The Pro Grand Master in conversation with Michael Baigent
"Freemasonry is a system of becoming; becoming something better than you are now". Lord Northampton spoke with great enthusiasm. "And above all, Freemasonry is a system which teaches us to be openhearted".Rather than rush through an interview in the midst of a frenetic day at Freemason’s Hall, the Marquess and Marchioness of Northampton invited me to stay at their home in southern Warwickshire, Compton Wynyates, in order that we might be able to discuss Freemasonry in a relaxed and congenial manner. I welcomed the opportunity to see them in the home they love, amongst the countryside where twenty-eight generations of Lord Northampton’s family – the Comptons - in direct male descent, have lived since at least 1204.
Compton Wynyates is settled – or, more accurately, centred – in an artificially levelled and terraced bowl below wooded ridges. From the road, through large gates, the house is visible at the end of a long curving drive. It is a large Tudor country house of pink brick, with steep gables, towers, and a forest of extraordinary slender chimneys, each apparently different with their ornate twists and curves; around the house climbing roses creep up much of the brickwork. An ancient wooden door gives access to a large inner courtyard gazed upon by tall windows; a flagstone path crosses through a lawn and garden. From here the basic house design can be seen; it is built around the sides of a square. Very fitting, I thought, for the Pro Grand Master of Freemasonry. But, as I was to discover, there is much more about this house which reveals that the Compton who built it and his immediate descendants were deeply immersed in something very interesting; even, perhaps, an early form of Freemasonry.
Lord Northampton took me around the outside of his house to show me something curious: a tower stands at the middle of the western face of the house, another stands at the north-east corner and yet another at the south-east corner. We began at the latter: embedded in its Tudor brickwork is a design picked out by much darker bricks. It depicts a key with two bits at the end of its shaft.
We then looked at the west tower: it too had a key picked out in darker bricks, but this key had three bits at the end of its shaft. And at the north-eastern tower there was yet another key but, due to reconstruction in the past, only the shaft was visible. But it would seem logical that this key’s shaft would have held one bit. Were we seeing connections with masonic ritual? The First Degree being marked by the key in the north-east, where today a candidate is placed in the lodge after initiation; the Second Degree marked by the key with two bits in the south-east, exactly where the candidate is placed after having passed through his Second Degree ceremony; and the Third Degree marked by the key in the west with three bits. But why should this be placed in the west rather than in the east where the Master is placed in the lodge? Well, perhaps, as the opening of the Third Degree states, a mason goes to the west to seek the genuine secrets of a Master Mason. Does our ritual preserve some ancient residue, one which gave rise to this curious feature embedded in the walls of Compton Wynyates?
Within the house, a first floor drawing room holds an elaborately carved chimney-piece. By the irregular nature of the curious symbolism it is clear that a message is being conveyed but without the key to the symbols and their meaning, its full extent cannot be established. But this panelling is known to have come from Canonbury House, Islington, the remaining tower of which now houses much symbolic carved panelling and is the site of the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre.
There is something else which also seems to have come from Canonbury: a pair of carved chairs, the first dated 1595, with a design on the seat back showing, through two pillars, a chequerboard floor and an archway entrance veiled by partially drawn curtains. One is encouraged to seek entrance. The second chair, dated 1597, also shows the chequerboard floor but visible through the archway is a Christian cross: curiously, the vertical post is black, the cross-bar is white and there is no figure of Christ on it. In addition, the theme of black and white is repeated in the design. Put these two chairs together and they reveal a progression, a symbolic journey into a veiled mystery. Every indication is that these two chairs were used as part of an Order working a ritual involving a symbolic journey into the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Temple wherein resides the key to the mystery of Golgotha.
I was immediately curious about the owner of Compton Wynyates at the time; what might he have been involved in. Could it have been some sort of proto-Freemasonry? The house had been completed by Sir William Compton in the time of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, both of whose arms appear above the main door. His great-grandson, William, 2nd Lord Compton, later created 1st Earl of Northampton, married the daughter of Sir John Spencer, Lord Mayor of London and owner of Canonbury. Lord Compton had been a friend of Sir Francis Bacon to whom he let rooms in Canonbury for a time. Lord Compton must have been a man of great depth.
"What papers remain from that time?"
"Unfortunately, none relating to the building of this house. They may have been destroyed in the civil war when the house was attacked, bombarded by cannon, and the family expelled. They fled to join the Royalist forces in Oxford."
But the family regiment still survives – now as part of the Sealed Knot society, which re-enacts civil war battles. Lord Northampton, as Honorary Colonel, three years ago led his troops with their black-powder weapons in a smoky re-enactment of the battle for Compton Wynyates.
A Vision for Freemasonry
I broached the subject of the role of the Pro Grand Master: I confessed rather sheepishly that I had little idea of what task this office demanded. Lord Northampton explained: the Pro Grand Master acts on behalf of the Grand Master. The rulers of the Craft, provide the vision, and direction in which Freemasonry moves forward.
"And we have the possibility to create an inspiring future for our Order." He spoke with certitude. "We must look forward with a vision which will re-enchant the Craft. The key of course, is how to get there. The ritual describes the key as the tongue of good report and the future depends on the quality of our candidates!"
He explained though that we cannot ignore our history, "We must look back and see what was in the minds of the people who created this system but we need not become stuck in this investigation. We cannot enthuse people with historical facts alone, people are inspired by experiencing what Freemasonry has to offer them. It is only through participating in the ceremonies that we can turn knowledge into a felt experience."
Of course, Freemasonry is also a large and complicated organisation with an extensive internal hierarchy. Its executive structure is represented by the Board of General Purposes which runs the Craft on a daily basis. But Freemasonry is not like a public company, rather, it is like a shareholders cooperative with the Grand Master representing the interests of the shareholders.
"We need to use best business practices to run the organisation which is there to provide the framework in which the ceremonies can take place. For it is here that the meaning of Freemasonry resides." Our First Degree teaches morality and an understanding of how to act within society. Our Second Degree concerns the importance of knowledge, and our Third Degree leads us to contemplate our own mortality.
