A book on rituals of Initiation

Book Review


State University of New York Press, New York, 2007. Hardback, xxi and 235 pages, £35.00. Paperback, 2008, £11.00. ISBN 13: 978-0-7914-7069-5

It is frequently said that Freemasonry is not an esoteric order. And yet I would contend that such a view largely stems from a misunderstanding, and perhaps a fear, of what the word actually means. For in Greek eso simply means ‘within’, while the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word esoteric as a ‘doctrine’ or ‘mode of speech’ ... ‘communicated or intelligible only to the initiated’. Now it is well known that Freemasonry has modes of speech peculiar to each degree and that those words are only supposed to be communicated or intelligible to someone who has been regularly initiated or passed into that degree. Therefore, according to this definition, Freemasonry must be esoteric. Moreover, if Freemasonry is chiefly about the candidate erecting the temple within, then plainly Freemasonry is esoteric from this particular standpoint also. And yet of the many thousands of books and papers that have been written on the association, it is somewhat ironic that precious few have seriously focused upon the initiatic and esoteric aspects of the craft. Indeed, this is rather strange, given that the central mission of the craft is to initiate good men (and women in some orders) in an attempt to make them better.

It is therefore a great pleasure to see published an academically sound and a highly readable study of Freemasonry’s role as an initiatic society examined in context of the broader streams of western esotericism. This study comprises eight chapters which focus on a range of fascinating topics including, the study of western esotericism as an academic discipline, the historical development of western esotericism through the centuries, Freemasonry’s craft and ‘high’ degrees, the nineteenth-century Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and the pagan traditions of the modern era. And unlike many books of its ilk, this book is not beyond the reach of the average reader, for it is cogent, lucid and unpretentious.

Indeed, I would wholeheartedly recommend this work not only to the esoterically-minded serious student, but to anyone who might be looking for a good quality, general introduction to the subject.

Matthew Scanlan, Freemasonry Today

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