Masonic Books | Recommended Reading
The following list of Masonic Books and Recommended Readings, listed alphabetically by author, includes titles by scholarly authors, most of whom are not Freemasons as well as classic Masonic reference works. As they are the most impartial of sources, their works are offered in the interest of preserving the favorable opinion, which many people have held about Freemasonry. As with any subject about which people may become emotionally involved with, hype, sensationalism, exaggeration, illogical or improbable and undocumented claims of too many writers will do more harm than good for those who want as clear a picture as possible of the history and nature of the subject. For Freemasonry, a worldwide, loosely knit organization whose origins are ultimately a mystery, a strong measure of intellectual caution is even more important. Books dealing with append ant bodies, such as York Rite or Ancient and Accepted (Scottish) Rite, have been omitted.
Symbols of Freemasonry. Paris: Editions Assouline. ISBN 2-84323-033-0.
A beautiful coffee table book with text; it displays and briefly explains the outward meaning of the symbols of the Craft. Translated from French, it gives a view of the universality of Freemasonry and at the same time, its variety. Inasmuch as it reflects both the diversity of the Craft and its universality, it is a reminder of what our Founding Fathers meant when they coined the motto E Pluribus Unum for The Great Seal of the United States (about which Ovason has much to say; see entry below). Bersniak’s relationship to the fraternity is unknown to the compiler of this list.
Foucault’s Pendulum. New York: Ballantine Books, 1990. ISBN 345-41827-1-1295.
A wonderful experience with fiction in which the myth and mystique of Freemasonry figures prominently. A real page-turner, but remember it is fiction! Woven into his mystery, Ecco offers two views of Freemasonry in relation to the myriad mythical sequels of the Knights Templar and its reputed relationship with secret or occult societies, whether real or imagined.
Gould, Robert Freke.
A Concise History of Freemasonry. London: Gale & Polden, Ltd., 1903.
Despite more recent research revealing errors and omissions in his scholarship, this work is still a standard work and is frequently cited. Perhaps too frequently; it should be the terminus a quo, not terminus ad quem for investigators, who are advised to discover if any recent articles of merit may have altered, expanded, refuted or corrected his views on any particular subject.
Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. 2 Vols. Montana: Kessinger Publishing Company, 2000 (reprinted from 19th Century facsimile). ISBN: 1-56459-009-2.
A fundamental and famous reference work, rich in history and interpretation – which one is free to accept or not. Highly reliable, even if a bit dated.
The History of Freemasonry. New York: Gramercy Books: 1996 (reprinted from the 1850s). ISBN 0-517-14982-6.
Mackey was a doctor, the son of a wealthy family in Charleston, SC. He practiced medicine briefly, then dedicated himself to Masonic research. This work is dated, in that more historiographical, archival and archeological work has corrected some of his views (these defects are less found in his Encyclopedia). The value of his work lies in the fact that he explores, in forty-four chapters, numerous myths about the origins of Freemasonry, concluding at the end of each chapter that no single theory is sufficient to explain the history of the Royal Art or that many of the theories are pure fabrications. He does not make any definite conclusions about its ultimate origins, leaving the reader to agree with professor Frances Yates who stated in her book The Rosicrucian Enlightenment that Freemasonry’s origins are a “mystery wrapped in an enigma”.
Jacob, Margaret C.
Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-century Europe. ISBN 0195070518.
This work is intellectually accessible to the educated, general reader who is willing to spend the time to read her notes and follow her arguments. She directs her scholarly attention to the charges against, or boasts of, some Freemasons, that the Craft was responsible for the French and American Revolutions. She answers both sides of the controversy with a qualified “yes”, hastening to show that it was the already long-standing practice (in every sense) of self-government in Masonic lodges that provided a blueprint for the rise of our respective constitutional governments, based on utopian ideas about the perfectibility of man and society (at least as goals to strive toward). Any educated Freemason could have told Prof. Jacob that, but it is wonderful to have such distinguished academic testimony of this fact. On the other hand, a careful scrutiny of Benjamin Franklin’s travels and contacts (even in Catholic Spain!) that led to foreign support of the Revolution might push her argument more in support of the commonly held belief.
The Royal Masonic Cyclopedia (Northampton shire): The Aquarian Press, 1987. ISBN:0-85030-521-7.
