LIFE ON THE SQARE
HUMANISM AND THE FREEMASONS. March 1996 GM Humanist
There are many reasons why humanists should be critical of Freemasonry which has 600,000 initiates in England alone. The society that many people associate with respectability and principles of brotherly love, relief and truth, charity and the establishment old boy network, is actually a religious, occult-rooted, misogynist and secret society that encourages elitism, sexism, privilege, snobbery and hierarchical Machiavellian power play.
Freemasonry originated in medieval craft guilds. The great European cathedral-building programme begun under William I employed hundreds of craftsmen who had to travel to towns where they were unknown. Their handshakes and complex greeting rituals told organisers that they were genuinely skilled enough to entrust with certain duties. You couldn't let just anybody chisel at a gargoyle.
With work in this field dying out in the industrial eighteenth century, the Freemasons began to open up their ranks to honoured friends in other professions. It was useful to know a policeman, a barrister and business leaders who might be useful one day. Even today people are rarely admitted to the Masons unless someone else finds it useful to have them under their influence. You get in because of who you know, not because of what you know. Freemasonry is about inside knowledge. Masons feel that they are and should be allowed to keep lucrative business dealings to themselves, and exclude a n y o n e lacking their b e t t e r qualities. The "Lodge" or exclusive social club was a product of such a privileged sub-society.
In 1717 the world's first Grand Lodge opened in London.
When alchemist C o u n t Cagliostro (1743-95, of the infamous Marie Antoinette's necklace affair) joined the masons in Italy he brought with him a fascination for arcane Egyptology and the kind of Masonic skills he thought must have been employed in building the pyramids and other great ancient artifacts. Much Victorian interest in all things Egyptian is owed to Freemasonry. Masons paid for the transport to England from Alexandria of the obelisk called Cleopatra's Needle. Masonry thus became pervaded by pseudo-Egyptian religious ritual and imagery. Architectural symbolism now dominated Masonic philosophy. Humanity to a Freemason is designed by a master craftsman, a god, usually called The Great Architect. Many Masonic buildings and graves and statues of noted Freemasons have draughtsman's compasses and dividers carved in relief.
All Freemasons must also believe in God (whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim). Atheists and agnostics are therefore excluded from the ranks, as are all women, despite feminist protests and equal opportunities in other areas of life. Some Freemasons go as far as to exclude female mourners including widows from their own Masonic funeral ceremonies. (Martin Short: Inside the Brotherhood; Grafton 1989). Annual Lodge ladies' nights are just a social whirl, intended to appease members whose wives are upset at being excluded from knowing what the Masons get up to. There are a number of women only Masonic lodges in existence operating on similar principles to the male fraternity (though not officially recognised by the other) The Queen has an honorary status as the reigning monarch. Non-royalists are also unlikely to be admitted to the intensely patriotic Lodges.
Freemasons have long been accused of being conspiratorial; every war, assassination and unsolved murder is laid at their door. Mozart probably wasn't killed by Masons for using their rituals in The Magic Flute, as some commentators suggest. Then there's Jack the Ripper, whose supposed roots on The Square are the subject of Stephen Knight's book, Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution; Granada 1977, (filmed as Murder by Decree). It is easy to be paranoid about Freemasons. Masonic Lodges did, however, become useful centres of resistance movements against the Nazi advance during World War II.
Masonry is incompatible with most Christian and other monotheistic religions. Masons see all gods as equal. Jesus isn't seen as the exclusive saviour, nor is Allah. They say salvation depends on human works and not on faith in God. While Catholics are forbidden to join after a papal bull issued in 1738, many Anglicans are Freemasons, including prominent Synod officials. In fact, Freemasonry is a major religion in its own right. It has its own core trinity of gods. The Great Architect, who is central to Masonic cosmology, has a three-part name, misunderstood by most initiates of the lower degrees: the name is Jah-Bul-On. The Jah is the angry Old Testament Yahweh. Bul or Baal is the Canaanite fertility god, denounced and defeated by jealous old Yahweh in a struggle for the affections of the ancient Israelites. Bul is, biblically speaking, a false god, a devil. On is Osiris, Egyptian god of the underworld, a death figure.
The initiation ritual for first degree recruits symbolically strips the novice of his money to indicate his poverty of power and spirit without the Brotherhood. His trouser-leg is rolled up, his shirt opened" one shoe is removed to make him feel alienated, lonely and absurd. He is blindfolded and given a noose to wear to add to his vulnerability and sense of mortal despair. He is totally dependent on his fellow Masons and takes an oath of secrecy that is clearly against Humanist ethics. The convert accepts that "having his throat cut across, tongue torn out by the roots and buried in the sand" is the price to pay for speaking of the Masonic practices he witnesses.
