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Freemasonry Theory Of The Origins – Fabio Venzi (2022)

Earlier I reviewed two very Traditionalistic books (in the sense of Guénon) by Venzi from 2013 and 2016. In his previous book in English (2019), he mostly investigates the relationship of the Church and Freemasonry and the author presents a somewhat one-sided view on Freemasonry.

However the colophon says nothing of it, Theory Of The Origins was initially published in Italian 2020. The cover reminds a lot of Venzi’s initial history of Freemasonry in Italian.

The book is divided in three parts and the subtitle says mostly what the parts are about. “From ‘Homo Ludens’ to the Invention of a ‘Tradition'”.

In the preface Venzi again writes about anti-Masonic tendencies in the past and the present, the role of the Church, the misunderstandings about Freemasonry. All this takes a bit too many pages for my liking particularly because The Last Heresy was already about this.

Then we come to part I, which is about the playing man ‘homo ludens’. Freemasonry is presented as a serious play that came into being together with theatre. Before he gets that do, Venzi shortly gives a few theories about the origins of Freemasonry most of which he debunks. The ‘religious base theory’, the ‘theory of conspiracy fellowship’ (a political motivation), ‘the age of enlightenment theory’, the self-help / charitable theory (Freemasonry as social security), “the ‘myth’ of a ‘Speculative’ Freemasonry” which is the best known theory such as that of Knoop and Jones that Freemasonry grew out of ‘operative’ guilds. Then we have the Stevenson theory that Freemasonry comes from Scotland rather than England and Venzi also rallies against Stevenson’s idea that there have been Hermetic influences from the start of modern Freemasonry. Next up is the idea that something speculative, philosophical and even esoteric was part of early modern Freemasonry. Also the popular theory that Freemasonry has something to do with cathedral builders is laid aside, even the point that Freemasonry is a revival of what came before is a “blunder”. Lastly there is a theory called “pseudomorphosis”. Freemasonry filled in a gap when other elements ‘washed away’.

Then we come to Venzi’s own theory. He sees that origin in an ‘inner circle’ of the London Masons’ Company who “accepted” people and who met for “social pastime, for the sake of pure entertainment, as a play“. Inspiration for these plays they took from ‘Mystery Plays’ and ‘Morality Plays’.

Then follow some pages about Johan Huizinga’s theories of play, the rise of theatre, Yates is introduced, both for her work on the Art of Memory and on that of the theatre and via architecture we come to Solomon’s Temple.
Venzi is a bit too focussed on documentary evidence. Sometimes he dismisses a theory based on the lack of it while apparently forgetting that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. His own theory also has such lacunas. Be that as it may, the morality/mystery play theory is one that is not posed very often, so let us just see this part of Venzi’s book as another interesting theory of one of the origins of Masonic symbolism.

Part II is about the invention of tradition. Of course in Anderson’s Constitutions a ‘mythical’ history of Freemasonry is given. Venzi sees this as the starting point of the transition from ‘ludic’ (convivial) Freemasonry towards a more structured phenomenon. This part is mainly about the parts played by James Anderson, John-Theophile Desagulier, but Thomas Payne has played a bigger part in the transition/invention in Venzi’s theory than other books I read about the subject.
This part also deals with the question if the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster was actually founded in 1717 or if this is part of the invented tradition. Venzi’s conclusion is that in 1717 and the following years there indeed have been meetings, elections of Grand Officers, but only after 1721 did this become more than just a social event.

The last part Venzi looks at the union of ‘Moderns’ and the ‘Antients’. Apparently this is to show that only after 1813 the rituals of the Lodge of Reconciliation and Emulation ritual ‘esotericism’ was firmly rooted. The author has said several times that esotericism was no part of Freemasonry from the start. Not in the organisations that inspired the inventors of the traditions (organisations of which we know the “Old Charges”), not in the “Acception” lodges, hardly even on the invention of the third degree.

