Scottish Witchcraft And The Third Degree

Most Scottish Freemasons will bristle with indignation on reading the title of this piece. However, it is a theory tentatively proposed many years ago by two of the best and brightest Masonic scholars of all time.

Douglas Knoop and Gwilym Peredur Jones, (who published as G.P. Jones) were both Professors of Economics at the University of Sheffield.

G.P. Jones was not a member of the Craft, but Knoop was an active Freemason, and together they wrote extensively on the history of Freemasonry. They are still widely quoted today, and as a Past Master of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge of Research, No. 2076, widely considered the foremost Masonic research Lodge in the world, Knoop might be considered a member of the ‘authentic’ school of Masonic research.

However, when discussing another school of Masonic research, the ‘imaginative’ school, Knoop and Jones write:

Actually, the imaginative school did not consist of writers utterly careless as to their facts, nor ought the verification of facts, which is characteristic of the authentic school, to be considered sufficient in itself and as excluding all need of imagination. Imagination as a substitute for facts is useless: as a guide to facts it may be invaluable.

In their 1947 book The Genesis of Freemasonry, Knoop and Jones, whilst considering changes in the practice of communicating the ‘Mason Word’ over the centuries, displayed a degree of imagination by allowing themselves to speculate on the origins of the five points of fellowship, as contained within the third degree. They state in that book:

As a possible explanation of seventeenth-century development, we would suggest, though only tentatively, that the five points of fellowship may have originated in practices connected with witchcraft or some other superstition, of which there was then no lack in Scotland.

In a footnote, they reference an incident from Perth, Scotland in 1623:

The 16th day of May 1623, Patrick Ruthven, skinner in Perth, compared and declared that he being bewitched by a Margaret Hornscleugh. Isobel Haldane came to see him; she came into the bed, and stretched herself above him, her head to his head, her hands over him and so forth, mumbling some words; he knew not what they were. The said Isobel confessed the said cure and deponed that before the said Patrick was witched, she met him and forbade him to go until she had gone with him.

Whether this Patrick Ruthven was a member, of at least a cadet branch of the noble Ruthven family of Perth is not known; but the latter were themselves posthumously (and falsely) accused of witchcraft, and stripped of their lands, titles and privileges, following an alleged failed attempt by John Ruthven (styled the Earl of Gowrie) and his brother Alexander, to abduct or murder King James VI, at Gowrie House, Perth, on 5 August, 1600.

This incident is however shrouded in mystery and intrigue. The Ruthven family had certainly been noted for their interest in alchemy and other esoteric subjects over several generations.

It is possible that Knoop and Jones were closer to the truth concerning the genesis of Freemasonry than they themselves realised.

Editor’s Note:
The Genesis of Freemasonry by Douglas Knoop and G.P. Jones is out of print but second-hand copies are available from Abe Books

Article by: Kenneth C. Jack
Past Master, Lodge St. Andrew, No. 814

Feature image: from the book The Ancient Capital of Scotland Vol. 2,
by Samuel Cowan, (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co.) 1904.

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