This brought us to a consideration of the difference between the form of Freemasonry and its content: "The form", explained Lord Northampton, "is the structure within which the rituals take place. The content is in the rituals themselves." And in these resides the mystery of Freemasonry. A mystery which must be experienced.
It is quite possible for a non-mason to buy a book of ritual and read the words and directions but such a person learns little of value. "The mystery is protected from the uninitiated. We have to take part in the ritual to understand it by experiencing it."
"Freemasonry has an important spiritual significance; even though the rituals have been clouded by later additions, enough remains for us to see what our forefathers were trying to do. What I like is that there is no dogma in Freemasonry – it is not a religion – it says only that if you practice its tenets and principles you will become wiser. Its final goal is the Wisdom and Truth to which we dedicate our hearts. It is a system with philosophical principles which has psychological effects on those who practice it." Lord Northampton pointed out that our three Grand Principles, as stated in the ritual are Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. You cannot be openhearted unless in a trusting environment but once you are, compassion is a natural consequence and the pursuit of Truth becomes the quest.
As one of many examples of precisely phrased wisdom in our rituals he pointed to the `long’ explanation of the Working Tools of the Second Degree – that dedicated to "the hidden mysteries of nature and science". This explains to the candidate that,
"To steer the bark of this life over the seas of passion without quitting the helm of rectitude is the highest perfection to which human nature can attain…"
As advice on how to live a fruitful life in an imperfect world, it is all there.
Lord Northampton added, "The point of Freemasonry is to change people; to encourage a transformation through a better understanding of themselves and a better understanding of their place in the Great Architect’s grand design." As the address to the new Master of a Lodge upon his installation explains, a Freemason is one,
"…whose hand is guided by justice, and whose heart is expanded by benevolence".
"Freemasonry has a way of steering you to find the answers. It doesn’t say, do this, or do that; it says, if you do this, then that will happen. You can treat it as a congenial social bonding; you can enjoy it without going into anything deeper for Freemasonry provides a strong support network in an unstable world. But if you want to go further it can point you in the right direction. But your progress is up to you, for within Freemasonry you can only move to a better understanding through your own efforts. This involves sharing your experience with others. There are those who have had deeper insights and can point the way; we must help each other along the path to Self Knowledge." He described a carving on the outside of Bath Abbey which depicts a ladder upon which angels are climbing upwards. The angels above are reaching down to help those below climb higher.
"Freemasonry is a journey: it begins in the First Degree the moment your blindfold comes off. It ends when you discover Truth. The words over the doorway to the oracle ‘Man know thyself’ could equally apply to Freemasonry.
Service to Freemasonry
In his late twenties Lord Northampton used to have interesting philosophical conversations over a pub lunch with his forestry consultant, Bro. Charles Bloor, at Castle Ashby, and it was through the latter’s influence that he was initiated into Ceres Lodge, No. 6977, Northampton, in 1976. And what has been the result?
"Freemasonry has affected my life in many ways but principally it has given me a standard to try and live up to in my every day dealings with others. It has taught me much about human relationships and has developed psychological changes in my character, which have made me more tolerant and compassionate".
"I have had tremendous support from my wife, Pamela, over the last thirteen years. She is as committed as I am to the principles of Freemasonry and the potential it has to help men gain self-confidence and discover more of their true nature."
He has often put his own resources into the service of Freemasonry. He stresses the importance of the Centre for Research into Freemasonry at the University of Sheffield to enable scholars to see the social and cultural importance that Freemasonry has had on society. Twenty-five percent of the funds needed to run the Sheffield Centre for three years were donated by Lord Northampton. He also supports the important Cornerstone Society, which focuses upon the spiritual values and philosophical meaning of Freemasonry. Lord and Lady Northampton jointly sponsor the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre, based in Canonbury Tower. This encourages both the study of wisdom traditions and, through its international conferences, the dialogue between academics and academic Freemasons from many different Grand Lodges. This can only be of great benefit to Freemasonry as a whole, as the body of knowledge will be used to inform and inspire the Craft by creating awareness of the potential of this great Order.
Lord Northampton is a man of great generosity of spirit, with an expansive vision. He cares deeply about Freemasonry and, as many who have met him during his frequent visits to Lodges can attest, he knows that the strength and future of the Craft resides in every individual Freemason. We are fortunate to have him in such an important position in the Order. His influence will be far-reaching and beneficial to new generations of Freemasons who are, even now, entering the Craft in order to learn of that mystery which lies at its heart.
The Grand Master attended the celebrations of the Mark Degree as John Hamill explains
History was made at the Royal Albert Hall on 26 October when the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, and the Pro Grand Master, Lord Northampton, in their Craft capacities and regalia officially attended the celebrations of another Masonic Order
The occasion was the 150th anniversary of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons, of which HRH Prince Michael of Kent is Grand Master. Over 5,000 attended the ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall, but such was the call for tickets that over 600 others met in the Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall to watch the proceedings on giant television screens directly linked to the Albert Hall.
In addition to many Mark Masons, the ceremony was attended by non-Masons and ladies, including the Mark Grand Master’s wife, HRH Princess Michael of Kent, and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall.
The latter was present as President of the National Osteoporosis Society, to which Mark Grand Lodge, as a tangible celebration of its anniversary, gave a cheque for £3 million. This is to fund a major project to provide mobile diagnostic and treatment facilities to cover areas where reasonable access to hospitals is lacking.
The ceremony also included a PowerPoint presentation on the history of the Mark Degree by Brother James Daniel (Past Grand Secretary of the Craft), the dedication of special banners for the five Lodges which had formed Mark Grand Lodge in June 1856, and a musical interlude provided by the choir of the Royal Masonic School for Girls and two gifted instrumentalists from the school.
The ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall was the culmination of a week of celebratory events including a special exhibition mounted at the Library and Museum of Freemasons’ Hall, a dinner at the Guildhall, and a reception for overseas visitors at the Drapers’ Hall.
