Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Committed to the Flames: The History and Rituals of a Secret Masonic Rite by Arturo de Hoyos and S Brent Morris.
Committed to the Flames is essentially a study of a set of Masonic cipher manuscripts from the 19th century. Roughly the last two-thirds of the book consists of decrypted versions of the manuscript texts. In the first third, de Hoyos and Morris provide the history of the manuscripts’ decryption and the context of their origins. These chapters have some real value to those interested in old-fashioned cryptology and cryptanalysis. They also set forth a pretty fascinating story of the early development and difficulties of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the New York area. The cipher scribe, Robert Folger, was a chief exponent of the Cerneauist faction of Scottish Rite organizing during a particularly contentious period. The historical chapters of the book suffer from some redundancy in their details, and they look as though they might have been composed in parallel by the two authors, without much editorial attention given to reconciling them into a single whole.
The greater part of the actual manuscript contents is given over to Craft rituals drawn from the Rectified Scottish Rite, a Continental derivative of the Rite of Strict Observance. Folger had evidently intended these for the use of symbolic lodges working under the direct authorization of a Supreme Council of the 33° (in contrast to the typical arrangement in Anglophone Masonry, where A&A “Scottish” Rite jurisdictions charter bodies only to work their 4° and above). There are also some rituals for the Knight Templar degree, which is not part of the 33° system. The three Folger MSS provide among them multiple copies and versions of the rituals.
The other principal ingredient of the manuscript texts is a version of Crata Repoa, which differs in few but sometimes signficant respects from the English translation first published by John Yarker in The Kneph, and more recently available in Manly Hall’s Freemasonry of the Ancient Egyptians. Crata Repoa, originally in French or German (depending on which sources one trusts) is an attempt to reconstruct the ancient mysteries in their original Egyptian form, on the basis of a fundmental analogy to Freemasonry, and with recourse to classical documentation regarding Greek mystery-cults.
The plaintexts of the Folger MSS are reproduced here as extensively as possible, to the point where they will provide a virtually primary source for research. But the repetitions within the manuscripts are fairly extensive, and even a technically-informed Masonic reader who prods himself to read all of Committed to the Flames may agree with me that the real substance of the volume could have been presented in half the page count. [via]