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How Goethe Helped Smash the Knights Templar

  • alldeeps

  • July 1, 2019

Baron Karl Gotthelf von Hund was depressed. The young heir to a vast fortune, his father, siblings, and sweetheart were all dead. Hoping a change of scenery might raise his spirits, he attended the coronation of Charles VII in Frankfort where he was initiated into Freemasonry. Perhaps desperate for meaning and structure, he then spent a year in Paris during which time he both joined the Catholic Church and progressed through the Masonic chairs with fervor. When he returned to Germany in September of 1743 he was a changed man. 

Hund claimed that while in Paris he had been contacted by Scottish knights with an unbroken lineage to the Knights Templar. Supposedly, with the Knights Templar dissolved and Jacques de Molay dead, seven prominent Templar knights and commanders escaped to Scotland and hid themselves among a fraternity of operative stone masons. Indebted to the masons for their protection, they began to teach them the esoteric arts of their order which meant Freemasonry was essentially Templar in origin. Hund claimed to have been initiated into these mysteries by Prince Charles Edward Stewart and several other prominent Jacobites. With a promise that he would be contacted by the “Unseen Elders” that governed the order to be brought into the higher mysteries, he returned to Kittlitz (present day Löbau) and began erecting a massive and ornate castle where he would establish a new Masonic lodge and begin penning the ritual which would become known as the Rite of Strict Observance. 

Within ten years, Hund’s Templar system had become the dominant form of Masonry in Germany, which initially seems like an astonishing feat considering his only proof consisted of his word and a letter he was supposedly given by the Elders that is still indecipherable to this day. However, there are several other factors that likely contributed to the Rite’s success.  The Rite of Strict Observance appealed to a growing sense of German nationalism and propriety. For example, the Count of St. Germain wrote Hund a letter referring to their shared longing for “the regeneration of the Order of Freemasons in an aristocratic sense”, a sentiment that was shared by nobility that liked the pomp of Masonry but not the mysterious plebian origins, and in fact at the height of the Rite’s influence at least seven princes and dukes had sworn their unquestioning allegiance to these Unseen Elders. Perhaps luckily, the Unseen Elders never spoke and whenever claims of communication were made they were quickly proved to be a forgery. Under “Templar” influence, a myriad of degrees and certificates were offered influenced by Rosicrucian, alchemical, Hermetic, and especially Kabalistic teachings (NOTE- all the wiki articles around the R.O.S.T. falsely claim the Templar system clamped down on occultism in Lodges without citations. This is demonstrably false). Eventually, discontent with the Rite began to rise as it became clear that lodge members would not be initiated into the mysteries of the Unseen Elders, and the court of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach became the epicenter of a small yet determined movement to replace the Rite of Strict Observance.

Enter Goethe. 

As a prominent Member of the court of Karl Augustus, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, the interest in Masonry that Goethe had initially picked up from Lessing was cultivated in the largely Masonic court and culminated in his petitioning the lodge at Weimar (Amalia) for membership. Like Lessing however, he harbored a passion for the simplicity and openness of the older rituals, and his demands that he be initiated using the older rite and that he not be blindfolded led to a year of squabbling before the lodge eventually acquiesced and he was raised with the Worshipful Master absent in protest. 

Less than a year later, a man appeared in the night requesting an audience with Goethe and Duke Karl Augustus. That man was Frederich Ludwig Schröder, an actor famed for his role in the Hamburg production of Schiller’s Don Carlos. Serving as Worshipful Master of Emanuel Lodge at Hamburg, Schröder had grown extremely disenchanted with the Templar revisionism and wanted to cleanse the ritual. It is likely that, with the Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach court’s well known support of independent judgment and sovereignty, Schröder thought it likely that he could find allies in taking down a ritualistic system so steeped in submission and ceremony. Furthermore, the courts reputation as a cultural beacon in Europe at the time would lend validity to the project he wanted to undertake- the formation of a new Masonic ritual along the lines of the sparse, simplistic English rites. The Duke and Goethe immediately offered their support, with Goethe even providing assistance in Schröder’s attempt to translate the Masonic exposé Jachin and Boaz and use this as the basis for a new Germanic ritual. 

