ISSUE 15, October 2005
Editorial
Historic: Nelson and Freemasonry
Grand Lodge: Pro Grand Master's Speech
Grand Lodge: Quarterly Communication
Hurricane Katrina: Grand Charity Relief Chest
Royal Arch: John Knight
Masonic Embroidery: A stitch in time...
Travel: Walzing along the Danube
Specialist Lodges: Martial arts
Library & Museum: The two Freemasons' Halls
    Anniversary: Jersey's Liberation
Anniversary: Dorset's 225 years
Obituaries: Lord Swansea OSM
Pro Grand Master: Whither directing our course?
Charmian Hussey: A Mason's wife on Masonry
International: The Grand Lodge of Israel
Education: Sheffield's big plans
Education: Forthcoming events
Education: The Second Degree
Masonic Charities
Letters, Book Reviews, Gardening

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No brother should be made to feel he has let the side down by not doing as much as the Past Masters did when they were in the chair. A good Mason does not necessarily have to be a good ritualist as long as he participates in the affairs of his Lodge, and his heart is in the right place.
     The final statistic we must add into the equation is the number of certificates issued by Grand Lodge. In the past ten years alone the number of men we initiate annually has fallen by 30% from just under 12,000 to 8,400. Within the next 25 years English Freemasonry could have shrunk to as little as half its present size. This means one in every two Lodges will have disappeared, and even then we will not have increased the low numbers we may have in the remaining ones.
     The extra financial pressures on our members will become intolerable and there will be a corresponding knock-on effect on our Masonic charities and the 800 or so Masonic halls we have in England and Wales. It is clear, therefore, that doing nothing now is not an option, but knowing what to do and how to do it is something on which we should all concentrate our minds.
     To plan for the future we must first look back at our roots and examine the reasons we were formed and have survived ‘the wreck of mighty empires’. We spend too much time worrying about ‘when’ rather than ‘why’ we were created. What was in the minds of those men who started Freemasonry and what was the purpose behind it?
     We know that some form of what we call Freemasonry was being practised in the late 16th century in England long before our first recorded initiate, Elias Ashmole, was introduced to a Lodge in Warrington by Henry Mainwaring in 1646. I have a chair in my house in Warwickshire which was originally in Canonbury Tower, Islington.
     The Tower was built in the early 16th century and inherited by my family in 1608. The two panelled rooms at Canonbury were carved in oak in 1599. There are many symbols depicted in the carvings including levels and compasses. They are almost certainly connected to this chair, which is dated 1595. The initials EM, which are visible on either side at the top, are likely to be those of Edward Mainwaring, two generations before Henry, as the crest between them is that of the Mainwaring family.
     This was a period when certain men of great intellect were planning a future society as a utopian ideal. Francis Bacon’s book The New Atlantis is full of Masonic symbolism and describes an island where just such a perfect society existed.
     Unfortunately, such a vision could not be grounded in Europe, with its political intrigue and religious intolerance, hence the attempt to do so in America through the Virginia Company – named after the virgin soil on the other side of the world which they believed would provide the perfect conditions for just such a society. Whether Freemasonry was influenced by this ideal of perfection is difficult to prove, but it is certainly one of the main themes running through our rituals.
     So some form of philosophical fraternity existed in the late 16th century and part of its ethos was to counter political and religious intolerance. Freemasonry has retained that as part of its ethos to this day as it refuses still to allow any member, whether in Lodge or in his capacity as a Freemason, to discuss or to advance his views on theological or political questions.
     This fraternity, which stood for freedom of expression and thought, had to be kept secret at a time when men were beheaded for holding different views to the church and monarch. Since then, the Order has gone through varying periods of openness and intense privacy, but even in its early days the rituals were widely known through exposures of one kind or another.
     Nowadays we are just coming out of a period of privacy and are developing a more open approach with the popular world.
     For too long, English Freemasons have been criticised for their actions, based on ignorance and prejudice. The perception in some quarters is that we are a secret society which practices strange rituals behind closed doors. It is perceived that we only look after our own, and in a way which encourages profitable deals between Masons from which non-Masons are excluded. We have also been accused of protecting our members even when they break the law.



A 1595 chair with Masonic symbolism owned by Lord Northampton, probably belonged to Edward Mainwaring two generations before Henry Mainwaring intiated Elias Ashmole in 1646
         Over the past 20 years or so we have tried hard to rid the Craft of those who do not live up to the high standards we set ourselves.
     Every organisation as large as ours is bound to have some rotten apples in its membership, but it is quite wrong to blame Freemasonry for the failings of a few of its members. It would be equally wrong to blame the whole judiciary for one crooked judge or the whole medical profession for the failings of a single doctor.
     Nevertheless, we promote ourselves as an organisation which teaches the importance of a high moral code of behaviour and we must expect to be criticised when our members transgress. This is a brotherhood which was designed for the improvement of the soul of man, but however hard we try to show ourselves in a true light, we are always faced with two questions – who are you and what do you do in your Lodges?
     The answer has traditionally been that our members feel they will be discriminated against if it is known that they are Masons, and what we do is private and nobody else’s business. Of course there are brethren who genuinely fear they will be discriminated against if their membership becomes known, but society now expects transparency in everything that it perceives may affect it adversely.
     We cannot hope to change our members’ fear of discrimination unless we change the perceptions which cause it, and to do that we have to explain to the popular world the good things that Freemasonry stands for, and talk openly about the lessons that are taught in our rituals.


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