Freemasonry Unmasked! exhibition

Are Early Masonic Ritual Exposures Anti-Masonic?

Three_Distinct_Knocks_web Masonic ritual exposures from the collection of the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives are just one of the many examples of anti-Masonic materials that will be on view in the reading room through May 15 in the exhibition Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives. In selecting objects for the exhibition, I was looking at our collection of ritual exposés and thinking about this interesting and complicated corner of anti-Masonry.

Steven C. Bullock, in his essay “Publishing Masonry: Print and the Early American Fraternity” calls Masonic ritual exposés “the first important Antimasonic genre.” The first ritual exposure in book form – Samuel Prichard’s Masonry Dissected – was printed in London in 1730. Prichard’s book, while an exposure, is an important document for historians as it provides the earliest known description of the Master Mason degree. To the historian, this type of documentation is invaluable. To the Mason, however, the idea of a ritual exposure is perhaps worrying at best, providing evidence of a betrayal of trust. But what about the historian who is also a Mason?

Arturo de Hoyos, who is both a historian and a Mason, addresses this tension in the introduction to his book Light on Masonry: The History and Rituals of America’s Most Important Masonic Exposé. De Hoyos writes: “The great secret of Masonic historians is that many of us have a love affair with ritual exposures. Like other affairs of the heart, it is exciting, but it may also be a love-hate relationship. On the one hand, they are the product of betrayal and are ipso facto suspect. On the other hand, they present the possibility of authenticity and may teach us a great deal about the evolution of the ritual.” In other words, what was once the product of betrayal may now be carefully used by historians to trace some of the changes and developments of Masonic ritual.

Masonic ritual is taught “mouth to ear,” although some jurisdictions also provide officially sanctioned ciphers or other memory aids that assist in memorizing ritual and also help insure uniformity in ritual work. As Masons who have visited other states or countries can attest, Masonic ritual is not exactly the same from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Likewise, not all men’s memories are the same and so it’s only natural that some candidates have wished for a printed version of the ritual to assist them. Unsurprisingly, in the absence of officially-sanctioned printed rituals, exposures sometimes served that role, especially in the late-18th and early-19th centuries.

One book illustrates this point well. Jachin and Boaz, a ritual exposure first published in London in 1762, was reprinted almost thirty times in the United States from 1793 to 1827. Although considered a ritual exposure, the book’s largest audience was likely those named on the book’s title page: the “New-Made Mason,” and “all who intend to become Brethren.” As Stephen C. Bullock has pointed out, “Although curious onlookers probably picked up the pamphlet on occasion, only an audience of brothers seeking to learn the rituals better could have encouraged American printers to reprint the pamphlet twenty-eight times between 1793 and 1827.”

From the point of view of the librarian, Jachin and Boaz is a book that complicates the question of whether a book should be classified as anti-Masonic or not. On the one hand, exposing Masonic ritual appears to serve the intention of betraying and antagonizing the Fraternity and can easily be thought of as anti-Masonic. On the other hand, a book like Jachin and Boaz is not sensationalist in nature and, one might argue, served a need for the Fraternity – both by helping Masons learn ritual, as well as potentially attracting the attention of men who became interested enough to join the Craft. Not all ritual exposures are the same, though, and some – if not most – were clearly printed with intentions hostile to Freemasonry.

Suggestions for further reading

Carr, Harry, ed. The Early French Exposures. London: Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, 1971.

---. Samuel Prichard’s Masonry Dissected 1730: An Analysis and Commentary. Bloomington, IN: Masonic Book Club, 1977.

de Hoyos, Arturo. Light on Masonry: The History and Rituals of America’s Most Important Masonic Exposé. Washington, D.C.: Scottish Rite Research Society, 2008.

Jackson, A.C.F. English Masonic Exposures, 1760-1769. London: Lewis Masonic, 1986.

Smith, S.N. “The So-Called ‘Exposures’ of Freemasonry of the Mid-Eighteenth Century.” Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 56 (1946): 4-36.

Three Distinct Knocks and Jachin and Boaz: With an Introduction and Commentary by Harry Carr. Bloomington, IN: Masonic Book Club, 1981.

[A version of this article was originally published in the August 2009 issued of The Northern Light. You can now access all back issues of The Northern Light - back to its start in 1970 - at the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's website.]

Photo caption:
The Three Distinct Knocks...
London: Printed by John Bailey, ca. 1814-1822.
Call number: RARE 19 .T531


American Anti-Masonry in 1880: Edmond Ronayne and the National Christian Association

A2002_38_1_webIf you know about the history of anti-Masonry in America, it's likely that you know about the "Morgan Affair" and the anti-Masonic movement that followed it, lasting from 1826 until the mid-1830s. But there was another anti-Masonic movement that took place in the 1870s and 1880s, spear-headed by a group called the National Christian Association.

