The book I’m currently researching examines the lost Rites and rituals of Freemasonry, a fascinating subject matter that has led me down some extremely interesting pathways. Indeed, pathway is the key word here, as many eighteenth century Freemasons longed to seek other pathways within Freemasonry, and it was this very desire to seek higher degrees that led to the surge in the creation of these Rites, especially on Continental Europe.
It was not long before certain charismatic gentlemen, such as Count Cagliostro and Martines de Pasqually, founded their Rites, blending magic, ego and Masonry to form some very strange and fascinating Masonic practices. While the Grand Lodges in England were arguing over how the Royal Arch should be treated, the Continental Masons were busy exploring various exotic degrees and blending all kinds of magical and alchemical ideas, some of which found their way into Cagliostro’s Egyptian Rite and Pasqually’s Rite de Elus Coens.
Most of these Rites were short lived, but they continued to inspire, especially during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with the likes of Aleister Crowley who was involved in all manner of magical Orders, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis, Crowley going so far as saying that he was a reincarnation of Cagliostro. It seems that Freemasonry became the doorway for many a gentleman seeking more light, men such as Baron Von Hund, Count Cagliostro, Pasqually and much later, Crowley, all venturing through that door in search for lost knowledge and, maybe something more….
At the moment, I’m doing some research on Jean-Baptiste Willermoz, an enigmatic French Mason of the eighteenth century that forged the Rectified Scottish Rite out of the teachings of Pasqually and the reorganised Rite of Strict Observance. The eighteenth century saw a number of Masonic Rites developing in France, Germany and Russia, and the Rectified Scottish Rite, though changed, still survives today.
Willermoz was said to have been cautious of Cagliostro, but was a supporter and follower of Martinez de Pasqually, along with Louis-Claude de Saint Martin. Willermoz was a member of both Baron Von Hund’s Strict Observance and Pasqually’s Elus Cohens, both influencing the Rectified Scottish Rite. Willermoz also took a leading role in the Congress of Lyon in 1778 and in Wilhelmsbad in 1782, and it was at these two congresses that the Rectified Scottish Rite was shaped.
The conference at Wilhelmsbad saw the end of the Strict Observance, its Templar origin myth being renounced, however it can also be interpreted that during this period of Masonic fermentation, a number of the Rites were transforming and evolving; the Rectified Scottish Rites included variations of the Strict Observance and what would become known as Martinism, and is an example of how both practices were blended to form a new Rite.