Whenever somebody asked for recommendation for an informative book about Freemasonry, I just scratched my head. Especially, if the person was not interested to join but to learn, or when the person was a woman.
Then Oxford University Press came out in their ever popular “A Very Short Introduction” series with a small volume about Freemasonry. This is finally the book that I would recommend to anybody and everybody. Including Masons… Yes, even Freemasons, since the usual “reading list” in our North-American lodges stops at books published 100 years ago or even before that. Rarely happens that contemporary books and authors are brought up in discussions or quoted as reference in the so-called “Masonic papers”.
Probably, the biggest novelty in approaching the subject of the book – Freemasonry – has its origin in the multidisciplinary view of the social phenomenon that started, officially, around 300 years ago. For a long, perhaps too long time Freemasonry has been treated in the “masonic history” volumes as an insider story: written by Freemasons for Freemasons, and the whole history of the Craft (as we like to call it) has been treated as a “thing” that is independent of the social and historic context, hanging somewhere in vacuum, timeless and from time immemorial.
Masons even today prefer mythical stories and legends about their own origins and the prevailing historical attitude is the one inherited unchanged from the 18th century: i.e. biblical ascendants and mythological noble and heroic ancestors lend authority, power and status to those that claim today to be the inheritors of the hidden knowledge of the ancestors. Such “traditional histories” were never accepted as factual by the academic researchers, so the two worlds existed side by side, in parallel universes without any real connections. (As a side note: those legendary stories also should be studied because they are relevant, just in different ways…)
Only in the decades after the WWII, first sporadically, then with some regularity the academics started to take a closer look into this worldwide phenomenon. The Masonic bodies, lodges and Grand Lodges also realized the possible positive outcome of cooperation and slowly opened up their archives to non-Mason researchers… Especially in the last quarter of the 20th century and in our times, many historians, social scientists, academics from various fields began to focus on the (real) history, on the philosophy and the influences of philosophical schools on Masonic teachings, and many other fascinating aspects of the evolution of Freemasonry.
Prof Önnerfors’ work fits exactly into this general trend. It is based on facts, thoroughly documented and professionally written. The author has the advantage of understanding both the requirements of the scholarly approach and research, as well as the “insider” understanding of an initiated member of the Craft. He understands very well the internal development of the organization and its culture, the ideas that shaped the present form of the Craft along its long and complex history.
Since it is not a scientific treatise or a thesis, the language and style is also adapted to the requirements of such “popularizing” series – simple, concise and accessible. Talking of perspectives, it should be mentioned that the majority of the English-speaking readers, Masons and non-Masons alike, have access to texts written by English-speakers for English-speakers. And since not many French and German Masonic books are translated into English (to mention just the two nations with extensive literature in this field) our view and perception might suffer from the biases of our authors.
Dr Andreas Önnerfors is a Swedish raised in Germany and familiar with other languages as well, so he has access to the most important European sources, and as a result brings a fresh interpretation of the story that has been told so many times. It really reads like a new story – an exciting presentation of the fantastic story of Freemasonry. Also, it would make a wonderful gift to any new Mason and a useful read to any seeker of the light.
Önnerfors, Andreas, Freemasonry: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Oxford University Press. (also available on Kindle)