Freemasonry in Pop Culture P1 – The Art of Satire

Freemasonry has been the subject of satire and lampooning since its inception in the 1700s courtesy of cartoonists such as Hogarth and Gillray, but the 20th century gave it far more prominence in what we now consider ‘popular culture’. Artwork, comics, books, operas and vaudeville, and then the mainstream media of TV and film, have all featured references to the Fraternity.

“Popular culture (also called mass culture or pop culture) is generally recognized by members of a society as a set of the practices, beliefs, and objects that are dominant or prevalent in a society at a given point in time. Popular culture also encompasses the activities and feelings produced as a result of interaction with these dominant objects.”

Source: – Wikipedia

Part one begins with the satirical – and propagandist – cartoons and art from the 18th- to the 20th century.

Satire and Cartoons

The first usage of the phrase ‘popular culture’ was first used in 1818 (although the Oxford English Dictionary lists the first use as 1854)  Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi  used it in  The Address of Pestalozzi to the British Public in which he stated that:

I see that it is impossible to attain this end without founding the means of popular culture and instruction upon a basis which cannot be got at otherwise than in a profound examination of Man himself; without such an investigation and such a basis all is darkness.  

During the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, social changes resulted in increased literacy rates, and with the rise of capitalism, people began to spend more money on entertainment.  

The Guardian, in a feature from 2016, describes ‘penny dreadfuls’ as ‘Britain’s first taste of mass-produced popular culture for the young’. The first penny serials were published in the 1830s.

From the end of World War II, the major cultural and social changes brought about by mass media innovations, the meaning of ‘popular culture’ began to overlap with the connotations of ‘mass culture’.

The abbreviated form ‘pop for ‘popular, dates from the late 1950s. Although the terms are in some cases used interchangeably, and their meaning partially overlap, the term ‘pop’ is narrower.

Pop is specific of something containing qualities of mass appeal, while ‘popular’ refers to what has gained popularity, regardless of its style.

Source:  wikipedia

Freemasonry has been depicted in satirical works from the 18th century onwards – most notably in works by artist William Hogarth, and cartoonist James Gillray, who poked fun at the rituals, and especially the prominent figures involved in Masonry at the time.  


William Hogarth’s ‘Night’, is the fourth and last of a series entitled ‘Four Times of the Day’ is of especial interest to Freemasons. Hogarth was a Freemason but he was not shy of depicting the Craft in a less than favourable light in his satirical prints.
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

In the foreground, a drunken freemason, identified by his apron and set square medallion as the Worshipful Master of a lodge, is being helped home by his Tyler, as the contents of a chamber pot are emptied onto his head from a window.

The freemason is traditionally identified as Sir Thomas de Veil, who was a member of Hogarth’s first Lodge.

He is supported by his Tyler, a servant equipped with sword and candle-snuffer, who may be Brother Montgomerie, the Grand Tyler.

Note the figure on the right holding a mop, a possible allusion to the practice of drawing symbols on the lodge room floor and washing them off when the lodge was closed.

Four Times of the Day – Night

Hogarth’s mockery of Freemasonry. A humorous depictions of life in the streets of London, the vagaries of fashion, and the interactions between the rich and poor.


Bernard E. Jones (Freemasons Guide and Compendium, 1952) writes ‘…if the whole intention is burlesque or satire, the tavern may be identified as the Rummer and Grapes, Channel Row, Westminster, the meeting place of Lodge No. 4 from 1717 to 1723.’

Whereas George W. Speth suggests that the image depicts Hartshorn Lane, in Charing Cross; Hogarth’s first Lodge, met at the Vine circa 1729.


‘The Mystery of Masonry Brought to Light by the Gormagons’, William Hogarth, 1724.
IMAGE LINKED:  Met Museum OA Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Hogarth’s other satirical poke at the Masons was his excoriating depiction entitled ‘The Mystery of Masonry Brought to Light by the Gormagons’ (first published in 1724, with further reissues), depicting the Antient Noble Order of the Gormogons, a short-lived 18th century secret society formed by expelled Freemason Philip Wharton.

It left no records or accomplishments to indicate its true goal and purpose. From the group’s few published articles it is thought that the society’s primary objective was to hold up Freemasonry to ridicule.

During its brief existence it was accused of being a Jacobite-leaning group, perhaps because the first known Grandmaster (or Oecumenical Volgi) was Andrew Michael Ramsay of AyrScotland, a Jacobite of strong convictions.

It also appears to have been a charitable organization, at least according to its surviving bylaws. There are also some surviving pendant badges, bearing their sign.

The Gormogons

The Antient Noble Order of the Gormogons had a brief existence in the eighteenth century; they left few records or accomplishments,


Hogarth’s Harlot Reveals All – Part 1

A new series looking at the hidden Masonic symbolism within Brother Hogarth’s works – what can you find?



image description
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

James Gillray (1756-1815) was a British caricaturist and printmaker most famed for his political and social satire which were mainly published between 1792 and 1810.

