Thursday, July 13, 2006

Freemasonry Alive And Well In 21st Century

Freemasonry alive and well in 21st century

REUTERS - By Jeremy Lovell - July 13, 2006 - LONDON

- Freemasonry is alive and well in the 21st century as people seek sanctuary from the tribulations of everyday life, a masonic historian said on Wednesday.

Steeped in history and surrounded by myth, the highly secretive society which some believe dates back to the Knights Templar, claims five million members worldwide spread from New Zealand to South Africa and the United States.

"A lot of people are finding in the 21st century that organised religion is not answering their needs, and for some people Freemasonry is that answer," Diane Clements, director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry said.

"This is basically an 18th century organisation operating in the 21st century, but membership is healthy and fairly stable," she told Reuters on a tour of masonic headquarters in central London ahead of the opening of an exhibition about the building.

Modern Freemasonry with its plethora of arcane symbols and paraphernalia and secret rituals dates its origins back to 1717 when four groups or lodges met in the Goose and Gridiron Ale House in St Pauls to form the Grand Lodge of England.

The first headquarters on the current site on Great Queen Street near Covent Garden in London opened in May 1776 and through the centuries Freemasonry has attracted membership and patronage from amongst the highest in the land -- including future kings."This is the oldest Grand Lodge in the world," Clements said. "From here Freemasonry spread across the world through trade and commerce."

"The three precepts of a Freemason are brotherly love, charity and honesty. People used to be invited to join. Now we get some walking in off the street," she added.

Clements said membership in England and Wales was about 250,000 people spread among some 9,000 lodges.

There are separate Grand Lodges in Scotland and Ireland and across the globe. There is no overarching body.

The current London headquarters -- a large Portland Stone building with few windows onto the street and a muscular presence -- was opened in 1933 to commemorate Freemasons who were killed in World War One.

Inside all is polished stone, echoing hallways, coloured glass, dark wooden panelling and vaulted rooms with little natural light.

"The world is a very pressured place. People work long hours. They feel this is a refuge from the outside world. They can come here, close the door and be calm," Clements said.

"To qualify to join you must be male, over 21 and believe in a supreme being -- any supreme being. This is not a religious organisation. You can be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, it doesn't matter," she added.

She rejected the description of Freemasonry as a secret society with tentacles on the levers of power worldwide, saying abuse of position was punishable by expulsion.But she did accept that different lodges might apply differing interpretations of the rules.
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