The occult, in the early part of the 20th century, set the stage for how it has come to be perceived in the 21st Century. Never has the explanation of the third way come into a mainstream light (except in works of fiction books and film) where it has been readily played up with bright flashes of scintillating energy and half mad megalomaniacs bent on short cutting their way to the realms of the Gods. Few have gone so far as to suggest the connection between space and the realm of the divine powers except in some of the more bizarre Lovecraftian tales of horror and suspense. (See The Best of H. P. Lovecraft). But the ground work of this 20th century occult, while shaped in one part by Manly P. hall was
also shaped in character that was formed by the man Marvel “Jack” “John” Parsons. And this tale, as told in the book “Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons” by John Carter is every bit science fact of rocket to the moon as it is Aleister Crowley‘s failure in inspiring his new aeon and Babylon working to manifest in his Thelemic following in Los Angles circa 1946. In Jack Parsons, hubris and vanity were very much a part of his wonder at the idea of sending rockets into space. But even in his explosive demise, Parson’s legacy on earth has crowned him a father of modern Rocketry with a crater dedicated to him on the dark side of the moon.
First published in 2004, Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons is the biography of Jack Parsons. A self taught scientist and rocketer, Parsons started his career path as a hobby of sorts, fueled in the exhaust of creating rockets to soar into the high earth atmosphere. This was in the age of fiction and rockets were only the dreams of explorers and fiction writers. Like all men of vision, however, Parsons worked endlessly to create sufficient thrust to make the rocket work. In this early life he also found and embraced the works of Aleister Crowley which became his faith, of sorts, by his practice of Thelema. His devotion grew over time in that he became the head of the Agape Lodge of the OTO in the mid 1940’s which met and practiced in his Bohemian home in Pasadena. In this period, Parsons regularly corresponded with Crowley, whose agents locally praised him as the successor of Crowley’s New Aeon and great work.
The book spends a considerable amount of time on Parsons life, but also included some interesting details on the Ordo Templi Orientis order that Parsons was at first so devoted to. As it reads Carter spends considerable time in developing the history of the OTO from 1895 through Crowley’s taking over and the credibility collapse of its founders Kellner, Reuss, Mathers, and Westcott. The history, as encapsulated in the book, is an interesting read especially as it contextualizes their history with Crowley, but also with their connections in Los Angeles in the early incubation of the occult today. Unlike Manly P. Hall (the author of The Secret Teachings of All Ages), Crowley sent Wilfred Smith (himself a student of the OTO and Crowley) with the purpose of opening an OTO lodge, which was incorporated in 1934 and met for the first time in 1935.
It was in this era that Jack Parson’s variously worked at the predecessor of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a variety of explosives companies, Electric companies, and gas stations (notably, even rocket scientists needing to work). In this mix of engineering academia and occult practice, Parson’s path merged in a John Dee/Edward Kelly fashion with the infamous L.Ron Hubbard (before his Scientology fame). In this time, Hubbard variously played scribe, confidant, and polyamerious love interest to Parson’s spouse Betty who, Carter writes, Hubbard absconded with along with the start up capitol that he and Parson’s had used to start a business. Crowley even going so far to say of Hubbard: “Suspect Ron playing confidence trick–Jack Parsons weak fool–obvious victim prowling swindlers.” In a letter a few days later he said, “It seems to me on the information of our brethren in California that Parsons has got an illumination in which he lost all his personal independence. From our brother’s account he has given away both his girl and his money. Apparently it is the ordinary confidence trick.”. Included in the book are the notes Hubbard took while acting as scribe in Parsons ritual workings.
From his start, it seemed Parsons was destined for something great (magickly or otherwise), but ultimately met his demise in a fiery explosion in his garage turned laboratory/workshop. Sensing his end, perhaps, Carter reports that the last words spoken by Parsons were “I wasn’t done…“. This final utterance is cryptic in that his professional life had blurred the line with his occult life leaving us to wonder which work he saw unfinished. Carter suggests that Parson’s was a man drawn by an over arched Oedipious complex and a life long search for a father figure, both in Smith and in Crowley himself. At his end, it would seem he found it in neither.
Carter does an ample job in giving life to Parson’s beyond his mundane occupation of jet propulsion and established him as one of the patriarchs of the occult in Los Angeles. As notable as he is in the scientific community, few know his name in the occult community. What his tangible contribution is will be up to those who follow in his footsteps, but his early dalliances and their display in the public sphere ushered in the modern perception of the occult and quite possibly the era of the baby boomers and their unknown working of the Thelemic philosophy that Parsons hoped would take hold. Parson’s, despite his end, explored the paths he wanted to physically and spiritually. His unfinished work being his legacy, left for us to continue to explore.
I have never reviewed two books together before but there is a good reason for doing so. “The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fictions“ by Margaret C. Jacob and “Revolutionary Brotherhood“by Steven Bullock are both written by historians who are not Freemasons. They both write from the same point of view, that is they look at the world through the same discipline that they were trained in. Both books are a look at Freemasonry’s interaction with society, of the Craft’s effect on the political, religious and economic systems of a nation and the reverse, the effect of the systems on Freemasonry. In fact in reading both books I felt as if I was back in college in SOC 101. The full title of Bullocks book is “Revolutionary Brotherhood, Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730-1840.”The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fictions and Bullock are looking at Freemasonry through the eyes of a Sociologist and they are dispassionate, objective observers because they are not members of the Craft. They have no agenda driving them nor do they care if Freemasonry doesn’t come out always smelling like roses. It’s about time we Freemasons got some scholarly work from knowledgeable academics who are not members of Freemasonry.
The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fictions said it best when she penned these words:
“When entering the world of the eighteenth-century Masonic life the historian must assume a willing suspension of disbelief. How else are we to understand why women and men would devote many hours a month, spend lavishly in the process, and covet the opportunity to participate formally in quasi-religious, yet secular ceremonies that we can only dimly imagine as meaningful and satisfying.”
