A Dictionary Of Freemasonry, by Robert Macoy
During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, there was a great focus in trying to recover the intellectual heritage of the West. Whether it was people seeking to uncover the connection between the Bible and history, or the institutional history of various churches and other groups, a lot of people sought to understand the history and traditions that had been received up to that time. Nowadays, of course, such traditions are often viewed with a high degree of scorn, but at the time this book was written, people were prepared to take them seriously and this book does take the traditions it talks about seriously, and these are a very mixed set of traditions explored in a striking and unusual way. If some of the material included here is repeated, there is a sense in viewing it from different perspectives, so as to better understand the different layers of meaning that things have based on the context in which they are included in. And if there is one thing this book does, it is presenting information in a context where it means a lot more to some readers than it will mean to others, which is not too surprising, I suppose.
This book is a massive and sprawling effort at about 700 pages. Surprisingly enough, there are not very many sections of this massive book. The book begins with a foreword that looks back on the material and comments that it was a sincere effort but does not represent the sort of scholarship that would be en vogue in the contemporary period as far as the masons and their complex traditions. After that the author presents a general history of freemasonry that is organized in a chronological fashion, discussing the various components and precursors and potential early efforts, as well as a look at how it is the freemasonry began in various countries and various states of the United States, which is itself a complex story. The second section of the book contains a cyclopedia of freemasonry that discusses various esoteric, occult, and mystery traditions that go into freemasonry, which is freely admitted, whether one is looking at Egyptian religion or the Mithras cult or Kabbalah, or other related traditions. The third and final section of the book, which takes up about 300 pages, is a dictionary of symbolical masonry which explores the symbolism of masonry and the various levels of the Scottish and York rites and the like.
There are a lot of strange and wonderful things that one can find out from a book like this. The author makes a big fuss, repeating it several times, about the supposed ability of the 16th century freemasons in avoiding trouble from Queen Elizabeth by convincing them that they were not involved in political or religious disputes but were focused on the exploration of knowledge and the cultivation of virtue. And given Elizabeth’s fondness for seekers of occult wisdom like John Dee (one of her courtiers), this is not a wholly unbelievable story, even if it seems a bit convenient. More entertainingly, the author discusses the complex beginnings of freemasonry in Florida, which started as a Spanish-language lodge that was abandoned as a result of all of its members moving elsewhere in the Spanish empire after the United States took over Florida, and was re-started several years later by American masons among the Southern settlers of the territory. This is not really the sort of book that one would expect, but it is full of interesting stories and history that deserves to be remembered, among a lot of traditions of dubious provenance, which I suppose is why the book remains in print and remains read to this day.