Inside the Temple
Freemasons in Guernsey
Often perceived as mysterious and somehow sinister the 580 members of the Freemasons in Guernsey would argue otherwise. BBC Guernsey's Gareth Owen went to their temple in St Martin's to find out more.
Guernsey's first Provincial Grandmaster was Thomas Dobree who has been succeeded by a host of famous names over the years including Bailiff Geoffrey Rowland and current Provincial Grandmaster David Hodgetts who described holding the office as "a huge honour".
The compass and square
The organisation has been active for around 300 years with the first Grand Lodge being set up in London in 1717. The lodges hold regular meetings for members where plays or rituals are performed before the members eat together.
David said that "a huge variety of people" are members so you get to meet a lot of different people as discussions are held over the meal on many subjects, though religion, politics and women are subjects that are considered taboo.
The Freemasons are known for several symbols, including the "square and compass" design as well as rituals and these often come in for criticism. To these claims David said: "If you take it in isolation it can look rather silly, but if people understood it, it makes a lot more sense".
David said the original institution of the Freemasons happened as a way for builders to let people know about their skills and as members they met with one another.
As travel and printing became easier this reason declined, membership became more varied and it became "a fun evening with other chaps".
Standard of the Guernsey and Alderney Chapter
To charges that the Freemasons are secretive David said "we have nothing to hide" but added they keep certain elements of their ritual private so as to not lessen the impact it has on members when they first experience it.
While David described the ritual as one of the most important parts of Freemasonry he added that giving to charity is equally important to them and that they often respond to events faster than other organisations as they do not have the same levels of bureaucracy.
Novels such as The Da Vinci Code thrust the conspiracy theories surrounding Freemasonry and the Knights Templar into the public eye. When questioned on the subject David described Dan Brown's book as "a wonderful piece of fiction".
He said: "I am a Knight Templar but The Da Vinci Code bears no relation to what I've seen in all my years in Knights Templar".
The eye is a symbol of the organisation
The organisation has rigorous entry requirements to try and remove any people who could cause a problem but David said "there are a few bad eggs in any basket, but we seek them out and remove them".
He added all members take an oath to obey the laws of the land and promise they are not joining to further their own position. Though he did admit some do not always stick to these promises.
When questioned on the famed "funny handshake" he said they no longer use it outside of ceremonies and it was used as a way of builders to easily demonstrate their skill amongst other builders with different handshakes denoting different skill levels.
David said: "We were foolish to have been so private in the past because that casts doubt on the organisation."
In recent years recruitment to the Freemasons has changed as they have begun a method of more active recruitment through universities and other institutions.
The three main chairs in the Temple
David said potential members are interviewed to check their interest and suitability. He added that their wives or partners are also consulted as the organisation is aiming to be "much more inclusive of families" than in the past.
He said the Freemasons as a whole is becoming more open and there is a website with details of members and how to join nationally with a Guernsey version in the works.
While David said there are female Freemasons in the national lodges and though Guernsey does not have any yet he did admit that one day this may change.
During the Second World War the Freemasons were among the groups persecuted in Nazi occupied territories. David said that the temple in Jersey was even used in Berlin as part of an anti-freemasonry propaganda exhibit!
The dining area in the Temple
If found to be a Freemason during that time David said you would be "sent to a camp" so the organisation was dormant in Guernsey for the duration of the Occupation.
The current temple in Guernsey opened in 1998 and as a gift the Israeli Grandmaster sent a stone from the mines of King Solomon, which holds great significance to the organisation, to place under the Master's seat in the Guernsey temple.
Another notable feature of the temple is the Bible, which David said is used in ceremony as a "book of sacred law" but that if a member were to follow a different faith a different text could be substituted as they are used for their "goodness and teachings" rather than religious purposes.
David said being a Freemason is "a journey from darkness to light" as you progress through the organisation from "Entered Apprentice" to "Master Mason".
last updated: 29/05/2009 at 12:50
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