Both books deal primarily with 18th century Freemasonry, although Bullock does stretch it out to the pre Civil War period. Both discuss the origins of Freemasonry and then go on to trace the Craft’s development through the various changes in society and how that influenced Freemasonry. But also there is the recognition that perhaps the development of Freemasonry influenced the changes in society. There is the age old question of which comes first the chicken or the egg and both authors are more interested in cataloging the steps of development rather than making a referee’s ruling on who gets the most credit.
The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fictions sticks pretty much to European Freemasonry and Bullock to American (U.S.A.) Freemasonry yet each must venture into the other’s sphere to make the story complete.
The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fictions has five chapters, abbreviated as follows- Origins, Daily Lives, Schools of Government, Freemasons and the Marketplace, and Women in Freemasonry. The book makes a number of good points so let’s look at those.
As a historian The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fictions firmly asserts that the origin of Freemasonry was a transition from Masonic guild to modern speculative Freemasonry. She tells us that early notable Freemasons such as Sir Robert Moray and Elias Ashmole, “may have believed that masonry put him (them) closer to the oldest tradition of ancient wisdom, associated with Hermes, out of which mathematics and the mechanical arts were said to have nourished.” Freemasonry claiming origins from the Knights Templars or Rosicrucians is just fantasy run amuck. As a side comment she addresses the modern demise of Freemasonry because, “Voluntary associations that radically crossed class lines have largely disappeared, replaced by advocacy groups or professional associations.”
She goes on to say that it was new market forces that caused an evolution of guild decline and disappearance. Only the British stonemasons were able to survive, largely because they had a “richness of lore and traditions” and they were highly skilled.
As commerce and business were conducted in a new manner causing the old guilds to wane, surviving stonemasons guilds took on non laborers for needed monetary gain and thus as a means of survival. Gentlemen Freemasons soon overtook the membership of Lodges and were in charge of their operative Brethren. “Suddenly, whole initiation ceremonies were created to install the master in his ‘chair’.”
These revamped guilds now half speculative Lodges instituted “degrees” by which its operative and non-practicing Brethren might be distinguished from each other. There came about a marked gain in literacy and the Lodges performed a great amount of charitable work that society and the government had not yet equipped itself to do.
“In town and city the power of the old guilds to regulate wags and labor had now been broken. But the collectivist definition of liberty and equality inherent in guild culture could be given new meaning. It could now pertain to the aspirations of the political nation. Voters and magistrates could meet within the egalitarian shell provided by the guild shorn of its economic authority and in most cases of its workers. In the new Masonic lodges urban gentlemen, as well as small merchants and educated professionals, could practice fraternity, conviviality, and civility while giving expression to a commonly held social vision of their own liberty and equality. They could be free-marketeers while hedging their debts. By bonding together through the fraternal embrace, they sought refuge from harsh economic realities if bad fortune made poverty seem inevitable.”
Another theme in the book is that manner in which Lodges and Grand Lodges governed themselves not only paved the way for these methods to be adopted by civil society but it was good practice or training for those who would fill those civil roles. In England she says that government and society first started modern democratic reforms that spread to Freemasonry.
“Now seen to be enlightened, Masonic practices such as elections, majority rule, orations by elected officials, national governance under a Grand Lodge, and constitutions – all predicated on an ideology of equality and merit – owed their origin to the growth of parliamentary power, to the self-confidence of British urban merchants and landed gentry, and not least, to a literature of republican idealism. The English Revolution was the framework within which Masonic constitutionalism developed.”
But not so for the rest of Europe.
“The lodges brought onto the Continent distinctly British forms of governance: constitutions, voting by individual, and sometimes secret ballot, majority rule, elected officers, ‘taxes’ in the form of dues, public oratory, even courts for settling personal disputes; eventually the lodges even sent representatives to organized Grand Lodges.”
The last chapter traces women in Freemasonry from the beginnings in the 1740s as Adoptive Lodges started to form through the end of the 18th century. Jacob makes the point that if it was important for men to gain experience in democratic self government through participating in the workings of Lodges and Grand Lodges that it was doubly so for women. Women in the public sphere at this time had no freedom or ability to influence anything. It was only in a private venue that women could gain some measure of control over their lives and influence others.
And so Jacob credits the Adoptive Lodges with giving women the start on the road to feminism. First the Lodge, followed by the Salons and then the Republican Clubs. Jacob takes us through the constant development and refinement of the Adoptive ritual each step along the way women having more control over the Lodge practices.
“Like the salons, then, the lodges of adoption may be presented as entry points to the organizing concepts of the Enlightenment. The lodges become ‘secret’ places where women’s power and merit grew and were expressed through elaborate ceremonies (many of them published), and where large numbers of women first expressed what we may legitimately describe as early feminism.”
I found the Origins of Freemasonry to be less about the origins and more an 18th century development of European Masonry. The first thing the book could use is a better title. For such a lofty and inclusive work the book was quite short, 132 pages not counting appendixes. I found Chapter 2 that dwelt on Masonic diaries to be unappealing and not very informative. Jacob says that she put the book together from expanding and revising some earlier essays. I get the feeling that they might have been lectures or speeches or classroom professorial treatises that were added onto. The writing seemed choppy and the themes sometimes overlapping. For instance in chapter one, Origins, much time and words were devoted to the thoughts of Chapter three, Schools of government and Chapter five, Women in Freemasonry. This often happens when you are lecturing and continuing on from week to week in the same vein. Of course that may not be the case but I just get that feeling.
Yet there were many good points made about Freemasonry and historical observations that were top notch. Margaret C. Jacob is an eminent historian and she knows what she is talking and writing about. This was a nice little scratching of the surface. What it could or should have been is a 500 page exhaustive study. Let’s just say I appreciated the author’s mind but I just didn’t like the presentation.
“Revolutionary Brotherhood“ is a much more extensive work of 319 pages not counting appendixes. Steven Bullock outlined in the Introduction exactly what the book was going to contain. After reading the entire book cover to cover that outline is the best summation of what Revolutionary Brotherhood is all about.
