If variety is the spice of life, this month we’re trotting out the Tabasco by reviewing two very different books and three booklets for three different kinds of interests.

Who’s Afraid of Freemasons? The Phenomenon of Freemasonry by Alexander Piatigorsky, 1997, Harvill Press of London, 398 pages, hardbound, illustrations, cover price $40.00. Order from your bookstore or the Internet, ISBN 1 86046 029 1.

It’s a little hard to know how to classify this book. Piatigorsky’s primary area of expertise is comparative religion, and he brings that expertise to this book which is divided into two major sections. The first deals with the history and development of the Fraternity, and the second deals with Masonic ritual, legends, and myths. Some of this is not easy reading, but it is interesting. He deals with the question of Masonry and religion in a way not usually seen, starting with the nature of religion and including the very important fact that no one outside the person himself can say whether something is, for that person, a religion. More than most writers, he places Masonry in a context of the history of thought and culture, rather than history as we usually think of it in political and military terms.

Most of the examples of ritual Piatigorsky cites in his work are English rather than American, but the American Mason will have little difficulty identifying both the similarities and the differences.

It is a good, interesting, and intellectually challenging book. It is not one I would recommend for casual browsing, but it very much repays reading. But remember the great injunction: anyone writing about Masonry is giving his opinion. The opinion may be well supported with references, but it is an opinion still. You may find yourself in strong disagreement with some of an author’s interpretations or conclusions—and that is perfectly all right. Any Mason has the full right to assent or dissent as his own interpretation leads him.

Our Masonic Presidents by L. Randall Rogers 1998, Texian Press, 175 pages, softbound, illustrated with photographs, order from author: L. Randall Rogers, PO Box 834, Buchanan Dam, Texas 78609, $12.00, including shipping and handling.

This is an easy and enjoyable book to read, in part because it is liberally illustrated with photographs of homes, monuments, and locations associated with different Masonic Presidents. The information is solid, and the writing style is clear and flowing. This is a good book to buy as a donation to your public library, and it certainly makes a fine addition to a Lodge library as well. Especially interesting, to me, is the summary in the back of the book. It lists, in table form, each Masonic President’s education, occupation, church affiliation, political party, age at death of father, other Masonic Bodies of which the President was a member, Masonic offices held, whether or not he had a Masonic burial, and his home state. The comparisons are interesting. This is also a good book to give new Masons as a quick "leg up" on American Masonic history.

Unveiling the Allegories of the Symbolic Degrees

Our New Jersey Scottish Rite Brethren have every right to be proud of the Valley of Northern New Jersey, and every Mason can take pride in their Ars Collegium Cathedral School of Masonic Studies. Talk about being a leader in Masonic education!

They have just created a series of three booklets under the general title of Unveiling the Allegories of the Symbolic Degrees. They are making these booklets available to their grand Lodge as a part of a cooperative Masonic Education program. More to the point for us, individual Masons can purchase the set of three booklets. They run about 10 pages each, and each has, on the cover, a full-color reproduction of a historic tracing board for the Degree. As you would expect, one booklet is devoted to each of the symbolic Degrees.

This is good material. It is, again, an interpretation, and the same warnings about all interpretations being personal opinions given earlier apply here, but I have not seen anything else in print which goes so deeply and covers so much in so few words. In its intended use, a booklet is given to the candidate after he finishes each Degree, but even if you are a Mason of many years, you will find some new insights in these pamphlets. To order a set, mail a check for $10.00, to Ars Collegium Outreach, Ars Collegium, 99 Two Bridges Road, Lincoln Park, NJ 07035.

Jim Tresner
is Director of the Masonic Leadership Institute and Editor of The Oklahoma Mason. A frequent contributor to the Scottish Rite Journal and its book review editor, Illustrious Brother Tresner is also a volunteer writer for The Oklahoma Scottish Rite Mason and a video script consultant for the National Masonic Renewal Committee. He is the Director of the Thirty-third Degree Conferral Team and Director of Work at the Guthrie Scottish Rite Temple in Guthrie, Oklahoma, as well as a life member of the Scottish Rite Research Society, author of the popular anecdotal biography Albert Pike, The Man Beyond the Monument, and a member of the steering committee of the Masonic Information Center. Ill. Tresner was awarded the Grand Cross, the Scottish Rite’s highest honor, during The Supreme Council’s October 1997 Biennial Session.