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Freemasonry: Foundation of the Western Esoteric Tradition * Angel Millar (2013)

This is Millar’s third (and currently last) book. For me, since it was the second one he published. Also it is the least easy to get. Salamandar and Sons sell their books themselves and through a handfull of bookshops that do not list this title on their websites. Getting the book to Europe, makes it quite expensive too. The publisher is a nice one to have a further look at though, especially when you have an interest in alchemy.

Millar’s first book is a nice, but nothing really new, history of Freemasonry, mostly in America. His other two books are also about Freemasonry, but about aspects written about less. Freemasonry and its influence in the Middle East in The Crescent and the Compass and Freemasonry and it relation to esoteric and occult societies in the current title.

Now of course there have been many spectacular books written about occultism and Freemasonry, but Millar’s book is more serious and leaves aside all the conspiracy theories and speculations. It certainly makes a nice read. Millar writes about the foundation and development of some of the High Grades, semi- and para-Masonic organisations and of course how things such as Alchemy and Kabbalah krept into Masonic symbolism in its developing days.

Millar is a Freemason himself, but he does not make value judgements on irregular branches of the Masonic family and treats them like their regular brother-organisations. The same with groups and people about whom a lot of nonsense has been written such as William Wynn Westcott and Samuel MacGregor Mathers and their Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley and the Ordo Templi Orientes and Gerard Gardner and the Wicca movement.

The book is hardly 170 pages (plus bibliography and index) and this includes two appendices with etchings (on unnumbered pages) of Hejonagogerus Nugir with explanations and some images referred to in the book. The chapters are about subjects such as Alchemy Cabala and Magic, Roman Catholic Mysticism, Rosicrucians (like the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer and SRIA), Golden Dawn, O.T.O., Wicca and a short chapter about Freemasonry and Northern European paganism (which was one of the reasons to write an article about this subject).

Millar managed to get some structure in the mess of early Masonic, semi- and para-Masonic organisations, Rites, grades and people who were involved in several of those. His unbiased writing style makes this a highly recommended book for people who are interested in the named organisations and in this lively time of early Freemasonry. Several of the subjects could use some more depth, so hopefully the author has not finished his investigations of those yet.

2013 Salamander and Sons, isbn 9780987520623

The Crescent And The Compass * Angel Millar (2015)

Subtitled: “Islam, Freemasonry, Esotericism and Revolution in the Modern Age”, the description even promises Traditionalism. A promising combination!

“The Crescent And The Compass” makes a much more interesting read than Millar’s recently reviewed “Freemasonry, a history”. This is not the least because in the current book, the author walks new paths. According to himself, noone so far has investigated the influence of Freemasonry on Near-Eastern cultures and vice versa.

The first half of the book is with quite a distance the most interesting part to me. Millar opens with a chapter about “Gnosis in Shi’ism and Sufism” speaking about initiations and the various kinds of the two named branches of Islam. Chapter two continues with a similar approach to Freemasonry and quickly runs up to the connections between Freemasonry and Islam, how Sufis became Freemasons and how ‘ideologically’ mixed orders were founded. Then Millar says a thing or two on how (Near-)Eastern religion influenced Freemasonry when Freemasons opened their eyes to exotic religions of the East. The strongest influences can be found in what Millar calls “Fringe Freemasonry”, orders that work similarly to Freemasonry, but are not recognised by Masonic bodies. Chapter two is informative and entertaining.

Then we move to a Sufi Freemason that launched a revolution within the Islamic world to get rid of the colonists, but this revolution would eventually backfire and “Freemasonry” became synonymous with Western decadence in the eyes of many Muslims. In the meantime we learn about the first Muslim convert in the UK, about René Guénon and about anti-Freemasonry, a (to me) new look on the Ayatollah Khomeini and we swiftly roll into Jewish/Masonic conspiracies that followed the publication of the Protocolls of the Elders of Sion.
The start of “Prince Hall” (‘black’) Freemasonry followed by black nationalism in the USA is followed by Anders Breivik and Prince Charles in three very different chapters.

