Tobias Churton is a prolific Masonic author and one I’ve come to hold in high esteem. For many, he may not be a regular household name as his work (and residence) come from abroad in the U.K. and in an dense American marketplace of books, his work is less well known here. Nevertheless, its importance is megalithic which is very much evident in his re-released book Freemasonry – The Reality.
Churton is not just a Freemason writing on the fraternity, he also happens to be a scholar and professor at Exeter university, Lecturer in Freemasonry and Rosicrucian’s at the Center for the Study of Western Esotericism. Churton’s published works span the breadth of western mystery traditions encompassing the early Gnostics, Rosicrucian’s, and Freemasons, which pull together many of the offshoots and ideas that went into the composition of the groups today. Churton’s work however is less about dazzling aggrandizement of a mysterious past, focusing instead on the known and with a meticulous hand, reconstructing the holes of the fraternities formation.
In Freemasonry – The Reality, Churton leaves no stone unturned and with his meticulous hand reconstructs the modern day mystery tradition from its most extreme foundational stones buried in the footnotes of history, following each loose thread back into the whole garment of the present day craft. But in this work he also refuses to hold back any punches in his analysis that our present manifestation of the craft is every bit a result of our manufactured past, from the clever arrangement of James Anderson and the constitutions of 1720 and the marrying of the “Speculative” with the “Operative” tracing back the foundation of Masonries earliest of ideas to the early Renaissance work of author Pico Mirandola and the Oration on the Dignity of Man.
One aspect that stood out to me in crisp detail was the way in which Churton pulls together in several seemingly unrelated bits of history and finds their common connection that brings them into a coherent theme. From early meeting notes, names on a register, royal archives on the guilds, and diary mentions, each of these bread crumbs become the framework by which he assembles the whole work. By digging deep into symbols that at one time held great significance, and in his work he re-illuminates them so as to demystify and put them back into a proper perspective. Case in point, the pentagram, reminding the reader of the earlier Masonic appellation (under Robert Moray) to represent AGAPA (or the Greek word agapein), or love, a geometric perfection.
In the end, the work is extensive and covers thoroughly the origins of Freemasonry and delves specifically (as the name implies) into the reality of the its formation and pre-history. It is not an easy read, or to be taken casually. Rather Churton’s work is something to be savored and consumed slowly and with great thought, because every page is a sequential feast of Masonic history waiting to be consumed.