Pictured on this 1880 broadside is Edmond Ronayne, a former Freemason who served as both Secretary and Master of Keystone Lodge No. 639 in Chicago. Ronayne traveled to cities across the country, performing what he said was Masonic ritual for large crowds. His intent was to "expose" and deride Freemasonry. The National Christian Association (NCA) sponsored Ronayne’s lectures. Formed in 1868, this organization stated that it sought “to expose, withstand and remove Secret Societies, Freemasonry in particular, and other Anti-Christian movements in order to save the Churches of Christ from being depraved….” The NCA claimed that Freemasonry is a religion, a conclusion they drew partially from the altar, holy book, and recitation of prayers at Masonic meetings.  Although Freemasonry requires that its members believe in a Supreme Being, there is no further religious test. The NCA interpreted this requirement as anti-Christian.
The roots of the National Christian Association’s anti-Masonic views trace back to the Morgan Affair, fifty years earlier. One of its founding members, Jonathan Blanchard, was involved in anti-Masonry as a young man in the 1830s in Vermont. (Blanchard was the first president of Wheaton College, in Illinois, whose Archives & Special Collections holds an extensive collection of National Christian Association records.) The Morgan Affair’s importance to the organization persisted into the 1880s. In 1882, the NCA erected a 38-foot-tall monument to William Morgan in Morgan's hometown of Batavia, New York, where it still stands today.

The broadside above advertises the 12th annual meeting of the National Christian Association, held on March 24 and 25, 1880, in Boston. A March 25, 1880, Boston Globe article described the lecture advertised in this broadside, stating that Edmond Ronayne did not meet a sympathetic audience. The crowd of about 500 people – half of whom were local Masons – reportedly interrupted Ronayne several times by hooting and hollering. The Globe reporter - who was possibly a Mason - commented that Ronayne’s performance was “ridiculous” owing to his “ignorance” of Masonic ritual. Echoing other reports that his Boston audiences were less than welcoming, Ronayne wrote in his memoir that, at the March 1880 National Christian Association meeting in Boston, “the crowds in the galleries made [the] most disturbance, throwing handfuls of peas and exploding torpedoes with a loud report upon the platform.”

The broadside seen above is currently on view in Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives at the National Heritage Museum.

Opposed to Secret Societies!, 1880. Boston, Massachusetts. Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, A2002/38/1

Anti-Masonry, Catholicism, Communism, and Anti-Semitism

Freemasonry_unmasked_web The title of the current exhibition in the Library and Archives reading room - Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives - is drawn from the book shown here (and on view in the exhibition): Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked as the Secret Power Behind Communism. The cover of this book is an example of how Freemasonry has been blamed as the secret power behind just about everything.

Although published in 1956, the text of this book actually reproduces a lecture that a Catholic priest delivered in Scotland in October, 1884. At that time, the Vatican had just issued Humanum Genus: Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Freemasonry, an official declaration of the Catholic Church’s opposition to Freemasonry. The Vatican's 1884 document claimed that Masons were “planning the destruction of the holy Church publicly and openly, and this with the set purpose of utterly despoiling the nations of Christendom.”

Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked was published by the Britons Publishing Society, a group that formed in 1923, and which was an off-shoot of the Britons, a group that formed in England in 1919 for the express purpose of disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda. While the name Britons Publishing Society doesn't sound particularly threatening, one historian has called them "one of the most extreme of the post-1918 formations on the radical and far right" in England. A quick search of the British Library's online catalog reveals a number of both anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic titles published by the Britons Publishing Society. One title in particular stands out and is the likely key to the the group's interest in Freemasonry: according to one source, the Society published 85 different editions of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion over a forty-year period, including two separate editions during World War II.

Why would the Society's interest in The Protocols point to an interest in anti-Masonry? First published in Russia in 1905, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a notorious work of anti-Semitic propaganda. The book purported to document a secret conference at which the Elders of Zion, a fictitious Jewish group, discuss using Freemasonry to deceive humanity and attain worldwide domination. Both the text and the meeting are complete fabrications. Regardless, the book persists as a popular piece of propaganda even today.

You can learn more about the overlap between anti-Masonry and anti-Semitism here:

Here's a good intro to the history of the relationship between the Catholic Church and Freemasonry:

For more on history of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a great online exhibition about this forgery:

If you are interested in any of the topics above, be sure to check out the two bibliographies we've prepared which will point you to helpful resources so that you can learn more about both Freemasonry and anti-Masonry.

