Category Archives: book reviews

Ornaments, Furniture and Jewels – Julian Rees (2013)

I was not too impressed with the previous two books of Rees that I reviewed. They make nice reads, but not much more than that. The current title is more like Rees’ wonderful (and similar) book about tracing boards (2015). Like all other titles is not not a thick book, but like the tracing boards book, Ornaments… is a big size (almost A4) book with many images and text.

Rees uses the term “jewels” in another way as you may expect. The book is not about the jewels of the officers or ‘Masonic bling’, but rather about the entire furnishings of a lodge room. Each subject is nicely elucidated making references between different systems such as the Emulation rituals, the workings of the British federation of Le Droit Humain (I guess he must have transferred around this time), but also to French or German workings.

Just as with the tracing boards book, this not only teaches you about symbolism, but also about the rituals and this combination seems to be what Rees is best at.

2013 Lewis Masonic, isbn 0853184127

The Stairway Of Freemasonry – Julian Rees (2007)

As the author says “The Stairway Of Freemasonry” is a follow-up of “Making Light“. A bit too much so perhaps.

The present title is a collection of 30 short essays about a variety of subjects, but roughly the same as what is written about in the other book. There’s not only overlap between the two books, but also between different essays.

Even though Rees addresses both the Mason and non-Mason in his introduction, several chapters are “for (second and) third degree audiences only” and even when considering the other essays I often wonder if they don’t give away too much to someone who is yet to be initiated.

Even more so than in “Making Light” the book isn’t very ‘esoteric’, but rather slightly spiritual, but also still moralistic and with religious tones again. The book presents some nice thoughts and directions for the reader’s own ponderings, but I’m afraid that I find this book even less strong than its predecessor.

2007 Lewis Masonic, isbn 0853182728

Making Light – Julian Rees (2006)

When Rees wrote this book, he (probably) still was a member of a lodge working under the United Grand Lodge of England. Later he would leave it for a lodge under the British federation of Le Droit Humain. The reason for this is that Rees found that UGLE has lost the esotericism of Freemasonry that he did find within Le Droit Humain.

I wouldn’t call this “handbook for Freemasons” “esoteric”, but the author certainly leaves the purely moralistic approach to Masonic symbolism way behind. Rees’ approach is more more spiritual, even leaning towards religious with his many references to ‘reaching towards God’ and the like.

The book mostly seems to aim at the newly made Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason. He tells the reader what has just happened to him (her), speaking about the rituals in detail, giving explanations and most of all, put elements in a context. Of course the book is based on the rituals that he worked him at the time of writing, so details may differ from your own experiences. It is quite likely that your rituals will be different from those described in the book.

Of course, roughly speaking, things will be similar, or at least comparable or understandable, and Rees certainly has some interesting suggestions for approaches to certain elements of the rituals, so just because your rituals may differ, should not withhold you from reading the book.

From the above you may have understood that this is a book for Freemasons. When you are still considering joining, do not yet read this book. Not that you are going to find passwords, signs or steps in this book, but you will know too much of the proceedings to be surprised when you are subject to them yourself and surprise is an important element of undergoing the rituals. According to the author, the non-Mason is better off with “The Stairway Of Freemasonry“.

2006 Lewis Masonic, isbn 9780853182535

Over 300 Years Of Masonic Ritual – Martin Gandoff (2017)

This book has nothing to do with mixed gender or women’s Freemasonry. Rather, it is a book about UGLE ritual. This review is for people with a general interest in Freemasonry.

The author has a fondness for rituals. He collects them and tries to visit as many different lodges as possible. Even though there is some sort of general ritual for English lodges working under the United Grand Lodge of England, there is a lot of variation. The reason for that is mostly historical and so Gandoff sets out to find the oldest rituals and trace the changes throughout the centuries.

The author starts his story way before the foundation of the “premiere Grand Lodge” in 1717. In fact, he starts with a general history of England to give some perspective to the rise of (speculative) Freemasonry. Then he writes about different periods, being: 1400-1620, 1620-1716, 1717-1730, 1751-1801, 1802-1718 and 1818 onwards.
Each period has its peculiarities. Of course in the older periods the author speaks about “operative” Masonry and searches for the rituals referred to in the Old Charges. Also the exposures get many pages, since they probably give the rituals of their own.
Gandoff also puts quite some stress on the troubled history of the “premiere Grand Lodge” with its rival Grand Lodge, the uniting of the “Antients” and the “Moderns” and what that did to the rituals and so on. He is not soft on the oddities and flaws of his own Grand Lodge either.

The books gives a nice overview of the development of the rituals, the differences and how these came to be. The author tries to do this in a loose writing style that I don’t always appreciate, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like the book. It would have been nice had it been a bit more in depth, but I guess it’s meant to get you studying yourself.

