freemasonry

Frimurerne I Vikingtiden * Arvid Ystad (2016)

“Freemasonry In Viking Times” is a book written by the Norwegian Freemason Arvid Ystad, a civil engineer and layman historian. He chose a subject that you may have run into more often on this website: origins of Masonic symbolism that can be found in prechristian Northern Europe.

The book is written in Norwegian. I have not found a place to get it outside Norway and the publisher (where I ordered it) has no plans for an edition in another language. So I read the book in Norwegian and I wrote an article based on it from this exercise. You can find that article here.

Of course I do not master the language so I am not the right person to judge the book, but what I understand from it there are a few, somewhat thin, red threads, but also a wealth of interesting similarities, several of which were new to me.

I certainly hope the book will raise some attention and that the author will make an English version of it, so I (and other people) can get more to the bottom of Ystad’s information.

The book has some pretty detailed descriptions Masonic ritual and symbolism of “blue Freemasonry” as the author calls it (the first three degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason), so I may need to discourage reading the book to people who plan on joining a lodge, or who have not passed the three mentioned degrees.
The author does mostly refer to the York Rite and probably based his information on some old work(s) of exposure, but in some situations the information just might be a bit too detailed.

Extra points for being one of the few to write about this subject and for the fact that I ran into things new. To get a better idea of the book, read my article about it.

2016 Pax, isbn 9788253038438

99 Degrees Of Freemasonry * Henning Andreas Klövekorn (2006/2015)

A book about Freemasonry by a man who also writes about Asatru. That could be something for these pages, right? Henning Klövekorn was born in Germany in 1975, lived in South Africa, but now lives in Australia. Klövekorn joined an Australian lodge in 1997 (age 22). Nine years later the first edition of this book was published. Both this edition and the reprint became so popular that high prices are asked for copies, so in 2015 the author decided to make a print-on-demand version to ensure its accessibility.

Besides being a Freemason Klövekorn is a successive businessman, philanthropist, diplomat and in spite of all this success, openly Asatruar. The book even features a photo of him with a square and compass with two runes in the middle instead of the usual letter G. So would this book fulfill the promise of Klövekorn’s “[w]ork on the Anglo-Saxon of the origins of Freemasonry”? In a way, but not really in depth.

Actually, the book is a fairly general introduction into Freemasonry. What is different about this book from most similar books, is that it is not limited to so-called “regular” Freemasonry. The author also sketches the the rise of ‘progressive’ forms of Freemasonry. Also he gives information about kindred organisations, such as “friendly societies”, other “fraternal societies” (other from Freemasonry), an idea of the wealth of exotic Rites and ‘high’ and ‘side’ degrees, developments within the world of Freemasonry, some history of course and a part of Freemasonry that usually gets less attention, the charitable side of especially Freemasonry in the USA and the UK. At the end there are a few words about Masonic symbolism in art and monuments of Freemasonry.

There are almost 30 chapters which are fairly short. The book touches on a lot of different subjects, but does never really go into any depth. The author’s ‘Anglo-Saxon thesis’ is only touched upon, so maybe the “about the author” refers to another book. What seems to be the basis of this approach is that Freemasonry not only came to the British isles by fleeing Knights Templar, but also by Norse settlers from France who brought with them memories of Northern European life. Also there is a chapter about very early (1250) Freemasonry in Germany.

I think that “regular” Freemasons may not always be too happy with this book, but this is all the better for the many ‘progressive’ kind of Freemasons in this world. I do find it a bit weird that the mixed gender order Le Droit Humain is listed in the chapter “Related and Rival orders” between the Thule Society and the Bavarian Illuminati, while there is also a chapter about women in Freemasonry and Le Droit Humain is a Masonic society.
Also strange, even though this is a third edition, there are some strange errors, such as an alinea that is printed twice and some information that has not been worked out too well so it can cause confusion.

Should you enjoy reading the long lists of elaborate names of high degrees, this book is for you too. The author also deals with the basic symbolism behind a list of degrees.

