Freemasonry

This page has been delivered, as a Lecture, at a White Table, event and provides an insight into Freemasonary in general. Who we are and how we originated, dispelling some of the Myths surrounding our hounarable institution.

Our Grand Master, the Duke of Kent has decided that Freemasonry should be more open in the community. Some of you will no doubt have heard of different charitable projects that we, as Freemasons, are carrying out or funding. Maybe you have visited the stand at the Kent County Show at Detling.

In The Beginning

According to the Book of Genesis God sent Abraham on a mission to heal the divisions between men. His message was that regardless of their different languages or cultures, all of mankind was part of one human family, before one God who sustains the whole of Creation. Somehow, this lofty message got lost along the way. It was like something from a bad episode of Coronation Street. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, could not have children, so he took a second wife, as was the custom in those days, his Arab maidservant Hagar, who bore him a son they called Ishmael. Abraham was 100 years old by this time. 13 years later, Sarah manages to have a son, Isaac. When Abraham dies at the ripe old age of 175 years, Sarah banishes Hagar and Ishmael, and the Semitic race is split between Arab and Jew. Ishmael to become the start of the Muslim religion and Isaac to continue the Jewish Faith.

This is reflected in the fact that the first 3 books, also known as the Tora, of the Holy Bible & the Islamic Koran are identical up to the point of their births. But from that point on they diverge. Also, that the 3 main religions all claim to believe in the same God, the God of Abraham and can trace their ancestry back to Him.

From the Bible we learn of the legend of David slaying Goliath with a slingshot and who went on to become King of Israel. We also learn that God revealed to him in a vision the plans of a Temple, which his son Solomon would eventually build and dedicate to God’s service at Jerusalem. He was ably assisted by King Hiram of Tyre, who supplied men and materials, and by an architect called Hiram Abiff, who was the son of a widow. These last three we consider to be the originators of our order. The temple took over 7 years to complete and was so beautiful that monarchs from the surrounding regions came to view it. The most ironic problem is that quite a number of religions consider Jerusalem as their spiritual and actual home. Amongst the foremost of these are Christianity, Islam and Judaism and which at first inspection seems very similar. That is to say all three religions recognise and can trace their ancestry back to Abraham, Adam and Eve and the Serpent and the Apple. 

They also preach the practise of fasting at certain times whether it be Lent, Ramadan or Passover. I know that to some of you these do not exactly line up but the first two are based on the lunar calendar and the latter on the solar calendar. They all actively encourage passive behaviour not the fighting which takes place today, in the Middle East, in the name of religion.

Solomon was well known for his unerring wisdom and justice. There is the famous story of two women,who were brought before him both, claiming to be the mother of a baby boy. Solomon, after some thought, instructed one of his guards to cut the baby in half with a sword. One of the women then threw herself in front of the King begging him to spare the life of the child and to give him to the other woman. This immediately discovered the true mother whilst the other was punished for her deceit.

Unfortunately, Jerusalem and its temple did not fare well over the ensuing years and it was ransacked many times by different armies including the Romans under the Emperor Titus before being rebuilt some five hundred years later.

Knights Templar

We now jump several hundred years and arrive at the birth, life and crucifixion of Jesus Christ and Christianity starts to spread its influence throughout the world, especially to the western nations. However, in the Middle Ages the Holy Land and Temple are once more attacked and pillaged, this time by a Muslim army led by Salahadin and the call was made throughout the Christian countries to raise armies to repel the invaders. Thus, the Crusades were launched. Some of the knights who fought in this these campaigns were quite a bloodthirsty lot. Many of them acquired personal fortunes from the pillaging in Jesus’ name. So much so that a number of the more devout Knights banded themselves together to form the Order of The Knights Templar and their battle cry was “We fight for Christ. You are either with us or against us.”

These Knights became very powerful. So powerful that they had their own lands, banks, ships, armies and were builders using techniques which they had learned during the crusades. The Templar armies were hired out to monarchs and princes to fight on their behalf. These proved very successful, as their fighting techniques were quite innovative. They invented the forerunner to the tank. Two knights would normally go into battle astride a very large horse, usually a Shire horse, which would be heavily armoured with leather and chain mail. Astride   would be one knight fighting to his left and the other to his right. Both armed with large broadswords This made them virtually unbeatable as the usual method of fighting a knight on horseback, in those days, was to attack on his blind side, which proved very difficult indeed. Legend informs us that this technique amongst others enabled them to defeat armies much larger than their own. Their influence ranged throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

After the Church they were the richest organisation in the world. They also invented the cheque and international banking. And never paid any taxes. Imagine in those days wanting to travel, say from London to Madrid in Spain, with a hefty sum of money. You could go to a Templar bank, in London, deposit your money and be given a promissory note. You would then be escorted, by heavily armed guards, to the coast, sometimes stopping overnight at a safe house, and be placed aboard a Templar ship and sail to Spain. There you would be further escorted to a Templar bank in Madrid and on production of the promissory note be recompensed with your money minus a small commission. These warrior knights were highly educated and when they became too old or infirm usually became monks. In fact, alongside each Preceptory and encampment where they lived was usually built a monastery.

Unfortunately, as I stated earlier, they became very powerful indeed. So much so, that it is said, that they were able to influence governments. It was because of this that they came to the attention of the then Phillip IV of France, also known as “Phillip the Fair”  who was heavily in debt to the Templars.