In his conclusion, and especially his afterword, Millar calls to us to develop new ways of looking at the world, especially the religion of Islam and its role therein.

I mostly enjoyed the historical parts about Freemasonry in Muslim countries, but in general this little book (some 180 pages to read) touches upon subjects close to my heart. Numen Books has added an interesting title to their roster and seeing how much attention this book gets on Facebook, the publisher might reach quite an audience with this title and the author most likely a different audience from his less innovatory title of a decade earlier.

2015 Numen Books, isbn 0994252501

Freemasonry – A History * Angel Millar (2005)

Numen Books announced a book of Angel Millar about Islam, Freemasonry and Traditionalism. A promising combination! When I set out to order this book, I noticed that the author also published the title currently under review. Would that be a history of Freemasonry from a Traditionalistic perspective? “Freemasonry” was easier to get and cheaper too, even within my own country. The other title arrived on the day that I finished this “history”, nice timing.

“Freemasonry – a history” the title says it all. The book is luxerously presented, large, heavy paper, with many colour plates (mostly aprons), a bit like the popular books about the subject. This is no picturebook though and actually the luxery format makes it a somewhat uncomfortable read. The book is too big and heavy for common reading.

Millar has been a Freemason since 2001, so he was rather quick in getting this history out. The book starts with the history/histories of Freemasonry, speaks a lot about what was there before 1717 (when the current United Grand Lodge of England was founded) and the influences on the early organisations. Millar uses the term “neo-Freemasonry” a lot, especially for later Rites and side degrees. Is everything after the original lodges “neo” to him? The book is a fairly common history of Freemasonry. It tends to focus on the USA (where the author lives), but there are also sidesteps to Europe. Not too much stress is lain on the “adogmatic” sort of Freemasonry. There are a few interesting details and here and there the author presents a not too usual angle, but I do not think I read anything really new. But, the book does give the general idea about different rites, kindred organisations, a bit of the symbology (though often much in sum). I am not sure if this book adds much to your collection if you have similar titles in your personal library. On the other hand, a history of Freemasonry written by a Freemason would be my preference, so…
A small endnote. Millar ends with three pages (an appendix) about women and Freemasonry. I know his history of Le Droit Humain is not very accurate, to say the least. I hope the same does not go for the parts of the book I am less familiar with.

2005 Thunder Bay Press, isbn 1592234097

De Paradox van Vrijmetselarij * Jimmy Koppen (2014)

This review might not be for many of my readers. Lateron it will be clear why I think this is the case. I ran into this title quite by accident. The back cover proves the book not to be one of those popular books about Freemasonry with wild theories and exposed secrets, but a book about Freemasonry in the world today. The book is written in Dutch, so there some of you may have to abstain from reading further. Also it deals mostly with Belgian Freemasonry and for comparison a bit about Dutch Freemasonry, French Freemasonry and a tiny bit about Germany. The situation of Belgium is quite unique in the world of Freemasonry and that makes this book much different from what to expect.

As you may, or may not, know, there are two kinds of Freemasonry. The first kind is globally the biggest. It is the kind that is affilated to the United Grand Lodge of England and is hence “regular”. Regular Freemasonry lives up to the so-called “Landmarks” that were determined in 1723 and -for example- state that only men can join, that there is no discussion about religion of politics in the lodge and the Bible has to be opened during the open lodge.
This makes an easy jump to the other kind of Freemasonry: “irregular” Freemasonry. The author of the book seems to prefer the term “adogmatic”. That kind of Freemasonry is irregular because it allows women to join (there are mixed lodges and women-only lodges), allows poltical discussions within the lodge, replaced the Bible by another book, made the “Grand Architect Of The Universe” optional (or skips that notion alltogether), etc. Now in most countries (like my own), the largest part of the Masonic world is regular and a minor part irregular. In Belgium the situation is much different. Two times in history the largest Masonic organisation dropped (one of the) Landmarks, lost recognition of ‘London’ and a small part split off and gained recognition again. Today of 25.000 Belgian Freemasons, only 1.750 are regular. Therefor it is not so strange that this book, being about Belgian Freemasonry, is mostly about “adogmatic” Freemasonry and that makes it much different from ‘the usual’ literature about the subject. (By the way, irregular Freemasonry comes in many forms, men-only, mixed, women-only, theistic, atheistic, etc., etc.)

