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.
The book, “The Secret Temple: Masons, Mysteries, and the Founding of America” from Continuum Press is available now on Amazon, and I recommend you pick up a copy to get an outsiders view on on the questions put to us on the fraternity of Freemasonry.