Also, be sure to check out Chip Berlet's guest blog post from last week. Berlet, a Senior Analyst with Political Research Associates, will be speaking at the Museum on Saturday, October 24th, 2009, at 2 p.m. in the Farr Conference Center. His talk is in conjunction with Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections at Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, on view through May 15, 2010. To learn more about this free public lecture generously funded by the Lowell Institute, click here.

Pictured above:
Dillon, Monsignor George E., D.D. Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked as the Secret Power Behind Communism, Through Discovery of Lost Lectures. London: Britons Publishing Society, 1956.
Call number: 19.41 .D579 1956

Conspiracy Theories, Scapegoating, & Demonization are Toxic to Democracy, by Chip Berlet

Chip Berlet, a Senior Analyst with Political Research Associates, will be speaking at the Museum on Saturday, October 24th, 2009, at 2 p.m. in the Farr Conference Center. His talk is in conjunction with "Freemasonry Unmasked! Anti-Masonic Collections at Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives", on view through May 15, 2010. To learn more about this free public lecture generously funded by the Lowell Institute, click here.


The man accused of killing a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., warned of a conspiracy of Jews and Freemasons to control the world and keep White Christians subjugated while at the same time elevating Blacks to under-served positions of power.


How could such a bizarre and bigoted claim make any sense?


The alleged shooter, James W. von Brunn, wrote a book that was like a catalog of historic conspiracy theories, including references to the infamous antisemitic hoax document, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. His website included links to White Supremacist and Holocaust denial sites. According to von Brunn, between 1881 and 1914 a series of political assassinations were “traceable to Bolshevism, Freemasonry … and other ILLUMINATI sponsored terror groups.” Czar Alexander II of Russia, King Humbert of Italy, U.S. President McKinley, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, and others were killed in order to provoke World War I.



BerletBlog_collage-2 copy The library at
Political Research Associates, where I work, has shelves full of books making the same false conspiracy claims in elaborate detail. These conspiracist tracts and volumes trace back to the late 1700s. Now many of these false claims are posted on the Internet and available worldwide. The exhibit "Freemasonry Unmasked!", now at the National Heritage Museum traces how these conspiracist allegations often include the demonization of Freemasonry.


The current political environment is awash with seemingly absurd, but nonetheless influential, conspiracy theories, hyperbolic claims and demonized targets. The political right blames sinister plots on a vast conspiracy supposedly run by liberal secular humanists and Democrats, portrayed as running a covert network of subversives. Scratch the surface of these stories and commonly scapegoated groups emerge: Jewish bankers, Freemasons, civil rights activists, labor union leaders, community organizers.


On the political left, conspiracy theories portray conservatives, neoconservatives, and Republicans as staging the terror attacks on 9/11 as part of an elaborate scheme to justify war in the Middle East and the erosion of civil liberties at home.


These are not legitimate criticisms of public policy or the institutions of power in our society; they are populist anger and anxiety exploited by demagogues to undermine the democratic process. Democracy requires informed consent. When conspiracy theories enter public debates, they are toxic to democracy.


Conspiracy theorists use the same four “tools of fear." These are: 1) dualism (the division of the world into a good "Us" vs. a bad "Them"); 2) scapegoating; 3) demonization; and 4) apocalyptic aggression. The basic dynamics remain the same, no matter the ideological leanings of the demonizers or the identity of their targets.


Meanwhile, our ability to resolve disputes through civic debate and compromise is hobbled. It is the combination of demagogic demonization and widespread scapegoating that is so dangerous. Some angry people already believe conspiracy theories in which scapegoated groups are targeted as subversive, destructive, or evil. Add in aggressive apocalyptic ideas that suggest time is running out and quick action is mandatory and you have the conditions for a perfect storm of mobilized resentment threatening to rain bigotry and violence across the United States. Historically, the violent attacks target marginalized groups, especially people of color, immigrants, and Jewish institutions. In the last decade, the list has expanded to include Muslims, Arabs, and people in the gay community.


We can stop this. Law enforcement needs to enforce laws against criminal behavior. Vicious bigoted speech, however, is often protected by the First Amendment. We do not need new laws or to encourage government agencies to further erode civil liberties. We need to stand up as moral people and speak out against the spread of bigoted conspiracy theories. That's not a police problem, that's our problem as people responsible for defending and expanding democracy and building a free and just society.

Leo Taxil and Baphomet

TAXIL POSTER_cropped_web

Many people find the image on this poster a little creepy. It's supposed to be.  