A collection of papers was published on various aspects of the Mark by leading Masonic historians under the title Marking Well, edited by Professor Andrew Prescott, of the Centre for Research into Freemasonry at Sheffield University.
13 DECEMBER 2006
An address by the MW The Pro Grand Master the Most Hon the Marquess of Northampton, DL
Brethren, we held the first meeting of the Rulers’ Forum here yesterday with representatives of the ten groups and have got off to a good start. We discussed a variety of topics which are relevant to the future of English Freemasonry.
The minutes of the meeting will be widely circulated and I hope that any Brother who has any good ideas for the well-being of the Craft will pass them to the Forum through his local group.
The Centre for Research into Freemasonry at the Sheffield University continues to make good progress. Many of you will have seen reports of the events in the spring, accompanying the opening of the Centre’s new premises, named after the pioneering Masonic scholar, Professor Douglas Knoop, a Past Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076.
The University of Sheffield’s teaching affairs committees have now approved an MA programme in the history of Freemasonry and Fraternalism, the first such degree in the world, which will be launched during 2007-8.
Finally, on behalf of my fellow Rulers, I would like to take this opportunity of wishing you and your families a very happy and peaceful Festive Season and a prosperous New Year.
13 SEPTEMBER 2006
An address by the MW The Pro Grand Master the Most Hon the Marquess of Northampton, DL
Brethren, a very warm welcome to you all and I hope that you have had a good summer break. As we begin a new Masonic season it is an opportunity to think about our priorities.
A lot of effort has gone into attracting quality young men to join the Craft and one initiative which I commend to you is the Universities Scheme, led by a group of Masons under the Assistant Grand Master.
The scheme aims to introduce Freemasonry to undergraduates and anyone else connected to their universities. The Assistant Grand Master has visited lodges in eight of our Provinces already and has appointed a co-ordinator from his central group for each of them.
I hope this scheme will introduce thinking young men into Freemasonry, many of whom might otherwise not have discovered it until much later in life, or possibly not at all. It may also provide an opportunity for members to introduce their sons and nephews to the Craft.
I hope also that the initiatives taken by the Universities Scheme will encourage other Lodges to take pro-active steps to recruit all young men of good standing regardless of their educational background. The recent agreement by Grand Lodge to reduce the fees by half for under-25s, coupled with the proposal by the Grand Charity today to do likewise for its contributions, should act also as an encouragement.
I am grateful to all those who are helping the Assistant Grand Master with this exciting venture and I am sure those Lodges that are participating will find it a rewarding challenge.
As I have said on a previous occasion the annual intake of initiates is not our main problem as long as we continue to introduce only good men into the Craft. Our biggest concern should be the large number of drop-outs who lose interest within a relatively short period of being raised. Retention is therefore the key to our future success.
There are two aspects to Freemasonry. The first is the inner work that is done in the Lodge room in harmony with the other members. For this we must concentrate our efforts on the individual Mason and encourage him to develop those qualities which will transform him into a better person and thereby reflect well on the ethos of Freemasonry.
The outer work is done by practising in his everyday life those qualities he has been taught in his Lodge. Here we must also include his wife or partner and family as much as possible and make them feel a part of the organisation he has joined.
In this way membership of Freemasonry will become accepted as being relevant to the society in which we live by both his family and the popular world. These different aspects of Freemasonry have to be enjoyable albeit a certain amount of commitment and effort is required for both.
Brethren, I have recently convened a Strategic Working Party under the chairmanship of the Deputy Grand Master to consider the role and functions of a Grand Secretary.
They have recommended that the office should be split, with the Grand Secretary having responsibility for matters Masonic and a Chief Operating Officer, who need not be a Freemason or indeed male, having responsibility for the management of Freemasons’ Hall and its services.
The Strategic Working Party has also recommended that the Grand Secretary, while remaining fully responsible for our Districts and Lodges overseas, will have a reduced role in the conduct of our external relations. It is proposed that a new office of Grand Chancellor should be created to oversee our relationship with other Grand Lodges. It is not intended that he should be a paid employee, but he will have available to him a Secretariat and he will be a member of both the Grand Master’s Council and the Board.
It is worth mentioning that the concept is not new and that many Grand Lodges entrust their external relations to a Grand Chancellor. This will in effect mean that the Grand Secretary will be able to concentrate his energies on Masonic matters for the benefit of English Freemasonry in England and Wales and its Provinces and Districts.
These recommendations have the support of the Grand Master’s Council and the Board of General Purposes. Notice of appropriate amendments to the Book of Constitutions will be given in December for consideration by Grand Lodge next March.
We will shortly be starting the recruitment process for the positions of Grand Secretary and Chief Operating Officer.
Finally Brethren, for a little much needed light relief there is to be another Royal Masonic Variety Show in the presence of the Grand Master on Remembrance Sunday, 12th November at the Prince Edward Theatre in Old Compton Street, starting at 7.30pm. Details can be found on the website address atwww.royal-masonic-variety-show.uk7.net.
The site also gives details of the show’s producers and directors who have all been involved over many years in the production of the annual Royal Variety Show. I hope as many of you as possible will attend the event to support the Grand Master and by doing so raise funds for charity. One half of the profits will go to the RMBI and the remainder to other non-Masonic charities.
14 JUNE 2006
An address by the MW The Pro Grand Master the Most Hon the Marquess of Northampton, DL
I have received many favourable comments following the MW Grand Master’s remarks at the April Investiture meeting on the question of charity, and how important it is to make our charity multi-faceted by giving practical help as well as financial aid.
We have many small Masonic charities which do just that and next week the Grand Master is coming to my home in Northamptonshire for an event which is being run by the Masonic Trout and Salmon Fishing Club of which I am a Patron. This charity, whose motto is ‘Smiling in the face of adversity’, organises a day’s fishing with professional casters for handicapped and disadvantaged children at venues all over the country.
It is important that we build on the foundations we laid with our Freemasonry in the Community week by arranging events which benefit our local communities. There is no better way of ensuring the public and potential candidates have a good impression of what Freemasonry is all about than by seeing us helping those less fortunate than ourselves.
