References in masonic writings to the sun, the moon, the starry firmament and the blazing star combined with the fondness of masonic artists and architects for representations of zodiacs and star charts have led both non-masons, anti-masons, and a few freemasons, to believe that astrology is somehow an integral part of the history, if not the beliefs and practices of Freemasonry. But nowhere in the rituals or practices of Freemasonry is there any hint of astrology, or belief in divination.
Several late-twentieth century books either claimed to link Freemasonry to astrology, or have been quoted by others attempting to forge such a link. David Ovasons The Secret Zodiacs of Washington DC is critiqued elsewhere on this site. The following notes demonstrate that at least two recent books do not prove Freemasonrys links to astrology.
The Byrom Collection|
By Joy Hancox
ISBN 0-224-03046-9. 320pp. hardcover
London, Jonathan Cape, 1992.
Joy Hancox has written an interesting book detailing her discovery of the history and meaning of a collection of seventeenth century drawings which came into her possession.
This book elicited enough interest in masonic circles to be reviewed by Bro. the Rev. N.B. Cryer in the 1991 edition of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Vol. 104 where he noted:
Bro. Cryer is perhaps overgenerous. This book is an interesting study of a "collection of 516 drawings which by their texture, watermarks and occasional notations have proved to be a gathered selection of architectural, nautical, symbolic and even cabbalistic representations from the late sixteenth to the early eighteenth century." But the connection to Freemasonry is tenuous.
Hancox is neither an academic nor an historian and her work raises the question of academic rigour. That Byrom was a freemason, and a member of the Royal Society, and that he associated with the founders of modern Freemasonry is documented. But this does not prove that astrology was incorporated into the teachings of Freemasonry. Freemasonry teaches us to explore the liberal arts and sciences which include astronomy and mathematicswhich incorporated astrology. But this does not mean that Freemasonry incorporated astrology into its teachings or practices.
Hancox demonstrates that John Byrom (1691-1763), the collector of these drawings, was an associate of Drs. James Anderson and John Desaguliers, two proponents of the founding of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717; and that they were of his circle of friends and associates. But this is no proof that they participated in his astrological studies or included these studies in their understanding of Freemasonry.
As an example of Hancoxs imagination getting ahead of the facts, she notes that Byrom "writes in his journal that he told the Sun Club he was going to establish a Cabala Club." Without a single other citation to this club, Hancox makes numerous allusions to its assumed membership and meetings. She admits "an unexpected silence about the further meetings of the Cabala Club" [p. 13.] but appears to keep mentioning it just as a reason to keep using the word "cabala."
She assumes that these drawings were of use to Byrom "... who included them with others as source material for study at his Cabala Club." [p. 124.] And "later came to the conclusion that this group met in London in rented accommodation to discuss the drawings." [p. 295 n2,2] In the face of a complete absence of references or documentation, she poses the question: "...had the Cabala Club gone underground?" [p. 13.] Then again, maybe the club never existed except as a chance remark by Byrom to his friends.
"It seemed evident to [an unidentified librarian at the Theosophical Society] that the group using the drawings had come to a halt, otherwise they would have been passed on by Byrom to his successor." [p. 17.] The existence of any group is speculation. Theres no membership list and no record of meetingsonly one entry in Byroms diary.
Hancox spends much of her book detailing her search for links, and many there are. Corrolation, causality and significance is a different matter though. Another member of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge, Terence O. Haunch, has written "Unless, that is, there really was some sort of inner esoteric circle, but of this my mundane and sceptical outlook makes me doubt." [p. 20.]
In attempting to link the drawings with certain London theatres, Hancox notes "it is difficult to date the drawings with precision" [p. 126.] placing some of them "pre-1647 possibly 1600" while the handwriting on others could be anywhere from 1570 to 1730, yet claims that "Despite the absence of watermarks, I would suggest that the parametric drawings are contemporary with the theatres." [p. 127.] In fact, Hancox has not really demonstrated that any of these drawings had any bearing on the original construction of these buildings.
Two quotes suffice to exemplify the level of supposition and conjecture underpinning the whole book: "One of the drawings has a most unusual watermark in the shape of a pentalpha." She writes, "Its presence as a watermark must mean that the paper-maker was either a freemason or a Rosicrucian" [p. 167.] She ignores the fact that the pentagram had other meaning and uses during the period and was not exclusively cabalistic, masonic or Rosicrucian.
