domenica 26 agosto 2007

Freemasons decry secrecy ‘myths’

From beneath the sloping roof of an ornate building in Old Town, a single eye watches Karmelitská street. Framed by a triangle on the building’s facade, the carving’s stony gaze reveals no secrets.Yet its very presence speaks to a past forgotten by many. This symbol of an eye in a triangle adorns a building used as an 18th-century meeting place for freemasons. Woven into the fabric of this ancient city is a Masonic history that’s still being made. Freemasonry is defined by the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), the world administrative center of regular Freemasonry, as a “society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values,” one of the oldest fraternal orders taught precepts through “ritual dramas.” Recently, Masonic leaders from across Europe gathered in Prague to discuss the future of Freemasonry in Central and Eastern Europe. “It was a very important event for Prague,” says the country’s new grand master, Hynek Beran, who was initiated into the elected post the same April weekend. Indeed, to a layperson, the European Masonic Forum’s attendance of leaders from 24 masonic “obediences,” including 14 grand masters across Europe, seems momentous. In fact, European Masonic leaders have been meeting annually since the late 1990s, John Hamill, director of communications for the UGLE, told The Prague Post.The meetings began in 1999, when the grand masters of Germany and Austria met in Romania to discuss the new lodges of Eastern Europe, according to Hamill. Grand masters, elected annually by ballot, head Grand Lodges, of which there is usually one in a given country.Meeting in a different place every year since, Hamill says the gatherings have “greatly helped” the Grand Lodges of Eastern Europe. “Many of the East European and Balkan Grand Lodges are small and have little money, and one of the topics discussed is how they can adapt themselves to present circumstances.” With an unbroken tradition dating back to 1923, Czech Freemasonry is among the most well-developed in post-communist Europe. Still, with 10 lodges nationwide, “regular” freemasons number just 360, compared to several thousand in neighboring Austria, Beran says. (“Irregular” Masonic bodies, which operate outside the “regular” tradition originating in the British Isles, claim fewer than 200 adherents here.)Now, as the organization quietly gains members and momentum, its members are seeking ways to help Freemasonry grow, and show nonmembers that world domination and eating children are not part of its repertoire.

Opening doors

Grand Master Beran, a lively 45-year-old energy consultant from Prague, makes no attempts to shield his voice from other diners in a busy New Town café. He speaks enthusiastically about his hopes for Czech Freemasonry, revived in 1990 after more than 40 years of dormancy under communist rule.“We do not want to be secret,” Beran says plainly. “We have a philosophy that should be offered to normal people.” Though Beran, who was one of the first initiates into the newly reconstituted Czech lodges, would like to see Freemasonry develop here, this does not necessarily mean rapid growth in membership. Rather, he seeks to “build a positive image,” and to attract those interested in “real Freemasonry.”This involves following three great principles — brotherly love, relief (or charity) and truth — articulated by the Grand Lodge of England after its founding nearly 290 years ago, June 24, 1717. (The origins of Freemasonry, though not specifically known, may date to the Knights Templar centuries before.) Tolerance and equality are also part of the Freemason creed, according to Armand Muno, treasurer of the Czech Grand Lodge and recently installed worshipful master (or director) of the English-speaking Hiram Lodge in Prague.“We’re not looking for the elites,” nor for anyone of a particular religion or ethnicity, says Muno, 47. Regular Freemasonry requires a belief in a supreme being, but not necessarily one from the Christian tradition, as well as a commitment to keep religion and politics out of the lodges. Consequently, Czech membership lists include people from several continents as well as from minority groups in the Czech Republic. They also span the spectrum of religious belief, given some qualifications. “There are Buddhists, Hindus … scientists who don’t believe in any god but nature,” Beran says. According to Muno, religion disqualifies a candidate only when beliefs clash with the principles of masonry, as is the case with Muslims who follow Sharia law. “Muslims who do not abide by Sharia are welcome.”Closed historyFriendly professionals in pressed slacks contradict popular images of Masons as cannibalistic conspirators. Negative associations and suspicion, however, constitute a natural reaction to something little understood, says widely published Masonic scholar Robert Gilbert. “People are afraid of something they don’t understand,” he says. Still, Freemasonry “has to retain some mystique, or it has no appeal for people.”This mystique is nowhere stronger than in places where totalitarian regimes have squashed organizations such as the Freemasons. Though Czech Freemasonry swung in and out of royal favor after its birth in Bohemia in the late 1730s, 20th-century regimes dealt dire blows to the order.“Because Freemasonry embraces such principles as equality, fraternity and freedom of thought, it is not liked by dictators, of the right or left,” the UGLE’s Hamill explains.During World War II, Freemasons were rounded up through membership lists and sent to concentration camps. Incriminating records from that time, Beran says, were burned by Masons themselves. Some Czechoslovak Freemasons managed to escape to France and finally England, where they set up an independent lodge in exile. “Comenius in exile is the only occasion in which England has recognized a Grand Lodge or lodge in exile,” Hamill says.The communists adopted a different control strategy.Čestmír Bárta became a Mason in December 1949, not long after the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia. His father, who was a Freemason, had been sent to Auschwitz. When the communist regime instituted a policy requiring government agents to attend lodge meetings, the Grand Lodge chose to go into dormancy rather than submit.“It was obvious that there was no way of preventing infiltration, wiretapping and abuse of the information obtained by these means,” Bárta says. “Not even initiations were taking place during that period.”Bárta was one of 28 Czech Freemasons who, through clandestine informal meetings, maintained contact with each other to eventually re-establish Freemasonry after the fall of the Iron Curtain. He later served seven years as grand master of the Czech Grand Lodge.“Civil society had to … re-create itself again,” he says, noting the sense of importance surrounding the re-establishment of the order. “Czech Freemasons knew that creation of a normal democratic society was a question of at least one generation, and that the attitudes of Freemasons had great potential to support the process of humanization of the newly germinating civil society.”Such lofty aims may be gaining appeal in lands now embracing democratic ideals, but Bárta admits there may be a long way to go. “People now usually don’t know what this is about, and they are not interested in it.” Beran, meanwhile, takes a more optimistic view toward finding those drawn to this philosophy amid the chaos of modern life. “In globalization, everybody is looking for his history.”

