In our first installment we took a broad look at the history of the Copiale Cipher, detailing the amazing technological breakthroughs and efforts in decryption technology that finally cracked the code.
Our objective in this writing will be to describe the content of the first two of three sections of the manuscript. We will review some of the various logograms or hieroglyphics that have no clear translation, and the few plain text inscriptions that pose more questions than easy answers.
The text when decoded is easily broken into three parts. The first details a secret society of Optometrists called the “Order of Oculists”, and the second section is essentially an anti-masonic rant. The third, which we will save for its own installment, delves deeply into a full expose of the three degrees of Masonry, a very early expose of the “Scots Master” degree, and exposes of two other uniquely described degrees, that of a “Key Lodge” and a “Lodge of Consolation.”
We gave an introduction to the descriptions of the initiation ceremony of the “Oculists,” which comprises part one of the manuscript. A little known and short lived fraternal group known as “The Order of Oculists” did exist from around 1740-1760. It is possible that this document was created by them, but I propose that there are far too many problems with what seems to be a simple solution as to who the author is. Why would a guild of operative eye doctors create and employ one of history's most complex and difficult encryptions? And if so, why is there so much clearly Masonic content encrypted in later sections?
The first section describes a ceremony that would be very familiar to most readers of this column. A candidate enters a room blindfolded, is asked a series of questions, is asked to make some promises, an allusion is made to being able to see again. Certainly the core of many fraternal initiations, at least in spirit, is contained here.
A quick reminder with regards to this translation: there are key “logograms” or “hieroglyphs” that are untranslatable other than through presumed context. Additionally, remember that the same character in this cipher is often used for several letters, so we can make reasonable assumption that the logograms may do the same. When presenting these icons, they will be bracketed by asterisks and in bold. The commonly agreed translation will follow parenthetically. These logograms are precisely what makes this mostly translated document so challenging.
" I n ... n ... promise as confidently as I can about my honor that I will never divulge any secret of this *o* (order) and of all what I have seen, heard and felt, to anybody, whomever it may be.”
A series of information about modes of recognition is then taught to the candidate, and the ceremony concludes.
The second section of the manuscript is the most fascinating. It is a first person stream of politics and sensational anti-masonic “secrets.” This section claims that the true secret of “The Order”, is the truth about the formation of masonic lodges. It begins with a story of four lodges getting together at a tavern. Where this document diverges from our traditional history is that it claims that these men convened to see just how far they could go in creating a “secret” society, whose allure and intrigue would be based on the fact that people will join anything just to find out their secrets. Furthermore, that they would create an arbitrary system of signs, handshakes, ceremonies and modes of recognition to see what people would promise to do and be bound to, in order to join this society.
“The true *star* (secret), is namely the story about the origin of the *lip* (masonic) *o* (order). Curiosity is inherited with mankind. Frequently we want to know something only because it needs to be kept secret. Once a few good friends came to talk about this subject in England. Each of them gave special examples from the *o* (order) of a curiosity driven too far. Finally they came to think about creating a fraternity, about which only those who would be accepted should know about its purpose, in order to see how many of the impertinences he would apply to enter an *o* (order), without knowing beforehand to what they would be bound to. They would agree immediately as they would like to pretend that a great *star* (secret) would be behind their unification and decided to come up with certain arbitrary signs, by which a brother should recognize another. But due to the fact that the time did not allow it to arrange everything with accuracy, another appointment was set and it was then when the guild of the *bigx* (Freemasons) was set up, and when its strange name was ascribed. Only one, did not appear at this appointment and after he arrived a while later, he found the *bigx* (Freemasons) already all set, so that a great part of these masons couldn't even know, and the others could not remember that the newly come, would understand something about their engineering, and if he was present when the first plans were made.”
Recent light has been shed by Andrew Prescott and Susan Mitchell that has cast doubts on our traditional origin story of four Masonic Lodges coming together to form the first Grand Lodge of England, this research not only puts when it happened into question, but also whether it happened at all. Does the Copiale point to an even more interesting crack in the most accepted aspects of our origin story? Was Freemasonry, as described here, essentially created as a bar bet to see how many men would write a blank check of promises by obligating themselves to something without even knowing what it would be?
This points to yet another mystery of this document: who is the author? The above translated portion of the manuscript points to an additional person who should have been at this meeting, it is also written from an observational perspective, and the author’s own voice. He even goes on to mention starting a new order.