Referring to another of the drawings, Hancox notes "...its connection with the Royal Society and Byroms Cabala Club. In the centre is the six-pointed star, which immediately links it to the masonic movement...." [p. 172.] Again, the hexagram was not exclusively masonic, being found on German tavern signs and in hermetic treatises.
Hancox further suggests "Alternatively it could have been lodged with a secret group within the Royal Society." [p. 231.] It is easy to make conjectures. But without further proof, this is nothing but idle speculation.
These notes are not intended as a review of Hancoxs book, but more as a counterpoint to those who would claim that her book supports any theory of a link between Freemasonry and astrology. In her own words, this was never her intention.
"Joy Hancox does not attempt to make any suggestions about the implications for Freemasonry as that is, she readily admits, not her field or principal interest. The book has enough fascination for the reader in the main revelations that it proffers but its pointers towards Freemasonry are also not hidden, Here at least is a source of new thinking and evidence that we shall ignore to our loss."
The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories
Harvards University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England.
Second Printing 1999
Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-674-85433-0 (alk. paper)
J.L. Heilbron has written a comprehensive and solid study on how the needs of astronomy were incorporated into the architecture of mediaeval cathedrals. Detailed and well footnoted, this book should be of interest to students of both history and architecture. But it does not, as some might wish, demonstrate any alliance or interest between the practitioners of astrology and the stonemasons who built the cathedrals, or the clerics who commissioned them.
Mediaeval astrology is sometimes termed the equivalent or precursor of todays astronomy. But astronomy and astrology were co-existent streams of study, the former being the mechanics of the latter but the latter not requiring the former as a purpose or reason. Granted, many practitioners of astronomy also practiced and believed in astrology. But they are clearly two separate studies.
In 819 CE Archbishop of Mainz, Rabanus Maurus, wrote "Astronomy... teaches the laws of the steller world.... which is built up on the investigation of natural phenomena in order to determine the course of the sun, of the moon, and the stars, and to effect a proper reckoning of time." He doesn't mention any connection with the purposes or functions of astrology.
Masonic author, Art deHoyos, notes that in a letter written to a friend, Albert Pike wrote:
Heilbron notes that to the early mediaeval academic, mathamatics "included astronomy and astrology...the exactness of the one and the complexity of the other." [p. 84.] He goes on to note: "Eventually the passion for accurate prediction, realized in astronomy, could not survive in the same mind with tolerance for the fuzzy forecasts of astrology." [p. 84.]
The books presents a list of mediaeval astronomers who wrote of their distate for astrology: Giovanni Domenico Cassini, the Sun Kings astronomer for 40 years, who lost his faith in astrology; Domenico Guglielmini, who broke with astrology; Geminiano Montanari (1665), who was an opponant of astrology and published a well circulated lampoon, Astrologia in 1685 [p. 85]; Giambattista Riccioli, author of Almagestum novum and Francesco Maria Grimaldi, who despised astrology [p. 85.] and wrote: "If the public did not believe in astrology, books on astronomy would not sell."
As an example of the conflict between popular belief and academic knowledge, Heilbron notes that at the University of Bologna "every year one of the three professors of mathematics had to publish an astrological almanac "whether he believed in his forecasts or not" [p. 85.]
The Sun in the Church is well written and clear in its premise that the Church encouraged clearly defined areas of science. But it doesn't imply that the Church, stonemasons, or astronomers necessarily or willingly practiced astrology or that divination was their goal. Many of the astronomers cited were definite in their distaste for astrology. The use of astronomy in the prediction of the motion of stars and planets is not the same as the prediction of events on Earth. Stonemasons and architects designed structures to predict the former, not the latter.
'I think that no speculations are more barren than those in regard to the astronomical character of the symbols of Masonry, except those about the Numbers and their combinations of the Kabalah. All that is said about Numbers in that lecture, if not mere jugglery, amounts to nothing .... The astronomical explanations of them, however plausible, would only show that they taught no truths, moral or religious. As to tricks played with Numbers, they only show what freaks of absurdity, if not insanity, the human intellect can indulge."