Don’t buy the book at Amazon for $ 70,- by the way, just get it from the publisher for £ 15,-.

2017 Lewis Masonic, isbn 0853185433

Glimpses of Masonic History – Charles Leadbeater (1926)

Leadbeater was influential early in the development of mixed gender Freemasonry and at the peak of the Theosophical influence. Annie Besant was also a Theosophist and she also introduced Theosophical elements into her Freemasonry, but Leadbeater (together with Wedgewood) went way over Besant in that regard.

Even though attempts were made to get rid of the Theosophical elements within the rituals of Le Droit Humain, there are still lodges who work with either the Besant of the Leadbeater rituals. For members of both types of lodges, the present book and the similar Hidden Life In Freemasonry of the same author are interesting, because Leadbeater sometimes explains why certain elements were added and why they are as they are. Also for people not working in a Theosophical lodge, the book makes a nice read. You get an idea of this ‘exotic’ type of Freemasonry, but also Leadbeater’s very spiritual (and clairvoyant) explanations of Masonic symbolism, sometimes shed a whole new light on the subject.

Both books are available in reprint and ebook, but when you want an original version, they are not too hard to find.

Read more about Leadbeater and his Freemasonry here.

Tracing Boards Of The Three Degrees In Craft Freemasonry Explained – Julian Rees (2015)

The author has long been a Freemason, but around the time he was working on this book, he already contemplated the idea to switch from a “regular” lodge (working under the United Grand Lodge of England) to a lodge working under the British federation of Le Droit Humain. For that reason you will also find tracing boards of ‘irregular” lodges in this book.

The book is printed largely (A4) and colourfully, but not with too many pages (about 100). It has a wealth of information on the symbolism of tracing boards though, also shedding light on symbolism in the rituals. This makes a truly wonderful book that is highly recommended to anyone interested in Masonic symbolism.

A little warning. The book is divided over the three craft degrees, but don’t read parts about degrees you haven’t yet entered. That would give away too much.

2015 Arima Publishing, isbn 1845496612

Freemasonry, A History – Angel Millar (2005)

“Freemasonry – a history” the title says it all. The book is luxuriously presented, large, heavy paper, with many colour plates (mostly aprons), a bit like the popular books about the subject. This is no picture book though and actually the luxury format makes it a somewhat uncomfortable read. The book is too big and heavy for common reading.

Millar has been a Freemason since 2001, so he was rather quick in getting this history out. The book starts with the history/histories of Freemasonry, speaks a lot about what was there before 1717 (when the current United Grand Lodge of England was founded) and the influences on the early organisations. Millar uses the term “neo-Freemasonry” a lot, especially for later Rites and side degrees. Is everything after the original lodges “neo” to him? The book is a fairly common history of Freemasonry. It tends to focus on the USA (where the author lives), but there are also sidesteps to Europe. Not too much stress is lain on the “adogmatic” sort of Freemasonry. There are a few interesting details and here and there the author presents a not too usual angle, but I do not think I read anything really new. But, the book does give the general idea about different rites, kindred organisations, a bit of the symbology (though often much in sum). I am not sure if this book adds much to your collection if you have similar titles in your personal library. On the other hand, a history of Freemasonry written by a Freemason would be my preference, so…
A small endnote. Millar ends with three pages (an appendix) about women and Freemasonry. I know his history of Le Droit Humain is not very accurate, to say the least. I hope the same does not go for the parts of the book I am less familiar with.

2005 Thunder Bay Press, isbn 1592234097

The Crescent And The Compass – Angel Millar (2015)

“The Crescent And The Compass” is quite a different book than Millar’s “Freemasonry, a history”. This is not the least because in the current book, the author walks new paths. According to himself, noone so far has investigated the influence of Freemasonry on Near-Eastern cultures and vice versa.

The first half of the book is with quite a distance the most interesting part to me. Millar opens with a chapter about “Gnosis in Shi’ism and Sufism” speaking about initiations and the various kinds of the two named branches of Islam. Chapter two continues with a similar approach to Freemasonry and quickly runs up to the connections between Freemasonry and Islam, how Sufis became Freemasons and how ‘ideologically’ mixed orders were founded. Then Millar says a thing or two on how (Near-)Eastern religion influenced Freemasonry when Freemasons opened their eyes to exotic religions of the East. The strongest influences can be found in what Millar calls “Fringe Freemasonry”, orders that work similarly to Freemasonry, but are not recognised by Masonic bodies. Chapter two is informative and entertaining.

Then we move to a Sufi Freemason that launched a revolution within the Islamic world to get rid of the colonists, but this revolution would eventually backfire and “Freemasonry” became synonymous with Western decadence in the eyes of many Muslims. In the meantime we learn about the first Muslim convert in the UK, about René Guénon and about anti-Freemasonry, a (to me) new look on the Ayatollah Khomeini and we swiftly roll into Jewish/Masonic conspiracies that followed the publication of the Protocolls of the Elders of Sion.
The start of “Prince Hall” (‘black’) Freemasonry followed by black nationalism in the USA is followed by Anders Breivik and Prince Charles in three very different chapters.

