Studies in Freemasonry and the Compagnonnage

René Guénon

Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2004.
272 pages
ISBN: 0-900588-88-8
Price: $21.95 US
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ISBN: 0-900588-51-9
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Studies in Freemasonry and the Compagnonnage is both an attempt to rediscover the lost roots of Masonry and a fascinating look into the many controversies swirling around the subject of Masonry in serious intellectual circles during the first half of the twentieth century. Freemasonry may indeed be, as Guénon ultimately concluded, a largely degenerated and thus no longer strictly ‘operative’ offshoot of a true initiatory lineage; yet its symbolism, like that of the original Rosicrucians, remains profound, traditional, and therefore ultimately legitimate. And given that the ‘Spirit bloweth where it listeth’, it is always possible that symbolism of this order may awaken in a receptive soul intimations of the Truth and the Way, which can be of inestimable of value in ‘the path to the Path’, the quest for a living initiatory spirituality.

Guénon had a lifelong preoccupation with Freemasonry. In his search for an operative initiatic path in the Western world, he explored many groups—occult, neo-Gnostic, Theosophical—claiming to be initiatory, ultimately rejecting them all, with the single exception of the Craft. His relation to Freemasonry, however, was far from simple; mostly before World War I, for example, he contributed articles to both Masonic and anti-Masonic publications, though he continued to review books on Masonry and refer to Masonic lore in his own works until the end of his life. Recognizing that the symbolism and ritual employed by Masonry was for the most part both traditional and esoteric, he labored to discover, define, or create a Freemasonic initiation that would be compatible with Catholic Christianity, as it supposedly was when the Masonic guilds designed and built the great cathedrals of Europe. However, the thick overgrowth of pseudo-esoterism obscuring that ‘original’ Freemasonry, not to mention the various rationalist, anti-clerical, illuminist, and even revolutionary strands to be found within the Masonic tradition, ultimately forced him to abandon his project. Nonetheless, this record of Guénon’s struggle to come to terms with an initiatory lineage fallen on hard times is of real relevance to all now seeking a spiritual affiliation in the darkness prevailing in our time.

Table of Contents

Scientific Ideas and the Masonic Ideal—The Great Architect of the Universe—Lost Word and Substituted Words—The Builders of the Middle Ages—Masons and Carpenters—Masonic Orthodoxy—Gnosis and Freemasonry—The Masonic High Grades—Feminine Initiation and Craft Initiations—Pilgrimages—The Compagnonnage and the Bohemians—Heredom—The Monogram of Christ and the Heart in Ancient Trade Marks—Corporative Signs and their Original Meaning—The Enigma of Martines de Pasqually—On the 'Lyonnais Rose-Croix'—A New Book on the Order of the Elus Cöens—A Project of Joseph de Maistre for the Union of Peoples—The Strict Observance and the Unknown Superiors—Concerning the Unknown Superiors & the Astral—Some Unpublished Documents on the Order of the Elus Coäns—Cologne or Strasbourg?—Review of By-Ways of Freemasonry—Reviews

About the Author

René Guénon (1886–1951) was one of the great luminaries of the twentieth century, whose critique of the modern world has stood fast against the shifting sands of intellectual fashion. His extensive writings, now finally available in English, are a providential treasure-trove for the modern seeker: while pointing ceaselessly to the perennial wisdom found in past cultures ranging from the Shamanistic to the Indian and Chinese, the Hellenic and Judaic, the Christian and Islamic, and including also Alchemy, Hermeticism, and other esoteric currents, they direct the reader also to the deepest level of religious praxis, emphasizing the need for affiliation with a revealed tradition even while acknowledging the final identity of all spiritual paths as they approach the summit of spiritual realization. His greatest contributions are a blindingly lucid exposition of the principles of orthodoxy and traditional metaphysics, an uncompromising critique of the deviation of modernism, and a breath-taking view of the polyvalence of traditional symbols. Implicit in these three genres, as in all Guénon's writing, is the need for personal affiliation with an orthodox tradition as a precondition for a bona fide spiritual practice that might lead, at least in principle, to the intellectual intuition of which he speaks. Little known in the English-speaking world till the recent appearance of his Collected Works in translation, Guénon has nevertheless long been recognized as a veritable criterion of truth by a vanguard of remarkable writers who evince that rare combination: intellectuality and spirituality. Regarded by leading scholars as the first truly authentic interpreter of many Eastern doctrines in the West, Guénon never tired, in face of the seemingly inexorable process of dissolution in the twentieth century, of pointing to the transcendent unity of all religious faiths and the abiding Truth that contains them all.