Gekruiste Benen * Henry MacGillavry (2000/2013)

I ran into this book ‘by accident’ and was mostly caught by the subtitle which is (translated) “a study of the functioning of symbols”. However there is indeed information about symbolism in general, the little book (100 pages) is mostly about the symbolism from the title: crossed legs.

The author was born in 1908, this book was first published when he was 92. This slightly revised reprint was printed a year after MacGillavry passed away, at the age of 104! MacGillavry was a Freemason and however he did publish books (at the same publisher) about Masonic subjects, “Gekruiste Benen” is not one of those.
The author starts by mentioning earlier investigations into the subject, but the present title mostly continues with the works of Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781), A. MacLaine Pont (1883-1955), W. Kat and… Frans Farwerck! Initially the author mentions Farwerck only briefly, later he goes into more details about Farwerck’s theories which he posed in an article in the periodical Nehalennia of 1959 about the same subject. A nice surprise.

MacGillavry refers to his named predecesors on the subject and decided to not use a massive amount of images like Farwerck usually does, but to stick to a few good examples. These are printed in not-smashing quality in the book (a few in colour in the reprint). There are many, many examples of people depicted with their legs crossed (while standing, sitting or laying) both from ancient history and more recently on paintings. The author treats different theories such as that these images refer to the God of Sleep (Hypnos) and/or the God of Death (Thanatos), to a border-crossing (Kat) or to a Cosmic cycle (Farwerck), but since none of these theories can be used at all known images, the author comes to the conclusion that they refer more generally to a transition. This idea does not rule out the other theories.

Along the way you can Egyptian, Roman, Mithraic, Christian, etc. symbols surrounding the figures with crossed legs. It makes this little book a nice read.

2000/2013 Uitgeverij De Steensplinter, isbn 9789057170331

On Holy Ground: A History of The Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry * Karen Kidd (2011)

Amazon.comI like reading about esoteric pioneers. When I was reading Kidd’s book about women initiated into regular Freemasonry, I ran into the present title. On Holy Ground, as the title says, gives a history of the mixed gender Masonic order “The Honorable Order of American co-Masonry”. Actually, the book is more about Le Droit Humain in America, since “The Honorable Order of American co-Masonry” only exists since 1994 when the American Federation split off from the worldwide Le Droit Humain. Technically, perhaps, the Honorable Order is the same organisation and what is nowadays Le Droit Humain is the split-off. (Or alternally, both organisations sprang from the same source.)

Le Droit Humain is a mixed gender Masonic organisation that was founded in France in the last years of the 19th century. A lodge of the male-only organisation Grande Loge de France wanted to initiate women. This was (and is) a step too far for the Grande Loge, so the lodge broke off and started a new lodge which would later become the organisation Le Droit Humain.

Of course the book focusses on the USA, the homeland of the Honorable Order. After a general chapter, the book starts with Antoine Muzarelli, a French immigrant (with Italian roots) in America who was initiated in a lodge of the Grand Orient de France. This Grand Orient is liberal (and another organisation than the Grande Loge de France by the way), but at the time not so liberal that they could allow women to be initiated. Muzarelli founded a lodge in the USA under the Grand Orient de France, but when he heard of Le Droit Humain, he made contact with the founders in France and started to work to found LDH lodges in the USA instead. LDH was already growing to be a worldwide organisation (with a main seat in Paris), but Muzarelli negotiated a certain level of autonomy for his American branch. This branch grew steadily, but not without problems. Muzarelli also ran into counteractions of “malecraft” Masonry. Still the “American Federation of Human Rights” grew with ups and downs. Muzarelli proved not to be the best manager, but he certainly made a flying start.

