A book review by Frederic L. Milliken
From the day I was raised 26 years ago I have always heard that Freemasonry was an outgrowth of the Medieval Stone Masons Guilds that gradually took on speculative members as church building waned. Then along came historian John J. Robinson who wrote in Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry,
There remained no reasonable doubt in my mind that the original concept of the secret society that came to call itself Freemasonry had been born as a society of mutual protection among fugitive Templars and their associates in Britain, men who had gone underground to escape the imprisonment and torture that had been ordered for them by Pope Clement V.
Those were not the only two theories of Freemasonry’s origin that existed but in my time they were the two most common theories debated. John Nagy in his book, The Craft Unmasked – The Uncommon Origin of Freemasonry and its Practice, lists many other theories:
The Origins of Freemasonry
And #13 is Nagy’s Unmasking of the Craft, his answer as to the origin of Freemasonry. And what is that answer? Oh no, that you are going to have to find out by reading the book. Besides you wouldn’t believe him without all the corroborating evidence that is in the book to back up his claim. If I printed all of that in this review I might as well have just scanned the whole book and posted that. Of course that would be cheating Brother Nagy out of just compensation. If this was a murder mystery review you wouldn’t want me to tell you who did it now would you?
Nagy warns that the book could be upsetting to some Freemasons and that, “Revealing anything in this book to others who have yet to read it, shall both ruin the intended experience of the book for them and prevent you from having a rich discussion about it with an informed person.” So take due notice and govern yourselves accordingly.
Nagy tells us, “It should be abundantly clear that stonemasonry and Freemasonry are nowhere near the same.” He goes on to say, “At one point in time in the Middle Ages, it took seven years to earn the right to be a Journeyman, otherwise known as a Fellow in the Craft. For an Apprentice to become a Fellow Craft within the Freemasonic Order, no skill development or servitude under a Mentor is required. Memorization of words, signs and grips are almost universally required. Some Apprentices are required to know the Obligations they learned during their first Degree.”
Next comes a lament you will find throughout Nagy’s book, “Candidates Entering the Society usually have high hopes of being surrounded by men who have actually developed Life Masteries. What they find is a wide assortment of males who have yet to master themselves, much less the principles of the Craft. They also find men obsessed with memorizing things that they have no desire to understand, much less apply.”
“With no true leadership or examples of what the Society can actually do to develop good men into Better men, some members soon realize that the organization is not what they expected. Couple this with meetings that provide little to no nourishment for those who attend, it becomes very clear to any man who was initially excited about joining the Society, that if offers little more than activities that maintain the process of Initiating men three times over.”
He goes on to say this about candidates:
“They are provided an Instruction Set in the form of ritual as to what they should do to become Better men but they are provided no support to assure that they learn how to become Better men. They are only required to memorize that Instruction Set, not Execute it. It is clear that this activity and their limits do not support Freemasonic Craft in being a Progressive Science, only a stagnant script to follow that very few members understand.”
And why do few members understand Freemasonry?
Nagy claims, “Without a foundation in classical literature, scripture and related materials, there is little likelihood of any man truly appreciating anything other than superficial aspects of what the Society offers him. What’s more, when they don’t appreciate what is offered, they do not stick around much.”
Nagy is a big critic of Freemasonry’s claim to actually helping its members yet he sees in it a grand design that can change lives.
“Wouldn’t it make sense to teach men the significance of Ritual in general,” Nagy writes. “What is it supposed to activate within them? What is the significance of certain symbols, words, and gestures to as man, to what they refer within specific moments in history, and how they have been viewed in the past? Wouldn’t proper preparation include educating the man, not in what he shall experience, but in the significance of the words, phrases, gestures, symbols and allusions that he shall encounter on his journey?”
“The cultures surrounding the society today are not ones to provide unsophisticated Candidates. Not many new Candidates will willingly engage in such activities. Today’s Candidates want continuity between the act and the reality it is supposed to improve.”
“It’s most unfortunate that the society never developed itself beyond the roles it asks its members to act out. Had it taken what its scripts espouse to the next level, and provided authentic and functional support to its members in achieving what its Rituals have pointed its members toward, its membership and surrounding structure would indeed be far grander than what is currently presented.”
“Once again, it is not ever emphasized that any member understands anything that he memorizes and repeats. It is never emphasized that he must do any of the work which any of what he is memorizing points toward. He need not understand the lessons. He need not understand what the Symbols mean toward what work they direct his attention. He is not even required to discuss how he can use what he is told to memorize to Better himself. It is only important that he be able to memorize and recite back what is asked of him by his Jurisdiction.”
But as we noted before this does not lessen the potential of Freemasonry in Nagy’s eyes one bit:
“The central power of the Freemasonic Society is the mutual agreement of all its members to play the part inside and outside the Lodge. This means that the entire world is their theater and members are expected to play the part for the rest of their lives.”
“Perhaps the greatest service Freemasonic society can ever offer a man is the ability to release himself from the everyday world and immerse himself in a reality that offers him fellowship that’s not contingent upon anything other than wanting to be together for all the right reasons. In this way, Ritual does indeed Bring Order to Chaos.”
“Moreover, Freemasonry is perhaps the single most inclusive way for any man to freely and willingly immerse himself within a nurturing environment of Moral instruction that excludes the varying degrees of politically corrupting influences of any one religion.”
“Furthermore, there are some deeply spiritual men who shall never ever step foot in any religion based facility who desire to commune with other Seekers of like Mind and Spirit. For them there is and shall always be Freemasonry”
“And all members reap the benefit of their presence and wisdom as a result.”
