It is just over seventeen years since I became a Freemason.
As a junior Mason I found the rituals of the Craft interesting but confusing. The symbols had an emotional appeal but it soon became clear that there were as many views as lodge members about what they were supposed to mean. There was no clear answer to how it had all started or what it was supposed to be doing. But from the moment I joined I had a feeling that Freemasonry was a satisfying thing to belong to.
The history of the Order seemed to be one of its best kept secrets. I soon realised that little was known about what happened before 1717.
The more I found out about the local history of Freemasonry in Yorkshire the more evidence I saw that it had been around for a long time before that first meeting at the Goose and Gridiron in London. York had a Grand Lodge of its own long before 1717. I found copies of Ancient Charges from well of over a hundred years before Freemasonry was supposed to have begun. None of the Craft’s own stories of its origins fitted the facts.
Eventually I set out to answer my own questions about the origins of Freemasonry. This quest began as a private endeavour based on a clean sheet of paper. I had no preferences for the outcome. If I found the Craft to be some sixteenth century eccentric invention – so be it. This was the beginning of a long quest, which resulted in five best-selling books, four written in company with Chris Knight.
I have come to the view that the world can only benefit from open and frank discussions on the subject of human belief and our interaction with the power that underpins the universe – the power that many people call God, scientists call the Laws of Physics and Freemasons call the Great Architect of the Universe. Freemasonry, the second largest and best equipped spiritual organisation in the world, may well be the best forum to foster this discussion.
Freemasonry claims that it is not a religion and that it is compatible with the belief systems of all religions. I entirely accept this, although it does provide a focal point for many people who are not active in any particular faith – and for them it provides spiritual values without the need to subscribe to an entire belief system. But is also is a comfortable and tolerant meeting place for members of any religion.
The standard explanation for the existence of Freemasonry is based on the idea that the bizarre rituals are simply ‘morality plays’ borrowed from the initiation rites of guilds of working stonemasons by philosophic gentlemen for their own betterment. In my view this starting point is inherently silly, and any steps leading from it are likely to be deeply flawed. The rituals work in a systematic psychological way improve the minds and morals of those exposed to them, a subject I am currently writing about and plan to publish next year.
Freemasonry is not a faith but it is spiritual technique that is compatible with the belief systems of any religion and with the rational world-view of science. Within its teachings it has the potential to provide a focal point for many people who are not active in any particular faith – and for them it might be a replacement for religion. It provides spiritual values without a requirement to subscribe to an entire belief system. It is tolerant in a way that most religions are not and its symbolic teaching allows a range of interpretation that encompasses people of all beliefs. It allows them to take what they need from its system and whilst doing so to learn more about themselves and the needs of their spirit. To join they must express a belief that there is order underpinning the behaviour of the universe
It is my belief that Freemasonry is an ancient science that can drive human ambition and achievement. It can offer great insights into the mystery of the inner self, call it the soul or the spirit, that do not conflict with modern science.
The ritual of Freemasonry has spiritual purpose but that purpose can be understood only by those who are prepared to apply the discipline of its secret teaching to their own spirits.
The Craft has always belonged to men who dared to achieve, who sought out a better way forward by believing in the ways of science. But it is in danger of losing that belief and becoming little more than a hollow channel for charity. It’s purpose is not charitable fund-rising, charity is simply a by-product of the spiritual maturity which it seeks to develop. Anybody can learn to apply Masonic spiritual discipline to their lives and can greatly benefit from its teachings
In my opinion the modern tension between God and science is a short-lived issue. There is no difference between the Most High, His works and science – it is simply a different way of expressing the same thing. As a scientist I believe that there are laws of physics to be found. For me the understanding of the hidden mysteries of nature and science lie at the centre of understanding my own being. Others may interpret the bright spark at the centre of their being in other ways. This does not stop us sharing the spiritual symbolism of Masonry to assist each other in our search for our own inner Truth. Freemasonry gives a common language of spiritual analogy to share findings.
The way forward for all mankind must surely be to continue to seek out and fathom the hidden mysteries of nature and science. In this endeavour the Western world has never seen a better way of achieving it than the real principles upon which Freemasonry rests.
There is a general view is that Freemasons are secretive, elitist and possibly evil in both creed and deed. This highly negative view has been consolidated over decades of poor leadership that has fostered unnecessary secrecy and put forward an arrogant belief that the world should mind its own business. Certainly in England the attempts to be more open came too late and have been too poorly executed to hold back the tide of public disquiet.
Freemasonry bloomed from the end of the sixteenth century until the middle of the twentieth century. Then it was at the heart of society, boasting as brethren, kings of England and many an archbishop of Canterbury. Despite heads of the Church of England, such as King George VI, being members it is now popular amongst certain Christian groups to claim that Freemasonry is incompatible with Christianity. This is manifestly untrue.
At its peak Freemasonry was an engine of achievement driving the world from darkness to light. Its members were the great and the good, the people who ran the Church, the country, industry, the armed forces and academia. They were entrepreneurs and intelligentsia who made the industrial revolution and pioneered social and scientific advancement.
European Freemasonry thrived and the Order was carried by travelling military lodges to every corner of the planet. The oldest universities such as Oxford and Cambridge were proud of their lodges; the great shipbuilders and the men who took the American railroads westwards mingled with the judges and the generals to work together for a better society. Ambition burned in their bellies and failure was never considered. The American Constitution and the Royal Society came into existence because of Masons like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Sir Robert Moray, Alexander Bruce and Elias Ashmole. This is the story I told in THE INVISIBLE COLLEGE, which was published in the States as FREEMASONRY AND THE BIRTH OF MODERN SCIENCE.
The city of Washington was designed by Freemasons and London raised from the ashes of the Great Fire due to the inspiration of Grand Master Mason, Sir Christopher Wren. A subject my good friends Robert and Graham have explored more fully in TALISMAN.
Even the ‘Wild West’ was tamed by Freemasons Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, Buffalo Bill and Pat Garrett to name but a few.
In every town throughout the Western world Masonic Temples provided the meeting ground for the men who set out to achieve. For example in the West Yorkshire town of Halifax, the world’s largest building society was created by Freemasons meeting in the Old Cock Inn. Now a major bank this institution, named after the town, provided the financial structure to give hundreds of thousands of ordinary people their first opportunity to own their own home.
At a time when leading thinkers and doers in England were either Christians or Jews, Freemasons of all religions met on equal terms in the lodge to share their enthusiasm for progress on the road to making life better for themselves, their families and the community at large. They worked in harmony with their church or synagogue as any religious differences evaporated in the atmosphere of tolerance that is central to the Order.
As they achieved ever-greater success their towns and their countries grew more prosperous and new, more specialist, ways of working together came along. Freemasonry had fought for and attained an age of reason and personal freedom. Now people could develop themselves and their communities without the need to meet in darkened rooms, wear strange regalia and recite odd-ball ritual.
No longer are Masonic lodges the meeting place of ‘movers and shakers’.
The people who would once have been the backbone of the Order, now would not dream of asking to join. They have better things to do in their life; careers to build, families to rear, social commitments to take up their time. Everyone from businessmen to police officers, from councillors to academics gives the Order a wide berth. These days membership of the local lodge is either irrelevant or positively detrimental to a young person’s career. Yet Freemasonry still has much to offer modern society. It offers a means to improve the individuals who join its lodges.
If you are interested in Freemasonry my website www.robertlomas.com has a lot of Masonic material including the full text of William Preston’s Illustrations of Masonry, and my university website has a whole database of discarded Masonic ritual www.bradford.ac.uk/webofhiram/
Dr Robert Lomas