Gillray publicly – and viciously – ridiculed the notable Freemason and alchemist Count Cagliostro, by producing a cartoon recounting the Count’s visit to Lodge of Antiquity in 1786.

The scathing ‘anecdote’ is recorded as follows:

The event on this plate, happened in London, on the 1st of November 1786, to brother BALSAMO self-calling Prince of Trebisonde, Marquis of Harrat, Count Cagliostro, &c. &c. &c. ~ ~ ~

The nick-named brother, having pay’d a visit to the Lodge of Antiquity with some foreigners, Brother MASH, an ingenious Optician performed, instead of giving a Song, the part of a travelling quack, which Count Cagliostro taking, as if aimed at him, he left the Lodge in a dudgeon, highly displeased, at the entertainment of the Company. ~ ~ ~

Mr Barker, Hair-dresser, King Street, Bloomsbury, Master of the Lodge of Antiquity. – Supper at 3 Shillings per head. Wine & Punch included.

Design’d by a Brother Mason a witness of the Scene.

Abstract of the Arabian Count’s memoirs.


Born God knows where, supported, God knows how.
From whom descended – difficult to know.
Lord Crop adopts him as a bosom friend,
And madly dares his character defend.
This self-dubbed Count, some few years since became
A Brother Mason in a borrow’d name;
For names like SEMPLE numerous he bears,
And proteus-like, in fifty forms appears.
‘Behold in me (he says) Dame Nature’s child,
‘Of Soul benevolent and Manners mild;
‘In me, the guiltless ACHARAT behold,
‘Who knows the mystery of making Gold,
‘A feeling heart, I boast, a conscience pure.
‘I boast a Balsam, every ill to cure.
‘My pills and powders all disease remove,
‘Renew your vigour and your health improve.
This cunning part, the arch impostor acts. ‘
And thus, the weak and credulous attracts.
But now his history is rendered clear;
The arrant hypocrite and quack appear.
First, as BALSAMO, he to paint essay’d,
But only daubing, he renounced the trade.
Then, as a Mountebank, abroad he stroll’d,
And many a name on Death’s blacklist enrolled,
Three times he visited the British shore,
And ev’ry time a different name he bore,
The brave Alsatians he with ease cajol’d,
By boasting of Egyptian forms of old.
The self same trick, he practised at Bordeaux.
At Strasburg, Lyons, and at Paris too.
But fate for BROTHER MASH reserv’d the task,
To strip the vile imposter of his Mask.
May all true Masons his plane tail attend!
And Satire’s lash to fraud shall put an end.

Satire’s lash indeed! 

Egyptian Rite

Egyptian Freemasonry, founder Cagliostro was famed throughout eighteenth century Europe for his reputation as a healer and alchemist


Another cartoon appeared in 1800, entitled ‘How to make a Mason’.


‘The Freemason’ by Eugen Lennhoff, 1932.
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Are You a Mason?

At the turn of the 20th century, Freemasonry was still the subject of much hilarity and the concept of ‘riding the goat’ supposedly associated with Masonry seeped into popular culture with a series of postcards featuring a myriad of satirical scenes from Masonic ritual and the secrets of Masonry.

Among the most collectible are those entitled, ‘Are You A Mason?’, a phrase which stemmed from a farcical comedy of the same name, which appeared on Broadway in New York City in 1901.

The first set of six cards were copyrighted by Irvin M. Kline in 1907. They were published by the Macoy Publishing Company, New York City.

They were originally printed in black and white with some sections coloured in yellow. Within a few years, identical pictures appeared in full colour, printed in Great Britain by the Millar and Lang company in their ‘National Series’.


Are You A Mason? – The first set of six cards were copyrighted by Irvin M. Kline in 1907.
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Masonic Miscellanies – Riding the Goat!Many Freemasons will have come across the phrase ‘riding the goat’, and will no doubt have been the butt of a joke about it (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) But what does it mean and where did the phrase come from? 


Anti-Masonic Propaganda

Most of the former satirical illustrations and cartoons were more a humorous jab at Freemasonry, than a vicious attack.

However, by the 19th and 20th centuries the satire turned more ugly – less humour and now with a strongly anti-Masonic / anti-Semitic theme beginning to emerge, especially in Europe.

Much of the content included anti-Semitic themes, based on the premise that the Jews, an already maligned and persecuted race, were the orchestrators of the shadowy cabal of Freemasonry, which in turn was perceived to be attempting to bring down any establishment that felt threatened by them.

Political and religious anti-Masonry turned into a pop culture.


