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Jim Tresner, 33, Grand Cross
Guthrie, Oklahoma
Book Reviews Editor for the Scottish Rite Journal

Editor’s Note:
Publication information has been carefully checked but is subject to change. Before ordering, we recommend you contact the publisher.

As a general rule, of course, we try to feature new books in this column. But as a friend pointed out to me, there are new Scottish Rite Masons each month, and they along with all of us need to be told or reminded of some of the great books on Freemasonry which are available, no matter how long ago they were published.

Then, too, the general theme of this issue of the Scottish Rite Journal is “heroes,” and Brother Colin Dyer is surely a hero to anyone interested in Masonic research. The column this month is given over to his books (hence “Dyer Straight”) but, as we’ll see, his writing was anything but dire.

Symbolism In Craft Freemasonry by Colin Dyer published by Lewis Masonic–Ian Allan Regalia, paperbound, 184 pages B&W illustrations: available from Macoy Publishing, 3011 Old Dumbarton Rd., Richmond, VA 23228–0759. Credit card orders only phone 1–800–637–4640; fax orders (include return phone number) to 1–804–266–8256; $17.00 + $1.75 S&H (mailed book rate) for first book, 50¢ for each additional book.

This is one of the basic books for any Mason interested in the ritual and symbolism of Masonry. The blurb on the back cover provides a good introduction.

“Freemasonry, in its lodges and ceremonies, makes use of a great deal of symbolism, the origin of the great majority of which is open to speculation. Freemasons of earlier times have not left precise records giving the definite origins of most of the symbols they brought into use in the Craft. Many parallel instances of the use of symbols may be found by which it is possible that Freemasonry could have been influenced, while Masonic symbolism has been a favorite subject for writers in the past. In this book the author has examined a great deal of material in endeavoring to establish the reasons for the incorporation of particular symbolism into Freemasonry. The late Colin Dyer was well known for his research into Masonic history and is the author of several books on Masonic subjects. The reader’s knowledge and appreciation of Masonic symbolism cannot fail to be enhanced by reading this important book.”


Many contemporary writers on the Masonic scene sneer at speculation on symbols and their significations. It is seen as “too soft” a subject or “just a matter of opinion.” But Dyer understood that we are called “Speculative Masons” for a reason.

“I have already said that symbols incorporated in the lore of the Craft were put there by our ancient Brethren for a particular purpose and to express a particular thought or precept. This thought or precept may be very valuable to us in this generation, but we must bear in mind that no particular age has a monopoly of original, deep, or interesting thought, and it is proper that those original symbols should also be considered. Many later writers have expressed their thoughts on the significance to them of the established symbols of the Craft.”

“All I seek to do in this book is to take some of the more common symbols found in the Craft and to endeavor to trace what our forebears intended to teach us by including them and why those particular symbols may have been chosen; and also to consider and appreciate some of the immense amount of speculative writing over the years.”

This matter of thought and speculation is important to Freemasonry. Earlier writers saw it as a duty incumbent on the Freemason, and the language of the Entered Apprentice Charge, at least as used in Oklahoma, strongly supports that assertion. Symbols “work” only when we ponder their meanings and create within ourselves personal, often even idiosyncratic meanings for them. As new symbols have appealed to, or worked for, Masons, they have been added to our iconography. Others have been abandoned. Dyer does a first-rate job in the book, showing that our symbols change over time.

One important note. Dyer was, of course, speaking primarily of Masonry in England. There are significant differences between the ritual in England and America. For me, this simply adds to the interest and value of the book. Those differences are easy to spot, and add to our general knowledge of Masonry, even while they invite us to speculate further on our own.

For those who have an interest in symbolism, this book is definitely a “must read.”

William Preston And His Work by Colin Dyer, published by Lewis Masonic–Ian Allan Regalia, hardbound 290 pages, with illustrations. Available from Southern California Research Lodge, PO Box 939, Ashland, OR 97520–0032; $11.15 + $1.75 S&H; tel. 541–488–8788; fax 541–488–8789. A complete catalog is available upon request.

It is interesting that, although almost every Mason in the United States has experienced and learned the “work” of Preston, as modified and expanded by Webb (hence the “Preston–Webb work”), most of us know virtually nothing about the man. Yet he profoundly changed the Masonic ritual, essentially creating the foundation for the ritual as we know it today. He developed the system of lectures we use. He was a fascinating man; however, many Freemasons have never heard his name.

Dyer has done a great service to Masonry with this book. He deeply researched the facts of Preston’s life which can be verified, traced the development of his writing, and provided copies of his rituals and lectures all in one volume. If you want to see what the Masonic ritual was like in earlier time when it was just beginning the development which would lead to the ritual you know, this is the place to look.

As to the man himself, consider the capsule sketch at the opening of the first chapter. “If [the printing business] was his living, it would be true to say that his life was Freemasonry, and he spent over fifty years in active, involved, and often stormy, membership of that institution, gaining a wealth of experience and knowledge in the study and practice of it. He was by nature impetuous and in his younger days given to physical expression of his feelings; he was proud and stubborn, especially in matters involving what he considered as principle; these characteristics made him a controversial figure in the Freemasonry of his times. In later years he inclined towards mysticism. In matters of business he seemed at times to have no scruples at all, and he extended this attitude into some of his social experiences. On the other hand, he can be shown to have done many acts of great kindness, often in a very unobtrusive manner. From the friendships he formed and maintained, he must have had a warm personality and a strong sense of personal loyalty. This was clearly reciprocated for many of his friends demonstrated great loyalty and affection during his difficult times, even on occasion to their own detriment. This seemingly dual personality, apparently concerned with public and private affairs, showed itself particularly in matters in which his commitment was such as to become an obsession, when he sometimes acted and took decisions in a manner which could lead to the conclusion that he was unbalanced.”

I think I would have liked the man.

Dyer gives the details in the following chapters, along, of course, with Preston’s lectures and printed Masonic material. It is interesting to see how his life played off of and into the development of Masonry as we know it today.