“99 Degrees of Freemasonry” makes a nice introduction into the subject, but it is not really more than an introduction. It touches upon elements of ‘Masonic myth’ such as Egyptian origins, Knights Templar, etc. Hopefully the book is meant as a step-up to a better foundation of the more ‘controversial’ elements that Klövekorn seems to try to get across. Also it is nice to run into a book that does not shy some less popular angles on the subject. Since it is not expensive (under $ 20,- when you get the printing on demand) this title might be added to your wishlist.

2015 CreateSpace, isbn 9781466467583

Acta Macionica Volume 25 (6015)

As regular visitors of this website will know, I have an interest in Freemasonry, among other esoteric currents. I had heard of the Belgian study lodge Ars Macionica and I had the idea that they have public lectures, but they also appear to have an annually published book that can also be purchased by the general audience. It is not like you can order these books from Amazon though, you have to get your copy from the Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium, the organisation under which the study lodge Ars Macionica falls.

The latest issue, published in september 2015, is the 25th and it is a massive work of 470 pages. Ars Macionica works in Brussel, a city in the middle of the Belgian ‘language battle’. This shows in the book, since it has essays in Dutch, French and English. I can read French somewhat, but I do have to admit that I mostly skipped through the French texts, not really trying to read them attentively.

At first sight the book appears to be multi-lingual. The cover does say “25e anniversaire”, which is of course “25th anniverary” in French, but it also says: “Grande Loge Reguliere de Belgique, Reguliere Grootloge van België, Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium”. Then follows a “sommaire – inhoud – contents”, starting with a “voorwoord – avant-propos – foreword”. This is about as multi-lingual as it gets, because this foreword is in Dutch. K. Thys tells us about 25 years of Acta Macionica. I would have found it logical if at least this foreword would have been printed in all three languages or at least in English, the language with the biggest chance that all readers are able to read. Of course I am happy that it is presented in my mother tongue.

The foreword tells us how an annual newsletter was transformed into a yearbook in 1991. How it was initially called Ars Masonica and how later, when the study lodge was founded, was renamed to Ars Macionica. How it grew in size and how the Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium (RGLB) tried to reach a wider audience than its own members. Strangely enough there used to be a website where people could order the volume, but it has been taken down a few years ago. Apparently the quest for reaching a bigger audience continues, so I do not think the authors will mind me reviewing that latest publication.

Ars Macionica has conferences, four of which are presented in this book. One is in Dutch, one in English and two in French. After this “other papers” follow, also in the three diffent languages. Some of the essays are relatively short, others are massive. The texts are not about ‘internal’ Masonic subjects. The subjects are actually very varried. Of course there is always a bit of ‘a Masonic twist’. You can read about historical persons and their quests which are sometimes inspired by their membership of a lodge. There is also a large essay about the Belgian colony of Congo and how Freemasons got caught up in strange conspiracy theories. Congo already makes a black page in Belgian history, but this article of Jimmy Koppen also makes clear how Freemasonry got its bad name in Belgium. There is an article about James Anderson, but not about the constitutions of 1723 that he wrote. Also we run into an author that I refer more often to on Gangleri.nl: Koenraad Logghe, who gives an esoteric interpretation of the story of Noah.

Like I said, the subjects are varried and there are 20 of them. I do not think this volume will be interesting if you have no interest in Freemaosonry whatsoever, but on the other hand, do not expect a book about Freemasonry and ‘its mysteries’. Acta Macionica presents results of the studies of Freemasons, not studies of Freemasonry.
Still, this 25th volume of Acta Macionica makes a nice read and it is interesting to see what sort of subject such a study lodge deals with.

So, how to obtain your copy? Unfortunatly the RGLB does not make this too easy. They did put up a table of contents here. There they refer to their own website on which the contact info is not easy to find, but here you go. Just send an email and I am sure that you will learn how to get your copy.

2015 Paul Coseyns, no isbn

Rondom De Korenschoof * various authors (2006)

A while ago I ran into a small Dutch publisher that I did not yet know. It seems that “De Steensplinter” (‘the stone splinter’) did not start as a Masonic publishing house, but when I looked at the catalogue, many titles are Masonic. I got myself two titles about symbolism, one (reviewed earlier) not specifically Masonic, the present one is. That is to say: is in basis.