And so we read Koppen discussing subjects such as people who are not allowed to join because they send their children to a Catholic school, lodges that are very actively progressively political, numerologically dominated by women, the running through eachother of Freemasonry and other freethinking organisations (in Belgium meaning politically progressive), etc. What is more, since adogmatic Freemasonry is much bigger in Belgium, in the book some elements of it form the norm and regular Masonic practices the exception. This could annoy regular Freemasons (for example most of the Dutch Freemasons) and may put other people on the wrong track; since they may think that Freemasonry is political for example. What is more, Koppen is of the opinion that all forms of Freemasonry are Freemasonry, while regular Masons are (usually) of the opinion that irregular Freemasonry falsely use the term “Freemasonry” for something very different.

Let me finally say something about the book itself. It was interesting to read how things came to be in Belgium. The question of women in Freemasonry is treated at length. Koppen also refutes many myths about Freemasonry like that it is one big, worldwide and powerfull organisation; that only the most influential members of society join; that people join to give their carreers a boost; that sort of stories. Even in Belgium Freemasonry is simply too small for these things and membership too varried. Koppen does not leave aside examples where -for example- people got a job because they were a member, politicians who are members, etc., but when compared to other organisations that different kinds of people join, Freemasonry is only an example. The reason that Freemasonry appeals to a larger audience are wild stories and of course the secret. Koppen also says a few things about that secret and wonders how much secrecy (and about what), would help or rather oppose the goals of the different organisations. The author does not understand the witch-hunt of some people ‘exposing’ members of the different orders. Why should a Freemason have to say (s)he is a member while nobody cares about membership of the Rotary, the Round Table, a Trade Union, some philosophy class or a sportsclub?

So, no book about symbols and secrets; no lists of Grand Masters and 33’ers (however Koppen mentions quite a few names); and no legendary history. “De Paradox van Vrijmetselarij” gives a history and an overview of the Belgian Masonic world with stories, anecdotes, sometimes quite detailed information that he gathered from dozens of interviews; discussions, suggestions and what not. Written as an outsider (Koppen keeps repeating he is no member) but a very well informed one.

Now you can see for yourself if this book could be interesting. I must say that I found it a quite refreshing book to read and it is nice to know how things fared in Belgium and especially how much the situation there differs from what I know about Freemasonry in my own country.

2014 Houtekiet, isbn 9089242775
For some reason this recently published book (september 2014) seems hard to get. and have it listed as unavailable. Perhaps it is due for a reprint?

Studies In Freemasonry & The Compagnonnage * René Guenon (1964/2004)

For quite some time I had wanted to read this book, but for some reason I never got to it. Would the book make clear how Guénon looked at Freemasonry in earlier days (as one of the two genuine initiatic organisations (both in the title of the present work) of the West) and in later days (the chain has been broken)? Unfortunately, it does not. The book also does not say much about Guénon’s views on Freemasonry in general, nor explanations of its doctrines by a man who claimed to be a true initiate/esotericist.
As with most books of Guénon, “Studies In…” is a compilation of articles that he wrote in different journals. These publications span a period from 1910 to 1951 and are not presented chronologically. What shows the ambiguous relation of Guénon towards his subject, is that the essays published are from both pro- and anti-Masonic publications.

So what is in the book? The last part consists of book reviews, mostly of French titles. In these reviews Guénon often portrays his superior knowledge of the subject in comparison to the authors of the books. Here and there an interesting peak into the thought of Guénon is given, but I find the book reviews not overtly interesting. The same goes for a range of articles about Martines de Pasqually, his “Ordre de Chevaliers Maçons Élus Coëns de l’Univers” and related topics. Here and there Guénon shows why he thinks De Pasqually was an initiate of a lower order and how he sees the relation to higher initiates, but these essays are mostly about a group that was perhaps Masonically related, but not Freemasonry per se. Actually I can say about the same about most of the other articles. They are about 18/19th century Freemasonry and mostly about experiments on the occultic field and the like.