“This work seeks to understand the appeal of Masonry for eighteenth – and early nineteenth century Americans and, from that perspective, to illuminate the society and culture that first nurtured and then rejected it.”
“Such an examination makes clear that Masonry, rather than being entirely separate from the world, changed dramatically in conjunction with it. Four major shifts in the fraternity and its context are examined, in chronological sections. The story begins with the fraternity’s creation in England and its transit to colonial America, where it helped provincial elites separate themselves from the common people and build solidarity in a time of often bitter factional divisions (Part I). These leaders, however, would be overtaken in the Revolutionary period as lesser men appropriated the fraternity for their own purposes, spreading it to inland leaders as well as Continental army officers (Part II). These changes prepared the way for the period of Masonry’s greatest power and prestige, the years from 1790 to 1826, when Americans used Masonry to respond to a wide range of needs, including their hopes for an enlightened Republic, their attempts to adapt to a mobile and increasingly commercial society, and their desire to create a separate refuge from this confusing outside world (Part III). This multiplication of uses involved Masonry in conflicting and even contradictory activities and ideas, a situation that exploded in the midst of a widespread attempt to reform and purify American society based on the principles of democracy and evangelicalism. The resulting Antimasonic movement virtually destroyed Masonry in the North and crippled it in the South. The fraternity revived in the 1840s and 1850s but without the high pretensions to public honor and influence that had made it seem so overwhelming to men such as Salem Town (Part IV).”
What is so eye opening and important about this book is the realization that American Freemasonry was not always this monolithic, never wavering, never changing institution. Freemasons today sometimes try to paint the Craft as always being this or always being that when in reality Freemasonry was always changing. And that says a lot about what the future might hold for American Freemasonry as it may very well be going through another period of significant reinvention of itself.
Bullock gets us briefly started in merry old England to lay the background for the exportation of Freemasonry to the American colonies.
“Speculative Masonry developed within the London intellectual and social circles that surrounded Newton, partaking of the same confusions, the same mixing of traditions that marked him and his Masonic friends such as Stukeley and Desaguliers. The origins of the fraternity lay in the encounter between these cosmopolitan groups and operative Masons’ mysterious heritage and practices. To protect the antiquity they perceived there and the hope for a deeper knowledge of universal truth, early speculative brothers created a powerful organization and a regular series of degrees that reaffirmed the link between the new group and ancient wisdom.”
What Bullock is telling us here which is so fascinating is that while modern speculative Freemasonry grew out of the operative Guilds who had specialized, privileged and private knowledge it did not remain a labor movement but got co-opted by early 18th century English intellectuals who sought to bring back ancient mysteries bordering on the occult and the wisdom of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome and also by the elites of society and the players at his majesty’s Court and Parliament who were feeling the spread of power among the upper crust.
And this is how Freemasonry came to American as Bullock titles the Chapter on this period, “The Appearance of So Many Gentlemen – Masonry and Colonial Elites 1730-1776.” The two central themes of Colonial Masonry were love and honor. Bullock tells us, “Colonial leaders saw the fraternity as a means to build elite solidarity and to emphasize their elevation above common people.” Lodge members consisted of those of wealth, political, religious, and business leaders and the professional class, lawyers and physicians being heavily represented. Dues were set high, as much as two month’s wages for the average workman, to keep out the riffraff. In the late 1730s Boston’s First Lodge increased dues so that it would not exclude “any man of merit” but would “discourage those of mean spirits, and narrow, or Incumber’d fortunes” so that none should enter who would be “Disparagement to, and prostitution of Our Honor.”
Bullock tells us that “for colonial brothers, consistent procedure was less important than keeping out the wrong people. The key division was, not between Masonry and the outside world (as post Revolutionary brothers would come to argue), but between different social ranks. And “Colonial Masonry did not view fraternal fellowship as a withdrawal into a private world of freedom. Rather, the honorable met within the lodge to learn the virtue and polite ways, necessary for public honor.”
Thus colonial America was set up as a carbon copy of the class society of the mother country, England and Freemasonry reflected the way society was set up and was practiced just as English Masonry was observed. But as England and America parted ways, each going off on its own, so did Freemasonry in the two countries radically depart from each other in practice.
That lead us into Revolutionary Masonry where we see the effects on society of the quarrel between the Antients (Patriots) and the Moderns (Loyalists). Here the struggle for supremacy in society was also fought inside the Craft. The Moderns catering to the elites formed few Lodges, most of them in large cities along the coastline. Pennsylvania chartered only 3 Lodges in its first 40 years of operation and the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in sixty years of existence chartered only five Lodges outside Boston all along the coastline. In 1753 the Antients had 10 Lodges but by 1771 they had 140. As settlement spread westward off the coastline, it was Antient Lodges that formed in the new communities not the Moderns. By the time Washington was sworn in as our first President the Antients totally overwhelmed and dominated American Freemasonry. Although Antient Masons were not “common folk” but rather what you would call the forerunners of the American middle class, they did add a distinct different more plebian atmosphere to the practice of Freemasonry.
The Continental army contained a larger than usual percentage of Masons and military Lodges which were widely populated throughout the colonies were mostly Antient Lodges. Bullock credits American Freemasonry with providing the camaraderie that kept it from falling apart in rough times. He tells us that army officers through Freemasonry’s ability to combine exclusive honor with inclusive love were able to develop the spirit de corps that helped it survive to win the war.
The dominance of the Antients and victory over the British forever changed American society and American freemasonry. Gone were the exclusivity of the elites, in was republican thinking.
The next period in Bullocks breakdown was post war Republican Masonry.
“First, the new vision of the fraternity fitted into the widely shared desire to reconceive the character of American society as it emerged from the Revolution. By celebrating morality and individual merit, Masonry seemed to exemplify the ideals necessary to build a society based on virtue and liberty. Fraternal membership and ideology helped bring high standing to a broad range of Americans, breaking down the artificial boundaries of birth and wealth. Masonry offered participation in both the great classical tradition of civilization and the task of building a new nation.”