“Rondom de korenschoof” means ‘around the sheaf of corn’. The book was published by a Masonic lodge called “De Korenschoof” for their 50th aniversary. It was written by 4 authors and does not only speak about the symbolism of corn in Freemasonry, but the authors widened their subject to “nature and plant-symbolism in Freemasonry”. This resulted in an interesting little book (192 pages).

The book starts with general information about symbolism and rituals. After this short introduction by K. Verhoeff, A.M. van Harten takes over to say a few things about ‘nature religions, ancient myths and plant symbolism’. The author writes about Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, the Romans and ends with Mithras and Attis; of course there is special attention for grain symbolism.
P. Stam follows with an essay about ‘plant symbolism in some world religions’. This is a nice, short text about plants, their fruits and products made of the plants and/or the fruits in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The following text was the main reason to buy this book. ‘Grain in folk-belief in North-Western Europe’ by, again, A.M. van Harten. North-Western Europe and Freemasonry, would that be a modern-day version of Farwerck? Yes and no. No, mainly because the author seems to have forgotten (or ignored) the work of Frans Farwerck who was not only a Freemason, but also wrote extensively about folk-belief in North-Western Europe. Instead, Van Harten uses Melly Uyldert when he gives information about the Germanic peoples (so it cannot have been the choices during WWII to choose his source). With all respect to the late Uyldert, but she was not exactly a scholar. Farwerck would have made a more logical and certainly better source. Having said that, I know not all information in this essay is very accurate. Nonetheless it makes a nice read about sowing, harvesting, grain, straw, sheafs left on the field, corn-spirits, folk-art, festivities, etc. A text about subjects that I read of before, but this time from another kind of source.
The same author then writes about ‘plant symbolism and Freemasonry’. Again he uses sources that I wonder if they were the best choice, but here Van Harten seems to be better in place. This chapter is pretty detailed speaking about well-known Masonic plant symbols, but also about much lesser well-known. The chapter also deals with two very specific Rites, so this essay may be mostly interesting for people with an interest in Freemasonry.

The last chapter is about the “De Korenschoof” lodge itself. The lodge was founded by Freemasons with an agricultural background, so their preference for agricultural symbolism is natural. This also resulted in the fact that this lodge has a fairly unique annual “harvest lodge”, which sounds a lot like a contemporary Masonic continuation of ancient harvest festivals (Farwerck would have been delighted). This chapter contains many and lengthy quotes from the Ritual that the lodge uses and may not be too interesting for non-Masons.

All in all this is a nice little book with an interesting approach to symbolism.

2006 Uitgeverij De Korenschoof, isbn 9057170256

Alchemy And The First Degree Of Craft Freemasonry * Paul Hardacre (2013)

Now this is unfortunate and also a little awkward. I discovered this publishing house because they published a book by Angel Millar. I ordered a few titles, but one item was out of stock. For a while I was inquiring about the last item and when I thought I could just buy a title that I wanted to get anyway and inquire again, this might help. It did! Good. Then I -quite by accident- run into a ‘blog’ saying that the publishing house will seize to exist because of financial problems…

Yep, Salamander and Sons will publish no more books. In fact, they will sell their leftover stock until 31 March 2016 and the remaining items will be destroyed. This is too bad, because Salamander and Sons published some interesting items on alchemy and a few similar subjects. The books look great and are not too expensive.

The present title is a lecture of the publisher that he held before his own Masonic lodge in Thailand. It is only just over 30 pages and Hardacre speaks about (not surprisingly) alchemy and Freemasonry. Only on a few occasions these two subjects seem to come together, but the little book makes a nice read to tell you a little about both subjects from the title.

Get it, before it is gone…

2013 Salamander and Sons

On Holy Ground: A History of The Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry * Karen Kidd (2011)

Amazon.com

I like reading about esoteric pioneers. When I was reading Kidd’s book about women initiated into regular Freemasonry, I ran into the present title. On Holy Ground, as the title says, gives a history of the mixed gender Masonic order “The Honorable Order of American co-Masonry”. Actually, the book is more about Le Droit Humain in America, since “The Honorable Order of American co-Masonry” only exists since 1994 when the American Federation split off from the worldwide Le Droit Humain. Technically, perhaps, the Honorable Order is the same organisation and what is nowadays Le Droit Humain is the split-off. (Or alternally, both organisations sprang from the same source.)

