Freemasons for Dummies
by Christopher Hodapp 32°
Wiley Publishing, Inc.
-- Reviewed by Gary L. Dryfoos
Okay, let's get it out of the way right up front -- the title sucks.
I'm surely not the first reviewer who heard the name of this book and
thought "Oh great! One thing Freemasonry doesn't need is more
dummies!" But a persistent editor and my own curiousity persuaded me to
take a look, and I'm hoping to do the same for you, dear reader, because
as soon as you start flipping through you'll realize that this book
wasn't written to appeal to dummies, the men it will attract to the
Craft won't be dummies, and the author certainly isn't any dummy. In
fact, this might be the best general book on Freemasonry any Mason or
non-Mason could want.
Years ago, like all initiates in that time and place, after each
degree my lodge presented me with one of "The Claudy books." Carl Claudy wrote
the three small volumes of his Introduction to Freemasonry in
his own gentle way, to inspire the new Mason with intimations of the
world he was entering, and the long line of generations he was becoming
part of. But those books were intended for candidates, to be read after
receiving each degree, and would seem vague, not much help to any
curious outsider. Since then, other introductory books have appeared,
but there has never been anything like Wor. Hodapp's extensive and
In describing the contents, it might be easiest to begin with what
Freemasons for Dummies doesn't contain -- the actual
secrets of Freemasonry, which Hodapp lists as:
"...the grips (handshakes), passwords, and signs
(gestures) that are modes of recognition, and some details of the
Masonic degree ritual ceremonies. Undoubtedly, there are still
old-school Masons out there who will read something in this book and
believe that I should be driven to the state line in a trunk for daring
to talk about it, but they should chat with their Grand Lodge before
calling to check my measurements."
That quote displays Hodapp's sense of humor and easy style, so
refreshingly not full of hot air. It also demonstrates his
ability to separate common misunderstandings from actual fact. And it
shows one of the most valuable things about the book: that it can help
you, me, any Mason understand more clearly how much we can say
when someone asks, "So what is Masonry, anyway?" For the uncountable
thousands of Masons who have stumbled over that question, or who have
avoided the struggle by simply answering, "It's all secret; I can't tell
you," that alone is worth the price of admission.
Those of you who have ever visited my website will know that I am a
proponent of Masonic education. When we make a new Mason, we owe him a
first-class course of instruction in what Masonry is, what it does, and
where it came from. We owe it for his own sake, as our brother, for the
sake of his circle of family and friends who will ask him about this
peculiar organization he's joined, and for the sake of our own future.
Freemasons for Dummies could serve as an important part of that
education in any lodge.
Hodapp certainly gives Masonic history its due. Those weren't
boring dusty times, but vibrant, often violent, periods of great social
upheaval and cultural achievement. How could anyone include all of that
history in a 368 page book and leave room for the other material you'd
want to cover in a general survey of Masonry? Hodapp doesn't even try
to get "all of that history" in here. He uses the "short chapters and
sidebars" method of the Dummies series to provide brief
introductions of lots of historical topics: the Crusades and the rise
and fall of the Templars, Gothic architecture, Protestant schisms, the
English Civil War, the Jacobites and French Freemasonry, the
Enlightenment, Deism, and much more. Anyone who has ever tried to
summarize these topics for a general Masonic audience can only feel
admiration (and perhaps a little envy) for the skill and easy
readability of Hodapp's fact-filled discussions. Each of those brief
sections will give the reader a good overview of the topic and an
understanding of how it fits into the larger picture of Masonry's past,
and any one of them might fire the imagination and interest of the new
Mason, lead him to think, "well that's something I want to know
What else is there besides history? A tour through the table of
contents may help. The book has six sections:
I. What is Freemasonry? Hodapp introduces Masonry
and lodges, and provides answers about "secrecy", related organizations,
and other common questions. He walks us through Masonic history, from
the mediaeval operative lodges to current times -- very current, with
mentions of, among others, The Da Vinci Code and "The
Stonecutters". The philosophy of Masonry comes next, followed by a
chapter on religion and politics which clears up a lot of
misconceptions, and explains why the Craft steers clear of both. An
awful lot of folks seem to know an awful lot about Masonry that just
isn't so -- and if you need to answer them, this chapter could be a big
II. The Mechanics of Freemasonry: How It Works
Hodapp covers lodges, lodge officers, emblems, grand lodges (regular,
irregular, clandestine, etc.), and ceremonies. He traces the history
and evolution of our rituals, including a discussion of the mediaeval
guild "mystery plays," a connection that is rarely noted. He presents a
chapter listing and explaining our symbols and clears up a number of
"myths and misconceptions." A short description of this extensive
section can't do justice to what is really the heart of the book.
III. Knights, Swords, Fezzes, and Dresses: The Appendant
Bodies This is one area that just bewilders outsiders, and
plenty of Masons, too. Hodapp lays it all out nicely: York and Scottish
Rites the Shrine, and all those odd degrees and societies you've been
wondering about. A lot of points are cleared up here: why it's called
"Scottish" Rite? Who were the Templars and what do they have
to do with anything? What are Allied Masonic Degrees? Red Cross of
Constantine? Amaranth? Beauceant? the MOVPER a/k/a "Grotto"? Sciots?
and many others.
