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Tobias Churton is
a film maker and the founding editor of the magazine Freemasonry Today.
He studied theology at Oxford University and created the award-winning
documentary series and accompanying book The Gnostics, as well as several
other films on Christian doctrine, mysticism, and magical folklore.
He lives in England and is faculty lecturer in Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry
at Exeter University’s Centre for the Study of Western Esotericism.
An outstanding introduction to Freemasonry, 5 Feb 2010
BEST BOOK ON THE SUBJECT SO FAR, 4 May 2008
There appear to be three types of book published on Freemasonry. First, those books that cater for lodge members -ritual books, inspiring stories from masonic history, any number of works on masonic medals, costume and memorabilia. Second, books that use elements of masonic lore to weave speculative stories -stories often couched in sensationalist terms. Fun to read, they tend to obscure more valid stories behind them. The road of excess leads to the palace of confusion.
On the whole, books written for practising Freemasons tend to play down symbolism, spirituality and esoteric content. The stress is usually on cementing community and relationships. In speculative books, however, the typical masonic experience -turning up for monthly meetings and raising funds for charity -seems to get lost altogether, such is the barrage of half-baked, pseudo-mystical titillation and conspiracy theory. The 'revelations' fail to satisfy the curiosity evoked; there is no revelation -only the hint of one.
These two classes of book are flatly opposed by a third class purporting to 'reveal the truth' behind Freemasonry. These books are usually hostile to the craft. Authors of these books tend to be influenced by the climate of conspiracy of the second class, but find in the mythic confusion nothing but dark intentions. It is not unknown for hostile authors -those who suppose Freemasons to be involved in immoral activities of covert influence and control -to be forced to invent a kind of super-class of 'men in black'/I' gnomes of Zurich' or eminences grises to explain the obvious innocence and ordinariness of Freemasons.
The first known 'exposure' of the craft derives from religious fanaticism in the late 17th century. You might think there was nothing left to 'expose'! Hostile exposures have been enormously influential. They have given Freemasonry the reputation of being a 'secret society'. Secrets are taken to be synonymous with conspiracy.
We all have secrets; are we all conspirators?
It is not unknown
to hear that the three degrees of Freemasonry are perfectly OK (if you
like that sort of thing), but the 'dodgy' stuff can be found among members
of 'higher degrees'. These degrees -Knights
We like our fictions, but they do tend to colour our perception of everyday life. When a thing is magnified, its true proportion is distorted. Monsters were portrayed like medieval devils or hideously deformed people until the microscope gave us magnified images of spiders, beetles and microorganisms. Cinema completed the process, by magnifying the innocent and natural into the scary and supernatural. The invasion of the GIANT spiders! Magnification is a benefit to science, but when applied to popular culture, it changes our sense of the real.
been magnified. It is persistently presented outside of its true proportions.
To be sure, you will find more secrecy in the workings of elected governments
(often with very serious implications for life, limb and pocket) than
you will ever find in the running of masonic fraternities.
There have been many defences of Freemasonry, attacks on Freemasonry, investigations of masonic history, analyses of masonic philosophy, and many useful detailed approaches to the evidence, mostly written by masons themselves. What I have been unable to find is an objective, standard account that yet has the courage to go beneath the surface of the 'official version'.
There are many reasons for this lack of a standard work, not the least of which is the fact that masons have themselves long been unable to satisfy questions put to them on any number of aspects of the craft. And if they cannot give you the answers, who can?
In Germany, under Hider, the Nazi High Command decided that Freemasons were all part of a 'Masonic- Jewish conspiracy' to dominate the world -and fascists were not slow in publishing this propaganda wherever they could, especially in the Middle East, which still suffers from its effects. Everyone who wants to take over the world will tell you they're only trying to save you from a fate worse than them!
Nevertheless, in spite of being so absolutely certain of their imagined conspiracy, the Nazi SS still had to commission a serious study of the subject because it lacked hard information. Like so many bad historians, first they had the theory then they looked for the 'evidence' to try and back it up.