That men such as Ashmole and Moray had esoteric interests does not make their lodges esoteric. This is true, but does not explain why these men joined in the first place. Some of the “Old Charges” and catechisms are described by Venzi as “Ludic” even “Goliardic”. This is also true, but is a possible explanation for that not just that such texts were written by people who wanted to make fun of the lodges?
And so we go from “Ludic” texts to more moralising, philosophical and, all the way at the end, esoteric rituals. The treating of men such as Wellins Calcott, William Preston and William Hutchinson seems to suggest that these men worked towards the deepening of Freemasonry, but were they not just the first people who reflected on what was already there at some length? This part would have been more convincing, had the author shown that these men had elements added to the rituals.

An entire chapter is dedicated to the detailed description proces that led to the United Grand Lodge of England. Interesting in itself, but I find the idea that only in this proces ‘esotericism was introduced’ unconvincing. What is more, Venzi can write at length the “Centre” and the “Throne of God” referring to thinkers such as Guénon, Evola and Eliade, but if Freemasonry only got (or is) initiatic in the Emulation ritual after 1816, can Freemasonry be seen initiatic within the framework of René Guénon? Besides, Freemasonry had spread (and splintered) substantially by the time, would only the change of some of the rituals used suddenly bring esotericism in the Traditionalistic sense?

I enjoy Venzi’s English language books of 2013 and 2016 a lot. The book about the Church was less interesting. The title presently under review gives in some ways nicely detailed information, also details that I need to look into further, but also a lot of information that appears to be a bit out of place or out of context. All in all this alternative view of the origins of Freemasonry gives some food for thought as it presents some new ways of looking at available material, but it is hardly a completely convincing theory to replace all others.

Let me stay with the thought that Freemasonry had many sources and some of those that Venzi tried to do away with, did not really become less probable to me.

An interesting book, but not the next ‘ultimate history of Freemasonry’.

2022 Lewis Masonic, isbn 9780853186144

Zonder Blinddoek – Huub Lazet & Ruud Luder (2021)

A review for my Dutch readers as I do not expect there will be an English version of this book (soon).

The title Zonder Blinddoek, een andere kijk op Vrijmetselarij translates to “without blindfold, another look at Freemasonry” (or “without hoodwink” or “unmasked”). The authors met each other each week over a period of five years. They have quite different views on Freemasonry, its history and its symbolism, but they reached middle ground so to say. The authors wanted to get rid off ancient misconceptions, present a more factual history of Freemasonry, expand the knowledge of the subject of their readers and thus present a fresh view of Freemasonry which could give rise to improvement of the Craft. In so doing, they came to conclusions that are often remarkably close to mine, so the book reads a bit like a summary of my own investigations of recent years.

The authors both have their backgrounds in the “regular” Grand Orient of the Netherlands, but they are also familiar with other Grand Lodges in their country, so here and there they compare practises. They are very critical towards developments in rituals which are -in their opinions- often made without proper knowledge. Especially certain additions that are very common in the Netherlands raise their disapproval.

The book begins with a history of Freemasonry. They follow Stevenson in their statement that the earliest forms of what would become Freemasonry can be found in Scotland. Also they put quite some stress on the Ars Memorativa and hence there is also a somewhat esoteric approach.

Based on the investigations of Isaac Newton of the Temple of King Solomon they conclude that the different placement of officiers (both Wardens in the West versus one in the South and one in the West) is due to the room within the Temple where the ritual takes place (forecourt, Middle Chamber, holy area). A conclusion that I am not entirely convinced with is that the third degree is actually ‘the first of the follow-up steps’ as it was created specifically for ‘non operatives’ who wanted to be more than the rest of the Fellows. The description of Lazet and Luder of the developement of the third degree is detailed and interesting though. For some reason they do not follow Stevenson in the idea that the (precursor) of the third degree is connected to the Scottish ‘Mason’s Word’, at least, they do not mention this.

There is also a part in which the authors suggest new tracing boards for each degree, the explanations make a nice read on Masonic symbolism.

All in all, the book makes an excellent read about the subject in the Dutch language. Here and there are ‘spoilers’ for the rituals, but especially the fact that the Masonic world of the authors is larger than their own “regular” Grand Lodge will make that the book may have new information for many readers.