Very useful, but, as all such Victorian-era works, the contents reflect the idiosyncratic interpretations of the compiler. Still, it contains many entries which are merely factual, such as biographical, historical, literary, etc.; a wealth of data.
MacNulty, W. Kirk.
Freemasonry: A Journey through Ritual and Symbol. ISBN:0-500-81037-0.
This brief work is exquisitely illustrated and written. It contains excellent reproductions of engravings, posters, paintings and more. It is learned without being pedantic. He asserts, in a balanced and well-articulated argument based on examination of the ritual and its symbolism that the origins of the craft are to be found in Renaissance Neo-Platonism. MacNulty is a Mason.
A Dictionary of Freemasonry. New York: Gramercy Books, 1989. ISBN: 0-517-69213-9.
Another valuable reference, somewhat marred by its lack of clear organizational principles. It combines a few good features of an encyclopedia with a dictionary. Entries are well written.
The Secret Architecture of Our Nation’s Capital. ISBN 0-06-019537-1.
Very esoteric and a constant intellectual challenge. The more knowledge of astronomy and astrological lore one has, the easier the book will be. For readers willing to study, it is ever intriguing, Ovason details, and provides important documentation for his argument which is, in essence, that the development of the design and erection of structures in Washington, D.C. was and is according to an astronomically oriented plan, and has been in the hands of Masons through most of its history. The author assures readers that he is not a Mason. The compiler of this list lived in DC for a decade and has confirmed the correctness of his architectural and compositional observations; his interpretation of course, is open to debate, but is quite compelling.
The Knights Templar and Their Myth. Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books, 1990. ISBN 0-89281-273-7.
A responsible, serious, historical examination of the Knights Templar and the myths that arouse from their destruction and disappearance. He treats all Masonic claims of Templar origin as fanciful at best and intellectually dishonest at worst. While more academically responsible than those that try to prove the Templar origins of the Craft which inevitably and invariably stretch the meaning of good evidence to cover gaps in documentation, Partner may be too timid about accepting the wealth of evidence suggesting that order’s influence on the development of Freemasonry.
Freemasonry: The Study of a Phenomenon. London: The Harvill Press, 1997). ISBN 1-86046-265-0.
This is a book for specialists in history, sociology, religious studies, anthropology or anyone willing and able to work to understand this opus magnum. The author is a non-Mason. He is a professor of comparative religion at the School of African and Oriental Studies, London. Piatigorsky presents anecdotal data to examine the attitudes of insiders (an emic approach) and outsiders (an etic one) as well as what each thinks the other thinks or declares about the Craft. He arrives at his own highly qualified, narrowly defined, disputable and controversial conclusion that Freemasonry is a form of religion – or can be for anyone on any side of this all-too-common controversy. A Russian migr, he dedicates much attention to the Craft in Russia.
Pound, Roscoe, LL.D.
Lectures on the Philosophy of Freemasonry. Anamosa, Iowa:
The National Masonic Research Society, 1915. In this rather slender volume, Pound, a law professor at Harvard in the early 20th century, provides an eloquent and clear framework for Masonic scholars and scholars of Freemasonry to circumscribe their investigations. This framework consists of identifying and defining the fields in which the subject falls: ritual, symbolism, history, jurisprudence and philosophy. He notes that these areas often overlap. In addition, he provides models of four types of Masonic authors: Preston, the educator; Krause, the moralist; Oliver, the traditionalist; and Pike, famous for his interest in metaphysics (see also Leadbeater, below, for interesting contrasts and parallels). On a pragmatic note, Pound offers three questions which each generation of Masons, and indeed each individual, should answer: 1. What is its nature and purpose?; 2. What is its relationship to society and other institutions?; and 3. What are its principles for achieving its goals?
The Freemasons: A History of the World’s Most Powerful Secret Society. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001. ISBN: 1-55970-601-5.
A well written, thoughtful and researched history book with a wealth of data about Freemasonry and Freemasons in many countries. The greatest defect of this book is its sensationalist title, since it implies that Freemasonry is organized at the international level and also that it is so powerful – the contents of the book, particularly his chapter on the French Revolution, belies this notion.
The Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland’s Century (1590-1710). ISBN 0-521-39654-9.
A non-Mason and professor emeritus of history in the Department of Scottish History at the University of St. Andrews, professor Stevenson presents clear arguments with documentation from primary sources, to suggest that the formative period of the Craft was in Scotland, immediately prior to the formation of the Grand Lodge in 1717 at Apple Tree Tavern in London. His book is quite valuable, if not conclusive, for it helps one gain a contextualized view of the development of an organization that today, due to its esoteric rituals, is out of place and time to most people, an example of a cultural anachronism or atavism. It shows what influences were likely in forming the Craft as we know it today without discarding the possibility of other influences also having been important.
Waite, Arthur Edward.
A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. New York: Random House Value Publishing, Inc., 1996. ISBN: 0-517-19148-2 (reprinted).
Waite’s clumpy prose style is nearly impossible to read, but worth the read if one is seriously interested in a particular entry. His views on Freemasonry were often controversial among his Masonic contemporaries, among whom were his fellow members of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge of Masonic Research #2076 in London, founded in 1888 and still quite active.
Wilmshurst, Walter Leslie.
The Meaning of Masonry. New York: Gramercy Books, 1980 (reprinted from a 1920s edition). ISBN 0-517-33194-2.
Excellent, especially for Christian Masons or those with a Christian worldview. Somewhat dated in style and is not footnoted; it is therefore not up to the standards of modern academic scholarship. It is, nevertheless, learned and reveals the depth of thought and erudition of its Victorian Era author. It is a good place to start for those interested in getting a good overview of one interpretation of the meaning of the Craft’s symbolism and its value for society and for the individual.
For an example of anti-Masonic fiction during the period of the Anti-Masonic Party’s heyday, read Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, The Cask of Amontillado.
The following books, some by Masons, are specifically not recommended, simply because of their less-than-orthodox scholarship, not because of their attitudes about the Craft. Indeed, some are favorable, but do no favors to the institution due to their sloppiness and often-shameless sensationalism:
Baigent, Michael and Richard Leigh.
The Temple and the Lodge. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1989.
The strongest part of this book is its British perspective of the American War of Independence. It includes a healthy introduction to the role of Freemasonry on both sides of the conflict. However, the authors are a bit too eager to “prove” the theory ofthe Templar origins of Freemasonry, but are responsible in stating that the story of Freemasonry, if it could be told in its entirety, would reveal a series of accretions, a grafting of diverse elements, some of which derive from the Knights Templar. This seems to be the last almost intellectually responsible book they wrote on the subject of Freemasonry.
The Sign and the Seal. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.
An excellent read by a professional investigative journalist, but readers must be aware that, just as Knight and Lomas (see below), Hancock requires readers to make leaps of supposition with them as he leads them on a search for the Ark of the Covenant! If you like to be an armchair Indiana Jones and are willing to leap over spans of reasoning in the name of indulging in conjectural history (if such can be said to exist), then it is fun to read, and just may be true!
Knight, Christopher and Robert Lomas.
The Hiram Key. Rockport, MA: Element, 1996.
A great read, it must be confessed, but truly terrible scholarship. The authors ask readers to assume a lot and make great leaps of conjecture and supposition with flimsy, non-existent, manipulated, highly selective or exaggerated “evidence”. By far, one of the worst books about Freemasonry to be found among friendly due to their abuse of the rules of evidence and proofs.
The Second Messiah. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1997.
Cervantes said that sequels are notoriously bad. This book by Knight and Lomas is proof of his observation. It is a follow up to their prior bad work and builds on it, as they themselves declare. That being the case, be assured it is even worse for its far-fetched theory depends on convenient omission of facts that otherwise would shatter it, and the delusional views of their readership.
The Book of Hiram. London: Element, 2003.
I can get worse. This book ought to be borrowed, not bought. The authors may be right in pointing out the ancient symbolic pedigree of the craft, but they long ago lost sight of a fundamental fact of symbolism, asserted by the famous art historian Erwin Panofsky, which is that symbols are like vehicles that travel through time and, while they can be stable bearers of content (“meaning”) which hitches a ride like passengers, new ones can and do get on board.
Freemasonry and its Ancient Mystic Rites. New York: Gramercy Books, 1986 (originally published in 1926 as Glimpses of Masonic History).
