Freemasonry: Initiation By Light – Christopher Earnshaw (2020)

And number three published in the ‘spiritual Freemasonry series’. This time the author seems to imply that there will be only three books in these series.

The first book that was published in these series was very interesting, the second less so and the third is interesting again. I do -though- sure wish that it had been published in a single volume. There is a large part of history again in the beginning of this book, but it seems a bit out of place. My guess is that the author had intended a historical part and more esoteric history of the three degrees and had to spread that over three books, the result is a bit odd at times.

The largest of the three books again has much history, but it is more connected to the subject than in the previous book. Again there is a lot of focus on “the first three Grand Masters” and their connections. Earnshaw’s stance towards ‘the operatives’ confuses me. One time he seems to say that these “operatives” have nothing to do with modern Freemasonry and at other times he says that one of the first three lodges was an operative one.

We follow the trail to America and back, the expansion of Freemasonry in Britain and abroad and then comes the part that is the main focus of this book: China.

Earnshaw has a very interesting tale of Jesuits going to China, a convert visiting Britain and the influence of this Chinese Jesuit on the minds of some people close to the founders of the first Grand Lodge. Via this route Earnshaw suggests that the Dao ‘initiation by light’ heavily influenced the first degree of Freemasonry. The Chinese influences also partly explain the alchemical elements in the second degree.

I am mostly interested in Earnshaw’s information about the people around the first Grand Lodge, but the story of Shen FuZong is intriguing. The arguments and comparisons do not always convince me, but Earnshaw certainly describes how different influences came together in the early 18th century and how (possibly) modern Freemasonry was brewed from them.

2020 Lewis Masonic, isbn 979-8605924371

Quadrivium & Trivium (2010 / 2016)

You heard about the seven liberal arts, right? I thought it was time to educate myself a little, so I looked around for a book that teaches about them. That became two books which on their turn are compilations of smaller books that have been published before.

So we have ‘number’, ‘geometry’, ‘music’ and ‘cosmology’ in the first book and ‘grammar’, ‘logic’ and ‘rhetoric’ in the second.

I was somewhat disappointed when I saw the fancy presentation of the books. They look like these big audience hip books for cheap bookstores. The texts seemed alright so I started with the “Quadrivium”.

I was not all that bad in math when I was younger, so the first part about ‘number’ was quite alright. It starts with some information about different numbers, but also has more interesting subjects such as Gematria and Gnomons.

‘Geometry’ makes an interesting subject, part of the information I had recently encountered in a wholly different way (a lecture about Jacob Böhme!). When this part moves more towards art-forms it became less interesting to me.

So, the Platonic solids. They were also part of the same Böhme lecture, so I figured this could not be too hard. Hopefully partly because English is not my mother tongue and some words simply mean nothing to me, this section was pretty tough!

This became even worse with the part of the harmonograph, a very interesting device to make music visual, but I stranded in the musical terms and the section after this is… about music. I was pretty lost in that section.

Very interesting was “coincidence in the solar system”. A fascination part about proportions in space which are extraordinary similar to those down here.

Overall, the “Quadrivium” book made me question my IQ a bit too often… And the other book is about subjects many of which I was never really good at and it is in another language too.

“Grammar”, ah, that I can follow even in English. “Logic” was well enough to understand and rhetoric was… Well actually the whole two books are mostly encyclopedias, explanations of terms, rather than learning you how to use it. This is mostly apparent in the “Trivium” book. The “rhetoric” part gives a lot of theory and examples, but I cannot say that I learned much about being a better “rhetorican” and looking back, the same goes for all subjects.

So we have two nice books in which you can look up things about subjects connected to the seven liberal arts, but do not expect to be a ‘homo univeralis’ afterwards. Most subjects span just one or two pages including images. Maybe the books are meant to make you acquainted with the seven liberal arts rather than teaching them.

Freemasonry: Quest For Immortality – Christopher Earnshaw (2019)

Here we have the second publication in the “Spiritual Freemasonry” series. Here the author speaks about four books. I just ordered ‘volume 3’ Freemasonry: Initiation By Light and I suppose that Freemasonry: Royal Arch which is announced for September 2020 is the fourth title.

