Book Reviews: The Brothers Have Been Busy

May-June 2010

By James T. Tresner II, Book Review Editor

It is always a pleasure to call your attention to books by Brethren, especially very good books and well-known Brethren. We have some excellent examples this month.

Bro. S. Brent Morris, Ph.D., 33°, Grand Cross, A Radical in the East, 2nd edition, Des Moines: Iowa Research Lodge, 2009, softbound, 135 pages, illustrations, tables, charts. $20.00 which includes shipping. Order through the Iowa Research Lodge, c/o Phil Enabit, Secretary, P.O. Box 13048, Des Moines, IA 50310, e-mail masoncem@aol.com.

When Ill. Brent’s book was first published in 1993, I strongly recommended it. At that time, I did not realize how often I would refer to it or how often I would quote it in speeches. It was a first-rate resource.

This second edition is every bit as useful as the first. Brother Morris combines the skills of a mathematician and a magician in real life, and that rather interesting combination shows up in his Masonic writing as well. It is said that it takes a magician to penetrate the surface illusion and reveal the workings. Mathematicians are known both for seeing the world clearly as it is, and for creating new world with the flip of a definition. In this book he looks, with sometimes uncomfortable clarity, at the worlds of Freemasonry and explains how we got where we are. If what you are looking for is a comforting pat on the head and the assurance that there really are no monsters under the bed, look elsewhere. There are monsters, and Bro. Brent shows you where they are. Not that the book is negative—far from that. But it is a dose of reality. I really recommend this to your attention.

Bros. Arturo de Hoyos, 33°, Grand Cross and S. Brent Morris, Ph.D. 33°, Grand Cross, Committed to the Flames: This History and Rituals of a Secret Masonic Rite, Hersham, Surrey: Lewis Masonic, 2008, hardbound, 290 pages, illustrations, ISBN 085318-293-1, cover price $36.95, www.scottishritestore.org.

You may have seen an announcement of this book in the last Journal. That is where I first became aware of it, and sent off an order. Glad I did! This is a “howdidit” rather than a “whodunit,” and it’s a great ride because it’s true. For a quick background, let me quote from the cover flap.

In 1826, Robert Benjamin Folger, a recent graduate of medical school and a new Master Mason, filled a book with the enciphered Craft rituals of the Rectified Scottish Rite (Knights Beneficent of the Holy City or CBCS), a high-grade revision of the Rite of Strict Observance, well known in Europe but unknown in the United States. His introduction directed that the rituals be “committed to the flames” upon his death. Fortunately for Masonic historians these instructions were not followed.

And fortunately for us, this book was written. Our Brothers first give us a very useful background of the Masonic world at the time. The authors point out that Folger “witnessed at least six different grand lodges for the state of New York; lived through the American Civil War; and saw more than fourteen supreme councils for the Scottish Rite come and go.” Then they take us through the background and rituals. It is very well done and very exciting.

This book gives you the best sense of earlier American Masonry I know of. It’s not just the presentation of the rituals but of the context which makes this so compelling.

Bros. Loran Frazier, W.B. Robert Herd, Timothy W. Hogan, 32° KCCH, Cliff Porter, 32°, KCCH, Greg Starr, 32°, “Frater Vel” , plus Jason Augustus Newcomb, and Brian Pivik, The New Hermetics Equinox Journal, volume four, New Hermetics Press, February 2010, softbound, 260 pages, available on the Internet for $24.95.

Continuing in the tradition of little-known Masonic orders, Bro. R. Gregory Starr provides new translations of rituals from The Order of African Architects. In an introductory passage, Bro. Starr gives a brief background of this Order. He then provides the opening ritual and a table-lodge ritual. It is interesting material.

Then, in the same issue, Bro. Cliff Porter has a fascinating article entitled “In Search of the Hermetic Devil.” We know what Light symbolizes, but what is symbolized by Darkness? Well done.

Bro. Tim Hogan (see book below) has an article entitled “The Alchemical Influence on the Esoteric Tradition.” He is a practicing alchemist, which brings an extra dimension to his writing. In this article, he describes the stages in alchemical operation as they can be seen to relate to initiation. It makes you think.

There is much more in this issue, including some really funny sarcasm pointed at those who see Illuminati lurking behind every shrub. But, fair warning, there is also material here which is very edgy. I’m sure the purpose is not to put anyone’s back up, but I’ve dealt with my cat long enough to know that it doesn’t require intent to produce the result.

Bro. Timothy Hogan, 32°, KCCH, The 32 Secret Paths of Solomon: A New Examination of the Qabbalah in Freemasonry, privately published, 2009, softbound, 100 pages, illustrations, ISBN 978-0-557-04610-2, available on the Internet for about $15.00.

Bro. Tim has done a good job of making this topic as clear and easy to understand as possible. But be aware that there are very real limitations on how possible that is. For many of us, the Qabbalah (or Kabbalah or many other spellings) is something Madonna was “into,” and it has little other meaning. Which is a great pity, because so much of the symbolism of Freemasonry in general and the Scottish Rite in particular comes from it. You will not simply breeze through this book, but that’s all right—the subject deserves much more than a quick skip across the mind.

Bro. Michael A. Halleran, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Freemasonry in the American Civil War, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010, hardbound, 229 pages, illustrations, maps and tables, ISBN 978-0817316952, cover price $24.95, available on the Internet from $16.47.

Bro. Halleran is a superb storyteller. Many are the stories of Masons in time of war who refuse to harm other Masons, no matter what side they represent. Even more there are stories of Masons stopping to give burial to Masonic dead. So the question is asked: Is that based in fact, or is it a matter of pretty legend?

Bro. Halleran is a Kansas Mason, a practicing attorney, and a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Crime & Delinquency Studies at Emporia State University. The book has drawn critical praise from the academic as well as the Masonic communities.

“From first-person accounts culled from regimental histories, diaries, and letters, he has constructed an overview of 19th Century American Freemasonry in general and Masonry in the armies of both North and South in particular, and provided telling examples of how Masonic brotherhood worked in practice.”

The war stories (so to speak) are good, well documented, and emotionally moving, but even more useful is the very good portrait of Freemasonry at the time of the War Between the States. The book is compellingly written.

Bro. Tom Accousti, “Zombies and Masons: The Conspiracy” and “The Secret Lesson of Hiram and the Ruffians,”www.masonictao.com. On the heels of the New York Times best seller, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, come these essays on zombies and Freemasonry. No review is necessary as the titles say it all. The writing is droll and clever, and either Bro. Accousti has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, or we need to be afraid … very afraid. (By S. Brent Morris, 33°, G. C.)