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The origin of conspiracy theories against Freemasonry at the beginning of the 21st century
Daniel Galily – Political Science & Philosophy Department – South-West University "Neofit Rilski", Bulgaria, firstname.lastname@example.org
David Schwartz – Political Science Department, Bar-Ilan University, Israel
Towards the end of the 20th century, there began to develop a public perception that the Freemason Order is related to the different Satanic cults and the order of enlightened thinkers that existed in Bavaria at the end of the 18th century, the Illuminati. In addition, the different conspiracy theories maintain that the Illuminati, using the Freemasons, act to take over the world through the control of the power centers in the world.
All these theories contradict the scientific theories in the academic world on the history and nature of the order. An examination of the source of these theories leads to a series of lectures of a former Freemason named William Schnoebelen.
William Schnoebelen was a former Freemason who became a born-again Christian. His main arguments were that the Freemasons learn one type of knowledge in the Scottish version until rank 32 and another type from rank 33 onwards. He holds that there are ranks beyond the 33 ranks that other Freemasons, in the United States and around the world, are not aware of (Schnoebelen 2012a).
He notes the Freemason order called the Memphis-Misraim Order. He asserts that most of the Freemasons are not aware at all of its existence. In this order there are 99 ranks, and there they are taught to believe pagan beliefs and to be in contact (in the United States) with the Illuminati Order and with Satanic cults (Schnoebelen 2011).
However, a more in-depth examination of the Memphis-Misraim Order shows that it is a separate order from all the other different Freemason Orders. Therefore, it is important to explain the difference between the Memphis-Misraim Order and the other Freemason orders around the world (Schnoebelen 2012b).
The Freemason Order is a global fraternal organization that originally started as a guild of professional builders in the Middle Ages. Over the years, it has become a secret organization of “Speculative Builders”, meaning the philosophical construction of man and his influence on society.
Until the year 1717 the organizations of the order members (in places called “lodges”) were very dispersed and unorganized. In the year 1717 in Britain it was decided to unite a number of lodges under a “Great Lodge” (national leadership), which was the first great lodge in the world and thus in essence to transform the dispersed lodges into an orderly and arranged organization called the “Freemason Order”.
The Freemason Order was established in the period of the European Renaissance. Its aim was to build people in the spirit of the “humanism of the Renaissance” in the 17th and 18th centuries, and it aspired to develop in the person the good qualities of the citizen under the humanistic principles of liberty, equality, fraternity, education, justice, charity, and truth (Önnerfors, Péter 2010).
Since 1717, the Freemason Order has been one of the most successful organizations around the world. The members of the order number six million, and some of the people with the greatest influence on the development of human society were found among its members (United Great Lodge of England).
In addition to the official Freemason Order that operates in the British version from 1717, there are a number of Freemason Orders that operate in the version invented in France and English. The largest of them is the Grand Orients de France, called also Continental European Masonry. This is a Freemason Order that chooses more to focus on the topic of education. Another order is the International Federation of Human Rights (Le Droit Humain), a Freemason Order that sees the value of equality to be the supreme value, while another order is the Freemason Order called the Memphis-Misraim Order, which places greater emphasis on mysticism (Continental Lodges).
The Memphis-Misraim Order of the Freemasons was established in the year 1782 by an Italian who called himself Count Alessandro di Cagliostro. He greatly engaged in the occult and the prediction of the future and was known for some astonishing prophecies that foresaw the future and the French Revolution. He tended to assert that he was immortal because of a special drink he developed and that he had lived for hundreds of years. Cagliostro wandered around Europe from 1767 onwards and met famous people, such as the adventurer Casanova and the mystic Comte de Saint Germain, who was also considered a type of immortal. Both were main Masons of the period. He created during his wanderings relationships with different Masonic organizations, which were flourishing at the time, especially in England and Germany, and he learned their teachings. He told that in 1776 he reached Egypt and visited the pyramids and a subterranean hall dug under the Sphinx. From there he travelled to Germany and there in 1776 he founded the German organization called the Illuminati, which was led by a lecturer named Johann Adam Weishaupt, and became one of its senior heads, along with the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder, and the scientist and politician Benjamin Franklin.
The Illuminati was dissolved in the year 1785 after a number of years of existence, with the claim that it attempted to create “a new world order”. However, it continued to operate under other names, first and foremost in the order created by Cagliostro.
From his studies in the different countries Cagliostro developed his own method, in which he combined techniques of sorcery and alchemical ideas from the different countries, foremost Egypt. They were considered early Egyptian, although the synthesis was apparently an outcome of his originality, and included a new field in the West of the time, sexual occult, which had been known for thousands of years in the Far East, “tantra” (Nicolaevsky 1966; Prescot).
In the year 1782 Cagliostro founded in the city of Lyon in France the first lodge of the Misraim Masonic Association. However, the official year of establishment was 1785, when the Illuminati organization in Germany was prohibited by the authorities, which claimed that it was attempting to destroy the countries of Europe with its dangerous liberal ideas. Cagliostro determined then that his organization, Misraim, would continue directly the Illuminati tradition and the different ideas that appear in their texts but with new ideas of his own.
Aside from the use of the different techniques of the occult, another new element that had not existed until now was the equality between men and women. However, the radically innovative order also caused suspicions and anger in France. Cagliostro found himself persecuted in France because of assertions that he was linked to the Affair of the Diamond Necklace that involved Queen Mary Antoinette, although the truth was that he was not connected to it. He was forced to leave to Italy. In Rome he established a lodge of the Misraim Order. This angered the authorities, and he was arrested by the Inquisition, which had for years tracked him as an especially dangerous heretic and occultist. In the end he died in prison in 1795, although there is a tale that he managed to escape from prison and disappeared under another identity and since then no trace has been found.