In 1801 “Schröder’s System” was adopted by the Provincial Grand Lodge at the urging of Weimar. Several years of infighting ensued, with the Unseen Elders remaining silent as one by one their lodges either closed or adopted the more traditional degrees. By 1808 the Lodge Amalia had reopened under the Schröder ritual with Goethe snidely asking the man that refused to raise him to serve again as Worshipful Master under the new system, an honor which he declined. Goethe would live to celebrate his fiftieth anniversary in Masonry, an event at which he spoke and recited poetry. The Rite of Strict Observance would survive only in small, scattered clandestine lodges until being fully eradicated along with all other Masonic organizations in Germany under the Nazi regime. Even today it is difficult to find copies of the ritual, with only one English translator that operates as a tiled (open only to Masons) subscription service, meaning one must either be a Mason or have access to a Masonic library to study it. Though it seems most likely that Baron von Hund was either a quack or a madman, it’s rewarding to imagine Goethe helping to deal a major blow to one of the shadowy organizations that haunts humanity in darkness by bringing forth more Light.

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  • Philemon

    I’m not so sure that this “Karl Gotthelf von Hund” actually existed.
    The only “profane” evidence of his existence, that is readily available to a lazy hack like me, are simple documentations of birth and death, the latter of which calls him “Gotthold”.
    None of the claims in the pretty lengthy Wikipedia article about him are sourced at all.
    Buying and selling a castle does not necessitate this person existing in the flesh.
    His “portrait” is an egg with a smiley face on it.
    His name is oddly close to “Diogenes the Dog”.
    His family is conveniently dead.
    His rite does nothing but scam well situated people out of their money while keeping them away from the mysteries/inner order.
    It also appeared just when Freemasonry was popular amongst just such people, which necessitated an order just like it.
    Aside from birth and death, all sources about him and his rite come from people that have a clear interest in you believing this story, real or not.
    The whole thing looks like an elaborate ruse to me.
    All the clues left in the story mock the believer, which is precisely the style in which the Freemasons would conduct such a spectacle.
    I know my reasoning is that of a kook, but I’m not buying it.

    1. alldeeps

      Hahaha well done sir.

      I’ve thought about this a great deal and all I can do is present my reasoning for writing about Hund as a historical personage. You are correct to be suspect of Masonic histories; however we do know definitively that the Rite of Strict Observance rose quickly in popularity in German during the period of approximately 1760-1780 and that the Schroder ritual replaced it with aid from the court at Weimar. That, the transcript of the ritual, and the few legal documents we have Hund’s name on that you mentioned would be about all that can be said about Hund without trusting Masonic sources.

      However, I actually think we can put far more faith in the Masonic sources than usual in this case for one simple reason- Masonic scholarship has consistently viewed the Rite of the Strict Observance as a huge embarrassment. Gould’s History of Freemasonry is particularly scathing, and even Manly P Hall is extremely skeptical. Even the letter supposedly from “St. Germain” to Hund still casts Masonry in a manipulative and conniving light. If Masonic scholarship had a reason to invent Hund, unlike all their other mythic narratives, this one has only served as a source of embarrassment since its inception.

      So no, Hund may not have existed, but whether he existed and spread the rite or a few people got together and invented him to spread the rite doesn’t make much of a difference in my mind. I enjoy presenting him as a human being because it raises an interesting question—was he being trolled, or was he the troll? Or is there even a difference? It’s a question that since looking into Hund I’ve found myself asking about various cult leaders and political figures. The Masonic image of him is as a well meaning nitwit that drove himself into the ground promoting a rite that proved to be phony. He may have been more than this, less than this or nothing at all.

      Thank you for your comment you are greatly appreciated. If you have any further questions please direct them to me via message and maybe we can collaborate on something. I don’t have access to my full bibliography from the article as I’m traveling but I do have page numbers and notes on Gould’s History available on this hard drive.

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