An important myth in the lore and ritual is that of Hiram Abiff, the architect allegedly responsible for creating Solomon's Temple. He was apparently executed for not revealing certain mystical secrets - where in the Temple he had concealed the lost name of God. You won't find Hiram's story in the Bible. Much Masonic ritual re-enacts his death and resurrects him. For many initiates of the lower degrees, paying annual fees, attending a few business meetings and being On The Square is enough. More complex rituals at higher levels are carried out often unknown to members of long standing.
Many religious, occult and political organisations have modelled themselves on Masonry's pyramid structure, The Golden Dawn, for one, and the Mormons for another. Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon denounces Freemasonry while borrowing extensively from its sources.
Many Masons have quit and complained of being deeply troubled by the sinister aspects of the initiation ritual. The air of casual threat is very like the Mafia vow of Omerta (total silence). However, there have been exposes. Stephen Knight's book, The Brotherhood; Panther, 1985), caused a sensation by divulging much of Freemasonry's neglected and dubious history, as well as questioning the membership of high-ranking policemen - there is a Lodge room in Scotland Yard itself - and of government officials in a secret cult within a supposedly open democracy. There have been cases of jobs going to Masons instead of to more able non-Masons; Masons being given light sentences by judges recognising the hand-signals, and careers quietly ruined by the withdrawal of support due to pressure from Lodge members.
The charity work of Masons is predominantly though not exclusively for Masonic causes. They have their own hospitals, benevolent institutions, etc. True social enterprise, charity, benevolence and humanity should be for everybody, open and above board, democratic, free and not rooted in absurdly manufactured dogma borrowed from different religions. Arthur Chappell
FOLLOW UP ARTICLE - MANCHESTER HUMANISTS MEETING REPORT MARCH 12th 1997.
JOHN PASSMORE - THE FREEMASONS.
In March 1996, I wrote an article for the newsletter (Issue #12) about Freemasonry. This lead to a radio talk on GMR Radio in which I was joined by John Passmore, who was then serving as Provincial Grand Lodge Secretary for East Lancashire’s Freemasons, (He has now retired from office) John was disadvantaged by not having read my article before the talk about it had begun. After the talk, I sent John the article, and invitation to address our group, to tell us about Freemasonry in his own words. He kindly took up the invitation. His
talk took place a year later. Here is my summary of it.
John summarised the history of the Freemasons, from their roots in 15th century stonemason’s craft guild lodges, where secret signs and handshakes were used to show prospective employers what kind of work you qualified for. Cathedral and castle building involved travelling to different parts of the country to work with people who didn’t know who you were. It was essential to be able to demonstrate quickly what you could and couldn’t do. The signs and handshakes were a rapid shorthand way of showing your potential boss your CV. As work in such specialised fields became scarce, the guilds took in more non-craft members to maintain numbers and funding. and this eventually lead to the foundation of the Freemasonry movement as it exists today. In 1817 the United Grand Lodge was formed from the two major guild organisations 'Ancients' and ‘moderns’.
As Freemasons must declare belief in a supreme being, the Great Architect, Humanists, as atheists and agnostics, can never qualify as members of the Freemasons.
Freemasons see themselves as essentially a benevolent society raising money for charity and good causes. The Freemasons aim to develop an individual in a social and independent way that does not conflict with another person’s interests and needs.
If the freemasons are presented with a case for sending a particular patient for private health treatment (instead of NHS care), a board meeting takes place where it is decided how much of the cost (if any) the Freemasons should donate.
Initiation ceremonies are symbolic of the various stages of human life, most notably birth and death. The ceremonies are often a re-enactment in dramatised playlet form of aspects of the Masonic myth. This myth has its roots in the Biblical legend of the founding of King Solomon’s Temple, and in beliefs concerned with the tragic martyrdom of one Hiram Abif, a personage not mentioned in the Bible. Because the masons who built Solomon’s Temple were not to disclose the secrets of its structure, or the location of its secret chambers and hidden treasures on pain of death, Hiram Abif allowed himself to be sealed into the fabric of the building, in effect, buried alive, to complete the last of the work from the inside so that the secret of how he achieved the task perished with him.
