This post may be controversial to some as it deals with issues of race in Freemasonry. I hope it will be greeted with an open mind, with more light than heat, and will build greater understanding of the subject. Many Masons discuss the role and/or influence of Ancient Egypt on modern Freemasonry. Some investigators claim a vested interest in the discussion due to a special cultural connection to Ancient Egypt, as well as a historical one. This post may serve as a framework within which accurate consensus can be reached.
The term “Kemetic” is used in place of or interchangeably with the term Ancient Egyptian to set the stage for the biases of the author. The people of Ancient Egypt most prominently referred to their civilization with the vowel-less term “KMT”, or “KM”, which many have interpreted as being pronounced “Kemet”. Other variations such as “Kham”, or Khamitic, are sometimes seen. The term is being used here to differentiate the civilization from the conception of it by the Greek derived word “Egypt”, or “Aegypt”, which I believe is inaccurate in this context.
Many people of African ancestry or descent claim Ancient Egypt/Kemet as a legitimate part of their cultural heritage, if not direct history. Many Freemasons therefore inquire as to the potential legitimate masonic heritage of Kemet, particularly in context of their being restricted from access to Masonic science as practiced by lodges of European descent. This post is an attempt to allow several questions to be addressed using a framework for discussion.
The following five statements form the framework:
- Freemasonry has legitimate ties and origins in Ancient Egypt/Kemet.
- Ancient Egypt/Kemet was an African civilization.
- The so-called race of the Ancient Egyptians / Kemetic People is being, and has been, grossly misrepresented.
- The science of Masonry has evolved through multiple advanced civilizations.
- Masonic science is as much the cultural heritage of African-Americans as it is anyone else in the world.
The exploration of these five statements form the framework through which questions about Kemet, Freemasonry, and maybe race can be more accurately discussed.
Freemasonry has legitimate ties and origins in Ancient Egypt/Kemet
This claim has often been obscured by unsupportable expansions on it. I believe it should be kept simple so a line of logic can be drawn. No matter what else you may think about the subject, this statement can be proven on its own merits as a historical fact. This does not mean that Freemasonry originated in Ancient Egypt. It means that it has ties to the culture and civilization that can be proven by historical record. This is the case for Operative as well as Speculative Masonry.
In Operative Masonry, the use of tools to work in stone and build structures collectively, as teams of workers having divided responsibilities according to skill specialization, was clearly performed by the Kemetic people. Clear references to symbols, the working tools used by modern operative Masons are evident in ancient texts. This is well documented. The passing of operative knowledge throughout the region around the Kemetic civilization is also well documented. Building techniques can be seen to have been shared between Kemet and other contemporaneous societies, so we know that knowledge grew, was refined, and was distributed over time.
You may argue that this knowledge did not originate in Kemet, but in other civilizations. For the present point, I would say this doesn’t matter. The statement only says that the Masonic science was present in Kemet, and legitimate ties exist. Saying the knowledge was passed to Egypt from some other civilization is not relevant. I only claim that the science has some legitimate ties and origins. Not exclusively.
Speculative Masonry likewise can be documented as present in Kemet (as a set of philosophical principles, not lodge organization or practices). It can clearly be shown that the development of religion, or a relationship with Deity was advanced in this civilization. That symbols were used to communicate the advanced philosophy is well documented. A clear connection can be made between many of the symbols or symbology used in operative Masonry or building sciences, and those used in the development of advanced philosophy, cosmology, and the understanding of God or Deity. Further, a path of influence from this ancient civilization and modern Masonry can be drawn; including Kemet, the Greeks, the Romans, the Hebrews, the Arabic civilizations, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, to modern speculative Freemasonry. It is a documentable path, not a clear, bright line. Nonetheless, the ties and origins are legitimate and can be documented.
This statement does not negate the reality that Freemasonry also has legitimate ties and origins in several other advanced civilizations. This statement does not claim that Freemasonry has “exclusive” origins in Ancient Egypt. This statement simply claims that any claims that state Freemasonry has no ties or origins in Ancient Egypt are incorrect and cannot be supported by documented evidence.
Ancient Egypt/Kemet was an African Civilization
The statement is necessary to come to terms with several false statements that have been made over many generations. There has been a concerted effort to remove any references to Africa or Africans from any discussion concerning Kemet/Ancient Egypt. This is likely due to the influence of racial thinking, and the cognitive dissonance associated with accepting the ability of an African people to independently develop not only an advanced civilization, but a parent civilization to other advanced civilizations. So let’s put the question to bed.