Le Droit Humain is a mixed gender Masonic organisation that was founded in France in the last years of the 19th century. A lodge of the male-only organisation Grande Loge de France wanted to initiate women. This was (and is) a step too far for the Grande Loge, so the lodge broke off and started a new lodge which would later become the organisation Le Droit Humain.

Of course the book focusses on the USA, the homeland of the Honorable Order. After a general chapter, the book starts with Antoine Muzarelli, a French immigrant (with Italian roots) in America who was initiated in a lodge of the Grand Orient de France. This Grand Orient is liberal (and another organisation than the Grande Loge de France by the way), but at the time not so liberal that they could allow women to be initiated. Muzarelli founded a lodge in the USA under the Grand Orient de France, but when he heard of Le Droit Humain, he made contact with the founders in France and started to work to found LDH lodges in the USA instead. LDH was already growing to be a worldwide organisation (with a main seat in Paris), but Muzarelli negotiated a certain level of autonomy for his American branch. This branch grew steadily, but not without problems. Muzarelli also ran into counteractions of “malecraft” Masonry. Still the “American Federation of Human Rights” grew with ups and downs. Muzarelli proved not to be the best manager, but he certainly made a flying start.

Muzarelli’s successor was Louis Goaziou. Under the many years with Goaziou as head, the Federation grew further. Towards the end of Goaziou’s leadership, future problems started to arise. However all over the world, “co-Masonry” (a term of Muzarelli) was virtually taken over by Theosophy. Muzarelli himself had contact with Annie Besant who brought growth for Le Droit Humain in the rest of the world. In America things were quite the opposite. When in the rest of the world, the Theosophical influence started to wane with Theosophy itself, in America the influence grew. Goaziou tried to keep ‘the middle’, his followers would do less so. The growing influence of Theosophy brought friction, but the successive leaders navigated the order through all that. The Great Depression and two World Wars brought a massive drop in the numbers of members. As Theosophy had its own free fall in members, so did co-Masonry. Even though relatively autonomous, the American Federation had to go through ‘Paris’ for certain things. The leaders alternally were on good and on lesser terms with ‘Paris’. Things were not easy, but neither bad, until the 1990’ies, when ‘Paris’ decided to tighten the strings and made a decision contrary the proposal of the American Federation on the appointment of the new leader of the American Federation. This eventually lead to the American Federation breaking contacts with ‘Paris’ and go on on their own. A fraction split-off and continued as the American Federation of Le Droit Humain.

Kidd, a member of the Honorable Order, digged deep into the archives. The book has many photos, quotes from personal letters, circulars and magazines and anecdotes. Especially the first two leaders of the order are painted in detail which gives a very personal insight into these pioneering co-Masons. Later leaders are treated more shortly. There are not a whole lot, but still enough, references to Le Droit Humain in other parts of the world. Especially the WWII period gives an interesting peek into the troubles of Freemasonry on the European continent (such as the disappearance of the main seat in Paris). Shorter written about are the Federations in the Far East and Australia.
Even when your interest does not lay in the history of Le Droit Humain in the USA, this book could be a nice; even (or: also) when you have an interest in the history of mixed gender Freemasonry in general, this book is a good purchuse. Especially the first half with with lengthy descriptions of the pioneer days makes a good read.

2011 The Masonic Publishing Company, isbn 1613640056

Comenius Und Die Freimaurer * Wilhelm Begemann (1906)

I know Jan Amos Comenius because of a book of his (Via Lucis that was translated to Dutch and published by In De Pelikaan, the publishing house of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam. Apparently I have had that book for so long that I did not write reviews when I bought it.
A while ago I got a catalogue of the publishing house of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum, a contemporary Rosicrucian society founded in the Netherlands. They have more titles of Comenius available in Dutch, so after reading the biography about the man, it seemed like an idea to read some more of Comenius’ works. Setting out to order a few of these titles, I found this little book in German with the enigmatic title Comenius and the Freemasons. There are two lodges in my country named after Comenius who died in the Netherlands, but he lived before Freemasonry, so what would the book be about then?

