By John Richardson Bennett
The true history of Freemasonry is much in its character like the history of a nation. It has its historic and its prehistoric era. In its historic era, the institution can be regularly traced through various antecedent associations, similar in design and organization, to a comparatively remote period. Its connection with these associations can be rationally established by authentic documents and by other evidence which no historian would reject. For the prehistoric era that which connects it with the mysteries of the pagan world, and with the old priests of Eleusis, of Samothrace, or of Syria let us honestly say that we no longer treat of Freemasonry under its present organization, which we know did not exist in those days, but of a science peculiar, and peculiar only, to the Mysteries and to Freemasonry, a science which we may call Masonic symbolism, and which constituted the very heartblood of the ancient and the modern institutions, and gave to them, while presenting a dissimilarity of form, an identity of spirit. In connecting and tracing the germ of Freemasonry in those prehistoric days, although guided by no documents, and no authentic spoken or written narratives on which to rely, we find fossil thoughts embalmed in those ancient intellects precisely like the living ones which crop out in modern Masonry, and which, like the fossil shells and fishes of the old physical formations of the earth, show by their resemblance to living specimens the graduated connection of the past with the present. Every human institution is subject to great and numerous variations; the different aspects under which they appear, and the principles by which they are governed, depend on the advance of civilization, the nature of the protecting government, and the peculiar habits and opinions of the members themselves. Before learning was advanced, and when the art of printing was unknown, the discoveries in the arts and sciences must of necessity have been known to but few individuals. The pursuit of science was a secondary matter, and questions of philosophy were solely the prerogative of priestcraft. Agriculture was the grand pursuit of life.