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Traces of a Hidden Tradition in Masonry and Medieval Mysticism

Isabel Cooper-Oakley

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This is a set of essays by Isabel Cooper-Oakley, an early member of the Theosophists. She connects the dots between ancient wisdom schools and modern Freemasonry. At the root of this tree are a set of ideas from Hinduism, Zororastrianism, Gnosticism and early Christianity. Along the way she connects a number of links such as the Knights-Templars, the Troubadours and the Rosicrucians. She names dozens of even more obscure secret societies, heresies and conspiracies. The book finishes with an analysis of the Grail myth. Chapters include: Introduction; Towards The Hidden Sources Of Masonry; The Traditions Of The Templars Revived In Masonry; The Troubadours, The Singing Messengers From East To West; and, The Heavenly Kingdom Of The Holy Grail.

This book has 90 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1900.

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Excerpt from 'Traces of a Hidden Tradition in Masonry and Medieval Mysticism'

As researches into its history are pursued, it appears more and more probable that the Masonic movement, to state it generally, was a sort of broad, semi-mystic and largely moral movement, worked from certain unknown centres, and deriving its origin from some ancient and not generally known basis. That is to say, its basis was, and is, unknown to all of those who do not recognise a definitely spiritual guidance in the practical, mental, and moral developments which from time to time change the surface of society by the introduction of new factors into the evolving processes of which life consists. Researches into Masonic literature must be made in many languages and countries before this view can be firmly established for the general world, but to the student of Theosophy who is also a student of Masonry it becomes more and more apparent that the movement which is generally termed Masonic had its roots in that true mysticism which originated, as an ideal effort, from the spiritual Hierarchy which guides the evolution of the world; and that, however much the branches may be separated from the root-idea, there is nevertheless a mystic teaching in Masonry for those who will seek below the surface.

One such searcher into the origin of Masonry gives the following interesting and suggestive passage in his study on the discoveries respecting the obelisk made by Commander Gorringe, which tend to "prove that an institution similar to Freemasonry existed in Egypt," and the writer proceeds:

According to our reading of history, the priesthoods of Belus, or Baal in Assyria, of Osiris in Egypt, of Jehova in Palestine, of Jupiter in Greece and Rome, of Ahura-Mazda in Persia, of Brahma in India, and of Teutates in Britain, were primitive secret societies, who instructed and governed the primitive families and races. It little matters whether we call the members of those priesthoods BelitesPastophoriLevitesCuretesMagiBrahmins, or Druids; they were connected by secret ties, and intercommunicated from the Indus to the Tiber, from the Nile to the Thames. Hence there ever has been, is, and ever will be Freemasonry on our planet. Masonry was ever more or less connected with priesthoods till about the thirteenth century of our era, when Masons declared themselves Freimaurer (Freemasons). Since about that period priesthoods have ever denounced and persecuted Freemasonry.

The evidences of the basic mystic teaching can be largely traced by watching the eddies and undercurrents which constantly break the smooth stream of ordinary Masonry. Frequently do we find other and smaller bodies, whose mystic aim was more marked and whose occult tendencies were more decidedly definite, springing up within the larger organization. Some few members with deeper insight gather round themselves others with the same tendencies, and thus we find formations of smaller societies constantly taking place. It is the main features of some of these that we are now going to outline, and after we have briefly reviewed the sources from which some of the leading Masons draw their historical Masonic tradition, we can pass from the general outline to the smaller societies, and it will be seen that the same traditions reappear in them.

And in corroboration of the hypothesis just enunciated, the words of a well-known Mason may be quoted, who in summing up an admirable lecture which had just been delivered by a Brother Mason spoke as follows:

A thoughtful consideration of our principal ceremony irresistibly leads us to the doctrine that was typified by the pastos in the King's Chamber of the great Pyramid, and connects with the main characteristic of all the mysteries, which embodied the highest truths then known to the illuminated ones.

. . . The twelfth century witnessed an outbreak of mystic symbolism, perhaps unparalleled in our era, and gave us the religious legends of the Holy Grail, which point to an eastern origin; this period coincides with the greatest popularity of the Templars, whose fall is contemporaneous with the decadence noticed by the lecturer.

Without pressing the argument, I may suggest that some portion, at least, of our symbolism may have come through a Templar source, Romanist yet deeply tinged with Gnosticism; while at a later date the Lollards (supposed to be inheritors of Manichæism) and who were but one of the many religio-political societies with which Europe was honeycombed, possibly introduced or revived some of these teachings. . . . One thing is certain, that satisfactory renderings of our symbols can only be obtained by a study of eastern mysticism: Kabalistic, Hermetic, Pythagorean and Gnostic.

Down the centuries we find enrolled the names of philosophic teachers who veiled their doctrines in figures similar to those in vogue among the Rosicrucians and still more recent students, and often identical with the signs we blazon on the walls of our Lodges and Chapters.

Production notes: This edition of Traces of a Hidden Tradition in Masonry and Medieval Mysticism was published by Global Grey ebooks on the 25th September 2019, and updated on the 31st March 2021. The artwork used for the cover is 'The Knight of the Holy Grail' by Frederick J. Waugh.

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