The Spirit Of Masonry * Foster Bailey (isbn 0853301352 * 1957)

I ran into a second hand version of the 1985 Dutch translation (“Zin en Betekenis van de Vrijmetselarij”) of this book and in the same week I noticed that this translation is still in print when I got a fund-list of the publisher. Funny how these things can go.

This little book (170 pages) is written by an American mason and not -as with many books about the subject- by an outsider. This has pros and cons. The disadvantage when insiders write about their own group/tradition is that you often get to read how great everything is, the official stories and of course the ideal plate of how the organisation should be. This is not the case with this book by Bailey. Bailey writes very openly and honestly about the Masonic tradition and gives critique and points to flaws. Not that this is a negative book, Bailey remains a Mason and proud of being so, but his way of writing gives a very nice inside view of the subject.

The book starts with the purpose of Freemasonry. This is (among other things) helping mankind (and not just Masons) on the path of evolution.
Then follows a nice part about the origin of Freemasonry. There are three major theories, supported inside as outside the Masonic lodges. The first is that Freemasonry originated in the 17th century. The second that the origin goes back to the building of the temple of Solomon. The last theory says that Freemasonry has been there since the dawn of mankind, but not under the specific name. Also the Jewish influece is dealth with at lengh.
Other chapter speak about the symbolism, landmarks and the building of the temple.

Then there is a second part which speaks about the Masonic community, the good and ‘bad’ people in it; Masonry in society and the future of Freemasonry.

As I said, Bailey is open, honest and critical and even though the book is almost 50 years old, it is a very nice read.

Symbols Of Freemasonry * Daniel Béresniak (isbn 2843232015)

The title is more promising than the book makes true. “Symbols Of Freemasonry” is a thin book (128 p.) and not exactly an encyclopedia. It is very beautifully produced though. Heavy paper with every other paper a beautiful photo. 19 Subjects are spoken about. Not always totally interesting, but sometimes it is. And I got it for a nice price (E 8,-), so why not?

Artisans and Guilds of France * Francois Icher (isbn 0810943905)

What do you know? A while ago I have been digging through French texts from the internet in order to give you the history of “le Compagnonnage” in English. Quite a task I can tell you. Recently I was at a book-fair and for an unknown reason my eye fell on a book with a inconspicuous cover and an inconspicuous title. When I opened it and started to page through it, my eye fell on the term “compagnonnage” in the index. Closer investigation proved that this book is entirely about this mostly French order! The book is extremely big, very luxery printed and also very expensive. It costs $ 50,- at Amazon, but I got it for E 12,50 or so (and new too!). Anyway, a very nice history of le Compagonnage. It is a translation of a French book of 1909 and now published to prevent this dying out French order to flow away with the waters of Lethe. The text is good, the great amount of pictures are great and I can recommand this (as far as I know) only English text (outside my own!) about “the journeysmen” to everyone interested. Be sure to also read my article in the articles section.

Masonic And Esoteric Heritage – Andréa Kroon, Marty Bax, Jan Snoek (2005)

On 20 and 21 oktober 2005 held in Den Haag. The conference was a co-organisation between the “Stichting OVN” (“foundation for the advancement of academic research into the history of Freemasonry in the Netherlands”, site under construction) together with Wouter Hanegraaff of Amsterdam Hermetica. The subject of the conference was important: “new perspectives for art and heritage policies”. The decision if a building, a garden, an interior or whatever should get the status of monument is usually taken by people who are unaware of Masonic or esoteric symbolism. Also for examples buildings designed with certain ideas are often wrongly restored or altered to serve modern needs and I even haven’t mentioned paintings or other forms of contemporary art. The organisers of this congres think it is time to combine the knowledge of art-historians and scholars on the field of Western esotericism to prevent more important heritage to be lost. Also people should be aware that a Masonic temple is as valuable as a Christian church from the same time and therefor worth preserving. The organisers thought it wise to start with a conference to make scholars of other fields acquainted with esoteric symbology and also to draw attention to the subject.

