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References to Freemasonry in popular culture range from the vitriolic to the innocuous. Far more often they are merely misinformed allusions from which Freemasonry faces a far more insidious threat; that of being marginalized, trivialized, and fictionalized. Most of the references noted on this site are harmless, simply pointing out that Freemasonry has played a role in our society; some are humorous, yet some are disturbing in their associations.
Masonic references in
Goethe’s writings
The freemason Johann Wolfgang von Goethe made several specific references to Freemasonry in his writings, but it is the Turmgesellschaft, or Society of the Tower, found in Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, which is most often cited. Yet is only in volume 3 that Goethe’s readers become aware of this shadowy society and then all that they are told is that Wilhelm has been watched over by this league during his travels and that they believe him to have learned enough of life to be considered to have passed his apprenticeship. The novel represents less of the initiatory nature of Freemasonry than it does that of hermeticism, or the classic bildungsroman motif of educating youth. The theme is further developed in Wilhelm Meister’s Years of Travel.
Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1795-96)
Marianne exclaims to Old Barbara: "I want to show him all my love and enjoy his love in its whole compass." [v. 1, book 1, p. 18.]
"...from an early age I had a talent for handling compasses, cutting out cardboard and illuminating pictures." [v. 1, book 1, p. 29.]
"An unwieldly-looking town-clerk rode at the head and exchanged greetings with the reciprocal actuarius (for this was the young man with whom Wilhelm had spoken) at the border with great conscientiousness and strange gestures, as may perhaps happen in the case of spirit and magician, where the one is inside the circle and the other outside it, in dangerous nocternal operations." [v. 1, book 1, p. 49.]
"Tales are told of magicians who with magic spells conjure up in their rooms a vast quantity of all kinds of supernatural figures." [vol 1 book 3, p. 160.]
"Jarno played the sceptic, his friend likewise, and they went so far that the Count finally took Jarno to one side, reproved him for his free-thinking and endeavoured through his own example to convince him of the possibility and reality of such stories." [vol 1, book 3, p. 170.]
"They got down to business at once and elected Wilhelm to be the first manager. The senate was set up, the women were given seats and votes, laws were proposed, there were rejections, there were acceptances." [v. 2, book 4, p. 17.]
"They were envious of huntsmen,
charcoal-burners and woodcutters, who were kept to these happy places of residence by their calling." [vol. 2, book 4, p. 23.]
Serlo comments" "nothing is more amusing than when actors talk about studying; it seems to me very much like freemasons talking about working." [v. 2, p. 95.]
"two tall figures in white cloaks and hoods who could not be distinguished from one another had come in at the rear door" [v. 2, book 5, p. 108.]
"Ask me not to speak, but leave me silent,
For my secret is a duty for me;
And yet my lips, which are locked fast by an oath,
Can only be unsealed at a god’s behest." [v. 2, book 5, p. 134.]
"If I had heard about witches, I should have also had to be introduced to witchcraft." [vol. 1, book 6, p. 137.]
'"Take flight! Young man, take flight"' he exclaimed, 'What are the mystic words supposed to mean?' [v. 3, p. 10.]
After Wilhelm and Theresa have exchanged confidences, she says: 'We have now spoken the password of our association.' [v. 3, p. 25.]
"Keep it a secret that Felix belongs to you; there would be too many reproaches from the Society concerning my dissimulation hitherto." [v. 3, p. 49.]
"On the table-cloth was a little scroll. 'Here is your certificate of apprenticeship,' the Abbé said, 'consider it well, its contents are important.'" [v. 3, p. 66.]
"Finally he determined to ask Jarno for the scroll of his years of apprenticeship from the tower; the latter said: 'It is just the right time,' and Wilhelm received it." [v.3, p. 74.]
Natalie refers to Lothario: 'The one thing that comforts me is that the Abbé and my brother’s Society in particular are informed at all times as to where he is and what he is doing."
There is a reference to the German pietist, Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf [1700-1760], on p. 93, the founder of a religious order in the Upper Lusatia arera of Moravia in 1722.
Wilhelm exclaimed. 'Lothario comes with his assistants, and it would be remarkable if those secret powers of the Tower that are always so busy were not to work on us now and fulfil with and on us some strange purpose or other.' [v. 3, p. 108.]
'But give me the so-called Certificate of Apprenticeship, if it’s near at hand.' [v. 3, p. 109.]
Jarno expounds: 'He advised us to retain those first rules of the Society; there was therefore a certain legalistic element carried over into our meetings, one could see no doubt the first quasi-mystical impressions upon the structure of the whole later, as though almost allegorical' [v. 3, p. 110.]
Jarno details the plan: 'At the present time it is by no means advisable to have possessions at only one locality and to entrust one’s money in only one place, on the other hand it is difficult to supervise what is going on in different locations; we have therefore thought out something different; a society is to radiate out from our old tower and to spread out into all parts of the world, and people will be able to join it from every part of the world.' [v. 3, p. 121.]

Wilhelm Meister’s Years of Apprenticeship [Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre] by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. trans. H. M. Waidson London : John Calder (Publishers) Ltd., 1977. 3 vol. ISBN: 0 7145 3675 X Cased. vol. 1, 174 pp.; vol 2, 185 pp.; vol. 3, 158 pp..
Cf.: <bartleby.com/314/>.


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