Thursday, 05 September 2013 01:00

Grand Secretary's column - Autumn 2013

It was tremendous to hear the news of the new Royal baby, Prince George. You will be glad that a message of congratulations was sent on behalf of members to Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. 

Talking of good news, it is heart-warming to hear, as I go around the Provinces and Districts, more and more members speaking openly about the fun of membership as they enjoy, each in their own special way, their hobby, Freemasonry. This enjoyment is becoming infectious, helping to both recruit and, importantly, retain members. Together with the increasing support from family members, this is a clear reflection of the success of the current initiatives that are making sure there is a relevant future for Freemasonry.

In this autumn issue, we take a ride with the Showmen’s Lodge to discover that the ties binding Freemasons can also be found in the people who run the waltzers and dodgems at the fairground. We go on the road with a welfare adviser from the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, as she helps a family get back on its feet. We also meet Mark Smith, a Provincial Grand Almoner, and find out that while masonic support can involve making a donation to a worthy cause, it is also about spending time with people in your community.

I mentioned hobbies earlier, and to thrill anyone with a taste for classic cars we get in the driving seat with Aston Martin as it celebrates its one hundredth birthday at Freemasons’ Hall. There is also an interview with Prestonian Lecturer Tony Harvey, who has been travelling around the UK to explain how Freemasonry and Scouting have more in common than you might first think. I believe that these stories and features show why Freemasonry not only helps society but is also very much a part of it. 

On a final note, I was pleased to have had the opportunity to speak on Radio 4’s Last Word obituary programme about the late Michael Baigent, our consultant editor. He was a good friend with an enormously inquisitive mind, about which John Hamill writes more fully later in this issue of Freemasonry Today.

Nigel Brown
Grand Secretary

‘It is heart-warming to hear, as I go around the Provinces and Districts, more and more members speaking openly about the fun of membership.’

Published in UGLE
Thursday, 05 September 2013 01:00

Michael Baigent obituary from John Hamill

Independent voice

Past editor of Freemasonry Today, Michael Baigent was a successful author and influential mason whose writing sparked debate and created a loyal following. John Hamill looks back at his career

It is with real regret that we have to announce the death of Michael Baigent who was editor of Freemasonry Today from the spring of 2001 until the summer of 2011, when increasing ill health forced him into partial retirement. He continued as consultant editor until his untimely death from a brain haemorrhage on 17 June 2013 at a Brighton hospital.

Born in Nelson, New Zealand, in 1948, he was educated at Nelson College and the University of Canterbury, at Christchurch, reading comparative religion and psychology and graduating in 1972 with a BA. In later life he earned an MA in the Study of Mysticism and Religious Experience from the University of Kent.

After graduating, Michael spent four years as a photographer in India, Laos, Bolivia and Spain. Coming to London in 1976, he worked for a time in the photographic department at the BBC, which brought him into contact with Henry Lincoln and Richard Leigh, who were filming a documentary about the medieval Knights Templar. Their mutual interests and enthusiasm ultimately led to the publication in 1982 of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, a controversial bestseller and still in print after more than thirty years.

Embracing the craft

The success of the book enabled Michael to concentrate on research, writing and lecturing. Writing with Leigh, he produced works on such diverse topics as Freemasonry, the Dead Sea Scrolls, magic and alchemy, the Stauffenberg plot to kill Hitler and the Inquisition. His solo works covered the ancient mysteries, the early Christian church and the influence of religion in modern life. 

Michael’s interest in the history of ideas and the esoteric tradition led him to the Craft, becoming a Freemason in the Lodge of Economy, No. 76, Winchester, near his then home. He later joined the Prince of Wales’s Lodge, No. 259, London, and was nominated by them as a Grand Steward and appointed a Grand Officer in 2005. 

Freemasonry brought Michael to the notice of Lord Northampton, who invited him to become a trustee of the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre, which he was setting up as a focus for research into the more esoteric aspects of Freemasonry. Equally, Michael became involved in and greatly shaped the early years of the Cornerstone Society, which Lord Northampton had established as a forum for those interested in exploring the deeper meanings of the ritual. When the Orator Scheme was being discussed in 2006, Michael was the obvious candidate to draft the early Orations.

Leading from the front

When Michael became editor of Freemasonry Today it was still ‘the independent voice of Freemasonry’. He greatly extended its coverage beyond the Craft and Royal Arch and attracted a new audience to the magazine, including a growing number of non-masons. He not only sought out contributors and edited their pieces but was responsible for the page design and seeing the magazine through the presses. He employed his old talents and provided many of the photographs that illustrated the content. It was something of a departure for him when in 2007 the magazine merged with Grand Lodge’s then house organ, MQ Magazine, to become the Craft’s official journal. Yet he rose to the occasion and continued to produce a magazine that combined news with interesting, and sometimes challenging, articles.

