Volume LVSpecial Inaugural Edition January 2008Number 1

FREEMASONRY, Rituals, Symbols & History of the Secret Society
by Mark Stavish   Reviewed by Bro. Charles S. Canning, Academy of Masonic Knowledge

"Freemasonry" is one of the most comprehensive studies written on the esoteric aspects of Freemasonry in the past 50 years. The author is a recognized scholar in the field of Western magic traditions and approaches Freemasonry from a fresh non-traditional viewpoint. He is also a Pennsylvania Master Mason.

Bro. Stavish provides a workbook format with each chapter, encouraging the reader to become immersed in the subject through recommended exercises and readings. Pennsylvania Masons will not be reading about Pennsylvania Masonry, but will be exposed to broader view of the Craft. Most books on Masonic rituals and symbols are written for jurisdictions outside of Pennsylvania. The great expansion of symbol motifs that occurred at the turn of the 19th century set Pennsylvania's purer ritual apart. In this text, Stavish makes the connection with the esoteric past, which is carried by the broad scope of Masonry into the present.

The author guides the reader through an understanding and participation in a truly Masonic journey. Step-by-step, the scope of Freemasonry, its history, philosophy and principles are studied to gain a deeper appreciation of what Freemasonry is and the dimensions of its contemporary existence. Stavish gives us road signs and guides us to a choice of doorways that allow us to begin our journey. Along the way, we understand the esoteric influences and the goal of self-improvement, which is the primary focus.

Through the development of Freemasonry from operative art to a speculative science, Stavish connects the historic context of esoteric thought. Pennsylvania Masons will be less familiar with subjects such as the "trestleboards" of the symbolic degrees and will gain a welcomed appreciation for their meaning.

The lost word and the Masonic quest begin the focus of the second half of the text. This is followed by a review of 18th century occult Masonry, the York Rite and 19th century occult revival, which includes Martinism, Strict Observance Masonry and Rosicrucianism.

While I disagree with the connection of offshoots of Freemasonry, such as Martinism, being a part of the regular Craft, their inclusion here is understandable from the viewpoint of the author, in that they are a 21st century reality in the "universal" scope of Freemasonry.

There are several appendices that address symbols, such as the trestleboards, checkered pavement, Bible readings of the three degrees and the Middle Chamber, which are not included in our Pennsylvania ritual. They provide additional insight and awareness when coming upon these in their general reading.

Stavish notes, "...there are as many variations of Freemasonry as there are Freemasons. Each chooses to make of it what he will, and in turn the Fraternity both shapes and is shaped by its members." Contemporary Freemasonry has failed to provide genuine philosophical teachings for its expectant members. There is a general failure to study the liberal arts and sciences and esotericism. Many see the ideals of the 18th century still vital to Freemasonry today.

This is one of the best studies of the esoteric influence on Freemasonry that I have come across. I had the pleasure of consulting on the writing of this book, and found myself adopting new modes of thinking to my Masonic cosmology. I strongly recommend this book to every Freemason, especially Pennsylvania Masons, that they may fully appreciate the depth of our Craft.

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