The byword of republican Freemasonry became virtue. Education and learning were encouraged and Freemasonry once again linked back to the wisdom of the ancients while at the same time pushing the advancement of science. Freemasonry became supporters of schools for all of society and advocates of increasing knowledge. Just what a new republican nation needed. Freemasonry melded with the concept of liberty thereby giving it broad public appeal.
It is here that Bullock mentions the contributions of Prince Hall and Hannah Mather Crocker who, in a society becoming increasingly more open, were able to accomplish much for Blacks and women in Freemasonry as the concept of liberty permeated the Craft in a republican increasingly classless society.
At the same time Freemasonry became more closely identified with the Christian religion and some in the fraternity maintained that Freemasonry fulfilled a divine purpose while others went them one better by declaring Freemasonry a sacred institution. It was also during this period that American Freemasonry also increased its commitment of universal charity.
“Masonic brotherhood now included close, even emotionally charged bonds of obligations. As Royall noted, Masonic fraternity created ‘claims of a sacred nature.’ Such claims, Clinton explained, formed ties of ‘artificial consanguinity’ that operated ‘with as much force and effect, as the natural relationship of blood.'”
But all was not rosy in Freemasonryland. Masonic Brothers during this period developed a code of “Preference” meaning that Brothers would always choose to do business with each other in preference to a non Mason. Bullock writes, “Masonic ties did more than promote broad moral standards; they actually guided the paths of trade.” However this can be seen as presenting the Craft with conflicting allegiances trying to balance its declaration of operating for the common good while at the same time using Freemasonry for personal gain. By creating an exclusive tight little network Freemasonry started working against its ideals of rising in society by merit and morality. These would later be seeds sown to Freemasonry’s own destruction.
And so would Freemasonry increasingly involvement with partisan politics. A very high percentage of Masons in this time period held public office. Freemasonry’s ability was in a time of poor methods of long range communication, to provide a network of men who could more easily communicate with each other and to encourage and reinforce republican values of government and intellectual prowess. More than half of Andrew Jackson’s cabinet members were Freemasons coming from many different states. What Lodge members could do in politics is what they were also able to do in business, show “Preference” to each other for their own personal gain.
This period saw the rise of what Bullock calls the “higher degrees” or concordant bodies. Freemasonry increasingly began to see itself as sacred in this period.
“The fraternity, brothers now argued, was not simply an exemplification of universal processes but a sanctified institution whose values and experiences transcended the ordinary world.”
The result was that Freemasons became obsessed with the standardization and memorization of rituals. Ritual was no longer a means of initiation but rather a scared body of knowledge. Higher degree ritual carried religious overtones with often extreme emotion reminiscent of Evangelical Christianity. This new tact tended to pull Freemasonry inward away from the outside world and make it exclusive and privileged – in knowledge rather than in social class,however.
These factors of favoritism in business and in politics and this new ritualistic based exclusive, privileged, sacred fraternity were factors which increased its numbers and popularity but at the same time were exactly the factors that led to its downfall, to jealousy of the fraternity and eventually outright hatred. The Morgan affair was just the spark that set it off.
And that is Bullocks last period from 1826-1840. He calls it “Masonry and Democracy.” He takes us through all the Anti Masonic rhetoric, the newspapers and the Anti Masonic Party. Not only was this America’s first third party but also the first time in politics that public opinion had been rallied to bear pressure upon an issue and support a political party. Generally Bullocks thesis is that the American people took back their governance and squashed all those who claimed special privilege. Anti Masonry thus became a massive movement to purify America.
“Opponents of Masonry first pioneered new means of agitation, printing, meeting, and politicking to change public opinion on a single issue. At the same time, and just as important, Antimasons also explored and popularized new ways of thinking that opposed widely accepted beliefs. By elevating conscience and public opinion as the test of religion and republicanism, Masonry’s opponents helped lay the foundation for the cultural dominance of democracy and evangelicalism.”
For those of you who thought I might have knocked the Jacob book, I recommend that you read both The Origins of Freemasonry and Revolutionary Brotherhood, and that you read them together starting with “Origins”first. That is the way I read them and I can’t think of a better way of getting a better picture of the development of Freemasonry in its early speculative stages. Only a qualified, knowledgeable historian could give you this kind of insight and we are blessed with two. For to look at Freemasonry through the research and eyes of two eminent non- Masonic historians is really to see Masonry from the outside looking in. So often we read Masonic authors who look at Masonry from the inside looking out. There is always, in my humble opinion, much to be learned from an objective, impartial observer who has no vested interest in the enterprise being studied. Both books are well researched and footnoted. And both will punch some holes in some Masonic myths. One big observation to note is that Freemasonry is an ever changing society, pulling society this way and that and being pulled by society this way and that. It means that the Freemasonry of the future will probably look a bit different from now. Everything evolves. Life is change. Ask a historian.
But there is a problem with putting all our observation eggs in one basket, the basket of the historian. It tends to over ride or even negate the contributions and effects of the esoteric – spiritual side of the Craft, that part of Freemasonry which is that private personal journey building that spiritual temple. Working on one’s soul is a whole different ball of wax and needs not to be left out of the equation. Happy reading!
Some time back I fell prey to an episode of Oprah that had an interview with Cormick McCarthy, who is the author of several books, most recently the novel The Road. In the interview, the awkwardness between them was pronounced, but informative, especially as the guest talked about his new book and some of its over arching themes. At the time, I made a mental note to read it and filed it away in my head. Some months later, I ran across it in a bookstore and it ended up on my Christmas list. Now, having just finished reading it, I’m glad I did and thought that it would make for an interesting “off-topic” review, but soon realized that it was very much on subject to post here.
The story in the book (and soon to be released movie) is about the existential survival of a father and son in a post apoplectic world where daily subsistence consists of finding safe tins of food to eat in the ash and wastes, all the while dodging and fighting off cannibals, The Roadagents, and starvation. But that is the overt story. Beneath the long passages of subsistence living is the message that the father constantly works to instill to his son, that they ware the “good guys” and that the reason for their going on was to continue carrying the fire (light) of humanity.