Eventually the author Alexandre Dumas wrote a novel about the life of Cagliostro, Balsamo the Magician (1846). The famous novel opens with a dramatic description resulting from Dumas’s imagination of the rite of the Memphis Order, in which the people in the order speak about their intentions to take over the world (The Memphis-Misraim order – official website; Ripel).
This description greatly impressed the men of the Czarist Police at the end of the 19th century. They replicated nearly word for word the description of the faked rite of Cagliostro and created from it The Protocols of Zion, which describe the plot of the “Elders of Zion” to take over the world, a plot that in essence is based on the accusation leveled against Cagliostro and the Misraim Order, that they were responsible for the French Revolution.
Cagliostro died as a saint of the new liberal ideas, but the Order he established continued to exist and continued to spread. It had a strong influence on different prominent figures in France and abroad. Once such figure was a young officer named Napoleon Bonaparte, who was inspired from the different ideas he heard there and who began to create the relationships that in the end led to his rise to power and also under his inspiration went on a campaign of conquest in Egypt in 1798 and visited the pyramids where some of his men performed a ceremony of the Order.
From the Misraim Order in 1838 the Memphis Order was created by Jacques Etienne Marconis de Nègre (1795-1865). This was a special variation of ideas of the Misraim Order, incorporating new alchemical ideas that were not in the previous Order. This Order had lodges in Paris and Brussels and in England, but it was eventually banned because of the involvement of its members in different political plots in the attempt to bring about a more open liberal and democratic society.
The different orders were in the end united by the Italian freedom fighter Giuseppe Garibaldi. In 1881 he began to liberate and unite Italy under the Masonic lodges from which most of his main people came. Many of them were from the Memphis and Misraim lodges, which had always aspired to bring about freedom for the different nations of Europe.
Another prominent leader was Theodor Reuss, who put greater emphasis than always on the sexual occult in the work of the Order. One of his heirs was the British mystic and occultist Aleister Crowley, who created his own variation of the methods of the Order and disseminated them in England and around the world. He became known as the father of his special approach of magic based largely on the ideas of the Memphis-Misraim Order.
Today Memphis-Misraim is more active than ever in dozens of different countries around the world. It engages on the one hand in reconstruction and learning and on the other hand in the development of mystical methods different from the early Egyptian past and from other sources and the ancient theory of Kabbalah as it was known in the Middle Ages and later on.
The people of the order see themselves as Freemasons, and therefore they look at all this as a framework of an unending struggle of the moral and spiritual improvement of the Order members and the people around them and the creation of a more tolerant and better society in the world (Gabirro 2002; Eshed 2015; Website of the Order "Memphis - Egypt" in Israel; Faulks, Cooper 2008).
William Schnoebelen, who developed in the public the mistaken perception that the two orders are in essence one, was in actually wrong. A more in-depth examination of the history and of the doctrines of the two orders indicates that these are two different orders that were established at different times under a different ideological doctrine, one in the British version and one in a non-British version. Although there are individual Freemasons who are members in Memphis-Misraim and in regular Freemason orders, it is possible to determine that Memphis-Misraim was established as separate from the regular Freemason order and includes a completely different learning theory that emphasizes mysticism.
Therefore, it is a mistaken perception to think that the Freemason order is related to the Illuminati order. An in-depth examination of Memphis-Misraim shows that this order saw itself to be the continuation of the Illuminati order and not a regular Freemason order established in the British style.
Academic researchers in the future need to understand the source of the public perception towards the Freemason order and to address them as two different organizations with two different doctrines.
Continental Lodges. In: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. Updated 12 July 2019. Available at: <http://www.phoenixmasonry.org/mackeys_encyclopedia/>.
Eshed, E. 2015. The Order of Memphis-Mizraim - Understanding the Mysterious Freemasons. // Yakum Tarbut journal.
Faulks, Ph. and Robert Cooper. 2008. The Masonic Magician: The Life and Death of Count Cagliostro and His Egyptian Rite. London, Watkins Publishing.
Gabirro, R. 2002. A Complete History of the Ancient and Primitive Rite. London.
Nicolaevsky, B. 1966. Secret Societies and the First International. : In Milored M. Drachkovitch (Ed.).The Revolutionary Internationals, 1864–1943. Stanford, 36 –56.
Önnerfors, A. & Róbert Péter (Eds.). 2010. Researching British Freemasonry 1717-2017. Sheffield Lectures on the History of Freemasonry and Fraternalism, Volume Three. Sheffield: The University of Sheffield publication house.
Prescott, A. 2003. The Cause of Humanity: Charles Bradlaugh and Freemasonry.
Frank G. Ripel, the head of the international order of Memphis-Misraim. Website of the order. Updated 12 July 2019. Available at: <http://www.frankripel.org/iutmah/meaprmm_english.html
Schnoebelen, B. 2012a. The Light behind Masonry, the Prophecy Club, January 25th 2012. Updated 12 July 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5rL3I1QFE0.
Schnoebelen, B. 2012b. Exposing the Illuminati from Within, the Prophecy Club, November 12th 2012. Updated 12 July 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckDxBhMt2GA
Schnoebelen, B. Interview with an Ex-Vampire. March 13th 2011. Updated 12 July 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBdWRT-5H4Q
The Memphis-Misraim order official website. Updated 12 July 2019. Available at: <http://www.memphis-misraim.us/
United Great Lodge of England Internet website. Updated 12 July 2019. Available at: <https://www.ugle.org.uk/10-faq/43-how-many-freemasons-are-there