Michael would have been the first to acknowledge that his work fell outside the normal run of academic historical research, but he believed completely in what he did. He was not writing for other academics but for the general reader, and he had a loyal following. Whether he worked on his own or with Lincoln and Leigh, Michael’s writing was never ignored and always provoked discussion – which is all any writer seeks.

His last years were, sadly, marked by increasing ill health, including an initially successful liver transplant, and financial problems caused by the unsuccessful case he and Leigh took against the novelist Dan Brown’s publisher, claiming that Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code was both a plagiarism and infringed the copyright of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. A gentle, courteous man, Michael was always a pleasure to meet and talk to and will be greatly missed by many. Our thoughts go out to his wife, daughters and stepson and stepdaughter.

Welcome to the Summer/Autumn edition of Freemasonry Today.  I first want to thank Michael Baigent who has retired, on behalf of all the readers, for the great job he did for us as editor of this magazine. I am delighted that he remains consultant editor and our thoughts and best wishes are with him in retirement. I would also like to thank Bill Hanbury-Bateman and Geoffrey Baber, who have retired from the Board of Grand Lodge Publications, for their enormous contribution to the magazine. I particularly wanted to highlight their tireless support during the merger of MQ magazine and Freemasonry Today. A merger that has evolved into the fantastic magazine we have today.

The first of the newly designed issues has been met with acclaim. What is particularly gratifying is the feedback from several members whose wives or partners have been interested enough for the first time to read the magazine and enjoyed it. One member even told me that, having read the magazine, his wife – for the first time – supported him being a Freemason.  This underpins our core philosophy that we should strive for the important support of our family and friends through open communication.

It is wonderful news that our new members’ website was launched at the end of July. This covers the magazine and latest news from around the Provinces and Districts. So we now have in our communications armoury the magazine, the members’ website – which is an open site – and the UGLE main site designed to direct the non-mason for more information.

We have a great cross-section of articles in this issue for you and your family’s interest. A balance has been sought between current stories and historical features to show how our past connects with our present.

For example, with the Rugby World Cup returning to New Zealand, you can read about the origins of the game to see why the principles that bond the Craft together have historically drawn rugby players from across the world to Freemasonry. Meanwhile, find out how brothers Mathew and Christian Cleghorn from Lewis Lodge managed to row across the Atlantic Ocean. Follow how they contended with lost rations, a capsized boat and a bird called Elton – in order to raise much-needed funds for Parkinson’s UK.

On the subject of fund-raising, there is a fantastic profile of two classic Ford enthusiasts Marc and Lee Lawrence. Freemasonry has been the driving force behind this father-and-son rally team who embarked on an epic journey across America in order to raise money for good causes.

Speaking of connecting our past with our present, we recently celebrated ten years of filming Spooks at Freemasons’ Hall. You can read about how the building, built in 1933, has been leading a double life for the last decade as both the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England and MI5’s fictional home. We are delighted that the building has become such a recognisable icon in the show. As programme producer Chris Fry recalls when he was shooting an episode: ‘I was on the phone and this couple walked past the front doors. One of them casually said, “That’s the Spooks’ headquarters.” I thought that was brilliant.’

Nigel Brown
Grand Secretary

Published in UGLE
Sunday, 01 May 2011 16:55

Pythagoras: The Initiate

Michael Baigent looks at one of the most revered figures of early Freemasonry

An early legend, taken seriously by working Freemasons, explained that prior to the great flood all knowledge of the seven sciences had been recorded on two large stone pillars which were hidden in caves near the ancient city of Thebes in Egypt – around the modern city of Luxor.
The fifteenth-century Cooke Manuscript of the Freemasons’ ‘Old Charges’ reports: ‘After this flode many years … these 2 pillers were founde … a grete clerke that called putogoras fonde that one and hermes the philosopher fonde that other’.
Hermes ‘the Philosopher’ was a mythical figure used to express the inner initiatory teachings of the Egyptian priesthood. He was a Greek echo of the Egyptian god Thoth (Djeuty) who ruled over initiation and was guide through the ‘Far-World’, the world of the gods and the dead.
The second figure was Pythagoras; he was different. He was not mythological but a Greek born on the island of Samos around 580 BC. And he was well aware of Hermes whom he considered ‘the wisest of all’.
Pythagoras’ teachings involved initiation and a study of music, geometry, medicine, divination, justice and politics; the latter perhaps contributing to the eventual demise of his schools.
The Greeks, particularly those from Samos, were great traders, venturing out in their ships across the Mediterranean perhaps even into the Atlantic to Cornwall to get tin for bronze, or travelling east for high-value items like silks, peacocks and precious stones. From the eighth century BC, they began creating their own colonies, the first of these in southern Italy and Sicily. Some still flourish: Syracuse in Sicily, Naples and Crotona in Italy, Marseilles in France and Malaga in Spain.