A few essays make a good read for current Freemasons and people interested in Guénon’s views, such as “Masonic orthodoxy”, “The Masonic high grades” (both written in 1910 when Guénon was 26!!) and “Feminine initiations and craft initiations” (1948) since these shed a completely different light on the questions post than the answers that you usually hear.
Not the ultimate sourcebook about Freemasonry and the Compagnonnage. The book even does not answer all questions about the relation and views of Guénon to and on the subject. Still it is an interesting book to read, since Guénon seems to be a bit ‘lighter’ than what we are used to of him and here and there he is remarkably open.

For Guénon’s real or alledges dealings with Freemasonry, there are a whole lot of theories to be found on the world wide web.
1964 Éditions Traditionelles, 2004 Sophia Perennis; isbn 0900588888

The Secret Teachings Of All Ages * Manly Palmer Hall (1928)

When this 700-page book was published, the author (1901-1990) was only 28 years old. He decided to write this book in his early 20’ies and began to read the required literature. The bibliography is staggering, but Hall certainly had a few favourite sources. The book is presented as “A masterfull summation of the esoteric teachings of all ages” and “a classic in the world’s literature”. To be frank: however the work is impressive in size, it is not very much so in depth. Hall soon proves himself to lean heavily towards Theosophism and come across somewhat gullible. Also it is quite obvious that he was scholar and not an esotericist. What Hall mainly does is study a subject and pour all the information into a synopsis. He does that well, but in most cases things remain quite on the surface giving more information about the history of cults and religions than insight in their esotericisms. This is not to say that Hall does not present some thought-provoking interpretations of symbols and teachings. I especially like his chapters abour Rosicrucianity (in fact, when I bought this book I expected it to be about the secret symbols…). What bugs me is that the author makes some eyecatching mistakes, sometimes (I think) because of ignorance, sometimes of sloppiness and that makes me wonder about the parts that I do not know everything of by heart. In any case, the book is an alright read, but do not believe the raving reviews or expect a compendium of esoteric knowledge. Mind too, there are different versions, apparently not all as good as the other. Some have bad images reviewers on Amazon say. The version that I bought does not have very good images I can say.
1928 / 2003 Tarcher/Penguin, isbm 9781585422500

Early History and Antiquities of Freemasonry * Georges F. Fort (1884)

When I read Stephen Flowers little book about the Germanic origins of Freemasonry in which he refers to this title, I figured I needed to look for it. I do not remember if I forgot or just did not find it, but the recent reminder (see the comment under the Flowers title) made me look (again). The book proves to be available in a Kessinger photographic reprint (1998). Not cheap (these Kessinger books never are) and of course also available online on a few places, but I decided to get myself a copy. Fort’s book is a quite typical Masonic history book of the late 19th century drawing all kinds of connections to antiquity, but a fresh angle is Fort’s idea that the ancient European North contributed to the history of Freemasonry. However he does not really respect the ancient barbarians, he gives them full credit for some important elements of Masonic symbolism. According to Fort the route was Christianity took over pagan elements and Freemasonry got them from there. In Fort’s view, paganism is one of the sources of Freemasonry. His details are not groundbreaking or completely new (nowadays) and do not really suggest continuity, but it is nice to hear this from this corner. Flowers’ little book mostly seems a summery of parts of Fort’s work now, by the way.
1884/1998 Kessinger publishing, isbn 0766101304

Freemasonry and the Germanic Tradition * Stephen Edred Flowers (2008)