Muzarelli’s successor was Louis Goaziou. Under the many years with Goaziou as head, the Federation grew further. Towards the end of Goaziou’s leadership, future problems started to arise. However all over the world, “co-Masonry” (a term of Muzarelli) was virtually taken over by Theosophy. Muzarelli himself had contact with Annie Besant who brought growth for Le Droit Humain in the rest of the world. In America things were quite the opposite. When in the rest of the world, the Theosophical influence started to wane with Theosophy itself, in America the influence grew. Goaziou tried to keep ‘the middle’, his followers would do less so. The growing influence of Theosophy brought friction, but the successive leaders navigated the order through all that. The Great Depression and two World Wars brought a massive drop in the numbers of members. As Theosophy had its own free fall in members, so did co-Masonry. Even though relatively autonomous, the American Federation had to go through ‘Paris’ for certain things. The leaders alternally were on good and on lesser terms with ‘Paris’. Things were not easy, but neither bad, until the 1990’ies, when ‘Paris’ decided to tighten the strings and made a decision contrary the proposal of the American Federation on the appointment of the new leader of the American Federation. This eventually lead to the American Federation breaking contacts with ‘Paris’ and go on on their own. A fraction split-off and continued as the American Federation of Le Droit Humain.

Kidd, a member of the Honorable Order, digged deep into the archives. The book has many photos, quotes from personal letters, circulars and magazines and anecdotes. Especially the first two leaders of the order are painted in detail which gives a very personal insight into these pioneering co-Masons. Later leaders are treated more shortly. There are not a whole lot, but still enough, references to Le Droit Humain in other parts of the world. Especially the WWII period gives an interesting peek into the troubles of Freemasonry on the European continent (such as the disappearance of the main seat in Paris). Shorter written about are the Federations in the Far East and Australia.
Even when your interest does not lay in the history of Le Droit Humain in the USA, this book could be a nice; even (or: also) when you have an interest in the history of mixed gender Freemasonry in general, this book is a good purchuse. Especially the first half with with lengthy descriptions of the pioneer days makes a good read.

2011 The Masonic Publishing Company, isbn 1613640056

Unum Necessarium * Jan Amos Comenius (1668/1983)

That is odd. I cannot find an English translation of this book. Unum Necessarium (‘the only thing necessary’) is the last book that Comenius (1592-1670) wrote. He dedicated it to “earl Ruprecht of the Palts on the Rhein”. The way Comenius wrote, my guess is that this Ruprecht was still alive when the book was published, but which Ruprecht we are talking about, I do not know. But, Comenius’ last book lacks translation to English? This Dutch translation is from 1929; this 1983 printing is a second and revised print. The translation was made by R.A.B. Oosterhuis.

Unum Necessarium is but a little book, 155 pages including introductions and notes. Comenius wrote a massive amount of books about a wide range of subjects. The current title is small and simple; of course, when there is just one thing you really need.

Comenius starts with referring to three Greek myths. Daedalus and his labyrinth, Sisyphus and his stone and Tantalus and his punishment. Comenius keeps talking about labyrinths, Sisyphusstones and Tantalus-disappointments throughout the book. So what is this only thing necessary. Comenius uses several discriptions, but all come to the point of “returning to Christ” (p. 125). Man does not need fancy cloths, lots of money, too much to eat, not even a library full of books (Comenius lost three of his libraries though). Set your mind to Christ and you will have all you need.
Indeed, Unum Necessarium is a very pious and Christian book. Comenius adhered a very specific (and endangered) form of Christianity, the “Unity of the Brethern” (or “Moravian Brethern”), a Moravian Protestant current inspired by the ideas of John Huss (1369-1415).

Comenius travelled around, mostly because he (and his brethern) were forced to leave. He spent many years in the Netherlands. This book was published in the city where he died: Amsterdam.

Unum Necessarium is not really a highly inspirational read (to me). Like I said, it is very piously Christian. Comenius proves himself a realistic and simple religious man who -however he acknowledges other faiths- would like to see ‘his religion’ be the Universal Religion it deserves to be.

‘The only thing necessary’ shows the religious life of a ‘minimalistic believer’.

