The Independent Magazine for Freemasons
By: David West
This is a complex, erudite and wide-ranging book – an eclectic collection of ideas, comprising a very entertaining ramble through a lot of fascinating fields – and I enjoyed reading it. In the ‘Prelude’ the author tells us that his cousin ‘described an early draft of this book as a miscellany’. The same word could also be applied to the finished work. A quick flick through the illustrations gives the prospective reader an idea of the widely disparate subjects through which the author roams – from the Tree of Life to the St. Louis Rams cheerleaders and from Wittgenstein to Morecambe and Wise (only four pages apart). My first thought was to wonder what sort of narrative could possible link all these illustrations together.
Although very knowledgeable, the author’s style is conversational. The structure of eleven chapters, however, interrupted by seven ‘Interludes’ makes it rather disjointed. The author does draw all the threads together in a ‘Retrospect’ at the end but I would like to have been given a framework at the beginning. I was fascinated by Albert Pike’s background as a fur-trapper in the Wild West – not that it had anything at all to do with Freemasonry – but, even though he provides evidence to support it, I suspect that the American Masonic reader will not welcome the author’s view that:
‘Pike gets it all wrong; he lifts great undigested chunks from Constant [Éliphas Lévi] and makes ex cathedra statements about freemasonry which are false. […] he clearly had a need to be noticed and to be taken as a superior mind, a Magus even.’ (p. 221).
I also enjoyed the idea that the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans viewed the affairs of their gods: ‘rather as people today enjoy TV soap operas or the love life of ‘celebs’. [… since] like Eastenders, the myths are more about sex and violence than grace and radiance.’ (p. 78).
Although I wholeheartedly agree with his conclusions that: ‘… there is no goat in freemasonry. There never was’ and ‘freemasons do not worship the devil’ (p. 224), I found myself disappointed to find that his interpretation of our rituals and ceremonies was so superficial. It is, of course obvious that ‘Brotherly Love’ is another term for the fellowship we all find in our Lodges and Chapters, and that ‘Relief’ means charity in all its aspects – both financial and in general attitude. I cannot, however, agree that ‘Truth’ is just about ‘honesty in word and deed.’ (p. 225).
I had been quite excited when I read that he seems to embrace the idea that an exclusively literal interpretation of the Bible is not necessarily correct or desirable (pp. 78-85) and earlier on he had he had written of Freemasonry:
‘No-one pretends that the ritual’s stories are true any more than the stories of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, or Dante’s Divine Comedy. They are all allegories.’ (p. 44).
But then I was confused, when he later states:
‘For the Royal Arch Mason, the comforting aspect of the story is that it is true. […] Cyrus did give such a proclamation; Zerubbabel did go up to Jerusalem with the intention of rebuilding the temple’ (p. 90).
For me, this is entirely beside the point. So what, if: ‘the Royal Arch story has a basis in fact’? (p. 90). The Royal Arch story, like all Masonic rituals is an allegory. The question is: What does the story teach that is of relevance to man in the 21st century?”
Although he sees Morte D’Arthur, Pilgrim’s Progress, the Divine Comedy and Masonic rituals as allegories and states that they: ‘all have important lessons to teach’, he then expresses the view that the lessons Freemasonry teaches only exemplify: ‘virtues which we are exhorted to demonstrate in our daily lives: honesty, loyalty, citizenship, fidelity, brotherly love, charity, excellence, and humility’ (p. 44-5) – nothing more.
The “basic morality and charity” interpretation of Freemasonry is a superficial one and many would argue that, if this is all that it has to teach, Freemasonry would not have survived very long at all. After all, the basic morality “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is taught by every parent, every school, and every church in the world. And anyone can easily donate to the charity of his choice these days. You do not need to become a Freemason to practise basic morality or charity.
He states that: ‘Albert Pike attempts to present freemasonry as a set of specific religious beliefs, as a route to the truth’ (p. 44) but disagrees with this view and goes on to say that the rituals: ‘tell a simple story; one which really has little to do with a Supreme Being’ (p. 44). I am with Albert Pike! I would, however, agree with David West when he says of Freemasonry:
‘while many of the brethren might be a little embarrassed to say it out loud, what we really gain is a feeling of something beyond ourselves, something that lifts us onto a higher plane.’ (p. 198).
Price: £16.99 (US $25.99)
Publisher: Hamilton House Publishing Ltd
ISBN: 978 0 9550352-8-9