Since our last Quarterly Communication in March I have made two trips overseas. On 1 May I attended the annual meeting of the Grand Lodge of New York following which they installed their new Grand Master. They kindly honoured me with their Distinguished Achievement Award [see page 30].
On the last weekend of May I flew to Bermuda to inaugurate the new District Grand Lodge of Bermuda and install RW Bro Robert Rego as the first District Grand Master.
It was a most enjoyable occasion with many Scottish and Irish brethren attending the ceremony and supporting our brethren.
Tomorrow I fly to Dublin for the annual Tripartite meeting between the three Home Grand Lodges.
Bro George Francis, Senior Grand Warden, visited our District Grand Lodge and District Grand Chapter of Cyprus for their annual communication and convocation on 27 May. He attended also the Grand Lodge of Ireland for their annual meeting on 1 June.
Brethren, we are coming to the end of another Masonic season which is a good time to reflect on what has been achieved during the past 12 months and make plans for next year.
I wish you and your families a happy and peaceful time over the summer and look forward to seeing you all again in September.
DISTINGUISHED ACHIEVEMENT AWARD FROM THE GRAND LODGE OF NEW YORK
1 MAY 2006
A speech by the MW The Pro Grand Master the Most Hon the Marquess of Northampton, DL
MW Grand Master, ladies and brethren. Firstly, may I, on behalf of my wife Pamela and myself, thank you for your kind invitation to be with you today and offer my congratulations on your 225th anniversary – you make your mother Grand Lodge very proud.Secondly, may I thank you and your brethren for the great honour you have conferred on me. It is something I shall always treasure and which I regard as a tangible proof of the very cordial relations which have always existed between our two Grand Lodges.
It will also remind me of the advice, love and support I receive from Pamela, who shares with me a passion for the Craft as well as some of the highs and all of the lows associated with my role as Pro Grand Master of English Freemasonry!
Your Grand Lodge had its origins in a group of Lodges under the Antients Grand Lodge of England and, I am reliably informed, your ritual still contains many elements of the working of that Grand Lodge, possibly more than our current workings in England do!
This evening is not an occasion to dwell on our respective histories, but we have recently discovered a fascinating link between your City and our headquarters.
The present Freemasons’ Hall in London was built as a memorial to our brethren who died in the First World War. A problem for the architects was that they had to erect a very heavy building, covering over two acres, on London clay which, even in the 1920s, was beginning to dry out.
The architects spent two months in New York in 1926 studying how your architects were able to build such magnificent structures. As a result, Freemasons’ Hall became the first building in England to be raised on a massive steel frame. The New York lessons learned by our architects certainly paid off, as the building has hardly moved in the ensuing 80 years, whilst many of the neighbouring buildings have had severe problems!
History is important, but we live in the present and must plan for the future, which in recent years in many Grand Lodges has looked somewhat bleak. English-speaking Freemasonry, whilst it is widely spread over the globe, has common roots and also common problems.
We all went through a very large expansion in the period after the Second World War, an expansion it would have been impossible to sustain indefinitely. Since the 1970s we have all suffered from a decrease in our members.
8 MARCH 2006
An address by the MW The Pro Grand Master the Most Hon the Marquess of Northampton, DL
I would like to say something about the proposal to create The Rulers’ Forum and why I believe such a body will have an important role to play in the future. When the old Board of General Purposes was transformed into the new much smaller one, it was thought advisable to create a General Council, under the chairmanship of the President of the Board, to retain that wealth of knowledge and experience which the former members had acquired over many years of service.
It did not succeed for a variety of reasons and is now a standing committee which has not met for some years. The Associated Masonic Provinces is a much older body, and although it has performed some useful functions for the Craft and has come up with many innovative ideas, it has struggled to be heard.
The Rulers’ Forum would, in effect, unite both the General Council and the Associated Masonic Provinces under the chairmanship of the Grand Master. Although it will have no powers, as such, it cannot fail to have considerable influence, comprising, as it will, the High Rulers, the President and Deputy President of the Board and the President of the Committee.
Of the remaining members, two-thirds will be elected to represent the Provinces and London, while one-third will be appointed by the Grand Master. Its role will be to debate some of the issues facing us at this time, and to encourage brethren with good ideas to air them in a spirit of fraternal co-operation. I am excited by the creation of such a representative body and hope its members will be enthusiastic and forward thinking with the best interests of the Craft at heart.
In fact, brethren, visiting Lodges in London, our Provinces and Districts over the past year I have begun to sense a new optimism among our members and this is reinforced by the figures [see p20].
We are continuing to lose members overall and Lodges will go on closing when their numbers make them untenable, but the number of Grand Lodge certificates we issue each year appears to be holding up. If we average out the drop in the number of initiates since the millennium, it is less than 1% a year. This surely means our efforts must be concentrated on retaining them, and to do that we must educate them into the meaning and relevance of Masonry in the 21st century.
Brethren, as you will have read in the report of our last meeting, the Prestonian Lecture is entitled The Victoria Cross – Freemasons’ Band of Brothers and will be given by W Bro G S Angell. I would like also to commend to you the exhibition currently on view in the Library and Museum to mark the 150th anniversary of the institution of the Victoria Cross in 1856. The criterion for the reward is simple – conspicuous valour in the presence of the enemy – but its winners have been drawn from all sections of the armed forces, including some civilians under military command, and from all walks of life.
This exhibition is a tribute to those holders of the Victoria Cross who were also Freemasons and includes some of their stories. They amount to over 10% of all the awards ever won, which is a remarkable figure and one of which we can feel justifiably proud.
Pro Grand Master’s tribute to The Hon. Edward Latham Baillieu, Past Deputy Grand Master:
Brethren, many of you will be aware of the loss that has been suffered by the Craft by the death on 10 February of RW Bro. the Honourable Edward Latham Baillieu, Past Deputy Grand Master. I believe that a memorial service will be held in due course, but in the meantime I should like to say a few words in Grand Lodge now, so that those of us who knew him can be reminded of what sort of man – and Mason – he was, and those who did not may have some idea of what they have missed.
