21 December 2007

A lot of answers at your fingertips, but not much esotericism

Freemasons for Dummies

Christopher Hodapp
For Dummies, 2005

As a petitioner for initiation into the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, I've found myself scouring the Internet with question after question. What is the history of Freemasonry? What is the relationship of Freemasonry to religion and to politics? Does Freemasonry have roots in the Rosicrucians or Knights Templar or ancient mystery cults? Finally, in this book, I found an enjoyable, accessible compendium of answers to most of these questions.

Author Christopher Hodapp, a Master Mason and 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason, does a fine job of breaking his topic into well-organized, manageable chunks. In his first section, he outlines the basic history of Freemasonry and explains its underlying philosophy and relationship to religion and politics. The second section deals with the structure of Freemasonry, in terms of organization, ceremony, and symbolism. (When he mentions aspects of ritual in this section, he gives spoiler alerts for those seeking initiation, which is a definite plus for those who would rather share in the experience than read about it.) Hodapp then goes on to describe the "Appendant Bodies" of Masonry, which is great for anyone confused about the nature of the York Rite, Scottish Rite, Shriners, or any of the other ostensibly Masonic orders floating around. Part four is the practical section. In it, Hodapp outlines the challenges that Freemasonry, particularly as practiced in the US, faces in the future, explores its relevance to an increasingly fragmented society, and explains to the interested reader how to become a Masonic Brother. In section five, the author takes a tip from David Letterman and provides some interesting and entertaining Top Ten Lists of Freemasonry, and in the final section, he provides two historical documents of Freemasonry as well as contact information for all the Grand Lodges and Prince Hall Grand Lodges in the US.

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable read and one that is quite informative. My two complaints are slight. One is that, because of its format as a reference and not a linear, read-from-front-to-back work, the book tends to be repetitive. The second is that the author, probably because he is from Indiana (just kidding, Hoosiers), engages very little with the esoteric aspects of Freemasonry. However, there are many other works out there dealing with Masonic esotericism with varying degrees of credibility, so that doesn't take off too many respect points for the author and his well-written introduction to Freemasonry for dummies like me.

(This review was originally written on August 24, 2006.)

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