Thursday, January 20, 2011

Available Now: Freemasonry: An Introduction

Today is the official publication date of my new book, Freemasonry: An Introduction, published by Jeremy P. Tarcher, an imprint of Penguin Books. The book is available at a substantial discount through clicking on the ad to the right. (Disclosure: ordering through the ad also nets me a little cash). You can read the publisher’s description in this earlier post, but in today’s post I thought I would explain what I think is special about this book.

Over the years, I have read a lot of books introducing Freemasonry. I have often come away from such books feeling that I really have not learned why someone would become a Freemason in the first place, what it brings to his life, what it does for him. I wanted people to know what Freemasonry could mean in the life of the individual Mason. So, for this book, I wrote a 15-page chapter, “Why Men Become Freemasons,” where I go into the meaning of initiation, and ways that Masonry is a vehicle for self-development, a fellowship, a place of ritual, and a set of opportunities for service. I also describe the outer and inner experiences of being a Freemason in a 20-page chapter, “How Freemasonry Works.”

One of the most disappointing things for me about many introductions to the Fraternity is that they either downplay or wildly overplay the idea of both secrets and esoteric knowledge within Freemasonry. The fact is that Freemasonry has both, and I think that we as Masons should be very clear about that, and about how that is so, especially given that this is a major reason why many men these days are looking into the Fraternity.

The secrets of Freemasonry come in two flavors. There are the signs of recognition, whereby Masons from different regions may know one another as Masons. The signs of recognition provide an important link to centuries of Masonic tradition and our mythic history. There is also the inner transformation of a Mason as he comes to contemplate the Fraternity’s symbolism; this is a secret because it can only be known through one’s personal experience. So, in this book, I write about the meaning of Masonic secrecy, and its meaning in the modern world.

When I say that esoteric knowledge is available within Freemasonry, I am not referring to what Masons call “the esoteric work,” the precise and confidential wording of our ritual. Rather, I mean that Freemasonry does convey knowledge that is “esoteric” in the formal sense, in that it is of unusual interest but is conveyed only to a specially initiated group. So, in this book, without giving any confidential knowledge away, I write about Freemasonry in connection with a number of esoteric topics: the initiatic tradition in ancient times; the Temple built by Solomon, as a symbol; the interest of 17th and 18th century Freemasons in topics like alchemy. I do not give credence to the unsupportable assertions of some authors, but I do not ignore the interests of early Freemasons in esoteric knowledge.

Another thing that bothered me about many introductions to Freemasonry is that they give a superficial gloss on areas of controversy concerning Freemasonry. Yet, it is such controversies that often appear in the newspapers, leaving potential candidates for Masonry confused regarding what to think about the Fraternity. So, for the book, I wrote a 29-page chapter, “Masonic Controversies,” where I give an up-front consideration of Masonry’s stance toward women and African Americans; allegations accusing Albert Pike of involvement with the Knights of the Golden Circle, the Ku Klux Klan, and Satanism; and efforts in Great Britain aimed at requiring public registration of Freemasons in law enforcement, the judiciary, and the armed forces. I also wrote a 21-page chapter, “Anti-Masonry: Accusations Versus Truth.”

In short, I packed a lot of material into a pocket-sized, 196-page book, material that would be useful to the man interested in looking into Freemasonry, to family members who might continue our tradition, and to many a brother as well—all at a very affordable price. I deliberately wrote this in such a format that it would be both useful and economical for Particular and Grand Lodges to make copies available to prospective candidates and new initiates alike.

This is what I think is special about this book. Below, I give an annotated table of chapter titles. (Each chapter also comes with a brief summary.)

INTRODUCTION: Who this book is for • Why I wrote it • Acknowledgements.

1. FREEMASONRY: WHAT IT IS: Different perspectives on Freemasonry (social fellowship; place of ritual and symbolism; vehicle for spiritual growth) • What Freemasonry is not (a religion; a path to power or status; a conspiracy) • “But what about the ‘mysteries’?” • Masonic secrecy.

2. WHY MEN BECOME FREEMASONS: Freemasonry as an initiatic tradition (what initiation is; initiation throughout history; initiation in Freemasonry; symbols and teachings) • A vehicle for self-development • Fellowship • Ritual • Service.

3. HOW FREEMASONRY WORKS: An evening at Solomon’s Lodge #987 • Affiliated groups (the Rites; groups for family members; “fun” groups) • Being a Freemason: The inner experience (lifelong journey to light; walking uprightly before God and man; treating each other as brothers; conducting oneself as a gentleman in society; service to the community and society; upholding religious tolerance).

4. MASONIC SYMBOLISM: The Square • The Level • The Plumb • The Compasses • The Square and Compasses • The Altar, the Volume of Sacred Law, and the Temple built by Solomon • The Letter G • Other symbols.

5. HOW FREEMASONRY BEGAN: The initiatic tradition in ancient times • The medieval Knights Templar • The medieval stonemasons of Europe • The late Renaissance and early Enlightenment • The founding of the first Grand Lodge • Freemasonry and the founding of the United States.

6. MASONIC CONTROVERSIES: Women and Freemasonry (Freemasonry has a right to be a fraternity; Masonic-affiliated organizations that involve women; alternative forms of Freemasonry) • African Americans and Freemasonry (the reception of African Americans into the Lodge; recognition of Prince Hall lodges) • Albert Pike (rumors involving him in the Knights of the Golden Circle, the Ku Klux Klan, and Satanism) • Violating Masonic civil rights in England.

7. ANTI-MASONRY: ACCUSATIONS VERSUS TRUTHS: Freemasonry and religion in general • Freemasonry and accusations of devil worship • Freemasonry and Christianity in general • Freemasonry and the occult • Freemasonry and international conspiracy • Freemasonry and Roman Catholicism • Some thoughts on anti-Masonry.

8. FREEMASONRY IN FICTION: MYTH VERSUS REALITY: From HellThe League of Extraordinary GentlemenThe Da Vinci CodeNational TreasureNational Treasure: Book of SecretsThe Lost Symbol.

9. HOW TO BECOME A FREEMASON: Establish eligibility • Find the local lodge • Get to know some of the local lodge brothers • File a petition • Meet with the investigation committee • Undergoing the “trial of the ballot box” • Receive the degrees of Freemasonry • After receiving the three basic degrees of Freemasonry.

10. LEARNING MORE ABOUT FREEMASONRY: Introductions to Freemasonry • Masonic symbolism • Masonic history • Responses to anti-Masonry.

GLOSSARY: 24 entries regarding terms with meanings special to Freemasonry, such as “Initiate” and “Regular Freemasonry.”

REFERENCES: Full source information for 130 works referenced in the book.

ILLUSTRATION CREDITS: Full source information for 13 public domain illustrations, many available on the Internet.

INDEX: 12 pages of index entries.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: My scholarly credentials and specific Masonic affiliations.

Copyright 2011 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.