For those unfamiliar with the acclaimed books and television series, Outlander is a Starz original series based on the Outlander books written by Diana Gabaldon.
Inside its pages, we follow the story of Claire Randall, a married combat nurse from 1945.
She is mysteriously transported back in time to 1743, in the Highlands of Scotland, where she is immediately thrown into a strange world where her life is threatened.
When she is forced to marry Jamie Fraser, a chivalrous and romantic young Scottish warrior, a passionate affair ensues.
The Outlander series is a juggernaut of genres seamlessly combining history, science fiction, adventure, and romance all into one epic tale. Did I also mention that it has Freemasons in it?
As Jamie’s Jamaican plantation overseer Kenneth MacIver says, ‘I’d like to introduce you to a Freemason who’s acquainted with almost everyone on island and may know something of your nephew.’
Throughout the course of Gabaldon’s books we discover at least eight men identified as Freemasons – Jared and Jamie Fraser, Lionel Menzies, Roger MacKenzie, Robert Cameron, Thomas Christie, Governor Colonel Harry Quarry, and physician Daniel Rawlings.
Although I won’t be writing in detail about each of these men individually except as to how they relate to the main character, Jamie Fraser; I thought it important to mention how each of these characters influences Jamie Fraser decisions all through the series.
The main protagonist, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, is a Scottish soldier and landowner.
He is well-educated and has a knack for learning languages. Raised to be the future Laird of Lallybroch, Scotland; he is a natural leader, from the homestead to the battlefield.
He first meets Claire Randall on his return home to Scotland from France.
Jamie is forced to marry Claire to save her life. Intelligent, principled, and by 18th century standards, educated and worldly; he is a natural leader of men.
He has no political ambitions or desire for battlefield glories. Instead, he wishes to remove the price he has on his head and return to his family’s ancestral farm.
So, what is the significance of Jamie being a Freemason? Why did he decide to join the Freemasons while in prison? Did this cause any conflict with his strong Catholic faith?
Easy answer first: How and why Jamie was made a Freemason.
In Diana Gabaldon’s fifth book, The Fiery Cross, we learn that Jamie Fraser is made an Apprentice Mason by Governor Colonel Harry Quarry in his Masonic lodge in 1753, while imprisoned in Ardsmuir prison.
Jamie becomes a Master Mason, and he makes his own lodge with several of his fellow prisoners, one of whom is Tom Christie.
Tom is head of the Protestant faction in the prison, and Jamie is head of the Catholic faction. Tensions had been rising steadily between these two disparate groups, and it was through Freemasonry that am amiable solution was finally reached.
Soon, all the men in the prison were made apprentices, and tensions were abated.
Governor Quarry was head of a small Masonic military lodge at the prison, composed of the officers of the garrison. One of their members had died recently, though, leaving them one man short of the required seven men to open a lodge.
Quarry had considered the situation, and after some cautiously exploratory conversation on the matter, invited Fraser to join them.
A gentleman was a gentleman, after all, Jacobite or no.
‘So, Quarry made him (Fraser,) and he moved from Apprentice to Fellow Craft in a month’s time and was a Master himself a month after that—and that was when he chose to tell us of it.
And so, we founded a new lodge that night, the seven of us—Ardsmuir Lodge Number Two.’
Later in the book, we learn of these seven men, including Tom Christie becoming oath-bound to help Jamie Fraser despite Christie being a Protestant and Jamie a Jacobite Catholic:
‘Aye. You six—and Christie. Tom Christie the Protestant. And Christie, stiff-necked but honorable, sworn to the Mason’s oaths, would have had no choice, but been obliged to accept Fraser and his Catholics as brethren…’
‘To start with. Within three months, though, every man in the cells was made Apprentice. And there wasna (sic) so much trouble after that.’
[Quotes: The Fiery Cross, 2005, pp.213-14]
And there wouldn’t have been any more dissension since Freemasons hold as basic principles the notions of equality—so whether he was a gentleman, crofter (a person who works a small, rented farm), fisherman, or laird; such distinctions would not have been taken account of in lodge—and tolerance.
And the rule of no discussion of politics or religion amongst the brethren.
What about the potential conflict of Jamie Fraser being a Freemason and a Catholic? Didn’t the Pope forbid members from joining the fraternity? The short answer is yes, but the Catholic Church did not condemn membership in Freemasonry until Pope Clement XII issued his Papal Bull, In Eminenti, in April 1738.
His primary objection to Freemasonry was that it fostered notions of democratic over autocratic government.
This was in conflict with the Church’s long-standing support of autocratic monarchs.
Speculative Freemasonry was so strongly entrenched in Scotland, where it began, that most Freemasons simply ignored the Papal condemnation.
King James VI of Scotland was a Freemason and a Catholic, and so were many of the courtiers and Catholic nobility.
King James I of England and VI of Scotland, as King of Scotland. Engraving, 18– (?) after R. Elstrack..
IMAGE LINKED: Wellcome Collection Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
There were two opposing types of Freemasonry in the 1700s, the Ancients and the Moderns.
The Tories who supported the Stuart cause tended to be of the ‘Ancients’ type of Freemasonry, which included Scottish and Irish Freemasonry.
This is where most Catholic Freemasons were found. While the Whigs, supporters of the Protestant House of Hanover, tended to be of the ‘Moderns’ type of Freemasonry. These were the London stuffed shirts.
Many, many Jacobites, mostly Catholic, especially among the Scottish nobility, were Freemasons, and continued to be so well into the 19th century.
