Butler and Wolter, who choose to write of themselves from the perspective of an omniscient narrator describing the actions of both, feel that the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry (the farming organization) and the medieval European granges run by Cistercian monks share a hidden connection beyond a shared terminology. They propose that Cistercian granges were intimately tied to the Knights Templar just as the Grange was intimately linked with the Freemasons, with both Templars and Freemasons sharing a relationship to each other. Eight founders of the Grange, they say, were “known to be practicing Freemasons.” According to the authors all of these groups, but especially the Grange, worship the sacred feminine as part of a cult going back five thousand years or more. The authors claim that they experienced an “inexplicable” sense of mystical calm when they entered a Grange hall, convincing them that there was truth to the goddess theology they deduced for it. They say that this touches “a deeply subconscious part of humanity that is so ancient and so instinctive it simply ‘feels’ right.” It is, they say, in a word, pagan.
They assert that the world follows what I recognize as a version of Robert Graves’s White Goddess nonsense, which is to say that a prehistoric matriarchal goddess cult was snuffed out by the Abrahamic faiths and yet somehow continued underground, working to undermine Yahweh and restore the sacred feminine.
It’s probably worth mentioning here that the bibliography contains almost no primary sources, no historical documents, and 8 books by Alan Butler and 2 by Scott Wolter, alongside those of other fringe writers. In short, it’s shitty scholarship even by the low standards of fringe history. Seriously: Not a single original historical document is mentioned in the bibliography, and (as far as I have read) not a single primary source is quoted or even discussed in the text of the book. Even ancient astronaut theorists manage to cite something original to back up their claims.
Chapter 1: The Patrons of Husbandry
The first chapter gives a potted history of the Grange and its founder, Oliver Kelly, whose farm is located near the Wolters’ home in Minnesota and sparked Wolter’s interest in the group. Butler and Wolter say that Kelly became the U.S. official in charge of restoring southern farming after the Civil War due to his Masonic connections and the South’s love of Masonry. (One might think this would argue against Masonry as a force controlling America, but I guess losing the Civil War was all part of their goddess-worshiping plan.) Butler says that the Grange was designed on the lines of Masonry (which is true) so Southerners wouldn’t feel like they were getting advice from the Federal government (this is also true).
Butler and Wolter think that there is an occult reason that the Grange chose to model its meetings on what the Victorians imagined the Eleusinian Mysteries were like. This wasn’t just because Demeter (Latin: Ceres) was the goddess of grain and agriculture and thus a fanciful way for Classics-loving Victorians to symbolize farming; no, it was all a conspiracy.
To understand this, they say, we must see that the Grange was organized along the lines of the Cistercian Order—a strange comparison given that the Grange was open to both sexes (like the Mysteries) but the Cistercians, Templars, and Masons who supposedly controlled it were not. Anyway, the authors claim that the Grange having central offices and local chapter-houses was identical to the Cistercians having mother and daughter houses, conveniently leaving out the fact that the Cistercians owned the farms they ran, while the Grange was a meeting house for independent farmers who did not share ownership of their land. Nevertheless, the authors declare that starting new chapters and affiliating with a national organization, and giving each member voting rights, makes the two organizations “virtually identical.” It’s also the way that fraternities operate, but I don’t want to give them any ideas. Are frat boys also secret goddess worshipers? Make your own jokes here.
Anyway, in reality the Grange modeled its organization on the medieval manor system known as grange-houses, which the Cistercians also used, thus accounting for the similarity.
Chapter 2: The Need for Diversion and Theater
Butler, who is not American, lectures readers that poor rural people in America were “extremely fond of entertainment,” as opposed to wealthy rich folk, which is why the Grange fooled them into conformity through the theatrical elements of ritual. This leads the authors to explain that the Grange benefited from its female members—without noting that none of the other organizations supposedly standing behind the group let women in. Why might that be? How do we account for supposed slavish copying of Cistercians while jettisoning key elements of what made the Cistercians who they were: Catholicism, monkish vows, gender separation, etc.? This can all be swept under the rug because our authors say that the more they study the Grange “the greater became our admiration” for its founders. In other words, emotion overtook logic.
Butler and Wolter make a lot of assertions about the Grange’s supposed “enlightened paganism,” but the galley proofs provided by Inner Traditions contain no footnotes or documentation, and there is no evidence that the writers ever consulted the archives of the Grange—an organization that still exists. They dismiss the fact that Classical mythology has served symbolic purposes in Western culture since the fall of the Roman Empire, but especially in the nineteenth century, for a conspiracy theory that the Roman agricultural goddesses (Pomona, Flora, and Ceres) mentioned in Grange ritual were chosen because they were aspects of a Stone Age Earth Goddess (a claim taken right from Robert Graves’s White Goddess, while the truth is much more complex). They also don’t think that the Grange simply modeled their rituals on Freemasonry but instead have some secret connection to some ancient original. Note, though, that this isn’t always clear; at other times they call the Grange the “child” of Freemasonry.
The authors assert that because the sixth and seventh degrees of the Grange are not publicly known (they say no information has ever leaked out about them), this proves that they are the true degrees of the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece, kept secret for thousands of years. These degrees are so secret that a description was published in a newspaper in 1954, and published photos of the rituals appeared in Life in 1938.
The authors conclude from all of this that the Grange provides a true window into the real secrets of Freemasonry.
Chapter 3: Not a Secret Society But a Society with “Secrets”
This chapter is an overview of the history of Freemasonry, as seen by Butler and Wolter from their particularly skewed perspective. This material will be familiar to most readers of Butler’s books or viewers of Scott Wolter’s TV show, so there is little need to recap it here. I will note, however, that Butler and Mrs. Wolter (whose contribution seems heavily subsumed under Butler’s) reject Scott Wolter’s view of an eternal Freemasonry dating back to Egypt and the First Temple of Solomon. Instead, Bulter calls these “fairy tales,” and the ancient figures depicted in them as having “no genuine historical authenticity.” (Recall that Scott Wolter believes the patriarch Enoch literally buried real tablets of wisdom on the Temple Mount.) Instead Butler and Mrs. Wolter trace Freemasonry back to France and various groups of Benedictine monks, particularly the Tironensians, who emphasized manual labor and stone-working. This would seem to be derivative of the fact that the first known Masonic lodge, founded in 1598 (the authors say 1140), at Kilwinning in Ayrshire, was affiliated with a Tironensian abbey. However, in order to make the conspiracy work, Butler and Wolter have to try to connect the Tironensians to the Cistercians and Templars. The trouble is that the Cistercians and Tironensians operated in the same places and competed for the same lands and members; they were not working together, according to Kathleen Thompson’s The Monks of Tiron (Cambridge U Press, 2014), a history of the order.
The chapter concludes by tracing the known history of early Masonry, with detours into Sinclair family and Rosslyn Chapel conspiracies, drawing on Butler’s earlier books on the subjects.
Having taken all the trouble to establish the (not unreasonable, though unproved) claim that Scottish Masonry took influence from the Tironensian monks’ interest in the Jerusalem Temple and stonework (a claim borrowed from Christopher Knight), Butler and Wolter throw it overboard to say that the Knights Templar were the real influence on Masonry, which is the subject for the next chapter and tomorrow’s blog.