Naďa Černá and Hela Balínová contributed to this report.

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WIKIPEDIA : Fraternal and service organizations

A fraternal organization, sometimes also known as a “fraternity,” is an organization that represents the relationship between its members as akin to brotherhood. There is a great deal of overlap between the terms Friendly Society and fraternal organization. Most mystical organizations are also fraternal.

What follows is a list of contemporary fraternities.




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Freemasonry: A not so secret history

ROBERT COOPER and I step out of Freemason’s Hall into Edinburgh’s George Street, the central strand of James Craig’s New Town grid plan of 1766. Cooper is curator of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, and he starts pointing out a Freemasonic townscape.

“Craig was a Mason,” remarks Cooper, a 54-year-old former civil servant, “and the New Town is of course quite geometric compared to the Old Town, in fact some have suggested that the New Town Plan was designed according to Masonic geometry,” - Freemasons traditionally regard geometry as ‘the queen of sciences’.

To the east, beyond St Andrew Square, rises Calton Hill with its National Monument - the unfinished Parthenon known as “Edinburgh’s Disgrace”, due to a shortfall in public subscriptions, which prevented its completion. The Grand Lodge of Scotland, says Cooper, was involved in fundraising for the scheme, and its foundation stone was laid in 1822 by the tenth Duke of Hamilton, Grand Master Mason of Scotland, amid much Freemasonic pageantry and cannon salutes.

There won’t be quite such panoply this weekend, when Freemasons’ Hall hosts the first event of its kind, a major International Conference on the history of Freemasonry. Nevertheless it is a milestone event, which, despite early predictions to the contrary, has amazed its organisers by attracting more than 250 speakers and delegates from all over the world. And the majority of speakers are not Masons. Cooper, therefore, has his work cut out, but agrees that, in a very real sense, this is Freemasonry coming home.

While the earliest origins of Freemasonry - whose members, in a nod to their roots among working stonemasons, refer to themselves as “The Craft” - remain obscure, the first records of anything resembling modern Freemasonry come from Scotland, as Cooper explains. “Freemasonry began here in the 16th century, if not earlier, and we’re proud of the fact that here we’ve got the oldest lodge records in the world.” Dating from 1599, these are the records of Aitcheson’s Haven, a small stonemasons’ lodge once based in East Lothian.

“It was taken up later in England then spread across the world,” says Cooper. He adds, in wearily defensive tones: “It’s curious that we’re continually accused of running a ‘New World Order’ and all this stuff. The reality is very different. There is no real co-ordination between countries, which makes them all interestingly different. But now they’re coming back to their roots.”

