In our last discussion about the interesting and rather unknown side of Isaac Newton’s personality we explored his connection with alchemy and theology. After that it might not be surprising to you that, according to many historical sources and rumours, Newton had connections to a number of secret societies of his day. These include various Freemason lodges, the legendary Priory of Sion and the philosophical and esoteric movement of Rosicrucianism. So in this article I would like to overview whether Newton really had connections with the mentioned societies and what influence they had on Newton’s scientific studies.
Freemasonry is perhaps the most controversial secret society in the modern times mostly due to the attention from the media. This fact makes it really hard to separate historical facts from fiction. Taking into account Newton’s great passion for sacred geometry and architecture, which is obvious from his theological work, he seems like a great candidate to be a member of one of the great lodges. Furthermore, many members of the Royal Society were also notable members of the English lodges, especially the Grand Lodge of England. Despite that, there is no solid evidence that Newton was a member. Still, the fact that many notable Freemasons were especially interested in sacred geometry and ancient architecture shows that Newton was, in one way or another, connected to the ideas of Freemasonry or at least shared a passion for architecture and mathematics.
Now the Priory of Sion (Prieuré de Sion in French) is a whole different story. It is a name associated to a number of groups both historical and fictitious. The most controversial is a fringe fraternal organisation, founded and dissolved in France in 1956 by Pierre Plantard. Plantard created a fictitious history for that organisation, describing it as a secret society founded in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1099. According to Plantard, the priory was devoted to installing a secret bloodline of the Merovingian dynasty on the thrones of France and the rest of Europe.
The priory was mostly popularized by a pseudo historical book called “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail”, which put forward a hypothesis that historical Jesus married Mary Magdalene, had one or more children, who later intermarried with the French noble family members. However, what really brought fame to the mysterious priory in the modern days was the “Da Vinci Code”, which took for certain that this secret society really existed. According to the novel and the conspiracy theories related to the priory, among the grandmasters of the Priory of Sion were many famous people of their day including Jean Cocteau, Victor Hugo, Leonardo Da Vinci and, of course, Isaac Newton. Now, I won’t go into much more detail about the Priory of Sion as it has been debunked a great number of times and is actually considered as one of the biggest scams of the 20th century. That and the fact that the priory was not an esoteric, alchemical or scientific society in any sense leads us to a simple conclusion that Newton was not a member of it and was not influenced by it in any way.
Contrary to the other societies we’ve already discussed, it is now well known that Rosicrucianism had great influence on Newton. The Rosicrucians were a philosophical secret society, which is now believed to have been founded in late medieval Germany by Christian Rosenkreuz. It holds a doctrine or theology built on esoteric truths of the ancient past, which, according to the Rosicrucians, was concealed from the average man and had powers to provide insight into nature, the physical universe and the spiritual realm. Now it isn’t surprising that Newton was fascinated by the ideas of the Rosicrusianism, as his own ideas, as seen in many historical sources, were rather similar. He believed that he was one of the chosen people, who could extract scientific information out of the holy bible, which, as he believed, had hidden esoteric information. This was especially apparent from Newton’s bible studies, including his mathematical studies of the Temple of Solomon, which as he believed had “sacred proportions”. In addition to the belief in ancient esoteric knowledge, the Rosicrucians believed and engaged in the process of creating the Philosopher’s Stone, which was also one of the main interests of Isaac Newton. And, as mentioned before, you can find many digitized Newton’s works online, also including his alchemical works to get a taste of what was going on in his mind.
The Rosy Cross — symbol associated with Christian Rosenkreuz
So was Newton really a Rosicrucian? Unfortunately, it remains a question with no clear answer. Even though he was often accused, as many other members of the Royal Society in the day, of being a member of the Rosicrucians, and even many of the modern versions of the Rosicrucian order often claim that was indeed a member, Newton himself never actually claimed of being one. Nevertheless, it is clear that he was indeed affected by their ideas and shared the similar world-view. Interestingly, this rather theological world-view had great influence of Newton’s scientific studies. His alchemical studies, which are recorded in “The Newton Project” archives, show that he took alchemy as a very serious experimental subject, which could be studied using a logical and precise approach, which was also apparent in his scientific studies. And even though his beliefs were almost occult, his tools of analysing the world were purely scientific, which makes Newton, as he is often called, “the last of the magicians”.