The previously reviewed title has an interesting history of esoteric currents and how people involved in “the Revival” of Freemasonry of 1717 fit into these currents. This time there is again a lot of history, but this time dull and I do not always see its use. 70% Of the book is filled with a history of the United Kingdom. Of course some of that says something about the ‘whys’, ‘whens’ and ‘whos’ of early Freemasonry, but of much of it I fail to see the connection.

There is a short chapter about Freemasonry and Kabbala, but unfortunately Earnshaw does not say when and through whom Kabbala found its way into Masonic symbolism, while exactly that was the interesting part concerning Alchemy in the previous book.

I was curious about the parts of this book about the Medieval mystery plays, in which Earnshaw sees the origin of the third degree, but that short part is not too strong.

Towards the end there is some note of the “signposts” (see previous review) and again the Alchemical origins of Masonic symbolism. That is the better part of the book.

With the first Constitutions, the history of Freemasonry was rewritten and expanded to include a glorious legend. The first Grand Masters, George Payne, John Desagulier, together with Anthony Sayer and possibly James Andersson, rewrote the three degrees with the objective of emphasizing the immortality of the soul, at a time when that concept was under attack. (p. 198)

Maybe some stress lays on the third degree in this book, but it is not like it is a book about the third degree, just as the previous was not entirely about the second. The previous book is the more interesting also with regards to the bigger picture that Earnshaw tries to sketch.

2019 Lewis Masonic, isbn 1673308120

Freemasonry: Spiritual Alchemy – Christopher Earnshaw (2019)

The author was writing a book about spiritual Freemasonry and when the book pushed 550 pages the publisher asked to split it into three books because readers would be overwhelmed by a 500 page book. I personally would not have a problem and taken that this book is targeted at Freemasons (the publisher being Lewis Masonic) who, I guess, are used to reading too, I wonder if that was really the reason.

In any case, Spiritual Alchemy was published in August 2019. Then we have Freemasonry: The Quest For Immortality which was published in December 2019 and the upcoming Freemasonry: Initiation By Light (due April 2020). My guess was that Spiritual Alchemy was the first to read. Amazon has it listed as “spiritual Freemasonry series book 2” and towards the end I understand that the present title is mostly about the Fellow Craft degree (the second) and The Quest For Immortality about the third degree. Strange order of publishing! So when you want to read them by grade, perhaps you should wait until the Entered Apprentice book Initiation By Light.

Read More »Freemasonry: Spiritual Alchemy – Christopher Earnshaw (2019)

The Last Heresy – Fabio Venzi (2019)

The two previous books of Venzi that I reviewed are great, esoteric Freemasonry, very Traditionalistic. His latest work is mostly historical.

As the subtitle says, the present title investigates: “The Catholic Church and Freemasonry. Three centuries of misconception, Satanism, Gnosticism and Relativism”

Especially in the first part of the book the author quotes publications from the Vatican on Freemasonry. I suppose that this compilation is interesting to some. It does seem a comprehensive overview, so this will be handy for people with an interest in the subject.

I only started to find the book more interesting when Venzi treats the different subjects to show how the Church misunderstands the subjects it accuses Freemasonry of and of course, how it misunderstands Freemasonry.

For defence, Venzi keeps referring to the very Christian Emulation Rite which I am sure he knows is only worked by a very small part of Freemasonry as a whole.

As I said, the book is mostly historical. I think a large part of Freemasonry does not care much what the Church says about them. Perhaps some in “regular” Freemasonry do. After the publication of the book talks between the Vatican and (some?) “regular” organisations has been started and I suppose this book can help in forming a picture and quick access to points from either side.

2019 Lewis Masonic – isbn 0853185662

The Three Stages Of Initiatic Spirituality – Angel Millar (2020)

The latest Millar is published by Inner Traditions, known for English publications of Evola, but the publisher has also published books from Joscelyn Godwin, Stephen Flowers, Henri Corbin, but also more new-agey books.

Millar has made a name in Masonic circles with a book on Lewis Masonic and many lectures, but he is not afraid to connect his name to smaller imprints such as Manticore Press and now a publisher with ‘controversial’ publications.