Now this sounds like a lofty exclamation of the lone ranger against the heathens of the wasteland and in some instances that seems to spill into the fore, but the real message comes as a gradual realization that the only thing they can do is continue on, to strive day after day to do right rather than succumb to the evil and terror or simply commit suicide from the futility of the future.
A pivotal point comes late in the text when the father and son, despite their own misgivings, give the act of charity to a lone traveler on The Road. The interaction could just as easily be a decoy for some malfeasance or another plot to take their meager rations and end their existence. During the exchange a dialog takes place over the existence of God, doing the right thing despite god’s existence (or not) and the very act of charity being their reason enough for existence. Ultimately, it is not a preachy message of “we do it because god said to”, but rather a “we did it because we did”. It was the act of being good versus the reason to be.
At its close the story has a Hemingway-esque ending like For Whom the Bell Tolls but in this instance, it was less the introspective why and more the “now I understand” discovery. As a Freemason, it resonated with my sympathies of why we do what we do and why those things are important more specifically. That we carry the fire, each one of us, and its in that light that we do good. And that in that charity we are at some level showing our love.
I highly recommend The Road, and even in its fictional nature, it paints a modern parable for our existence in a pre-apocalyptic world.
Rather you will find a clear cut case made that female Freemasonry has been with us for many centuries in spite of the male dominated fraternity that has operated with blinders on and deliberately refused to acknowledge the facts of life. And so it would seem to me as Brother Kidd takes us through story after story of female Freemasons from as far back as the early 1700s for Speculative Masonry and centuries prior to that in Operative Masonry, yet very few of these women were known to me. And I would hazard a guess that I am not alone in my ignorance but that the vast majority of my compatriots in the fraternity share my lack of knowledge.
Right up front Brother Kidd let’s us know that this book is not going to pull any punches or gloss over any difficulties.
“I will tell you about women who managed to be made Freemasons (and not a few who tried but failed) in otherwise Malecraft Lodges. I’m going to tell you a story that many have tried – and largely succeeded- to suppress. I’m going to tell you the truth. I chose to ferret out these stories about to pass away from this generation; to recover that which is about to be lost and to seek the truth. Too long the stories of these women were suppressed, downplayed and denied. It’s past time to rescue those stories that still can be retrieved and to see that each of these Brethren in the Craft have their due.”
Kidd chronicles the lives and Masonic histories of Elizabeth St. Leger Aldworth, Hannah Mather Crocker, Henriette Heiniken, Mary Ann Belding Sproul, Catherine Sweet Babigton, an Irish Girl, Vinnie Ream Hoxie, Helene-Countess Hadik Barkoczy, Salome Anderson, Isabella Scoon and many others (recognize any names yet?).
But first she lays the foundation of factual history of female participation in Masonry in three chapters, one on women in medieval Mason Guilds, one on women in early Modern Freemasonry and one on Adoptive Masonry. I have dubbed these three chapters – Fact,Denial, and Recognition (that some outlet for women was needed).
We learn that from the 1200s on some women were admitted to the Guilds and a few even rose to be Master. In Operative Masonry Kidd documents women in the Operative Lodges with some even rising to the position of “Dame” or female Master.
Next she takes us through early Speculative Freemasonry where in the 18th Century women were locked out of Masonic Lodges and men perhaps feeling guilt over that decision or perhaps under female pressure steered women into Adoptive Masonry. Kidd tells us she thinks she knows the real reason for this hardening of heart, this exclusion of women.
“Though it may seem complex, the true reason is quite simple. Women of that period, like women in much of the world today, failed to meet a very basic requirement of admission into the Craft: they were not free.”
“This most compelling of reasons is seldom mentioned by Masonic scholars but it happens to be the true reason. It goes to the heart of several centuries of gender-biased history that can, and has filled volumes. All that need be gleaned from those well documented studies is why 18th Century Male Masons, for the most part, believed women so unfree that they could not enter even their own gender-based or mixed lodges.”
She goes on to say that it was James Anderson in his “Constitutions” who first put this into writing in 1723. Anderson wrote:
“The persons admitted Members of a Lodge must be good and true men, free-born, and of mature and discreet Age, no Bondsmen, no women, no immoral or scandalous men, but of good Report.”(Emphasis Kidd’s)
Kidd interprets that thusly:
“It is no accident that Anderson placed women between these two categories of the unfree. The implication is clear. Women were no freer than slaves or men enslaved by their own passions. So far as Anderson and other Malecraft Masons of the time were concerned, a woman’s lack of freedom rendered her unfit to be a Freemason. Malecraft Masons of the time, whether they knew it or not, barred women from Freemasonry for this reason and only this reason.
All other theories are simply flawed attempts to justify the unjustifiable.”
The stories of the women Freemasons are well told and well documented. The one I found most intriguing while at the same time most telling was the story of Hannah Mather Crocker perhaps because I am from Boston. Hannah was born in 1752 in Boston. Her father Samuel Mather was a famous Boston preacher. And in time Hannah had a son named Samuel. I mention this because the library of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts is named the Samuel Crocker Lawrence Library. You would think therefore, as a Massachusetts Mason who visited Grand Lodge often, I would have heard of Hannah Mather Crocker. Never heard of her. But she was a most interesting lady and Mason. As a young woman she smuggled written dispatches in her undergarments to Colonial Major General Joseph Warren who also was the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.
Unlike many of the other female Masons in Haunted Chambers: The Lives of Early Women Freemasons who were made Masons after they had been caught eavesdropping or made Masons for protection during the Civil War, Hannah was legitimately made a Mason although we are not quite sure how that actually happened. It is well documented, however, that she was “Mistress’ (Master) of St. Ann’s Lodge which operated in Boston in the 1770s. It was the only known all female Masonic Lodge of the 18th century in North America. She was also a woman of letters having written “A series of Letters on Freemasonry” and works in other fields.
