Category Archives: book reviews

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

Haunted Chambers – Karen Kidd (2009)

“These women aren’t supposed to have existed. But they did.”

In online communities with Freemasons present (especially British and American), the subject of women frequently pops up and the reactions are always the same. There were no women Freemasons, there are no women Freemasons and women who are member of a mixed or “femalecraft” lodges are not Freemasons either. Karen Kidd, one such female Freemason herself, decided to sift through archives, media and whatnot to discover stories about women Freemasons; not members of the Order of the Eastern Star, mixed or “femalecraft” lodges, but women that were initiated into (mostly) regular lodges in the 18th and 19th century, long before there were other kinds of Freemasonry, many even before there were ‘lodges of adoption’. These are the women that are not supposed to have existed, but who did.

The author found a few well documented cases, quite a few reasonably documented cases and she ends her book with a few rumoured cases. The stories are often quite alike. A (young) woman is so curious about the secrets of Freemasonry that she decides to spy on a lodge; or a woman accidentally overhears the proceedings of a lodge; in either case, she is discovered and the lodge decides that the best way to prevent her from spreading the secrets, is to initiate her so she has to swear an oath of secrecy. In most cases, that is as far as the woman comes. She does not regularly attend lodges, receive additional degrees or anything. In some cases there is more to say about the women though.

An interesting case in the book is Hannah Mather Crocker (1752-1829) who supposedly led an all-women lodge in 1778 (St. Ann’s Lodge in Boston, USA).
The most interesting story to me, was that of Lavinia Ellen “Vinnie” Ream Hoxie (1847–1914) who was the muse of the famous Freemason Albert Pike (1809-1891). Pike supposedly wanted to create a women’s Freemasonry based on the French lodges of adoption, but rewritten to be more Masonic. Pike’s Rite did not make it. Rob Morris (1818-1888) wrote a Rite for women himself (not based on the lodges of adoption) which became more popular and would eventually lead to the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic-like organisation that women related to Freemasons can join.

“Haunted Chambers: The Lives of Early Women Freemasons” makes an alright read. Sometimes the author seems to try to fill her pages by giving a lot of biographical information that is not really interesting regarding the subject; biographical information about (grand)parents even. More amusing are cases in which the author rattled up old newspaper clippings, reports from Masonic journals, etc.

This book is not about the preamble of mixed Freemasonry. Marie Deraismes (1828-1894) is only mentioned in passing. Most of the women in this book did not ask to join and were granted to do so either; they were mostly ‘accidental Freemasons’ who were not really recognised as equal members. Is the fact that they knew (some of) the secrets of Freemasonry enough to call them “female Freemasons”? Some certainly were and those are the most interesting cases from this book. Kidd found only a handfull though.

Reading this book you will learn a thing or two about the early years of Freemasonry and the place of women in the society of that time.

2009 Cornerstone Book Publishers, isbn 1934935557

On Holy Ground: A History Of The Honorable Order Of American Co-Masonry – Karen Kidd (2011)

When I was reading Kidd’s book about women initiated into regular Freemasonry, I ran into the present title. On Holy Ground, as the title says, gives a history of the mixed gender Masonic order “The Honorable Order of American co-Masonry”. Actually, the book is more about Le Droit Humain in America, since “The Honorable Order of American co-Masonry” only exists since 1994 when the American Federation split off from the worldwide Le Droit Humain. Technically, perhaps, the Honorable Order is the same organisation and what is nowadays Le Droit Humain is the split-off. (Or alternally, both organisations sprang from the same source.)

Le Droit Humain is a mixed gender Masonic organisation that was founded in France in the last years of the 19th century. A lodge of the male-only organisation Grande Loge de France wanted to initiate women. This was (and is) a step too far for the Grande Loge, so the lodge broke off and started a new lodge which would later become the organisation Le Droit Humain.