Bro. Baillieu, known to all his friends as ‘Ted’, was born in 1919 and was educated at Winchester and Oxford University, where his career was interrupted by the Second World War. He served in the Royal Horse Artillery and was invalided out after being wounded. In 1946 he was initiated into Empire Lodge No. 2108 in London and two years later was exalted into Empire Chapter.
Meanwhile, he was making his career in the City as a stockbroker. In 1962 he was appointed a Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies and served in that capacity for three years under the late Brother Frank Douglas, whom he succeeded as Grand Director of Ceremonies in 1968. When he relinquished that office in 1976 he became Assistant Grand Master in succession to the present Lord Cornwallis, in this again following in Frank Douglas’s footsteps (though this time at one remove). When Lord Cornwallis became Pro Grand Master in 1982, Ted succeeded him as Deputy Grand Master (and Second Grand Principal), finally retiring in 1989.
Ted was a larger than life character with an imposing presence, forthright in expressing his opinions, but commanding great affection among many of those who worked with or for him. He was a most impressive Grand Director of Ceremonies, but was nonetheless modest enough to claim in later years that Bro. Alan Ferris, who succeeded him, was the true professional in that office.
As a Ruler of the Craft he had no need to grow into his office, for he already brought with him all the necessary characteristics. After his retirement he only rarely attended Masonic functions in London – the last one of any magnitude being the 275th anniversary of Grand Lodge at Earls Court in 1992. Increasing infirmity in his later years meant that we saw less and less of him.
He nonetheless retained a keen interest in the affairs of the Craft, which is left the poorer by his passing.
14 DECEMBER 2005
An address by the MW The Pro Grand Master the Most Hon the Marquess of Northampton, DL
I said in my article for the Cornerstone Society which was published in the last edition of MQ that I thought our members should be encouraged to talk about the good things they are taught in our rituals to prove to the world the happy and beneficial effects of our Antient Institution.
There are many virtues in Freemasonry, but one which I think we should use to promote our Order is tolerance. There can be few other organisations in the world today who practice the degree of tolerance that we find in the Craft – accepting all men of good faith.
Freemasonry is a system founded on morality which aims to make the individual a better person, and thereby able to lead a more fulfilling life and be of more use to his fellow man.
We are not concerned with a candidate’s nationality, colour or class, nor with his religious or political persuasion; we care only that he has a belief in a Supreme Being, has a general desire for knowledge and wants to be of service to others.
Furthermore, Masonry requires of him a perfect freedom of inclination – an open mind is a prerequisite for joining an Order which develops an open heart.
The second Masonic characteristic I think we should be emphasising to potential candidates and others is trust. It is linked to our first Grand Principle, Brotherly love, is one of the lessons of our Third Degree story and is the mortar with which the trowel binds us together.
You do not have to be a Mason for very long before you learn first hand the importance of trusting and being trusted. As we climb symbolically Jacob’s ladder our perception of truth changes in proportion to our capacity for discrimination.
Developing qualities of tolerance, trust and discrimination leads us eventually to wisdom and Truth. Truth, our third Grand Principle, is at once the first rung on the Masonic ladder when it is solely concerned with morality, and the last rung when it is considered as an aspect of Divinity. Truth depends on our sense of what is true for us personally and for that we must listen to our conscience, the voice of nature.
The principles and virtues of Freemasonry as taught in our rituals have much to offer a society in need of tolerance and trust.
This article is based on an address by the Pro Grand Master, the Marquess of Northampton, to the Cornerstone Society's summer conference in June
I start with the disclaimer that the views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of Grand Lodge. As Pro Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, and therefore the most senior representative of the Grand Master, one of my responsibilities is to try and steer the Craft in a direction which I hope will be beneficial to its future.
With nearly 300 years of experience under our belt we must be doing something right, so why should Freemasonry in, say, 25 years be any different from the model we have today? We may be by far the biggest Grand Lodge in the world with a membership of 272,000 individuals spread over the four quarters of the globe, but something is wrong with Anglo-Saxon Freemasonry.
An enormous amount of effort has been invested in our future both in London, the Provinces and Districts, and many brethren are working hard to recruit, retrieve and retain members. But the overall picture is not satisfactory.
Although statistics were not available before and during the 1980s, we have lost at least 40% of our membership in as little as 30 years. Our recent losses are often blamed on the fact that we consecrated 1,000 Lodges in the five years following the Second World War to accommodate men returning from active service and wanting to join a fraternity. But that is not the whole story as most of those brethren have long since passed away and we have continued to shrink at the rate of between 2-3% every year.
While the decline has lessened in the past two years, we are by no means out of the wood, and with an aging membership we face an uncertain future. However, while membership numbers have shrunk so dramatically, the number of Lodges has actually increased, and we now have a very large number of Lodges that are struggling to survive with few members.
The situation is made even worse when you factor in low attendance figures. It is not easy to see how we can correct this situation except by encouraging Lodges to consider closing or amalgamating when their numbers drop below a viable level.
The danger of having too few members in a Lodge is that, in their desperation to survive, brethren may accept candidates regardless of whether or not they fulfil the conditions for initiation laid down in the ritual. Worse still, because at best they only manage to attract one new member each year, they rush the poor candidate through the three Degrees without giving him any time to pause and contemplate what it all means.
Candidates are often stewards before they are Master Masons and on the officers’ ladder as soon as they are raised. Six years later they are either in the Master’s chair or have made some excuse to drop out, never to return.
A recent survey in Buckinghamshire showed that 30% of all Master Masons ceased attending their Lodges within three years of being raised. I don’t blame them. The pressure of having to learn so much ritual in such a short time, before you have bonded fully with your peers and without any real understanding of its meaning, must test even our most committed candidates.
This is not Freemasonry as it should be practised, and only slightly better than the mass one-day classes we all deplore in America. If Lodges start to initiate men regardless of their suitability because they are desperate to increase their numbers, then we should be worried about any long-term future for the Order. The quality of our members is more important than their quantity, but it is possible and preferable to have both. There are plenty of ‘just, upright and free men of mature age, sound judgment, and strict morals’ in society, if we could only attract them to join us.
