Rituals, Symbols & History of the Secret Society

Mark Stavish

Here's the review I've placed on Amazon & Library Thing:

As the time this page was written, there were five reviews of this book on Amazon, three of which gave it five stars. But look more closely: one is from the author himself, one is from the person who wrote the Foreword and the third from a self-described "Author, Priestess & Sorceress". A fourth reviewer (4 stars) claims to be a Mason and yet refers to “Free Masonary”. Pretty sad….

This book should be nominated for this decade’s most pompous work about Freemasonry. The author starts with a section on “How to Use This Book”. If this were a tome on Euclidian geometry, such a presumption might not be seen as such condescending hubris. He tells the reader to “Have a notebook handy and some colored pencils and pens. Write down key ideas and go back and study them before reading the next chapter.” For a book with barely 200 pages titled “Freemasonry: Rituals, Symbols & History of the Secret Society”? Give me a break! Instruction #3 (of 7) in this section might give you a better feel for it: “Pay attention to your dreams as you progress through this book.” Dreams? I’m going to be so moved by the author’s profound enlightenment that I’m going to dream about it? I hardly think so. And, of course, it’s always helpful to have a book about Freemasonry instruct me (#7) to “Give thanks daily for the blessings you have, and spend time in meditation and prayer as often as possible.” What this has to do with Freemasonry’s rituals, symbols and/or history is an enigma which remained after concluding the work. Even more mystifying is who the author thinks he is to give such instructions to his readers.

As stated above, the book was is about 200 pages long. This includes a summary of each of the chapter’s major points which usually consumes at least 6-7 (sometimes a dozen) numbered items, repetitious of what has already been written. So in addition to telling you how to read the book (and dream about it), the author apparently feels that the reader is incapable, even using a notebook with colored pens and pencils, to find or remember the “major points” he has made.

But it gets worse: there are several MAJOR factual errors in the book including identifying the first Scottish Rite Supreme Council in the United States at Charleston, NORTH Carolina. He muses at length about the lack of understanding of Albert Pike by most Masons, apparently oblivious to the fact that Pike had little or no influence on the Rite outside of his own Supreme Council. The book goes on page after page making statements that cry out for documentation but there are no footnotes to be found. When they appear, they add nothing to the understanding of any part of Masonic history. At the end of each chapter is a list of ten or so books which ostensibly are relevant reading. (You are instructed in the “How to” section to read at least one of each, so they must be important!) Sadly, though, most have precious little connection to the book’s title and are, in fact, much more closely tied to the ramblings irrelevant to it. In such a small book, perhaps half is spent discussing esotericism as well as what is sometimes referred to as ‘fringe’ Masonry but without a clear line being drawn for the reader not steeped in Masonic scholarship to see the line between those things and the book’s ostensible subject.

In Item #6 of the 7 pompous instructions on how to use the book, the reader is advised, “Take what you have learned and put it to use in the world of action. Join a civic group or volunteer some time regularly to a non-political, nonreligious cause. Make cash donations as well, and see how much you are blessed by helping others and how much you have to give but had not realized it.” It seems absurd that someone would spend time reading a book about Freemasonry only to receive advice to go join ANY organization that meets the author’s recommendation. May I suggest that the money you might otherwise have spent on this book be employed in getting a blessing from a cash donation rather than enriching the author for such foolishness?

An interesting post-script: within less than 12 hours after my review had appeared on Amazon's website, the author had given it a 'not helpful' mark and had posted a comment indicating that "academic and Masonic authorities" had praised it.

Academic authorities? Two Ph.D.s are quoted on the book cover. The first is a Professor of Music while the second is a Professor and Department Head for a college's Department of Religious Studies. Both have online biographies indicating a fascination with esotericism to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. Since Stavish's other books include topics like astral projection, it is easy to see the affinity. The academic backgrounds of these supporters, however, reflect no knowledge or understanding of Freemasonry's ritual, symbols and history - the title of the book!

Masonic authorities? It received a mostly positive review from Mason Charles S. Canning, the Librarian for the Masonic library in Allentown, Pennsylvania. However, he admits to having been much involved in its writing. See this link. The second was from a Mason who wrote the Foreword to the book and is himself highly involved in esotericism and the author of books on that topic.

You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours is the norm for such accolades but for the author to argue that these have merit is hubris of the highest order.

