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Book Review: The Masonic Myth: Unlocking the Truth About the Symbols, the Secret Rites, and the History of Freemasonry by Jay Kinney

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Many years ago, I started to caddy at a golf course. As a greenhorn, I worked there for several days, but then one of the veteran caddies told me I couldn’t keep working unless I was initiated. When I asked “Why,” I was told it was a secret. When I asked what initiation was like. I was told, “It’s a secret, I can’t tell you.”  When I asked how long initiation had been going on, no one knew; "Years, many years!"

Initiation consisted of stripping naked in the woods, and having my clothing thrown up over tree limbs or into jagged blackberry bushes. After reading The Masonic Myth, my initiation rite into the secret caddy group with its secret or forgotten history reminded me of the Masons with their alleged secret symbols, secret rites, and secret or at least alleged history.

Masonic symbols have fascinated masons and non-masons for centuries. One reason for secrecy is this: a symbol “might” have a basic general meaning or it can have whatever meaning a Mason gives it.

Originally, Masonic symbols stood for the tools stone masons carried during medieval times. These men wore waist aprons where they kept their plumbs, squares, and levels, used to create the magnificent cathedrals and monuments, many of which still stand.

These same tools came to have a deeper meaning: a plumb with its cord symbolized that the stone mason should walk proud and upright before the eyes of his fellowman and the all-seeing eye of God. The 90 degree angle of the L-shaped square meant that a man would “square his actions” by demonstrating solid virtue and morality before God and man. The level symbolized that all men are equal in nature, balanced — side by side, so to speak.  

These symbols can be seen on the apron worn by Masons today during ritualistic events in their temples. One of the pictures shown here is George Washington, adorned with his apron, giving an address in a Masonic lodge. Masonic symbols are far too many to count. Yet, one can look at almost any one symbol and give it a meaning where truth, honor, justice, and a proper way of life are concerned.

On one side of a U.S. dollar bill, one can see a pyramid above thirteen stacked layers, probably of stone. Atop it sits a piercing all-seeing eye of God. The bill also reads Novus Ordo Seclorum: A New Order for the Ages. Is this to be interpreted that our founding fathers thought the newly formed United States to be a “New Order?”  Or could it simply mean that Freemasonry should be the “New Order” for the ages? In reality, both of these meanings blend together to make good sense. 

What about the secret rites and rituals of Masonic gatherings? Once again, according to The Masonic Myth, these activities are probably kept secret because they are very mundane, somewhat uninteresting, and “much ado about nothing.” The ritual for becoming a mason requires the initiate to wear special clothing. He must knock three times on the secret inner chamber door, and then once admitted, he is led around the room blindfolded while tethered to another member.

Next, he is questioned, sometimes repeatedly, for answers to questions about Masonry’s past history which varies considerably in Masonic libraries. In many cases, the candidate must give rather rote answers from a catechism, which is more like a secret unwritten work than anything definitely factual. Finally, the initiate must swear on his bible to uphold the truths and righteous living standards of all Masons everywhere. 

Historically, Masonry traces itself back to two main sources: guilds of stonemasons and the Knights Templar of much earlier times. In order to protect their skills and wisdom, the medieval stone masons joined together in loosely formed pacts to protect the secrets of their trade. I used the word "wisdom" because many of the structures built by these remarkable stone masons still stand today. Lodge minutes dating back to 1599 have been uncovered in the British Isles of Scotland.

One can only imagine the innate engineering skill a stonemason had in order to make two towering Gothic columns meet in a central arch far above an aisle, apse, sanctuary, or main body of a church. Of course, they learned by their mistakes. After several structures collapsed, these masons developed the idea of flying buttresses to send the outward force of high archways to the outside perimeter of the building and into the ground.

The other highly speculative source for Masonry places it on Temple Mount, the alleged site of the original Temple of King Solomon. Some even claim that Masons actually built the King’s temple. To this day, many structures built by Freemasons for their ritualistic activities are modeled on a minor scale to represent Solomon’s vast temple network. 

Most interesting is this: Freemasonry is not a religion. It does not attempt to indoctrinate a candidate with a particular brand of belief or faith. So what is its critical attribute? After reading The Masonic Myth I would have to answer: Freemasonry is an order of people historically united in spirit by a natural impulse to improve their world.

What has kept it alive down through the ages is its quest for self-knowledge and self-discipline. During the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, mankind began to turn away from a strictly religious interpretation of life. People began to endorse a more scientific outlook, searching to know about the world — what made it tick — and about their own physical and mental make-up. Fear of religious reprisal or interference was waning.  

If you read The Masonic Myth, you will learn that Freemasonry’s very secrecy protects its ideals and its members. It is an order for common folks, you and me, who are free to openly express feelings of caring and support for one another. Most religions have strict rituals, statues, prayers. But the rituals of the Freemasons are symbols of personal integrity and an inner spiritual search to build a better world. Their symbols are a constant inner and outer reminder of this noble quest.

If you are an historian, you will enjoy reading The Masonic Myth. If you are a Mason, you will enjoy the book’s slant on Freemasonry “rumors, accusations, and hoaxes." If you are ignorant like me, suspicious of Masonry, you’ll find this book pleasantly enlightening. If you attend a particular church, you will find Masonry is not an organization or movement to be feared. I would recommend this book to all interested readers because in its own quiet secret way, Freemasonry might be doing a better job of rejuvenating our world than any organized religion.         

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About Regis Schilken

  • Regis Schilken

    From reviewer Rege!
    Not long ago, I gave a talk to a Masonic group. The heavy architecture of their windowless building fascinated me and so did the symbols. All seemed mysterious and very secretive until I read The Masonic Myth.

  • Thanks for your objective review!
    My father was a 32nd degree mason although I never joined. Sometimes I’ve regretted that. Looking forward to reading this book, your review inspired me.