Until we can find ways of increasing the size of our Lodges, thereby giving more time for progression to the chair and more time to learn and understand the rituals, we must make do with encouraging Lodges to share out much of the work among the Master Masons and Past Masters. It often makes for more variety and therefore more enjoyment, and involves many more of the Lodge members at every meeting.
No brother should be made to feel he has let the side down by not doing as much as the Past Masters did when they were in the chair. A good Mason does not necessarily have to be a good ritualist as long as he participates in the affairs of his Lodge, and his heart is in the right place.
The final statistic we must add into the equation is the number of certificates issued by Grand Lodge. In the past ten years alone the number of men we initiate annually has fallen by 30% from just under 12,000 to 8,400. Within the next 25 years English Freemasonry could have shrunk to as little as half its present size. This means one in every two Lodges will have disappeared, and even then we will not have increased the low numbers we may have in the remaining ones.
The extra financial pressures on our members will become intolerable and there will be a corresponding knock-on effect on our Masonic charities and the 800 or so Masonic halls we have in England and Wales. It is clear, therefore, that doing nothing now is not an option, but knowing what to do and how to do it is something on which we should all concentrate our minds.
To plan for the future we must first look back at our roots and examine the reasons we were formed and have survived ‘the wreck of mighty empires’. We spend too much time worrying about ‘when’ rather than ‘why’ we were created. What was in the minds of those men who started Freemasonry and what was the purpose behind it?
We know that some form of what we call Freemasonry was being practised in the late 16th century in England long before our first recorded initiate, Elias Ashmole, was introduced to a Lodge in Warrington by Henry Mainwaring in 1646. I have a chair in my house in Warwickshire which was originally in Canonbury Tower, Islington.
The Tower was built in the early 16th century and inherited by my family in 1608. The two panelled rooms at Canonbury were carved in oak in 1599. There are many symbols depicted in the carvings including levels and compasses. They are almost certainly connected to this chair, which is dated 1595. The initials EM, which are visible on either side at the top, are likely to be those of Edward Mainwaring, two generations before Henry, as the crest between them is that of the Mainwaring family.
This was a period when certain men of great intellect were planning a future society as a utopian ideal. Francis Bacon’s book The New Atlantis is full of Masonic symbolism and describes an island where just such a perfect society existed.
Unfortunately, such a vision could not be grounded in Europe, with its political intrigue and religious intolerance, hence the attempt to do so in America through the Virginia Company – named after the virgin soil on the other side of the world which they believed would provide the perfect conditions for just such a society. Whether Freemasonry was influenced by this ideal of perfection is difficult to prove, but it is certainly one of the main themes running through our rituals.
So some form of philosophical fraternity existed in the late 16th century and part of its ethos was to counter political and religious intolerance. Freemasonry has retained that as part of its ethos to this day as it refuses still to allow any member, whether in Lodge or in his capacity as a Freemason, to discuss or to advance his views on theological or political questions.
This fraternity, which stood for freedom of expression and thought, had to be kept secret at a time when men were beheaded for holding different views to the church and monarch. Since then, the Order has gone through varying periods of openness and intense privacy, but even in its early days the rituals were widely known through exposures of one kind or another.
Nowadays we are just coming out of a period of privacy and are developing a more open approach with the popular world.
For too long, English Freemasons have been criticised for their actions, based on ignorance and prejudice. The perception in some quarters is that we are a secret society which practices strange rituals behind closed doors. It is perceived that we only look after our own, and in a way which encourages profitable deals between Masons from which non-Masons are excluded. We have also been accused of protecting our members even when they break the law.
Over the past 20 years or so we have tried hard to rid the Craft of those who do not live up to the high standards we set ourselves.
Every organisation as large as ours is bound to have some rotten apples in its membership, but it is quite wrong to blame Freemasonry for the failings of a few of its members. It would be equally wrong to blame the whole judiciary for one crooked judge or the whole medical profession for the failings of a single doctor.
Nevertheless, we promote ourselves as an organisation which teaches the importance of a high moral code of behaviour and we must expect to be criticised when our members transgress. This is a brotherhood which was designed for the improvement of the soul of man, but however hard we try to show ourselves in a true light, we are always faced with two questions – who are you and what do you do in your Lodges?
The answer has traditionally been that our members feel they will be discriminated against if it is known that they are Masons, and what we do is private and nobody else’s business. Of course there are brethren who genuinely fear they will be discriminated against if their membership becomes known, but society now expects transparency in everything that it perceives may affect it adversely.
We cannot hope to change our members’ fear of discrimination unless we change the perceptions which cause it, and to do that we have to explain to the popular world the good things that Freemasonry stands for, and talk openly about the lessons that are taught in our rituals.
It is now generally acknowledged that the ‘secrets’ of Masonry are only the modes of recognition without which you cannot witness our ceremonies – the grips, tokens and words of the three Degrees. They have been exposed on numerous occasions, but all Masons promise not to reveal them to the uninitiated, in part to keep cowans and intruders out of our ceremonies, but also to show that we can be trusted to keep a promise.
The ‘mysteries’, which we also promise not to disclose, are something completely different. Any member of the public can buy a copy of the Emulation ritual book and tens of thousands of lady Masons have done so over many years. The vast majority of the ceremonies are there in full for all to read, the main exception being those words which relate to the modes of recognition and the preparation of the candidate. So, if anyone wants to know what we get up to in our ceremonies, why not suggest they buy the ritual book and read it for themselves?
Before anyone accuses me of betraying the brotherhood, let me stress that you cannot discover the mysteries of Freemasonry by reading the ritual book. You have to go through the process of initiation to realise and unlock the mystery, because it is a felt experience. You can not understand it in any other way than by doing it – just as you cannot learn to swim by reading a manual of how to do it.
