Freemasons have spoken about their secret handshakes, their customs and rituals, and what really happens in meetings
They designed the pyramids, plotted the French Revolution and are controlled by the Illuminati.At least, that’s according to some of the numerous myths bandied about by conspiracy theorists about the Freemasons – an organisation which, according to historians, dates back to the 15 century.
Many see them as a group of corrupt old men who communicate with secret handshakes and receive favours from the police and the justice system.
But apart from the handshakes, none of this true according to the Freemasons in Hull.
Tony Burke, a worshipful brother, of the De La Pole Masonic Lodge 1605 in Beverley Road, has been a Freemason for 25 years.
The Liverpudlian initially thought all Freemasons were “bent and corrupt,” but after being invited to a wine and cheese party attended by Masons, his perceptions began to change.
Tony said: “I got invited to a few meetings and I started to meet Freemasons and understand what it was all about and that is how I came into Freemasonry.
“My journey has been one of turning a rough Scouser into somebody who appreciates the finer things in life – honesty, brotherhood and friendship.”
Freemasonry isn’t a religion but Masons, who come from all walks of life, share a common belief in a Supreme Being.
Neither religion nor politics are discussed within the Lodge but all Masonic meetings open and close with a prayer.
You have to be 21 to become a Mason and you cannot have a criminal record.
Masons in the Beverley Road lodge include everyone from policemen and RAF personnel to cab drivers and council workers.
But everyone must start their Freemasonry journey as an Entered Apprentice before moving on to become a Fellowcraft.
You then become a Master Mason before eventually becoming a Worshipful Master who effectively oversees the Lodge.
Every Mason has a different relationship with the society but its prime aim is to “turn good men into better men.”
They do this in numerous ways, but one method is through “allegorical stories” with symbolism a key element of Lodge meetings.
Tony said: “We take certain events in the past and we get a moral lesson from each one of them.
“We use these lessons to say, you are a piece of rough stone – you come in and we turn you into a suitable stone which can used by builders.
“We give you moral lessons which you can apply to your life.”
The meetings themselves vary in length but all Masons must wear white gloves, which represent purity, and ceremonial regalia to match their rank.
The Worshipful Master, who is the head of the Lodge, always sits at one end of the hall with two principal officers sitting on two of the other three sides.
The other Masons are then seated around the perimeter on benches.
Some ceremonies are like business meetings which include recitals which remind Freemasons of the virtues they strive to live by.
Others involve receiving new members, which sees a formal ceremony teach Freemasons important lessons and gets them thinking about their own nature and spiritual beings.
Once business has concluded, members tuck into a meal prepared by a chef.
Scotsman Jim Kerr, a Provincial Grand Master, says being a Freemason has made him a better person.
“I think more about others,” he said. “The other day I was in Morrisons and there was a frail couple in the disabled parking bays struggling with their shopping.
“I didn’t think twice about helping them and I questioned if before being a Mason I would have done that.”
Brother Malcolm Forbes, one of the newer Masons to join the society, said: “You get out of Freemasonry what you put into it.
“I am a new Mason and I found the social side of things really helpful – it’s something I look forward to.
“You can discuss things with other Masons and we never argue.
“People make assumptions that we are sinister and that there is something to hide when there isn’t.”
Neil Armstrong, a Provincial Grand Steward, described Freemasonry as “an oasis from modern life.”
He said: “It’s very traditional and I think that is so important in our modern world.
“For the youngsters in the Lodges, it is teaching them to reflect on their inner selves and hopefully they will become better citizens by example of what they are seeing.”
One of those is 25-year-old Alistair Lamyman, who is the youngest Mason at the De La Pole Lodge after joining 10 months ago.
“I have become a lot more observant and a lot more charitable. We always have a greater respect for people in general and it instils in you a sense of morality.
“It’s an intense experience and it can be really nerve wracking for people.
“But for anyone who suffers from anxiety, they will be able to conquer their fears by learning and reciting a two minute piece and reading it out to an audience.
“Everybody here wants you to succeed and progress. It’s a wholesome environment.”
In total, there are 14 Lodges in Hull which comprise 550 members. But Bill Fisher, who is the Deputy Provincial Grand Master of the Masonic Province of Yorkshire North and East Riding, wants to recruit more Masons by being more open and honest with people about their society.
He says after the war, when Hitler persecuted Freemasons, the organisation went underground, which caused a shift in public perception.
The infamous handshake still exists, and although some see it a secret, it is merely a ceremonial and traditional gesture used in more ancient times to identify Freemasons and their ranks.
While Bill admits that many are drawn in by the mystique of the society, he wants more transparency going forward so that people can better understand the honest principles of being a Freemason.
One aspect of Freemasonry that often gets overlooked is its charitable aspirations and last year, the United Grand Lodge of England raised more than £33m for good causes.
Bill wants people to understand that Freemasons are not part of a secret society and he is open to the idea of welcoming the public into their Lodges.
“A lot of problems we have with people’s perception is our own fault,” he said. “We are trying to be more open. Twenty years ago, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about Freemasonry.
“For many years we effectively refused to tell anyone about ourselves and we created a vacuum.
“One of our big tasks is to persuade the public just what Freemasonry is about and in many respects to dispel some of the myths they believe.
“We meet in Lodges nine to 10 times a year and we have great fun at those meeting both in the ceremonies themselves and the meals afterwards.
“We would like to invite anyone who wants to look after the masonic buildings to contact us and we will happily arrange to take them round because it will enable us to explain what we are really about.”
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