“The world is a forest of symbols”: Italian Freemasonry and the practice of discretion

by Lilith Mahmud

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By Lilith Mahmud Members of Italian Masonic lodges, esoteric organizations widely perceived as secret societies, prefer to explain their elaborate practices of concealment and disclosure in terms of discretion. Through the aesthetics and epistemology of discretion, Freemasons view the world as a “forest of symbols” hidden in plain sight and awaiting interpretation. Taking “discretion” as both an ethnographic and analytic category, I ask how an anthropological study of discretion may reveal not only forms of cultural practice deemed secret but also the interpretive art of decoding that underlies the process of knowledge formation at the heart of Masonic communities of practice. See: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1548-1425.2012.01373.x/abstract