1983 Rozekruis Pers, isbn 9070196972

Symposionreeks 16 J.A. Comenius (2007)

I even managed to miss the Comenius “symposion” of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum on 7 October 2006… The booklet is almost sold out as well, but can still be ordered here and there. From the publisher for one.

Since the Lectorium Rosicrucianum is a modern Rosicrucian society, this little book mostly focusses on Comenius’ connections to the original Rosicrucians and the ideas that the two has incommon. Comenius was in his early twenties when the manifestoes were published and apparently they inspired them greatly. So much even, that later in his life Comenius got in contact with the author of the manifestoes, Johann Valentin Andrea, who shared Comenius’ ideas of a worldwide, yet reformed, Church of Christ.

The speakers were Hans Knevel (about Comenius’ spiritual path), Hanneke van Alderwegen (on his educational writings), Peter Huijs (about the Christian group that Comenius came from and of which he would be the last bishop) and Rachel Ritman (about the Rosicrucian connections). Of course the Ritman library brought some original printed books, the texts of the exhibition as -as always- included.

Another nice little book in the continuing “symposion” series of Rozekruis Pers.

2007 Rozekruis Pers, isbn 9789067323321

Comenius Und Die Freimaurer * Wilhelm Begemann (1906)

I know Jan Amos Comenius because of a book of his (Via Lucis that was translated to Dutch and published by In De Pelikaan, the publishing house of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam. Apparently I have had that book for so long that I did not write reviews when I bought it.
A while ago I got a catalogue of the publishing house of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum, a contemporary Rosicrucian society founded in the Netherlands. They have more titles of Comenius available in Dutch, so after reading the biography about the man, it seemed like an idea to read some more of Comenius’ works. Setting out to order a few of these titles, I found this little book in German with the enigmatic title Comenius and the Freemasons. There are two lodges in my country named after Comenius who died in the Netherlands, but he lived before Freemasonry, so what would the book be about then?

Begemann starts with a short investigation of Comenius (1592-1670) and his possible links to Masonic lodges that existed before the foundation of what is nowadays the United Grand Lodge of England in 1717. That investigation was short. However Comenius certainly knew, and had ideas incommon with, the original Rosicrucian manifestoes that were published in 1614 and after, Begemann found no indication that Comenius has ever been in contact with an early lodge.

Apparently in the time that Begemann wrote his book, there were theories linking Comenius to Freemasonry and it took a while before I realised that the author was not trying to prove this link, but he was to debunk it. This he did and it was not even too hard.
For the record, Begemann investigated influences of Comenius’ thought on the early Masonic movement, but his conclusion is Comenius is hardly mentioned by the earliest authors such as Andersson and Desagulier. At some point an interest in Comenius’ writings does appear, but this is only later and in a time that Masonic authors showed a wide interest in thinkers of the past.

Begemann’s conclusion is that there are no links between Comenius, or even his ideas, in early Freemasonry. A conclusion that is perhaps not surprising, but he just wanted to have it stated it seems.

Comenius and the Freemasons makes an alright read to learn a bit about early Freemasonry and about Jan Amos Comenius, but do not expect any big revelations. The book is old enough to be available in cheap reprint and as download on a few places on the world wide web, so should you be interested to read it, just look around a bit.

Symposionreeks 18 De Wijsheid van Hermes (2007)

nl.Bol.comThere was a time that I visited the Lectorium Rosicrucianum every now and then and especially I went when they had an interesting “symposion”. Somehow this watered down, I dropped off the newsletter mailing list and now I see that I missed a couple of symposia that I would have liked to attend… I will have to confine with just buying the little booklets that are still available.

This “Wisdom of Hermes” symposion was held at 12 May 2007. How time flies! Speakers were no less than Roelof van den Broek and Joost Ritman (among others). The first translated all known Hermetic texts to Dutch and he wrote other titles about the subject. Some of his works are published by In De Pelikaan, the publishing house of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica founded by the second named speaker. Both are getting of age, so should they speak somewhere again some time, I better not miss it.