Begemann starts with a short investigation of Comenius (1592-1670) and his possible links to Masonic lodges that existed before the foundation of what is nowadays the United Grand Lodge of England in 1717. That investigation was short. However Comenius certainly knew, and had ideas incommon with, the original Rosicrucian manifestoes that were published in 1614 and after, Begemann found no indication that Comenius has ever been in contact with an early lodge.

Apparently in the time that Begemann wrote his book, there were theories linking Comenius to Freemasonry and it took a while before I realised that the author was not trying to prove this link, but he was to debunk it. This he did and it was not even too hard.
For the record, Begemann investigated influences of Comenius’ thought on the early Masonic movement, but his conclusion is Comenius is hardly mentioned by the earliest authors such as Andersson and Desagulier. At some point an interest in Comenius’ writings does appear, but this is only later and in a time that Masonic authors showed a wide interest in thinkers of the past.

Begemann’s conclusion is that there are no links between Comenius, or even his ideas, in early Freemasonry. A conclusion that is perhaps not surprising, but he just wanted to have it stated it seems.

Comenius and the Freemasons makes an alright read to learn a bit about early Freemasonry and about Jan Amos Comenius, but do not expect any big revelations. The book is old enough to be available in cheap reprint and as download on a few places on the world wide web, so should you be interested to read it, just look around a bit.

Haunted Chambers * Karen Kidd (2009)

“These women aren’t supposed to have existed. But they did.”

In online communities with Freemasons present (especially British and American), the subject of women frequently pops up and the reactions are always the same. There were no women Freemasons, there are no women Freemasons and women who are member of a mixed or “femalecraft” lodges are not Freemasons either. Karen Kidd, one such female Freemason herself, decided to sift through archives, media and whatnot to discover stories about women Freemasons; not members of the Order of the Eastern Star, mixed or “femalecraft” lodges, but women that were initiated into (mostly) regular lodges in the 18th and 19th century, long before there were other kinds of Freemasonry, many even before there were ‘lodges of adoption’. These are the women that are not supposed to have existed, but who did.

The author found a few well documented cases, quite a few reasonably documented cases and she ends her book with a few rumoured cases. The stories are often quite alike. A (young) woman is so curious about the secrets of Freemasonry that she decides to spy on a lodge; or a woman accidentally overhears the proceedings of a lodge; in either case, she is discovered and the lodge decides that the best way to prevent her from spreading the secrets, is to initiate her so she has to swear an oath of secrecy. In most cases, that is as far as the woman comes. She does not regularly attend lodges, receive additional degrees or anything. In some cases there is more to say about the women though.

An interesting case in the book is Hannah Mather Crocker (1752-1829) who supposedly led an all-women lodge in 1778 (St. Ann’s Lodge in Boston, USA).
The most interesting story to me, was that of Lavinia Ellen “Vinnie” Ream Hoxie (1847–1914) who was the muse of the famous Freemason Albert Pike (1809-1891). Pike supposedly wanted to create a women’s Freemasonry based on the French lodges of adoption, but rewritten to be more Masonic. Pike’s Rite did not make it. Rob Morris (1818-1888) wrote a Rite for women himself (not based on the lodges of adoption) which became more popular and would eventually lead to the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic-like organisation that women related to Freemasons can join.

“Haunted Chambers: The Lives of Early Women Freemasons” makes an alright read. Sometimes the author seems to try to fill her pages by giving a lot of biographical information that is not really interesting regarding the subject; biographical information about (grand)parents even. More amusing are cases in which the author rattled up old newspaper clippings, reports from Masonic journals, etc.

This book is not about the preamble of mixed Freemasonry. Marie Deraismes (1828-1894) is only mentioned in passing. Most of the women in this book did not ask to join and were granted to do so either; they were mostly ‘accidental Freemasons’ who were not really recognised as equal members. Is the fact that they knew (some of) the secrets of Freemasonry enough to call them “female Freemasons”? Some certainly were and those are the most interesting cases from this book. Kidd found only a handfull though.

Reading this book you will learn a thing or two about the early years of Freemasonry and the place of women in the society of that time.