This also shows Millar’s own varried interests and that variety is clearly portrayed in his latest book. Where he earlier published books specifically about Freemasonry, he slowly shifted towards “Freemasonry+” and now we go from Freemasonry (a little bit) to ceremonial magic and from Islamic esotericism to Aleister Crowley.

As you can expect with the subtitle “craftsman, warrior, magician”, there is an influence of Georges Dumézil (though he is seldom mentioned) and his division of three “functions”. Millar also refer to Mircea Eliade, René Guénon, Julius Evola and a few other Traditionalists.

It had been a bit too long since I read any comparitive mythology and comparitive religion, but alongside Dumézil’s three “functions”, Millar oftentimes refers to the four “ages” (Gold, Silver, Bronze, Iron) found in many myths and religions and in the writings of Traditionalists.

It may not be new that he poses that within all three “functions” there are initiatic paths, but Millar suggests his readers to practice all three, more in the sense of functions than (what is more often the explanation) classes (“castes”).

Something similar Millar does with the ages. They are not so much successive time-periods, but more like ‘levels’, so an initiate (or more generally, a spiritual person) may ‘reach’ for the Golden Age. That age is more like the goal or endpoint of spiritual development and not so much a time that lays in the distant past.

And so we Millar guides his readers through different forms of spirituality, different paths of initiations, making cross-references and comparisons. Surely interesting!

I do not always follow the author’s assumptions. I would -for example- not place ceremonial magic in Dumézil’s third “function” and I see little in the references to Carl Jung, but different ideas from my own are always good to ponder about. It is nice to see that Millar does not shy to name Guénon together with Blavatsky, Freemasonry together with sex magic and martial arts with Gnosticism. He may bring some uncommon ideas to readers of his previous works.

Ultimately, the Craftman, Warrior and Magician – like the mind, body, and spirit – are not separate but connect and overlap in different ways. […]

Yet today society emhasizes the intellect and promotes specialization in education and employment. As a result, we produce technicians and dogmatics, and we revere the sickly intellectual who, enstranged from the physical, attacks both beauty and strength. (p. 206/7)

A call for a more spiritual life and since Millar writes about so many different approaches, not afraid to be critical here and there, the book has a potential wider audience than his previous works.

2020 Inner Traditions – isbn 1620559323

Actionism – Lennart Svensson (2017)

I do not have good memories about the other book of Svensson that I reviewed, but I see that my review was quite positive.

The new book is presented as a practical perennialist handbook, which probably got me into ordering it. I found the book quite a tiring read and rereading my review of Borderline I see that much of my criticism of it, also applies to Actionism. The difference is that the present title left a less positive impression.

Actionism presents a system, but this might well be just Svensson’s system. The system is some sort of self-help for a Traditionalist man in the contemporary world. The first part of the book is alright, it outlines the author’s ideas, many of which are not mine, but that is alright.

Then texts start to appear of which the purpose is not always clear to me, quite like in Borderline. Lengthy retellings of novels and other books, a massive part with a diary of the author or poems, usually parts that I only skipped through. Then there are again the anoying acronyms, as if “ANOTT-BOTSOTT” makes it easy to remember “Act Not On The Thing, But On The Soul Of The Thing”.

Actionism is about summoning your Will and to lead your Thought, merging the two to Will-Thought and affirming the Inner Light, a spark of the Divine Light. To all this, saying “I AM” is the performative confirmation.

I do like the idea of a handbook for modern living for the conservative, but I am afraid this book does not ‘work’ for me.

2017 Manticore Press, isbn 0994595875

Formen und Inhalte freimaurerischer Rituale – Jan Snoek (2017)

Jan Snoek (1946-) is a renowned Masonic scholar. This works both ways: he is a scholar, he is a Freemason and since many years, Freemasonry is his main object of investigation.

I have ran into Snoek several times. Of course because he is one of the best known Dutch scholars in the field and because he used to lecture about the subject. Snoek did not remain in the Netherlands though.

Snoek is an avid writer. He is a member of several study lodges. He does nto confine his subjects to those of “regular” Freemasonry, as he also writes about Freemasonry and women and it is also in that field that I found writings of him before.