We are the inheritors of an important initiatic system containing universal truths, some form of which has probably been in existence for thousands of years. During that time it has been a beneficial guiding influence on the evolution of humanity and our present day Freemasonry is no exception. The three Degrees of Masonry are like symbolic rehearsals for those major initiations that we must all take on our journey of self-discovery. Thus Freemasonry is a system which guides man in his search for the sacred.
The three Degrees equate to body, mind and spirit, the three essential parts of man. In the First Degree the emphasis is on the physical and its objective is ‘from darkness to light’. It is symbolised by the rought ashlar and the working tools are those implements needed to work on the unshapen stones brought to light from the darkness of the quarries. The consciousness of the First Degree is at the level of instinct and its pillar represents physical strength and is therefore crowned with the terrestrial globe.
In the Second Degree the emphasis is on the powers of the mind and its objective is ‘from ignorance to knowledge.’ It is symbolised by the smooth ashlar and the working tools are designed to perfect and prove the stone after rude matter has been brought into due form. The consciousness of this Degree is at the level of intellect and its pillar represents wisdom and is therefore crowned with the celestial globe.
In the Third Degree the emphasis is on spirit, and the objective is to build the temple, not made with human hands, eternal in the heavens. Its symbol is the blazing star, its consciousness is at the level of intuition, the voice of nature, and its pillar is that of beauty, which depends on balance and harmony.
The objectives of the three Degrees – illumination through the search for light, wisdom through the increase in knowledge, and transformation through the process of death and renewal – portray the story of the evolution of human consciousness leading ultimately to enlightenment.
For most people enlightenment is a process of imparting or acquiring information or knowledge about something, like ‘That was an enlightening speech you made’. Historians call the ‘Enlightenment’ that period in 18th century Europe when a group of philosophers promoted a rational and non-theological approach to the problems of philosophy and society.
This is not, however, the meaning of enlightenment in the Eastern and Western mystery traditions, where light is not an abstract symbol but a living experience that is felt in the heart, the mind and the body.
Enlightenment is not just a metaphor but rather an experience of one’s own inner essence, and the realisation of the Self with a capital ‘S’. When defined as the rational acquisition of knowledge, it deals with a very limited aspect of human transformation.
The enlightenment we are dealing with in Freemasonry is that of ancient teachings.
It is a process of seeing more clearly and having a more lucid awareness. This aspect of transformation, through which Freemasonry guides us, is a gradual process of moving from a state of unknowing to an ever increasing knowledge of one’s Self and one’s true potential.
Enlightenment plays a central role in the sacred literature and art of most religious and spiritual traditions. God’s invocation for creation was ‘Let there be light’, and science believes that the beginning of the universe was an explosion of inconceivable force and radiance.
Christ is seen as the ‘light of the world’, and the vision of the Lord in the Bhagavad Gita is of a cosmic being ‘brighter than a thousand suns’. Solar deities of light and fire, like the Indian Agni, the Iranian Ahura Mazda, the Egyptian Ra, and the Greek Apollo play key roles in all the sacred mythologies. Jung called light ‘the central mystery of philosophical alchemy’.
Ken Wilber reminds us in his book Eye to Eye that medieval philosophers made a distinction between three kinds of light and three kinds of eyes. We have eyes of flesh which see with exterior light - lumen exterior - the physical world of sense objects and matter. Then we have an eye of reason, which sees with interior light - lumen interior - the truths of reason, mind and knowledge.
Finally, we have an eye of contemplation, which sees with higher or transcendent light – lumen superius - the ultimate reality of oneness, the ground of Being. It is these three lights that we need to consider in Freemasonry and the rituals clearly differentiate between them.
The exterior light of the body equates to the light of Nature, described in the First Degree with the words ‘restored to the blessing of material light’. This is distinct from the inner light of the mind which, in the Second Degree, is that of intellect.
Emmanuel Swedenborg wrote:
It has often been granted me to perceive and also to see that there is a true light that enlightens the mind, wholly distinct from the light that is called natural light. I have been raised up into that light by degrees; and as I was raised up my understanding became so enlightened as to enable me to perceive what I did not perceive before, and finally such things as I could not even comprehend by thought from natural light.
Finally, in the Third Degree, the light of contemplation is described as that ‘Light which is from above’.
The experience of enlightenment appears to be the sensing, feeling and knowing that the body, heart and mind are being infused, usually from ‘above’ with inner light of a spiritual nature. When talking about this illumination it is called ‘light from above’ as a way of describing the process by which it appears to come from a part of our being that is ‘higher’ than body or mind. Sri Aurobindo describes the process:
Into the consciousness with a fiery ardour of realisation comes a downpour of inwardly visible light. There is also in this descent the arrival of a greater dynamic, a luminous ‘enthusiasmos’ of inner force and power which replaces the comparatively slow and deliberate process of the mind by a swift, sometimes vehement, almost a violent impetus of rapid transformation.
With the coming of this inner light the recipient is initiated into a new and higher level of realisation. The light experienced in the different Degrees of Freemasonry is one and the same, only at different levels of the spectrum of consciousness. The experience of enlightenment often comes after an intense inner struggle, like a breakthrough between the opposites of good and evil; it brings an understanding which embraces both the polar opposites.
It is often a struggle between fear and love. When the power of love finally prevails and light dawns in the heart, then the walls of fear dissolve and the heart opens. To lose any sense of fear, particularly that of dying, is to be free, and that of course is one important teaching in the Third Degree of Freemasonry. As Walt Whitman wrote in Leaves of Grass:
Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you. You must travel it for yourself. It is not far, it is within reach. Perhaps you have been on it since you were born and did not know.
It is self-evident that this is what the writers of our rituals had in mind when they developed the Freemasonry we know and love as a progressive science, leading from darkness and ignorance to light and knowledge and culminating in wisdom and enlightenment.
So how does any of this help Anglo- Saxon Freemasonry in its present decline? The reasons why men persevere and enjoy their Masonry are complex and will be different for each of us. At one end of the scale there are those brethren who are looking for companionship alone, and Freemasonry provides them with a friendly and trusting environment.