“He was prompted to found our present flourishing *lip* *o* (Masonic Order?). To entrust the arrangement of *bigx* (Freemasonry) an entire *o* (order) in form of a real *star* (secret) and to commit every member of the secret intentions stated in the fifth title, but so that nobody should know anything about the secret institution of the *o* (order), so that our *o* (order) would benefit that the *bigX* *star* (Freemasonry secret) by our brothers respect, but ours to be and remain a true and still undiscovered *star* (secret).
Is the author referring to the “flourishing” Oculist Order? We know that it never flourished in any way. What other order is being referenced if we concede that the complexity and specifics of this manuscript are unlikely to be attributed to such a small and obscure group? To get more clarity on this requires pinpointing when the manuscript was written.
The author continues later in the manuscript to make more observations about Freemasonry and its origins. This indicates that the document is not likely written in one short period of time, but is perhaps a collection of writings, written over the course of a longer time period.
“Trusted old news, but increased with new observations of the *bigx* (Freemasonry). The first chapter. About the age of this *o*(order). Some societies have risen in England already under Queen Elizabeth and subsequently under Charles, whose members called themselves *bigx* (Freemasonry) and maintained even rigorous *star*(secrets). But because they practiced more evil than good, they have been destroyed. A treaty(ise?) published in the year one thousand seven hundred and ten sheds more light on it, since the year one thousand seven hundred twenty three, since the Duke of Montagu had gotten this idea, the third title sheds more light upon it, the *bigx*(Freemasonry) has spread further, that means in many *tri*(lodge)s and under the leadership of various big (grand?) *nee* (master). About the organization at that time there is however at the present more information on site.”
From this section we can start to asses a time frame for the document. The “trusted old news” must be some time after 1723, and possibly after 1738, due to the reference of the Duke of Montague (second Grand Master of Masons) and the likelihood of this information potentially coming from Anderson's constitutions. If this is “trusted old news” how far past 1723-1728 could it have been written? More confounding is the plain text inscription of 1866. Does that allude to a date?
What of the “societies have risen in England already under Queen Elizabeth and subsequently under Charles” who called themselves Freemasons, but were disbanded? Is this a reference to early operative Masonry, or is our glyph being used for a different word in this case? Is the author of the MS pointing out contrast between the new “Freemasonry” started on a whim, vs the old guild system of operatives? Or a completely different group altogether?
Unfortunately we are currently left with more questions than answers. When was the MS written? Who is the author? Is this a copy of an original MS or an original work? Are the Oculists referenced in the MS, the operative fraternity, or a blind for another society? Are the allegations of the organization of modern Freemasonry to be believed, particularly in light of recent research into the veracity of Anderson’s traditional telling?
There are only two clues the above questions: the plain text inscriptions of “Copiales 3” and “Philipp 1866.” The word copiale might translate from Galician or early Spanish into “copy.” If so, is this the third copy of an original? Perhaps, but the first person flow of the writing seems to indicate otherwise. It also seems that the style of handwriting matches well with the handwritten encrypted text.
The other plain text writing is “Philipp 1866.” Philipp, spelled with two Ps was a critical clue for the team that cracked the code. That particular spelling tends to be German in origin, which indicated that the solved text would be German. But who is Philipp? The only link thus proposed is Philipp Frederick Steinheil, a German diplomat who was first Master of the Frankfurt Lodge of Union. Steinheil, in an attempt to have his lodge recognized by London, his ‘sponsor’ was one Bro Beaumont, oculist to the Prince of Wales. Indeed it is a stretch, but here we have a Philipp, who is a Mason, with tight connections to an Oculist, and Mason.
Last, the date: 1866. The best guess we have is that this date is likely added at a later time by yet another owner, and likely a scholar or researcher. The style of handwriting differs significantly from the writing of "Copiales 3". One possibility, is J.G. Findell who published a large work, in German, “The History of Freemasonry” in 1866. Certainly there are many other potential researchers, historians and authors that worked in that year, however, Findell does make mention of Philipp and his use of connections with Bro Beaumont, the Oculist to make his Frankfurt lodge regular with England.
In our next installment we will cover the third section of the Copiale Cipher. This will mostly cover a very accurate masonic expose, which puts some more clarity to the date of the document. We will discuss what might be the earliest detailed exposure of the Scots Master degree. And last, we will review the two more obscure degrees: The Key Lodge and The Lodge of Consolation. This will complete this three part essay, and finalize some thoughts and conjecture about the origins and intent of this complex, confounding, and incredibly important document.