GRAND LODGE FORMATION
The formation of the Grand Lodge of England on St. John’s Day (June 24) in 1717 is essentially the beginning of what is known as the “historical period of Freemasonry.” However we do know if the terms “Freemason” and “Freemason’s Lodges” were used during the mid-1600s.
The formation of Grand Lodge itself established rules for running Lodges the same way, so as to make them “regular.” Before the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, there were no standard rules for recording membership, or meeting proceedings. Thus, the events leading up to the formation of Grand Lodge are difficult to verify.
While the term “Free Mason” appears in the Halliwell poem, one of the earliest references to being a “Freemason” prior to the formation of Grand Lodge in 1717, appears a generation before during the height of the English Civil War. Elias Ashmole wrote in his diary entry for 16 October, 1646:
“I was made a Free Mason at Warrington in Lancashire, with Coll: Henry Mainwaring of Karincham [Kermincham] in Cheshire.”
Many scholars believe that Freemasonry was one of many social clubs that arose during the English Civil War.
Elias was an English polymath; part of a circle known at that time as the Invisible College, which was a network of intellectuals who maintained correspondence with each other on natural philosophy (i.e., what we now call “science”).
Another notable member of the Invisible College who was believed to be a Freemason, was Christopher Wren, who built St. Paul’s Cathedral and many other buildings after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Scholars disagree as to the level of Wren’s involvement in the Fraternity. Some say that he was even the Grand Master of Freemasons, a title that is disputed because it is difficult to have a Grand Master without a Grand Lodge, unless the title is entirely ceremonial.
From the evidence we do have, we know that Lodges existed before 1646 and operated with some regularity between themselves before a governing body was formed to govern over them all. The exact members of each Lodge, where they met, what rituals they practiced, and the methods of recognition allowing members to visit or join other Lodges was never written down, and thus impossible to document with certainty.
What we do know is that the Grand Lodge of England was formed when four Lodges gathered together on June 24th, 1717 at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House outside of St. Paul’s Churchyard in London. However, it is evident that they had been discussing forming a governing body for several years before this time. The Grand Lodge was used primarily to provide legitimacy to Freemasonry in general, as well as a public awareness campaign to promote the growth of the Fraternity.
Shortly after the formation of Grand Lodge, Lodges were chartered in dozens of cities across England. It should be noted that many of those Lodges “formed” after the formation of Grand Lodge, may have already been operating as Freemasons long before Grand Lodge, and their “chartering” would have been an annexation of the Lodges under the Grand Lodge of England as part of consolidation.
There is considerable controversy about what motivated the formation of the Grand Lodge of England. It seems possible that the Hanoverians wanted to know who the Masons were—because they tended to favor the House of Stuart—and thus wanted Freemasonry more “out in the open.” Many Lodges beyond London are said to have destroyed their records in response to the formation of the Grand Lodge—a fact that adds some credence to the Hanoverian theory.
With the influx of so many Lodges under Grand Lodge, Dr. James Anderson, a Scottish Presbyterian minister, was commissioned to record the history of Freemasonry up to that point. “The Book of Constitutions” includes many myths, rumors and legends already mentioned here on our site, along with others. Unfortunately this being a consolidation after the fact, and he cannot reference any primary sources, it cannot be considered as fact.
After the publication of Anderson’s “Book of Constitutions,” the minutes of every meeting of every Lodge were recorded. It is for this reason that after this point, Freemasonry entered its historical period.
ANCIENTS VS MODERNS
After the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, several lodges chose to remain independent by not merging with the larger superstructure. By not adopting the constitutions of the Grand Lodge of England, the rituals of many of these Lodges had variations that often were loved and held in high regard by their members.
In an effort to preserve what they felt were older and more authentic rituals than the Grand Lodge of England, they formed their own Grand Lodge, which they called “The Most Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons” according to the Old Constitutions, now simply known as the “Ancients” (then, often written as “Antients”).
EVOLUTION OF THE LODGES
As Grand Lodges formed in the United Kingdom to solidify the organization of preexisting Lodges of Masons and Charter new ones as well, they also sprang up across Europe and the world.
During the Colonial American period, Grand Lodges often planted or influenced the formation of new Grand Lodges in the United States. These likewise cross-pollinated, forming different styles of Freemasonry in what eventually would become the various states of the newly formed United States of America.
Thus to this day, each state under its own sovereign Grand Lodge, often exhibits a combination of different traditions in their rituals and constitutions, resulting in slight, but usually insignificant discrepancies in ceremonial order, ritual wording, terminology, and nuances of their respective Grand Lodge organizations.
Most of the Grand Lodges of the United States were formed during the age of expansion from the original 13 colonies to the creation of new Lodges as new States were brought into the union. Oftentimes, Grand Lodges would be formed over territories, and then subsequently broken up as territories were then divided into states, thus forming new Grand Lodges whose Jurisdictions corresponded to state borders. The same is true in Canada, and in most parts of the Commonwealth.
It should be of note that despite all the myths, legends and speculations one fact is undeniable, that about 10,000 years ago mankind developed farming and ceased to be primarily a hunter-gatherer society, building permanent settlements. This was the birth of Masonry. It was the birth of a time when man kind needed to build societies, create monetary systems, understand mathematics, technology, language and law. It was the first time humanity began to sculpt its own environment according to our own will. But what was soon discovered is that in the process of creating our environments, our environments shape us back.
Myths, Legends and Speculations
Ilwaco Masonic Lodge No. 48 F&A.M.
Occident Lodge No. 48 Ilwaco Washington