2021 De Alk, isbn 905961237X

De Rozenkruisers Revolutie – various authors (2022)

Currently in the Embassy Of The Free Mind (aka Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica aka Ritman Library) in Amsterdam an exhibition about the Rosicrucians. There is a publication which is a catalogue of the exhibition, but also seven organisations that present themselves. The book is available in print and as PDF. There does not yet seem to be an English version.

The publication opens with an introduction of Lucinda Martin (director of the museum). Then follows a text of Carlos Gilly, the eminent scholar on Rosicrucianity. Joost Ritman himself contributed a text followed by Wendelijn van den Brul.

Then follows a text of the current Grand Master of the Grand Orient of the Netherlands, the oldest and biggest organisation for Freemasonry in the Netherlands. Their archives contain the collection of Georg Kloss (1787-1854) who made the first inventory of Rosicrucian texts and books of which are on display in the exhibition. Gerrit van Eijk makes the link between the early Rosicrucians and early Freemasonry.

Peter Huijs of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum contributed two texts. One about the Lectorium and a more general one.

Reinout Spaink is the current chairman of the Dutch Theosophical Society and he presents his society while -of course- making links to Rosicrucianity. Jaap Sijmons does the same for the Anthroposophical Society and Klaas-Jan Bakker for AMORC.

Corey Andrews has a text about Daniel Möglings Speculum Sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum (1618) and the 175 page books ends with a chronological summery (a time-line) of Nathalie Koch.

“The Rosicrucian Revolution” makes a nice read. Now I have to find the time to visit the exhibition itself (the exhibition only runs until July 31th 2022). Hopefully an English version of the book is forthcoming.

Edit 29 June 2022. There is it.

2022 Embassy Of The Free Mind, isbn 9789071608445

Memory Palaces And Masonic Lodges – Charles B. Jameux (2014/9)

Originally published in French in 2014, Inner Traditions published an English translation in 2019. The author picks up after the suggestion of David Stevenson that second Shaw statute (a Masonic “old charge”) refers to the art of memory and that here we have a strong suggestion of very early Hermetic influences in (pre-)modern Freemasonry.

Another book that Jameux uses heavily is the famous Art of Memory of Frances Yates, first published in 1966. Yates makes a similar notes that Freemasonry may be such an art of memory, but leaves it to later investigators to look into the subject. Since Stevenson only raises the suggestion, Jameux thought it was time to combine both sources of information.

Jameux also uses a text of the French author Claudie Balavoine which is included in the appendices. Also an earlier version of Jameux’ text is added as appendix.

Knowing the two mentioned books, you may have an idea of the theory. Systems for remembering things have existed since the Greeks and have been used remarkably long. All the way up to the dawn of modern Freemasonry. As mentioned, Shaw appears to mention the art is in second set of statutes (around 1600).

The idea is not so much that Freemasonry includes the art of memory, but that Masonic symbolism actually is an art of memory. When you want to remember a speech, you can imagine a building and leave things in rooms that you have to remember for your speech and while speaking, walk through the imaginary building, a tracing board is something similar.

It is not so much that Jameux presents something new or extremely groundbreaking, but the book does make a very strong suggestion by combining the ideas found in two famous works. Definite proof? I doubt such a thing exists for a hypothesis such as this, but Jameux certainly strongly adds to the suggestion with some interesting details.

Unfortunately the book is not too well written. I actually found the initial essay (in the appendix) making the point better than the book. Be that as it may, Jameux certainly worked out a theory that I see a lot in better than I could.

2019 Inner Traditions, isbn 1620557886

Freemasonry And Fraternal Societies – David Harrison & Fred Lomas (2016)

Freemasonry was not the only society that (gentle)men could join in the 18th and 19th century. Actually, this story is not just about gentlemen. The book gives a nice insight in an aspect of history that for some reason is not often spoken about together with Freemasonry.

The authors describe different kinds of societies that arose around the rising of ‘modern Freemasonry’ in 1717. On first glance these societies were very different. On second glance, these differences were a lot smaller than appears.

