The Foreword to Turning The Hiram Key
Written by Colin Wilson
I became aware of the work of Robert Lomas in May 1996, when my wife and I were taken to visit Rosslyn Chapel. In the souvenir shop there I bought The Hiram Key by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, then only recently published, for Joy to read on the train. At this time I knew little about Freemasonry, except what I had read in a book called The Brotherhood written by a friend, Stephen Knight, which argued that Freemasonry was a kind of Old Boys’ Network whose members were devoted to helping one another get good jobs. But then, Stephen (who was dead by then) had admitted that he knew very little of the history of Freemasonry. But he mentioned a tradition that Freemasonry had its roots in ancient Egypt, and another that the pre-Christian sect the Essenes were among its ancestors.
About a year later I began to research a book about the legend of Atlantis, and the great flood which Plato claimed engulfed the continent ‘in a day and a night’. And since I recalled reading something about the Flood in The Hiram Key, I settled down to a more careful reading. I instantly became absorbed in Knight and Lomas’s investigation into the history of Freemasonry. They argued that its origin could be traced back far beyond 1640, the year Stephen Knight said it began, first to the Scottish knight William St Clair, who had built Rosslyn in the fifteenth century, then to the Order of Knights Templar, founded after the first Crusade in Jerusalem and virtually wiped out on the orders of Philip the Fair of France in 1307, then further back still, to the Essenes, of which Jesus was almost certainly a member, and then to the Temple of King Solomon around 900 BC. And before that, they argue, there is evidence that the legend of the murder of Hiram Abif, architect of the Temple, was based on a real event: the murder of the pharaoh Sequenenre during the reign of the ‘Shepherd’ (Hyksos) kings of Egypt in the seventeenth century BC. If they are correct, then the origins of Freemasonry can indeed be traced to ancient Egypt (and that extraordinary man Cagliostro, who called himself an Egyptian Freemason, is justified).
Why was I interested in this story? Because I was convinced that Plato’s story of Atlantis (in the Timaeus) was based on a real event – an immense flood that occurred around 9500 BC, possibly caused by a comet or asteroid that struck the earth. I was collaborating with a Canadian librarian named Rand Flem’Ath, who had studied legends of Native Canadians and North Americans that seemed to suggest that they were based on some tremendous real catastrophe in which ‘the sky fell’ and floods poured down, drowning most of the inhabitants of the
The Hiram Key convinced me that Masonic legends may indeed date back to the Atlantis Flood. I also came to believe that those ancient traditions of Freemasonry were kept alive after the Roman destruction of the Essenes in the first century AD, perhaps descending via the Merovingian kings of France to the Templars, then to William St Clair, the builder of Rosslyn, as well as to a secret order, known as the Priory of Sion, founded by Templars (as described in a seminal book, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and, even more recently, in Dan Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code).
As anyone who has read the latter will know, it claims that the Roman Catholic Church has always been deeply opposed to the Templars and Priory of Sion because they preserved the truth about the life of Jesus – and that truth has nothing in common with the Christianity of St Paul, in which Jesus died on the cross to save men from the consequences of Original Sin. The fact is, Lomas and Knight insist, that Jesus was a man, not a god, and the Roman Catholic Church is therefore built on a myth. (The Hiram Key even quotes Pope Leo X as saying ‘It has served us well, this myth of Christ’. But then, some would say that Leo was himself a member of the Priory of Sion.) This could account for the immense and long-standing hostility of the Church to Freemasonry.
It is necessary to explain all this before moving on to the subject of the present book. (And I should add before I do so that Bob Lomas has grave doubts about the Priory of Sion, which I am sure he can explain better than I can.)
When Bob told me he was writing a book about the meaning of Masonic ritual, I felt relatively certain it would not interest me. Once again I was wrong, as I soon discovered when I read some of its earlier chapters.
I have written a great deal about religion since my second book Religion and the Rebel, published in 1957, in which I state my belief that St Paul’s Christianity is his own invention and has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus. (This point was made by Bernard Shaw in his brilliant preface to Androcles and the Lion.) But I have always been deeply interested in the experiences of the mystics, and in what one writer, R.M. Bucke, has called ‘cosmic consciousness’ (in his book of that title, written in the 1890s). Bucke had spent an evening with friends, reading and discussing such favourite poets as Wordsworth and Walt Whitman. As he went home in a carriage, he was startled by a red glow:
All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame-coloured cloud. For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagration somewhere close by ... the next, I knew that the fire was within myself. Directly afterwards there came upon me a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness, accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among other things ... I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have eternal life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life then; I saw that all men are immortal. ... The vision lasted a few seconds and was gone.
Bob begins this book by describing a similar experience he had when driving through an electrical storm. His own glimpse of ‘cosmic consciousness’ convinced him that this is the true purpose of the rituals of Freemasonry, and his scientific training has enabled him to go into the brain physiology of such experiences. He finds confirmation of his theory in The Meaning of Masonry by W. L. Wilmshurst, and in Chapter Eleven of the present book he quotes from my autobiography Dreaming to Some Purpose some of my own experiences involving what the psychologist Abraham Maslow called ‘peak experiences’ – these moments in which the world ceases to appear as mere solid and impenetrable reality, and is imbued with a tremendous sense of meaning, or what G.K. Chesterton called ‘absurd good news’. This was the subject of my first book The Outsider (1956), about those poets and artists of the nineteenth century who experienced sudden visions of ‘meaning’ (like Van Gogh when he painted The Starry Night), and when the vision has faded, find themselves trapped in a world that leaves them feeling bored and discouraged. I called such men ‘Outsiders’, because they felt alienated from the everyday reality that most people seem to find so satisfying. And my conclusion in that book was that the ‘Outsiders’ must learn to overcome the sense of alienation and be prepared to take their place in society, which they must learn to change from within. For, as H.G. Wells says in The History of Mr Polly; ‘If you don’t like your life you can change it’.
In America, a remarkable man called Syd Banks – not a psychologist or an academic – was suddenly struck by a revelation: that nearly all human misery is caused by our own thoughts. As he spoke about this insight, he gathered an increasing number of followers, and had soon founded a new psychology. A New York psychiatrist named George Pransky, a dissatisfied and disgruntled Freudian, travelled to Salt Spring Island off the coast of Vancouver to attend one of Banks’s weekend seminars, and was immediately struck by the fact that the people there seemed so healthy and well-balanced, so much in control of their own lives. Pransky has gone on to become one of the foremost exponents of Banks’s ‘psychology of mind’.
This, it seems to me, is also one of the practical aims of Freemasonry – to teach people how to be in control of their own lives. Turning the Hiram Key makes an admirable starting point for this process, since it sets out to show how we can deepen our sense of meaning through a vision of the underlying reality – that reality that Wilmshurst discusses in The Meaning of Masonry.
Bob Lomas strikes me as very much the kind of person encountered by George Pransky on Salt Spring Island. He gives the impression of enormous energy and intellectual vitality – a man who is in control of his own life, and has the gift of being able to teach others to follow his example.