This review might not be for many of my readers. Lateron it will be clear why I think this is the case. I ran into this title quite by accident. The back cover proves the book not to be one of those popular books about Freemasonry with wild theories and exposed secrets, but a book about Freemasonry in the world today. The book is written in Dutch, so there some of you may have to abstain from reading further. Also it deals mostly with Belgian Freemasonry and for comparison a bit about Dutch Freemasonry, French Freemasonry and a tiny bit about Germany. The situation of Belgium is quite unique in the world of Freemasonry and that makes this book much different from what to expect.
As you may, or may not, know, there are two kinds of Freemasonry. The first kind is globally the biggest. It is the kind that is affilated to the United Grand Lodge of England and is hence “regular”. Regular Freemasonry lives up to the so-called “Landmarks” that were determined in 1723 and -for example- state that only men can join, that there is no discussion about religion of politics in the lodge and the Bible has to be opened during the open lodge.
This makes an easy jump to the other kind of Freemasonry: “irregular” Freemasonry. The author of the book seems to prefer the term “adogmatic”. That kind of Freemasonry is irregular because it allows women to join (there are mixed lodges and women-only lodges), allows poltical discussions within the lodge, replaced the Bible by another book, made the “Grand Architect Of The Universe” optional (or skips that notion alltogether), etc. Now in most countries (like my own), the largest part of the Masonic world is regular and a minor part irregular. In Belgium the situation is much different. Two times in history the largest Masonic organisation dropped (one of the) Landmarks, lost recognition of ‘London’ and a small part split off and gained recognition again. Today of 25.000 Belgian Freemasons, only 1.750 are regular. Therefor it is not so strange that this book, being about Belgian Freemasonry, is mostly about “adogmatic” Freemasonry and that makes it much different from ‘the usual’ literature about the subject. (By the way, irregular Freemasonry comes in many forms, men-only, mixed, women-only, theistic, atheistic, etc., etc.)
And so we read Koppen discussing subjects such as people who are not allowed to join because they send their children to a Catholic school, lodges that are very actively progressively political, numerologically dominated by women, the running through eachother of Freemasonry and other freethinking organisations (in Belgium meaning politically progressive), etc. What is more, since adogmatic Freemasonry is much bigger in Belgium, in the book some elements of it form the norm and regular Masonic practices the exception. This could annoy regular Freemasons (for example most of the Dutch Freemasons) and may put other people on the wrong track; since they may think that Freemasonry is political for example. What is more, Koppen is of the opinion that all forms of Freemasonry are Freemasonry, while regular Masons are (usually) of the opinion that irregular Freemasonry falsely use the term “Freemasonry” for something very different.
Let me finally say something about the book itself. It was interesting to read how things came to be in Belgium. The question of women in Freemasonry is treated at length. Koppen also refutes many myths about Freemasonry like that it is one big, worldwide and powerfull organisation; that only the most influential members of society join; that people join to give their carreers a boost; that sort of stories. Even in Belgium Freemasonry is simply too small for these things and membership too varried. Koppen does not leave aside examples where -for example- people got a job because they were a member, politicians who are members, etc., but when compared to other organisations that different kinds of people join, Freemasonry is only an example. The reason that Freemasonry appeals to a larger audience are wild stories and of course the secret. Koppen also says a few things about that secret and wonders how much secrecy (and about what), would help or rather oppose the goals of the different organisations. The author does not understand the witch-hunt of some people ‘exposing’ members of the different orders. Why should a Freemason have to say (s)he is a member while nobody cares about membership of the Rotary, the Round Table, a Trade Union, some philosophy class or a sportsclub?
So, no book about symbols and secrets; no lists of Grand Masters and 33’ers (however Koppen mentions quite a few names); and no legendary history. “De Paradox van Vrijmetselarij” gives a history and an overview of the Belgian Masonic world with stories, anecdotes, sometimes quite detailed information that he gathered from dozens of interviews; discussions, suggestions and what not. Written as an outsider (Koppen keeps repeating he is no member) but a very well informed one.
Now you can see for yourself if this book could be interesting. I must say that I found it a quite refreshing book to read and it is nice to know how things fared in Belgium and especially how much the situation there differs from what I know about Freemasonry in my own country.
2014 Houtekiet, isbn 9089242775
For some reason this recently published book (september 2014) seems hard to get. Bol.com and Amazon.co.uk have it listed as unavailable. Perhaps it is due for a reprint?