Possible Origin of the Hiramic Myth. -In the Discussion to Bro. R. J. Meekren's paper on "The Age of the Master's Part" (vol. lxxii, p. 31), Bro. G. S. Draffen calls attention to a French work in the Library of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, by Georges de Norval, recounting some tales supposed to have been heard around the Coffee Houses in the Middle East, and one of which, Bro. Draffen thinks, "bears such a striking resemblance to the Hiramic Legend that it cannot be discounted as a possible source of the legend of our present Third Degree". Many years ago, G. W. Speth had delivered himself of a somewhat similar opinion, though speaking somewhat more diffidently, inasmuch as his source of information, unlike Bro. Draffen's, had been round-about. He had been told "at third hand," he said (in his discussion of Prof. Johnston's paper on "Seventeenth Century Descriptions of King Solomon's Temple"), "that a version of the Hiramic legend is a well-known tale in the bazaars of the Orient, and forms part of the stock-in-trade of the public narrators." "I can only give the story for what it is worth," he added, "but it seems to me, however, that here we have a more promising field for research than the seventeenth century literature has proved itself to be." (A.O.C., xii, p. 148.)
It is more than probable that Speth had the same story in mind that Bro. Draffen now makes reference to, and the work in question is no doubt the one referred to by W. H. Ryland's correspondent as Gérard de Nerval's Voyage en Orient (C. A.D. 1850), and the tale referred to must of course be the one under the title "History of the Queen of the Morning, and Soliman, Prince of the Djinns " (A.Q.C., xiv, p. 179). That the tale bears a "striking resemblance to the Hiramic Legend" is beyond question. What may be open to question, however, is whether the alleged yarn was really ever told in the cafés of Stamboulor anywhere else in the East for that matterand whether it can therefore be reasonably considered as a possible source of our legend and tradition.
The tale with which we are immediately concerned is more conveniently available in the English translation of Volume Two of The Women of Cairo, by the same French author (London, 1929), and, as indicated, it purports to be a tale heard told by an Arab story-teller in a Stamboul café, but with a profusion of Hiramic detail that, at first reading, is astounding.
An almost identical tale is told by Heckethorn in his Secret Societies of all Ages and Countries (London, 1875 ; 1, 241 seq.), in a section on "Freemasons" and a chapter on "The Legend of the Temple," and under a sub-heading, "Hiram, Solomon, and the Queen of Sheba",
but with a few interpolated details for good measure, all of this giving the unwary the air of a genuine "tradition". But Heckethorn's account (some twenty-five years after Nerval's publication) has all the earmarks of having been "lifted ", and without acknowledgment, from Nerval's account, and in the Bibliography preceding the section on "Freemasons", Nerval's work is not even mentioned. Perhaps Heckethorn himself may have had some secret misgivings as to the genuineness of the alleged "tradition".
A palpably similar tale, again, is told by Max Heindel in his Freemasonry and Catholicism (Oceanside, California, 1919 ; ch. III), where it is also presented confidently as "the Masonic legend". Heindel may have taken his very similar version frorn Heckethorn, or perhaps directly from Nerval, but neither Heckethorn nor Heindel were Freemasons, and they could only describe a reputedly Masonic Legend from the outside looking in. Whether Nerval himself was a Freemason it may be difficult to ascertainthe surface indications are that he was notbut at any rate his tale ("tall tale" would be a better designation) appears more to be an importation from the Masonic West than a direct product of export from the fabulous East.
A more promising approach to the problem of origins is the one outlined by Bro. Meekren, though undoubtedly more difficult and laborious of prosecution. Our customary method of search has generally been for some specific prototype of our particular Hiramic legend and myth, and the search appears so far to have led nowhere, so, much so that it has raised the interesting question as to whether or not we may have been looking for the wrong thing in the wrong direction and with the wrong methods, as in the well-known analogy of the blind man searching in a dark room, for a black cat that isn't there. For example, the Hayter Lewis fragmentary "discovery" created a little flurry of excitement for a time but it failed of corroboration. and led up a blind alley. A similar fate befell the report by Dr. Geo. Oliver of an alleged 1715 English translation of a Targum to the Book of Chronicles in which the legend of the Master Builder's death is said to have been recounteda report which, upon sufficient examination, was found to be entirely false (Rev. Bro. Morris Rosenbaum, in his discussion of F. J. W. Crowe's paper on "King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba" (A.Q.C., xix, p. 124). Similarly, the mediaeval Guild or Morality Plays, though most promising, have so far yielded negative results, and the Jacobite or other political influences that have been suggested as the possible source of our Hiramic Drama are hardly ever discussed nowadays, perhaps rightly so. Most of the other possible sources that have been offered from time to time have been similarly barren of result. The Nerval yarn would thus be extremely interesting if genuine, but unfortunately it bears all the signs of a brash and brazen concoction.
There thus remains only the anthropological approach advocated by Bro. Meekren, and it appears that what we should be looking for, perhaps, is not the exact prototype of our Hiramic Tradition as we know it, but a generalized quasi-Hiramic Tradition of any sort whatever, perhaps not even associated with the personality of H.A.B. or with the building of King Solomon's Templejust so long as it has some of the basic folk-lore elements or characteristics that we find in our own tradition, whatever they may be. That would, at least, be the first step in our search. The determination as to how and when and under what circumstances this generalised quasi-Hiramic Tradition became transformed into the Masonic Tradition we all know would then be the final step. But our approach has largely been a case of putting the cart before the horse, and this may at least partially have been the cause of our failure up to now. (The Noah Legend of the Graham MS. is perhaps a good example of a quasi-Hiramic Legend of the type here indicated, but if the 1726 dating is approximately correct it is much too recent for our purpose, unless an earlier version is some day found.)
The central core of Bro. Meekren's thesis is that no one "is fully equipped to discuss the origins of Masonic ritual who has not a comprehensive knowledge of the facts collected under the heads of anthropology and folk-lore", and the essential difference between his modus operandi and the one we have been accustomed to pursue is very well expressed in the following sentences of his: "The historian," says Bro. Meekren, "may be likened to the lawyer who presents his case in court. The anthropological student is like the detective who proceeds on clues and odds and ends of information, however come by." He might have added that the latter method of procedure may not even result in producing any evidence that would be admissible in a court of law, and might fail of impressing the jury to the point of bringing in a favourable verdict, and yet could actually be nearer the truth of the matter, whatever that truth might be.
In a series of articles on "The Hiramic Legend and the Medieval Stage" in The Builder for 1926, Bro. Ernest E. Thiemeyer finds himself in virtually the same camp as Bro. Meekren, as far as this question of methodology is concerned. If any correct conclusions as to the origin and growth of the Hiramic Legend are to be reached, he says, "the present line of research must be abandoned and the field of ethnography investigated". "Ethnography" may not be precisely synonymous with "anthropology", but it is clear from a reading of Bro. Thiemeyer's articles that his approach to the problem is precisely the same as Bro. Meekren's. Thiemeyer makes a serious attempt at interpreting the Hiramic Myth as a genuine relic of primitive mythology and folk-lore, after the manner of Frazer's The Golden Bough and works of that character and comes to the conclusion that our Myth is a genuine survival of primitive group-thinking that had finally become incorporated into a Masonic ritual at some time or period so far undetermined.
Reprinted, with permission from Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. "The Hiramic Legend, Alex Horne, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum Transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076. vol. lxxiii (1961) Possible origin of Hiramic myth. pp. 118-20.
'THE HIRAMIC LEGEND'
BY BRO. ALEX HORNE