IV. Freemasonry Today and Tomorrow This short
section reads like Masonry's answer to Bowling Alone, the book
that introduced most of America to the idea of "social capital" and
lamented its decline. Concerned Masons have been watching that decline
for years, even if we didn't know what to call it. Hodapp presents a
good account of increasingly solitary modern lives, and argues
persuasively that Masonry could be part of a solution. At least, we
Masons can hope he is persuasive.
Regarding the growing practice of the one-day classes, Hodapp and I
will just have to disagree. I think they are a swindle, cheating the
candidate of the unique experience of a personal initiation. He joined
Masonry through one and thinks they're fine. He does raise the
interesting possibility that some of these new Masons, returning to
their lodges and realizing what they have been deprived of, might become
dedicated to learning and presenting the degrees properly, to provide
them for future candidates. Well, I hope he's right about that, but I
haven't seen any evidence yet.
Finally he has a few pages on how to join, why someone might want
to, and includes his own quite moving tale of why he decided to become a
Mason. He also lays out the usual route, from request, through
investigation and balloting, to the time requirements of attendance and
candidate instruction. The petitioner that knocks on your lodge door
after reading this book will be very well prepared for what follows.
V. The Part of Tens Apparently all books in the
Dummies series have a "The Part of Tens" section, where lists
of ten are compiled. Varying the formula, Hodapp gives us, not a list
of ten famous Freemasons, but ten lists (of varying lengths) in
different fields: founding fathers, explorers and adventurers, science
and medicine, actors and entertainers (okay, I knew about Michael
"Kramer" Richards and Mel Blanc, but Leonardo DiCaprio?), sports, the
military, business, statesmen, civil rights, and arts and letters.
You're sure to find some surprises of your own in these lists.
[Note: Wor. Hodapp has provided online a list of corrections
intended for the next printing. It turns out that Mr. DiCaprio is not a
Mason after all. Far more disappointing to me personally is the
revelation that, apparently, neither was Louis Armstrong.]
Next comes an entertaining list of "Conspiracies, Anti-Masons, and
Hoaxes" and, oh boy, this was fun! Hodapp explains and debunks Leo
Taxil, The Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission, the secret Masonic
layout of Washington DC, the Italian P2 Lodge, Aleister Crowley, and
more. This would have been a great little pamphlet all by itself. And
it's going to be useful, too. From now on, when someone wants to know
about the supposed connection between Jack the Ripper and Masonry, I can
reply, "look at page 302 in Dummies".
Oddly, the section summary promised a list of "common Masonic
phrases" which seems to have migrated, becoming part of the tear-out
"cheat sheet" at the front of the book.
This final chapter is a top ten list of Masonic "cool" places to
visit. These include Freemasons Hall on Great Queen Street in London,
the George Washingington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia,
Rosslyn Chapel, and the headquarters of the Grande Loge Nationale
Française in Paris.
(Regarding the GLNF, Hodapp doesn't exaggerate when he says that
their address, 12 rue Christine de Pisan, is so "very difficult to find"
that even the taxi drivers won't know it. Here's a hint: head for the
17th Arrondissement and find Rue de Saussure just northwest of where it
crosses Boulevard Pereire. Rue Christine de Pisan looks like a driveway
entrance on your right between two buildings. Another hint: call ahead
of time to make certain they're open.)
VI. Appendixes Here's an idea: Masonic references
always talk about the Regius Manuscript and Anderson's Constitutions.
Why not include them? Hodapp gives both, along with some context and
explanation of their importance. The final appendix is a list of grand
lodges, US mainstream, US Prince Hall, and Canadian. If you need any
others besides those, go to the Links section of my website A Page About
Freemasonry at MasonryPage.org. That seems to be the only thing
Wor. Hodapp neglected to include in his wonderful book, and he did
such a fine job on the rest of it that I can forgive him that.
Freemasons for Dummies belongs on every Masonic bookshelf.
A few years ago, I attempted to compile my own list of books about
Masonry for the general audience. The idea would have been to raise
funds to donate a small "Masonic bookshelf" to local public libraries.
I could never decide on that list, until now. If your lodge is looking
for a way to inform your community about Freemasonry, consider donating
a few copies of this book to your town library, and maybe even the
public high school libraries.
For myself, I'll try to see that new candidates in my lodge receive
those three Claudy books -- back in print at TheTempleBooks.com. But from now
on, our candidates will also be presented with Freemasons
for Dummies, even if I do have to apologize for the title.
R.W. Dryfoos 32° is a past master of two Massachusetts lodges,
Grand Representative of the Grand Lodge of Russia near the Grand Lodge
of Massachusetts, a member of the Masonic Brotherhood of the Blue
Forget-Me-Not, and webmaster of A Page About Freemasonry, the world's
oldest Masonic website.
Up to A Page About
Freemasonry main page.
A Page About Freemasonry is http://web.mit.edu/dryfoo/Masonry/