It’s hard to pinpoint the moment that I first became interested in Freemasonry. Like many others I had heard the stories and the conspiracy theories. The two things which particularly struck my attention were the intriguing history, (I’m a history student at Royal Holloway, University of London), and the remarkable record of charitable giving. This interest led me to carrying out a considerable degree of research even before I arrived at University. Many are worried about a lack of family connections preventing their access to Freemasonry. In a bid to alleviate their concerns, all I can say is that mine were tenuous at best. It wasn’t until my father presented me with a small brown attaché case containing a Master Mason’s apron and various other pieces of masonic memorabilia that I discovered that there was any connection whatsoever. Unfortunately, the owner of the case, my Father’s uncle, had died shortly before I was born and thus I was unable to find out a great deal more from that avenue, but it is a privilege to wear his Apron, and to carry on something of a family tradition. My parents are, nonetheless, quite pleased that I’ve taken that old case off their hands.
My Masonic journey didn’t really get underway however until one otherwise uneventful Saturday evening half-way through my first term at University, and knowing of the existence of University Lodges admitting undergraduates, it suddenly dawned on me that I could now take my interest in Masonry further. Within a matter of minutes, I had completed the joining enquiry form on the UGLE website and a few days later I was contacted by a member of the Universities Scheme Committee asking if I wished to attend an interview, and I haven’t looked back since. Students in London are in the fortunate position being able to choose from sixteen Universities Scheme Lodges. Some are associated with certain colleges or professions, but the majority are open to all. The Scheme Committee pairs each candidate up with a prospective lodge which then follows its own internal process, and if the candidate and the lodge find each other agreeable, he is likely to be initiated within 6 months. Most of the lodges seek to get each candidate through his three degrees before he graduates and potentially moves away, but if necessary degree ceremonies can be performed by any recognised lodge in any part of the world. Joining the craft certainly doesn’t tie you to one place as it is a worldwide organisation. London lodges work slightly differently to those in other parts of the country, in that we normally meet only four or five times a year, which makes fitting freemasonry around your studies even easier, it also gives you an opportunity to visit plenty of lodges other than your own.
Freemasonry is a remarkable institution, and every lodge has its own proud history and a unique set of traditions which makes each meeting somewhat different, but reassuringly familiar. In my short Masonic career, thus far some of the highlights have been a visit to Quatuor Coronati Lodge, which brings together the country’s most eminent masonic historians, and is more like being in an academic seminar than a lodge meeting. As well as being able to get out and about in the Provinces, a use of an old term meaning “outside of London” retained in masonry, where the Brethren have been nothing but welcoming, if not a little shocked when I tell them that I was initiated at the same time as five others, and that I considered that to be perfectly normal. In my own lodge, I have been allowed to take on considerable responsibilities from a very early stage, and this is indicative of the trust that exists between Masons of all ages, and all levels of experience. I’ve also become involved in the Connaught Club, which is designed to support all young masons in London and to provide a space for them to interact socially.
Freemasonry is based on three great principles of brotherly love, relief and truth, these principles transcend age, race, nationality and religion and are able to bind all masons together as brothers on an equal footing. To explain, brotherly love has been described to me as a “disinterested love or friendship” that is we strive to be friendly with all members but we don’t expect anything in return, particularly when it comes to advancement in the world of work. Relief refers to the ability of the organisation to provide a safety net for a member who has fallen on hard times. Truth is much harder to define, but it reminds us that Masons are supposed to be upright and respectable citizens. Freemasons value their traditions greatly, and some would say that this has led to an image of stuffiness and an unwillingness to change. I personally think that this image couldn’t be further from the truth UGLE has in recent years been encouraging Lodges to adapt to the needs of students and professionals, and in London this change is certainly bearing fruit. The fact that all brothers regard themselves as equal means that you can meet people who you would never otherwise come across in your day to day life, and for me ensures that I can’t forget that a world exists outside university. Since I’ve joined masonry the people I’ve met range from barbers to bankers, and high-flying city lawyers to the local locksmith. I can’t think of many other institutions where that is possible.
For me, as a historian, it is extraordinary to think that when I go to a lodge meeting, I am engaging in a tradition that thousands of men, with hugely diverse backgrounds, have engaged in for centuries before me (and hopefully centuries after me). That they too spent time memorising the same ritual, and probably making similar mistakes. I still don’t really know what type career I’ll pursue post University, but one thing is clear, I shall seek to maintain some degree of Masonic involvement for as long as I can. I would strongly encourage anybody who is considering joining to take the plunge. And if you decide to join in London, it’s likely that our paths will cross in the relatively near future.