Masonic Study Society  

The Masonic Study Society - History
The Masonic Study Society was founded in 1921 by J.S.M. Ward, who was a keen advocate of research into the Anthropological, Symbolical and Mystical aspects of Freemasonry as opposed to its Historical and Archaeological aspects. The objects of the Society were:

'to study the Symbolism of Freemasonry and its various degrees and to investigate its origin and meaning on Anthropological lines. The Society aims at avoiding those aspects of Masonic Research which are already dealt with by existing Research Societies and will endeavour to study the craft, in the light of similar systems past and present and on the lines of comparative Religions, Anthropology and Folklore. In short, the Society will study Masonry as a living organism, as well as on the basis of documents. The Society will devote special attention to the symbolic and mystical meaning of the various degrees'.

It seems that Ward had great ambitions for the society. He wrote to The Masonic Record with details of the organisation and syllabus for the first year and expressed the Society's hopes:
'…to be able to do valuable work in connection with the so-called higher degrees which cannot be studied, as a rule, in a research lodge. The society is a separate society and therefore there is no arrangement for visitors though that may come later; but as every care has been taken to keep it as inexpensive as possible, it is hoped that there will be a large number of Brethren who will be anxious to join. There is a very widespread feeling at the present time, particularly in view of the tremendous influx into Freemasonry during the last year or two, that special steps should be taken to endeavour to instruct the younger Brethren in the meaning of our mysteries, and this is the main purpose of the society,'

Ward had hoped that: 'From this centre circles for the study of the Mark, Royal Arch, and the higher degrees might widen out.'

The original concept was of a twelve-graded society. All wore the Masonic Study Society Jewel, differentiated in rank by the colour of the ribbon. This scheme lasted until 1925 when so great was the demand for papers on Craft Freemasonry that the ranks were abolished and no other Degrees were studied, until 1967 when study of the Royal Arch and 1974 when certain Christian Degree Transactions were re-introduced.

Ward was obviously an important figure in the formation of The Masonic Study Society but, in July 1937, he stood aside and proposed that W.L. Wilmshurst should become the fourth President. Wilmshurst, in his response, described Ward as: 'the father and only begetter of this Society'. In the same year Ward himself, in writing an obituary of Sir Frederick Pollock, described the Masonic Study Society as 'the little barque of Masonic research which I had been largely instrumental in founding.'

The inaugural meeting of the Masonic Study Society was held at Mark Mason's Hall on 14th June 1921. The President was Sir Richard Vassar-Smith. The Vice-President was Sir John Cockburn and the Deputy Vice-President was A.E. Waite. '… there was a large attendance of keen Masons including a noticeably large proportion of younger brethren'. The paper was given by Sir John Cockburn and was entitled 'The Meaning of Some of the Craft Symbols' and it is recorded that 'there was unanimous agreement that the new society in no way infringed on the existing Masonic research societies, but rather that it filled a gap'. The Masonic Record stated that 'the general impression of those attending […] must have been that it was an unqualified success, and fully realised the expectations of Bro Ward, who has worked so hard it its institution' and commented as follows:
'Members of older study circles agreed that Bro Ward was in no way trenching upon their own helpful work, but, rather, strengthening it by the deeper lines of research proposed, […] and thereby being able to discuss many questions unapproachable in ordinary Craft study circles, rendering it possible to treat of subjects hitherto undiscussed except by students, yet on which many members would like to hear views and ask questions for their own instruction.'

As well as the Presidents, several of the Society's Vice Presidents have also been Masons of outstanding experience and knowledge. Those who did not go on to become President include Bernard Springett, Arthur Edward Waite, H.C. de Lafontaine, and R.A.L. Harland.

The Society has met at several different venues during its existence; the early meetings were held in Mark Masons' Hall, or the Boulogne Restaurant in Gerrard Street. From 1922 to 1931 most of the meetings were held at the Engineers' Club in Coventry Street; other places including hotels and restaurants. In 1931 the Society moved to the City Livery Club and met there until it was bombed in the 1940s. After 1945 the meetings were held in the Prince of Wales Hotel, Great Queen Street and we now meet close to Embankment tube station.

Annual Transactions have been produced every year since the Society was founded. A full list of the papers which have been published can be found on the "Transactions" page. The second volume of the Transactions, for 1922-23, included a few short comments on a discussion which followed one of the papers and this practice continued sporadically. By 1925-26 (Volume 4) more extensive summaries of the discussions were included, sometimes occupying several pages. From 1930 onwards these discussions were taken down in shorthand by WBro W.J.G. Jacobs who was referred to as the Society's "Reporter". He stopped doing this at the onset of the Second World War and it was not resumed afterwards because of his death. Modern recording equipment has more recently, however, allowed the reproduction of our discussions to be resumed and they have been printed in full again in the Transactions since 2009.


¹ The Masonic Record 1, (1921), p. 324.
²introduction to Freemasonry and the Ancient Gods also published in 1921, Sir John Cockburn
³ The Masonic Record 51, (1971), Nov p. 11.
41867-1939. A solicitor in Huddersfield and a highly respected Christian mystic. He is best known as the author of The Meaning of Masonry (1922), The Masonic Initiation (1924) and The Way to the East (1934).
5TMSS 15, (1936-7), pp. 668-9.
6A well-known barrister, founder member and third president of the Society.
7TMSS 14, (1935-6), p. 579.
8 but unfortunately he was unable to be present at this first meeting since he had to preside over a meeting of his own Provincial Grand Lodge in Gloucestershire.
91857-1942. Author of: A New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry (1923); Emblematic Freemasonry (1925); and The Secret Tradition in Freemasonry (1937).
10 TMSS 1, (1921-2), p. 3.
11The Masonic Record 1, (1921), p. 351.
12 H.G. Burrows, 'The Origins and History of the Society', TMSS 29, (1956-57), pp. 4-11.
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