So Cooper has much on his mind as we stroll west along George Street - named with North British fervour after a very eminent English Freemason, King George IV. We pass North Castle Street, where number 39 was once home to Sir Walter Scott, another Freemason, who orchestrated the riot of tartanry which greeted George IV when, in 1822, he became first reigning monarch to visit Scotland since 1641. George Meikle Kemp, who later designed the monument to Scott in Princes Street was another Mason.

Scott, suggests Cooper, would have been involved in raising funds for the Calton Hill monument, designed to commemorate the dead of the Napoleonic wars. The charitable work continues, but Masonic processions are a thing of the past, he observes: “The Second World War put an end to that. Hitler claimed that it was the Jews and the Freemasons who had brought Germany to its knees.The Grand Lodge of Scotland was first on the hit list if the Nazis invaded the country… so you stopped telling people that you were a Mason.” He grins: “I have no problem telling people - but then I’m a professional Freemason.”

Yet his organisation has long laboured under an unenviable image - which its critics would say has been well-earned - from the much-parodied spectacle of men in aprons to disquieting concerns about networking within the police and judiciary, and even bringing down governments, as in the case of the Italian P2 Lodge scandal of 1981.

That irregular lodge was described by investigating Italian authorities as “a state within a state”, its members including government ministers, members of parliament, secret-service heads, judges, defence chiefs and bankers - including Roberto Calvi, the former president of the Vatican’s Banco Ambrosiano, who was found hanging from Blackfriar’s Bridge, London, in 1982. Licio Gelli, the lodge’s Grand Master, was eventually jailed in connection with the bank’s fraudulent bankruptcy.

So far as that affair is concerned, says Cooper, “people forget that P2 started out as a Masonic lodge, but when the Grand Lodge of Italy realised what was going on, they closed it down. It continued illegally.” The secrecy issue is, he argues, more in the perception than in the fact. “Does the Mafia, for instance, have a public museum like Freemason’s Hall here, where people can go and see their history? It’s just silly.”

And he is dismissive about attempted moves, at Holyrood and Westminster, to make MPs, police and members of the judiciary declare Masonic membership: “This brought back horrible memories of what happened in Hitler’s Germany when the Grand Lodge there was asked to provide a list of members and at least 80,000 of our members ended up in the gas chamber. So when we hear a liberal democracy asking people to reveal membership of a legal and legitimate organisation, then we really have major concerns.”

By this time we’re in Charlotte Square, its unified frontages designed in the 1790s by Robert Adam - another Mason, and Cooper points out recurring twin-pillar motifs. There were supposedly two pillars in the porch of Solomon’s Temple, where, according to Masonic lore, the first Lodge met.

Talking of squares, he lists some of the Masonic expressions derived from craftsmanship and long absorbed into everyday usage - “all square”, “meet on the level and part on the square”, not to mention “pillar of the community”, “third degree” and “on the level”. Our conversation turns to a group of buildings back on North Castle Street, opposite Scott’s house. These, claims Cooper, were the last houses built in Scotland in the late 18th-century by stonemasons who were also Freemasons and who shortly afterwards left for America, to help construct Washington DC. George Washington was a member of a Scottish Lodge in Fredericksburg and, among other things, adds Cooper, these wandering Scots Masons helped construct the building which became known as the White House.

The development of Freemasonry in America is one of many topics being aired this weekend (others consider Freemasonry’s role in the Enlightenment, in promoting equality in 19th-century India, and even in the music hall). According to Cooper, the Scottish lodges in America tended to attract the radicals while the English lodges drew those loyal to the crown - “although that’s probably oversimplification”. Certainly, he says, Paul Revere was a member of the Lodge of St Andrew in Boston. He and another Mason, Joseph Warren, are recorded as meeting at Boston’s venerable Green Dragon Tavern in November 1773, the minutes noting rather cryptically: “Consignees of Tea took up the Brethren’s time…”

Back at home, Cooper, who conducts walking tours of “Masonic Edinburgh”, describes the Royal Mile as “the most Masonic street in the world”. The oldest records of a lodge still in existence are held by the Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary’s Chapel), No 1, which originally met in the now vanished Niddry’s Wynd and are now based in Hill Street. Other locations include the High Kirk of St Giles, where Edinburgh stonemasons were officially granted the aisle to St John the Evangelist for their use, and Holyrood Palace, where two of the earliest Masonic documents were prepared.

