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Saturday, 20 November, 1999, 13:52 GMT
Freemasons lift the net
Freemasons are keen to improve their public image

A group of British freemasons is set to reveal the world of the secret handshake on the internet.

Members of the freemasons' Bradford lodge in West Yorkshire are broadcasting footage of their meetings on the worldwide web.

They hope that by selling a video featuring some of their ceremonies and traditions, they will help rid the organisation of its reputation for secrecy and highlight its charitable work.

'Dispelling myths'

The origins of freemasonry go back at least 400 years
"It's very important to let people know there is a positive side to the freemasons when there has been such negative comment over the past few years," said spokesman Keith Madeley.

"We're in the process of dispelling all the myths and misconceptions surrounding our organisation. The film removes the veil of secrecy which is said to exist around freemasonry."

The Bradford website also has interviews with freemasons, and answers some of the questions frequently asked about the organisation.

Secret agendas

For many people in the UK, the word "freemasonry" is shorthand for shady goings-on and secret agendas.

The ceremonial apparel, mythological terminology and role-playing ceremonies at the lodges have long fuelled perceptions of the organisation as a pseudo-religious network, promoting its own members within professions, especially the police and judiciary.

Secret handshakes can help to identify a fellow mason
This has been exacerbated by masonic secrecy since the Second World War, when according to members, freemasons were persecuted by the Nazis.

Recently, however, freemasons have tried to become more open, employing public relations experts and producing publications explaining their origins, beliefs and ceremonies.

The Masonic Hall and its museum in London's Covent Garden are open to the public for guided tours.

Historic role

Lodges generally congregate four times a year in Temples.

Meetings are formally opened, the minutes of the last meeting are read and then business commences.

Ritualistic ceremonies - which freemasons say are nothing more sinister than morality plays - are acted out and last about half an hour.

The origins of freemasonry are obscure, but they go back at least 400 years.

It is generally accepted that the organisation evolved from travelling stone masons who made the medieval cathedrals and castles.

They would meet in lodges and hold initiation ceremonies for apprentices. Modern paraphernalia still used in ceremonies includes aprons and tools.

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See also:
04 Aug 99 |  UK
Freemasons take PR tips
26 May 99 |  UK
The Craft
26 May 99 |  UK Politics
Call to free up masons
10 Nov 98 |  UK Politics
Tally of freemason judges revealed
27 Oct 98 |  UK Politics
Freemasons face appointments review

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