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Das Lehrsystem des Ordens der Gold- und Rosenkreuzer – Bernhard Beyer (1923/2008)

I was curious if I could find any material of the German ‘extra-Masonic’ order of the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer (1757-1787). Just like when I was doing the same for Fraternitas Saturni I found my way to the Austrian publisher Geheimes Wissen (‘secret knowledge’). I thought that Pansophia was perhaps a publication of the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer and that the publisher republished it. That is not the case though.

It appears that in the 1920’ies in Germany there was a “neo Rosicrucian” movement (according to the German Wikipedia) called “Pansophische Gesellschaft”. Between 1923 and 1925 they published six volumes of a periodical called Pansophia, Urquellen Inneren Lebens (‘Pansophia, primal sources of inner life’). The third volume of which contains material of the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer.

The author / compiler of this work went to different Masonic archives to gather material of the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer. This material is ordered by the nine degrees that the order had. Beyer did not manage to gather a complete archive. Of some degrees he found ritual texts, of other degrees only secondary material. He was not able to consult the famous Kloss archive in Den Haag which also contains Gold- und Rosenkreuzer material.

Beyer starts with giving some background to the material. Even though the order was not founded by Freemasons, it was initially intended to be a system for ‘higher degrees’, so only Master Masons could apply. Later the “Juniores” degree was added which is basically a summery of the three “craft” degrees of Freemasonry. Of the first degrees you get (snippets of) the rituals with educational texts and Beyer’s elucidations. It is not always clear what text is of Beyer and what of the material that he gathered.

The Gold- und Rosenkreuzer different substantially from ‘Freemasonry proper’. The first degree has three tracing boards for example. Several of the rituals need more rooms than what is common in Freemasonry. Almost needless to say, but the texts are much more esoteric than your ‘average’ Masonic ritual. There are interesting alchemical texts, also what appear to be instructions for practical Alchemy. There is a bit of Kabbalah. But mostly, many texts are mostly procedural and rather dull. Detailed descriptions of what and how a table should be set, requirements, etc.

The book contains several images, some in colour and all the way at the back, there is a fold-out page. Oddly enough none of the images are anything as elaborate as the famous Geheime Figuren which are also supposed to be from the same group and published around the same time. Perhaps the present title was internal material and for the Geheime Figuren they set out to make a better looking publication for a larger audience.

All in all the publication gives a fair insight into the working of the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer. In the German language by the way.

2008 Geheimes Wissen, isbn 3902705027

The Freemasons In The Viking Age – Arvid Ystad (2023)

In 2016 Frimurerne i Vikingtiden was published. It took me some effort to get the book and even more to read it in Norwegian! Since that time the author had been trying to have it published in English. Finally he succeeded. Where the first book was published nicely as a hardcover by a Norwegian publishing house, the English edition is self published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and it comes as a paperback (so far at least). The book has not only been translated, it has also been updated.

About Ystad’s theories, I have written elsewhere (here and here). In short, Ystad is one of the few authors who looks for the origins of Masonic symbolism in the pre Christian past of Northern Europe. In Ystad’s case, he thinks that the Viking rituals of initiations to Freyja, Odin and Thor are the basis for the three degrees of Freemasonry. During the Viking settlement on the British isles, these rituals were introduced the cradle of Freemasonry.

In English, the information that Ystad presents is of course much easier to follow than in Norwegian. The updates in the new edition can be found in more cosmological interpretations of Norse myths.

What makes the book interesting to people who have not necessarily have an interest in the Masonic side of the story, but more in heathenry in general, is that Ystad refers to many Scandinavian publications and that he uses recent archaeological findings. These have been updated for the new edition too. The reader will also be introduced to investigations and findings that are probably unknown outside Scandinavian specialists.

Even though the author refers to Georges Dumézil he came to other conclusions regarding the “functions”. As we saw, the rites of Odin supposedly became the second degree of Freemasonry. Those of Thor the third degree. Also Ystad sees Thor as one half of the “divine twins”, while in Dumézil’s scheme the first and second “function” are ‘doubly occupied’ while the second (where he places Thor) not. The other half of the twin, according to Ystad, may originally have been Loki.

Since 2016 Ystad has been telling that his next book will be about these twins. Now this book has a name: The Myth That Shaped Our Culture.

According to Ystad Vikings founded the city of Jorvik which later became York. For his Masonic information he mostly leans on the famous (and easy to obtain) Duncan’s Masonic Ritual and Monitor (1866) which is the “York rite”. It is but one of many Masonic rituals. As Duncan’s book has been publicly available for many years, Ystad does not shy to quote it in detail. Hence: the book is full of ‘Masonic spoilers’. There are also references to the “Swedish Rite” in which the author worked for three decades. In both cases you can see conclusions based on the peculiarities of these rituals.

