Aside from the father of an ex-partner and a friend with whom he watches rugby matches, he had no connection with what is called “The Craft”. The charitable aspects attracted particular attention – each lodge meeting will raise around Â£ 400 for charity (through raffle and fundraising) – while he is also drawn to the Masonic ideal of improvement self. âThere are a lot of personal benefits but no business benefits,â he says.
Bryan was also drawn to the search for a broader meaning and belonging to Freemasonry, as well as a myth and mystery resonating among a generation raised on Harry Potter.
About 18 months ago, the core Masonic values ââof âbrotherly love, relief and truthâ were updated to âintegrity, respect, friendship and charityâ, to appeal to modern minds. Last year it was announced that the Grand Lodge of Scotland (a separate entity from UGLE) had altered a centuries-old tradition to allow vegan masons to wear vinyl aprons rather than the traditional lambskin ( aprons are a key part of Masonic badges).
Alan Borsbey, owner of Scottish Masonic outfitting VSL Regalia, says wearing such an item would be a step too far. “To me it has meaning and we will always stay true to the tradition,” says Borsbey, who has been a Freemason for 31 years and insists that 99% of the aprons he sells are still lambskin. . âIt’s in the rituals to have a lambskin apron. “
That said, he admits that he would happily sell a vinyl apron to anyone who wants one, and recognizes that a certain degree of flexibility is needed to keep Freemasonry alive. âIn the modern age, if they don’t change, some lodges will die,â he says.
Other more experienced members, such as Cliff Halsall, 90, who is the master of Mold Lodge in North Wales, where the average age of members is in the mid-1960s, are delighted to see the institutional changes take place. âSomething had to happen because we clearly weren’t attractive to the younger generation,â he says.
‘The initiation itself remains sacrosanct’
Becoming a mason is known as “being on the square”, a reference to the universally recognized symbols of Freemasonry: the square (which represents conduct) and the compass (a reminder to modify this conduct). It is, say the members, a journey of self-discovery, combining philanthropy, philosophy and social activities.
Before the pandemic, meetings were held about once a month. These are closely watched affairs where members wear badges and observe arcane rituals steeped in allegory. Traditions vary from lodge to lodge, but there may be member conferences followed by an evening meal known as a feast council, during which songs are sung and toasts are raised.
A ritual present in each lodge revolves around a rough stone next to a polished slab known as freestone, denoting the journey that each mason must take. Stonecutting is the overall metaphor here, says Professor Andrew Prescott, who was director of a Freemasonry research center based at the University of Sheffield between 2000 and 2007. Ceremonial aprons represent those once used. by the old stonemasons, and the white gloves worn also symbolize the clothes presented between traders as gifts. Professor Prescott, who is not a Mason, describes it as a “structured form of sociability and moral education that uses the myths associated with stonecutting in order to convey the moral essence and to do good in life. society “. And also, he adds, to have fun.
If in recent years the Masons have allowed documentary teams to observe certain meetings, the initiation itself remains sacrosanct. It revolves around three individual ceremonies related to the biblical history of the Temple of Solomon. The first relates to birth, the second to self-improvement, and the third to mortality, where initiates would be blindfolded in a box shaped like a coffin. Although this is an overtly secular affair, Masons describe their own initiations as if they had undergone some form of religious conversion.
Actor Vasta Blackwood (best known for his role as Rory Breaker in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels) has been a Freemason for more than two decades and remembers his initiation with joy, though he does not reveal no details. “It was very macabre,” said the 58-year-old. “Like something from an Indiana Jones movie.”