Georges Fort on Masonic Antiquities
I have underestimated Fort’s book Early History And Antiquities Of Freemasonry, As Connected With Ancient Norse Guilds, And The Oriental And Medieval Building Fraternities (1884). I’ve had a Kessinger reprint for years and I read it, but I was under the impression that it is much like the several Masonic encyclopedias of its time, making many shallow comparisons and listing information of which the Masonic connection doesn’t become clear. After reading Logghe’s book, which refers to Fort a lot, I decided to reread Fort. It seems to me much different now than the previous time I read it.
No, it is not the ultimate book proving the Northern European connection to Masonic symbolism, but it is much more focussed on ‘our subject’ than Macoy, Pike or Waite (more about that here).
True, Fort takes wide circles to make his point. There is a lot of historical information about guilds in different parts of the world which only interests me mildly, but along the lines he makes statements such as:
As the guilds traced their origin back into the twilight of time, and were coeval with the first forms of Germanic society, consequently many fragments of heathen rites and observances passed with them into succeeding mediaeval fraternities. It may therefore be safely alleged that Teutonic mythology, from its earliest contact with the Eastern builders in the fifth century, and through the line of centuries following, has contributed very largely to Masonic symbolism. (p. 7)
There in a nutshell you have Fort’s theory. There were building fraternities all over mediaeval Europe, but it was when the Goths entered Italy, that the mix came into being between “Teutonic mythology” and the building guilds from which eventually Freemasonry would spring.
Actual contact with Roman civilization in Italy to some extent modified and altered many of the essential parts of ancient guildic observances, and materially assisted in moulding into an acceptable form such elements of Freemasonry as have been hitherto demonstrated to be descend- ed from the ancient Teutons and Gothic courts, which were a close imitation of heathen temples. (p. 379)
Indeed, the building societies have retained elements of Teutonic courts, a subject that Fort refers to a couple of time, basing himself on Grimm. Logghe puts more stress on this connection.
Oath-bound societies had never disappeared from the Teutonic governments, but preserved an unbroken integrity through the Middle Ages. The orders of chivalry, with which the Romish hierarchy endeavored unsuccessfully to propagate the doctrines of Christ, were based upon ancient heathen guilds. (p. 406)
Oaths indeed. This is a subject that Fort works out better with interesting quotes and references.
This custom, as noted in the text, is clearly derived from the ancient Germans. At Scandinavian feasts, the principal person at the table took the cup first, and rising, saluted courteously by name either him who sat nearest or who was highest in rank. He then drank the toast, and having filled the bowl, presented it to the person who had been toasted. (note 2, p. 215)
Another such grateful subject, toasting. Also here you can read more about in the book.
Old Teutonic courts were a counterpart of such heathen symbols and ceremonies as the priesthood manipulated in the celebration of religious services. When, therefore, the junction occurred which united the Gothic and Jewish elements of Freemasonry, by the merging of the Byzantine art corporations into the Germanic guilds in Italy, the Norsemen contributed the name and orientation, oaths, dedication of the lodge, opening and closing colloquies, Master’s mallet and columns, and the lights and installation ceremonies. On the other hand, Judaistic admixture is equally well denned. From this source Masonry received the omnific word, or the faculty of Abrac and ritualism, including the Hiramic legend. (p. 407)
Here you have a few of the subjects that Fort writes about. Not all with the same length, but basing himself on Grimm he makes wonderful allusions to the openings and closings of Teutonic court-meetings, the use of fire during these ceremonies, the oathing during the meetings, the banquets at the end.
Here we have probably the biggest merit of the book. Fort could read various languages, something I see less and less nowadays, especially in English-speaking countries. There is a wealth of information in other languages and Fort not only studied the English books of his time, but also German and French books and also not only about Freemasonry, but also about Northern mythology and history. In this way the English speakers of today, who can’t read German or French, can still take notice of important investigations.
Fort may derive many Masonic symbolism from the Teutons, he wasn’t exactly a ‘fan’. When referring the old faith he uses terms such as “superstitions”.
But, Fort’s book is recommended reading if you have an interest in this subject, especially when Dutch, Norwegian or German is not your language.
Let me fire a load of more quotes at you:
The junction of the Eastern and Western systems, which still exist in the internal operations of lodge work, unquestionably occurred in Northern Italy while under Gothic and Longobardic rule; and, as subsequent contact with European society moulded the two elements conjointly, a homogeneous result, as will be seen in Part II. of this book, was evolved by the substitution policy of the Christian church.
(p. 52 note 2)
These guilds, in their organized form, so far at least as was essential to their cohesion, introduced naturally such elements, eliminated from civil society of that age, as tended to direct their establishment to practical purposes. For instance, Freemasonry borrowed, as before suggested, the outlines of its constitution from the three amalgamated principles which were fundamental in the early Middle Ages : the autocratic, personal independence, and ecclesiastical. It was necessarily tinctured with the mythological superstitions, which still retained at this period a vigorous hold on the people of Northern Europe. As the guilds traced their origin back into the twilight of time, and were coeval with the first forms of Germanic society, consequently many fragments of heathen rites and observances passed with them into succeeding mediaeval fraternities. It may therefore be safely alleged that Teutonic mythology, from its earliest contact with the Eastern builders in the fifth century, and through the line of centuries following, has contributed very largely to Masonic symbolism. The guilds of constructors or Freemasons appropriated the several degrees which, as we have already seen, existed in the monasteries at a very early age, viz. : Apprentice, Fellow, and Master. As these fraternities were reorganized under church patronage, they imbibed at their inception a strong religious sentiment, — a characteristic which has come down with Masonic lodges from past ages.