John Street meeting room, off the Canongate, was the location of Robert Burns’s supposed inauguration as “poet Laureate” of Canongate Kilwinning No 2 - an event which seems to have little foundation but was enshrined in a well-known painting by Robert Watson. Other notable masons have included Sir Winston Churchill, authors Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling, and the polar explorers Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton.

Back at Freemason’s Hall, David Begg, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Scotland hopes the conference might dispel some myths - such as enduring allegations of religious bias. While some people still confuse Masonic lodges with the Orange Lodge, and a belief in “the Great Architect of the Universe” is a prerequisite of membership, Freemasonry recognises no distinction of religion, creed or colour, stresses Begg, who recalls having seen a Jew and a Muslim take their Masonic oaths side by side, one on the Torah, the other on the Koran. Mainstream Freemasonry remains “a society of gentlemen”, although there are other Masonic organisations for women or for both sexes. At least one paper this weekend is likely to argue that they should open their doors to women, says Begg, “so it’s not all self-congratulatory.”

Giving the perspective of a historian (and non-Mason) David Stevenson, Emeritus Professor of Scottish history at St Andrews University and a plenary speaker at the conference, argues that while historians in America and Europe have long accepted Freemasonry as an important social and cultural phenomenon, “by contrast academic historians in Britain have until recently acted as if it didn’t exist”. However, continues Stevenson, a course in the study of Freemasonry has opened at Sheffield. “In recent decades, acceptance has grown that the evolution of Freemasonry is too important to ignore through narrow-minded prejudice or, in the case of Masons themselves, an inward-looking emphasis on secrecy, even when there are no secrets.”

Stevenson’s paper will stress how, in Scotland at least, freemasonry has remained “predominantly a social, moral and charitable organisation of skilled working men”. He also describes its role in promoting egalitarian thinking, and suggests that freemasonry’s once very public presence has diminished, “partly because it came to be attacked by both fascists and communists - Masons tend to argue that an organisation that was ruthlessly suppressed by both Hitler and Stalin can’t be all bad. Only in the last decade or so have Masons come to accept that obsessive secrecy fostered suspicions and conspiracy theories.

“This conference is an important example of Freemasonry coming out of the closet.”

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DESPITE the cliams of Dan Brown, legions of conspiracy theorists, and the mythology surrounding Rosslyn Chapel, Robert Cooper, who has written a book on the subject, says there was no link between the origins of the Freemasons and the Knights Templar.


A COMMON belief in Scotland, possibly caused by the bigotry of individuals, or even individual lodges (this writer encountered an anti-Catholic stance on the part of one local lodge back in the 1970s), as well as confusion with the Orange Lodge. The official line is that Freemasonry recognises no distinctions of race, religion, colour or creed, although it does require members to believe in a “great architect” or supreme being. Cooper says: “I was in Rome in February. How many Protestant Freemasons did I meet? None. I was in Penang last year. How Many Christian Freemasons did I meet? None - just Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs.”


THAT OATH is no longer part of the mason’s “obligation”, but it is still referred to in a historical context and explained to members. The oath of obligation, says Cooper, “like our pinny (apron) and jewels (medals) are all symbolic”.


MASONIC organisations, such as the Grand Lodge of Scotland, remain men only, although there are other masonic groups which admit women only, or both sexes. Cooper argues they are not anti-women or anti-feminist, simply gender-specific, like a football team. “We have the slight burden of history in a sense that there were never any women members of early lodges and that’s continued to this day, but there’s nothing sinister about it.”


THE official line is that Freemasonry is not a secret society, but its lodge meetings, like those of other social and professional associations, are open only to members. Freemasons are encouraged to speak openly about membership, while undertaking not to use it for their own or anyone else’s advancement. Concerns about possible Freemasonic networking and improper influence continue, however. In 2002 there calls for MSPs to declare if they were masons, and in 1992 Maria Fyfe, MP for Glasgow Maryhill, tabled a Commons motion asking MPs to declare Freemasonic membership.


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List of Fraternal Associations

Necropolis may be the biggest Freemason symbol in Europe

by Jonathan Paisley

GLASGOW’S most famous cemetery could be a giant masonic symbol, according to new research.

The city’s Necropolis, which is spread over 37 acres, may be one of the world’s biggest Freemasonry sites.

Historian Ronnie Scott claims to have discovered unseen patterns in the design of the iconic 19th-century cemetery.

Research has suggested the Necropolis is a landscaped metaphor and its layout mirrors the masonic journey “from darkness to light”.

advertisementLater this month, Mr Scott will tell the world’s first conference on the history of Freemasonry that the land may be one of Europe’s most important masonic sites.