Left: “The Aryan breaks the chains of the Jew and the Freemason that held him captive”
A. J. Jacquet, République plébiscitaire, Paris, 1897.
Centre: ‘French Revolution: before and after’ – The farmers oppressed before the French Revolution by the nobility, and after by Jews, Freemasons and Capitalists. Caran d’Ache, 1898
Right: Catholic France driven by Jews and Freemasons, drawing by Achille Lemot in Le Pèlerin, 1902.
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The Rise of Fascism

A more chilling example of Freemasonry in popular culture was seen in propagandist art that was being employed in Europe in the early 20th century.

At the time Europe was preparing for the First World War; anti-Masonic and anti-Semitic sentiment was already running high and Freemasonry began to be prohibited in more than one country.

In Hungary, in 1919, saw the proclamation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and after leaders of the counter-revolution blamed the Hungarian Freemasons for their First World War defeat and for the revolution, Masonry was outlawed by a decree in 1920.

The Soviet Union outlawed it in 1922, Benito Mussolini and his National Fascist Party followed suit in 1924.

Propaganda poster of the Grand Anti-Masonic Exhibition in Belgrade during the Nazi German occupation of Serbia.
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

In 1921, Adolf Hitler, a young and power-hungry Austrian-born German politician, became the leader of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi Party), by that time the seeds had already been sown as to the perceived threat from Freemasonry towards his new ideology.

The party was rabidly anti-capitalist, antisemitic and anti-Masonic – along with others deemed unfit for purpose, hundreds of thousands of European Freemasons would suffer imprisonment and/or death in the ensuing years.

The ugliest and most evil side of ‘popular’ or ‘mass culture’ had emerged.

continue reading next chapter
Part 2 - Film

Article by: Philippa Lee. Editor

Philippa Lee (writes as Philippa Faulks) is the author of eight books, an editor and researcher.

Philippa was initiated into the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF) in 2014.

Her specialism is ancient Egypt, Freemasonry, comparative religions and social history. She has several books in progress on the subject of ancient and modern Egypt.  Selection of Books Online at Amazon

William Hogarth – A Freemason’s Harlot

By: Jeremy Bell

William Hogarth, England’s most famous artist, was one of the first Freemasons to receive the Third Degree from the newly created Grand Lodge of England.

Curiously, he hid all the signs, passwords and secret ‘knocks of recognition’ within his most popular artwork. Concealed so brilliantly within his paintings, they have not been seen for nearly three centuries. Hogarth also hid several details that slandered the ‘Father of Freemasonry’, Jean Desaguliers.

The artist featured the third 3rd Grand Master covered in wax, dressed in drag, and ‘catching a fart’. Other curious details that have confused commentators for centuries can now be finally explained by their Masonic connection: Masturbating Kings, Ejaculating Ministers, Orgasmic Curtains and a Stabbed Chicken.

However, the most shocking discovery is that Hogarth exposed a Earl and a Viscount as homosexuals, using graphic details within his most popular paintings.

He did this in order to defend his Grand Lodge against a rival faction of Jacobite Freemasons. Over 300 illustrations explain this fascinating story of how Hogarth was commissioned by the Premier Grand Lodge to ensure its very survival.

It will be of great interest in this, the Tercentenary of the inception of Modern Freemasonry. William Hogarth – A Freemason’s Harlot – with a foreword by Professor Sean Shesgreen author of Complete Engravings, (Dover Fine Art, 1973), Hogarth Times of Day, (Cornell, 1983).

Available at – Jeremy Bell has written articles on Freemasonry for the British Art Journal and articles on art for the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.


The Red Triangle: A History of Anti-Masonry

By: Robert L.D. Cooper

This new title looks at both the controversy surrounding present-day issues along with the long history of anti – masonry and what the future holds for the Freemasons

This new title looks at both the controversy surrounding present-day issues along with the long history of anti – masonry and what the future holds for the Freemasons.


Engravings by Hogarth

By: William Hogarth

This book contains 101 of Hogarth’s finest and most important engravings, including all the major series or “progresses”: “The South Sea Scheme,” A Harlot’s Progress, “A Midnight Modern Conversation,” A Rake’s Progress, Before and After, Marriage à la Mode, Industry and Idleness, “The March to Finchley,” The Four Stages of Cruelty, “Time Smoking a Picture,” “Tailpiece,” and many more, including ten study sketches and paintings that show how the final works evolved.

Sean Shesgreen, a foremost authority on Hogarth, has consistently selected the best states of the plates to be used in this edition and has carefully introduced them, commenting upon the artist’s milieu and the importance of plot, character, time, setting, and other dimensions.

A most important aspect of this book, found in no other Hogarth edition, is the positioning of the editor’s commentary on each plate on a facing page.

With the incredible and sometimes overwhelming amount of detail and action going on in these engravings, this is a most helpful feature.


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