A History of the World's Most Powerful Secret Society
With a title as ominous as this, it's inevitable that the book
would cause a stir. Masons - at least the Masons of today - don't like to be
referred to as "powerful" and/or "secret", each of those
words having a considerable amount of 'baggage' with some very negative
I'd read a couple of passing comments about this book which was
released in the UK well before it arrived in the US. Because of its title, I
chose not to get it immediately upon publication but now I wish I'd done so.
Mr. Ridley has taken a daunting subject - the world-wide history
of an organization composed of hundreds of sovereign entities - and attempted to
make it both interesting and readable for the general audience. It's a task
which others have tried in the past but most have been writing their material
for the Masonic membership which already had a background in the customs and
traditions of the fraternity. Ridley starts at 'square one' and moves, sometimes
in a lurching fashion, forward. It should be quickly noted, though, that - as
with any history - events occur at different times in different places. There's
simply no smooth timeline which could be easily read when it comes to either
world events or Freemasonry's developments.
It should be noted too that Mr. Ridley is not a Mason. At the outset of the
book, in fact, his comments seemed to be somewhat overly critical and his
debunking of the imagined Masonic involvement by some of our 'Masonic heroes'
was the cause of a bit of teeth gnashing on my part. At one point, in fact, it
seemed as if Mr. Ridley had simply written a work to prove that those we praised
as Masons of the past had little if anything to do with the organization after
they'd become members. That notwithstanding, however, it's only fair that the
truth be told - and any Mason can attest that the initiation ceremonies are much
like a bell that once rung, cannot be reversed. It remains to be seen,
therefore, whether those who eschewed Freemasonry later in their careers ever
truly forgot the deep moral lessons they were taught.
Mr. Ridley also made excellent points about the attraction Masonry held for
some. He notes (without judgment) that as Masonic lodges in France prior to the
Revolution were whispered to be a place for revolutionary discussion (without
basis), they attracted those interested in revolution. Those members soon left,
though, finding Freemasonry's restrictions regarding matters of political or
religious nature to be too restrictive. As he points out, particularly during
the French Revolution, those who believed they'd find something in Freemasonry
which would further their personal/political goals joined for that very purpose
but were soon disappointed.
The closing chapter was, for me, the best. Writing about anti-Masonry, Mr.
Ridley notes that our opponents have little if any basis for their frenzied
charges of evil conspiracy or a separate religion. I think if I'd read the last
chapter first, I would have been far less 'on edge' during the rest of the book.
It's a fair and objective presentation of Freemasonry and it will likely
teach even well-read Masons something. I'd strongly recommend this book to
anyone and suspect I'll be giving copies as gifts for the coming holiday season!
Check it out: you won't be disappointed!
Five Thumbs Up