For more information, see:
Note: Both Masons and non-Masons alike are often confused when the subject
of esoterica is raised. This FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) was prepared by a
Texas Mason who seeks no credit for this work but has offered it to us in order
to present a balanced understanding of what Masonic Esoteric study is really all
about. It is, we feel, a very fair and objective
treatment of this area which so very often causes contention, confusion, and
concern - even amongst members of the Fraternity as explained below. We greatly appreciate
the time and effort which went into its preparation and thank him for the opportunity to present it here.
We believe that both Masons and their detractors, if they took the time to
understand what has been written here, would find far fewer objections to those
who study esoteric matters.
1. What is esotericism,
and how does it differ from the "esoteric work" of Masonic ritual?
a. Here is the entry for
"esoteric" from Miriam-Webster:
Etymology: Late Latin esotericus, from Greek esOterikos, from esOterO,
comparative of eisO, esO within, from eis into; akin to
Greek en in -- more at IN
1 a : designed for or
understood by the specially initiated alone <a body of esoteric
legal doctrine -- B. N. Cardozo> b
: requiring or exhibiting knowledge that is restricted to a small group <esoteric
terminology> <esoteric strategies>; broadly : difficult to understand
a : limited to a small circle <engaging in esoteric pursuits>
b : PRIVATE, CONFIDENTIAL <an esoteric purpose>
: of special, rare, or unusual interest <esoteric building
In Masonry, "esoteric work" refers to the elements of Masonic ritual
and teaching that are to be communicated only to a properly qualified member
and are unlawful to write or publish. Esotericism is a broader field of
studies and practices.
For a good summary of what esotericism means in a scholarly context, we refer
to Antoine Faivre, Professor of Esoteric and Mystical Currents in Modern and
Contemporary Europe at the Ecole Practique des Huates Etudes (Sorbonne), in
Paris. Perhaps his most notable works are his contributions to the SUNY series
in Western Esoteric Traditions.
(masonicinfo.com suggests a couple of books
below as well!)
Faivre says that since its first use in 1828,
the term "esotericism" has generally referred to three different
areas of interest:
Secret knowledge or secret science preserved as arcana and passed on to only
a select few. Masonic ritual is performed in secret, and it may be thought
of as a science by which Masons become more educated in the principles,
virtues and obligations of the fraternity. Drama, symbolism, and allegory
are key methods in this science. In the field of education, these methods
are widely understood to have instructive value, yet nowhere are they
practiced and preserved as they are in Masonry.
Paths or techniques addressed to the truths hidden or secluded within Nature
or Man, the knowledge of which is attained by only those who have achieved
or received a gnostic or transformative experience. Our own ritual teaches
us that Speculative Masonry "leads the contemplative to view with
reverence and admiration the glorious works of creation and inspires him
with the most exalted ideas of the perfections of his Divine Creator."
"By it [Geometry] we discover the power, the wisdom, and the goodness
of the Grand Artificer of the Universe, and view with delight the
proportions which connect this vast machine." Clearly these statements
are not limited to the issue of morality, but neither do they specify
practices or doctrines peculiar to any one religion.
Groups of works and currents dealing with perennial philosophy, Hermeticism,
alchemy, astrology, Kabbalah, Christian theosophy, and so on, which can be
subjected to historical studies. Although our Craft ritual does not refer
directly to such traditions and teachings, rightly or wrongly many
esotericists believe that there are allusions to them throughout the
teachings and symbolism of our rituals. Some historians, both Masonic and
non-Masonic, hypothesize that various esoteric traditions and ideas
influenced the founding and/or development of Speculative Masonry,
especially when considering the plethora of rites and degrees with overt
references to such traditions that began within a few decades after the
founding of the Grand Lodge of England. Such references continue to exist today in certain
degrees of the appendant rites, but they do not require Masons to accept the
doctrines or practices of any specific religion.
What are Masonic esotericists and what do they do?
In all other respects they are usually ordinary Masons, and typically are
serving the fraternity in every jurisdiction, appendant body, and official
capacity. They pursue esotericism because it is a personal interest, and not
because they believe it is a requirement of Masonry. To many people, Albert Pike
is the epitome of a Masonic esotericist.
They are men trying to improve
themselves in Masonry by:
Examining the great questions of life. - Where did
I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? What is the essential nature of
reality? What is wisdom, truth, or beauty? Etc.
("Know thyself"). - What do I really believe and value? What are my
virtues and vices? What are the secret hopes and fears that influence how I
think, feel and act? How do I need or want to change? Etc.
historians researching esoteric influences on the ritual, symbols, and
philosophies of Masonry. They ask questions such as: To what extent were early
Masons interested in such things as ? Why were they interested in them? How did those
interests affect the principles, values and ideals of Masonry as we know it
They are scholars performing comparative studies of ritual, symbolism
and teachings among Masonry and other fraternal, philosophical and spiritual
traditions. They ask questions such as: What are the parallels and differences
between Masonry and other traditions? How might those parallels and differences
shed more light on the meanings of our ritual, symbols, and myth?
students of life pursuing more light through studies in psychology, sociology,
anthropology, mythology, philosophy, religion, history, languages, etc. Masonry
teaches us to polish and adorn our minds, to advance ourselves in learning, to
improve our relationships with others, to always seek more light, and to search
for that which has been lost. Each of these noble pursuits is advanced by
studies in the humanities, the liberal arts and sciences that address the
individual human being, society, and culture, all of which are Masonic concerns.
