Meet the Author

Stewart is well known for his writings on both Freemasonry and Esotericism.

In his latest project, he teamed up with Masonic scholar Josef Wages and designer Steve Adams to produce a spectacular work giving us, ‘the most fascinating insight yet into the secrets and mysteries of the eighteenth’s century’s most esoteric of Masonic societies – The Order of Knight-Masons Elect Cohens of the Universe’.  

Philippa Lee: Stewart, you are well-respected within the Masonic world as an eminent scholar on Freemasonry and Esotericism, and rightly deserved. Would you mind telling us a bit about your personal background and how both interests began and evolved?

Stewart Clelland: Thank you, that’s very kind, but really, I just enjoy working with people – I am fortunate that I get to work with some of the best.
Without them, very little I write would find its way to the page.
As for my background, I have always had an interest in religious studies. I was born and grew up in the West of Scotland, in an environment of sectarian violence and bigotry – both schools and communities were often segregated.
As a young man, my father’s throat had been cut after being mistaken for a Catholic – he was wearing a Celtic football shirt.
From early on, religion was a very real force in my life – even if I wasn’t particularly religious myself. My father survived, and as I grew up looking at the scar on his neck – I wanted to know why.
And, of course, very few people could say why. The history, the theology and all the things that were apparently so important to their identity – a complete mystery.
Complete ignorance. Just hate. I naturally grew interested in studying these questions and was especially attracted to religious minorities often deemed transgressive or unusual.
Having no interest in football or the like, I was interested in heavy metal music. Of course, a great deal of metal and rock music indulges in religious symbolism and spiritual or esoteric themes.
I loved it all. In the background, Freemasonry had a strange place in my imagination as I got older.
It was often understood in the town I was living in as part of another well-known sectarian organisation prominent in the area.
Dark and mysterious, yet distinctly working-class – it always attracted me. I was lucky enough to go to university eventually and develop these interests in an academic setting.
In time, I decided to teach religion in schools and perhaps help stem the cycles of ignorance and hate I saw growing up.
The scholarly study of commonly misunderstood groups, whether they be secretive, esoteric, occult, or just plain different to ‘us’, is more critical today than it has ever been.

PL: And your academic credentials, they are very impressive – a B.A. (Hons) in Fine Art and Philosophy, a Masters Degree in Western Esotericism, and a PGDE (Professional Graduate Diploma in Education) in Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies!

You have evidently put them all to valuable use, both within your work as a teacher and as a Masonic writer. Could you expand on the subject matter involved in your studies, and importantly, were they well received within the academic world as there is often some resistance to both subjects as being rather outré.

 