The author was articulate, gentlemanly, interesting and eccentric in an outlandish Victorian way. He boldly asserts his occult tendencies and, unfortunately, sounds as if he were speaking the last, authoritative word on Freemasonry. A fascinating read, despite his extreme eccentricity, he cogently defines the limits that various Masonic scholars have circumscribed around the objects of their study, that is, the limits and standards they have set for themselves and to whom they will appeal: the authentic school (he places academic historians in this category), the anthropological school, the mystic and the occult school. He also observes that there is overlap (see Pound, above for interesting contrasts and parallels).
Picknett, Lynn and Clive Prince.
The Templar Revelation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
This book is lunatic fringe fodder that will feed conspiracy theorists for years and unfortunately, the authors of this book who enjoy a large readership. In the same category, I mention their other book, Turin Shroud: In Whose Image? It is to be avoided with equal vigor. In the same vein, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln.
Robinson, John J.
Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry. New York: M. Evans & Company, Inc., 1989.
This book has been immensely popular among Freemasons because it seems to “prove” the long-held, romantic notion of the origin of Freemasonry in the Knights Templar, a theory that became widely accepted due to the efforts of the eighteenth century Chevalier de Ramsey in France. While there probably is some merit to the influence of the Templars in the development of Freemasonry, rather than view them as the sole source of Freemasonry, it is more likely they grafted elements into an existing phenomenon in Scotland. It is a good read, but not solid scholarship because it overstates a case only suggested by the evidence.
The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism. New York: Norton, 1995. ISBN 0-393-31302-6. Two volumes in one, originally published in 1966 (The Appeal to Antiquity; The Tension with Christianity), these works combined in one volume are fundamental to any study of the XVIIIth century and the Enlightenment. There is one conspicuous and paradoxical omission. In more than 555 pages of text, notes and bibliography, professor Gay mentions Freemasonry only once – in citing the title of Lessing’s Masonic dialogue. The book is strewn with names of famous men long known to have been Masons without any attempt to show the contacts between them that the fraternity is known to facilitated. This serious flaw, by a Yale professor of history, has been corrected by Jacobs (see entry above). This inexplicable omission obscures the ubiquitous presence and impact Freemasonry had on XVIIIth century societies, forms of government as well as intellectual discourse and exchange. One example of how ignorance of Freemasonry’s presence in eighteenth century affairs distorts an historical interpretation is found in Prof. Gay’s labeling of Voltaire as an atheist. No atheist can be made a Mason. Three months before his death, Voltaire was initiated in the presence of Benjamin Franklin, at the Lodge of the Nine Sisters in Paris, on February 7, 1778.[2
Finally, a word of caution about the various exposs or monitors one may find, either online or in bookstores. Differences from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (Grand Lodge to Grand Lodge) and over time result in discrepancies in ritual wording and practice. As one who has examined visitors Masonically, this bibliographer assures readers that even if one has read exposs, he will not be able to accurately perform convincingly unless he has actually been initiated. It simply is not possible to “crash” a Masonic meeting. Also, as the variety of books above attest, no one person speaks for Freemasonry. Furthermore, even if one possesses an accurate monitor (to say nothing of the dangers of relying on a cipher), the experience of the ritual is not the same as reading about it. Imagine the experiential difference between eating a cake andreading a recipe!
For more information about Freemasonry, visit my website at:
What is Freemasonry? One would sooner encounter an onion pit ere he should discover the origins or the pristine meaning of the Royal Art.
A few observations from various sources:
“An enigma wrapped in a mystery, covered in an enigma.” – Frances A. Yates
“Veiled in allegory, taught by symbols.” – A common Masonic description.
“Substituted secrets.” – Another common Masonic phrase, frequently misunderstood, and abused by critics of the Fraternity.
“Poor Freemasons.” – an exclamation by a character in Umberto Ecco’s Foucault’s Pendulum.
Whence came and whither can such a convoluted path lead a seeker after light? Why did Goethe, Voltaire, Franklin, Mozart, Payne, Washington, Churchill and so many other great men join this Fraternity? One must find the answers him self, as they may have. For me, so far, the answer is found in the journey itself, in peeling away the layers of the onion.