Then there are those who value the contribution the Craft makes to charity, and are motivated by a desire to help those less fortunate than themselves, both Masons and non-Masons alike.
Some like the chance to perform the rituals and work hard to ensure high standards are maintained in our ceremonies; others make a study of Freemasonry from an historical or social perspective; then there are those who choose to explore the inner and more esoteric aspects of the ritual in order to discover more about Freemasonry and themselves.
It is for the latter that we need to give a better understanding of the inner meanings of the Craft; partly to encourage a better study of Freemasonry and partly to increase the amount of revealed light in the Order as a whole. The success of such a venture will only be judged by the effect it has on those who are interested in the mysteries, and want to deepen their knowledge of the true nature of the Order.
Anglo-Saxon Masonry has strayed from its original purpose and no longer teaches its candidates the fundamental truths which underpin the Craft. That is why I support the initiative to start an Orator scheme to provide well-written papers describing this Masonic journey, for delivery in Lodges.
Educating our members about the purpose of Masonry should be a priority regardless of whether or not they wish to deepen their understanding of it. Much continental Masonry, which continues to thrive, and Latin American Masonry, which is the fastest growing Masonry in the world, insists on the candidates becoming proficient in, and having an understanding of, any Degree they have taken, before allowing them to progress further.
They have to write papers and answer questions on the ceremony they have experienced before they are allowed to move to the next Degree. Do we consider the questions our candidates have to answer before being passed and raised really give ‘proofs of proficiency’ in the former degree? I think not.
However, as well as educating our members, it is important also that we educate the public at large. We need to explain ourselves and what we do to non- Masons who show a genuine interest in us. We must explain in layman’s language the lessons we are taught in our Lodges.
I do not believe we will be betraying any trust by doing so, nor can we be exposing the mysteries to the eyes of the profane. What we will be doing is encouraging men to join us in order to experience the transformatory process for which Freemasonry was created.
I strongly believe that the way forward for Anglo-Saxon Masonry is for its members to be encouraged positively to talk about the rituals. There are many men who would join us if they only realised what Freemasonry was really about, and it is up to us to tell them. Our teachings contain universal truths which need to be promulgated to all those who are interested. The days of reserving knowledge for the benefit of a few are over.
I was invited two years ago to address some of the senior boys and monks at Downside, the Roman Catholic boarding school. I spoke for nearly an hour on Freemasonry, its symbols and its principles. I quoted passages from the Charge after initiation to give an idea of what a candidate is taught in the rituals. I explained the working tools and how we moralise their uses in building our temple, not made with human hands.
I stressed that Freemasonry was just a system without dogma and doctrine which leads us through its three ceremonies on a progressive path from ignorance to enlightenment.
I pointed out the benefits of the psychological changes that happen to a man as he passes from being an Entered Apprentice through the various offices to the Master’s chair – how he develops his intellect, leadership qualities, self-confidence, tolerance, kindness, compassion, service to others, open-heartedness, social responsibility, temperance and above all self-awareness. By the time I had finished and taken questions I left them in no doubt that Freemasonry is a force for good in the world. Even the headmaster remarked how different my version of the Craft was from what he had been led to believe it was like.
The only way we are going to dispel ignorance is through education. If we all made the effort to explain Masonry to laymen in suitable terms we could really make a difference to the way we are perceived. Above all we must stress how enjoyable it is. The brotherhood will surely come to an end if it ceases to be fun.
I have read many booklets which have been produced by different Provinces to explain Freemasonry to their candidates.
So many of them, however, deal with the form and etiquette of the Craft and do not give any real explanation of its purpose and content. As a result, they convey knowledge but do not inspire the reader to want to explore further.
As Michael Walker, Past Grand Secretary of Ireland, said in his address to our Grand Lodge last year, there is nothing wrong with the content of Freemasonry, but there is definitely something wrong with the way we package our product.
We keep hearing that men today are searching for ‘spirituality’ in their lives free from dogma and doctrine. Freemasonry undoubtedly has an answer to that search because it is one of the reasons it was founded, but it fails to sell itself on the back of its excellent credentials.
The truth is that the packaging of our product has become jaded. Society is very different to what it was even a generation ago, but Freemasonry has changed hardly at all. Is it any wonder that we appear irrelevant to our young candidates and so many of them subsequently leave us?
I repeat my conviction that the time has come to talk openly and freely about our rituals with anyone who is interested, the only caveat being that we take care not to dilute the effect the ceremonies will have on future candidates.
If as a result we inspire our members to make a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge and attract men to join us because of its exciting message, we will be able slowly to turn the Craft in the direction for which it was founded.
In a speech I gave during my recent visit to the Grand Lodge of Chile in Santiago, I said: We are all brothers on this same journey, a journey leading to self-knowledge and ultimately perfection. The American poet, Emerson, described it as a journey of ‘ascending effort’.
And as we climb higher on the path we are helped by those brethren who are ahead of us and in turn encourage those who are behind.
Freemasonry is a system without dogma or doctrine which signposts, through the interpretation of its symbols, the journey we must all make. It is a template for the evolution of human consciousness, and as such is a progressive science of becoming – becoming something greater than we are now. It has various set stages for our development.
A high moral code of ethical behaviour is the essential condition on which our journey is founded, and that includes the need to be in control of our emotions, our passions and desires. This is followed by the importance of education and the training of our reason and intellect as a force for good in the world.
When these conditions are fulfilled and we are truly centred as human beings, our hearts open to the great potential which is at once the birthright and destiny of the human race. For as we climb higher we become wiser and can see further and more clearly what is the purpose of our life, and what the Great Architect has planned for us. That is the great mystery of Freemasonry which all of us are destined to rediscover.
The Cornerstone Society: www.cornerstonesociety.com
14 SEPTEMBER 2005
An address by the MW The Pro Grand Master the Most Hon the Marquess of Northampton, DL
I welcome you all to Grand Lodge today at the start of another Masonic season and thank you for attending. I hope you have all had a good summer even though, like me, you may be feeling that Shakespeare was right when he said that ‘summer’s lease hath all too short a date’.