Though rooted in traditional, symbolic and archaic ritual procedure, much Masonic activity is formally democratic, according to John Passmore. If you wished to join the Freemasons (and not female or/and a Humanist) you would have to be nominated and seconded by practising freemasons, and a committee session would then be held where your application was voted on. This is done through a secret ballot, in which votes are cast with white balls (For) and black (opposed) balls. If two or more black balls are in the ballot box (sometimes it can be as few as one black ball), the applicant is irrevocably rejected as a possible member. It may be questioned how one or two blackball votes can overturn a majority of white ball votes in a ‘democratic’ election procedure. It was not ascertained whether the blackballing procedure originated in Freemasonry or if they inherited it elsewhere.
John argued against claims that freemasonry is a secret society by producing a number of books and articles approved and authorised by freemasons for public distribution. He believes that no secret society would have such accessibility as that. Even the names and addresses of the senior ranking Freemasons are published.
There is much that Freemasons will not divulge. When pressed by one or two of our questioners for details of rituals, John declined to answer. Much of what has been kept secret in the past has been discussed more openly in recent years by the Freemasons. This is largely in response to the criticism received following publication of ‘The Brotherhood’, a best-selling expose of Freemasonry secret by Stephen Knight (Grafton 1984), and the sequel, ‘Inside The Brotherhood’ by Martin Short (1989) . John, like many freemasons was quick to pick up on Stephen Knight’s death by brain haemorrhage in his thirties shortly after The Brotherhood was published. (There is no suggestion of a Masonic involvement in the writer’s death, but it is picked upon as a kind of poetic, ironic justice). The books, (which formed the root research material for my own article in our own newsletter) forced freemasons to be more open about their activities. Many lodges now have public open days and museum tours. This was unprecedented before the books came out. Freemasons don’t question the facts raised by Stephen Knight, but challenge his ‘interpretation’ of the evidence.
John Passmore joined the Freemasons in Southend, in 1970 following in the footsteps of his Father and his brother. When he moved to Sale, Manchester, he had to prove that he was a mason by demonstrating his knowledge of the rituals, and secrets and handshakes to prove his authenticity and that his intentions were genuine. When the Lancashire Lodge was becoming too large and powerful, it was obliged to divide into the East and West Lancashire Lodge Divisions, and John Passmore became Grand Secretary of East Lancashire.
Most Lodge meetings are of an evening. There are no Lodge gatherings on Sundays by constitutional ruling. A festival is a five year concentrated fund raising programme to raise money for a particular cause, i.e., a Masonic hospital. A Freemason who supports the festival cause for the full five years secures entitlement to buy a medal commemorating his contribution and work. These purchased medals (never awarded free, as the money raised in their sales also contributes to the charitable cause) can then be worn with pride. John brought a sample selection of medals (Freemasons prefer to call them jewels) along. They look like the medals worn on the chests of war veterans. Masonic memorabilia often becomes highly collectable, and is much sought after, often commanding high auction prices. Such artifacts often depict Masonic and architectural imagery, such as compass-dividers or building keystones. John also brought along some of the Masonic aprons worn at various degrees of initiation by freemasons. (these start from basic kitchen-work pinnies and progress to elaborate and ornate material, the higher up the ranks a mason progresses. Originally they would have been made of lamb-skins.
Members of our group raised a number of questions and points of view, which John responded to well. In fact, his brave willingness to speak before an audience of non-masons and people likely to be critical of his beliefs was very commendable. Members were quick to pick up on recent Guardian reports that Frederick Crawford, current Royal Arch-Mason, is alleged to have told fellow masons to protect their brothers even if they believe them to be in the wrong. John was unfamiliar with the details of this case and pointed out that he knows of cases where freemasons who have been asked to leave the Brotherhood because of crimes and scandals they have been involved in as individuals, so Masons certainly don’t protect their own in every situation. One of our members, a former policeman, told how he was once invited to join the Freemasons by a senior police officer. Aware that his Humanism would cause problems when it came to taking the oath of allegiance to a supreme being (any god will do, as long as it is a God, so Allah does count as well as Jehovah), he was told by his would be recruiter that most freemasons didn’t believe in the Great Architect either, but went along with the ritual for the benefits they hoped to gain by being Freemasons. Our member was happily too principled to pretend such beliefs for personal gain.
