I spoke to a 22-year-old Freemason on the 300th anniversary of the secret society
The Loughborough student says it’s just like being in an American fraternity
Like most people, I have had very little exposure to the organisation known as Freemasonry beyond conspiracies, hearsay and the Simpsons. So when I was approached by Sebastian Roger, a Loughborough student who had read some of my other articles and wanted to cover the 300th anniversary of his ‘social club’ I was intrigued. I was even more intrigued when I found out that it was actually the Freemasons (and a little bit scared if I am completely honest). Freemasonry conjured up images of the occult, of rituals, of Jay Z and the rest of the Illuminati.
But when we met up in London (at Holborn’s Freemason’s Hall) I was struck by how well normal he was. My only exposure to a freemason prior to this had been the man who ran the funeral director I grew up next door to. He was a very strange man (although it may have been that hanging out with dead bodies on a regular basis had had an effect on him). I would never have expected a young 22-year-old guy to be part of an organisation that I would assume to be overwhelmingly made up of rich old men.
Sebastian, who attends Loughborough but was born and raised in France, gave me a tour of the building, the epicentre of Freemasonry in the UK. It’s huge, filled with symbols, artefacts and is undeniably beautiful (albeit intimidating as an architectural structure). Our guide was an extremely eloquent orator who as it turned out was one of the people who started up the Sun Newspaper and worked for Rupert Murdoch. It was a thorough tour through all things Mason, from the symbols that adorned the walls, ceilings and floors to the specially made chair that is probably the most historically accurate representation of George IV’s arse in existence.
They even had a book on ‘Conspiracy Theories for Dummies’ in their gift shop, and I made a note to get a copy after Sebastian explained his secret society life to me.
Freemasons are probably best known for their secrecy, what do you think of that?
We’re not a secret organisation, we are a society with secrets. We have got grips and tokens, so people think of handshakes, we don’t do handshakes because a handshake is literally a way of greeting one another and a grip is purely ceremonial, it is ritual. So a grip is just you holding someone’s hand and in the past it was used to denote your rank as a mason.
We also have words, tokens and to distinguish the two we have the grips so even if it’s night we can see which rank they are (I mean that was in the past, we also have the words as well). Nowadays they’re only used for rituals. You can’t use them outside because they wouldn’t make sense – and also you would kind of be betraying the brotherhood.
OK, so what’s with the new transparency?
As you might know we are a fairly old organisation. So next year in 2017 we will be celebrating our tercentenary, the first grand lodge was founded in 1717 and the thing is Freemasonry has been thriving for so many years for so many years, probably more than five hundred years, but we don’t have many records of that.
There’s such a bad perception of Freemasonry, and there’s been a huge decline in members because for the people who do know who we are, we get bad press. There’s been a few scandals because of some stupid masons. For our 300th anniversary we really want to change the way people see us and see that it’s not just an exclusive elitist fraternity, but it is a bunch of people meeting, having dinner, appreciating history and ritual and making friends.
Also, at the moment we are setting up something called the university scheme. So every university in the UK will have its own lodge (which accepts people from the university if they are eighteen and believe in a supreme being (supreme being can be anything). And the university scheme for example I’m from Loughborough, I study there and my lodge is science and art. But every university has one, Oxford is Apollo, Cambridge is Isaac Newton (who was a Freemason by the way, as was Oscar Wilde).
Why did you join the masons?
My great great uncle was a Freemason and I was clearing up my late grandparents’ house and I found so many Masonic symbols in his belongings. I had obviously heard about it and lots of conspiracy theories. I’m a very curious person so I enquired in my local area what it was about and they invited me to a few meetings, they explained to me what it was about.
You get initiated, you meet new people and Freemasonry is massively based on charity. The point is to make good men better, but to be fair I had no idea what was going on, I signed up, I got initiated, I’ve been there for four years and it’s been the best time of my life.
So what’s in it for you?
Most people imagine that I get lots of material benefits, get a car and house for joining or a job, absolutely not (it’s completely illegal to do that). When you join Freemasonry, you sign a piece of paper that says that you’re not after material gain or you get kicked out of the lodge.
But you get to meet like-minded people. I joined it because everyone is very open minded, the camaraderie is incredible and also by helping another, you develop yourself. Being part of it allows you to travel everywhere in the world and you will have friends wherever you go in the world, you can go to any lodge and they’ll accept you as a brother. And for networking it’s amazing.
What about the conspiracy theories around the society?
I totally understand, I mean I was like that before I joined and it’s understandable because we are perceived as a secret society because for the past few hundred years we have been very closed off, it was quite secretive, we didn’t disclose our memberships. Today I am happy to disclose my membership, lots of my friends do that, and now we are trying to change the way the world looks at us because I really think that we are a force for good, charity is a core principal of Freemasonry.
The reason the conspiracy theories exist is that, like in any organisation you have people who take advantage of their memberships. But these people are quite limited – and if they are found they get kicked out.
What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve heard about Freemasonry?
Some people they joke a lot saying there’s a goat in our ceremonies, and a lot of people think that. I came back from a Masonic meeting and was asked if I had just come back from the mothership. People think we do sacrifices, like sacrificing orphans and things like that and I have had some very serious people talk to me about that.
I mean I don’t try to prove them wrong because that is very difficult when someone is adamant about something they don’t know much about, but I do try and be open about everything as it’s more about educating them on what we do.
As for all the rituals, you can look that up but I would discourage you from doing that if you wanted to join, as it would absolutely spoil the surprise. When I went into the initiation ceremony I had no idea what was going to happen and I was really impressed and really happy because if I had looked it up online I think it would have spoiled the fun.