The symposia of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum consist of several lectures. These are printed in the booklets that visitors get and that the less fortunate can buy later. They are usually around 80 pages, as is this one. Roelof van den Broek spoke about the message of Hermetism. A nice text with many quotes nicely put in perspective. Anneke Stokman and Peter Huijs speak about The Definitions Of Hermes a (then) recently discovered text which is also printed in the booklet (and available in Van den Broek’s Hermes Trismegistus). Next up is Ritman who puts Hermetism in a larger cadre of modern science and Eastern thought. What follows then is a text of Jean-Pierre Mahé (was he a speaker? damn) on hymns in Hermetic texts. To close off follow the earlier mentioned Definitions and the texts that accompanied the exhibition. Ritman always brings a few pieces from his library.

It has been a while since I read Hermetic texts and I must say that they still inspire me greatly. Perhaps I should pick up the subject again.

2007 Rozekruis Pers, isbn 9067323381

Haunted Chambers * Karen Kidd (2009)

“These women aren’t supposed to have existed. But they did.”

In online communities with Freemasons present (especially British and American), the subject of women frequently pops up and the reactions are always the same. There were no women Freemasons, there are no women Freemasons and women who are member of a mixed or “femalecraft” lodges are not Freemasons either. Karen Kidd, one such female Freemason herself, decided to sift through archives, media and whatnot to discover stories about women Freemasons; not members of the Order of the Eastern Star, mixed or “femalecraft” lodges, but women that were initiated into (mostly) regular lodges in the 18th and 19th century, long before there were other kinds of Freemasonry, many even before there were ‘lodges of adoption’. These are the women that are not supposed to have existed, but who did.

The author found a few well documented cases, quite a few reasonably documented cases and she ends her book with a few rumoured cases. The stories are often quite alike. A (young) woman is so curious about the secrets of Freemasonry that she decides to spy on a lodge; or a woman accidentally overhears the proceedings of a lodge; in either case, she is discovered and the lodge decides that the best way to prevent her from spreading the secrets, is to initiate her so she has to swear an oath of secrecy. In most cases, that is as far as the woman comes. She does not regularly attend lodges, receive additional degrees or anything. In some cases there is more to say about the women though.

An interesting case in the book is Hannah Mather Crocker (1752-1829) who supposedly led an all-women lodge in 1778 (St. Ann’s Lodge in Boston, USA).
The most interesting story to me, was that of Lavinia Ellen “Vinnie” Ream Hoxie (1847–1914) who was the muse of the famous Freemason Albert Pike (1809-1891). Pike supposedly wanted to create a women’s Freemasonry based on the French lodges of adoption, but rewritten to be more Masonic. Pike’s Rite did not make it. Rob Morris (1818-1888) wrote a Rite for women himself (not based on the lodges of adoption) which became more popular and would eventually lead to the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic-like organisation that women related to Freemasons can join.

“Haunted Chambers: The Lives of Early Women Freemasons” makes an alright read. Sometimes the author seems to try to fill her pages by giving a lot of biographical information that is not really interesting regarding the subject; biographical information about (grand)parents even. More amusing are cases in which the author rattled up old newspaper clippings, reports from Masonic journals, etc.

This book is not about the preamble of mixed Freemasonry. Marie Deraismes (1828-1894) is only mentioned in passing. Most of the women in this book did not ask to join and were granted to do so either; they were mostly ‘accidental Freemasons’ who were not really recognised as equal members. Is the fact that they knew (some of) the secrets of Freemasonry enough to call them “female Freemasons”? Some certainly were and those are the most interesting cases from this book. Kidd found only a handfull though.

Reading this book you will learn a thing or two about the early years of Freemasonry and the place of women in the society of that time.

2009 Cornerstone Book Publishers, isbn 1934935557

Hoe God Verscheen In Friesland * Dirk Otten (2014)

The first part of the series about the Christianisation of the Netherlannds (‘How God appeared in Saxonland’) was a very nice read; easy reading, amusing and informative. This second part (‘How God appeared in Frisia’) is so dull that it took me months to get through.