LIFE OF PYTHAGORAS According to the philosopher Iamblichus, when Pythagoras was young he decided to study in Egypt. On his way there he was initiated into the Mysteries of Byblos and Tyre and then spent some time in solitude in a temple at the top of Mount Carmel. Once in Egypt, he stayed twenty-two years visiting all the temples and becoming initiated into the different divine Mysteries. He was caught up in the invasion of Egypt by the Persians in 525 BC and taken to Babylon where he was initiated into the Mesopotamian and Persian Mystery traditions. Then, in his mid-fifties, he moved to Croton in southern Italy where he founded his academy in the last decades of the sixth century BC.
Unfortunately, a new ruler of Croton became an enemy: around 508 BC he openly persecuted the Pythagoreans and many were killed. That same year Pythagoras moved up the coast to Metapontum where he later died. In the fifth century BC his philosophy was violently suppressed and its remaining centres were burned.

Pythagoras was the first, it is said, to call himself a philosopher – that is, a lover of wisdom. Crucially, he saw wisdom as something you gained by experience and not as an intellectual accumulation or some prowess in argument, as philosophy became in the hands of such as Plato. And, perhaps surprising to many western readers, he believed in, and taught, reincarnation.
He said that he had come not to teach but to heal. He had both practical and mystical approaches to medicine: he used diet, medicines and poultices but above all he taught that music, properly used, might also effectively heal. He discovered the mathematical harmonic ratios at the basis of music and this led him to see a mystical interconnection with astronomy and geometry as well. He taught that the basis of reality itself was to be discovered in number since this was not a product of the human mind but of a reality which exists beyond.
Pythagoras used symbols to instruct his students but warned, ‘They who present these symbols without unfolding their meaning by a suitable exposition, run the danger of exposing them to the charge of being ridiculous and inane … When, however, the meanings are expounded according to these symbols, and made clear and obvious … then they will be found analogous to prophetic sayings…’
But above all, the primary task of healing for any Pythagorean was to bring himself back to the original unity. The act of humanity separating itself from the One, he said, was ‘an act of foolhardiness.’

A mysterious figure from the far north named in the Greek texts as Abaris and called ‘air-walker’ or ‘skywalker’ came to Greece, recognised Pythagoras as a living incarnation of Apollo, and mysteriously gave him a golden arrow.
Apollo was the god of ecstasy – that is, of the infinite stillness experienced in another state of consciousness; in the still centre of the heart perhaps. Significantly, old Greek traditions record Apollo coming to Greece from those lands far to the north.
Abaris was an Avar shaman from Mongolia. His ‘arrow’ was a powerful magical object well known to the Tibetans and Mongols as a phurba, which often takes the form of a dagger with a three-sided blade. According to Tibetan tradition, it is only used by initiates for shamanic healing.
Whatever the truth of this, this donation marked a passing of authority from Abaris to Pythagoras.
Northern shamans like Abaris wore very different clothes from the Greeks. They wore trousers which were good for riding and for warmth in the bitterly cold Siberian plains. Distinctively, Pythagoras always wore the same.

Personal experience of the one source of divinity was the beginning and end of Pythagoras’ message. As our masonic ritual eventually explains, this can be seen symbolically as a journey towards the centre of the circle; thus a profound perspective is explained in a simple geometrical figure.
Where, our ritual leads us to ask, do the genuine secrets of Freemasonry reside? With the centre, it explains, the point from which you cannot err – for from the centre you have gained an eternal standard by which to judge your actions.
And the masonic search for the lost word can give us further insight: in Greek, the ‘word’ is logos but it also has the meaning in ancient Greek mathematics of ‘ratio’ which was the basis of Pythagoras’ music and geometry, the basis of divine harmony. In effect, the search for the lost word can be seen as the search for a lost harmony. Have we an echo here of Pythagoras’ warning that separation from the One is an act of foolhardiness?

