Freemasonry and Folklore in Mexican Presidentialism

Article excerpt

Masonry is many things. It is an ultimate spinner of tales and creator of myths, and as such it has a long history of influencing the political process through what can be called mythological power. This suggests that popular culture scholars should be interested, as a focus of popular culture scholarship is myth-making, -which is going on all the time and whose study is not confined to the investigations of Valhalla or Olympus by classical historians.

The promotion of a semi-legendary status for Freemasonry, of Mexican Masonry as the font of patriotism, resembles similar activities by lodges in the United States. For Juarez, one only needs to read Washington. In the United States, Masons make much of the half truth that the founding fathers were members.1 In the two countries, Masonry has contributed to the fabrication of a motherland patriotic epic.2

A point made in this article is that myths have power and popular myths influence politics whether there is substance to them or not.3

The perception that Masons are powerful have given them power. The general idea is that the lodges are influential and indeed that membership is essential for holding high political office. The question that might be asked en passant of whether membership in such a group really can have profound effects is easily answered by the importance given in all cultures to religious affiliation. There seems no reason why membership should not be accepted as equally significant when someone joins the Masons.

The Masons' cultivation of the myth of their contributions to democracy has created the popular opinion that Mexican founders and patriots were Masons and the symbols of the early Mexican Republic were Masonic (a phenomenon to be noted in the popular perception of the establishment of the modern Mexican state as well, it should be added). Granting to the Masons credit for behind-the-scenes machinations, popular culture confers an authority whether it existed in the first place or not. The influence of popular culture, in the sense of popular mythology, accounts for much of the strength of Freemasonry in political life. Scholars familiar with popular culture will look at issues in relation to Freemasonry with an understanding of how authority was derived by the creation of legends.4

The growth of legends about Benito Juarez, who was president in 1857-1872, is one such instance of "mytholization," but hardly unique:

The Juarez myth in Mexico is not the only historical myth in that country; it is one of many and does not stand apart from others. In a country whose culture is extraordinarily well-endowed with myths and is as a consequence defined by them, what people say about Juarez they often say about other historical personalities and about Mexico itself.... Study of this myth, as well as any other, can have value as a means to identify and understand the attitudes, values, and aspirations of Mexicans. Indeed, it and other myths deserve the closest examination, for they both shape and reflect attitudes and can have long-range consequences.5

Juarez is one of a number of Masonic-anointed founding fathers of Mexico: it has been imaginatively asserted that Freemasonry in political situations helps sustain a contemporary version of King Arthur and his knights, with the stories of the degrees providing material for the more public patriotic myths.

In Mexico, as in the United States, the fraternity's secretive and deliberately mysterious history has provided an ideal soil for inventing and developing the patois of a jingoistic mythology.6 It has been a significant contributor to political imagery. The representations of the fathers and founders of the Mexican Republic gained in stature by virtue of their supposed Masonic associations, just as did the reputations of leaders in the United States.7 Porfirio Diaz is a good example of how Masonry has been used not just in the United States as the source of legitimizing mythology but has played a part in Mexican as well as in American history. …