Winter 2011 Book Reviews

AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE KNIGHTS HOSPITALLER

By Stephan Dafoe

There are several good reasons for buying this book, but searching for a connection between the Knights Hospitaller and Freemasonry is not one of them.  Author Dafoe presents an extremely detailed history of the Knights Hospitaller from their formal creation by Pope Paschal II in the year 1113 [six years before formation of the Knights Templar] to the present day.  The Order’s mission was originally to  care of the sick and infirm within hospitals (it continues to this day), but from 1128 to 1798 it also included the militaristic crusading aspect.  That ended with Napoleon’s taking of Malta and two years later losing it to the British Empire.

The book gives a well developed view of the intricacies within the competing military, religious, and political powers in the medieval era.  The cruelty committed in the name of religion should inspire our present generation to a passion for freedom of religion.  Decapitated heads were flung at the enemy by catapult and cannon.  Surrender meant unarmed death or, if lucky, life as a galley slave chained to a rowing bench.

Dafoe is an excellent researcher and writer, qualities which make the book somewhat of a tome.  If you find that you do not want to read it all, it has some value as a beautifully illustrated coffee-table decoration.  The greatest value of the book is impressing upon our present humankind the true ugliness and tenacity of religious warfare.

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

Ian Allan Publishing

160 pages

Paperback ($22.90)

THE DIRECTOR OF CEREMONIES

By Richard Johnson

The author surely had no expectation that his just released book The Director of Ceremonies, published by Lewis Masonic in England, would be of interest to Kansas Masons.

It was written as a very specific guide to the office of Director of Ceremonies in British blue lodge Freemasonry. We have nothing like this office in Kansas as it performs duties which we have spread over the positions of Master, Secretary, Senior Deacon, Junior Warden, Tyler, Stewards, and Coach. In effect, the British Director of Ceremonies is the Manager of lodge proceedings and meetings. Why should such a narrowly devoted book about something we don’t have in Kansas be of interest to Kansas Masons?

It serves as a highly interesting voyeur experience for the Master Mason curious about how English Masonry differs from Kansas Masonry. In the UK, the Director of Ceremonies is almost invariably a Past Master and a highly accomplished ritualist. Johnson is no exception to these basic characteristics, and he is a skillful writer with an entertaining sense of humor. How can you avoid an inward chuckle when reading his remarks about the Master splitting his trousers at an elevating moment in the third degree?

Perhaps the most singular distinction between American and English Masonry is formality and recognition regarding Provincial and Senior Grand Officers in Great Britain. These dignitaries, several of whom are usually present at any given meeting, have specific seats determined by rank and are given specific formal salutes by all except higher ranking officers. The English lodge attire is much more formalized, including the wearing of white gloves. Many of their meetings include wine toasts starting with to the Queen and the Craft. After the meeting, there is a bar and sometimes a meal. The English also have some specialized blue lodges known as Emulation Lodges which feature accomplished ritualists and do lengthy full ceremonies.

The book price is clearly a bargain compared to round-trip airfare. Even if you intend to visit an English lodge, buy the book as trip preparation.

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

Lewis Masonic

80 pages

Paperback ($16.95)

THE MEANING OF MASONRY

By Albert Pike

While not a recent book of this century, or even the last, The Meaning of Masonry is a book that should hold a prominent location in the library or 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.”

Albert 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 slim volume (44 pages) 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, and it expresses the Masonic enlightenment beliefs of the mid-18th century, while remaining relevant to the Mason of the 21st 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.

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

Cornerstone Book Publishers, published for the Louisiana Lodge of Research

Paperback ($11.00), Kindle ($5.99)

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