He thought up a plan to erase his debts by blackmailing Pope Clement V into charging the Templars with heresy and their organisation disbanded. The method of the blackmail would be that Phillip would form a breakaway church with a French Pope. Clement had been virtually held prisoner at Avignon in France by the King and not allowed to return to the Vatican as he was also in debt to the King. The Pope therefore agreed and issued a papal bull for their arrest and disbanding their organisation and confiscating their possessions. It also demanded their conversion to Roman Catholicism; anyone refusing should be put to death. The Grand Master of the Templars, Jacques De Molay and over 620 Knights were arrested on Friday the 13th of October 1307. That is where, the unlucky day, Friday 13th comes from.

The immense treasure and possessions including their ships just disappeared overnight and has never been found even to this very day. Thanks to some clever spying in the French Court, De Molay found out who was responsible and whilst he was being burnt at the stake, cursed the King and the Pope as they watched his execution. Both were dead within 8 months.

Incidentally, the Vatican has since issued an apology for the actions of Pope Clement V.

A bit late in the day don’t you think?

Although a great many Templars, like their treasure, just disappeared others because of their fighting skills became mercenaries or soldiers of fortune. It is also thought that some of the Knights and their descendants eventually made their way to and took refuge on a mountain in Scotland called Heredom. Near to a village called Kylwinning. Legend informs us that many of these, especially the French Knights fought on the side of King James VI of Scotland to become James 1 of England after the death of Queen Elizabeth 1. In gratitude for their services, he granted them titles and lands in Scotland. Indeed, quite a number of Scottish families can trace their ancestry back to a French connection. Fraser was originally Frasiere and Sinclair, Saint Claire to name but two.          

With the decline of the building of cathedrals, leading up to this time and during the reformation some guilds of operative or working masons began to accept honorary members to bolster their dwindling memberships. Thus, the numbers of speculative Masons rather than the operative kind began to increase. These new members were usually men of wealth and social standing. These Guilds thus became Societies devoted to general ideals such as fraternity, equality and peace and their meetings gradually became social rather than business occasions. The first of this new type of Lodge was the Kylwinning Lodge No 00 so you can now start to see the connection between the Knights Templars and Freemasonry. All Masonic lodges are numbered, ours is 784. Thus, the lower the number the older the lodge.

The reason for the 00 number for the Kylwinning Lodge was that it was not licensed to kill (as in the James Bond parlance), but another lodge numbered 01 claimed to have been formed earlier. This was found to be untrue and to renumber the lodges it was decided to award this unique marque. The reason the Lodges were numbered, was that in the early part of the 18th century, in 1717, 4 Lodges united to form a Grand Lodge in London where our “head office” still remains in Great Queen Street in Holborn. This body became the “mother” Grand Lodge of all Freemasons throughout the world, and from it all recognised Grand Lodges and Lodges in other countries have evolved.

As I stated in my introduction our Grand Master is His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent and previous Grand Masters have been of royal blood. As a result of their patronage, of our order, and by members of the nobility, the British business class looked upon Freemasonry as an extension to social success and the order grew very rapidly right up to this present day.

The Masonic ideals of religious toleration and the basic equality of all people were in keeping with the growing spirit of liberalism during the 18th century. One of the basic principles of our order, was then as it is today, is that religion is the concern solely of the individual. That is why we insist that we are not a religious order. In fact, our doors are open to anyone of any religion. Our only prerequisite is that he believes in the existence of a Supreme Being, be it God, Jesus Christ, Allah etc.

The Roman Catholic Church has never been totally happy with Freemasonry and at times has been in total opposition to it. This seems to be on the grounds that because of “it’s binding principles and religious nature” and “that Freemasonry have usurped the powers of the church”.

These are their words not mine.

As a result, in the past, Freemasonry has not been permitted in some Roman Catholic countries such as Spain. However, in France, during the French revolution with its protestant trends, it flourished. By contrast in Nazi Germany, during World War 2, it was outlawed, and its members persecuted. Hitler and his National Socialist party charged Freemasons, throughout the world, of various subversive activities. This caused many of them to either hide or destroy their regalia and took to wearing a light blue “Forget Me Not” flower in their buttonhole as a recognition symbol.

Aprons?

So, we arrive at the present day, and I wonder just how many of you are wondering “why are we wear these outfits and what do they stand for. I shall try to explain. By the way, the original Stonemason’s apron was the pelt of an animal. The fur side was against the body for warmth and the skin side outwards for protection. The Brethren wearing plain light blue collars are officers of the Lodge and each has a different small silver emblem attached to them. They are as you can see small replicas of the Stonemasons’ tools, which we not only wear to indicate our rank but also to moralise upon.

The Worshipful Master’s is a square, which indicates that he is the Master of the Lodge. It also indicates square conduct. The Senior Warden, a level indicating level steps. The Junior Warden, a plumb rule, indicating upright intentions, and so on. We wear white gloves as an emblem of innocence and purity, although some of them can look slightly dodgy. The unusual colours of the regalia worn by the brethren also serve to indicate their ranks in Grand Lodge or in their respective provinces.             

A question. Who are the biggest contributors to charity in this country?

Well, the first is the National Lottery and the second is Freemasonry.

I thank you for reading this and hope that it has been more informative than boring.

WBro Terry Tanner PPGreg PM PZ