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Book Reviews

Reviews of books of York Rite and otherwise Masonic interest are linked on this page. You may either read the review here or click the review title to open a particular review and comment upon it.

A Traditional Observance Lodge

posted Mar 17, 2014, 10:44 AM by Helotes York Rite

By Cliff Porter
An interesting book overall and a help for Masons who may be looking for something "more" in their Masonry. I read this book on the heals of reading "Observing The Craft" which was truly a thought provoking read and this book was recommended by brothers who share a curiosity about Traditional Observance Lodges. 
While interesting, the book was poorly edited and I was distracted by typos throughout. In some cases there were completely unfinished sentences and missing words.  Once I adapted to "corrective" reading, I was very interested in the writer's story. He goes into some depth explaining his view of the advantages Traditional Observance Lodges (TOL) have over the "typical" lodge today.  He also explains and defines some of those things that differentiate a TOL from a typical lodge.
The writer does a very good job explaining how the TOL style works based on his personal experience and provides suggestions on ways to implement a TOL. 
I would recommend this book for Master Masons that have been a MM for some length of time, perhaps 5+ years.  Master Masons who have traveled extensively to other lodges, participated on degree teams, and who may have completed degrees in the York and Scottish Rites will find it easier to relate to the comparisons and definitions that Bro. Porter provides.
The book is available on Amazon.

Observing the Craft

posted Jan 3, 2014, 6:58 AM by Helotes York Rite   [ updated Jan 3, 2014, 6:59 AM ]

Observing the Craft
By: Andrew Hammer

A good book that should not be confused with another book titled "A Traditional Observance Lodge" by Cliff Porter.  While this book touches on the Traditional Observance Lodge (TOL), it is not the soul focus of the book. Rather, this book reminds the Master Mason that there are customs, courtesies, and rituals that set Freemasonry off from community service organizations, traditional charitable organizations, and other social organizations. The point of the book is to point out areas where we have perhaps strayed from those things that made our fraternity unique- some customs and courtesies, and some associated to the TOL.
This is a good "primer" for "A Traditional Observance Lodge" because it does introduce terms and definitions from the TOL and helps the reader with the necessary context to understand the difference between "today's lodge" and the TOL.  It defines and describes Festive Boards/Table Lodges, Chambers of Reflection, and Chain of Union and members of the York and Scottish Rites will gain perspective in the origin of some of those ritual customs.
This book is for those who hunger for more from masonry, more from the spiritual side but aren't quite sure what that "more" might be. It is not for those who seek more or better ways to do more fundraisers or community service activities; while those can be important to a lodge, this book addresses the traditions and customs of masonry that originally drew many of us to the West Gate.
I recommend this book to Master Masons who have spent some time in the quarry and are familiar with their lodge operations, Lodge-Grand Lodge relations, and Grand Lodge Law and Constitutions.  While not required, it will have more meaning for those who have advanced through York and Scottish Rite degrees and it prompts the mason to consider the relationship between the Blue Lodge and those appendant bodies regarding not just degrees, but the form and function of the bodies themselves.
This book is available on Amazon.

Review by Companion Bill Boyd
(With thanks to Bro/Comp Chris Williams who recommended the book)

American Indian Freemasonry

posted Jan 3, 2014, 6:50 AM by Helotes York Rite   [ updated Jan 3, 2014, 6:52 AM ]

American Indian Freemasonry
By: Arthur Caswell Parker

Coming in at 36 pages, this book (almost a pamphlet) presents a fascinating discussion centered on a sacred ceremony of the Senecas. Because it is so short, there is not much I can say in a review of the book that won't give it away so I'll limit my comments to a couple observations.  First, for those wondering about the universality of our masonic esoteric "story", you will likely be intrigued by the description of an ancient ceremony provided in the discussion.
Lastly, I would say this is not necessarily a book for a newly raised Master Mason. I believe the book will be most fully appreciated by a Master Mason that has participated several times on the degree team for the 3rd degree or at least attended and observed several conferrals. To understand the natural comparison the book provides, one needs to be able to recreate to some extend the 3rd degree in their mind as they read. They also should know and understand the symbolism purposes of the various floor movements and actions of the degree. 