Of course the book focusses on the USA, the homeland of the Honorable Order. After a general chapter, the book starts with Antoine Muzarelli, a French immigrant (with Italian roots) in America who was initiated in a lodge of the Grand Orient de France. This Grand Orient is liberal (and another organisation than the Grande Loge de France by the way), but at the time not so liberal that they could allow women to be initiated. Muzarelli founded a lodge in the USA under the Grand Orient de France, but when he heard of Le Droit Humain, he made contact with the founders in France and started to work to found LDH lodges in the USA instead. LDH was already growing to be a worldwide organisation (with a main seat in Paris), but Muzarelli negotiated a certain level of autonomy for his American branch. This branch grew steadily, but not without problems. Muzarelli also ran into counteractions of “malecraft” Masonry. Still the “American Federation of Human Rights” grew with ups and downs. Muzarelli proved not to be the best manager, but he certainly made a flying start.

Muzarelli’s successor was Louis Goaziou. Under the many years with Goaziou as head, the Federation grew further. Towards the end of Goaziou’s leadership, future problems started to arise. However all over the world, “co-Masonry” (a term of Muzarelli) was virtually taken over by Theosophy. Muzarelli himself had contact with Annie Besant who brought growth for Le Droit Humain in the rest of the world. In America things were quite the opposite. When in the rest of the world, the Theosophical influence started to wane with Theosophy itself, in America the influence grew. Goaziou tried to keep ‘the middle’, his followers would do less so. The growing influence of Theosophy brought friction, but the successive leaders navigated the order through all that. The Great Depression and two World Wars brought a massive drop in the numbers of members. As Theosophy had its own free fall in members, so did co-Masonry. Even though relatively autonomous, the American Federation had to go through ‘Paris’ for certain things. The leaders alternally were on good and on lesser terms with ‘Paris’. Things were not easy, but neither bad, until the 1990’ies, when ‘Paris’ decided to tighten the strings and made a decision contrary the proposal of the American Federation on the appointment of the new leader of the American Federation. This eventually lead to the American Federation breaking contacts with ‘Paris’ and go on on their own. A fraction split-off and continued as the American Federation of Le Droit Humain.

Kidd, a member of the Honorable Order, digged deep into the archives. The book has many photos, quotes from personal letters, circulars and magazines and anecdotes. Especially the first two leaders of the order are painted in detail which gives a very personal insight into these pioneering co-Masons. Later leaders are treated more shortly. There are not a whole lot, but still enough, references to Le Droit Humain in other parts of the world. Especially the WWII period gives an interesting peek into the troubles of Freemasonry on the European continent (such as the disappearance of the main seat in Paris). Shorter written about are the Federations in the Far East and Australia.
Even when your interest does not lay in the history of Le Droit Humain in the USA, this book could be a nice; even (or: also) when you have an interest in the history of mixed gender Freemasonry in general, this book is a good purchuse. Especially the first half with with lengthy descriptions of the pioneer days makes a good read.

2011 The Masonic Publishing Company, isbn 1613640056

Women’s Agency And Rituals In Mixed And Female Masonic Orders – Alexandra Heidl & Jan Snoek (editors) (2008)

This book is published by the Dutch academic publisher Brill and these books are always very expensive. The publisher sells the book for € 181,-, the Amazon prices start at $ 194,-. It seems that when you are affiliated to a University, you can get a cheap (€ 25,-) printing-on-demand through Brill.com/mybooks.

As the title suggests the book is about women in Freemasonry and similar orders. It is a collection of essays of a variety of authors. There are some very interesting texts in the book based on meticulous investigations, so it is too bad that these are only available to a specialist audience. Brill has many interesting titles, but you either have to dig deep into your pocket to buy it or to be lucky.

