Order out of chaos is the motto of Freemasonry. Freemasonry is known by his history and his traditions, or legends. History describes the Order from an esoteric or public point of view, whereas its traditions relate to its esoteric, or secret aspect. Traditional legends linked to the ritual of the Craft are outside its history, as they have been invented for symbolic purposes to use during initiation ceremonies. The philosophy of Speculative Masonry has developed out of these myths. One of the problems when trying to learn about the past of Freemasonry resides in the fact that history has been interwoven with tradition and legends. This has weakened the Order’s claim of a historical existence.
The history of Freemasonry can be divided in two parts: the prehistoric and the historic. The first one is based on tradition but the second is documented. The history can also be divided into esoteric and esoteric, the first one being again legendary, and the second historical. The study of Freemasonry as a social organisation must rely on documented facts only, at the exclusion of any speculation. It is sometime possible to evaluate the probability that a non-documented prehistorical event really occurred if it is related to well-known other events or circumstances. If the probability that that event occurred is high, then we can speculate on its effect on following occurrences, but this does not make it a historical fact. Many legends have historical basis; others are a mixture of facts and fiction; and still many more are mythical without any true base. Unfortunately, in the case of Freemasonry, these three categories of legends have been accepted as historical truth for more than two centuries, and are still believed as such by many Masons to day. This has unfortunately thrown big doubts on all Masonic traditions and legends.
Fortunately many Masonic scholars are now studying Masonic history applying the modern methods developed lately by historians, and generally accepted and recognised by the experts in this field. As a result they are pulling to pieces many myths and legends described as true by previous, less educated, and more credule Masons. They do not however throw them away as worthless, but only describe them for what they are, mythical. There is no question to repudiate the past and what the old Freemasons believed, but these critical modern scholars aim to tell us what is true and what is mythical.
To try to explain what is meant by this revision let us look at the legend of the Temple origin of Masonry, the legend that says that the Craft dates from the time of the building of the first Temple at Jerusalem. In the past the story was accepted as true in all its parts. King Solomon was seen as the first Grand Master with Hiram of Tyre and Hiram Abif as the Wardens of a Craft organised in three degrees. The more modern critics reject any suggestion that Freemasonry is, in any way, linked to King Solomon who, according to them, had nothing to do with Freemasonry. The more impartial modern scholars claim that there is indeed no historical proof to link the creation of Freemasonry with the building of King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. However they still recognise the symbolic significance of this legend, while at the same time looking for another explanation for the origin of Freemasonry. They trace the Craft’s rise in the Constitutions and follow it development until to day, but they also recognise the importance of the legend of the Temple on the internal construction of the Order. In other words, they accept that all the legends with a symbolic value played an important part in the life of the Craft, which owns a lot to them. On the opposite, they believe that legends without any symbolic significance should be rejected.