Jim Tresner, 33, Grand Cross
Book Reviews Editor for the Scottish Rite Journal
Publication information has been carefully checked but is subject to change. Before ordering, we recommend you contact the publisher.
Reference books are completely useless—until they are
absolutely essential. The books in this month’s column are special interest
by definition. Some do not relate directly to Masonry at all. But even
those which do not are useful if you want to study the background of the
symbols we use in Masonry or the cultural history from which we arose.
Be warned; rather like looking something up in a dictionary or an encyclopedia
(or eating a single potato chip or M&M), it’s easy to get hooked and
to keep going, long after you’ve found what you wanted.
Secret Texts: The Literature of Secret Societies edited by Marie Mulvey Roberts and Hugh Ormsby–Lennon, hardback, 349 pages, 1995, $55.00 from AMS Press, 56 E. 13th St., New York, NY 10003–4686 Tel (212) 777–4700; Fax (212) 995–5413
This is an interesting book, but definitely stiff going in places. It is a collection of essays written by scholars in several fields. What little it has to say about Masonry is not particularly flattering, but it is worth reading. The titles of some of the essays will give you an idea of the contents. “Alchemical Art and the Renaissance Emblem,” “Science, Magic and Masonry: Swift’s Secret Texts,” “Freemasonry, the Brontes, and the Hidden Text of Jane Eyre.”
I found the essay on the Renaissance Emblem especially
interesting, for example, in dealing with some of Masonry’s iconography.
There is much in the book to enjoy and much to learn, but it is not for
The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols by Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, trans. John Buchanan–Brown, paperbound, 1177 pages, 1996, $19.95 ISBN 014–051–254–3 from Penguin Books (also Viking Penguin), 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014–3657 Tel (800) 331–4624; Fax (212) 366–2666
I have many dictionaries of symbols, but this is one of
the best. The translation from the original French is clear and easy to
read. I especially appreciate the fact that the authors give full descriptions
of the symbolic meanings—often dictionaries of symbols content themselves
with very few words. In studying Masonic symbolism, it is useful to see
how other cultures and times have used the same symbols, and this book
is very helpful. Especially considering the low price, this is a book I
could recommend to every Freemason who has any interest in symbolism.
The Hermetic Museum: Alchemy and Mysticism, by Alexander Roob, paperbound, 711 pages, 1997, $29.95 from Taschen Press, 230 Fifth Ave., Suite 1602, New York, NY 10001 Tel (212) 683–3377 Fax (212) 683–5858
Seldom would I recommend a book so that the reader can “look at the purty pictures,” but this is one. It is remarkable for a paperbound book. The pages are of heavy, coated paper, and there are hundreds of illustrations (more space is given to illustrations than to text), many of them in color. That is especially useful when some symbols rely upon color for their full significance.
The title of the book may be a little off-putting (you
don’t need to be “into” either alchemy or mysticism to find the book valuable),
but the book is really a series of discussions of some of the philosophical
ideas which have occupied human thought over the centuries. There is a
section entitled “Divine Geometry,” for example, which gives a rich background
for understanding the lecture on geometry in the Fellowcraft Degree. It’s
not that the author is speaking of the Masonic significance directly, but
the information he presents gives several moments of “Aha! So that’s where
it came from!” as one remembers the words of the lecture.
Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia by Henry Wilson Coil, hardbound, $69.50, plus $1.75 S&H from Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., Inc. 3011 Old Dumbarton Rd., Richmond, VA 23228 Tel 800–637–4640; Fax 804–266–8256 (Visa or MC accepted.)
If you only own one Masonic encyclopedia, this should probably be the one. Masonic encyclopedias share the fate of all encyclopedias—they are out of date before they are printed. Since very little serious Masonic research was done for better than a century, the knowledge changed very little. Now, so much is being done, so many traditions are being researched to separate fact from teaching-myth (both equally important but not equally historical), that it is impossible for a book to reflect all the current knowledge. Although this encyclopedia was revised in 1996, there are already some points on which Masonic scholars take issue.
But those points are few and far between, and Coil’s Encyclopedia
is still perfectly good for most purposes—certainly for the information
most Masons will need and want. If you’ve never browsed a Masonic encyclopedia,
you’ll be amazed at just how much information is contained in this text’s
more than 1,750 articles.
The Migration of Symbols, by Count Goblet D’Alviella, paperbound, 277 pages, $19.95 & $5.50 S&H. Kessinger Publishing, PO Box 160, Kila, MT 59920 Tel 406–756–0167; Fax 406–257–5051; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (Visa, MC, Discover, AmEx accepted.)
Originally published in 1984, this was a ground-breaking
book in its day, and it still contains much of value for Masons interested
in the ways symbols move cross-culturally. The author was a Grand Master
of Belgian Masonry and was highly regarded as an expert in symbolism. The
section “Causes of Alternation in the Meaning and Form of Symbols” is especially
interesting, and the information on the many forms and meanings of the
swastika shows just how many forms a symbol can assume. (For those who
associate the symbol only with Hitler, it can be an eye-opener.)
Freemasonry at the Top, by John E. Beaumont, 33°, paperbound, 131 pages, $10.95 plus $1.75 S&H from Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., Inc. (Contact information above.)
This book could be subtitled “A how-to book by one who did.” Bro\ Beaumont became Master of a Lodge which needed a little excitement. He provided it, reactivating old members in the Lodge, bringing in new members, and increasing Lodge attendance to a remarkable level. For anyone concerned with the future of Masonry and is wondering what one Worshipful Master can do to turn his Lodge around, this is a valuable reference work of practical, tested, and proven solutions.