This is one of the problems of the book. Fairly disparate elements are compared to also disparate elements of Norse culture (different cultures, different times). This is interesting in a way, but with such an approach you have to present a lot of similarities to make the underlying hypothesis likely. Also there are a lot of “could it be?” type questions and some conclusions of the author would not have been my own.

Indeed, an investigation on shaky ground with many holes and ‘convenient conclusions’. Then again, it is never going to be so easy that we find ritual texts, new versions of which we can trace through time until the dawn of Freemasonry. Speculation will always be involved. Ystad made a brave attempt to present a little-known theory. His attempt even costs him his membership of his mother lodge!

The reason that I heard of the first book, was that it had been picked up by the major German journal Der Spiegel and their publication caused a little stir online. Let us hope that this revised and enlarged edition will also cause a little stir so that this too-little-heard-of theory will reach a larger audience. Ystad’s book is not the ultimate explanation of the origins of Freemasonry, but in 400+ page he certainly shoots enough similarities and theories at you, to make you wonder if Northern Europe [was] one of the sources of Masonic symbolism as Franz Farwerck named one of his books.

2023 Two Pillars Publishing, isbn 8269333700

Freemasonry: Thirty-Three Lectures – Christopher Earnshaw (2023)

Earnshaw published three books about “spiritual” freemasonry, presenting three different approaches to the subject, roughly connected to the three degrees. Later followed a book about the “Royal Arch” and now there is a fifth title.

Earnshaw has been Worshipful Master of a Japanese research lodge and in that function he gave many lectures. He compiled these lectures and published them in Japanese. Later he decided to make them available in English as well.

Where the other books are largely written around certain approaches to researching Masonic history, here we have a wide range of different subjects without much depth and about questionable subjects such as that Christianity is actually a retelling of Egyptian history, summaries of popular works about Freemasonry, Templars, Rosslyn Chapel, the Kybalion, ceremonial magic. Indeed, it almost seems as if Earnshaw aims for a Dan Brown audience rather than a Masonic one.

The lectures were given before he published his first book. As a matter of fact, all the way towards the end he announces Initiation By Light. The information is shallow, not very interesting, many of the subjects are shallow. I do not really understand the reason for this publication. Does Earnshaw hope that new readers will start with this title and then continue with the other four?

2023 self-published, isbn 979-8398263992

Freimaurer – Snoek & Heussinger & Görner & Wilk (2020)

Looking in the Kindle store for Jan Snoek, I ran into this book of which Snoek proved to be one of four authors (the others being Heike Görner, Ralph-Dieter Wilk, Werner H. Heussinger. The full title of the book is: “Freimaurer: Wie Sie die Prinzipien des erfolgreichsten Netzwerks der Weltgeschichte für Ihre Persönlichkeitsentwicklung nutzen” (‘Freemasons: What are the principles of the most successful network in world history for your personal development’). Indeed, this is a book in the German language. The title also shows that this is not an in depth book for Freemasons such as other titles of Snoek, but more a general introduction for the general audience.

The book covers the width and breadth of German Freemasonry, which had a development quite unlike Freemasonry in other countries. Different Grand Lodges worked together under an umbrella that changed its name. There were also other Grand Lodges that did not cooperate and this development led to roughly two types of Freemasonry in Germany: Christian (old-Prussian) and Humanistic. Especially the latter is again a varied current with men-only, mixed gender and women-only Grand Lodges for example.

First a few steps back. The book begins with a general history of Freemasonry cultural sources for the symbolism and system, etc. The authors also describe Masonic view of mankind, conspiracy theories, ritualism, community spirit, personal development, young people in Freemasonry, women in Freemasonry, humanism, etc. You will find no Masonic histories, details of the rituals but in support of the general picture. Only the appendices are more specific (early history, women’s Freemasonry and Illuminati).

The authors put quite some stress on “Aufklärung” (‘enlightenment’) and the social (rather than the initiatic / esoteric) side of Freemasonry. The book gives a good impression of Freemasonry in Germany, but because of the language of the book, only for the German speaking audience. I think the unique paths that Freemasonry has walked in Germany, some information would benefit non-German-speaking readers too.

It is a good book for people who are looking for general information. Personally I am more interested ‘Masonically scholarly’ books.

2020 Finanzbuch Verlag, isbn 3959723032

Alchemie: und ihr Einfluss auf Gesellschaft und Freimaurerei – Giovanni Grippo (2014)

What I could read from the Kindle store seems to dry up, so I have also started looking at German titles. This one seemed interesting.

This 120 page book in German is only mildly interesting. The general information about alchemy is -ehm- general. Amusing: there is a translation of the Tabula Smaragdina by Newton in German. By way of John Dee, Grippo goes to Elias Ashmole to make the step to Freemasonry, but not until he also dealt with Paracelsus, the Rosicrucians (where he sees a source of Freemasonry) and the Royal Society.

