This is the catching title of the first text (1939) that I found of Egbert Smedes (1889-1975). It already is a lengthy text, but he also wrote another essay in two parts which a shorter title: The Masonic Lodge (1940). Farwerck mentions a text of Smedes that I haven’t yet found (Germanic Initiations).
In one text Smedes asks the question: “Should we go back to the origins, yes or no?” He continues saying that there are four “cultural layers” in Freemasonry. These are:
- 18th Century humanism and rationalism, to which he connects the morality of Freemasonry;
- The medieval layer that has given us the building symbolism;
- Germanic mysteries through which shine the solar religion;
- The solar religion as the most original layer.
Now of course the question is: which layer should we recuperate? My answers is the – from our point of view – third layer; provided that we keep in mind that the solar religion shines through it.
Smedes feels more about the rhythm of celebrations with the Saints John, but also that of the Quatuor Coronati, the four crowned saints (or martyrs) (8 November) to which he found references in Jan de Vries’ Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte.
To these four crowned saints Smedes also dedicated two articles in the Indian Masonic Periodical, the first, even though interesting, doesn’t immediately add to the ‘Germanic theory’, from the second the enumeration above comes.
Now we continue with the text that I took the title from for this article. The author says that there is an “old-Germanic guild” that not only eluded him, but that eludes all Freemasons.
Looking for information, he found Augustin Thierry’s Récits des temps Mérovingiens (‘Accounts of Merovingian times’ 1887) in which he found references to old Germanic “the guild”. Smedes started to find similarities to Freemasonry.
The guilds consisted of men. They had joint drinkings with toasts, also banquets. At some celebrations to joined hands to form a chain.
About the toasting, there were different toasts. The guilds were not just trade unions, there were guilds before the Middle Ages. Guilds were dedicated to a certain God (later patron saints) they were “heathen brotherhoods“.
When Christianity rose, the guilds transformed themselves in order to fit into the new society. Initially they were supported by the rulers of the new faith. This changed when Charlemagne came to power. The suppression of the guilds started and all kinds of prohibitions were listed showing the clearly heathen ways of the guilds.
Then Smedes starts using the term “eedgenoten” which means something like ‘oath companions’, people bounded by an oath. One such bond had the saint Stephanus as patron. Many of Charlemagne’s prohibitions were about these oaths, also about mutual help. Smedes continues to list all kinds of guilds in the Netherlands and Germany, trade, political and religious guilds. He even found a Dutch reference to the “Guild of Free Masons” from 1752.
Diving further into Norse mythology, Smedes realizes that the officer in a lodge remind a lot of Thor with his hammer, power girdle (apron) and gloves.
In a reply to Smedes’ text, an anonymous authors refers to authors (including Fort), but replying to these remarks, Smedes says that he finds Fort unconvincing and too rational in his approach. Also he debunks the connection of the light of Wisdom to Odin, that of Strength to Thor and that of beauty to Freya as not scientifically proven.
Later Smedes strangely connects “our first three degrees” to “initiations into the mysteries of Donar and Wodan”.
Let’s continue with the text called De Vrijmetselaarsloge als directe voortzetting van de Oud-Germaanse gilde en als erfgename der inwijding in de mysteriën van Thor en Odin, or ‘The Freemason’s lodge as direct continuation of the Old-Germanic guild and as heir of the initiation in the mysteries of Thor and Odin’.
Here Smedes calls the “Medieval guild”, an “oath companionship of sacred character”. He repeats the three toasts, the fact that the guilds consisted of free men, banquets, mutual help, the laws and prohibition written down under Charlemagne, the Saint John celebrations. Mostly information that we will find again with Farwerck and Logghe. Smedes collected many quotes and details and he seems to have been the first to do so.
A little later Smedes also uses the books Kultische Geheimbünde der Germanen (‘Cultic secret societies of the Germans’) by Otto Höffler and the work of Jacob Grimm to make the connection between the Wild Hunt, men-bonds, Winter Solstice and hence the late year Saint John of the Freemasons.
In the story of Thor going to Utgardaloki (in the Gylfaginning) Smedes sees the initiation of the Entered Apprentice with some nice details. Smedes continues describing Thor as the God of initiation.
Next up are Odinic initiations with hanging rites and he even connects the wearing of a hat in some German lodges (in many old lodges in these days I might add) to Odin’s hat. The All-Seeing Eye is a reference to Odin who sits on his high seat with his one eye. Smedes also connects the central laying tracing board to the original central hearth fire around which circumambulations were held. The first degrees are blue, named after Odin’s blue mantle. Odin’s betrayal leads to the death of the warrior (candidate) so that he can relive afterwards.
In the last part of the text that was published later, Smedes also deals with the Balder myth who was killed and relives. Balder even received a sacred word from Odin, the word that got lost with Ragnarök.
Last, but not least and something that I haven’t seen at the other investigators is this that Smedes mixes up Rites des Passages with initiations. He says that the initiations were transitions from one age to the next, so he thinks it is quite useless to raise somebody to Master Mason before his 43th or to the 18th degree before his 51th.
Much of Smedes’ information I have seen elsewhere, but as it is seems that he was the first to write solely about the Germanic origins of Masonic symbolism, his texts are quite a feat.