Although Freemasonry is not a major theme in Gabaldon’s books, it does provide further insight and background into Jamie Fraser’s character as a man of moral principles that guide his dealings throughout the series.
Jamie uses his Masonic connections to achieve his goals and motivations in his fight for Scottish independence and his own personal struggles, allowing the principles of Freemasonry to guide his faith and action.
Although Jamie is ostensibly a Catholic, he refuses to recognize the Pope’s ban on Catholics becoming Masons.
Jamie takes advantage of being a Freemason in order to unite all the men in the prison together.
This also had the desired effect of making Jamie the leader of all the inmates which was also his intent.
Practically, it was the most effective way of ending the religious strife within the prison, since it got the men to think and act as a cohesive unit rather than as individuals.
Without his membership in our gentle Craft, he would have never have been able to the broker peace between the Catholics and Protestants in Ardsmuir prison to become a leader of men.
We learn several years later that when Tom Christie uses the Masonic grip to introduce himself to Roger Mackenzie, a fellow Freemason, he instantly recognizes it.
The text describes that although it’s been a while since Roger has associated with other Freemasons, he still remembers what the Mason’s grip feels like when he receives it.
This simple grip allows Mackenzie to deduce that Christie is a Mason, and therefore a man of sound moral character.
It also causes MacKenzie to connect the dots between Tom and Jamie to suss out that Jamie Fraser must be indeed a Freemason as well.
Later, in book five (page 209), we read another passage where Jamie and Claire are discussing a Masonic Compass left by Robert Cameron who is a member of the same Masonic lodge as Roger MacKenzie.
Although Jamie shrugs when Claire asks if Cameron is a Freemason, he does confide in her that physician Daniel Rawlings is one and thereby confirms Claire’s suspicions that Cameron was one as well.
Artistic rendering inspired by the sign from A. Malcolm’s print shop
IMAGE CREDIT: author
Though Jamie doesn’t speak publicly about his association in the Freemason’s, he does advertise his membership in the fraternity by the symbols he uses on his print shop sign.
Of course, symbols are subjective—the meanings change depending on who is using them, who is reading them and how they are being used.
Symbols were often used as secret code or replaced written words in populations that did not know how to read and write.
So, A. Malcolm’s print shop sign was an advertisement, a means of conveying who he was to his customers, (Freemasons included) and he imbued his shop sign with symbols—both supernatural and religious—that had meaning in his life.
In the center of the shop sign, we see the square and compass, a widely used, easily identifiable Freemason symbol familiar to all Freemasons.
It is a clever way for Jamie to advertise his status as a Freemason and as a signal that it was safe for other Freemasons to patronize his print shop, to keep the secrets of Freemasonry safe from outsiders.
The square and compass also come together to form the letters, A and M, for Jamie’s nom de guerre, Alexander Malcolm.
Fleur de lis
Also, something less obvious than the square and compasses are the fleur de lis adorning the sign.
In Catholicism, the fleur de lis represents the holy trinity, the Virgin Mary, and the Archangel Gabriel.
But in paganism and throughout antiquity, most interesting of all is that the fleur de lis is often interpreted as a deconstructed bee.
We as Masons know that the honeybee has a special meaning to our fraternity; the bee and the beehive have long been symbols of industry and regeneration, wisdom, and obedience, with an ancient place in Egyptian, Roman, and Christian symbolism.
The hive is often seen in Masonic illustrations of the 18th and 19th century and both Clovis and Napoleon adopted the bee as their symbol.
It is this author’s opinion that Jamie was representing both his Catholic and Masonic heritage by employing the fleurs de lis in his print shop sign.
There are many other signs and symbols in the print sign relating to alchemy, including Jamie’s family name and Scottish heritage.
On the upper supports from which the Print Shop sign hangs, we see a few floral flourishes, a bloom that appears to be a strawberry blossom with trefoil leaves.
The significance of the strawberry plant to Clan Fraser is well known since the Fraser surname is thought to be derived from the French word, fraisier (strawberry).
Strawberries in antiquity were used by stone masons in architecture to symbolize perfection and righteousness further connecting the Fraser family to our gentle craft.
Although thematically Freemasonry is not central to the books and television series in Outlander, it does add an interesting level of complexity and insight into Jamie Fraser’s moral character.
Gabaldon’s books describe in detail how James Fraser and all the rest of the prisoners at Ardsmuir Prison became freemasons.
They also form the second lodge in the prison called Ardsmuir Lodge Number 2. [The Fiery Cross, pp. 824-25]
By using his wits and connections to the Masonic order, Jamie is able to arise to a position of leadership in Ardsmuir prison and is able to make lasting relationships with other men of means, furthering his fortunes and goals in life.
After fleeing prison, he seeks safe passage to Europe from a cousin who owns a vineyard in France.
The cousin tests him by saying ‘We meet upon the level.’ To which Jamie replies ‘and we part upon the square.’ [Voyager p. 514]
For those who haven’t read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, her writing style is a rich tapestry of compelling interwoven characters set against the backdrop of the fight for Scottish Independence in the 1700s.
I highly recommend adding it to your reading list!
Note: This article originally appeared in The Northern Lights magazine (March 2020) – reproduced with permission of the author.
Article by: Martin Bogardus
Bro. Martin Bogardus, PM hails from New Jersey and is a poet, writer and Associate Editor for The New Jersey Freemason magazine.
He is currently serving as Worshipful Master at the New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education, No. 1786.
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