It's even more startling when you see it in person - it's about 4' x 3' - and it's the first thing you see when you walk into the reading room for the Library and Archives new exhibition, Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives.

The arresting goat-headed image on this poster is Baphomet, an invention by Éliphas Lévi (1810-1875) for his 1856 book, Dogma and Ritual of High Magic. Anti-Catholic writer Léo Taxil later incorporated Lévi’s Baphomet figure into an elaborate hoax which falsely linked Freemasonry with devil-worship. Taxil, whose real name was Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès, sought to publicly embarrass the Catholic Church, which was traditionally opposed to Freemasonry, by winning their sympathy through his anti-Masonic hoax and then revealing it all to be an outlandish lie. Although shown here wearing a Masonic apron, Baphomet has no association with Freemasonry.

This poster was printed by Edward Ancourt & Co., a Parisian firm that today is well-known for having printed many of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's posters. The poster is an advertisement for an anti-Masonic book written by Leo Taxil, entitled The Mysteries of Freemasonry Unveiled. The French text at the top of poster translates to "At all the bookstores and newspaper shops." The text below the image indicates that the book was sold in parts ("livraison") - a common way of publishing books in the late nineteenth century. As a lure to get book-buyers to purchase the book, the publisher indicates that the first part is free ("La 1.ere livraison est gratuite..."). The French word for "free" - GRATUITE - is hard to miss.


Baphomet has proven an irresistable image to anti-Masons ever since Taxil first falsely associated the figure with Freemasonry. As recently as the early 1990s, Jack T. Chick used the image on one of his "Chick Tracts," called The Curse of Baphomet, pictured here. In this booklet, Chick uses a quote that has been falsely attributed to well-known Freemason Albert Pike (1809-1891) that “Lucifer is God.” Léo Taxil made the quote up in the 1890s.  Taxil's fabricated Pike quote has been repeated many times in print, and a quick web search reveals that this fabricated quote has made the leap from books to websites. 

If you're interested in learning more about anti-Masonry, be sure to check out the annotated bibliography available at our website. One book that appears on that bibliography, Is It True What They Say About Freemasonry?: The Methods of Anti-Masonsis available in its entirety online. The authors, S. Brent Morris and Arturo de Hoyos, do an excellent job exploring the source of many anti-Masonic claims, including both the fabricated Albert Pike quote and Baphomet.

Les Mystères de la Franc-Maçonnerie Dévoilés par Léo Taxil [The Mysteries of Freemasonry Unveiled by Léo Taxil], ca. 1886, Printed by Edw. Ancourt & Co., Paris, France, Chromolithograph on paper.
National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, A2000/80/1, Museum purchase. Photograph by David Bohl.

The Curse of Baphomet, 1991, Published by Chick Publications, Ontario, California
National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, Vertical Files.

Freemasonry Unmasked! - An exhibition about anti-Masonry


Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives opens October 3 at the National Heritage Museum in the Library and Archives reading room.

Freemasonry Unmasked! features forty objects from the Library and Archives collection, ranging from 1700s and 1800s ritual exposures to an anti-Masonic comic book from 1978. The topics covered in the show include early ritual exposures, the “Morgan Affair,” the Anti-Masonic political party of the late 1820s and early 1830s, late 19th-century American anti-Masonry, European anti-Masonry perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II, and anti-Masonry from the past fifty years.

Over time, anti-Masonic propaganda has taken many forms. Exposés of Masonic ritual first appeared in the early 1700s.  In the 1820s and 1830s, following the kidnapping and presumed murder of a former Mason who threatened to publish an exposure of Masonic ritual, Americans began producing anti-Masonic newspapers, almanacs, broadsides and other pieces. During this same period, a political party that promoted anti-Masonic candidates formed.


Pictured above is the cover of an anti-Masonic almanac from 1835. The woodcut on this almanac’s cover highlights the central role the press played in spreading the fear of Freemasons. In the detail on the right, you can see the all-seeing eye, a common Masonic symbol, depicted with a printing press in the center, casting light upon the alleged darkness of Freemasonry. The rays emanating from the eye contain names of prominent anti-Masonic politicians of the 1830s, including John Quincy Adams, Edward Everett, and William Wirt.

If you're in the Boston area, stop by and take a look at the printed history of anti-Masonry. To encourage visitors to learn more about Freemasonry and the history of anti-Masonry, we have prepared a couple of bibliographies on the topic of anti-Masonry. Many of these resources were used in the research that was done for Freemasonry Unmasked!

The New-England Anti-Masonic Almanac for the Year of Our Lord 1835. Boston: John Marsh, 1834.
Call number: RARE 19.3 .N532 1835 No.7