SC: I have always found a great deal of encouragement in the academy. My research background, such as it is, centred on esoteric spirituality and the practice of heterodox religious traditions with a particular interest in marginalised and persecuted religious communities, both historical and contemporary.
I tend to work within religious studies, specifically in the so-called ‘Western Esoteric Tradition’ or Hermetic Tradition in religious and philosophical thought. I try to centre my academic writing on spiritual diversity, initiatic practices, and religious liberty, alongside my ongoing interest in educational practice and theory.
I was lucky enough to study a pioneering Masters course at Exeter University, reading under some of the finest scholars in the academic study of Western Esotericism. I try to bring this expertise to masonic research.
Generally, there are four main ways or approaches in the study of esotericism. 
First of all, is the ‘Insider’ approach or Emic Approach – the approach states that there is, in fact, a hidden inner Truth in philosophy and spirituality dating back a millennia and passed on down through the ages by a Secret Tradition.
This is the study of esotericism from within a ‘tradition’ – for example, studying esotericism solely from the perspective of freemason or a Rosicrucian, or something other self-contained mystical school.
Often those that follow this approach suggests that they have access to something known as a ‘prisca theologia’ or a pristine theology – a hidden mystical truth that unites all spiritual, religious, philosophical and even scientific wisdom into one.
Overall, this is considered non-academic for many different reasons. This is mainly due to the number of largely self-appointed gurus and Grand Initiates that refuse to take part in serious academic discourse in the tradition they actually claim to believe in or live by.
Often selectively cherry-picking from the whole history of esotericism in order to construct a sort of spiritual buffet, which is usually dangerous and can lead to profound misunderstandings and intentional misreadings, all of which, in my mind, leads to a kind disrespectful and entitled attitude towards traditions and ideas that people literally died for in order for us to study.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t do academic study from the inside of a tradition – many religious people study religion, for example, it is just you have to be careful to switch hats between the commitments of one own tradition and the scholarly vigour of academic study required in order show due respect for the sacrifice of those that gave their life that we may actually have the opportunity to learn it.
I personally didn’t want to proceed like this.
Secondly, the first academic approach known as the Structural Approach is represented by the pioneering French author Antione Favire.
This approach attempts to build an academic boundary around what we can actually call ‘esoteric’ – and it states that all esoteric philosophies or traditions have a set of unified similarities or motifs, which total six in number.
Next is the Historical-Critical approach. This is a thoroughly academic approach that suggests that esoteric philosophy and esoteric thinking are influenced not by a genuine divine inspiration but created by events such as politics and economics.
It suggests that spirituality arises not from revelation but by societal changes such as war, famine, scientific changes.
Whilst this approach can be helpful indeed needed at times, if applied too strictly can manifest an arrogant dismissal of one’s own subject as neither true nor relevant.
I find this approach in masonic scholarship, which is anxious to be perceived as scholarly, but often throws the baby out with the bathwater.
And the last approach is the Religionist approach – this is the one I try to advocate in masonic scholarship – sometimes known as taking a stance of ‘sympathetic neutrality’.
I would suggest we need to study esotericism on its own terms, this includes freemasonry. We need to recognise people’s spiritual experiences and claims as genuine spiritual encounters whilst still applying scholarly and academic conventions to our conclusions.
This approach argues that given the fact that the study of esotericism involves the study of the transcendental and otherworldly ideas, things outside space and time, that trying to understand them within concepts of history and politics fails to probably grasp the nature of what is being said. I always aim to approach my writing from this perspective.

 

PL: The Élus Coëns – a.k.a. The Order of Knight-Masons Elect Cohens of the Universe – tell us a bit about them, and why your interest in them specifically out of all the eighteenth century Masonic Orders. 

 

SC: Historically, Martinès de Pasqually’s Élus Coëns are perhaps best viewed as a reaction of sorts to the prevailing rationalism of the Enlightenment; as an attempt by Pasqually and his followers to ‘allegorise’ their own particular brand of ‘prisca theologia’.
In many ways, out of the chaos of 1760’s French freemasonry, we see Pasqually attempting to re-enact his allegory in the form of a re-enchanted, or rather ecstatic style of écossais freemasonry, and indeed, for many, even today, this re-enchantment of Pasqually’s brought with it a genuine spiritual goal to the Masonic Lodge. 
Requiring the utmost commitment, and a decidedly monastic lifestyle, the Order prescribed everything from hairstyle to diet.
Far from the everyday festivities of mainstream Freemasonry, the Élus Coëns saw themselves as spiritual warriors engaged in magical combat with angelic and demonic entities – they used masonic ritual in order to do this.
The original rites of the Élus Coëns, instruct the initiate how to enter into relations with angelic spirits, which are sympathetic to Man’s fallen state, and who aid him upon the path to reintegration with the Divine.
In the highest degree, the Reaux-Croix, the initiate was taught to use magic to contact spiritual realms beyond the physical.
The drawing of magical circles on the lodge floor featured heavily. In the Élus Coëns we see a clear example of esotericism’s intersection with freemasonry.
This completely fascinated me from an academic point of view. So very little is available in English or indeed French regarding the Order, I thought there might well be room for some new insights.  

 

PL: You teamed up with another well-known Masonic scholar and editor Josef Wäges, and designer Steve Adams, to bring us The Green Book.

How did the project start out and evolve into this beautifully produced edition? Where did you find the book – I always find the back-story of projects as fascinating as the end result?