A very good book that I do recommend; it is available on Amazon.

Review by Companion Bill Boyd

The Liverpool Masonic Rebellion and the Wigan Grand Lodge; The Last Masonic Rebellion

posted May 27, 2013, 8:05 AM by Helotes York Rite

The Liverpool Masonic Rebellion and the Wigan Grand Lodge; The Last Masonic Rebellion
By: David Harrison

This is really an excellent book that looks at a moment in masonic history where the Antients and Moderns clashed. It is a short book, coming in at about 88 pages, but it is packed with interesting and useful information that will inform the York (Rite) Mason on the struggle to save and promulgate the Holy Royal Arch. 

Because the book is so short, I feel compelled to limit my description of the storyline so as not to give too much away. In short, the author tells of a rebellion by several lodges against the UGLE and in retaliation for perceived heavy-handed guidance and direction. The leaders of the rebellion re-activated the Wigand Grand Lodge in the Antient style in repudiation of the UGLE and the Moderns. This book delves into the actors and their actions and describes the reactivation and operation of the Wigand Grand Lodge. 

The Liverpool Masonic Rebellion is written in the style of a novel, but it is truly a documentary book  including sources and many photos of the various source documents and artifacts referenced throughout the storyline.  

I recommend this book for any Master Mason but I believe it will be of particular interest to Royal Arch Masons interested in the evolution and practice of Royal Arch Masonry (though that is only a small and subtle part of the storyline). I would recommend those considering this book have a basic understanding of the UGLE and its history- not necessarily in great detail, rather a general understanding of the role of the UGLE in masonic history. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and whole-heartedly recommend it. Some understanding of York Rite Freemasonry will add to the readers appreciation of the book. 

Review by Companion Bill Boyd

Ancient Manuscripts of the Freemasons

posted Apr 14, 2013, 7:14 AM by Helotes York Rite   [ updated Apr 14, 2013, 7:17 AM ]

Edited by: Michael R. Poll

I've read several books on Masonry in general and several with a specific focus on the York Rite of Freemasonry.  Anyone doing extensive masonic reading will find frequent references to "The Old Charges" and this book is a convenient, highly educational compilation of several of those documents. 

The book is a fairly straigth forward compilation of the ancient manuscripts, but the first chapter provides a very good discussion of what the Old Charges are and provides some very interesting background. 

"Ancient Manuscripts of the Freemasons"  is an important book for any Master Mason who wants to learn more about the origins of our fraternity. My favorite manuscript- The Torgau Chronicles-  will be of particular interest to York Rite Masons who have completed up to and including the R.A.M. degree.  This manuscript specifically discusses masters pledging their mark and really helps put the Mark Master Degree in an easy-to-understand context with the Fellowcraft degree and illustrates the relationship of the mark to fellowcraft masons and master masons. 

I would recommend this book for all master masons and especially those continuing on and finishing their York degrees. It's an excellent reference book for the library of anyone studying the history of the fraternity with an eye towards the transistion from operative masonry to speculative masonry.

Review by Companion Bill Boyd  |  Barnes &

The Royal Arch Journey

posted Nov 9, 2012, 5:10 AM by Helotes York Rite

Author: Rev'd Neville Barker Cryer

I've completed another book by Rev'd Cryer and I have to say that while not my favorite by him, it's still full of interesting information for the Royal Arch Mason. It's a very short book (94 pages), and it's a little dry in the reading- almost "text book" in style. But the information in it adds much to understanding the turmoil surrounding the creation and promulgation of Royal Arch Masonry as we know and practice it today. I think it's important to note the title may be misleading; if you're expecting a book about a Mason traveling the road of Royal Arch Masonry, you'll miss the mark (no pun intended, but cute none the less) as I did. It's actually a book about the inception and progression of Royal Arch Masonry itself. 

