient world and during the middle ages, also no doubt contributed towards the exclusion of women from mystic rites and from active interference with religious ceremonies; an exclusion which, were we about to constitute a new form of concealed worship, would hardly be tolerated in the present year of grace, and certainly could not be defended in argument. This ancient exclusion of women from secret rites (to which there were some few exceptions) has been expanded also in another direction, with baneful result : I refer to the complete removal of all female types, forms, and stages from the ideas of the higher powers, angels, archangels, and the emanations of Deity, which certainly existed in the oldest forms of the Kabbalah, and in the minds of the composers of the early chapters of the Pentateuch. It cannot be doubted that a very large number of minds cling firmly to the Roman Catholic type of religion, owing to its insistence on reverence and praise to the beatified woman - Mary — who is representative of the ancient views of the female counterpart of God-head.

With this digression I must conclude, and I beg for a lenient judgment on these discursive remarks on our mystic order, for even if the views be erroneous, they may yet call up a refutation which shall be found of great value to the brethren present, and Freemasons in general.


Bro. Gould took exception to the main argument of the paper. However correct it might be to aver that the craft's religious teachings were now Monotheistic or unsectarian, this could not strengthen Bro. Westcott's views, unless it were shown that such had always been the case. Now, as a matter of fact, in almost all the genuine documents of the Freemasons, direct invocations to the Trinity were found, and the existing Masons' Creed was unknown before 1717—1723.

Bro. Simpson pointed out that many of the peculiarities adduced by the Lecturer were not confined to the Kabbalah, but were, on the contrary, universally met with throughout the East. These would, therefore, carry no weight in the present instance ; but this fact did not detract from the value of the other similarities brought to their notice. He concluded by moving a vote of thanks.

Bro. Dr. Woodman rose with great pleasure to second the vote of thanks to Bro. Dr. Westcott. He pointed out the proper view that was to be taken of the teachings of the Craft in language closely corresponding with that of our ceremonies, insisting that the great and 78 Transactions of the Lodge Quatuor Goronati final purpose was the knowledge of God. That in these aims we not only joined hands with the Kabbalah, but, as Dr. Westcott bad shewn, also followed in many instances its methods. 

Bro. Speth admitted, as stated in the paper, that the Craft required morally free and sound men as candidates for its mysteries, and that not so very long ago these pre-requisites were insisted upon in their physical and literal sense. But he failed to see that herein we copied the Levites. Whatever may have been the primary origin of our Craft, its immediate past was bound up with the trade guilds. These refused an apprentice of unsound limbs, because the chances of his becoming a burden on the funds of the fraternity were obvious; neither was it likely that he would prove a profitable servant, especially in so arduous an occupation as masonry. For the same weighty reasons Freemasonry rejected a candidate on the verge of pauperism. The guilds insisted upon free birth from a feeling of pride and superiority to the bondsman or bondsman's son, a sentiment which Bro. Speth in no way blamed, as we should all probably have been actuated by it had we lived in the times when villainage and serfdom were yet flourishing. Besides which, if the guilds had taught their mysteries to a bondsman, it is obvious that he could have been forced by his lord to work for him at that special craft without adequate remuneration, and thereby lowered the standard of wages. Bro. Speth therefore looked upon the Levitical observance as a pure Coincidence. Further, Bro. Westcott, had alluded to the feminine character of the second degree, but had failed to show that the degree in itself wasancieut. If not, any resemblance now must be of no consequence, as being imported and casual. He himself held the second degree to be a fragment of the first degree, separated from its parent at the beginning of the last century ; but that was a matter too lengthy to go into at the present moment. Bro. Mathers supported the lecturer, and in answer to the last speaker mentioned several matters as corroborative of the essentially feminine colouring of the second degree.

Bro. Woodford (in the chair) in summing up, could not avoid once more congratulating the members on the obvious advisability and utility of such discussions so wisely inaugurated by the Lodge Quatuor Coronati. He thought it -was now plain that they were not only interesting to those present, but possessed much educational value, as leading to thought, study, and verification. He could not agree, he felt honestly bound to say, either with Bro. Westcott's premises or conclusions. His studies with respect to the myths, legends, and cosmogonies of the world, led him to regard a Trinitarian rather than a Monotheistic teaching as universal, and whilst admitting a large Hebraic influence on Freemasonry, he could give it no preponderating claim, but pointed to Phoenician, Roman, and Greek mysteries, Hermeticism, Rosiorucianism, and other factors, as all contributing largely to the present complex fabric. He, however, welcomed all contributions from all sources and all students, towards the elucidation of the general subject, and must confess that Bro. Westcott had certainly called their attention to many curious analogies.

The vote of thanks was then put and passed, and the brethren adjourned to refreshment.

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