 

SC: The manuscript itself, the basis of the book, NF, Ms. FM4 1282, is better known as ‘The Algiers Ms’, but it also carries the name ‘The Green Book of the Elus Coëns’.
This title comes from the physical manuscript itself – the colour of the original binding. The title of ‘Algiers Ms’ does not appear anywhere in the text.
It was found and bought on the market of Saint-Ouen by an antique dealer in Algiers during the Second World War. Dominique Clairembault states it was sold to Marguerite Benama, a friend of Robert Ambelain, in 1955.
For years, Ambelain jealously guarded it, preventing anyone from studying it. In May 1993, a few years before his death, Ambelain finally donated it to the BnF, with a clause that prohibited anyone from obtaining a reproduction.
This has finally been lifted and is now publicly available, as, indeed, are all important primary sources regarding the Coëns.
The fact that Ambelain had this material in his sole possession for so long and decided not to use it even in his own Coën order is emblematic of a great many the self-appointed gatekeepers.
Luckily, the true Coën heritage is in the hands of the public libraries. This is where we gained access to it.
Joe is an outstanding scholar and pivotal to the whole project. He encouraged me and contributed significantly to the overall project. Without both Joe and Steve, the book wouldn’t be as it is today. I owe a great deal to them both. 

 

PL: Last but not least…what’s next? Not that we’re pressurising you or anything, but we’d be excited to hear what you have planned, and we’d also love you to write something for The Square if you have time.

 

SC: Thank you, I’d love that. We have several exciting projects on the horizon, but I am sworn to secrecy at the moment – but watch this space for new things over Xmas and the New Year from Team Green.
We have made new discoveries, including the first-ever found full form complete Coën ritual, as well as the earliest known letter of Pasqually’s.
We have also expanded the team to include some other well-known masonic writers. Personally, I have a new article being published in the next issue of ‘Heredom’ journal regarding the eighteenth-century German esoteric masonic order ‘Gold-und Rosenkreutz’, and my discovery of material relating to its highest grade known as ‘1-9 Magi’.
I have also been working on a significant piece of research regarding the unlikely spiritual kinship between the flamboyant Victorian explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton and the Rosicrucian Spiritualist Fredrick Hockley. 

 

PL: Thank you so much Stewart, and we look forward to seeing your forthcoming work, especially in The Square! Good luck with the book, and we will feature a review in next month’s issue.

Article by: Philippa Lee

Philippa Lee (writes as Philippa Faulks) is the author of eight books, an editor and researcher.

Philippa was initiated into the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF) in 2014.

Her specialism is ancient Egypt, Freemasonry, comparative religions and social history. She has several books in progress on the subject of ancient and modern Egypt.  Selection of Books Online at Amazon

The Green Book of the Élus Coëns

by Stewart Clelland

The Green Book of the Élus Coëns is the most fascinating insight yet into the secrets and mysteries of the eighteenth century’s most esoteric of masonic societies – The Order of Knight-Mason Elect-Cohens of the Universe.

This pioneering English translation of the Coën grimoire known as the Manuscript d’Alger (c.1772) details the inner workings and highest degrees of Europe’s first-ever fully formed magical order.

Representing the inner circle of most Martinist streams of Freemasonry today, the Order of the Élus Coëns teach an advanced form of ceremonial magic.

However, the original system has been lost and corrupted for centuries. Presented here for the first time, these original rites of the Élus Coëns instruct the initiate in how to enter into relations with angelic entities, which are sympathetic to Mans fallen state and who can aid him upon the path to reintegration with the Divine.

After the death of the Orders founder in 1774, the teachings of the Élus Coëns were doomed to fade into the mists of history – this new volume sheds the most illuminating light so far on this fascinating hidden aspect of masonic history.

Detailing the inner workings and highest degrees of the Order, this fascinating manuscript enlightens the reader in the true, very visceral nature of the Order.

Requiring the utmost commitment, and a decidedly monastic lifestyle, the Order prescribed everything from hairstyle to diet.
Far from the everyday festivities of mainstream Freemasonry, the Élus Coëns were spiritual warriors engaged in magical combat with angelic and demonic entities.

This new volume allows the English speaking world a look inside this secret hidden tradition and a peek behind the curtain of French Enlightenment Occultism.

This work gives access to many brethren and historians, to an obscure but important part of masonic history created during the age of Enlightenment, and is a significant contribution for brethren who have a fascination with esoteric rituals of the past.

We think a great many of our brethren will be interested in this publication.

 

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