2009 Cornerstone Book Publishers, isbn 1934935557

The Masonic Magician * Philippa Faulks & Robert Cooper (2008)

A book about Count Cagliostro (1943-1795) and his Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry. I knew that Cagliostro was a controversial character and that his Rite is considered irregular. His Egyptian Freemasonry would later become the Rite of Misraïm which later merged with that of Memphis (1881) to the Rite of Memphis-Misraim which is still practised here and there. It all seemed interesting enough to get the book.

The best part of the book is the fist one about “the life and time of Cagliostro”. The authors portray a man that loved humanity, healed the sick for free using his capacities. Also he was a gifted fortune teller and general esotericist and magician. People not happy with Cagliostro’s rising star started to spread rumours about him being a fraud, saying he is actually called Joseph Balsamo and generally holding down his star; rumours that follow the name of Cagliostro to our very own time while nobody really seems to know what is true and what is not. Cagliostro does not receive the benefit of the doubt. Not often that is, since Faulks and Cooper try to rehabilitate the good man.
In this first part we also follow Cagliostro’s Masonic carreer and how he came to create a Rite that he thought would not only supplement (not replace), but also perfect Freemasonry. Initial praise later became ridicule and Cagliostro’s Rite never grow very large.

The second part is about “the origins and history of Freemasonry”. Most of what you can read here is known, but the authors have a slightly different angle on the early days of Freemasonr when they bring William Shaw (1550-1602) on stage, a man who brought Western esotericism to Masonic (“operative”) lodges.
Better known history, persecution, etc. is all dealt with in this chapter.

In part three we get a translation (the first in English) of an early French transcript of the largest part of Cagliostro’s Rite (including the first three degrees). This proves to hold the middle between Rites of Freemasonry and ceremonial magic. The authors also analyze the Rite making some rather swift conclusions about sources, but this chapter does make Cagliostro’s Rite a bit alive and some explanations are worth considering.

There is a lot to say about the colourfull Cagliostry and that is exactly what Faulks and Cooper do in their 300+ paged book. It makes a nice read about an interesting time in history and interesting developments in Western esotericism.

2008 Watkins, isbn 1905857829

Western Esotericism and Rituals of Initiation * Hendrik Bogdan (2007)

“Hendrik Bogdan teaches in te Department of Religious Studies and Theology at Göteborg University in Sweden.” Apparently he has an interest in the new field of Western esotericism on universities, because he refers to scholars such as Antoine Faivre, Wouter Hanegraaff. In this book Bogdan describes Western rituals of initiation, which are (almost by definition) Masonic, Masonically related or derived from Masonic ritual. Or the other way around, Bogdan places Freemasonry and its rituals in the larger context of Western esotericism and that makes an interesting starting point.

The first chapter is dedicated to Western esotericism in general and the scholarly investigation thereof. The author refers a lot to Frances Yates, the first to approach the subject scholarly, but who is not taken too seriously in the current scholarly milieu I have the idea. Bogdan gives her the credit she deserves.
Towards the end of chapter one, the author explains what he means with rituals of initiation, contrary to rites of passage. Here he uses Mircea Eliade.

What follows next is an introduction into the subject of Masonic rituals of initiation (chapter 2), a history of Western esotericism (chapter 3) and then he starts to analyse some Masonic rituals, linking elements to Western esotericism and seeing if there is continuity. Bogdan does not differentiate between “regular” and “irregular” Freemasonry, neither does he touch upon the subject if iniation in any of the organisations that he describes is valid in the ‘Guénonian sense’. Bogdan is only interested in the texts of the rituals. He makes purely textual comparisons.

After Freemasonry we get two other ‘organisations’, the Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn and Wicca. The rituals of initiation, the degree system, etc. of both groups heavily lean on Freemasonry, so naturally Bogdan finds a lot of similarities.

The book makes a nice read. I like the approach to place Freemasonry in a larger (scholarly) field which peels off the myths that Freemasonry created for itself, but still places it in a ongoing ‘current’. The book might not be a recommended buy for people who intend to join any of the discussed organisation, since he does not shy to quote texts with grips and passwords and he describes the rites in quite some detail here and there. This will decrease the element of surprise if you want to undergo such an initiation.
For people interested in the growing field of scholarly investigations of Western esotericism, here we have one that places the largest organisation within the field within that very subject.

2007 State University of New York Press, isbn 0791470709