The White Trail of Free Men and Freemasons
Portion of a Lecture by Guillermo De Los Reyes
Translated by Paul Rich and Guillermo De Los Reyes from Spanish
Along with the social problems of such translating, there are the problems that go with dealing with an esoteric subject's special vocabulary. For example, sometimes a word or phrase has become 'polluted? because its esoteric meaning has succumbed to a popular meaning. The Masonic movement has over the centuries preserved the archaic meaning of various words and phrases. When these "seep" into general usage, and their meaning changes, translation becomes more difficult.
An example is the phrase 'giving someone the third degree" (not interrogatorio con coacción o tortura), which seems in contemporary English to be used for the local police roughing up a suspect but originally refers to the Masonic third degree or penultimate initiation (a degree which features the "Hiramic myth"). "Third degree" does not have that double meaning in Spanish. It is used only in the Masonic sense. Our impression is that the Masonic vocabulary may have kept its "copyright" more effectively in Spanish than in English. In Spanish, words such as logia (lodge) and masón (mason) are reserved to Freemasonry and do not have general meanings. This presents many special problems.
To our knowledge no one else is so involved in Spanish-English translation involving Freemasonry, and there are a number of simple conventions we now observe in translating which may prove helpful to others. We always capitalize Mason, Masonry, Freemasonry and other words describing the organization. One reason is that sometimes writers, particularly when writing in English, begin to discuss the relationship between Freemasonry and the ancient stone masons, and this becomes confusing without the use of capitals. Also, we are constantly on the lockout for phrases or references which nerd explanation, because Masonic writings are primarily intended for Masons and presuppose a knowledge of the movement which others (the 'profane,' or uninitiated) do not have.
The following passage is from a lecture by Professor De Los Reyes delivered at a faculty symposium for graduate students, translated roughly into English by him and then thoroughly worked over by Professor Rich. It makes use of a 1935 political speech by Rafael De Los Rios which relates to the "tracks" theme of this issue of two lines?a theme which, incidentally, is a motif in Masonic writing. Of en Masonic ritual emphasizes the initiate s progress on the trail, path, or ladder of Masonic experience. We have been presenting a number of joint papers at congresses, providing copies both in Spanish and English. This method of collaboration, at least for us, seems to work quite well. We are sure that in our case there is considerable value to the joint efforts of native speakers of the two languages?especially when it comes to question time after the lecture! We are not professional translators, but we find that our work gains from the discussions that translation provokes, and we think that collaboration involving two languages can have unexpected benefits. This is not without disagreement, and that is the fun of translating. We have never been ablc to agree on whether to translate Mexico into Mexico City in Mexico, Mexico is without dispute Mexico City. And since both of us pun, we sometimes suffer vocabulary difficulties of our own creation (see below, "to a degree", for example!).
The White Trail of Free Men and Freemasons
"The new philosophic and political life emergent on the American Continent, fired by the revolutions of the twentieth century, has made intellectuals, almost by necessity, advise the new governors. "(1)
The Mexican Revolution began to a degree in a lack of brotherhood between Masonic brothers. In March 1908, a New York newspaper published a statement by the longtime proconsul president of Mexico, Porfirio Díaz, in which he announced that the people of Mexico were now prepared for democracy, and mentioned that he would be pleased if an opposition party emerged. This would help the development of democracy and would allow him to leave politics.
Before this pronouncement was made, the Anti-Re-Electionist Party had already been formed. In April of 1910 it nominated Francisco I. Madero as its candidate. For all his talk about a new era, Diaz thought poorly of Madero's audacity and put him into prison in San Luis Potosí. Elections duly took place and, unsurprisingly, Díaz was again declared president. Madero escaped from jail and wisely fled to San Antonio, Texas.
Once safely across the border, on 20 November 1910, he launched the Plan of San Luis.(2) This manifesto was a call to fight the dictatorship, notwithstanding the fact that Madero and Díaz were lodge brothers. Nor wore the Masons reluctant to claim success when the Revolution toppled Brother Díaz.
Rafael De Los Rios, First Secretary of the Grand Lodge of the Valley of Mexico, remarked in a celebrated speech on the XXV Anniversary of the initiation of the Mexican Revolution: "November the twentieth... encompasses the past, the visions of Social Justice, and projects a sunburst of clarity on the future.... It is in the Lodges where...is cultivated an enormous love of the immanent spirit of social justice.... Our Institution does not have the specific character of a political party...and Masonry, secular paladin of justice, refutes the sad dominant ambitions of the men.... [Masons] have pursued a path of kindness and of disinterestedness, the white path of free and equal men; free of all political, economic and social hardship.... [It is] the members of the Masonic Society who have made the revolutions." (3)
The linking of the Revolution to Masonry, such as in the De Los Rios speech, is commonplace in Masonic orations and raises the question as to what the function of Freemasonry has been in Mexico. Without presenting a meticulous analysis, it can be noted that Mexican Masonry from the Revolution until now is, whatever else it might be, a political pressure group. Its depiction by De Los Rios as a white path, i.e., an unsullied road to spiritual fulfillment, is misleading.