Hannah Mather Crocker corroborates the claim that there were female Masons for her existence as a Mason remains unchallenged to this day.
Some of these eavesdropping women of the later 1800s who were made Masons, when confronted, the members of the Lodge were said to have debated between two options, killing the woman or making her a Mason. Kidd makes a telling observation here.
“Further, in no part of Freemasonry has there ever been a rule that any nonMason who discovers the Secrets of Masonry must die. And yet this ‘rule’ turns up in many of these stories about early women Freemasons. Where could such a detail have come from?”
“I think it’s no accident that the idea of killing eavesdroppers begins to turn up in these accounts after the William Morgan affair in the United States. In that case, Freemasons were accused of killing one of the Brethren for threatening to reveal the secrets of the order. Somewhere in all this, it seems to have become a generally held belief, even among rank-and-file Freemasons, that there was such a rule. And, thus, it entered the lore that envelops the stories of these women.”
There are two general things I am looking for when I read a non-fiction book.
Is it factual and well researched
Did I learn something – new
Haunted Chambers: The Lives of Early Women Freemasons passes the test for me on both counts. Karen Kidd has done a very thorough job of research for this book. I made it a point to read all the footnotes and I can attest to the fact that she pulls from many sources inside and outside the Craft to make her story. She doesn’t embellish to make it look better. If a rendition or report or opinion is exaggerated she says so. If it seems not plausible and it’s not she says so. But if it smacks of unbelievability yet she thinks she has the proof to credit it, she will.
She also writes using a good measure of deductive reasoning to make logical assumptions. If A=C and C=B then A=B. One of the book cover pictures is of a mysterious woman in Masonic garb from Phoenixmasonry about whom nothing is known. Here is a good example of Kidd’s powers of logic and reasoning. She writes:
“Much can be observed about this image but conclusions are difficult to draw. Clearly, she is garbed as a Master Mason. Her clothing, with its mini-mal bustle, slim-tailored sleeves and skirt short enough to reveal her feet all suggest a fashionably dressed lady of the late 1880s.”
“Her working tools present a puzzle of place. While the 24-inch gauge is almost universal in Freemasonry as a working tool of the Entered Apprentice, the trowel is a Master’s tool in US Malecraft lodges but not in English, Canadian, Australian, and Scottish Malecraft lodges. Further, the trowel is mentioned only in passing in most Co-Masonic Blue Lodge traditions. However, placing her in the US as a woman Freemason in the 1880s seems most unlikely as Co-Masonry did not arrive in the US until 1901.”
“The ‘G’ in all the squares and compasses on her clothing is striking. The symbol is portrayed in this manner in most US and Scottish Malecraft lodges. It is also used in French Freemasonry. However, it is not used in English or Canadian Freemasonry. Again, the US and Scotland seem unlikely but even in France, it’s much too early for a woman to be a Master Mason as Co-Masonry didn’t develop there until the 1890s and Femalecraft Masonry until the next century.”
“She is also wearing a wrist watch with a leather band, which again places this no earlier than the 1880s.”
“So who is she and how did she come to pose for this photograph? All elements in this image indicate it simply should not exist in that time or place. And, yet, there it is for us to ponder.”
And that my friends is some good writing and using your noodle!
But what really makes this book so enjoyable to read is that Karen Kidd writes with the confidence seen with those people who are knowledgeable in many different areas of discipline and thus she can pull together history, art, fashion, religion, journalism, fraternity and other areas to establish the proper context and background to events and happenings. Consequently the reader not only gets a well put together story but also the story behind the story.
Masonic historian W. Fred Vernon is quoted as saying:
“……..and I have no doubt other ancient Lodges have their lady members just as ancient buildings have their haunted chambers.”
The 2008 film Chemical Wedding is a fictional story about the resurrection of the 20th century occultist Aleister Crowley. Written by Bruce Dickinson–yes, THE Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden–and Julian Doyle, it is best described as a low budget horror flick. It fulfills every expectation that that description creates: the story line is kind of cheesy, the effects are mediocre, and it features numerous sexual situations.
The story of the film is fairly straight forward. A professor of theology at Cambridge University is involved in a virtual reality experiment which goes horribly wrong and becomes the reincarnation of Aleister Crowley. Crowley comes to rebuild the temple in three days and perform a virgin birth. Crowley’s objectives during the movie rely heavily on adaptations of Crowley’s interpretations of the Christian Gospels and the story of Osiris. He regards the impregnation of Isis by a reed as the greatest form of sex magick and seeks to recreate the event through a chemical wedding with a red-headed woman.
The Freemasons play an important role in this movie. It is apparently assumed by the writers that the Freemasons had a great effect on Crowley, when the truth is that Crowley really wanted to have a great effect on the Freemasons. Nevertheless, the movie even features a fairly lengthy scene portraying a Masonic lodge meeting. The Freemason will notice the absence of factual information in this lodge meeting and that the movie is obviously portraying the fraternity in a negatively light.
The movie also spends a lot of time showing explicit scenes of Crowley’s sex magick rituals. The squeamish viewer should be warned, watching this movie requires a fair amount of fortitude. In the end, the sex magick is portrayed as being the whole of Crowley’s interest and he is portrayed as a man addicted to the most depraved of sex acts. It is necessary to note that if the inaccuracy of the movie’s portrayal of the Freemasons is an indicator, the portrayal of Crowley and his teachings is probably also a bit far out.
To be honest, the only truly redeeming quality of the movie is its soundtrack. Thankfully, Bruce Dickinson is a shameless self promoter and features the music of his band Iron Maiden. I have long believed that Maiden is the king of metal as they bring everything to the table: wide-ranging vocals, deep lyrics, searing guitar riffs, and rock solid rhythm. My favorite scene of the movie features a man sitting in an alley who says to Crowley “Your time will come,” which Dickinson uses as an opportunity to fade into the chorus of “Wicker Man.”
I would recommend this movie to a person that likes very edgy entertainment, is intrigued by the occult, and cannot be offended or upset by graphic sex and violence scenes. If you get upset about seeing Freemasons being portrayed as the “bad guys” or think that Crowley was more than just a sex addicted madman, then you probably don’t want to see the movie.