In his conclusion, and especially his afterword, Millar calls to us to develop new ways of looking at the world, especially the religion of Islam and its role therein.

I mostly enjoyed the historical parts about Freemasonry in Muslim countries, but in general this little book (some 180 pages to read) touches upon subjects close to my heart. Numen Books has added an interesting title to their roster and seeing how much attention this book gets on Facebook, the publisher might reach quite an audience with this title and the author most likely a different audience from his less innovatory title of a decade earlier.

Early 2018 a revised version of the book has been published.

2015 Numen Books, isbn 0994252501

Freemasonry: Foundation Of The Western Esoteric Tradition – Angel Millar (2013)

Millar’s first book is a nice, but nothing really new, history of Freemasonry, mostly in America. His other two books are also about Freemasonry, but about aspects written about less. Freemasonry and its influence in the Middle East in The Crescent and the Compass and Freemasonry and it relation to esoteric and occult societies in the current title.

Now of course there have been many spectacular books written about occultism and Freemasonry, but Millar’s book is more serious and leaves aside all the conspiracy theories and speculations. It certainly makes a nice read. Millar writes about the foundation and development of some of the High Grades, semi- and para-Masonic organisations and of course how things such as Alchemy and Kabbalah krept into Masonic symbolism in its developing days.

Millar is a Freemason himself, but he does not make value judgements on irregular branches of the Masonic family and treats them like their regular brother-organisations. The same with groups and people about whom a lot of nonsense has been written such as William Wynn Westcott and Samuel MacGregor Mathers and their Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley and the Ordo Templi Orientes and Gerard Gardner and the Wicca movement.

The book is hardly 170 pages (plus bibliography and index) and this includes two appendices with etchings (on unnumbered pages) of Hejonagogerus Nugir with explanations and some images referred to in the book. The chapters are about subjects such as Alchemy, Cabala and Magic, Roman Catholic Mysticism, Rosicrucians (like the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer and SRIA), Golden Dawn, O.T.O., Wicca and a short chapter about Freemasonry and Northern European paganism.

Millar managed to get some structure in the mess of early Masonic, semi- and para-Masonic organisations, Rites, grades and people who were involved in several of those. His unbiased writing style makes this a highly recommended book for people who are interested in the named organisations and in this lively time of early Freemasonry. Several of the subjects could use some more depth, so hopefully the author has not finished his investigations of those yet.

2013 Salamander and Sons, isbn 9780987520623

The Masonic Magician – Philippa Faulks & Robert Cooper (2008)

A book about Count Cagliostro (1943-1795) and his Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry. I knew that Cagliostro was a controversial character and that his Rite is considered irregular. His Egyptian Freemasonry would later become the Rite of Misraïm which later merged with that of Memphis (1881) to the Rite of Memphis-Misraim which is still practised here and there. It all seemed interesting enough to get the book.

The best part of the book is the first one about “the life and time of Cagliostro”. The authors portray a man that loved humanity, healed the sick for free using his capacities. Also he was a gifted fortune teller and general esotericist and magician. People not happy with Cagliostro’s rising star started to spread rumours about him being a fraud, saying he is actually called Joseph Balsamo and generally holding down his star; rumours that follow the name of Cagliostro to our very own time while nobody really seems to know what is true and what is not. Cagliostro does not receive the benefit of the doubt. Not often that is, since Faulks and Cooper try to rehabilitate the good man.
In this first part we also follow Cagliostro’s Masonic carreer and how he came to create a Rite that he thought would not only supplement (not replace), but also perfect Freemasonry. Initial praise later became ridicule and Cagliostro’s Rite never grow very large. This is partly due to the fact that Cagliostro allowed women to join his lodges.

The second part is about “the origins and history of Freemasonry”. Most of what you can read here is known, but the authors have a slightly different angle on the early days of Freemasonr when they bring William Shaw (1550-1602) on stage, a man who brought Western esotericism to Masonic (“operative”) lodges.
Better known history, persecution, etc. is all dealt with in this chapter.

In part three we get a translation (the first in English) of an early French transcript of the largest part of Cagliostro’s Rite (including the first three degrees). This proves to hold the middle between Rites of Freemasonry and ceremonial magic. The authors also analyze the Rite making some rather swift conclusions about sources, but this chapter does make Cagliostro’s Rite a bit alive and some explanations are worth considering.

There is a lot to say about the colourfull Cagliostry and that is exactly what Faulks and Cooper do in their 300+ paged book. It makes a nice read about an interesting time in history and interesting developments in Western esotericism.

2008 Watkins, isbn 1905857829