Fall 2010 Book Reviews

Albert Pike, The Meaning Of Masonry

Cornerstone Book Publishers,  forty-four pages

Paperback ($11.01), Kindle ($5.99)

Reviewed by Jon M. Woodward, Lawrence Lodge No. 6

While not a recent book of this century, or even the last, Albert Pike’s The Meaning of Masonry – originally an oration from 1858– is a book that should hold a prominent location in the library of any Mason who seeks deeper meaning in the philosophy of the Fraternity. As Pike notes, “Masonry is not speculative, but operative. Good masonry is to do the work of life, its practical work is natural life.”

Pike was requested to expound on his philosophy of Masonry at the meeting of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana in 1858. At that time, several of the lodges and appendant bodies were in conflict with each other over who can best work and best agree. This forty-four page book reproduces his lecture to the assembled Masonic bodies of Louisiana, describing his vision of Masonic fraternity in hopes of mitigating the acrimony.

Of singular interest to this reviewer was the timing of this seminal document relative to the publication, thirteen years later, of Pike’s masterwork, Morals and Dogma. There is enough overlap between the morals and philosophy expressed in The Meaning of Masonry that it could be considered an outline or executive summary of the later treatise. Every grand thought about the valor, honor, compassion, faith, hope, charity, and altruism that should be the mark of every good man and Mason is expressed by this book and elaborated upon by the later ritualistic work of the Scottish Rite.

The book was written for the Mason of the mid-nineteenth century, expresses the Masonic enlightenment beliefs of the mid-eighteenth century, yet is eminently descriptive of the desires of the Mason of the twenty-first century.  While written for Masons, it should be read by every man who thinks of petitioning the Fraternity, for it clearly and succinctly describes the reality of Masonic thought – stressing virtue, patriotism, liberty, fraternity, and equality in equal measure as the foundation of the Fraternity.

Michael A. Halleran, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Freemasonry in the American Civil War University of Alabama Press

Hardcover ($25)

Reviewed by: J. Howard Duncan, Lawrence Lodge No. 6

This book already had me by two compelling lures before I removed the wrapper.  It is focused on the impact Masonry had during the Civil War when our nation of one common heritage and language  warred against itself. And, it was written by a Kansas Mason. Brother Halleran is an Emporia attorney.

It was a strange period when men could do their best to kill or wound each other and then show their deepest compassion for the fallen foe discovered to be a Brother Mason. Much has been written about this and also anecdotally handed down through family generations. Halleran feels that perhaps too much has been written, some of which is untrue, despite us as Masons wanting to believe it all.  He has applied his trial attorney skills attempting to sort facts from myths. Multiple sources of individual incidents were compared seeking resolution of conflicting information. Nearly a quarter of the book is devoted to notes and bibliography to reflect the intensive research done by the author. The reader interested in just good entertainment can conveniently omit this part. The reader wanting intellectual depth will appreciate these details.

The author is both a polished writer and a skilled story teller. He does a great job of challenging the face value of dozens of individual stories about the peculiar behavior of Masons during the American Civil War. In one such story he presents an amazingly detailed review of the death of Confederate General Lewis A. Armistead at the very pinnacle of Southern intrusion into the North at Gettysburg.  A number of different versions of this story have floated their way forward to our present time. Halleran can help you make up your mind as to what is likely true.

I recommend this book to Masons and Civil War history buffs everywhere.                                                         

Jack Buta, ed., Fiat Lux

The Philalethes Society

$24.95, available to members with their annual membership fee

Reviewed by: Jon M. Woodward, Lawrence Lodge No. 6

Fiat Lux, Volume One is a compilation of award-winning essays published by the Philalethes Society between 1956 and 1986. Covering a wide spectrum of Masonic interest, the essays range from the detailed description of medieval cathedral construction , through the speculative argument that William Shakespeare authored much of our ritual, to the description of modern Masonry in New Zealand.  Several of the articles research the time before the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717, when Freemasonry was transitioning from an operative to a speculative character.

Of interest to us Kansans may be the treatise of Masonry during the Civil War by Allen E. Roberts, written at the centennial of the start of that war.  The article “Masonry Under Two Flags” includes several references to the “bleeding Kansas” period.  Several other articles deal with Masonry during the periods immediately prior to and after the war as the nation and the Craft attempted to deal with conflicts between morality and economics.

The book is easy to read, and perhaps more importantly, it provides information and insights into parts of Masonic history normally unheard of by the average Mason.  I certainly found it worth my cost of membership in the Philalethes Society this year.