The Freemasons: A History Of The World’s Most Powerful Secret Society, by Jasper Ridley
This particular book is a fascinating one, mostly because the author is not a mason nor is necessarily fully sympathetic, but is at least passing himself off as a sympathetic outsider who is interested in looking at the human story within the history of the Masons and also apparently reflecting on the persecution that comes to organizations that have an interest in secrecy and fraternity. As someone who tends to write about a great many things as an outsider it is always interesting to read a book where the author takes an outsider perspective that is polite and even sometimes friendly but also critical and analytical. That tends to be my own perspective when it comes to esoteric matters and the author has some interesting comments about the question of Masonic history as well as its future in a contemporary world where male-only groups with quirky and ancient customs and traditions will be increasingly irrelevant to people who are interested in political power, especially where there are prohibitions on politicizing meetings and discussions as is the case among the contemporary Masons. If the author is not a friend, he at least mimics my own approach to such matters and that is worth cultivating.
This particular book is a somewhat long one at about 300 pages and it is divided into 22 chapters. The author begins with acknowledgements and an introduction and then discusses the origin of the masons (1) and the question of heresy in early modern Europe (2). After that there is a look at the seventeenth century (3) and the development of the grand lodge in England in the early 18th century (4). Papal hostility (5) and the experience of Masons in France and Germany is then explored (6) as well as the relationship between the English lodge and Wilkes’ call for liberty (7). There is a look at troubles and scandals (8) as well as the American Revolution (9) and the question of Mozart’s The Magic Flute (10) and the French Revolution (11). The author explores loyalist and revolutionary masons (12) as well as Napoleon (13) and the restoration of the French monarchy (14) and the curious case of the kidnapping and likely murder of William Morgan (15). The author explores the importance of Mexico’s Lautaro lodge (16), the nineteenth century (17) and the attacks on masonry in the 20th century (18). Finally, the author closes with a look at worldwide masonry (19), modern freemasonry in Great Britain (20) and the United States (21) as well as the question of whether the Freemasons are a menace (22), after which the author closes with notes and references, a bibliography, and an index.
What is the problem of secrecy? A great many organizations have at least some degree of secrecy about their traditions that are most close to them. I come from a religious tradition that holds its Passover ceremony to be very solemn, for good reason, with deep symbolic reality, which must be treated with proper seriousness. This is not something that tends to be a problem for me, not least as a private person with a voracious attitude towards the acquisition of knowledge, but the author notes quite accurately that there is a sense of hostility and envy towards those who wish to have a private and secret life and it tends to inflame those who have low trust in others. Secrecy is an appeal for someone but something that is intolerable to others, and that has often led to problems and difficulties that are very hard to solve. That is something that I can speak to with a great degree of personal knowledge and experience, and something that I have a high degree of empathy towards from my own personal experience. That which people study and seek to know is not always interesting to others, but wishing to keep it as private makes it more interesting to others and not always in the best ways.