I’d give Crowley 4 out of 5 stars as it is for select audiences only.
Building Hiram – Uncommon Catechism for Uncommon Masonic Education
by Br. John Nagy.
Uncommon is a good word to describe this book as its approach to Masonic education is anything but what most would consider common. Not the visual bullet point summary or elaborated description of a several thousand-year-old temple, Building Hiram… is definitely not your run of the mill Masonic lecture.
I suppose I should qualify that statement. Often, what seems to be produced with Masonic education in mind is a rehash of the elements of the degrees: the tools, the positions, and the knocks. In their own way, they are valuable, but often are conveyed in unexciting and repetitive chapters, that seems to lack the real meat of the symbolism that strive to teach. Why the triangle? Why the tools? How do they relate? What else do they relate to?
What makes this diminutive book exciting is the steady measure and rhythm of the question and answer catechism that should be familiar to every Mason who’s tested through the blue lodge degrees. Br. Nagy, in approaching the common education, has stepped outside the box and back into the lodge room to recapture the creative verve each of us experience in our mentor/pupil experience. The Q&A gives the reader a real sense of master and student development. For example:
I – Inquiry and R-Response
I: what is Logic?
R; The Art of thinking
I: What’s more?
R: The mechanics of thought, Analysis, and Synthesis.
I: What’s further?
R: Logic is concerned with things as they are known.
I: How is this important to a Mason’s life?
R: Masonry relies on thought, analysis, and synthesis; the ability to think well is essential to being a Mason.
I: What else?
R: Logic is supported by a firm understanding and usage of all the elements of Rhetoric.
This exchange continues throughout, taking you in ways impossible to imagine at the onset and impossible to foresee at its conclusion. It’s from this back and forth exchange through the myriad of symbolic connections that the learning takes place.
I have to admit, that in reading it, I found myself imaging the questions coming from someone else, and it seems to me that was the intent in putting this jewel together.
Another great attribute I found is at the start of every chapter (of which there are 12) there is a small summary of what is to come. But the summary is not a list of upcoming ideas or key points but rather a short anecdotal parable of the chapters relationship to the teaching; not the how and the why, but the how of the why. The book really builds on itself.
As a catechism, it does make for a quick read, but the material is not meant to be taken in all at once. The small stature of the book definitely conveys a sense of it being a quick to get through, but each chapter could be read and then reread to pull the nuance and flavor from the text. It really does go deep into the connective symbolism and builds a strong foundation.
Another fun aspect that I found in the book is the abundant use of cipher throughout, but again in a most unconventional manner. Yes, it is the “Masonic” cipher, but repurposed and re-keyed to make it unique to this book and for this books message. And, I have it on good authority that in all of the code inclusions the reader will find several jewels to delight and entertain.
At the beginning of the book, Br. Nagy says “The Masonic journey that begins with the preparation of ones heart does not end at becoming a raised mason….”and this book will definitely help shape that the uncommon journey of the raised Mason with his uncommon education. I think this book is an excellent educational tool to every newly made Mason and every mason on that journey that wants to learn something new.
You can find “Building Hiram…” in our Gift Shop direct from the publisher! And, you can listen to the Masonic Central pod cast with Brother John Nagy as we discuss the book.
Historian and author Peter Levenda is the latest contender in the burgeoning market of Masonic histories. His new book (published in April 09) titled “The Secret Temple: Masons, Mysteries, and the Founding of America” engages the reader in its short outline that attempts to chronicle the fraternity from its mythological pre-history to its 20th century diabolic conspiracies. Through out, it weaves a tale that meanders from one instance of infamy to another, starting from the biblical history of King Solomon, to the Templers of Western Europe and to the criminal agency of the secretive P2 lodge in Italy. To a quick observer, it would be an easy conclusion that the book is yet another anti-Masonic tract, but to my delight, its not.
Assembled as a linear chronology, what Levenda has culled together the key points of public perception of the Masonic fraternity and then questioned them as a non Mason would. His approach comes from a sociological stand point, interpreting the ideas as the general public would but with the research to develop and understanding of what those discoveries mean. Also, important to mention is that Levenda is not a Freemason, so his work is uncolored with the bias of being a member.
In the sociological exploration, Levenda covers the Masonic connections to the Knights Templar (real or imagined), the possible history rooted in Rosicrucian movement, the Masonic pre-history (pre-1717) going as far back as ancient Egyptian mystery traditions. Once he’s moved through the history, he brings his analysis to the modern day and the Masonic connection to the founding of the Mormons. But, even as he builds the arguments of these connections, he in turn debunks the obvious overt conspiratorial conclusions; rather he breaks the idea down to its connecting elements and analyzes how the theories could have been assembled. In some instances the analysis is good, in others it seems an unnecessary inclusion. One area that I didn’t like was the depth that Mormonism was studied, only to conclude that the Masonic root is a smaller piece to a broader occult origin, but perhaps to understand the small parts, you need to understand the whole.
What Levenda does in “The Secret Temple“, is put to word the questions we often encounter in the public arena. And, for every conspiracy, he debunks the theory to what it really is, which is a collection of ideas to give a slant to a particular story.
The contrast to this work, perhaps, would be Jasper Ridley’s “The Freemasons” which measures the fraternity from one personality to another. In the case of Levenda’s “The Secret Temple“, he follows the history socially from idea to idea, and measures to some degree the genesis of the ideation and its consequences. It does become a bit anecdotal at times, relying on the populist view rather than a deeper delving to what some of the implications may be to the theories, but even in this light, Levenda takes a positive approach to the fraternity, saying that “Freemasonry is a valuable avenue for anyone who believes that Human organization can be improved”. And in this same thought crediting Freemasonry as a social movement whose degrees can be juxtaposed to the very development of Western society itself, in both its triumphs and its foibles. And it is through the analysis of the anecdotal history that we can connect the Masonic dots to construct the sociological History of Freemasonry.