After a lengthy introduction by Jan Snoek, the first text is from the hands of Bärbel Raschke. Raschke writes about Masonic-like organisations that involved women in the early days of Freemasonry. He mostly looks at the well-documented case of Ordre des Hermites de bonne humeur (‘Order of the happy Hermits’) in Sachsen-Gotha (1739-1758). This was an organisation founded by an aristocratic woman who knew many early, German Freemasons. The author writes about the history and a bit about organisation and ritual.
Malcolm Davies wrote the next essay about a very early (1752) lodge of adoption in Den Haag (The Hague), Netherlands. Lodges of adoption were lodges created for the women of Freemasons. They were mostly ‘Freemasonry-like’ with adapted rituals and under patronage of a male Mason. La Loge de Juste seems to have been more of a mixed gender lodge and for a short while it worked under the same Grand Master as the men-only organisation in the Netherlands. Scandals and financial problems brought the end of both the “regular” and adoption organisations. Eventually the (still existing) Dutch “regular” organisation (the Grand Orient of the Netherlands) would only be founded in 1756.
Probably the most controversial essay is of Andreas Önnerfors who wrote about plans to start a Maçonnerie des Dames (‘Ladies Masonry’) of the very conservative Strict Observance. Önnerfors found 57 pages with detailed plans (including rituals for five degrees) in the Masonic archives in Copenhagen, Denmark. Many of these pages are reprinted at the end of the article.
James Smith Allen describes how the rise of women’s rights movement in France ran parallel with the rise of mixed gender Freemasonry. Many persons can be found in both movements.
Anton van de Sande describes the discussion within the Grand Orient of the Netherlands about the admittance of women. A decision that was almost made (!) but when mixed gender Freemasonry reached the Netherlands, the point was put in the refrigerator.
Leaving Freemasonry Hendrik Bogdan presents his essay about women in the Golden Dawn.
The next text initially does not seem to be about women in Freemasonry. In an article translated from French Bernard Dat investigates the claims of Etienne Stretton that he was a high ranking member of an operative organisation in the early days of Freemasonry. At the end the role of women is shortly treated.
More women rights in the text of Ann Pilcher Dayton Freemasonry and Suffrage: The Manifestation of Social Conscience.
Andrew Prescott has a detailed biography of Annie Besant who was very important in the expansion of mixed gender Freemasonry. She was an extremely active and very versatile person.
The last text is a masters thesis investigation into the perception of the three different rites within the Dutch federation of Le Droit Humain by its members.

I always find it interesting to read about people swimming against the stream and this book makes it look like that quite some people did in the early days of Freemasonry. Apparently the major players ‘won’, because the subject about women in Freemasonry is as controversial today as it was in these days. More even. Most essays are about the periode 1700 up until 1800, but after that it took a century before actual mixed gender Freemasonry would be developed.

Indeed, an interesting book. Too bad it is not exactly easy (or cheap) to get.

2008 Brill, isbn 9004172394

A further look at a few chapters can be found on this website:

Renaissance Man And Mason – Piers Vaughan (2016)

Somewhere I read that this author writes about Freemasonry and alchemy. When looking for such a title, I saw no such book. Among the titles of this author at Amazon, the present one seemed the most interesting.

“Renaissance Man and Mason” is a reference to the fact that the author has broad interests like the Renaissance ‘homo universalis’, at least, he is of the opinion that a Freemason should study further than just memorising the ritual.

The book is a collection of lectures that Vaughan gave during the course of many years and at different meetings. Some were addressed at lodges, others at public events. Most of them he gave more than once and here he presents the final version.

The subjects differ widely. The lectures go from (Masonic) history to things like Masonic meditation, spiritual healing, the symbolism of specific degrees and indeed “alchemy in Freemasonry”. The book seems to aim at a Masonic audience, because more than once knowledge of (for example) a certain degree seems required. He is quite explicit here and there. When some (ritual) text is already available on the world wide web, Vaughan does not shy to write about it in this public book.

Interesting I find the historical notions of early Freemasonry in England, how the “Moderns” and the “Antients” split and reunited, and how Freemasonry reached the colony America with lodges chartered by the “Antients” and the “Moderns”. Before the “Antients” and the “Moderns” reunited, America declared itself independent from England, so what about the two different types of Freemasonry?