This book, like his others, informed on some things that stood out  to me as significant.  First, he discusses in some detail the "Rule of Three" which has relevance in all forms of Freemasonry.  The information wasn't surprising, rather I found myself thinking "so THAT'S why we do that". 
It also touches on another interesting fact that he has written about in his other books and that is that at certain times and in certain places in history, Chapter's opened with just the three principles and past principle officers in attendance while the members waited outside.  During this discussion, he also discussed several different variations in Chapter opening and closing throughout history and I was again surprised by his reference to how close North American RAM is to RAM in the 17-1800's.
In this book, he goes to great length and detail on the significance of "Passing the Chair" which naturally goes into the creation of the "Virtual Past Master" degree.  He adds much to the understanding of exactly how significant this was in early Royal Arch Masonry, particularly why and how it was implemented.

The Rev'd provided a good discussion on how the RAM degree was variously referred to as a "degree" and as an "order" at different points in history.  This of course is all related to the discussion of the RAM as the 4th degree or as the culmination of the Craft degrees. Very interesting indeed. 
I was surprised at the point late in the book where he discussed and detailed RAM membership growth in terms of Chapters and membership.  After reading this information I feel very good about the growth I see here in our local Grand Royal Arch Chapter Capitular District.
Rev'd Cryer provides some excellent information on the relationship between Craft (Blue) Lodges and Chapters at different times in history.  There was much more complexity to the relationship than most RAM's know and it's a very interesting presentation!
Finally, I was struck several times by some of the terminology he used.  Remember, his frame of reference is England and the historical period of this book is the 17-1800's, so certain terms jumped right out at me.  For instance, he referred to an open chapter of RAM as an "encampment"  and at one point he quoted a reference to a Royal Arch Mason becoming a "Masonic Knights Templar".  I find these instances fascinating because they were recorded in the minutes of old English chapters.
I recommend this book to Royal Arch Masons, perhaps as a first book to read after being exalted. I don't believe the Council degrees would provide any further understanding or background for the RAM or is necessary for understanding this book. On the other hand, Master Masons that have not completed their Chapter degrees will likely not understand most of the material. 

Review by Companion Bill Boyd

Turning the Hiram Key

posted Jul 15, 2012, 3:22 PM by Helotes York Rite   [ updated Jul 15, 2012, 3:23 PM ]

Turning the Hiram Key cover
By Robert Lomas

This follow-up book to "The Hiram Key" is interesting Masonic reading from the point of view of Masonic ritual. Brother Lomas describes in some detail the ceremonies of the three Blue Lodge degrees he received, however, as he states, a ruling by the United Grand Lodge of England does not preclude an English Mason from revealing some parts of their degree rituals. As he explains in the book, what is specifically forbidden by the UGLE is the revelation of methods of Masonic recognition, which ruling Lomas scrupulously adheres to.

Reading about the three degrees as experienced by Mr. Lomas in his lodge is interesting, particularly for the American Mason who will at once recognize both similarities and differences in the  degree ritual as they are described. But this is only the lowest level of ritualistic consideration Mr. Lomas has for the reader. The higher, and far more interesting part of the book deals with how those Masons who become ritualists are effected by learning and taking part in degree work.

One section in the Prologue of Turning the Hiram Key is entitled, "The Masonic Path to Cosmic Consciousness." This section with a few  of the preceding paragraphs serve to introduce to the reader the famous British Masonic thinker and writer Walter Lesley Wilmshurst. Brother Wilmshurst might be familiar to some readers, but Lomas spends some quality time explaining who he was and why he was important to Masonry. According to WLW, achieving a form or type of cosmic consciousness IS the purpose for Masonic ritual. And lest you think Brother Wilmshurst is a product of the "Age of Aquarius", his masterwork, "The Meaning of Masonry" was first delivered as a series of lectures to his lodge in the 1920s.

As Lomas points out, "Freemasonry is not a religion, but it is spiritual technique that is compatible with the belief systems of any religion as well as with the rational world view of science: to join, you must express a belief that there is order underpinning the behavior of the universe." Whether that "underpinning" faith and belief is in God, Allah, Buddha, or the Great Architect of the Universe, it is something that every man who desires to be a Mason must express.