A type of society that is spoken of in the book are “box societies”. These had nothing to do with the sport, but they were organisations that people could join. They would pay a fee (stored in a box) and the society would financially help out in case of illness or death. Before social security this was an important insurance for many employers. When the state started to regulate social security, many of such societies died out or became insurance companies. There were different kinds of such sickness and death type societies.

Another kind of society was the social club often for the higher-up men. They could be either diner, drinking, games, philosophy or whatever kind of group that people joined for relaxation and networking. Some of such groups aimed at a specific audience, other were more inclusive. Some were very exclusive. Not a few had their own buildings. Quite some people were members of a number of the mentioned groups.
Because alcohol consumption was high, even a society for abstainers was founded. Several such in hindsight odd societies are mentioned in the book.

Either or not inspired by Freemasonry, several of such groups had initiations, grades even, passwords, grips and the like. Some were (almost) Freemasonry mockery groups, others were more akin to Freemasonry. In this entire network of societies and their members, Freemasonry formed a lively part. Its members met in different groups and/or were involved in the foundation of such societies.

Many of the names of the societies have been almost forgotten. Some have survived and even thrive today. Think of Odd Fellows, Foresters, Druids, Buffaloes, Gardeners, and Rechabites. They sometimes had (and have) regalia similar to that of Freemasonry, regulations that are similar, goals that are similar.

The book is a little thin (160 pages) and I would have loved to hear more about the ritual side of such groups, but Harrison and Lomas offer an interesting insight into a larger fraternal world of which Freemasonry is perhaps the best known, but by far not the only part.

2016 Lewis Masonic, isbn 0853184968

Genesis Of Freemasonry – David Harrison (2009)

Indeed another Masonic history book. This is the first book of David Harrison, based on his dissertation of December 2007. “This book launched my career as a Masonic historian, researcher and author”. The book was slightly revised for the 2014 Lewis Masonic edition.

Historians of Freemasonry have, in the past, written work that has been selective. For example Gould who, as a Victorian Freemason, wrote from an official Masonic standpoint, dedicating his History of Freemasonry to the then Grand Master, the Prince of Wales and was harsh in his treatment of rebel Grand Lodges and rebel Masons, such as his discussion of the Grand Lodge of Wigan and his views on Thomas Paine. Others, most notably [Margaret] Jacob, have neglected certain elements of the society’s history, failing to mention the important role of Tory and Jacobite Freemasons in the Craft’s development during the early 18th century.

Harrison is to be applauded for his open view to Masonic history. Many Freemasons today, especially those whom regard themselves “regular” appear to forget or deny the fact that there have been multiple Grand Lodges from the start. Not just the “Premier/Moderns” versus the “Antients” since 1751, but the Irish, Scottish, York and Wigan Grand Lodges. A universally acclaimed Freemason such as William Preston (1742-1818) has been a member of all Grand Lodges that exited in his time. He even founded a ‘rebel’ Grand Lodge (to the “Premier/Modern” Grand Lodge) himself. Things have never been as clear-cut as some want us to believe.

Also Harrison does not deny the existence and involvement of colourful people such as Francis Dashwood (1856-1727) and Philip Wharton (1698–1731) who have not only been Grand Masters of the “Premier/Modern” Grand Lodge but who were also involved in organisations such as the Hell Fire Club. Such men too have -in their own ways- contributed to what Freemasonry became.

As for the history of Freemasonry, Harrison sees “three transitional periods”.

Firstly, the transformation from operative to speculative during the 17th and early 18th centuries. Secondly, the foundation of the London Grand Lodge in 1717 and the subsequent modernisation of the ritual. Thirdly, the schisms and rebellions within Freemasonry, which forced the society to rebuild and reconcile in 1813.

And even after the foundation of the United Grand Lodge of England, there were “rebels”. The “last rebel Grand Lodge survived until 1913”.

