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The ‘Universal Language’ of Freemasonry – Christina Voss (2004)

This dissertation is frequently cited both by Masons and non-Masons alike, so I decided to track it down and read it. I was surprisingly unimpressed…

It is not that the book is without merit. As a linguist, Voss investigates the language of Freemasonry. Words, their contexts, the different meanings, etc. Plus, the author explains a lot of symbols and -without images- is partly a bit of a Masonic encyclopaedia.

For an author who is specifically after the meaning of words, Voss is strangely inaccurate with some words and phrases. She speaks of “androgynous orders” such as that of the Amaranth (“a Masonic-affiliated organization for Master Masons and their Ladies founded in 1873” (Wikipedia)). Strictly speaking the description is not incorrect, but Voss makes no distinction between mixed gender Masonically affiliated orders such as the Amaranth or the Order of the Eastern Star or Freemasonry that includes all genders. She even manages to use the term “Co-Masonry” for the Order of the Eastern Star, while this term was specifically coined to describe Freemasonry (not a side order with different rituals and symbols) that includes women.
Also she appears to wrote from a “regular” perspective, even managing to compare Cagliostro to Taxil. Just as in the previous example, Voss might have been more nuanced.

On to the positive points of the book then. The author describes a fair range of ‘Freemasonries’ and “androgynous” and youth orders. The focus lays on Anglo-Saxon Freemasonry, but the book is certainly not exclusive to it. Voss goes into symbols and words, but also into the rituals of many of the organisations mentioned. Towards the end there is information about anti-Masonry, Freemasonry in the theatre, even Masonic comics.

Parts of the work (of about 900 pages!) are good to read. Some revisions would help. There are also chapters that are less of my interest. All in all a book to have a look at some time, but not one that needs to be very high up on your list.

2004 De Gruyter

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