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Fabio Venzi

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

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

Freemasonry, The Esoteric Tradition – Fabio Venzi (2016)

If I am correct, there are now three books of Fabio Venzi available in English. The first book was a collection of essays called The Influence Of Neoplatonic Thought On Freemasonry, which I can only find for a preposterous price of $ 368,29. Then we have the previously reviewed Studies On Traditional Freemasonry and this one. The last two are available from Lewis Masonic.

In spite of the title, the present book does not have a whole lot of information about Freemasonry. Rather, it is a contemporary Traditionalistic book with some references to Freemasonry. The author starts with an introduction to Traditionalism and speaks about some of its best-known exponents. Interesting in this part is that he comments on some of the ideas of people such as Guénon, Evola and Coomaraswamy.
Later on some ‘less likely Traditionalists’ are spoken about, such as Carl Gustav Jung of whom Venzi seems to be quite fond. Jung gets many pages which do not really interest me.
Just as in the previous book that I reviewed, there are other parts which I fail to see the significance of. Largely, the book is interesting though and Venzi again proves to have some interesting and thought-provoking ideas. He also has a couple of interesting views on Masonic symbolism.

I enjoyed Studies… more, but The Esoteric Tradition again makes a nice read, especially because it is a contemporary Traditionalistic work which also dares to thread other paths than the usual.

2016 Lewis Masonic, isbn 0853185344

Studies On Traditional Freemasonry – Fabio Venzi (2013)

I ran into a Traditionalist Freemason! Fabio Venzi is an Italian Freemason (Grandmaster of the Gran Loggia Regolare d’Italia at the time of writing) who saw a few books being made available in English. The original title of this 2012 book is Introduzione alla Massoneria so the translators were aware of the Traditionalistic content of the book.

Venzi wrote a highly interesting work that is ‘very Traditionalistic’. The author has this authoritarian tone and disdain for ‘lesser’ ways of working that we also find with other Traditionalists. He quotes Guénon and Evola extensively (and hence is not afraid for Evola’s bad name), but he certainly is no slavish follower. Would he have been a slavish follower of Guénon, he probably would not have been a Freemason to start with. He shows himself an independent thinker when he proves not to be afraid of citing an author such as Charles Leadbeater.

What makes the book particularly interesting, though, is that Venzi quotes country mates of his, some of whom I never encountered in English before. I am mostly thinking of Arturo Reghini. But also Evola and even Mircea Eliade are quoted from Italian titles that I do not immediately know an English counterpart of.

Venzi has a take on Freemasonry that was new to me. He is of the opinion that Freemasonry did not directly evolve from “operative” Masonry; that Freemasonry started a a moralistic organisation that only got esoteric later. That esotericism mostly came from the so-called Cambridge Platonists.
As modernity’s destructive course ran on, Freemasonry was effected and fell back to a modernistic and moralistic organisation that has (almost?) lost its initiatic chain.

This story, Venzi tells with though-provoking chapters, but also with chapters that come across fairly superfluous to me. Quite large parts are not (really) about Freemasonry, so I can recommend this book not only to people who are interested in Freemasonry, but also to people who are interested in reading the thoughts of a contemporary Traditionalist. There is enough in this book for book types of reader.

Indeed, an unexpected book to run into. Venzi is a little less dreadful about Freemasonry as Guénon or Evola, but even though postponed, Venzi also sees a downfall for Freemasonry.

2013 Lewis Masonic, isbn 9780853184461
See here for quotes from the book.