Harrison ascribes a big role in the revision of Freemasonry and its rituals to John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744). This ardent follower of Isaac Newton (1642-1726) introduced a lot of ‘Newtonianism’ into Freemasonry. Even though frequently critical to Stevenson, Harrison does make an interesting suggestion in this regard. As Stevenson suggests, pre-1717 Freemasonry was different in England than it was in Scotland. The 1721 visit of Desagulier to a Scottish lodge may well have inspired him to introduce ‘Scottish’ elements into ‘English’ Freemasonry, such as the Masons Word and the three grade system.

Other elements that I do not see often in Masonic histories are remarks that both Desagulier and James Andersson (1679-1739) were also members of other societies (such as the “mysterious society called ‘Solomon’s Temple’) and a patron of Desagulier, James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos (1673-1744), who would send him around the country for ‘scientific reasons’, but also for ‘Masonic reasons’. Chandos had more such men in his entourage.

There are quite a few elements to Harrison’s debut that are worthy of contemplation. A problem that I also have with other books of his that I read is that the author seldom (if ever?) dives into the details. It would have been very interesting if Desagulier would have gotten a more detailed look for example. What were his ideas, where did he get them from, what found its way into ‘his’ rituals and how? The book raises as many questions as it answers.

In any case, Harrison’s debut is indeed a ‘modern classic’ of Masonic history, but would have done better if the author was a pencil licker such as detail loving authors Knoop and Jones or Stevenson.

2014 Lewis Masonic, isbn 0853184992

The Origins Of Freemasonry – David Stevenson (1988)

I ran into this title in the books of Tobias Churton. Like Churton, Stevenson is not a Freemason himself. The subtitle of the book makes it clear where Stevenson’s emphasis lays: Scotland’s century 1590-1710.

While many authors see the origin of ‘modern Freemasonry’ in England because it was in London that the first Grand Loge was founded, Stevenson focuses on Scotland. Not only is there much more material about Freemasonry predating 1717, but according to the author, Scottish Freemasonry differed from English Freemasonry and the former heavily influenced the latter in the years around 1717.

Stevenson also comes with a somewhat different version of the transition from so-called “operative” to so-called “speculative” Freemasonry.

Thus the assumption imposed by the terminology […] is that operative lodges, made up of stonemasons, must to operative things; non-operative lodges of gentlemen or speculatives do speculative things. This may make some sense in an English context, where nearly all lodges were ‘artificial’ foundations by gentlemen, but it is totally inappropriate for Scotland where virtually all the pre-1710 lodges were originally, and often long remained, closely tied to the mason trade. (p. 10)

And so we get the story that you may have ran into before with “Old Charges” (Scottish and some English), early lodge minutes, joining “gentry”, etc. Stevenson comes up with slightly different details and lays stress on other details to make his point that many things that we know of Freemasonry today, actually came into existence in Scotland and was only around 1717 introduced in England such as the Mason Word and the two grade system.

William Shaw is the person for Stevenson, whom restyled early Freemasonry into a form that would develop into what Freemasonry is today, including a big part of its esotericism. Also slightly different from several other authors is Stevenson’s ideas that gentry usually only experienced an initiation, but were not active in the lodge afterwards; that lodges consisted not only or masons as workmen, but other professions as well; and that “gentry” not only joined but also left lodges basically making them “operative” again.

It is an interesting history and Stevenson shines his own light on it. I find his ‘Scotland theory’ a credible one. Why would the French, when Freemasonry started to develop there, refer to Scotland (Ecossais) rather than England for their systems of ‘high degrees’? And is it so strange that in Scotland things were somewhat different, but elements found their ways to England right around the time that the first Grand Lodge was founded?

I just started reading another David Harrison book and in the first pages he proved himself critical towards Stevenson. Let us just take the different theories (emphasis) at heart and remember what appeals to us. When you are interested in somewhat dry historical Masonic history (think Knoop and Jones), Stevenson makes a worthwhile read.

The Magus Of Freemasonry – Tobias Churton (2004)

Here we have Churtons biography of Elias Ashmole (1617-1692) “Scientist, Alchemist, and Founder of the Royal Society”. Both Ashmole and Churton have lived in the city of Lichfield and Churton took it upon himself to not only clear the name of Ashmole of centuries of misinformation, but also to sift through archives for new information. The result is the interesting story of an interesting man.

