Friday, September 12, 2008

Legend of the Dionysiac Artificers

A paper compiled and read by Wor. Bro. Gilbert Neil of the Lodge


At the May meeting of Freshwater Lodge, I read a lecturette on Hiram Abif from a U.G.L.Q. 1964 series of three lecturettes on the third degree. In it was a reference to the Dionysian Architects and that Hiram Abif was connected with them. After over forty years in freemasonry, I and the brethren were astounded to hear of this for the first time.

My lecture is taken substantially from an Albert G. Mackey's "The History of Freemasonry" Chapter XXV. He refers often to the writings of Sir David Brewster. I must admit that latter writers have questioned this legend, but it is very interesting.


Between 1055 and 1044 B.C., about half a century before the building of the temple at Jerusalem, the inhabitants of Attica and some other Greeks migrated to Asia minor on the western coast. They drove out the inhabitants and called the settlement Ionia after their home in Greece. The principal town was Teos. They brought with them the progress the Greeks had made in the arts and sciences and introduced the mysteries of Pallas and Dionysus, before they had been corrupted by the licentiousness of the Athenians. Especially popular were the mysteries of Dionysus, the Roman Bacchus. In these as in all the religious mysteries of antiquity was a funereal legend.

In the Dionysiac mysteries, the legend of initiation recounted or represented the death of the demigod Dionysus, the search for and discovery of his body, and his subsequent restoration to life. In the initiations the candidate was made to represent the events connected with the slaying of the demi-god, confinement or burial, a search for the remains of Dionysus, with their discovery with great joy. The candidate was then invested with the secret doctrine of the mysteries, the belief and existence of one god and the immortal state.[sound familiar!]

These mysteries of Dionysus were very intimately connected with a society of architects. An association, according to the legend, which we are now considering had much to do with the organisation of masonry at the Solomonic temple. They joined to the practice of operative architecture, the observance of the religious rites of the Dionysiac mysteries. They devoted themselves to the construction of temples and other public edifices.
Hiram, who reigned over the kingdom of Tyre, and from the cultivation of the sciences has been styled the Augustus of his age, is said to have patronised these religious builders, and to have employed them in the magnificent works by which he adorned and strengthened his capital
The internal government and the usages of this association were very similar to those exhibited by masonry in the present day, and the legendary theory supposes to have prevailed among the builders of the Solomonic temple.

The fraternity was divided into communities called collegia, having houses or dwellings in common, which might be compared to the masonic lodges of today their places of meeting each received a distinctive name, as our lodge do. There was a general annual festival, held with great pomp and ceremony and awards handed out. Sound familiar?

As a secretive brotherhood they had a system of signs and tokens, by which one of the members, could make himself known to the others. Each lodge or koina had officers corresponding to a master and wardens. The masonic principle of charity was practised and the richer members were bound to provide for the wants and necessities of their poorer brethren.

The legend which connects these architects with the building of the temple at Jerusalem, assumes that Hiram Abif was a member of this secret association. Although scripture states that Hiram was a worker in metals and precious jewels, it is possible that skilled craftsmen were admitted as their work was needed for the completion and perfection of the buildings.

When Solomon was about to build his temple to Jehovah, he made his intention known to his friend and ally, Hiram, King of Tyre, and because he was well aware of the architectural skills of the Tyrian Dionysiacs, he sought that monarch's assistance. Hiram complied with his request and sent him the necessary workmen, who by their skill and experience might supply the mechanical deficiencies and ignorance of the Israelites, who were still basically herdsmen.

With the body of builders he sent this Hiram Abif, who as `a curious and cunning workman', highly recommended by his patron, was entrusted with the superintendence of the construction and placed him at the head of both the Tyrian and Jewish craftsmen as the chief builder and principal conductor of the work because of his personal virtues and the fact that he was involved in the Dionysian mysteries [perhaps because of his esteemed position in the Tyrian court], he is credited with causing the Jews and the Tyrians to work together harmoniously. He united them in a society, similar to that of the Dionysiac Artificers, inculcated the lessons of charity and brotherly love, established a ceremony of initiation to test experimentally the worth and fortitude of the candidate, adopted secret methods of recognition and impressed the obligations of duty and the principles of morality by means of symbols and allegories. The only stumbling block was the religious differences. This was overcome at his death when his death was substituted for that of Dionysus.

From all of this, the masonic structure has evolved. From the Jewish element is derived the pure theism and from the Tyrian element, the peculiar mystical character and system of symbolism after the completion of the temple. The workmen with the secrets promised at their initiation dispersed. The Dionysiacs continued their work at Perganum Teos and Ephesus over the ensuing centuries... despite the Emperor Theodosius abolishing all mystical associations in the fifth century A..D. The Dionysiacs are said to have continued their existence until the time of the crusades when they were merged with the association of builders known as the travelling freemasons of the middle ages.

[Gilbert Neil P.J.G.D.,with acknowledgement to the original authors.]

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