Jim Tresner, 33°, Grand Cross
PO Box 70
Guthrie, Oklahoma
Book Reviews Editor
Scottish Rite Journal

"One must have lusciousness," so says Jennifer, one of the stars of the hit British cooking show series Two Fat Ladies. One must, indeed, and "luscious" isn’t a bad description of this month’s Book Review offerings.

Symbols of Freemasonry by Daniel Béresniak with full-page color illustrations by Laziz Hamani, pub. by Editions Assouline in Paris, distributed in America by St. Martin’s Press. Hardbound, 128 pp., ISBN 2–84323–0330. Available, possibly by order, at your local bookstore (price may vary) or for $45.00, plus $4.75 s/h, from St. Martins Press, 175 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10010. Telephone 1–800–321–9299. Internet availability ($31.50 plus s/h) fromwww.amazon.com

Published by a French firm, with color separations made in Switzerland, typesetting in Paris and printed and bound in Italy, this is an international book in more than one sense of the word. And it is a treasure. Coffee table-sized but not too big to hold and read easily, the book contains some of the most beautiful photographs I’ve ever seen. There are embroidered emblems (see front cover of this issue), painted aprons, details from carved furniture, tracing boards, and many other images to help follow the history of Masonic symbolism. The photographer, Laziz Hamani, has done a remarkable job.

But the illustrations are just that. They illustrate and reinforce the text; and the text is worth reading. A few examples:

"A journey of initiation is not a package tour. There are no sign-posts. The risk of becoming lost, of sliding back when attempting to go forwards, is what gives life to the unexpected. The intertwining of danger and promise creates the possibility of understanding and allows the idea of freedom to be considered a moral value. What Freemasons have to offer is the notion of a society created around the union of diversity; the opposite of a union of conformity....[Freemasons] are delighted not to all have the same opinions, for debate is vital to a culture. Freemasonry is indeed a culture and, like all cultures, is a living fire where answers fuel new questions....

"Freemasons delve into myths in order to understand how the human mind works, with a view to becoming free people, which is to say, people who act rather than react. During their journeys, they cast aside their layman’s rags in order to don their costumes of light and live out different roles. In this way, Freemasons are able to experience a reality which is often denied to or simply ignored by those people bound by the prejudices and certitudes of current, fashionable philosophies....

"Working with symbolism can have a practical application when it helps us to undermine our automatic responses and link words to their origin. It corrects the formation of prejudices which in turn generate aberrant behaviour. Symbolism is immune from the drift towards the occult which often accompanies esoteric study. It does not confuse devotion with mysticism, faith with trust, or servility with good will. It teaches us to think clearly and behave better."

Just looking through the chapter titles gives one a good overview of the book: The Calendar–Dating the creation of the universe; The Chamber of Reflection–Preparation for a journey; King Solomon’s Temple–A community of brothers; The Mosaic Pavement–Opposites united; King Solomon’s Throne–The Master’s chair; Light–A metaphor for the word; The Volume of the Sacred Law–The first greater light; The Two Pillars–A symbol of duality; The Builder’s Tools–Increasing the power of the hands; The Mason’s Clothing–Dressed for work; The Blades–The cut and thrust of clear thinking; The Vegetable World–Food, signs, and attributes; The Animal World–Images for humankind; The World and Nature–Nature is the other great book; Great Banquets–Eating and drinking together; The Most Common Rites–Exploring behaviours through ritual; Lodges of Adoption–Brothers and sisters; Ideas and the Artisan–Thought is the raw material; Becoming a Freemason–Reaching further.

Another advantage of the book is that, written in France and translated in England, it gives an insight into Masonry as practiced by different Lodges in different countries. Consider this description of the petitioning process.

"People generally become Freemasons by recommendation. All candidates have a sponsor. When a Lodge has been informed that it has a new candidate, it votes to see if it will consider accepting him. The Worshipful Master then appoints three investigators, who work in ignorance of one another. Each investigator meets the candidate and drafts a report which is read out in Lodge. Then the candidate’s photo, with name, address and profession are put up on a noticeboard in a place frequented by all the members of the obedience, so that brethren from other lodges can examine them."

The author then explains that the candidate next comes to the Lodge where he is questioned by the members. Only then do they take a final vote as to whether to accept the person as a member. To those of us who have seen Lodge investigating committees meet only with themselves, possibly after a phone call to the candidate, and then report favorably, this seems a phantasm and a dream.

Again, this is a book I can recommend to every Mason—whether your interest is in symbolism or the variations in Masonic practice, or just in a beautiful book. Luscious is a good word for it.

Regalia of the Grand Lodge Officers, The Grand Lodge of Texas A.F. & A.M. by Pete Martinez. Softbound, 18 pages, color illustrations. $18.00 which includes shipping. Order from Pete Martinez, 2408 Holley St. Tyler, TX 75701

While we’re dealing with symbolism, let me call your attention to a beautiful little booklet with some interesting surprises, Regalia of the Grand Lodge Officers, The Grand Lodge of Texas A.F. & A.M. Brother Martinez is, among other Masonic credentials, Past Master of Tyler Lodge No. 1233, Canton Lodge No. 98, and the Texas Lodge of Research. He has brought together and illustrated materials from several sources relating to the aprons of the Grand Lodge officers of Texas. They are unique in Masonry, completely unlike other Grand Aprons you may have seen, and rely heavily on geometry in their designs.

This booklet, printed in full color, illustrates the aprons and describes their origins and meanings. It may be the best short course in geometry in Masonic symbolism available today. Even if you’ve never been closer to the Red River than the Potomac or Mississippi Rivers, you will find it interesting and enjoyable reading. 

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.