Masons keen to remove secrecy image

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Ask most people what they know about the masons and they are likely to say something about funny handshakes and rolled-up trouser legs.

Its image as a shadowy organisation with secret practices is one which grew up when the organisation was forced underground by the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s.

Worksop Free Masons, from left Neil Airey, information officer, Jeff Hayes, superintendent, John Lancashire, chair of Worksop Masons club, Graham Wood, assistant Provincial Grandmaster, Neil Potter, provincial officer and Barry Lord, Retford Masons (w110218-7a)

Worksop Free Masons, from left Neil Airey, information officer, Jeff Hayes, superintendent, John Lancashire, chair of Worksop Masons club, Graham Wood, assistant Provincial Grandmaster, Neil Potter, provincial officer and Barry Lord, Retford Masons (w110218-7a)

But today’s Freemasons are keen to come out of the shadows and remove that veil of secrecy.

Notts assistant provincial grand master Graham Wood said: “In Germany and Italy the masons wore a forget-me-not flower badge to recognise one another because they couldn’t meet.”

“As a result of having to go underground they became very insular and private and secretive which is why people still think of us as a secret organisation. But we’re not, we are a very open organisation.”

The history of Freemasonry in this country goes back 365 years and today’s Grand Master is the Duke of Kent.

Inside Worksop Masonic Hall (w110218-7b)

Inside Worksop Masonic Hall (w110218-7b)

Worksop’s Masonic Hall is on Queen Street and is the meeting place for nine different craft lodges, as the groups are known, with 430 members.

The oldest Worksop lodge is number 939 Pelham, which was founded in 1863. The Masonic Hall is run as a limited company and has a full-time staff.

Although they are keen not to be seen as a secret society, Graham said there were private aspects to the members’ initiation ceremony, which is held in the temple within the masonic hall.

“There are some things we don’t share which enable us to recognise each other, which are told to new members at their initiation. We could walk into a room of people and know within half an hour whether there are any other masons present. The initiation ceremony is the most wonderful night in a mason’s life.”

Inside Worksop Masonic Hall (w110218-7c)

Inside Worksop Masonic Hall (w110218-7c)

An outward sign of masonic membership is the tiny lapel badge of a square and compasses which many of the members wear to identify each other.

Graham explained that any man – women are not accepted as members – can become a mason.

“We are not a religion but anyone wanting to join must have a faith in a supreme being and not have a criminal record,” said Graham. “The two things that are banned from discussions are religion and politics, the two main divisive subjects there are.”

He also dispelled the myth that becoming a mason could fast track someone to promotion in their profession.

“That’s not true at all. In fact if someone tried to join for that reason then we wouldn’t accept them.”

“We don’t have any interest in someone’s social standing or what they do for a living. We’re only interested in them being good masons and contributing to society.”

At the centre of masonry are the three tenets of brotherly love, relief and truth.

Graham said: “Brotherly love is about treating your fellow man in a loving way and in a way you would want them to treat you.”

“Relief is about looking after those around us who are less fortunate than ourselves, not just fellow masons and their families, but in wider society as well. Truth is about your own integrity and your honesty.”

They are keen to stress their charitable work as well, and there is no denying that the masons are generous in their giving, both to masonic and non-masonic causes.

Nationally they raised £25,000 in 48 hours of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, money which they sent to masonic groups in the worst hit areas to ensure it went straight to where it was needed most.

Worksop hall information officer Neil Airey said that every mason nationwide gave £14 a year to a grand charity and that at some point the masons had supported every hospice in the country.

At the centre of the masonic hall is the temple, so-called because the masons follow the teachings of the Temple of Solomon from the Bible.

This is where meetings are held, when members wear the aprons and collars of their lodge. Everything in the temple is symbolic and the person taking the role of chairman for a year is called the Worshipful Master. It takes about 10 years for a member to work their way up to this role.

Neil explained that a lump of rough stone on one side of the room represented man in his raw state, while a smooth cube of stone on the other side represents man after being shaped by the learning and ritual of freemasonry.

There are also special seats for the senior and junior wardens and a book of sacred law. The central black and white chequered carpet symbolises the good and bad aspects of man’s life.

l To see inside the temple and hear more about the various symbols from Notts provincial grand master Robin Wilson, go to our website at www.worksopguardian.co.uk