The Independent Magazine for Freemasons
By: Andrew Hammer
Andrew Hammer, from his CV, is a youngish and very keen Mason who is clearly a subscriber to the ‘Traditional Observance’ movement in American Freemasonry. This movement promotes that Freemasonry is a serious and spiritual endeavour and as such, it should be treated with respect and proper attention. The book has eight chapters: ‘Why does observing the craft matter?’ ‘What is observance?’ ‘Dealing with distraction’, ‘The pursuit of excellence’, ‘Dress’, ‘Ritual’, ‘The festive board’ and finally, ‘The observant lodge’.
Now, the British often become irritated with other nationalities who take far longer to say something than we think is necessary. Thus, while reading the book, I did sometimes find myself saying ‘get to the point!’ However, the points are certainly made strongly and clearly.
Some examples: ‘There has, in recent years, arisen an attitude of innovation among some in the Craft which, in this author’s view and many others, who share the perspective of this book, is severely damaging to the essence of our art’ (page xi)
‘Masons today are being distracted from the three Craft degrees by all sorts of fabricated additional organisations which have been associated with Freemasonry but which are not Freemasonry’ (page 17) For Hammer this includes every order outside of the three degrees and the Royal Arch – all the others are merely distractions. Again, ‘The nature of the individual far outweighs the number of men knocking at our doors, quality of character far outweighs quantity of candidates and less is more’ (page 65) ‘Masonic charity is not material benevolence, rather it is the spiritual and philosophical awakening which motivates it’ (page 73) ‘It is not possible to provide an exceptional experience to the brethren, year after year, for such a low price’ (page 135).
Hammer clearly wants Freemasons and Freemasonry to be better than it is – and thus may experience some disappointment, as it is clear that he feels that the fraternity has already descended into a cheap, disrespectful, social club which attracts far too many men who are disregarding of what Freemasonry was and should be – ‘those who suggest we take that light out of the temple and into the streets have failed entirely to understand its meaning, its purpose and the manner in which it is to be beheld (page 145).
I found that I needed to read sections in the book and then think about what was being said. Soon I found myself in some agreement – but concerned about the practical application of what was being said. The implications are profound. For example, if we in English lodges were to return to costs involved around say the 1950s, then I understand that an entry fee of £1,000 and a yearly subscription of £500 would be needed. We would dine better and in better places. We might meet a lot later in the day and dress formally. Members who cannot, or will not, perfect the ritual would not advance. We would stop the treadmill of promotion. Lodges with low membership or poor attendance should close. We might even abolish past rank in the spirit of ‘no job, no rank’! Well, these are things that cannot be done easily or without resistance – because the reality is that we have the members we have, not the members that Andrew Hammer would like us to have. In this country, in its heyday, Freemasonry attracted the King, the aristocracy, the church, the military, senior politicians, senior businessmen and at a local level all the men who ran things – the bank manager, the headmaster, the business owner, the chief constable. Are these the people that Hammer would really like to have back in Freemasonry again? Men with time, income, influence, education, connections and position? Well, sad to say, they have largely gone – and, I am told, especially so in the United States. Further to this, one might ask what is it that Freemasonry, under Hammer’s plan, is actually offering as the reward for membership? What exactly is this ‘light’ he refers to? This is where the book gets a little vague. On the back cover, the editor of the Plumbline Journal describes it as ‘a call to arms’ and author Julian Rees [formerly of UGLE] calls it ‘the true Masonic path’. However, I felt the book was more about form than content – so what the path is for Andrew Hammer, I am not sure – but it certainly has me thinking. Read the book and decide for yourself.
Ed: Interesting … I’ll have the book back, please, and read it myself. Incidentally, I suspect that the Julian Rees you mention is the same who wrote often for The Square but left UGLE and The Square for co-masonry, over issues with the lack of ‘spirituality’ in English Masonry.
Reviewed by Saul Rissman
Mindhive Books, 2010
145 pages, paperback