Review: Freemasonry A French View
As you can see on this website, there is a rough divide in the world of Freemasonry. “Regular” versus “Irregular”, “Conservative” versus “Progressive”, “Anglo-Saxon” versus “Continental”, there is different descriptions for both ‘camps’. There is a lot of talking about the ‘other camp’ which usually is merely the display of simplifications. It is not like there are two homogenous camps. Neither is it like these camps are diametrically opposed. There is shared history, mutual influencing, but most of all, the differences may not be as big as you think.
French (or “continental”) Freemasonry is pretty ‘scholarly’, but the publications and conferences do not usually appear in English. Therefor it is a good idea that the author Roger Bachez and Alain Bauer decided to publish a book in English. It is but a little book (134 pages) which in the general parts is quite … general, but also the “French view” of things are highlighted and ‘French elements’ are put into context. You may be surprised how things ‘really’ are.
The book starts with a history of Freemasonry. It mostly debunks myths, such as “the operative myth”, “the Templar myth” and “the Rosicrucian and Alchemical myth”. Then we briefly go to Britain and rapidly to France, because in France Freemasonry would develop independently from Britain. In that early history of French Freemasonry you can already see traces of what is to come. Social/political tendencies, repression by the Church and the development of anti-clericalism, but also systems of high degrees that quickly started to be developed in France. The picture painted is interesting, nuanced and not without critical notes.
A big point is that in France symbolism has always been more important than moralism and esotericism more so than religion. It is not so much an “atheist” development that France made, but more one of complete freedom of consciousness in which esotericism proved to be a more fitting approach than a religious one.
But as we know, France is also the country to differing opinions, so you will also learn a thing or two how it comes that Freemasonry splintered, how these different “obediences” relate to each other, how organisation for “high degrees” relate to those of the “blue” lodges (‘craft’).
“Secular spirituality” instead of “atheism”, “Masonic humanism”, “Masonic esotericism” (I was quite surprised to see René Guénon quoted, not an author that an “atheist” would quickly turn to), “the path of initiation”.
The book is written in descent English. There are a few amusing details that prove that the book was not written by a native English-speaking Freemason, such as when the “First” and “Second” Warden are mentioned. There are more such English versions of fairly typically ‘continental’ Masonic expressions.
Whatever you think of this “French” / ‘continental’ of Freemasonry, it has been there since the early days and indeed, it is different. Maybe not as different as some people like to make you think it is. All in all, the book makes fairly light, but interesting read, showing the interested reader the “French view” of the history and practice of Freemasonry. Recommended.
Available from Amazon. It is even a cheap book, so no reason not to have a look.