Across the English Channel, and in our own time, Chris Mullin MP launched a Commons Select Committee investigation of Freemasonry in Britain roughly co-incident with Tony Blair's ascension to power in 1997. Grand Secretary Michael Higham's videotaped interrogation by members of the committee stimulated some (non-mason) observers to write to the papers comparing the outrageous scenes with the anti-communist excesses of the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthyite era.
When asked by journalist Doug Pickford what his chief source of information on Freemasonry was, Chris Mullin MP cited Martin Short's undeniably hostile expose, Inside the Brotherhood. Whatever else its merits, Short's book was not an objective academic study.
It is often said that truth is stranger than fiction. We can try to aim at the truth, but sometimes the evidence is difficult to understand, or to interpret definitively. Facts alone may tell us very little; they do not stand in isolation. Motives are seldom easy to ascertain. We rarely have the facility of forensic evidence, and, to be sure, we do not always need it. After all, we are not attempting to nail a conviction before the evidence 'goes cold'. Most of the evidence for -or against -Freemasonry went cold a very long time ago, and we cannot, with the best will in the world, revivify corpses. Nor can a book of this size hope to include every fact or detail of the subject that some readers might want or expect to find.
My aim is to establish a standard overview of a vast, complex -and fascinating -subject that does not duck the most difficult questions. If I can convey some of that genuine fascination while at the same time giving interested readers a clear picture of the reality of Freemasonry, I shall hope to be acquitted of all crimes against either truth or prejudice.
This book is no mere synthesis of other scholars' work. Indeed, Churton offers a distinctive interpretation, he has done no less than to challenge the old fashioned approach to masonic history.
Freemasonry has been magnified. Masonic historians, often themselves members of the Craft, have persistently presented the order outside its true proportion. If you are a member of " higher degrees" such as Knight Templars and you really feels yourself as the reincarnation of a medieval knight templar, this book is not for you.
As historian he
searches evidences, facts and as an initiated Freemason he put his heart
in this search.
It must be very clear that the book aims to show the reality - not the myth of the world's oldest fraternal society but the mysteries of its origin and its esoteric meaning are studied as well.
Based on an impressive bulk of materials, this book is a fundamental study on all aspects of the Freemasons in the British Isles.
The diligent and thorough approach of the author allows intensive insights in the genesis, structures and procedures of the so called "operative and speculative Freemasonry".
Additionally, the descriptions of the life of the most eminent founders and their links to the eighteenth century British political history complement the investigation of the oral tradition.
I greatly appreciated 'The Great masonic Hijack' chapter ten of the book where Churton gives answer to the intriguing question: what was the establishment of the Premier Grand Lodge of England the result of?
This book is not a collection of papers nevertheless contains two valuable essays - Anderson's Constitutions and the first Rosicrucians - first delivered at the sixth and seventh International Conference of the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre.
In sum, this book is an important study that contributes much to our understanding of our fraternal order and three words digest well this remarkable work: Tradition, Initiation, Reality.
In Freemasonry – The Reality , Churton leaves no stone unturned and with his meticulous hand reconstructs the modern day mystery tradition from its most extreme foundational stones buried in the footnotes of history, following each loose thread back into the whole garment of the present day craft. But in this work he also refuses to hold back any punches in his analysis that our present manifestation of the craft is every bit a result of our manufactured past, from the clever arrangement of James Anderson and the constitutions of 1720 and the marrying of the “Speculative” with the “Operative” tracing back the foundation of Masonries earliest of ideas to the early Renaissance work of author Pico Mirandola and the Oration on the Dignity of Man.
One aspect that
stood out to me in crisp detail was the way in which Churton pulls together
in several seemingly unrelated bits of history and finds their common
connection that brings them into a coherent theme. From early meeting
notes, names on a register, royal archives on the guilds, and diary
mentions, each of these bread crumbs become the framework by which he
assembles the whole work. By digging deep into symbols that at one time
held great significance, and in his work he re-illuminates them so as
to demystify and put them back into a proper perspective. Case in point,
the pentagram, reminding the reader of the earlier Masonic appellation
(under Robert Moray) to represent AGAPA (or the Greek word agapein),
or love, a geometric perfection.