For those of you who do not follow the comments on my older blog posts, America Unearthed star Scott Wolter replied to my discussion of the alleged Roman-Jewish colony in Arizona. Wolter initially accused me of (a) “near-religious zealotry” in debunking him, (b) participation in a conspiracy against him organized by his former friends in Minnesota, (c) abject “fear” that he is right, and (d) not doing my own research. After our discussion, Wolter revised these positions, and it seems we have come to an understanding about my purpose in reviewing his program. You can read our complete discussion here.
However, I do want to make sure that there are a few key points on record:
With that out of the way, Wolter brought up an intriguing idea that I was not familiar with:
Before you scoff, have you compared the four Midéwin rituals with the Masonic Knights Templar degrees the earliest missionaries and fur traders said the Natives were practicing when they got here? They are identical and I will be publishing this research in my forthcoming book.
I will leave aside the question of whether the Masons can be connected directly to the Knights Templar, which is speculative at best.
The Midéwin or Midewiwin was the rites of an Ojibwa “secret” society called the Mide Society that practiced shamanism and through which members rose by rank, translated into English as “degrees.” However, these were not symbolic gradations like Freemasonry but rather closer akin to academic degrees, with each level representing a new body of medicinal knowledge and practice. Among the Ojibwa, pictures of the ceremonies were recorded on birch bark “scrolls” that were copied and recopied across the generations; the originals of course have long rotted away.
Anthropologists believe that since the Ojibwa “secret” society has no clear parallel to the east, it likely arose in the late seventeenth century—during the Contact Period, as Jacob Grim discussed in The Shaman: Patterns of Religious Healing Among the Ojibway Indians (U Oklahoma Press, 1983, p. 71). The Ojibway themselves believe in an earlier origin, but like so many oral traditions, this is an example of the slippery timelines used by traditional cultures. They believe the knowledge imparted by the ceremonies to have originated from the gods and ancestors; therefore, it must be ancient, according to traditional views. In reality, a ritual can be retroactively declared ancient by virtue of its sanctity. Think of America’s Thanksgiving, which is claimed to date from 1621 but in reality was only celebrated after 1863, and only became a fixed holiday in 1942. The Ojibwa ritual incorporates some traditional knowledge and shamanic aspects that may derive from as far back as the Hopewell, but the ritual itself is apparently very recent.
The earliest claim I can find that the Mide shamanistic society was related to Freemasonry occurs in the Masonic publication The Builder for April 1922. In it, a brother named A.B.S. answered a reader’s question of whether any Native Americans were Freemasons:
Among the Ojibway the secret society known as the Midewin is highly developed, and possesses ceremonies, rituals, and rites of initiation and raising very similar to that described in my article "Little Wolf Joins the Mitawin," in the October, 1921, number of THE BUILDER; in fact, many students of ethnology believe that it is among the members of this tribe that the oldest form of the rites occurs. Unfortunately, although considerable time and money have been devoted to the study of this very organization among the Ojibway, the scientists who have hitherto done the work have not been Masons, and hence much of the most significant facts have escaped attention. The late Mr. W. J. Hoffman has written a monograph entitled "The Midewiwin or 'Grand Medicine Society' of the Ojibway," based largely on studies made among the Red Lake and Leech Lake Indians, and published in the Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology of Washington, D.C. in 1885-6. He, however, entirely failed to grasp the significance of what he saw and heard, and, if I remember correctly, got no inkling of the true meaning of the underlying ritual, or the myth of the death and resurrection of the ancient founder of the lodge.
The author goes on to say that he himself was “blind to the facts” despite living with the Ojibwa until he became a Mason, and he also claims that some other tribes have rites that “are much farther from Masonry as we know it than the others.” The obvious implication is that after one accepts Masonry as ancient and supreme, one can then “read backward” into other rites a corruption of these original, pure rites, just like the Arkites who tried to read every pagan myth as a corruption of Genesis.
Hoffman’s report can be found at Project Gutenberg, and it appears to be the description of the first four degrees of initiation that Wolter is referring to. I encourage you to read Hoffman’s report and also a description of the Masonic rites to see what you think. So far as I can tell, the similarity is no greater than with any other secretive or mystery society, like the Eleusinian Mysteries or the Dionysian Mysteries, which also involved degrees, sequestration in secret chambers, chanting rituals, revealing mystical secrets, etc. An obvious difference is the fact that during the initiation into Midewiwin, the candidate is primarily concerned with learning the lore of medicinal plants, which to my knowledge is not a part of Freemasonry. (The use of medicinal and possibly psychotropic plants was likely part of the Eleusinian Mysteries, however.)
Another difference is that Masonry has three primary degrees, not four; traditionally the degrees labeled 4 through 33 in Scottish Rite Masonry (and not consistently found in other versions) were considered supplemental to the essential three, while Midewiwin’s four degrees are essential, though few attained the highest degree, Hoffman wrote, because, like Scientology, each degree of advancement required costly payments.
A third difference is that men and women could both become members of the Mide Society, while only men are allowed to be Masons.
Also, the purpose of the rites is very different from Masonry. The Mide Society is designed to train future shamans (medicine men) to engage in healing and intercession with the spirit world. Freemasons do not, so far as I know, claim to wield supernatural power.
Based on the anthropological data on the Midewiwin—which, I stress, does not derive entirely from Hoffman but from many anthropologists who have and continue to study this shamanic rite—there doesn’t seem to be any greater structural or functional similarity between Midewiwin and Masonic rites than between any two secret or mystery groups. But at any rate, so long as the best data indicates that this secret society only developed after the Contact Period, this has no bearing whatsoever on the question of whether Europeans reached America earlier.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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