Seldom does a diminutive book deliver on the promise that it makes. More often than not, the reader is left wanting more. But this time, that’s not the case, and the A Handbook for The Freemason’s Wife delivers exactly the right dose of information to answer almost every question that the spouse or partner of a Mason, or Mason to be, could imagine to ask.
Packed into a slim journal, the guide is one part Q&A, another part encyclopedia, and a third part experiential, as it is the collaborative effort of Masonic wives Philippa Faulks (who you may remember from her appearance on Masonic Central) and Cheryl Skidmore. Together, the two have close to 30 years experience in the enjoyable trade of being the wives of Freemasons. And, from that experience, nearly every nuance to the fraternity gets touched upon to put the ideal reader (the wife of a Freemason) at ease.
The book, in its simplicity, makes the hard task of explaining what exactly we Masons do, in and out of the lodge, that much easier. I found that the short description of the history, the quick trip through the emblems, and the overview of events and banquets were smart and to the point.
On top of all that, in between the meatier content is a good collection of Masonic poetry, songs, trivia, and to top it off, one of the funnier Masonic jokes I’ve heard in a while.
A Handbook for The Freemason’s Wife really is a must have for the Masons spouse. Its already answered a few of my wife’s questions, and I’ve only left it out for her to find a couple of times. Imagine what would happen if you put it in her hands…
The handbook comes from Lewis Masonic, and if you’re the U.S. side of the pond, you can find it at Amazon.
Note: Stephen Dafoe is a contributor to this site, but this review was conducted independently. In fact, the author of this review has no personal relationship with Bro. Dafoe. Therefore, this critique is that of an unbiased reader.
Stephen Dafoe has two recent releases on the Knights Templar: Nobly Born and The Compasses and the Cross. The former was released in 2007, the latter in 2008. Nobly Born is a book which gives an unromantic account of the medieval order of the Knights Templar. It is a book based strictly on documented historical evidence and serves to debunk many of the myths surrounding that order.
The author of this review admittedly has very little prior knowledge of the Knights Templar, beyond the documentaries shown about the order on the History Channel which appear to encourage the viewer to create suspicions about the secret nature of the Templars. Therefore, it was great to discover that Nobly Born is written in a way so that the Templar novice can truly grasp the history of the order. The book gives an excellent brief history of the crusades and explains the society in which the Templars existed. Perhaps the most impressive part of this book is the look into the lives of the Templars, which was more monastic that chivalric. Many common myths which have surfaced concerning the Templars are specifically rebutted with historical evidence. If you currently believe that the Templars discovered some great treasure beneath King Solomon’s Temple and escaped with the goods to Scotland or the New World, this book is a panacea for your ailment.
The Compasses and the Cross gives a detailed history of the modern day fraternal order of the Knights Templar. This book discusses many of the works of invented history which have misled many Masons to believe that the modern day organization somehow is the descendant of the Templars of old. However, like in Nobly Born, Dafoe refutes these claims with historical evidence. A large amount of the book is a summary of the information found in Nobly Bor
n. It serves as a great refresher on medieval Templar history, but if you read the books back to back (like the author of this review) it can seem repetitive. Nevertheless, this account of Templar history is absolutely necessary for the reader who is unfamiliar with the order’s story. The Compasses and the Cross also gives a detailed account of the reception of new Knights in the medieval order to show the separation of modern day ceremonies from the rituals of the original Templars. The best quality of The Compasses and the Cross is that it devotes a chapter to the fraternity of the Knights Templar in Britain, the United States, and Canada. This focus on the fraternity’s history in each of these countries shows how each locale developed its particular flavor.
My only complaint with these two works is their format. The books are large (10×8 in) which makes them inconvenient for packing them in a bag to read on the airplane or a park bench while on break. However, these books are illustrated histories and the photos and art work provided in them are needed. The illustrations play an important part in visualizing the regalia and equipment of both the medieval and modern day Templars and the books without them would doubtlessly be less informative. The size of the books is the unfortunate form of their function.
I highly recommend both of these works to any Mason who is interested in the Templars of old and their connection with Freemasonry or the modern day Templars and the history of that fraternal organization. They will provide the reader with an excellent education on both subjects. You can find ways to purchase these books on Stephen Dafoe’s website.
This work is a little informational book subtitled Helpful Information for New Master Masons, by Jim Tresner, and is intended for those Masons just beginning their journey in the fraternity. It is published by the Masonic Service Association and contains a general summary of the basic fraternal knowledge.
One of the book’s triumphs is that it gives a small discussion for most of the symbols found in each degree. However, unlike most pamphlets created for similar purposes as this, it does actually mention some very esoteric Masonic concepts. These include a brief mention of some Jewish mystical concepts such as the Tree of Life. The book also includes a section pertaining to the Landmarks of Freemasonry which are so often ignored in these types of publications. While this discussion only lists Mackey’s list of Landmarks, it is still better than no mention of the Landmarks. It also contains a few points about lodge protocol such as not walking between the Master and the altar, how to address the lodge, and the attitude of prayer. These customs are rarely mentioned in text.
The book has some shortcomings as well. The information on the symbolism of the degrees found in this booklet is already printed in some sort of introductory Grand Lodge publication in most states. This leads to yet another iteration of the processed and formed definitions of Masonic symbolism to which young members have already been exposed. The brief Masonic history given is also a rather romantic account of the fraternity’s development. It includes the possibility that the Knights Templar somehow influenced Freemasonry and covers Masonic history at at period of time which offers only speculative history at best. Also, 19 and a half pages of the book’s 49 pages deal with nearly ever single Masonic affiliated body, including some of the most obscure of Masonic organizations. It would seem that a little more time on the symbolism of the Blue Lodge and a little less on the subject of other bodies would be more useful to the new initiate.
Overall, the book is a decent resource for those Masons who have not been provided with any information about the degrees. However, there are a number of better resources available through the Grand Lodges as well as the Internet for those looking for a cursory knowledge of the fraternity.