During the successive epochs to which we have alluded, the English realm, as our traditions inform us, was destitute of the science of Masonry. This state of lamentable ignorance continued down to the age of Saint Alban. In his day the kings of England were still accustomed to practise the heathenish rites of their ancient religion
When the ordinances of the years 1459 and 1462 were committed to writing, this word had obtained the well-defined signification of warden, or one who guards, and in this sense it occurs in the Torgau book of Masonic law. A striking custom existed in opening a mediaeval court of justice, which has descended to and is still practised in lodges of Freemasons, and which, in numerous and essential particulars, resembles the old Gothic tribunals. I refer to the formal opening of the court with a colloquy. The first question which the justice propounded the associate judges and bailiffs, was whether the court was opened at the right time of day and in the proper place; or, as a manuscript of the year 1440 gives it, whether the year and day, place and time, were correct.
The time within which judicial proceedings were allowed, extended from the rising to the setting of the sun. In imitation of this, the mediaeval lodges began work at sunrise and closed at sunset.
An allusion to this custom is still preserved in the formal opening and closing of Masonic labors. Day and sunlight were regarded as essentially holy by the ancient Teutons.
In this temple the images of the three principal deities of the North were erected, each represented with an appropriate symbol. Odin held a sword; Thor stood at the left hand of Odin, grasping his mallet, and Frey, at Thor’s side, was invested with the emblem of a hermaphrodite, to typify productiveness or plenty.
It is well known that the early Christian missionaries endeavored, so far as practicable, to harmonize the religious observances of Christ and the heathen Teutons. In numerous instances, old Norse customs which alluded directly to Pagan mythology were altered only so far as to furnish a slightly variant objective point, and by this means much that originally represented the fast fading doctrines of the North maintained, under a Christian garb, a vigorous vitality. It is fairly inferred that the similarity which presents itself in Frey’s ear of corn and Shibboleth, a sheaf of wheat, can be assigned to this policy practised by early Christian evangelists.
This entrance was placed under the custody or guard of some person judicially appointed, and was closed by a hazel paling, before described, and answered to a gate. Perhaps this fact may furnish a thread of research, which might terminate in a solution of the phraseology, south, west, and east gates, still current in modern Masonic bodies. Whenever the judge opened his court, or engaged in other impressive rites, his face must turn with unerring directness toward that point of the compass whence emanated the glittering rays of sunlight. At the conclusion of the colloquy, which ensued between the arbiter and his subordinates, he turned toward the rising orb of day, and proclaimed a court duly organized, amid the flashing rays of sunrise reflected from an unsheathed sword.
It may be inferred that the location of the Carlovingian and mediseval justiciary accurately described the formal orientation of a Teutonic temple ; therefore, the Northern divinities sat in the west, and faced directly opposite. Such arrangement places Frey in the south, and grouped Thor to the north of Odin. Access was had, consequently, to the sacred thrones by an ascending gradation of steps.
At what period of time the seat of Wisdom was translated to the east, and now filled by the Master of a lodge, is perhaps beyond recovery, but the thrones of Thor, Strength, and Frey, Beauty, remained in their present cardinal positions. The type of superior elevation was perpetuated in the transfer, and is still maintained by the three steps arising to the oriental pedestal. In the west, the Warden’s chair is approached by the two steps of Thor, while Frey’s seat in the south is elevated one grade above the floor.
In addition to this, the more prominent traditions of the Hellenistic Jews — such, for instance, as the legend of Hiram the temple builder, and the efficacy of Jehovah’s true name or omnific word, together with points of lesser significance — were transmitted by Byzantine workmen to Teutonic sodalities. At what period of time the merging of this Jewish legendary element into Germanic guilds occurred, cannot be fixed with exactness, but it is a rational assumption that such fusion began near the epoch when Theoderich the Goth ordered Greek builders from the East, and was, perhaps, not fully perfected for some centuries after.
The secret arts thus obtained by the Teutonic races were perpetuated in fraternities or guilds, whose existence ascends to the oldest forms of Germanic government.
The opportunity thus afforded for the introduction of regularly-organized building corporations among the people of Northern Europe was eagerly seized by the natives to unite themselves with these bodies — rendered more feasible by the merging of traditions contributed by Byzantine initiates into the superstitious and mythological customs of Germanic guilds.
Many points of identity existed between the Teutonic symbolism and Israelitish emblems, which powerfully aided to unite the two systems. The traditions of the Northern deity, Baldur, seemingly furnished the substantial foundation for the introduction of the legend of Hiram, the oldest form of which is presented in an authentic shape by Anderson
From whatever standpoint the strange rites and ceremonies above described may be regarded, there can be, it is apprehended, but one interpretation — that, as practised by the Northern priesthood or people in a guildic form in commemoration of Baldur or otherwise, they embody the essential features strongly characteristic of the Hiramic legend, viz., a symbol of life, inevitable death, and an impressive inculcation of the immortality of that divine vitality in man which survives earthly dissolution.