After an introduction, we start in Ashmole’s early years of course. He had an overly stern father and a mother who tried to help him become an independent thinker within the range of her possibilities. Ashmole left his parental house as soon as he could (with a little help from his mother) only to loose his mother to the plague shortly after. This sets the tone of a life with highs and lows.

Ashmole lived in troubled times. There was a political war in which he served what later turned out to be the losing side. The Reformation took hold of religious life and its churches. There was the mentioned plague. Last but not least, the witch-craze started to develop as well, which made it hazardous to be interested in things such as alchemy, Rosicrucianism and the like.

Ashmole was mostly an antiquarian. He gathered information and objects and initially gathered that in books, towards the end of his life, he was found the very first public museum. Especially his successful book about the Order of the Garter made his name. He was quite familiar with other antiquarians and intellectuals of his time and had a bunch of long time friends even though he lived across the country.

Ashmole married three times, two wives he outlived. He could not really be without a partner, both for emotional and for financial reasons. He remained on good standing with his families in law, especially the first. He was even initiated into “Free Masonry” in 1646 together with a nephew of his first wife who had long passed.

The author looks at people close to Ashmole painting an interesting picture of early Freemasonry, but also of other pursuits that Ashmole was involved in, such as the Royal Society. Later in his life his name of “magus” did not have the negative marking it was likely to have in his days and even resulted in him being given a large part of the diaries of his big hero John Dee (1527-1608).

The not-so-good name that Ashmole still has, mostly comes from unjust legal actions against him. Some of his former family in law kept coming with new lawsuits over things that had been settled, but worse for his name was the incident in which he was given a large collection of rarities of a fellow collector, while by the time the man had died, his widow would accuse Ashmole of theft and also sue him. This suggestion of unjustly having acquired a large part of what would later become the collection of the Ashmolean Museum still stains his name. Churton sheds more light on these events.

Elias Ashmole was an interesting man with ideas that our quite ‘far out’ in our own time, but were less so in his own days. Also he was ahead of his time in his capacity as antiquarian, scientist and scholar.

2004 Inner Traditions, isbn 1594771227

The Golden Builders – Tobias Churton (2004)

I saw this book referred to in the mildly interesting work about esoteric Freemason The Path Of Freemasonry. Especially references to Elias Ashmole caught my interest.

The Golden Builders is subtitled: “alchemists, Rosicrucians, first Freemasons” which spans a subject I am much interested in as I am curious to know how elements of the named ‘philosophies’ found their way into Masonic symbolism.

Just as the book I found this title in, Churton starts with a fairly general overview of Western esotericism. Hermetica, Alchemy, Renaissance, Hermetica, nothing new really. What is somewhat interesting is that Churton used the (then) latest investigations from academic circles, so he does refer to recent findings here and there.

Especially referring to recent findings of Carlos Gilly, with the part about the Rosicrucians the book starts to become a lot more interesting. Churton really dug in the persons involved in the Rosicrucian ‘movement’, looking at Andreae and his surroundings, the religious turmoil of these days, where inspiration came from, etc. A trace can even be followed to the Royal Society.

Via John Dee we come to Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), whom Ashmole admired greatly. Ashmole is often ‘used’ to make a link between “operative” and “speculative” Freemasonry, but Churton shows that there is much more to say than only referring to both of Ashmole’s diary entrances about Freemasonry, the suggestion that he might have been a Rosicrucian and the fact that he was involved on the early Royal Society, which -in turn- influenced the rising of the ‘premiere Grand Lodge’ of 1717.

Ashmole was initiated a Freemason in 1646, 70 years before the foundation of the first Grand Lodge. Much has been written about why and how a non-“operative” was initiated into an “operative” lodge. Was it an occasional lodge? Where there separate lodges to initiate the “gentry” or did these noblemen join lodges and slowly but surely take them over, reforming “operative” lodges into “speculative” ones? Churton has a thing or two to say about this.