Kemet/Ancient Egypt is geographically located “in” Africa, that is, on the continent of Africa. We are asked to accept that Egypt is in Africa, but the advanced civilization part of Egypt is not “African”. It must be something else. Imported from elsewhere, that kind of thing. Some commentators are so incapable of accepting that an African people might have developed this civilization, that they imagine it was flown in from outer space and dropped on the planet. They literally believe this is a more plausible explanation than that the people of the Nile Valley developed the civilization independently.
The so-called race of the Ancient Egyptians / Kemetic People is being, and has been, grossly misrepresented
I have seen the works of many so-called Egyptologists in which they stumble and sputter over who the Ancient Egyptians must have “been”. The other day, I read a blog post (in 2013) of someone who stated matter-of-factly, that there is no evidence that they were “Black Africans”. It is clearly a painful thing for them to accept, so they simply do not. Either the advanced ideas were brought into Africa from outside of Africa, dropped in from outer space, or some other “race” of people inhabited that part of Africa.
While I have read all of the major Egyptologists, I have found that many of them have not familiarized themselves with the works of many scholars of African Ancestry. I assert that the research and arguments of scholars like George G. M. James, Cheik Anta Diop, and Ivan Van Sertima, have addressed this question head on, and have made clear, convincing, and as yet un refuted arguments displaying the legitimacy of an African origin of the Ancient Egyptian/Kemetic civilization.
This does not necessarily refer to race. We should conceive of Kemet not only as an advanced civilization, but as a “Great” civilization, on the level of Rome, Persia, China. As such, it acted as the center of the universe, and brought in people of many different languages, cultures, and skin colors. All great civilizations have done this. As a civilization spanning thousands of years, at different points of its history, different portions gained in influence, leadership, and roles changed and passed through many hands. In our modern obsession with race and skin color, we make categorizations in ways ancient peoples did not. The fallacy some thinkers are guilty of is, in the face of a display of people of multiple colors, languages, national origins, and other characteristics, they presume to define the lighter skinned peoples as the source of the civilization or culture, and the darker skinned peoples as the recipients of the culture. They assume skin color is an accurate indicator of geography. While this may be so in a standard society in the ancient world, it is not reasonable in a Great Civilization. The fact that Carthage was at one point a part of the Roman Empire does not mean that the Roman empire was Carthaginian, no more than it was exclusively Gallic or Italian exclusively.
In looking at a wall painting of Barack Obama as an African-American President of the United States of America, they would claim America was a Black civilization based on this. This would be foolishness of course. The logic is flawed, and does not allow for the existence of a pluralistic, “race-less” civilization in the ancient world, even though there is evidence that skin color was not a determining factor of ability to lead the empire. Add to this the fact that Kemetic documents sometimes applied colors to people, peoples, gods, and other entities according to layered symbolism, which some Egyptologists presume to understand. For example, some persons are depicted as completely “black”, others, various shades of brown, red, white, and even blue. There are no blue people. These colors are used to denote qualities, characteristics and roles in a complex system in some contexts, in other contexts they could be considered to refer to actual skin color the way an American racist might. It is inaccurate to use color depiction in Ancient Egyptian documents as indicative of “race” in the modern usage of the construct. It is likewise inaccurate to fail to allow for the pluralism present in the thousands of years history of this civilization.
We come back to the basic facts. Ancient Egypt/Kemet was an advanced civilization developed over thousands of years by the peoples of the Nile Valley, in Africa, whose ultimate achievement was the most influential civilization of its era. During its existence, it exported culture and science, as well as philosophy and religion. It also drew into itself influences from other surrounding societies and populations. People of different subcultures, religions, and what we would today consider races or skin colors, transversed into, out of, and through this civilization. It is a mistake to say it was not an African civilization. It was. Also, African is not a race any more than American is.
The science of Masonry has evolved through multiple advanced civilizations
While there are clear references to what we would today consider modern Masonic science in Ancient Egypt/Kemet, there are likewise references in other advanced civilizations. Masonic scholars have damaged their credibility by making claims such as that “Freemasonry comes from Ancient Egypt.” It is more accurate to say that Masonry compiles and configures knowledge and philosophy that has been influenced and advanced through thousands of years, and through multiple civilizations and systems.
It is inaccurate to say Freemasonry is “Christian”. It is inaccurate to say that Freemasonry is “Egyptian”, or that it is a religion. However, it is also inaccurate to say that Freemasonry does not include elements from many different systems, which includes religions, Ancient Egypt, and other advanced civilizations and philosophical systems. This may be difficult for non-Freemasons, and anti-Masons to understand. But Freemasons should be capable of understanding the ability of our science to compile complex systems into symbolism and layered concepts. This is the case with Ancient Egypt. You will find elements of Ancient Egyptian civilization, Greek civilization, other advanced African civilizations, Indian civilization, other Asian civilizations, Arabic, Persian, Babylonian, Moorish, Enlightenment, Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and any number of systems of thought.
