Born in Blood,|
The lost secrets of Freemasonry
By John J. Robinson
London : Century, 1989, xix + 376 pp.
Reviewed by Bro. John M. Hamill
I had thought that masonic scholars, at least, had convincingly debunked the theory (more properly, legend) that Freemasonry had its origins in the medieval Knights Templar. The legend persists, however, and seems to have an eternal fascination for non-masons. The book under review is by an American writer who is not a freemason who has produced a book which is, on the surface, persuasively argued and a rattling good read. Therein, lies its danger.
As the author states, his original intention was not to write about either freemasons or Templars but to satisfy his own curiosity about certain questions arising from the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. The first half of the book discusses the situation in England, the Knights Hospitaller and the revolt itself. In the course of his researches he discovered evidence for a very shadowy secret society which led him on to consider the Templars, their fate and the origins of Freemasonry. He posits the theory that the secret society was an inner circle of Templars/Hospitallers who eventually became the founders of Freemasonry.
Turning to Freemasonry he examines the rituals of the three Craft degrees and looks for links with the Templars through masonic language. A fair enough approach had he gone to the basic sources for ritual. Regrettably the author used as his text not the early masonic catechisms and exposures (either English or French) but a nineteenth-century American exposure, M. W. Reddings The Scarlet Book of Freemasonry. In so doing he found a number of examples to bolster his theory, examples which are peculiar to that book and do not appear in either the early English ritual texts or the modern English rituals.
It is a great pity that this book cannot be wholeheartedly recommended for it performs one extremely valuable service for Freemasonry. The author gives a devastating critique of the late Stephen Knights The Brotherhood, which caused so many problems for English Freemasonry in the 1980s. That critique becomes even more devastating and valuable when one knows that its author is not himself a freemason and has no neccessity to defend Freemasonry, but is a man of integrity who dislikes uncalled for, dishonest and fanatical attacks on any human institution which is based upon principles and has the intention of being of service to mankind rather than serving selfish self-interest.
The present reviewer finds himself in a quandary. The book is a good read. It has many positive things to say about Freemasonry but, unfortunately, the basic thesis is seriously flawed. Read with care, and preferably after a reading of Peter Partners excellent study The Murdered Magicians, the Templars and their Myth, the author has done a service to Freemasonry. I fear, however, that he has also given an additional source to the religious detractors of Freemasonry who will quote him out of context and use the Templar myth to claim that Freemasonry is an alternative to or subversive of religion.
[Editors Note: It is perhaps not surprising that Mr. Robinsons book should have aroused interest, a measure of approval, some informed criticism and even unmerited obloquy. It is worthy of mention that Bro. Dr. Paul Champion of West Vancouver in Canada wrote to me about it and that I asked him to let me have his 'considered comments'. This he did and, in many respects, he echoes Bro. Hamills opinions. He also quotes a Cambridge historian of his acquaintance as defining two theories behind historical fact. The first is the 'cock-up' theory, by which most of the events have occurred by virtue of mistakes, incompetence, ignorance, greed, etc. This makes less exciting reading but it may indeed account for much of what occurs in each generation. Then there is the 'conspiracy' theory, that all main incidents and changes were brought about by scheming groups, manipulating world events from behind a curtain of urbanity. This one is always very interesting to read about; it appeals to our inner suspicions and fears and makes a jolly good read.
Bro. Champion has no doubt that Mr. Robinson subscribes to the second theory and himself praises the book for being 'a jolly good read', as did Bro. Hamill. He sees it as being one for the romantic and appreciates that is 'freemason-friendly'. The limitations of space prevent us from reproducing more of Bro. Champions analysis and observations but it is good to know that we have in our wide-spread Correspondence Circle brethren who can and will share their thoughts and opinions with us.]
Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, vol 104 (1991). Frederick Smyth, ed.. ISBN: 0 907655 21 1. pp. 239-40. Also see Wallace McLeods review in The Royal Arch Mason Magazine, J. E. Marsengill, ed.. Trenton, Missouri, USA. Summer 1990, vol. 16, No. 10. pp. 303-04. Cf.: "The Knights Templar in Scotland, The Creation of a Myth" by Robert L.D. Cooper, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, vol. 115 (2002) London : Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, 2003. pp. 94-152.