As the book progresses, the reader encounters sections entitled, "How does Ritual Work?", "How does Symbolism Work?", as well as a chapter dealing with Wilmhurst's topic, "The Meaning of Masonry" wherein the reader finds sections on "The Mystical Mason", and, "The Mystical Path to the Center." Keep in mind that Brother Lomas is a physicist, so it would be difficult to label him an Aquarian.

This is a good book to read for anyone interested in getting a brief overview of English Masonic ritual; it is a great book to read for anyone interested in how Masonic ritual of any type makes a man better.

Review by Companion John Kerr

Turning the Hiram Key website

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The Hiram Key

posted Jul 5, 2012, 1:09 PM by Helotes York Rite

The Hiram Key cover
By Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas

In the Hiram Key, co-authors Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas (both English Masons), set out to see if they can discover the genesis, or inception of Freemasonry. In their words from the introduction:

"Our starting point was a private piece of research to find the origins of Freemasonry. As Freemasons, our goal was to try to understand a little about the meaning of Masonic ritual.

In the first chapter, "The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry", they summarize their initiations in some detail and then add:

"There is very little of the Masonic ritual that could be described as ordinary. The journey from darkness to light is obviously important as are the two pillars, Boaz and Jachin that symbolize strength and establishment and when united mean stability."

From that point they begin their search for the origins of Freemasonry beginning with three commonly accepted possibilities:

1. That it is as ancient as King Solomon's Temple and was created at that time as a result of certain happenings that took place and has been passed down to the present time through unknown mechanisms.

2. That it is a development of medieval stonemasons, guilds whereby "operative" mason skills have been translated to "speculative" moral skills of improvement.

3. That Masonic ritual originates directly from the Order of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, otherwise known historically as the Knights Templar.

Taking off from these three possibilities, the authors present a vast amount of historical, ritual and mythical data they compiled in the course of their research. Indeed, one entire section of the book is dedicated to the Order of the Knights Templar from its inception 1099 until its demise on Friday, October 13, 1307 at the hands of the French King Phillip the IV and his handpicked Pope, Clement V.

As the journey progresses, succeeding sections encompass Gnosticism, Christ, Judaism, the origins of the Hebraic people, the Egyptians, the origins of the two pillars, and end at a chapel on a hill outside Edinburgh, Scotland and its enigmatic builder William Sinclair.

The Hiram Key, although written as a research book, is anything but dry. Even so, there are annotations, references, photos and an appendix. Each chapter begins with a supposition and ends with a conclusion. It provides Masons with a wealth of information about the Craft and was the basis for the follow-up books: Turning the Hiram Key, and The Hiram Key Revisited. 

For more information visit:

Review by Companion John Kerr

Born in Blood

posted Jul 5, 2012, 11:52 AM by Helotes York Rite

Born in Blood cover
By John J. Robinson
The Books starts with an account of England’s Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. In this account Robinson gives some background of the medieval way of life. These conditions serve as bases for the social-economical uprising. While detailing events, Robinson notes that the crowds made special effort to destroy some Knights Hospitaller buildings while completely spearing or by-passing buildings that have links to the Knights Templar.

The seemingly selective destruction of buildings brings him to wonder if the organizers of the revolt may have had some political statement to make in addition to the obvious freedom from a system of socio-economical binds.  Was the Peasant’s Revolt organized and directed by surviving Knights Templar in England?

The book now turns its focus on the history of the Knights Templar.  Robinson gives a historical account of the order from their humble beginnings in 1119 to the demise at the stake of the last Templar Grand Master.  Robinson notes that the Templars, while enjoying Papal protection for years, fell victim due to their raise in power and riches.  Here Robinson’s book takes a third turn and directs our attention to Modern Freemasonry and its possible origins.

Robinson takes great detail in linking Templar rites, customs and organization with Freemasonry.  Robinson groups these links very well and presents a convincing argument for the Templar origin of some of Modern Freemasonry   fundamental principles, ceremonies and titles. He even attempts to link the origin of Masonically exclusive terms like Tyler and cable tow to the Templars.