How expensive the conference was, as cheap is the very nice publication that followed it. You can get the book from Stichting OVN for only 10 euro plus shipping. For this you will get a very nice book of 246 pages with 17 essays and a long list with references where to get more information. The essays are by Wouter Hanegraaff who opens with a general introduction into Western esotericism; Henrik Bogdan with a (in my opinion slightly out of place) text about Gustav Adolph Reuterholm; Diane Clements who speaks about the architecture and art of the Freemason’s Hall in London; Christopher McIntosh who has a very nice text about symbolic garden design; Melanie Í–hlenbach who says something about Philipp Otto Runge (a painter); then follows a text about both “Goetheaniums” designed by the founder of the Antropsophical Society Rudolf Steiner, by Helmut Zander; Marijo Ariëns-Volker writes about the esoteric side of Picasso and contemporaries; Giovanna Costantini does the same with Giorgio De Chirico. Then we turn to the heritage with Alan Solomon, a stockbroker who ran into a strange symbol in a building near NY’s “ground zero”; Masonic garden design is spoken about by Erik Westengaard; Eugène Warmenbol describes Masonic temples in Belgium; Malcolm Davies writes about Masonic music; Andréa Kroon informs you about the (changing) atitude towards (possible) esoteric buildings in the Netherlands and Marty Bax renders a year-long investigation of a building with Theosopnical architecture. The last part is about “interdesciplinary research and conservation”, opened by Andreas Í–nnerfors and Jonas Andersson who give information about Swedish freemasonry; Andrew Prescott who sees “Freemasonry as part of national heritage” and Kroon closes off with “the pilot-study ‘Masonic heritage in the Netherlands, 1735-1945′”.

Now that Amsterdam has a university chair for the study of Western esotericism the academic knowledge of (the existence) of it is finally growing, so the possibilities to join forces grew. Many art-students follow the classes of Hanegraaff and his followers, which proves that the tide is indeed changing. This is important, because (as Kroon describes in her essay) important buildings get lost because of the ignorance property developers and of the people having to decide about monument-statuses. Global scholars now joined forces to inform their colleges in other disciplines, so hopefully most of what is left can and will be preserved in the future.

An important subject and a very nice book to read for the non-scholar (like myself) too. There could have been more examples (images) in the book though. In America I have ran into numerous obviously Masonic buildings, monuments and grave-stones, but if people even don’t recognise the compass and the square, how should they recognise the more ‘hidden’ symbols (or symbology in the architecture itself)? People who may be interested in the subject and get this publication as guideline, might want to have a few examples so they know what to look for. For the rest, and especially for this price, nothing but praise!

2005 Stichting OVN, isbn 908077782X

Noord-Europese Mysteriën en hun sporen tot heden * F.E. Farwerck (Ankh-Hermes 1970 (1978 2nd print))

A while ago my eye fell on the back of this book when I visited a second-hand bookshop and passed a section that I normally don’t check out. I don’t believe I knew this book, but paging through it I already found it interesting enough to pay a relatively high price for it. “Northern-European Mysteries and their sources to the present” is a massive book of 650 pages in a very small fonttype, but with quite a lot of images. As the title suggests, it speaks about mystery-cults of Northern Europe. Of course we know about mystery religions from ancient Greece, the Middle East and northern Africa, but northern Europe? Naturally the writer speaks about Scandinavian, German and some Celtic mythology and religion and gives the little information that we have that point towards mystery-practises in these traditions. Doing this you will read a lot about folklore in the countries of the European north, Northern mythology and the like. When focussing on the religious and mystery-practises, Farwerck shows how reminiscenes of these can be found in more recent times upto the present day. This is interesting enough, but more interesting it becomes when Farwerck treats Freemasonry as the natural descendant of mysteries of Northern Europe and follows the known Masonic practises back into the past. Very interesting and this book is truely a standard-work with tons of notes for even more (detailed) information.

When I was already reading the book, I read that Farwerck had ‘spoiled past’ and some further investigation proved that he was one of the big cheeses of the NSB, the Dutch nazi-party in WWII. Farwerck was the person who wanted to replace Christianity by the ancient religion of the North. Not that you will notice much of this past in this book, but just so you know.

This review must have been written in 2002 or 2003. The date below is from when I changed from an html website to WordPress.