The Lodge that never was
There are 2 elements of Freemasonry which set it apart from virtually all other societies of men are firstly, the mystery in which it is covered and secondly, the secrets which it’s Brethren gradually learn as they progress through the various offices. There is however one other organisation that is similarly covered in mystery as well as being the custodian of numerous secrets: the Magic Circle. Surprisingly there is a much closer link between Freemasonry and the world of magic than most of us as Freemasons realise.
To give you an example. When an Initiate takes his first solemn obligation, never to improperly reveal the secrets, which are about to be entrusted to him, a new applicant to the Magic Circle must also complete a solemn declaration, not in any way knowingly or intentionally to disclose any of the secrets of magic to anyone in the world unless it be to a fellow magician and to keep secret any discussions about the Associates or members of the Magic Circle.
This Magic Circle document is called the “Declaration by Candidate” and that is what he is called from the moment of his entry. It also states that the Candidate has solemnly promised to undertake what is described as an obligation. Also this declaration states that, should the candidate ever be found guilty of a breach of his obligation, he will be liable to expulsion from the Circle.
So think about this when you ask a magician, “How did you do that”. Is it not like asking a Freemason for the secrets of our Order?
It therefore begs the question. If the language and style of both of the bodies are so similar then is that not a sure indication, that among the founders of the Magic Circle, were a large number of Freemasons. I think the answer is yes as the Magic Circle was founded in 1905, and within 4 years, in June 1909, made a formal application to Grand Lodge to form the Magic Circle Lodge. The June edition of the Magic Circular newsletter contained the following announcement:
“Members of the Circle, who are already Masons, and also intend to become initiates in the mysteries of the ancient and honourable Art of Freemasonry, will be interested to learn that there is a reasonable hope of creating a “Magic Circle Lodge”. A petition to the Most Worshipful and Grand Master, His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, has been prepared and signed by a substantial body of our Masonic members. Among the signatories are certain Grand Officers and altogether the group may be described as both representative and influential.”
The Petition, or in Masonic terms, the Prayer, was dated 3rd June 1909 and carried the recommendation of Lodge of Asaph No 1319, presumably because of the Lodge’s close ties with the theatrical world, and having convinced the Brethren that magic was a form of theatre.
Although the group of would be founders was “representative and influential” it was evidently not influential enough as, the application failed.
This was despite one of the signatories being Nevil or John Maskaelyne, who was a member of the Anglo Colonial Lodge No 3175, and whose performances of magic and illusion at the Egyptian Hall at the turn of the twentieth century had made him world famous. So much so that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote mention of him in a Sherlock Holmes adventure “The Incident at Victoria Falls”. His son was a famous racing driver. In variety shows at that time, magicians were classed as top billing. And demanded and received high fees. World War 2. (“Not many people know that”. In fact the actor Sir Michael Caine never said that. It was Peter Sellers who invented it whilst impersonating the actor).
The petition failed despite the strong case put forward by the Reverend C.E.L. Wright. He sent a letter accompanying the document which stated that it has always been a custom to associate lodges with particular groups and professions, such as lawyers, doctors, police, etc. etc. He also stated that not only were there a further 9 members wishing to join the new lodge, if formed, but a further 22 were in the pipeline also wishing to be initiated into Freemasonry.
Not surprisingly therefore, that the report in the September issue of the Magic Circular newsletter noted with a tinge of bitterness: “We are sorry to announce that the proposed Masonic Lodge in connection with the Magic Circle cannot be founded. Our petition, to the M.W. The Grand Master has, unfortunately, been rejected”. The November issue reproduced, after a great deal of speculation, Grand Lodge’s response of the 7th July, which read: “Dear Sir and Brother. The Petition for the proposed “Magic Circle” Lodge has been carefully considered by those Brethren whose duty it is to advise the M.W. Grand Master on such matters, and I regret that they do not feel able to advise His Royal Highness that the prayer thereof be acceded to”. The prayer in question is how we, in Freemasonry, describe a petition. Sadly the matter ended there as far as the Magic Circle was concerned.
Although recent research and inspection of the Minute Books of the Lodge of Asaph, have regrettably failed to produce any record of the precise reason the petition failed.
However, there was a common belief, within the magic community at the time, that Grand Lodge believed that a lodge which would only be open to members of the Magic Circle would be too restrictive to warrant approval.
If this is true it certainly calls into question the formation of other lodges such as the Lodge of Asaph itself, which drew its membership exclusively from actors, theatre pit musicians and others working in the theatre. Today, nobody can join the Chelsea Lodge No 3098 without first proving that they work in the entertainment industry. The comedians, Bob Monkhouse and Jim Davidson, being at least, two examples. Perhaps, if the announcement had not been made, in the newsletter, and, a more softly approach been made, things might be different today.
It would be easy to take the view that the 1909 decision was a little lacking in foresight and probably more so when you consider that the Magic Circle membership today is around 1,500 of which over 1,000 live in Great Britain. Like most lodges the Magic Circle members represent a very wide cross section of the population being both amateurs and professionals. Sadly then, the Magic Circle Lodge became the lodge that never was.
The association between Freemasonry and magic does not end there however, since members of the magic fraternity were of the opinion that no other profession boasted such a large proportion of Freemasons than that of magicians.
Indeed even the great Harry Houdini was a Freemason having been initiated into the Cecile Lodge No 568 of New York on 17th July 1924. It also could have led to a large Masonic presence within the founders of the world’s largest group of magicians, the International Brotherhood of Magicians. This was co-founded, in 1922, by a Freemason, named Len Vintus, and now boasts over 1,400 Members.
Its was why the media has come to use the term “magic fraternity”. Yet another parallel is that, within the world of magic, there is actually an Invisible Lodge. It is called invisible because it is not chartered and the meetings are specifically confined to major magic conventions. It is not a lodge in the strict sense as it was founded by an American professional magician, Brewerton H. Clarke, with the objective of “professional, social and fraternal interaction of Freemasons” and currently has an international membership of over 1500. To become a member, one has to be a Master Mason and there is a formal initiation ceremony called the “Magic Wand and Square”. Its quarterly magazine is produced called the “Trestle Board”.
It is always difficult to talk about magic in general and the Magic Circle in particular, without mentioning the name of the comedian Tommy Cooper. Although he was a well-known member of the Magic Circle, it is less well known that he was Initiated into the Westminster Lodge No 4519 in 1952. He once told one audience, “I joined the Mystic Six last year, it’s so mysterious I still haven’t met the other 5. Tommy always wore what we think is a Fez. However, it is actually a Cartouche. He visited Cairo in Egypt and visited the local Souk or bazaar and came across a stall selling “Fez’s”. When he tried one on, the owner uttered those immortal words “Just like that”. When Tommy asked why he said that, the owner replied that every Englishman who tried one on shouted those same words. Tommy always carried a tea bag in his top pocket, and when he got out of a taxi, he would hand it to the driver saying “Have a drink on me”.