This set of handbooks is a must for any Freemason interested in the symbolism and workings of the Three Degrees.
J.S.M. (John Sebastian Marlow) Ward (1885-1949) was a prolific author on the subject of Freemasonry.
He wrote many of his works during the 1920s and although times have changed, his fascinating and scholarly approach is still relevant and valuable today.
Ward was a historian and an Anglican clergyman; later in life he became more involved in the mystical aspects of Christianity and was a well-known medium and spiritualist.
This caused some controversy within Masonic circles and according to one writer: ‘He [Ward] saw Freemasonry as the successor of the ancient traditions of learning, and sought to convince his fellow masons to use that position to promote inter-religious harmony’.
In 1987 the United Grand Lodge of England declared that ‘J.S.M. Ward’s handbooks have no official standing and are not issued by Lodges to candidates.
They were personal and very idiosyncratic interpretations of the history and meaning of the Craft rituals.’ 
In each of the handbooks, Ward offers an interpretation of the degrees, the symbolism, ritual and signs.
It has to be noted that he was of an esoteric bent and so much of the information leans to the more mystical approach of analysis.
Nonetheless, it is of great value to those who wish a deeper understanding of the ritual, whether a seasoned reader or just curious to the nature of this peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
Ward wrote in his book ‘The Scholar the Builders Rejected’ :
‘A peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.’
The above phrase is often quoted as if it supplied a complete and adequate definition of Freemasonry, but this is a mistake.
It occurs in a certain catechism addressed to an E. A. and should be regarded merely as an explanation of Freemasonry intended for the initiate.
Freemasonry is something much wider than a school of purely moral instruction, as becomes manifest when we study the second and third degrees, which to a large extent consist of mystical teaching of a more complex and spiritual nature than that usually designated by the term, “moral instruction.”
The true significance of the above quoted phrase lies in the fact that it is given to an E.A., and the first degree teaches the important lesson that spiritual progress is only possible to those who have conformed rigidly to the moral law.
Indeed, it is only when the apprentice has satisfied his instructors that he has made himself acquainted with the principles of moral truth and virtue that he is permitted to extend his researches into the hidden mysteries of nature and science.
Referance:  In A.R. Baker ‘The Scholar the Builders Rejected: Life & Work of J.S.M. Ward’, AQC, 2003.
Article by: J. S. M. Ward
John Sebastian Marlow Ward (22 December 1885 – 1949) was an English author who published widely on the subject of Freemasonry and esotericism.
He was born in what is now Belize. In 1908 he graduated from the University of Cambridge with honours in history, following in the footsteps of his father, Herbert Ward. who had also studied in history before entering the priesthood in the Anglican Church, as his father had done before him.
John Ward became a prolific and sometimes controversial writer on a wide variety of topics.
He made contributions to the history of Freemasonry and other secret societies. He was also a psychic medium or spiritualist, a prominent churchman and is still seen by some as a mystic and modern-day prophet.
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