The Copiale Cipher: An Early German Masonic Ritual Unveiled

The Copiale Cipher: An Early German Masonic Ritual Unveiled” by James D Hodgkins is an article, pointed out to me by the author, from the March-April 2012 issue of the Scottish Rite Journal which may be of interest.


“A curious enciphered manuscript was discovered in an East German library in 1970 and eluded all attempts at decipherment. The document was forgotten until it fell into the hands of a private collector and recently came to the knowledge of an international team of academics from the U.S. and Sweden. In April 2011 the “Copiale Cipher” was broken, studied, and released to the public six months later. It contained rituals that caused a great deal of excitement in the mainstream press. Due to translation errors, the press missed an opportunity to arouse public interest with another mysterious topic that often grabs headlines: the Cipher protected an 18th-century German Masonic ritual.” [via]


“The first sign that this was a Masonic document was when Bro. de Hoyos saw the German word mopsen [sic] and noted that it was mistranslated as “thieves” on the second page of the cipher. The sentence in which the word occurs asked whether the candidate was a member of any other secret order. The code breakers used scientific methods to determine the age of the document, but the word mopsen allowed Bro. de Hoyos to “guestimate” a timeframe of 1740s–1760s for the cipher’s age. Bro. de Hoyos noted that the “Mopses” were a pseudo-Masonic Catholic coed fraternity founded in 1740 after Pope Clement XII’s 1738 bull denounced Freemasonry. It consisted almost entirely of Germans and counted some of the most important members of German society as its members. The name derived from the German noun Mops, meaning “pug-dog “(which played a part in the society’s ritual), although the translators confused this with the verb mopsen meaning “to filch, to steal.”

The interpretation of the manuscript as the ritual of an ophthalmology society is due to the misinterpretation of one commonly used logogram (a symbol used in place of a word). The logogram , which the code breakers called “lip,” was interpreted to mean “oculist” or “eye doctor.” Bro. de Hoyos took a cursory read of the first page of the German text, recognized it as using the language of 18th-century German Masonic rituals, and realized the logogram in question clearly stood for Maurer, or “Mason” in English. Once this small change is made, the document opens itself up and becomes a great deal more legible for everyone. Most English-language writings on 18th-century ritual are concerned with English and French Masonry; this document provides useful primary-source insight into German Masonic ritual of that time.” [via]


“In a time of legitimate concern over such issues as declining membership within the Craft, it is encouraging that core aspects of our ritual and philosophy have remained unchanged for close to three centuries. Regardless of time or distance, one of the appeals of Masonry will always be the universality of the values we teach. The Copiale Cipher now serves as a new testament to this tradition.” [via]