“The Freemasonic Organization places a spotlight on every single Candidate going through each of the first three Degrees. Like a limelight in a spectacular production, the Candidate is both highlighted and at the same time shown what role he must play in life to better himself. At each Step along the way he is shown what he must focus upon to Build himself into a Better man.”
“For some time now I have described Freemasonic ritual as ‘Roadmaps for Personal Transformation.’”
When you come right down to it Nagy believes that ,“Simple in its deliverance and Masterful in its design the Craft does indeed do what it set out to do and in Grand Fashion.”
”Simply Masterful it is in every way and in ways that the majority have not recognized and understood until now.”
The meat of the book is the unmasking of the Craft and the discovery of its true origins, which you will have to read and digest yourself by buying the book. There is also Nagy’s critique of how the Craft could be better than it already is while paying due homage to its greatness at the same time. These are the points you don’t want to miss and that will provide hours of contemplation and discussion.
But there are other parts of the book that also spread Light. We won’t mention them all but one that Nagy finds important is definitions. He seems to feel that too many misunderstandings take place because we are misdefining (that’s a new word I just made up) the words we use in Freemasonry. The biggest offense comes in the use of the words “Masonry (and Mason) versus Freemasonry (and Freemason). According to Nagy:
Freemason – A Member of the Society of Free & Accepted Masons; an Accepted Mason.
Masonry – The Art and Science of Building.
Mason – A Builder
While we are at we will include one other definition.
The Craft – 1. The Whole of Freemasonic Practice. 2. Those who collectively Practice Freemasonry
Nagy comments that confusion reigns when both Freemasonry and Masonry are used interchangeably and also when some assign the word Freemason to those in the Craft who practice the principles of Freemasonry and Mason to those in the Craft who do not practice the principles of Freemasonry.
Nagy further explains, “By taking the issue of practice outside the Society and assigning it strictly to practice versus non-practice, these Brothers have assigned a distinction that removes membership from the equation defining Masons. They have opted to define Freemasons as mere members of the society of Free & Accepted Masons while in the same effort defining Masons as individuals who Practiced Principles that transform males toward maturity and wisdom regardless of affiliation.”
“In the eyes of some, Freemasons were members of a Society whereas Masons were Builders.”
“None of these definitions denoted that there was mutual exclusivity between the two. They didn’t mean that members could not be Builders too or that Builders could not be members. It merely communicated a base understanding that one was not necessarily the other and one didn’t have to be one to be the other.”
Another chapter you don’t want to miss is the one on the Word.
Nagy tells us, “From the Perspective of Freemasonic Practice, the Master’s Word is Played out every time a Member Portrays Masonry Authentically.”
“The Word is not something you can hold, say or write. You cannot possess it in any way. If anything, It must be something that possesses you and does so legitimately and authentically.”
The Word is a Metaphor. It is intended to represent something other than an actual word. To understand this metaphor, one must seek not what is communicated in its normal sense but to seek the character of what is communicated beyond the words used. Hence, to seek and actual word would be foolish, but to seek the character of The Word would be wise.”
“This is why it is so crucial to understand that The Word cannot be given to anyone. It is something that a person Becomes as a result of diligently applying Wisdom, Strength and Beauty in agreement to all he does. One does not possess The Word, One Becomes The Word; and does so through dedication and commitment of specific Work.”
“The Word is Excellence from oneself to the Degree that one does all these things Masterfully. The Word is a metaphor for Masterful Achievement.”
I also call the Nagy the question man. On Facebook or in his books he is always asking questions. I bet that if I met him in person one of the first things he would do is ask me a question. At the end of The Craft Unmasked are some questions for you to answer, or at least think about. Questions like:
“Do you know exactly what Society Ritual points toward that if pursued would continue to help transform you toward the Better?”
“If you were to step upon sacred ground, would it mean more to you knowing this fact before you stepped upon it or long after you left that soil?”
There is no doubt that what Nagy, affectionately referred to as the Coach, has written a book of much controversy. It will burst the bubble of many a Masonic scholar and researcher, and the Coach knows this. And I think he is ready for the flak that will come his way, as they used to say in Vietnam “INCOMING!” It does not seem to be in his nature to be confrontational, however, but rather to be an educator and he goes where his research has taken him.
It is so important that we understand our roots and where that leads us, where we began and where we are now going.
Nagy reminds us, “Yet, even though the Craft is hidden in plain sight, the Mystery of Masonry escapes the understanding of far too many of its members and non-Craft members. This doesn’t prevent individuals from practicing it and benefiting from its practice. Such benefits are a direct result of its application and it doesn’t require an awareness or understanding of the Craft, just a Mastering of it. The Craft is that empowering.”
“Many have come to its quarry. Many have Mastered its ways. Many have profited from its Practice. But, few actually Understand what they are truly doing. Somehow, along the way, the Craftsmen have forgotten what their Craft actually is and for what Purpose it is Practiced.”
But the Coach wants to put this all out for discussion not controversy. It is only through the meeting of minds that we shall discover ourselves as Freemasons and who we really are and where we are going. It is only through greater understanding of where we have been that we can figure where we must go in the future.
“When you remain even loosely active in Craft activities and have taken the time to discuss it at length and in depth with others, you shall soon become acutely aware that there are many aspects of the Craft that appear to be confusing at best, and deeply disconcerting at worst. These aspects shall continue to plague the Craft until such time that all members find themselves harmoniously discussing differences.”
Let’s hope that by adding this book to your library that you will be having those harmonious discussions and delving evermore deeper into the roots of Freemasonry in order to be able to shape its future for the better.
You can find Nagy’s book on Amazon here: The Craft Unmasked – The Uncommon Origin of Freemasonry and its Practice and on his website: http://www.coach.net/TCU.htm.