The cemetery could attract crowds to rival the masonic-influenced Rosslyn Chapel in Edinburgh, which featured in Dan Brown’s bestselller The Da Vinci Code.

Mr Scott said: “The more I looked, the more I began to see a pattern emerge and the Necropolis began to look like a very large and very solid representation of masonic ideals and symbolism.

“The Necropolis is clearly a symbolic landscape and my research indicates that we should start to think of it as a freemasonic landscape.”

The Necropolis opened in 1833 and was designed by a group of men from the Merchants’ House of Glasgow, most of whom are understood to have been masons.

Visitors entering the cemetery cross a bridge, and pass through two pillars before they climb a hill.

The path is supposed to represent the masonic journey, from west to east, according to experts.

More than 230 professors from across Europe, America and Asia will gather in Edinburgh later this month to discuss the theory.

Freemasonry is widely believed to have firm Scottish roots with the earliest surviving minutes of a masonic lodge dating back to Edinburgh in 1598.

Notable Scottish masons have included Robert Burns; Sir Walter Scott, Jimmy Shand and Jock Stein.

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Secrets kept in store but no Holy Grail


WITH a deep sigh and a roll of his eyes Bob Cooper leans forward in his chair, clears a small space on his cluttered desk and insists he doesn’t actually have the Holy Grail.

“You wouldn’t believe the amount of time I spend explaining to people that, no, we don’t keep the Holy Grail here and that we don’t know where it might be either.

“Honestly,” he continues with a smile, “it’s almost as if they expect me to open a cupboard and, ‘oh yes - there it is!’.”

Admittedly, it doesn’t seem that likely that the Holy Grail might be found in a grand, yet outwardly rather anonymous, building on George Street.

But then again, this is the Freemasons we’re talking about. And doesn’t Bob have his office in one of the most mysterious locations imaginable - deep within the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland?

In fact, despite the myths and the mystery, the speculation and the secrecy, the Grand Lodge turns out to be just another office HQ, with two busy receptionists juggling buzzing phones at the enquiry desk, empty wood panelled boardrooms and a function suite laid out with tables in preparation for the arrival of Lodge Eight, the Lodge of the Journeyman Mason - one of Edinburgh’s 40 Lodges - which celebrates its 300th anniversary there at the weekend.

And despite Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown’s novel, with its links between the Knights Templar, Rosslyn Chapel, the Freemasons and the Holy Grail, the only mystery here is why everyone seems to have such a skewed impression of what the Scottish Masonic movement is all about. The date of the next Orange Walk? Wrong organisation.

A secret “boys only” club to help you climb the greasy ladder to success? No, insists Bob with a sigh.

An organisation built on the principles of brotherly love, morals and equality might not sound as thrilling, but according to Bob it’s at least closer to the truth. Just try telling that to the American tourist who wants to arrange a time when they can pop in and see the Holy Grail.

“One of the most time-consuming things I have had to deal with in past years is the number of inquiries from all over the world from people who have just read the Da Vinci Code,” says Bob. “They want to know if it’s true what it says about freemasonry,” he continues. “Frankly, I have spent a lot of time correcting Dan Brown’s mistakes.”

The bestselling book - which suggests the Knights Templar designed Rosslyn Chapel and that Freemasons hold the key to its curiosities and secrets - has simply become the bane of Bob’s life.

But then again, it could be their own fault. After all, aren’t the Freemasons infamous for their zealously guarded secrets, their mysterious rituals and their bizarre initiation ceremonies? They have their own private handshake, coded language and a shadowy image of brothers scratching other brothers’ backs.

So if they haven’t got the Holy Grail, what exactly do they have to hide? Nothing, insists an increasingly frustrated Bob, a Freemason since 1984 and now the curator of the Masonic version of the “grail”, the museum tucked inside the Grand Lodge of Scotland where ageing lodge minutes - one contains Robert Burns’ signature alongside his fellow “brothers” - are stored alongside jewel- encrusted Masonic insignia and the largest collection of French Masonic literature anywhere.

“We are not a secret society,” he stresses, “But yes, we have certain elements of what we do that we keep private - otherwise no-one would bother to join!”

He has a burning hot phoneline with enquiries from delegates to the first International Conference on the History of Freemasonry. Around 200 from all corners of the Earth are due to descend on the George Street building later this month to hear speakers present more than 70 papers on the craft.

