Freemasonry has always puzzled and attracted me. It's rituals are weird, its history is obscure and its purposes unclear. Yet it remains a highly successful organization. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I only decided to write a book about the strange attraction that Freemasonry holds, when Lewis Masonic recruited Martin Faulks to take over its line of traditional Masonic books.
Martin convinced me that the Craft was ready for a serious book about its spiritual aspects. But let me put the problem of understanding the spiritual dimension of Freemasonry in context.
The Hiram Key left many questions unanswered. These are the questions I set myself to answer in this book.
What is the purpose of Freemasonry?
What do Masons gain from working the rituals?
Can anybody benefit from the spiritual teachings of the Craft?
Does Freemasonry hold the secret to unlocking the hidden potential of the human mind?
Are Masonic rituals simple moral plays designed to encourage to behave well?
Are they a secret tradition preserved from a long lost civilisation?
Are they meaningless formalities? Or do they server a deeper purpose?
There are some 9,000 Masonic lodges in Wales and England and about another 1,900 in Scotland. If each lodge has at least thirty members, this means there are more than 300,000 Freemasons on the British mainland – and in that modest guess I have not included the large number of thriving women’s lodges. [I am heartened by the success of women’s Freemasonry. It is growing and recruiting younger professional women into its ranks, and I wish the Sistren well. Clearly it is meeting a spiritual need and doing it well.]
Masonic ideas have caught on widely and taken a firm grip upon the imaginations of so many people. Differences of race and language have not stopped its world-wide spread. Yet this success passes largely unremarked within the Craft.
Outside observers suggest that the diffusion of the Masonic system throughout the world must be because of some evil influence. But in my extensive studies of Freemasonry I have found no evidence to support this view.
So what does account for the wide appeal that Freemasonry has had during the last four centuries, and still has today?
Is it just a meeting place for social, fraternal and genial networking amongst folk who choose to split off into a distinctive fraternity with no deeper purpose than eating, drinking and chatting? Oh, and don’t forget a few amateur theatricals thrown in ... before the Brethren get down to the serious business of eating their way through a ritual feast.
This seems an incredible motive to support an organisation so firmly entrenched, so robust and so associated with movers and shakers over the years. Freemasonry has attracted kings ( George V, George VI), archbishops (Dr Geoffrey Fisher), statesmen ( Winston Churchill, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin), musicians ( Haydn, Mozart, Liszt, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong), astronauts ( John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin, Gus Grissom), writers ( Arthur Conan Doyle, Walter Scott, Oscar Wilde, Anthony Trollope, Goethe, Pushkin), scientists ( Alexander Fleming, Edward Appleton, Edward Jenner, Pierre Simon Laplace) and philosophers ( Voltaire, Burke, Condorcet, Helvetius).
What is it that attracts such a wide range of people to Freemasonry? It has to be more than a charitable system promoting benevolence and philanthropy; that is not a good enough explanation for its long-term success. Masonry was not intended to be a high-grade Friendly Society, and its charitable efforts are a consequence of, not the reason for, its existence.
Is it a school of morality? Was it set up to promote peace and goodwill? This, too, fails to explain the facts. Why should you have to join a secret society, or enter into solemn obligations, to practice basic ethics?
Conspiracy theorists must be sadly disappointed that the Craft is not an engine for promoting the social and economic advancement of its members to the prejudice of non-members; a cover for political intrigue; or even a screen for propagating anti-religious ideas. But it isn’t!
There remains one reason to explain the attraction of Freemasonry. That is the personal impact its ceremonial rites have on those who take part in them. Standing in open Lodge delivering ritual is highly satisfying. There is a veiled and deep ‘something’ in those rituals which speaks to latent needs in those who act them out. But what is it? That is the question I have addressed in Turning the Hiram Key.
How did I feel when I became a Master Mason? Strangely incomplete, yet in an inexplicable way fulfilled. After taking all the three degrees of Freemasonry, I was an initiate. But, although I took great pleasure in attending meetings, the Order remained largely unknown to me still. I had learned how to memorise and recite large chunks of ritual. I had exposed various parts of my body to the curious gaze of assemblies of Brethren. At each stop on this journey I had been told, ‘just do this next bit, and all will become clear to you’. But, until I decided to research it for myself, it never did.
But even after co-authoring four best-selling books on the origins of Freemasonry and then writing a further one on my own, there was a major unanswered question that still bothered me. Why do I, and so many others, enjoy Freemasonry?
To answer this question I had to look into how ritual, symbolism and myths works on the human mind. I came to the conclusion that Freemasonry is a science of self-awareness. Walter Wilmshurst, a neglected writer on Freemasonry [whose most popular works I will soon be releasing on my University website ] says it is ‘a spiritual system of self-improvement which helps individuals achieve their full personal potential, and also encourages them to take a full and active part in improving the lot of society in general’.
But Freemasonry is not a religion, although it uses some components of the religious beliefs of its followers. It is a way to understand and develop your spirit and uses a highly evolved system of spiritual arousal. In Turning the Hiram Key I set out to explain how this system works.
During my research for this book I discovered that the symbolic spiritual path, that is the purpose of Freemasonry, is also found on the oldest Masonic document. The Kirkwall Scroll shows the symbolic spiritual journey of Freemasonry and has been radiocarbon dated to round 1490 CE. This around the time that Freemasonry was established in Scotland by the St Clairs of Roslin.
Freemasonry is the only spiritual system I know that has evolved away from religious intolerance. It teaches you how to experience oneness with creation, but it does not tell you what religious beliefs you must hold; all it asks is that you accept that there is a sense of order in the universe. It is as open to the scientist as it is to the religious mystic. And it gives both of them a shared symbolic system to enable them to talk about their insights into the human spirit without offending each other’s belief systems.
The Craft can fill a spiritual need which is not always met by religion. A difficulty scientists have with religion is the need to accept doctrines which are less than logical. Yet I found research which showed that the spiritual practices which religions offer improve people’s state of happiness. Freemasonry can do this in an environment free of superstitious prejudice.That is the purpose of Freemasonry: to help us learn how to live comfortably in balance with the stark reality of the cosmos.
To find out more about my new book, visit turningthehiramkey.robertlomas.com