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Henrik Bogdan


Published by State Uiversity of New York Press, 2008.

Paperback - 235 pages.
Price: $21.95
ISBN: 978-0-7914-7070-1

Available from: SUNY Press

About the author:

Henrik Bogdan teaches in the Department of Religious Studies and Theology at Göteborg University in Sweden.


An historical exploration of masonic rituals of initiation.
For more than three hundred years the practice of Masonic rituals of initiation has been part of Western culture, spreading far beyond the boundaries of traditional Freemasonry. Henrik Bogdan explores the historical development of these rituals and their relationship with Western esotericism. Beginning with the Craft degrees of Freemasonry—the blueprints, as it were, of all later Masonic rituals of initiation—Bogdan examines the development of the Masonic High Degrees, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn—the most influential of all nineteenth-century occultist initiatory societies—and Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft movement of the 1950s, one of the first large-scale Western esoteric New Religions Movements.


Historians of religions and anthropologists have written extensively on the subject of rituals of initiation. The primary object of their research, however, has been focused on non-Western rituals to such an extent that, with a few notable exceptions, there hardly are any scholarly works dealing in depth with Western rituals of initiation. There are a number of reasons for this situation, but chief among them is the connection of Western initiatory societies with Western esotericism-and the latter only recently received a long overdue scholarly attention. As will presently be discussed, scholars such as Antoine Faivre and Wouter J. Hanegraaff have demonstrated how Western esotericism has developed from a subject deemed unworthy of scholarly interest, to a fruitful and challenging field of research that has received wide academic recognition.

The purpose of this study is twofold; first, on a more general level, I wish to present the development of the phenomenon of, what I call, "masonic rituals of initiation" from an historical perspective. By masonic rituals of initiation I do not merely mean rituals of initiation of Freemasonry, but also rituals deriving from Freemasonry, which have certain structural components in common with the former. Second, I will analyze the relationship between masonic rituals of initiation and Western esotericism, and thus analyze how esotericism is transmitted through, what I call, "Western esoteric rituals of initiation." In this connection I will address two basic questions: How is Western esotericism transmitted through the Western esoteric rituals of initiation? And: What "types" of esotericism are transmitted? The study thus consequently covers two fields of research, rituals of initiation and Western esotericism.

My methodological approach is historical and contextual, which in practice means that the rituals that are analyzed are placed in their historical context. Furthermore, I have restricted myself to written ritual texts only in my analysis. In other words, I make no claims to have availed myself of any in-depth or quantitative interviews, nor any participant observations. Valuable as such methods undeniably are, I have chosen to limit myself in this capacity. However, over the years of writing this book, I have had ample opportunities to meet and discuss the practical aspects of rituals of initiation with modern practitioners of Western esoteric rituals of initiation, and to a lesser extent personally experienced various forms of rituals of initiation, both as an initiate and in the capacity of an officiating officer. These contacts and experiences have been important for my understanding of the texts I have chosen to analyze, but I have deliberately chosen not to include these aspects in this study. My methodological approach to Western esotericism can be described, in the words of Hanegraaff, as a generalist in the study of Western esotericism; that is, my approach to the subject is from a broader perspective, concretized by basic research paradigms. The latter consist of the paradigms proposed by Faivre and Hanegraaff, which for the sake of simplicity can be called esotericism as "a form of thought" (Faivre) and esotericism as gnosis (Hanegraaff) .The ritual texts that are analyzed have been chosen because they are representative of different historical periods, and thus reflect major trends in the development of Western esoteric rituals of initiation. I have limited myself strictly to published ritual texts in the analysis, and as far as possible tried to avail myself of more than one published version in order to discuss variant readings. In certain cases I have used manuscript versions of the rituals in order to check the accuracy of the printed versions.

It should be stressed that, from a methodological perspective, this thesis is not concerned with what masonic rites of initiation might "do" with the initiate, nor what the implications of this type of rite might be. This work is concerned with the relationship of Western esotericism and masonic ritual texts.

Henrik Bogdan


I welcome this excellent and original book written by Henrik Bogdan as Masonic rituals of initiation in general, and Western esoteric rituals of initiation in particular, have suffered from academic neglect far too long. This book really brings this fascinating field of research to the attention of a wider public.

This work has endeavored to present masonic rituals of initiation as a phenomenon that has been present in our culture at least since the end of the seventeenth century. Furthermore, focus has been directed toward those masonic rituals of initiation through which Western esotericism has been transmitted. The admittedly wide historical scope of the author's thesis is whether it is legitimate to treat such rituals of initiation as one phenomenon. Bogdan asks himself: "After all, what has a modern witch to do with a mason of the eighteenth century? Actually,quite a lot".

According Bogdan's thesis the basic components of a masonic ritual of initiation, which can be traced even in the earliest masonic manuscript catechism, The Edinburgh Register House MS from 1696, are constant throughout the history of these rituals. In other words, both a mason and a witch would recognize themselves if a ritual of initiation would be described to them as consisting of (a) a formal opening of the ritual work during which the candidate is not present; (b) the admission of the initiate into the lodge (or circle in the case of witchcraft) at which the initiate answers a number of questions, often including why he or she wants to be admitted; (c) circumambulations around the lodge room during which the initiate is led by an initiator, at which point there often occurs some form of ordeal; (d) the swearing of an oath never to divulge the traditional secrets of the degree (such as a sign, grip, word) , and to follow certain ethical rules; (e) the formal admission into the degree, often proclaimed by the chief initiator in the name of the order; (f) instruction in the traditional secrets and in the particular teachings connected to the degree; (g) the receiving of one or more visible tokens connected to the degree (such as gloves, an apron, a sash) , sometimes also a name or motto; (11) finally, a formal closing of the lodge during which the initiate is present.

Western esoteric rituals of initiation can be regarded as mirrors of contemporary esotericism as they reflect the esoteric currents and notions, which are in vogue at the time when the rituals were written. The rituals analyzed in this book are examples of how contemporary esotericism has been integrated with masonic rituals of initiation.

Bruno Virgilio Gazzo
editor, PS Review of FM

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