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Geschichte Freimaurischer Systeme – Chistian von Nettelbladt (1879/2016)

I ran into this title in the catalogue of the Austrian publisher Geheimes Wissen. The full title of the book is (translated): “History of Freemasonic Systems in England, France and Germany”. It was first published in 1879. When I ordered the book I thought it was older. “Br. Freiherr C.D.F.W. von Nettelbladt” (1779-1843) wrote a history of Freemasonry in this version worth 800+ pages in two volumes.

The reason the book caught my interest was that I do not know all that much about the history of the varried Masonic landscape in Germany. Moreover, the book deals with both “regular” and “irregular” Freemasonry.

The book is extremely dry. It is almost as if you are reading 800 pages of minutes. The author does indeed provide a general history of Freemasonry, more specifically deals with France and Germany and writes about interesting developments such as the Strikte Observanz, Der Eklektische Bund, Die Afrikanischen Bauherren, the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer, Friedrich Schöder (1744-1816) and his system and about the Großloge Royal York and he did so not too longer after several of such organisations rose or perished, but his book is a tough read. Quoting correspondence and other histories, referring to frictions, he rarely says anything about interesting subjects such as what rituals and degrees were worked, why, where they came from, etc.

The book is mostly interesting for people who are interested in the organisational histories of the organisations mentioned above and less so for people like myself, who want to learn more about the way these organisations worked. There are almost no images. The author obviously did have access to a lot of material, also rituals and here and there refers to imaginary on tracing boards or elements from the rituals, but too little in my opinion.

The book presents massive walls of texts with hardly any alineas or sub-chapters, neither is there an index which allows you to look for something specific. There are gigantic chapters about the Strikte Observanz that are split into different periods, but that is as structured as you get it. Things get a bit better in the second volume and only the relatively short chapter about the Grand Lodge Royal York comes somewhat in the direction of what I was hoping for.

Generally speaking you see an everlasting struggle with ‘high degrees’ (of which Von Nettelbladt did not think highly), skip or keep. Also the influence of the Strikte Observanz has been massive also on the various other Grand Lodges that there were in these days. The Strikte Observanz tried to create a ‘super Grand Lodge’ but this was not realised before the system was dismantled after the Convent of Willhelmsbad of 1782. Many years later there actually would be such a ‘super Grand Lodge’.

Dry Masonic history. A classic one and easily available.

2016 Verlag Geheimes Wissen, ISBN 3903045950

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