In ”Born in Blood” Robinson methodically presents the reader with historical evidence that shows links between the Knights Templar and modern Freemasonry. Robinson at times makes logical conclusions which make these connections very credible. But one must keep in mind that all the connections are based on logical conclusion and not in historically based facts.

Does “Born in Blood” present definite proof of the Templar origins of Freemasonry? Hundreds of historians have attempted to find definitive, historical proof of the true origins of Freemasonry, no one has been able to done so, one way or another.  In his book, Robinson does a good job in attempting to link Modern Freemasonry with the Knights Templar. He presents excellent, rational and convincing arguments which lead one to strongly consider that possibility.

About the Author
John J. Robinson (1918 – 1996) was an American author and historian. While researching the English Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, he discovered some interesting details about the way the revolt was conducted.  This led him to re-direct his research to the Knights Templar and the link between the Templars and Freemasonry. In 1989 we wrote “Born in Blood” based on this research. In the book he links the origins of Freemasonry to the disbanded Knights Templar.

One must remember two things while reading this excellent book. One, Robinson was not a Mason at the time he wrote the book. He later became a Mason and regretted some of the things he included in the book. Number two, even though Robinson is considered a historian and the book is based on historical facts, the actual link between the Knights Templar and Freemasonry is not directly, historically made. Robinson makes several logical connections, or leads the reader to make those connections but these connections are not based on historically based facts. Furthermore Robinson muddies the waters by not footnoting his book. This regrettable decision opens his book to the criticism by other historians, specially those who disagree with the argument for a templar origin of Freemasonry.  Still the book is factual, interesting and a must read for those looking to expand their knowledge in Templar history or who seek the historical origin of Freemasonry.

Review by Companion Gil Villanueva

The Red Triangle

posted Jun 29, 2012, 10:59 AM by Helotes York Rite   [ updated Jun 29, 2012, 11:01 AM ]

The Red Triangle cover graphic
Author: Robert L.D. Cooper

My curiousity about anti-Masonry was piqued after I read "Morgan, The Scandal That Shook Freemasonry" so I picked up "The Red Triangle". I was not disappointed! It is a really informative book on Anti-Masonry- especially when coupled with "Morgan"- that sheds a lot of light on the Anti-Masonry movement that is still alive and well.  This book focuses on Europe, but the reader quickly recognizes the fact the same issues and arguments also circulate today in the United States. Two prominent issues in particular jumped out at me- the constant argument over whether Masonry is a relgion and whether brethren abuse their membership in the fraternity through favors and cover ups. 

While we've likely all found ourselves in conversations over whether Masonry is a religion, this book provides good depth on the argument over whether Masonry is a religion and explains some of the reasons anti-masons are able to so easily level the accusation and convince the uninformed. 

"Red Triangle" provides a lengthy study of the perceptions that Masons abuse their membership by giving preferential treatment- particularly in jobs and hiring- to brothers and the perception that Masons in the legal system will cover up wrong-doing by Masons or flat-out protect brothers from prosecution for wrong-doing; a definite carry over from the issue front and center in "Morgan". 

What I like about the book is that it doesn't say.  It does not say "Masonry is (or isn't) a religion and here's why" or "Masons will always protect their brothers from the law or other civil punishment and here's proof". Rather, the book presents the arguments as they are normally leveled, and then discusses how anti-masons are able to use these beliefs to bolster their arguments. The author gives good examples of Masonic "behaviors" that lend themselves to- apparently- proving or supporting the ideas. 

All-in-all a good book that sheds light on why Anti-Masonry is still alive and well and is a good read for the Mason conducting research.  This book, coupled with "Morgan: The Scandal That Shook Freemasonry" gives the Mason a good look at why certain perceptions persist in today's world and educates us on the need to square our actions and be mindful of how our actions can be misconstrued or misrepresented. 

I recommend this book as a companion book to "Morgan: The Scandal That Shook Freemasonry" to all Master Masons.

Review by Companion Bill Boyd

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