Monday, August 17, 2015

Laurence Dermott

Within American Freemasonry, Laurence Dermott is a relatively unknown figure. Laurence served as Grand Secretary and, later, as Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons, or more commonly known as the Ancients or Antients, as well as authored the Ahiman Rezon, the Constitution of the Antient Grand Lodge.

Laurence Dermott was born sometime in the year 1720 in Ireland; it is argued that he was either born in Dublin where his father, a wealthy merchant, did business or the family home in Strokestown, County Roscommon (northwestern Ireland).

Laurence was initiated into Freemasonry on January 14, 1741, although there is some debate whether his entrance was in 1741 or 1740. 1746 was a significant year for him as he both became Worshipful Master of ## Lodge #26 in Dublin and became a Royal Arch Mason. His joining the Royal Arch would come to have a significant on English Freemasonry and, indirectly, American Freemasonry.

In 1748, Laurence moved to London where he originally affiliated with a Lodge recognized by the Premier Grand Lodge of England, or commonly referred to as the Moderns, but then joined an unaffiliated Irish Lodge.

On February 5, 1752, a year after the formation of the Antient Grand Lodge and the start of the "Great Schism", 
Laurence was elected as Grand Secretary. By April he was successful in pushing for By-Law reform for the Antients and in 1756 the first edition of the Ahiman Rezon was published. It is thought that they were completed years earlier, but wanting for a noble patron caused the delay. There were would be editions published in 1778, 1787, 1800, 1801, 1807, and 1813. The first edition contains a parody of the histories of Freemasonry as written by Dr. Anderson and many believe there was a political purpose behind Dermott's writing of the Ahiman Rezon. In this write-up, Dermott narrates a dream he has where four sojourners that were appointed by Solomon, appear before Dermott and inform him that he is to write a history of Freemasonry. The exact reason behind Dermott's choice of "Ahiman Rezon" is not exactly known, but many believe it translates to "A help to a Brother", but there a few other translations offered up such as "will of select brethren", "secrets of prepared brethren", or "Royal Builders". These other translations are often not accepted as their translations require a stretch of the imagination or erroneous translations.

Laurence served until 1771 when at that time he became the Deputy Grand Master for the Antient Grand Lodge which was essentially the presiding officer as the Grand Master at the time was little more than a figurehead. He served as Deputy Grand Master until 1787.

Many attribute much of the Schism's longevity to the attitude and beliefs of Dermott. He had a great deal of contempt for the Moderns as he saw them as irregular who would sell the degrees for the price of a leg of mutton and thus said their greatest symbols were the knife and fork. Some wonder if the Grand Lodges would have united earlier if not for Ahiman Rezon and Laurence Dermott.

Due to his uncompromising character and high intellect he had made many enemies and it has been asserted that he invented the degree of Royal Arch Mason by dismembering the Master Mason degree, but as history shows the Royal Arch degree was being conferred by 1744 (the earliest mention of Royal Arch Masonry) and Laurence Dermott wasn't Exalted to that most sublime degree until 1746.

The disagreement over what degrees were to be conferred was a divisive issue. The Antients considered the Royal Arch degree to be the completion of the Master Mason degree while the Moderns did not. Eventually, these two Grand Lodges would resolve their differences and unite in 1813 into one single entity today known as the United Grand Lodge of England. Although the Royal Arch is a pseudo-separate entity in England, a Mason is not considered in possession of all the degrees of Craft Masonry until he has been exalted to the degree of Royal Arch Mason.

Towards the end of his life, Laurence suffered greatly from gout and his last appearance in a Lodge was in 1789. He died in June of 1791, but it is unknown as to the exact day nor is it known as to the exact location of his grave. While some question his motives and blame him for the longevity of the Great Schism, I believe it was due to his seeing importance of the Royal Arch degree. He described the Royal Arch degree as "the Root, Heart, and Marrow of Freemasonry". His zeal and continuous support for the Royal Arch have made a mark in history and today it's still described that the Master Mason's degree without the Royal Arch degree is a "song half-sung, a story half-told, a hope unrealized, a promise unfulfilled."


1. About Royal Arch Masonry. n.d. 

2. Domenic, Gavin. Mistery of the Royal Arch. September 2006. 

3. Laurence Dermott. n.d. 

4. Laurence Dermott. n.d. 

5. MacDermot-Roe, Ken. Freemasonry and the MacDermotts. n.d. 

6. Mackey, Albert G. Laurence Dermott. n.d. 

7. The Collected "Prestonian Lectures". 1988.

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