They are contemplatives practicing various disciplines of meditation,
including prayer. The most revered saints and respected sages of history have
practiced meditation and extolled its virtues, as have a considerable number of
modern psychologists and clergy. Meditation has been identified as the key that
opens the door to spiritual enlightenment, and lauded as an indispensable means
to attain the fullest measures of peace, joy, health, artistic creativity,
personal productivity, philosophical insight, and understanding and compassion
for our fellow human beings. In short, meditation is understood to be a valuable
working tool in achieving everything that Masonry values.
3. Why haven't I seen
or heard more about Masonic esotericists?
They may not want to force their
views on others. Many esotericists have learned that the insights and
inspirations that come through the study and practice of esotericism are often
very personal and not easily communicated to others, especially those who have
not done the same kinds of work.
They may not want to fuel anti-Masonic
attacks. While Masonic esotericists know that no single person or sub-group of
the fraternity speaks for the whole, they are well aware that anti-Masons have
often based their intolerant criticisms of the fraternity on the opinions and
beliefs of a few Masonic esotericists. Of course, these attacks are always based
upon very narrow religious views, which almost automatically rule out the
generally open-minded willingness of esotericists to investigate different
beliefs and practices.
They may want to avoid conflict with anti-esoteric
brothers. It is unfortunately the case that some Masons have significant
prejudice of their own, and thus esoteric brothers who have spoken up have too
often been ridiculed as misguided zealots, incompetent scholars, ignorant dupes,
deluded crackpots, or even malicious phonies.
4. Why would anyone object to
esotericism in Masonry?
a. Some people may misunderstand esotericism as
un-Masonic. Most Masons who consider themselves esotericists are individuals
practicing "regular" Masonry in duly constituted lodges in accordance
with the ancient charges and landmarks. Masonic esotericists are not making a
religion of Masonry, though they are often exploring its spiritual implications.
Some of these regular Masonic esotericists may also belong to unofficial Masonic
clubs or groups based upon their shared interest in esotericism. However, there
are a number of unrecognized, spurious, or clandestine organizations claiming
the right to make Masons and emphasizing esotericism as central to their
teaching and aims. Being a Masonic esotericist does not mean that one belongs to
any such organization.
b. Some people may be concerned that esotericism is
incompatible with the "Abrahamic" faiths, or even "satanic".
Masonic esotericists believe in the same principles, virtues, and ideals that
unite all Masons, no matter what their specific religious preferences. From a
radically conservative or fundamentalist point of view it may be impossible to
think of esotericism as anything but heresy and even evil, but the same is true
of Masonry. From such a perspective it is almost always the case that one's own
beliefs are the only ones that are good or true while everything else is evil or
false. The fact is that there have been and are now esoteric traditions in all
three of the great Western religions. In Christianity there are the
contemplative practices of monastic orders like the Jesuits, as well as
apostolic denominations and churches that are Gnostic in orientation. In Judaism
there are a number of esoteric currents, including the orthodox Chabad
Kabbalists of the Chasidim. In Islam there are the Sufi orders.
esotericists have not always exercised the highest standards in their historical
research of Masonry and, as a result, have made claims about the fraternity's
origins that are easily discredited. Often this pattern has been more about
incomplete research, unreliable or discredited sources, and overconfidence in
speculations than it has been about any intention to mislead anyone. The most
scholarly of Masonic esotericists know the difference between speculations and
substantive conclusions, and they are comfortable in acknowledging which kinds
of thoughts they are voicing.
d. Some Masons have publicly accused Masonic
esotericists of intellectual conceit and elitism. In their enthusiasm for what
they have personally discovered in their esoteric studies and practices, some
Masons have been overzealous in presenting them as the secret or true meanings
of Masonic ritual and symbolism. Such authors are at times offensive in their
claims that a "real" Mason must be an esotericist who thinks just as
they do. Intolerance and narrow-mindedness is no more acceptable from
esotericists than it is from any other Mason. Conscientious Masonic esotericists
understand that no single Mason or group of Masons speaks for the entire
fraternity. They also warmly acknowledge that there are many different interests
that men can explore in Masonry, that we are all equal in our obligations to one
another, and that our fraternity is united in its dedication to God and by the
cement of brotherly love and affection.
How can I learn more about Masonic esotericism or get in contact with Masonic
for membership in the Yahoo Esoteric Freemasonry Group at
Note: Just because an organization claims to be "Freemasonry" or
"true Freemasonry" doesn't mean that they are. As our section on Masonic
Fakes and Phonies shows, there are those who wish, for their own personal gain and profit,
to exploit individuals who may be interested in esoteric matters -
and they have, at best, a tangential attachment to Freemasonry while at worst,
they're simply con artists! Do not be misled and do not join an organization
hoping some great spiritual enlightenment will come to you because you've paid
some amount in dues. Be cautious in your affiliations and ensure that if you
want to join Freemasonry, you are joining for (a) the right reasons and (b)
the right organization!
Just getting started?
just beginning the path of esoteric studies or those who feel they really should
understand more in this area can be greatly overwhelmed by the
many contradictory readings and tomes found online. Where does one begin? From
personal experience, this site's author would strongly recommend Frances Yates'
"The Rosicrucian Enlightenment". It's not written like a 'dummies'
book, certainly, but it does an extraordinary job helping someone to take their
first steps in this murky area. Once read, so many things will become clear and
you'll have a much better grounding for later study knowing what's real and
what's simply imagination. It's a book not to be missed! The best part is that
it's really quite inexpensive - and you can get it for your Kindle DX Wireless Reading Device
or iPhone as well!
Even if you've already
begun studying esoteric matters, this book is one you shouldn't ignore!
added: 20 June 2004
Yahoo Groups address changed: 19 February 2005; Book recommendation added:
November 20, 2009