Through his first marriage, Ashmole can be linked to a long tradition of “operative” Masons going back to the dawn of Cistercian cloister builders. Even after losing his first wife the the plague, Ashmole was initiated together with a nephew of his late wife. Churton also has a look at that good man. In this regard it is also interesting to note the suggestion that people adhering the ‘old religion’ (Catholicism) appeared to have played a big role in the Masonic transition.

What makes Ashmole interesting is that he compiled alchemical works, was interested in Hermeticism and he was known for that, even in times of the witch-craze. It could have been Ashmole and perhaps people ‘like him’ who introduced certain elements to Masonic symbolism.

A subject that I would have preferred to have been worked out is the interesting case of Sir William Wilson who was known to be an “operative” Mason who was (again?) initiated, while Churton suggests that there was no “operative” versus “speculative” Freemasonry in these days.

the term “speculative Freemasonry” has been used to make a spurious distinction between post-1717 ‘symbolic’ masonry and the old trade which ‘preceded’ it, in effect drawing a cautious (and unnecessary) veil over the movement’s genuine past.

The Golden Builders became a more interesting book than I expected in the first half. Unfortunately (and of course) not all questions are answered, but the interesting case of Ashmole is a lot more clear now. Churton also published a book solely about Ashmole two years after this one, which is the next title on my reading list. Churton has more titles that appear to be of interest. In The Golden Builders he is not too clear about it, but he seems to do a lot of research himself not only recapitulating what has been written before. He dove into archives, tried to find family information, etc. He may be an author I will read some more of.

2004 Weiser, isbn 157863329X

The Path Of Freemasonry – Mark Stavish (2021)

I ran into this book a bit by accident. The subtitle is: “The Craft as a Spiritual Practice” and it is supposed to be a book about the esoteric side of Freemasonry. The introductions are written by no less authors as Arturo de Hoyos and Lon Milo DuQuette, both known esoteric Freemasons.

DuQuette starts with an anecdote about a secret meeting of esoteric Freemasons. Secret, because there are supposedly many ‘anti-esoteric Freemasons’. He does not even dare to name the country where the meeting was held. I doubt a man of the stature of DuQuette who has written many books on a wide variety of things esoteric would be unknown to be an esoteric Freemason amongst his brothers, so I found that story a bit weird.

Stavish promises a lot more than (in my opinion) he makes true. The book is not really an esoteric peek into Masonic symbolism or an ‘esoteric approach’ of The Craft. It is mostly a book with “suggestive retellings” (to use the author’s own term) of Western esotericism. Elias Ashmole, Rosicrucians, Qabbalah (author’s spelling), all esoteric subjects that are (vaguely) linked to Freemasonry in many books are written about without any really in depth information or clear links to Freemasonry. “Suggestive retellings”.

Stavish only scratches the surface and cuts corners. He says that the “placement of the officers” is part of the “Landmarks” while I cannot fathom he does not know that there are two different set-ups in lodges. He says where a Bible is opened in lodges, but this is not the same in every lodge. Or what about calling Jan Amos Comenius a “Moravian alchemist” or saying “the Grand Lodge of France, known as the Grand Orient of France”? France has many Grand Lodges, not just the Grand Orient.

Also annoying, it appears that Stavish has read something about mixed gender Freemasonry (or co-Masonry) which he supposedly thinks it still the same all over the world and exactly like it was in the Theosophical period. It has “invisible adepts” for example” (I never heard of that). The Theosophical period was perhaps two decades in the very early 20th century and the other century of its existence there was a short ‘anti-Theosophical’ movement in some Grand loges, but mostly a neutral stance.

Stavish does not present much new when it comes to Western esotericism, Freemasonry, its history of symbolism or the link between these two. There are also three appendices which are not wildly interesting (even though the geometry text by John Michael Greer did present things I never encountered).

“The Path Of Freemasonry” is not a boring read, but it is not exactly groundbreaking either. He does have some nice suggestions in his bibliography, has reading suggestions per subject and (very contemporary): exercises.

2021 Inner Traditions, isbn 1644113287