This book has received a good deal of “air time” with people who have contacted me regarding Freemasonry and Co-Masonry, so I thought I would review the book here, for Freemasons and non-Freemasons alike.
This book, on the surface, may be a little hard for Masons to swallow. I looked at it and scoffed at it myself; Masonry, as all Masons know, is an experiential path – you can’t actually learn about Masonry’s true nature unless you step inside. Having said that, I think that many people who are looking for Masonry figure that this, like almost all the other “Dummies” books is a good first step to seeing what they might be getting themselves into.
The book does a decent job of describing, in the most basic sense, where Freemasonry came from. Christopher Hodapp, the author, is an Ancient Free and Accepted Mason (this is the all-male fraternity) and travels and writes for his Lodge and order. It’s a well-done book with some very easy to read text and nothing really “dry” about it. He makes Freemasonry come alive without exposing those elements which are truly to be experienced by the new initiate. Freemasonry, being an initiatory school, relies on that secrecy to open the mind of the candidate and let them find their path on their own. Books which expose secrets and rituals do nothing for the good of the order and take away, in some way, from the experience of the candidate. It’s a shame that so many books have to do this. Freemasons for Dummies, however, imparts its knowledge with candor and fun while retaining its integrity.
Most enjoyable is his history and discussions of what the various aspects of the orders show their members. His discussion of some of the symbols commonly used by Masons is enlightening and enjoyable. Again, he does a very good job of explaining these things without giving away details of their use in ritual. His discussion of how and why Freemasons have been criticized over the ages is particularly well-done.
My one criticism about it is the lack of available information regarding “other” Freemasonry bodies. While he gives token reference to Order of the Eastern Star (an affiliated male/female group associated with the AF&AM) and to Co-Masonry in general, his discussion about some differentiation would have served these other bodies a little better. While there has always been friction, for lack of a better word, between the groups, we’ve been entering an age were we are all recognizing the need to acknowledge the “path” of the others. By not including them in a little more detail, he does a disjustice to that movement of cooperation.
However, the fact that he actually does mention women-only and co-masonry, as well as Prince Hall and other bodies, is a step in the right direction. If I was coming into Freemasonry now, as opposed to 13 years ago, I would probably have picked this book up prior to joining. Would I recommend it? I would if you were interested in learning more about how and why Freemasons exist in the world. This book is a good first step into opening up communication between non-Masons and Freemasons as well. It also gives current Masons a good chuckle as we look at our own rituals and cultural nature.