Between that, the renewed interest in Freemasonry courtesy of the Da Vinci Code, around 500 years of history to fall back on and brothers such as Sir Walter Scott, Sir Winston Churchill and Robert Burns in their ranks, and it sounds like the masons of today should be on a roll.

“We have seen an increase in membership - who knows whether that could be attributed to the books that have appeared in recent years or whether the pendulum is simply swinging and a new generation is coming through.”

They sign up, explains Bob, to become part of an international brotherhood with a moral map as its template, raised in Scotland and exported around the world.

Corruption - one of the stigmas that has plagued the modern Masonic movement has been the popular perception that Freemasons actively help “brothers” progress in work, in legal situations and in every walk of life - is certainly not on the agenda.

Bob is quick to dismiss that particular myth: “Freemasons have always been in a small minority in Scottish society. Perhaps if there had been huge numbers of Freemasons all in influential roles, then all of that might have happened.

“But if people join the Freemasons thinking that it will help them get on in life, then they will very quickly be disillusioned.

“But we live in a world where everyone wants to blame someone else. I’ve not been promoted because of them, I’m not rich because of them. The masons are the ideal scapegoat.”

And, certainly until a particular book hit the shops a few years ago, not very fashionable either.

The number of Freemasons in Scotland has fallen dramatically over the last ten years - down around 30 per cent.

Today there are 660 Masonic lodges in Scotland and around 70,000 masons, with around 6000 in Edinburgh attending 40 Lodges - considerably lower than in years gone by.

“Membership overall has been steadily declining,” admits Bob, a Freemason for 23 years who has run the Grand Lodge library and museum for the past 16.

“Yes, a few lodges have closed but to be honest we’re not very concerned about that decline. This was never meant to be a mass organisation anyway - at one point there were just a few Freemasons in the whole of Scotland.”

And there’s no question of the Freemasons suddenly reinventing themselves or even tweaking the rules in a desperate bid to stay afloat.

“We have to stay true to our origins and if that means we become extinct, then so be it,” shrugs Bob. “One of the things that people enjoy is the fact that the Freemasons is unchanging. I can sit down and look at the minutes of the Lodge meeting in which Rabbie Burns joined and I could have been there, the process is the same today as it was then.

“And that’s an incredibly stabilising force.”


• Freemasonry is believed to have begun its evolution 500 or more years ago in Scotland, among bands of skilled stonemasons - such as the craftsmen who would have created Rosslyn Chapel.

• Freemasonry is not a religion. There is no Masonic god and you don’t have to be a Christian to be a Freemason. However, Masons do believe in a “supreme being”, referring to the creator of the world as the “divine architect”.

• Freemasonry uses the metaphor of a stonemason’s tools and crafts to describe an esoteric system of morality. The square and compass is the key symbol of Freemasonry. Some believe it is a metaphor for the need for moral responsibility balanced by reason.

• There are three degrees of Freemasonry. Freemasons begin as Apprentice, and progress to Master, then Grand Master.

• Freemasons are expected to keep the rituals and ceremonies of the Masonic Lodge secret, though they are free to make it known to others that they are Freemasons. They can use special handshakes, signs and words to identify each other. Phrases such as: “give him the third degree” and “pillar of the community” both have their roots in Masonic lodges.

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Mechanics’ history makes it so special

I HAVE read the two contrasting letters you ran on May 14 concerning the Mechanics’ Institute.

I appreciated the one from Mrs Ratcliffe who has a genuine feel for Swindon history despite the fact she wasn’t born here. The second one, from Mr D Burgess, is a man who seems to appreciate nothing.

I have to say that during this past decade it is the media who have fuelled this ongoing controversy.

It may be true to say that much of the fabric of the Mechanics’ is not pretty to look at. The style of the north end in your photo was influenced by the original Freemasonry people who paid the architect. The two octagonal towers and the centre apex are Masonic style and can be seen on many Victorian buildings of that period.

The Mechanics’ grew according to the needs of its members, so many bits were added on, particularly its theatre in 1931. Its social history is what makes it special.

Mr Burgess’ scoffing dismissal ignores the work that the New Mechanics’ Trust in Swindon has done over the past 12 years. It got the building upgraded on the national listing and its contribution to local cultural events has been well documented and it is a committee elected by AGM each year.

In addition the trust restarted the annual children’s fete five years ago, which was such a success for the Brunel 200 celebrations last year.

I ask Mr Burgess what has he done for Swindon?



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