Grippo has a few blunt statements, such as: “One could exaggerate that modern Freemasonry is a German export product.” After the ‘Scotland versus England’ discussion, a very German addition. Of course there had been Mason companies in Germany for a long time, so I see where he is getting at.

There are also statements that are more ‘eyebrow raising’ such as: “There are obvious symbols in alchemy and in Freemasonry – like the hermaphrodite.” or “Nowadays they [true alchemists] no longer call themselves alchemists but have adopted the name “Freemasons”.” This sounds a lot like wishful thinking. I have yet to encounter a hermaphrodite or alchemist within Freemasonry.

The little book will tell you a few things about alchemy and Freemasonry, but the author seems to be not too well informed about the latter subject.

2014 Giovanni Grippo Verlag, isbn 3942187337

Freemasonry: Royal Arch – Christopher Earnshaw (2020)

The author had me on the wrong foot. In the first book of the “Spiritual Freemasonry series”, he spoke about three books, in the second the third and fourth were announced, but from the third I understood that there would be only three. It took me over two years to find out that Freemasonry: Royal Arch actually was published in September 2020 as announced in the second book.

So, we have “Initiation By Light” about the first degree of craft/blue Freemasonry, “Spiritual Alchemy” about the second, the “Quest For Immortality” about the third and now “Royal Arch” about the fourth? Not entirely. The other books are not specifically about a single degree, but rather different approaches to the history of Freemasonry which only roughly correspond to one of the degrees. The fourth book indeed is about the Royal Arch, but not just about the Royal Arch.

So in the by now familiar fashion, the reader is presented with detailed history of “revival” Freemasonry (around 1717), but also less common theories, interpretations about symbolism, etc. a nice mix between history and interpretation of Freemasonry.

Earnshaw comes back to his history of Chinese influences on Freemasonry, even going so far as stating that Freemasonry is Daoism in a Western jacket. Less interesting -to me- are lengthy histories of mysticism, spiritualism and astral travelling, which are taken too far away from the actual subject.

Just as between the earlier volumes there are both repetitions and elaborations to the other books and sometimes a revision. The different approaches are to some extend, but not entirely, worked into a single theory.

Especially when you enjoy combined history and practice and interpretation of Freemasonry, Earnshaws books are certainly worth the read.

2020, isbn 9798554665493

The Craft – John Dickie (2020)

This history of Freemasonry is well received, also among members. It has been translated into several languages and it has different editions. That did not bring the book very high on my reading list, but in the end I was curious enough to give it a try. Well, I am quite unimpressed…

Rather than being a history of Freemasonry, the book is more a social history of Freemasonry. Perhaps the subtitle should have made that more obvious to me: “how Freemasons made the modern world”.

I find the book annoyingly sensationalist. It starts with the memoirs of John Coustos who was taken by the inquisition and confessed to a great many things under torture. After chapters about the art of memory and the days around 1717 London you will mostly read about Freemasonry in connection to large social events. Endless numbers of pages about Freemasonry and the Carbonari, the Maffia, the P2 lodge scandal in Italy; Freemasonry in fascist and National-Socialist regimes, the French Revolution, the US Confederation, colonies, etc. It all says little about Freemasonry as an organisation (or actually many organisations), the history of its symbols and rituals, etc.

You can indeed read about how Freemasons helped create the modern world, but in most cases individual members, not lodges or Grand Lodges. Only here and there you will read something about developments within Freemasonry. The question of the Grand Architect of the Universe or the membership of women are either mentioned in passing or in a context that apparently is regarded more interesting. So no history of Le Droit Humain, but an interview with a man that became a woman within the Grand Orient de France many years after mixed gender Freemasonry was founded for example. The history of Prince Hall (‘black Freemasonry’) and the relation to traditional ‘white’ Grand Lodge is spoken of as well.

The author seems to have traveled the world, visited many places, interviewed many people and concludes that members are usually the good guys that do not deserve the bad press that Freemasonry has often received for its entire existence. To show that there is nothing anywhere near the exiting descriptions that Freemasonry often gets, he opens with way too detailed descriptions of initiations, including passwords, grips and steps. This may show that the Masonic “secrets” are quite boring, but apart from that this really does not help his readers. Perhaps the author does not realize that such details spoil the surprise for prospective members. Besides, that he found passwords, grips, steps and whatnot in one ritual, does not mean that these are the same everywhere. This can only lead to confusion. He had better just mentioned that there are passwords, grips, steps, etc.

In any case, the book is not completely boring, but I really wonder where all the applause about it comes from.

2020 PublicAffairs, isbn 161039867X

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