For Snoeks 70th birthday, his studylodge in Bayreuth, Germany, published a “Festschrift” in which many of Snoeks previously published texts are bundled. The texts are both in English and German, about 50/50 and span a variety of subjects. Usually they are very interesting, especially because Snoek is not afraid to swim against the stream here and there. Also interesting, in notes Snoek sometimes gives updates from between the original writing of the text and the republication in this book.

It is quite amazing how the book contains subjects that I had decided to delve into some time, such as the variations on the Hiram myth (no use for my anymore to invest time in that now!). Snoek also collected a massive amount of ritual texts, old, new, famous and obscure, which he refers to a lot.

What may be Snoeks most ‘controversial’ stand is that besides the known Masonic traditions known as those of the “antients” and the “moderns” there were other traditions, most interestingly the elusive Rite called Harodim or Heredom. What is probably even more controversial is that Snoek argues that this Harodim tradition started to initiate women and slowly Harodim symbolism found its way into the so-called “adoption” lodges (initiation women). Adoption lodges which have been there almost from the start, when contemporary Freemasonry crossed the Canal from the UK to France.

Although being a scholar, Snoek is also interested in the esoteric side of Freemasonry, so you can also read about Masonic connections to currents such as Kabbalah or Hermeticism.

Very, very interesting indeed!

2017 Salier Verlag, isbn 3943539857

Oog Voor De Wereld – Brink, Martin, Muratori (2019)

Until March 14th there is an exhibition about Jacob Böhme in the Embassy Of The Free Mind (aka Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica aka Ritman Library) in Amsterdam. In a way, it is part of a travelling exhibition. In 2017 there was an exhibition in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, after Dresden there was an exhibition in Coventry cathedral and at the end, there will be a permanent exhibition in Görlitz, the place on the German / Polish border where Böhme lived most of his life. I was in Görlitz years ago and there was not too much about Böhme there, so it is good that this will change.

Scholars from Dresden, Coventry and Amsterdam have worked together on a book / catalogue of which there seem to be Dutch, English and German versions (I have not found webshops that sell the English and Dutch versions, but the Ritman website is worked at).

The Dutch book has three introductions, then speaks about the life of Böhme (Cecilia Muratori), portraits (Lucinda Martin), concepts from Böhme’s philosophy (Muratori and Martin) and then Böhme in Amsterdam (José Bouwman and Cis van Heertum) and the etches of Michael Andreae (Boudewijn Koole).

Much of what can be found in this pretty book I have ran into somewhere. Since Böhme is pretty hard to read it is always welcome when people manage to give some sort of apprehensible summery and Muratori and Martin manage pretty well. The part about Böhme in Amsterdam makes a nice read too.

Early Dutch and German publications of Böhme contained title plates of which only recently the creator became known: Michael Andreae. Andreae fell out of grace of the publisher and his plates and accompanying texts were removed. Readers were not amused and the plates and texts were published separately and these are translated and presented here. The texts are as elusive as those of Böhme himself!

Compared to Böhme’s own work, this book is easy reading, but the highly spiritual philosophy of Böhme is not easy to start with. The book makes a nice addition to recent and less recent Böhme publications, so if you can, you should visit the exhibition and buy the book or at least buy the book when the library has got its webshop back up. It is a luxurious publication with many images.

2019 Sandstein verlag, isbn 9783954985302

Ancient Magic – Philip Matyszak (2019)

This book would have fitted well within the roster of Manticore Press perhaps even from the hand of helmswoman Gwendolyn Taunton. It focusses on the dark side of ancient Roman and Greece culture. The weird ways of magic. Instead, the book is published on the large art publishing house Thames & Hudson.

Perhaps there is too much humour in Matyszak’s book for Manticore and perhaps it is not scholarly enough either. As a matter of fact, the book makes fairly light literature. Sure, the book is about all kinds of dark magic, necromantia, extreme love spells, summoning demons, but as the book continues, the authors thought to have to pour in more and more silly remarks. Often they are funny, mind you, but the book is an amusing account of ancient magic that reads like a ‘normal book’, not an in depth investigation into the different kinds of magic.

That said, the book makes an amusing read with funny anecdotes and weird accounts from famous literature and art.

2019 Thames & Hudson, isbn 0500052077