It is the nature of man to segregate things so they can be understood discretely. But the world does not function this way without the influence of mans segregative nature. Freemasonry has recognized that the truths in one system are consistent with the truths in another system. The system itself is not the determinative factor, the truth is the thing we are seeking. Therefore, while Masonic science is clearly influenced by ideas and practices originating in Kemet, it is also, just as much if not more, influenced by ideas and practices originating elsewhere. Some of these may have built upon the existing, while others may have applied completely new influences. Masonic science does not deny the possible influence of any source of truth. This includes Ancient Egypt/Kemet.
Masonic science is as much the cultural heritage of African-Americans as it is anyone else in the world.
If we have successfully passed through the above controversies, perhaps we can pass through this one. Some people may be surprised to learn that some African-Americans claim Ancient Egypt/Kemet as a part of their cultural heritage. Some may be surprised to learn that there is an actual documentable attempt to de-Africanize Ancient Egypt specifically to deny a historical cultural heritage to members of the African diaspora. Within the philosophy of racism, an argument has been made concerning the racial inferiority of Black people, that they are a people who can point to no advanced civilization, and are therefore racially inferior. Most of these arguments were long ago proven false and dismissed, however, the detritus of them remain in places such as the blog post I found that claimed that “clearly” the Ancient Egyptians were not Black.
So we must continue to stamp out the roaches now that the light has been turned on. While there have been multiple legitimate African civilizations that can be pointed to, including Mali, Songhay, Ethiopia, Nubia, Ghana, the fact that some of the same racists claiming the inferiority of African people, were simultaneously claiming Ancient Egypt as their own racial and cultural heritage, made addressing this civilization a richer target for scholars. For if, Ancient Egypt was/is an African civilization, then this inferiority/superiority argument crumbled into dust.
This argument was long ago won. These petty and weak arguments have been discredited and we have moved on. There remain some who refuse to acknowledge that this argument is over, but those of us who hope to be advanced have moved on to higher more relevant topics. People of African ancestry are however, studying Masonic heritage alongside their own personal cultural heritage. We are cognizant of the old arguments that African people have had no civilization, and are therefore inferior. Masons desire to advance fully into a more accurate depiction of their heritage, and hopefully this framework allows for the more accurate and appropriate explorations of the issues of this advancement.
Hopefully this discussion describes Ancient Egypt/Kemet not as a purely Black African phenomena, within which no other skin color or heritage has had influence. I do not believe this is accurate, although many scholars of Kemetic history have made this argument, perhaps in an overzealous attempt to refute the counterclaim. But this is not realistic. And it cheapens the reality and grandeur of this African civilization. When the Greeks came to Kemet/Egypt to study, be initiated, and learn the root ideas that would allow them to return to Greece with degrees and credibility to establish their schools, they opened the world to the heritage of Kemet through the door they had opened. This same process had occurred by Kemetic peoples to other civilizations. This process occurred throughout Asia, Europe, Africa, and elsewhere. It is impossible to say, whether in terms of race, skin color, language, ideas, or religion, that this civilization stops here and that one starts there.
As European peoples can claim a legitimate line of heritage to Egypt via the Moors, the Greeks, the Arabs, and other routes, African-Americans can claim a legitimate line of heritage. As it is foolish to claim that Europeans “cannot” claim a legitimate line, or that they “stole” this heritage, it is foolish to say that Africans and African-Americans cannot claim a legitimate heritage. This will bristle some, because it seems clear that a heritage or legacy has been “stolen”. I would clarify this position, since most intelligent European thinkers acknowledge Ancient Egypt as a root of civilization, and a civilizing force in the ancient world. What has been stolen is the identity of the Ancient Egyptians/Kemetic Peoples, who I claim to have been a more pluralistic, diverse population over thousands of years than others seem to acknowledge. To say that peoples of all colors may have been present in ancient Egypt, but only the white people were the “true” Egyptians, is clearly racist and should be dismissed. Likewise to say that only the Black people were the “true” Egyptians is not provable, and fails to acknowledge that “race” was not conceived of in the same way in the ancient world. The claim destroys the credibility of those who make it.
Possibly I have frustrated everybody who has considered this. As it is incorrect to claim that a person of European ancestry cannot claim a cultural or Masonic heritage in Ancient Egypt, it is incorrect to claim that an African-American cannot. Kemet was a global civilization, and all peoples on the Earth can claim a connection to it. It was legitimately developed by human beings, not space aliens, and those people resided in Africa. African people had the greatest influence over this phenomena, but not the only influence.
Doug McCollough, Master Mason
St. Mark’s Lodge No. 7, F&AM, PHA
The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio
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