Frankly, if the book had been titled "A Rambling Construct of Esoteric Connections to Freemasonry: My Assumptions of Same", I could have given it high marks. If you think you're going to learn things based on the current title, however, you'll be sadly disappointed.

Here's the deal, folks: if you want to spend your money based on a good looking cover like I did, then knock yourself out. Just don't blame me 'cause - wait for it - 'I told you so!'.

Oh, and since we first posted the review on Amazon, the author has managed to round up more of his friends to rate the book excellently and, at the same time, to post a rebuttal to my review there. His review states:

Regarding the complaints of a previous poster, he never tells us whether he is a Mason himself. Having read this book cover-to-cover, I cannot recall one instance that substantiates the negatives hurled at Mr. Stavish's book. There are no real foundations to them, from what I can tell.  ( Note: Google is your friend, Mr. Driscoll!)

Freemasonry is a helping book. It is designed for use as if it were a distance-learner's class text book. The exercises have been designed to maximize the readers comprehension and application of the materials therein. ( Note: Taking courses constantly for professional recertification x3, it's certainly like no distance learning text book that I've ever seen! Oh, and we'd mention that Freemasonry is FAR from 'distance learning' - but we wouldn't expect the sock puppet of Stavish to know this.)

Regarding the complaint of dream notation -- symbols affect one's inner life, and Masonry is about the inner life of the Initiate. Masonry is symbolic. ( Note: Sadly, the author fails to tell us how keeping notations of our dreams is in any way connected to Freemasonry. While Mr. Driscoll can add this post facto, it is not in the text which has been reviewed! Perhaps Mr. Driscoll should have reviewed the book to point out that discrepancy to the author.)

One of the main problems with contemporary Masonry is that it has degenerated into a social club, and an aging one at that. Local Masonic lodges are rife with uninspiring fund raisers such as spaghetti dinners, badly done ritual, and little more of substance than the reading of minutes and light-weight presentations in lodge meetings. ( Note: Rants about what Freemasonry is or is not are - at best - subjective. Mr. Driscoll's opinion of Freemasonry's current state has nothing to do with the deficiencies of the book.)

Masonic authors such as Stavish are trying to resurrect the esoteric core of the Craft, to revivify a dying brotherhood by reconnecting it to its life-roots. ( Note: Perhaps Mr. Driscoll might want to review the numbers of members joining and credit Mr. Stavish for the uptick then? Beyond that, we yet again point out that the title is completely inconsistent with the contents.)
Rest assured, there are copious amounts of footnotes, a bibliography, and all of the other tools necessary for a student to pursue further Masonic studies. ( Note: Along with great advice too. After you've written down your dreams, go join some social or civic organization. All in a book about "Ritual, Symbols and History of (Freemasonry) a Secret Society...)

Mr. Driscoll has also written, "Obviously, Mr. King has an unhealthy ax to grind. All Amazon customers are entitled to review whatever books they wish. I like Mr. Stavish's books, and have every right to review them with as many stars as I please." It should be noted that since November 27, 2006, Mr. Driscoll has reviewed only three books: all of them by Mr. Stavish. His wishes are obviously pretty limited! One on alchemy within a month of its publication and one on the Kabbalah within a month of its publication - as well as the present work. How coincidental. His immediately prior review was about vampires in November of 2004. You can find all of his eight reviews including ones on ghost hunters, Black Arts, witchcraft and magick right here so that you may more fully judge Mr. Driscoll's dismissal of my review.

The self-adulation continues....

And updating in October, 2012, Mr. Stavish has, it would appear, created even MORE fake Amazon accounts to provide almost as much writing in their review as he has in his book, attempting to elaborate in GREAT detail on each of the points I've raised here. Take a look at the review history of these reviewers, my dear reader: you'll notice that they - strangely - only hung around long enough to review this particular book - and curiously, precious few are actual verified purchasers. So why would they come to Amazon to review a book they didn't buy there? Quite simple really: they're all just identities used to 'pump' the book. Let's get real, shall we?

And just to let you know, in February 2008 Between the Gates: Lucid Dreaming, Astral Projection, and the Body of Light in Western Esotericism written by the same author was released. The book information on Amazon says "Between the Gates is a manual of self-initiation and liberation that takes the student through the basic methods of experiencing dream states and conscious astral projection, to the ultimate culmination of consciousness -- creation of the Body of Light." Self-initiation? Not exactly what Freemasonry is all about, is it - but then again, this is a different topic....

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