illustrated by symbols."
As might be expected of a society of religious men, themoral and philosophical principles communicated by these symbols are considered to have been derived from the Divine source.Historical information about Freemasonry's origin is much more difficult toprovide than a definition. As one historian of thought, Francis A. Yates, has putit, "The origin of Freemasonry is one of the most debated, and debatable, sub jects in the whole realm of historical enquiry."
Some of the Masonic historieswritten in the 19th century were quite fanciful and uncritical in their approach.More recent authors have sought to be more rigorous, but the data which isavailable present a real and ongoing puzzle. Citing Yates again,"... recent bookson the subject have been moving in the direction of exact historical investigation, but the writers of such books have to leave as an unsolved question theproblem of the origin of "speculative" masonry, with its symbolic use of columns, arches, and other architectural features, and of geometrical symbolism, as the framework within which it presents a moral teaching and a mysticaloutlook towards the divine architect of the universe."
At the present time there is no real agreement, even among Masons, aboutthe origins of the Order. Some Masons, those who are romantically inclined,like to think that they have participated in the very rituals which were used byKing Solomon to instruct the workmen at the building of his Temple. This iscertainly an unrealistic view.
Without doubt, there are plenty of operativemasons (stonecutters) to be found in European history, but there is no evidenceof a group of philosophically inclined men who transmit a Masonic traditionfrom Biblical times to England in the late renaissance. Others Masons, at theopposite pole of opinion, consider that Masonry started as nothing more thana gentleman's club, one of the myriad clubs that sprang up in London in theearly part of the 18th century. If that be true, it was a very unusual club, indeed.Unlike the other clubs of the period, very shortly after its initial organization in1717 it grew explosively, not simply in England but also in Scotland, Ireland,France, the Low Countries and Germany. In addition Masonry acquired, somehow, Royal Patronage, a profoundly philosophical orientation, and a very elaborate system of symbolism. In arguing that Masonry is simply "a club" oneshould explain why
particular club developed as it did. One of the obviousexplanations for its rapid growth is that Masonry was teaching and practicingsomething that was, at the time, of very widespread interest to the intellectualcommunity. The Hermetic/Kabbalistic Tradition of the Renaissance is certainly such a thing; and, as we shall see, it would account for Masonry's unique symbolic structure and for many of its rituals and practices.In my own view, Freemasonry is a codification of the Hermetic/KabbalisticTradition which formed the intellectual essence of renaissance thought;