Indeed, during the Reform and early Independence stages of Mexican history, the different Masonic rites were in effect political parties (Escoseces and Yorkinos). But by the time of the Revolution, the lodges were not parties but lobbies. De Los Rios argues that Masonry made the Revolution. This is a tough proposition to prove. What can certainly be said is that the institution had an active role within the Revolution.
There is not much evidence that the Masonic path was consistently one of kindness and disinterestedness. President Madero is a case in point. He was an active brother.(4) He belonged to Loyal Lodge Number 15. His great mistake when he became President after Díaz went into exile was to rely on fellow Masons whose sympathies were far less with reform than with the old regime. These disloyal brothers(5), despite all the Masonic oaths which supposedly bound them to help a brother, stimulated his opposition and the conspiracies against him. In 1913 he was murdered, possibly with the contrivance of fellow Masons.
Indeed, the whole history of Masonry in Mexico has been one of divisiveness amongst the brethren. Some Masons always seem to be acting against other Masons, often out of political interest. If there was a path, it was more often blood-stained than white, and there was much jostling along the way.
Did Masonry rise above being an old boy network and bourgeois Mafia and help in a constructive fashion to shape the Mexican body politic? An outcome of the Mexican Revolution was the Constitution of 1917, which was intended to give form and legal content to the principles of the Revolution and to the aspirations of society. Of 218 congressmen at the Constituent Congress of 1917, more than half were Masons. Apparently Masonic claims that Masonic philosophy is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States of Mexico of 1917 have a certain basis, depending on how one evaluates the influence it had on the Constitution's makers.(6)
A major emphasis of the work of Dr. Rich and myself, apparent in our forthcoming book "Mexican Freemasonry: Ritual, Secrecy, Power" (Regency, London, 1995) is that Masonic lodges conferred legitimacy on Mexican governments. Martín Luis Guzmán observes, "In Mexico no political party has by itself sufficient vigor to master; its safety and its force demand the existence of a strange power."(7) Perhaps the need for political legitimacy by invoking the authority of "hidden masters" has now declined, and a more cerebral approach characterizes political conduct?and perhaps not.(8)
Another focus of our research is on whether the great and famous in Mexican political life happened to be Masons because that was a social ritual of their day or whether that membership was an important adjunct to their political careers. The archival sources we have investigated indicate that Masonry was taken seriously. When President Emilio Portes Gil (1928-1930) was explaining his rapprochement with the Catholic Church, he wrote: "And now dear brothers, the clergy has fully recognized the State, and it has declared that it will submit strictly to the laws.... And as long as I am in the government, I protest before Freemasonry that I will be looking after the proper implementation of the constitutional laws.... In Mexico, the State and Masonry, in the last years, have been the same thing."(9) It thus appears that the Masonic trail did lead to the Presidential Palace, if not always to spiritual enlightenment.
1) Francisco Gómez, Intelectuales y Pueblo, Editorial DEI, San José, Costa Rica, 1987, 40.
2) Félix Navarrete, Masoneria en la historia y en las leyes de México, Editional Jus, Mexico City, 1957, 27.
3) Rafael De Los Rios, La Institución Masónica y la Revolución Mexicana, Discurso Pronunciado el 23 de noviembre de 1935, en el teatro Hidalgo de Mexico D.F., n.p., Mexico City, 1935, 7.
4) Mexican Correspondence, Archives of the Supreme Council, 33rd Degree, House of the Temple, Washington, DC.
5) Remberto Padilla, Historia de la Politica Mexicana, Edamex, Mexico City, 1993, 71.
6) Padilla, 71
7) Qtd. Mardn Luis Guzmán, La Querella de México, 27, 28, in Padilla, 72.
8) Francisco Gómez, Intelectuales y Pueblo, Editorial DEI, San José, Costa Rica, 1987, 40.
9) Qtd. Jean Meyer, La Cristiada: El Conflicto entre la Iglesia y el Estado, 1926-1929, 8th ed., Vol. Vl, Siglo XXI Editores, 373, gtd. Padilla, 73.
Published in: Olivia E. Sears (Ed.), Two Lines, Stanford University, U.S.A., 1995
Contact: Two Lines, PO Box 641978, San Francisco, CA 94164-1978