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EDITIONS
Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK
Masons shine light on mysteries
BBC Freemason graphic

Given the notorious secrecy surrounding freemasonry, a national awareness campaign sounds a contradiction in terms.

But this week marks the start of the first nationwide Freemasons in the Community Week, when masonic lodges across the UK will give the public a glimpse into the mysterious world of the 300-year-old men-only body.

One masonic hall letting the public see behind its imposing facade at an open day on Saturday is on Goldsmith Street, Nottingham.

Visitors will be welcome to explore the temples where the arcane meetings take place, admire the 1920s decor and view the collection of historic memorabilia.

Stewart Hill
Stewart Hill, grand master of Nottinghamshire

Assistant provincial grand masters Robin Wilson and Reg Green will be on hand to answer any questions about "The Craft" - with hostile queries particularly welcome.

"Too many people have got a total misconception," Mr Green said.

"They think it's a dark, sinister organisation when it really isn't."

Instead, they point to the masons' fundraising efforts - the 102 lodges of the Nottinghamshire Province give tens of thousands to charities each year.

'No conspiracies'

It is a very different picture, they argued, from the outsiders' view that the freemasons were interested only in their own advancement.

They said anybody caught using freemasonry to his own ends would be expelled and rumours of a large-scale conspiracy were simply untrue.

"I think it's partly because people believe that what they can't see is being actively hidden from them," said Mr Wilson.

The main temple in the Nottingham hall
The rituals are "highly symbolic"

"They hear rumours and they accept them without substantiation.

"We've been investigated so many times you'd have thought somebody would have found out something by now."

One such investigation was a 1999 Home Affairs Committee report into Freemasonry in Public Life.

It concluded: "Most of these allegations are impossible to prove. Where they can be carefully examined, they usually prove unfounded.

"It is clear, however... that there are cases where allegations of improper masonic influence may well be justified."

'Obsessive secrecy'

The report focused on the masons' "obsessive secrecy", saying the organisation was partly to blame for its own bad image.

Mr Wilson and Mr Green agreed that the awareness week should have been held many years before now.

They also do not oppose the call for public servants to come clean about being masons - so long as they are also obliged to reveal membership of any other body.

Stained glass in Nottingham's masonic hall
The open day may attract fans of 1920s decor

But they insisted that reports of the Craft's mystery were exaggerated and the only real secret left was the "sign of recognition".

New members are no longer given the traditional warning that the penalty for revealing masonic secrets is a slit throat.

Other strange rituals - such as the embroidered aprons and the elaborate language - do live on and Mr Green and Mr Wilson agreed that the "mystique" attracted members.

'Morality and integrity'

"The initiation rites are very symbolic, to show that everybody comes in at an identical level be he a duke or a dustman," says Mr Green.

They said they were part of a package that had attracted 4,000 men from Nottinghamshire and more than 300,000 across the UK from all backgrounds, religions and ages.

But if it is not a secret conspiracy and not a means of self-advancement, what exactly differentiates the Freemasons from other fundraising social clubs such as rotary clubs?

Mr Wilson said: "Other organisations do have the fellowship and charity but I believe what is fundamental to us is our system of morality and integrity."

On Saturday, it will be his task to convince the people of Nottingham that is the true face of freemasonry.


Click here to go to Nottingham
See also:

01 Feb 02 | Scotland
22 May 00 | Wales
20 Nov 99 | UK
04 Aug 99 | UK
26 May 99 | UK
10 Nov 98 | UK Politics
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