Whereas the previous book was Otten’s text with quotes from sources, this book about Frisia mostly just consists of retellings of hagiographies (‘lives of holy men’) of missionaries who spent time in Frisia. There are a few introductionary pages, but after that you can read about Eligius, Egbert, but of course also Willibrord, Boniface and Gregory (the latter at length in a cricital translation of Ludger). That was not quite what I expected after the first book…

The parts that Otten wrote make alright reads again and his inquisitive approach to the hagiographies is interesting, but a whole book with lives of saints which do not say all that much about the Frisians being Christianised did not exactly make a book coming anywhere near ‘How God appeared in Saxony’.

2014 Deventer Universitaire Pers, isbn 9789079378142

Prayer Fashions Man * Frithjof Schuon (2004)

When looking for another title to read of Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998) I ran into this title subtitled “Frithjof Schuon on the spiritual life”.

“Prayer Fashions Man” is about prayer in a wide sense of the word. Schuon was Swiss who chose Sufism as his path, but as he saw a single Source for all religions, he could also use elements of other paths. With this state of mind, Schuon became a teacher for people from many different religions. The book is not really a book that the author wrote, but a compendium of texts. This happens a lot with Traditionalistic literature. The book is compiled by James Cutsinger who made more of such books.

Whereas most of these compendia contain essays, “Prayer Fasions Man” more starts as a collection of quotes, some no more than a few lines long. I find reading just quotes quite annoying so the book worked on my nerves a bit. Fortunately there are also longer quotes of upto a few pages. These quotes are about “the spiritual life” and show a completely different mind from most modern men. Schuon was religious to the core and some quotes give a peak into his hard and disciplined spiritual life while others show the reader how to incorporate spirituality in modern, daily life.

There sure are a few quotes to ponder about long and hard, but also many that I just read over. In totally I cannot say that this is a magnificent book. It is a nice read with a couple of peaks.

The cover is a painting of Schuon, by the way, he had a deep sympathy for American Indians.

2004 World Wisdom, isbn 0941532658

India’s Glory * Raghupati Bhatt (2014)

A history of India from an Indian perspective, that is what the author wanted to present. His little book (218 pages) has short chapters, mostly about noteworthy Indians. From Chandragupta Maurya (around 340 BCE) to Mahatma Gandi (1869-1948).

The author is of the opinion that the West is misinformed about India and its history and wants to correct these flaws. Also he wants to present figures of India’s glorious past. I must say that I do not really have the idea that I read anything radically different from what I already knew. Perhaps this is due to the fact that what I know about India mostly comes from people who were ‘India-friendly’, or perhaps it is simply so that us Westerners are not so badly informed as Bhatt thinks.

Not unexpectedly the book is filled with praise for India and his ‘big names’. Bhatt tells us about Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims alike; a bit about spiritual currents such as Bhakti or Jainism; spiritual leaders and politicians; conquerers and freedom fighters. Quite a few pages are dedicated to the time in which India fought British colonism. Nor does he shy to say -for example- that Gandhi was not favoured by everyone and he has a few things to say about Hindu nationalism, a current which was recently in the news.

“India’s Glory” does not hold any big surprises, but it makes an alright read and it never hurts to see things through the eyes of an insider.

2014 Numen Books, isbn 0987559869

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Spiritual grace

Certain Hindus of old blessed our epoch not because it is good but because, being bad, it includes by way of compensation spiritual grace that make easy what is in itself difficult, provided man is sincere, pure, humble, and persevering.

Frithjof Schuon in Prayer Fashions Man

Paradoxical expressions

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Based on his studies of Hunnu and later Tyurkic tamga-stamps A.Y. Shifner (1817-1879) comes to the same conclusion. He maintains that these tamgas display all currently known runic symbols, both western (Scandinavian and European) and eastern (Siberian). These stamps are the only surviving examples of Hunnu runes because the leather and bark used for ordinary […]

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