The central character of the legend at the core of Freemasonry, Hiram Abiff appears in the Old Testament (I Kings 7:13–40) as a master brass-worker from Tyre commissioned by King Solomon to cast the brass furnishings for the Temple. In the legendary history of the medieval stoneworkers’ guilds that became Freemasonry, however, Hiram turned into the master builder in charge of the Temple’s construction. When the project was nearing completion, 15 of the journeymen laborers who worked on the Temple plotted to extort from him the Master’s Word, which would enable them to pass as Master Masons. Twelve of them repented, but three went ahead with the plot, lying in wait for him at noon at the three entrances of the unfinished temple. When Hiram refused each of them in turn, each struck him with a tool, and the third blow killed him. The three ruffians, as they are called in Masonic writings, hid the body in a heap of rubbish until midnight, then carried it elsewhere and buried it. Hiram’s death, the search for his body, and its recovery make up the core of the Master Mason degree in Masonry, while other events surrounding them appear in dozens of higher Masonic degrees, especially in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. See Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR); Freemasonry.

The story of Hiram Abiff can be interpreted in many ways, and most branches of Freemasonry have steadfastly refused to impose a single rigid meaning on it, preferring to allow each initiate to understand it in his own way. Books and articles over the last three centuries have suggested moral, mystical, historical, geometrical, sexual, and occult interpretations, among many others. In recent decades, though, popular books claiming to reveal the secrets of Masonry have focused almost exclusively on the historical dimension, insisting that “Hiram Abiff” is a cover name for a specific person whose life and death matched the events of the Masonic allegory.

This sort of euhemerist reading satisfies the modern craving for simplistic literal meanings, but quickly runs aground on the awkward fact that dozens of plausible candidates have been proposed for the role – ranging from Charles I of England to the minor Egyptian pharaoh Seqenenre II – and hundreds more could as readily be added. This flexibility points to the universal and archetypal dimension of the story of Hiram Abiff – a dimension too often wholly lost in interpretations fixated on the rigidities of historical fact. See Allegory; Euhemerism.


The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006