Also interesting are Vaughan’s esoteric musings. He proves very keen on Kabbalah and to a somewhat lesser extent Alchemy. Both systems he projects on Freemasonry. Less interesting I find the lectures about Masonic meditation and spiritual healing.

Overall “Renaissance Man and Mason” a nice read. This is something quite different from the usual Masonic histories and it gives a nice peek into Freemasonry in the USA. The author was born and initiated in the UK, but has lived, and been a Mason in, the USA for 25 years and he travels a lot Masonically, so he has many comparisons and anecdotes to accompany his esoteric musing about Freemasonry.

2016 Rose Circle, isbn 0981542182

The Lost Rites And Rituals Of Freemasonry – David Harrison (2017)

The author is fairly active on the world wide web and this book has been announced for a while. Harrison has been working on it for some time too, so I expected quite a book. “The Lost Rites And Rituals Of Freemasonry” proves to be a small publication though, under 150 pages of text.

The author is a British Freemason who writes a lot about that subject, usually from a historical perspective. His latest book is largely historical too. The description it tempting. The book would cover strange, obscure and abandoned Masonic Rites including the systems of Willermoz, Von Hund and the like, about which there is not much information in English.

With the limited number of pages, you can imagine that the book is not really in depth. Harrison starts with the most interesting part, the more exotic ‘high grade’ systems that arose in the time with a peak in occult interests. Here you can read about the likes of Cagliostro, Martinez de Pasqually, Willermoz and Von Hund.

A large part of the book is about the variety of Rites that existed in Britain. When the Grand Lodge of London was founded in 1717 another Grand Lodge arose calling themselves “Antient” (and the other “Modern”) and it took until 1813 before these two Grand Lodges merged into the United Grand Lodge of England. There were differences between the rituals of the Antients and the Moderns, but since it was forbidden to print rituals, many local variations came up, sometimes with “pre-union” elements. Now that the number of members is going down, lodges merge or disappear, many of these local variations also disappear and Harrison mentions a lot of them. Only here and there he shows the differences though. The information is mostly historical.

The last part is about Rites that go back to old (and exotic) Rites or persons, such as the Swedenborgian Rite with which Emmanual Swedenborg himself had nothing to do. Also there is a part about symbols that went out of use after the union of the two British Grand Lodges.

“The Lost Rites And Rituals Of Freemasonry” makes a nice read and gives a good idea of the ‘experimental period’ of Freemasonry to the English speaking audience. It would have benefited from more detail though. It is clear that the author studied many Rites, such as the handwritten texts of John Yarker, but shows this only only a few occasions. As the book is now, it is mostly a general introduction to the subject, but not the study book that it is suggested to be.

More light – Julian Rees & Darren Dorente-Bull (2017)

Rees_MoreLightI know Julian Rees for his beautiful book about tracing boards and now he published a new book about “Today’s Freemasonry for men and women” together with Darren Lorente-Bull. Rees has a bit of a name, because he went over from a “regular” United Grand Lodge of England lodge to a lodge of the mixed gender order Le Droit Humain. This British Federation of LDH is what this book is partly about.

The book is only 140 pages and the subjects dealt with vary from general information about Freemasonry (history, symbolism, what happens in a lodge, etc.) to a little bit of history of ‘modern’ Freemasonry and finally mixed-gender Freemasonry, the latter giving an idea of the past of the British Federation. Some pages are filled with lengthy quotes and even an entire “piece of architecture” (a lecture).

Nowhere the information is in much depth. In 10 pages there are 5 theories about the origins of Freemasonry, to give an example.

The little book seems to aim at reaching people who are unfamiliar with the subject of Freemasonry in general, giving the idea that there is more than the best-known variety. It does not say a whole lot about the way a mixed gender lodge works though.

“More light” makes a light read with here and there some information that was new to me (particularly about the British Federation of LDH). It may teach the hardly informed “profane” a little.

The authors claim that this is the first book about mixed gender Freemasonry in English, but of course there already was the book about “the Honorable order of American co-Masonry” (2006).