Past editor of Freemasonry Today, Michael Baigent was a successful author and influential mason whose writing sparked debate and created a loyal following. John Hamill looks back at his career
It is with real regret that we have to announce the death of Michael Baigent who was editor of Freemasonry Today from the spring of 2001 until the summer of 2011, when increasing ill health forced him into partial retirement. He continued as consultant editor until his untimely death from a brain haemorrhage on 17 June 2013 at a Brighton hospital.
Born in Nelson, New Zealand, in 1948, he was educated at Nelson College and the University of Canterbury, at Christchurch, reading comparative religion and psychology and graduating in 1972 with a BA. In later life he earned an MA in the Study of Mysticism and Religious Experience from the University of Kent.
After graduating, Michael spent four years as a photographer in India, Laos, Bolivia and Spain. Coming to London in 1976, he worked for a time in the photographic department at the BBC, which brought him into contact with Henry Lincoln and Richard Leigh, who were filming a documentary about the medieval Knights Templar. Their mutual interests and enthusiasm ultimately led to the publication in 1982 of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, a controversial bestseller and still in print after more than thirty years.
Embracing the craft
The success of the book enabled Michael to concentrate on research, writing and lecturing. Writing with Leigh, he produced works on such diverse topics as Freemasonry, the Dead Sea Scrolls, magic and alchemy, the Stauffenberg plot to kill Hitler and the Inquisition. His solo works covered the ancient mysteries, the early Christian church and the influence of religion in modern life.
Michael’s interest in the history of ideas and the esoteric tradition led him to the Craft, becoming a Freemason in the Lodge of Economy, No. 76, Winchester, near his then home. He later joined the Prince of Wales’s Lodge, No. 259, London, and was nominated by them as a Grand Steward and appointed a Grand Officer in 2005.
Freemasonry brought Michael to the notice of Lord Northampton, who invited him to become a trustee of the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre, which he was setting up as a focus for research into the more esoteric aspects of Freemasonry. Equally, Michael became involved in and greatly shaped the early years of the Cornerstone Society, which Lord Northampton had established as a forum for those interested in exploring the deeper meanings of the ritual. When the Orator Scheme was being discussed in 2006, Michael was the obvious candidate to draft the early Orations.
Leading from the front
When Michael became editor of Freemasonry Today it was still ‘the independent voice of Freemasonry’. He greatly extended its coverage beyond the Craft and Royal Arch and attracted a new audience to the magazine, including a growing number of non-masons. He not only sought out contributors and edited their pieces but was responsible for the page design and seeing the magazine through the presses. He employed his old talents and provided many of the photographs that illustrated the content. It was something of a departure for him when in 2007 the magazine merged with Grand Lodge’s then house organ, MQ Magazine, to become the Craft’s official journal. Yet he rose to the occasion and continued to produce a magazine that combined news with interesting, and sometimes challenging, articles.
Michael would have been the first to acknowledge that his work fell outside the normal run of academic historical research, but he believed completely in what he did. He was not writing for other academics but for the general reader, and he had a loyal following. Whether he worked on his own or with Lincoln and Leigh, Michael’s writing was never ignored and always provoked discussion – which is all any writer seeks.
His last years were, sadly, marked by increasing ill health, including an initially successful liver transplant, and financial problems caused by the unsuccessful case he and Leigh took against the novelist Dan Brown’s publisher, claiming that Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code was both a plagiarism and infringed the copyright of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. A gentle, courteous man, Michael was always a pleasure to meet and talk to and will be greatly missed by many. Our thoughts go out to his wife, daughters and stepson and stepdaughter.
The Canonbury Masonic Research Centre (CMRC) has unveiled its programme for its thirteenth annual conference, which this year will be on the subject of Freemasonry and Empire.
The event will take place on 22-23 October and will include plenary lectures by Dr. Jessica Harland-Jacobs, Associate Professor at the University of Florida, Professor Andrew Prescott, University of Glasgow, and Professor Cécile Revauger, University of Bordeaux III. A fourth plenary speaker will be announced soon.
Several leading advocates of Empire such as Lord Kitchener, Sir Stamford Raffles and Rudyard Kipling were enthusiastic masonic devotees, and many members of indigenous communities also sought membership of English lodges.
Conference proposals should consist of about 300 to 400 words and should be sent, along with a potted CV, to Matthew Scanlan at the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre, Canonbury Tower, Canonbury Place, London N1 2NQ. The Call for Papers will close on 20 May.
Tickets for the conference are now available priced £99 (this includes conference entrance and two buffet lunches) and reservations for the Saturday evening dinner are an additional £40 (please provide details of any special dietary requirements).
Cheques should be made payable to 'CMRC' and sent to the conference organiser at the above address. Further information can be obtained from the CMRC website: www.canonbury.ac.uk
The conference will include at least two speakers who will cast light on their researches into the former KGB archives in Moscow that contain millions of masonic documents stolen by the Nazis during the Second World War.
Dr. Patricia Kennedy Grimsted of Harvard University, an expert of international renown in this highly specialised field, will deliver a keynote lecture entitled War on the Freemasons: the fate of Nazi and Soviet seized books and archive.
She will provide an overview of how these vast archives were first stolen by the Gestapo and other branches of the Third Reich’s security and intelligence services between 1939-1945, and how they were subsequently shepherded back to Russia by the Soviet NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB – now the FSB.
Other revelations to be unveiled for the first time at the conference will include recently deciphered diplomatic correspondence from the close of the eighteenth century which provides fresh insight to the mind of Prime Minister Pitt the Younger and his attitude towards Freemasonry and various kindred societies of the day.
Other speakers will explore the phenomenon of anti-masonry in Turkey and the Arab world as well as under the Fascist dictatorships of twentieth-century Europe. One keynote lecturer will expound upon the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious forgery that tragically helped to pave the way for the Holocaust.
CMRC Conference organiser Matthew Scanlan explained: ‘The conference promises to be one of the most interesting the CMRC has organised and I feel that this subject, perhaps more than most, will demonstrate the importance and relevance of the study of Freemasonry to mainstream history’.
The conference will take place on 30-31 October and further information and full details of how to register can be found on the CMRC’s website: www.canonbury.ac.uk
The Canonbury Masonic Research Centre Held its 11th International Conference: Michael Baigent Reports
‘There is no one fixed origin for Freemasonry.’ Professor Andrew Prescott, University of Wales, Lampeter, certainly gained delegates’ attention. ‘There are no unchanging landmarks in Freemasonry. Like all historical phenomena, it has no origin.’