(TRAMP Magazine) -
There are average Joe's understanding the Freemasons, recent times, few have been opportune to question the many myths that surround the Craft.
Francis Nkwain paid them a visit, to get the answers to some of the questions that have concerned the concerned over many decades. Most importantly, he asks, who exactly are the Freemasons?
There are many buildings that we walk and drive past on our many overzealous and unnecessarily hurried journeys, and 60 Great Queen Street, Covent Garden is one such property. With gleaming marble floors, imposing columns and grand doorways, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a bank’s WQ or a hotel. Most interestingly, you would notice it was there, without ever knowing what or whom it housed. I must admit, my shortcomings could be unique, but I would rather like to think I wasn’t alone in my failure to appreciate the immense beauty of this tribute to this pristine architecture. However nice as the building is, when I found out I was home to the Grand Lodge of the Freemasons, my interest in its occupants overshadowed the geometric complexities of the edifice itself.
Our fascination with Freemasonry, assisted by the albescence of factual reference points and the apparent closed and secretive nature of the Craft, have seen the creation and proliferation of an interesting and somewhat disturbing legend. The strange apparel, mythological terminology and secret ceremonies important elements of the Craft have perpetuated perceptions of the organisation as a pseudo-religion.
Over the years, the masons have built up a reputation for being a secretive cult of conniving and self-serving chauvinists, who control various important facets of our everyday lives to ensure the fulfilment of their agenda. Stories of judicial networking and blue-blooded connections have entertained many public house audiences over decades, and notoriety and disapproval has come to rest with the Craft.
I met up with Chris Connop and Alexander Kuttab, both practising masons, to find out from them just what exactly The Craft is, as well as seek clarification on some of the myths that have taken hold over time. Chris Connop, a serving magistrate and spokesman for the United Lodge of England, proved most accommodating upon my request to gain insight on the machinations of The Craft. A very amicable and proficient gentleman, he starts off by pointing out that their history goes back to the reign of King Solomon, and only in more recent times has Freemasonry’s practices lead to bad press. Recent times meaning the period post 1941 when given the persecution suffered by Freemasons under the Nazis, it decided to ‘go into its shell’.
Chris says, “Freemasonry went into its shell and shut out the outside world after the persecution of Hitler and general bad feeling after the Second World War. Prior to that period, it was a very open organisation. You would have Freemasons’ parades on major streets, and you’d see us at the laying of foundations of new buildings for example. The Freemasons were very much a part of active society with a newspaper available on the stands “
That period when The Craft understandably. Went private for matters of self-perseveration, allowed myths to be built around it. Interestingly, these myths were never countered even when the threat of Nazi persecution had been lifted and The Craft continued to close ranks.
“That was a mistake for us to stick to that sort of non-reactive, private mould. Now we encourage our members to be proud to their Freemasonry. Now we feel we must challenge the dark comments that are made about our organisation. I think it’s completely sensible to stand up and say exactly what Freemasonry is about” states Chris.
Alex Kuttab, a 22 year old, a Highgate resident, Mason of Arabic decent joins our conversation at this point.
“The Craft is not so much a way of thinking as it’s a way of life. You can live by its morals without alienating yourself. Morals you can live by that are quite gentlemanly.” And Chris agrees, while adding “Freemasonry is different things to different people. There are all sorts of different pleasures to be gained in all sorts of different reasons for joining. For me it was getting to know all sorts of different people from many different backgrounds. The thing about being a Freemason is you could go to another lodge in another country and immediately you are among friends. You have Freemasonry in common with the others in the room; therefore you are embraced as a friend. I think that is one of the most satisfying factors,” continuing, “We have a lot of symbolisms in our ceremonies but these simply relate to everyday life, for many people it’s a prop, something, on which they can base their lives. It’s not a religion. We don’t have a creed and don’t offer salvation. It just guides people with regards to the correct way to behave. All the symbolism within Freemasonry is to do with building – building character and society, creating a better person.”
These proved interesting takes on what Freemasonry was, but, in a bid to paint a clearer picture of the individual within The Craft, I felt there was a need to know why and how these two individuals had joined. To this end, Chris explained, “I have been a member of The Craft for 18 years. That might seem a long time but compared to some of our members who have been in the Craft for 40 or 50 years, I am a young member. I joined when I became headmaster of a school. My father’s good friend was a Freemason and when my mother died, I used to go back to Nottingham to see him. My dad was very fond of him and had looked up to him at school as a hero. He used to talk to me about Freemasonry and used t say ‘Chris, you’d love Freemasonry’ and asked me if I would like to join. I couldn’t because I was working in Hertfordshire at the time and he wanted me to join his lodge in Nottingham. Then he started to try and find a lodge for me in London, but died rather suddenly, and it wasn’t for another 13 years before I actually became a member, and that happened when I got my headship and my secretary, my female secretary I must add, said to ‘Head Master, are you interested in ...’,” Chris concedes. “I said yes, because for 13 years I’d been wondering how to join, and had walked passed this building thinking, what would become of my chances if I just walked in and asked to join? Little did I realise, they probably would have said yes and shown me how to join. Well, nevertheless, I said yes, and in November we had a Remembrance Day Service, and these old boys of the school came out of the woodwork and they were all members of the Old Bots Lodge. They came out to vet me and I was granted an interview, and about 13 months later I was made a mason of the Old Boys Lodge of the school.”
Alex for his part explained, “There was one particular gentleman; an elderly man in his 80s and I genuinely liked him for the person he was. Didn’t know he was a Freemason for a long time and just looked up to him, his demeanour and attitude to life. So, when he explained freemasonry to me, it was a matter of if I could turn out like him, and then I can’t go wrong. He gave me the gentle encouragement to go and find out more about the Freemasons and I did.”
So both men have had old men advise them to join The Craft, and so far, I am finding it hard to figure out why the masons get the stick they do. There must be some truth in the myths or at least there must be other reasons for joining other that the desire to better your person. Right?
Chris explains, “When I joined in 1989, I wasn’t aware of the criticisms we have now, so I guess it was different for me. However, upon becoming aware of them, it has been amusing to realise we actually stand for the opposite of that which we are accused of. We are accused, for example, of patting each other’s backs and giving each other leg-ups professionally, however, we have strict rules that forbid that and actually run the risk of being thrown out for doing so. The mythology became realty over a 40-yeay period when we never refuted the many preposterous claims and allegations that were levelled at us. In fact the mythology is diametrically opposed to the reality in most cases. Another thing is the accusation that it’s just for the wealthy, that it’s a rich man’s game. That’s actually not true.”
Alex adds, “I agree. For example the total fee for joining my lodge in Highgate is £70 annually. Then you pay for your dinners when you have them. I mean, you could join many lodges and that could prove expensive, but it isn’t a prerequisite to be a member of all units. There are 1800 lodges in London and it would cost quite a bit to join all and I am sure nobody wants to or can anyway.”
Chris points out that he is a member of 21 units and this can prove expensive, however he does it because he enjoys it. He also adds that The Craft is very rewarding on a personal level and “you get out what you put in. The more involved you are in it, the more rapidly you rise through the ranks. Some masons join smaller lodges where they have a better chance of climbing the ladder quicker because the numbers are less.”
Alex take is that “the size of the lodge you are in conditions how fast you rise. The bigger the lodge the longer it could take for a mason to climb through the ranks just because of sheer volume. Highgate is a growing lodge and there’s a long queue for the few positions available within the lodg
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