There are currently 8,500 lodges, and some 360,000 members of the Freemasons in Britain (some may serve in more than one lodge). Asked why they are still in effect a small minority of the British male population, John Passmore suggested expenses. Entrance fee is set at £50.00, with an annual subscription membership fee of £120.00 which covers eight lodge meetings per year, all of which are followed by a meal (actually a veritable feast). Others may be deterred by books like Stephen Knight’s and by their allegiances to other churches and organisations. Christians are wary of a group that relegates God to a general figurehead status. By seeing God and Allah as reflections of the same being, the Freemasons trod on some theological and doctrinal toes, and some religious groups are openly hostile to Freemasonry. The Catholics have had a papal bull issued against Freemasonry for centuries.
This was a bold and assertive talk, that seemed aimed squarely at countering my previous assertions on Freemasonry. Sadly, I believe that many of my views remain unchanged, though I still have no doubt as to the integrity and essential moral goodness of the majority of freemasons. A social benevolent society that automatically excludes fifty percent of the population from its movement, (as Freemasons do in the case of women) is one that needs to open further to progress and change. Asked whether women are ever likely to be seen as acceptable freemasons, John Passmore was doubtful; the initiation of a male mason involves a symbolic baring of the breast and the nipple over the heart, both to show humility and a willingness to be vulnerable even unto death, and also to show that one is not a woman in disguise (such intrusions have been attempted). Women would be embarrassed and humiliated by the breast-baring, and are thus excluded. The idea of changing the ritual to increase membership seems unthinkable to the freemasons. asked whether he sees a day when Humanists might become freemasons, John was in no doubt that such a day will never dawn.
WHAT IS A SECRET SOCIETY?
I was intrigued by John Passmore’s assertion that Freemasonry cannot be a secret society because it publishes senior membership lists and some books, such as John Hamill’s The Craft, (Guild Publishing 1986). This made me think about what is or isn’t a secret society.
If a society is totally secretive then we know nothing whatsoever about it, and have no inkling that it might even exist. Most secret societies at least leave people in the belief that they exist and that they do something. The Illuminati is a classic example; this Masonic conspirational organisation is sometimes blamed for involvement in various conspiracies, but no hard evidence exists of any such group existing. The Rosicrucians also fall into this category for many years, being rumoured to exist by various mediaeval pamphlets and flyers that may or may not have been a hoax, but since the sixteenth century organisations have adopted that title, though they may not have direct links with the original organisations that have served that cause.
Most Secret Societies are known to definitely exist in some form, and some of their activities have been exposed or publicised. The Cosa Nostra, (or Mafia) hides its identity for obvious reasons; it is involved in organised crime. (Mafia is a word often used to denote any and all organised crime fraternities, but the Sicilian Mafia has a more exclusive pedigree) Its exposure has come from police investigation, and confessions from Mafia people who have spilled the beans (presumably before being made offers they could not refuse). Christianity itself once survived as an underground society, under Roman oppression with much use of secret signs (like the fish) being used to signify membership. Many atheists and unbelievers would similarly have kept their doubts to themselves under threat of Inquisition, torture and death by fanatical Christians. Many 18th century Humanistic tracts were published anonymously for the safety of the authors. Wartime resistance movements are another example of a necessary degree of deception being required by a society.
Espionage agencies are known to exist, but remain tight lipped about the identities of their field agents and officers. The CIA is in the American Phone book, but understandably won’t tell you what its people are doing right now in Bosnia. MI5 takes secrecy to a degree of paranoia. They won’t even disclose their own postal address on Whitehall. Their outrage at the publication of Peter Wright’s book on his work there is a case in point. The book was banned in Britain for many years. The elite Special Armed Service soldiers (SAS) are worried by a crop of recent sensationalist memoirs being published by its former and once secretive members.
The Freemasons, like other groups, organizations, cults and sects, are known to exist, but are guarded about what they will and will not say. Many known cults have meditation techniques that they will not willingly divulge to non-members, notably TM, (Transcendental Meditation).
It’s true that Masonic lodges are easily located and details of their location are public knowledge. Women are allowed in for social events called ladies night, but details of handshakes, rituals and procedures are only ever likely to be exposed, rather than voluntarily revealed. The Freemasons are therefore a secret (or at least ‘secretive’) society despite its extensive publicized materials. In fact, the different ranks and degree levels between ordinary Mason and master mason, and later levels like Lodge Master, Grand Lodge Secretary, all have secrets of their own. Freemasons have secrets even from fellow freemasons. Secrecy is not good for society. It creates an atmosphere conducive to mistrust, fear and paranoia. In an open, just and free society, there should be no room for secrecy and closeted thinking. Secular Humanism alternatively has no secrets from anyone, unless there’s something we haven’t been told about .... ? ? ? ? God, and his angels are a very good secret society. Many believe they exist, but they cannot be found anywhere.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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