Freemasonry and the Germanic TraditionI was looking for something on Amazon when I ran into this book. The subject may be surprising to many, but not really new to me. The Dutchman Farwerck has written about the subject extensively in 1970 and I have touched on the subject in a couple of articles. I was curious what Runegilder Flowers/Thorsson has come up with.
Rûna Raven books are usually thin (this one is about 70 pages), A5 format, photocopied and not cheap to get to Europe ($ 22,- if I remember correctly). Unfortunately there no longer seems to be European distribution to cut the costs for us over here a bit. In any case, Flowers opens with a personal account of his very brief encounter with Freemasonry. He might have better looked for a lodge that fitted him instead of just turning to the local one. Flowers traces roots (not the roots) of Freemasony in the Northern European guild tradition. Not new perhaps, but he uses some arguments that I do not remember to have encountered earlier, mostly references in old texts about certain practices. The author compares Masonic rituals with Norse rituals, presents a translation of Guido von List’s Origins and Symbolism of Freemasonry (1910) (yes the Armanen fellow, not a great text but some nice references) and calls out to all “worthy brothers” to help to restore the original spirit and mission of Freemasonry and to non-Masons to not let Freemasonry die out. Flowers being a scholar is open about the problems with some of his arguments and tries his best to present good evidence, but still I have the idea that he jumps conclusions here and there. Of course this is just an initial investigation that some time somebody should finish (or should we just translate Farwerck into English?). The greatest feat of the booklet, by the way, is that Flowers mentions an early work that has dealt with the subject and of which I had not heard yet: Early History and Antiquities of Freemasonry: as connected with ancient Norse guilds and the oriental building fraternities by George Fort (1884). Something to look into.
2008 Rûna Raven Press

Symbolism Of Freemasonry * Albert G. Mackey (1882)

Freemasonry is rehearsed to the candidate by the rendition of ritual, imparted to his mind by story, and impressed upon the memory by symbols.

I was not really for a book like this, but my eye fell on it a while ago in the local second hand bookstore. It looked interesting enough to buy and so I did. Symbolism Of Freemasonry, its science, philosophy, legends, myths, and symbolism was written by Albert Gallatin Mackey (1807-1881), at least, so it seems, since several times a sentence such as “bro. Mackey did…” is to be found in the text. Since the writer has been long dead, the copyright of this book is no longer valid and it is published in numerous versions and available on the internet completely at several places. The book is not a bad read. It starts with a rather typical history of Freemasonry, placing its origins in extreme history, claiming newer religions (especially “polytheism”) degeneration of the original teachings, having numerous famous persons among its ranks and so forth. Read more about that here. Not really symbols but symbolism is explained and that is quite interesting. All explanations are quite typical, but sometimes Mackey gives some things to think about. The book is obviously the result of a degeneration of Freemasonry itself, since Freemasonry is regarded “a science of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” (p. 313). Well… no, but who am I to question that? I am no Mason myself.
A nice and easy-to-get book if you want to learn a bit more about Masonic concepts such as Solomon’s temple, the myth of Hiram, the cubic stone, the foundation stone, the winding stairs, etc.

Bouwen en Betekenis * Paul Corbey (2008 fama * isbn 9789072032225)

Bouwen en BetekenisA few weeks ago I was looking for some information on the website of the Dutch Grand East of Freemasonry. However I did not find what I was looking for, my eye fell on a new book title “Building and Meaning”. That could be interesting, a masonic book about building symbolism, so I ordered a copy. Contrary to what I expected, but book is not about symbolism of ornaments on buildings, such as my article about that subject, but about modern symbology of the “built surroundings”. What does a building look stately, the fact that nowadays you can often see what a building is for (living, office, school, etc.) or how an architect makes a building (un)fit in it’s surroundings. In the course of the book the writer shows the building process, how things differ in the Netherlands from other countries, trends in architecture and he tells us a bit about some buildings, especially during the guided tour through Den Haag. Here and there he makes the link to the Work in the Lodge, but I have the idea that he has rather progressive ideas on what Freemasonry is. The book is not a bad read and indeed Corbey displays how the use of symbolism changed during the centuries, but “Bouwen en Betekenis” was not quite what I expected; too modern, too little esotericism (or however you want to call it).