Published in Features
Wednesday, 01 September 2010 14:36

Edgbaston Treasures

Yasha Beresiner Returns To The Masonic Museum And Library Of Warwickshire

It was a pleasure to return to the spacious premises of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Warwickshire in Stirling Road, Edgbaston, and view again the delightful masonic collection displayed on the first-floor balcony encircling the main entrance hall.

Michael Baigent and I were warmly welcomed at the library and boardroom by Assistant Provincial Grand Master, John Emms, the recently appointed chairman of the museum and library. He was able to explain to us the ongoing reorganisation of this long established body founded in 1908. A small group of volunteers are cataloguing the three thousand books in the library and relabelling the artefacts on display. The new committee, consisting of representatives of the 192 lodges in the province, will be meeting for the first time in the coming months to receive reports on developments and discuss progress. John has taken initial steps in talking to various bodies, most recently to the Temple Councillors and Liaison Group, where he presented a paper on the museum and library. Meanwhile the new computerised catalogue has a listing to date of some 1800 books, which are dispersed in the shelves of the cabinets in the library. The relocating of these books into thematic categories will be undertaken after the completion of the catalogue.
     Several of the rarities in the library are housed in a safe in an anteroom and John placed some on display for us: 1st and 2nd editions of Anderson’s Constitutions dated 1723 and 1738 respectively; an illuminated testimonial highlighted in gold and unique by its very nature, dedicated to the Mark Provincial Grand Master for Warwickshire, Lt. Col. Zaccheus Walker (1919-31); the only known copy of the 1728 edition of the Engraved Lists of Lodges by John Pine and a personalised ‘autograph book’ dated 1889 containing a collection of photographs and autographs of masonic dignitaries, which belonged to the Master of Lodge No. 1180, William Tolladay.
     A group of books indirectly related to Freemasonry had also been bound in the same intricate gilt decorations: a 1599 edition of the Geneva Bible, first published in 1560, known as the Breeches Bible and a copy of the later, and possibly rarer, first edition folio size Baskerville Bible, the property of Lodge of Industry, No. 5123. The name is derived from John Baskerville’s (1706–1775) invention and design of the new typeface in 1757. This bible, dated 1763, is considered his master work, and is printed in his own typeface, ink and paper.
     Also in this collection of quasimasonic books is a copy of Robert Plot’s The Natural History of Stafford-Shire, 1686. This folio volume contains the earliest recorded account of accepted masonry known as the Plot Abstract. Its importance lies with its summary of the legendary history, its description of contemporary Freemasonry and criticisms of the fraternity as well as the unresolved matter of the sources for his information, specifically his reference to the ‘large parchment volum they have amongst them’ which is otherwise unknown.
     One cabinet in the library, dedicated to documents and prints, includes a theatre poster for The Theatre Royal Birmingham, Thursday, December 14, 1854 which refers to the ‘Distinguished patronage of Lord Leigh Provincial Grand Master of Warwickshire and the Freemasons of the Province’. Lord Leigh also features in an accumulation of manuscript letters dated between 1871 and 1877, the majority signed by him in correspondence with the organisers of the Lifeboat Fund for Warwickshire. William Henry, 2nd Lord Leigh, was Provincial Grand Master from 1852 to 1905, an unbroken record by this or any other province. He was also Grand Superintendent of the Holy Royal Arch for Warwickshire, 1864-1905 and the first Grand Master of the newly formed Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England, 23 June 1856.
     The Warwickshire Masonic Museum is comprehensive and well displayed, easy to view and friendly to the visitor. The many cabinets and sideboards surrounding the whole of the balcony on the first floor are interspersed between the six entrances to the lodges and chapters that meet on location. It is thus continuously exposed to Brethren attending meetings; an enviable circumstance for any museum.
     Glass cases house an attractive collection of old and new aprons belonging to the Craft and the Orders beyond. Flat tiered display cabinets cover the whole range of masonic objects: beautiful pieces of china include three – gallon transfer – decorated Sutherland ware pitchers, manufactured in that size to accommodate an old regulation that limited one jug per table. An unusual ceramic piece of Sutherland Lustre circa 1820 is a ten-tier diminishing block 120mm high with an ashlar square base 160mm square. The black pedestal, which stands on four decorated feet, is made to appear as a separate wood block. The whole, however is a single piece. The designs along the s ides incorporate inter alia squares and compasses, a pentagram and six pointed star. The letter ‘G’ being prominent suggests that this is from a Scottish or foreign presentation to the province. Made as a table piece, it would have at some time adorned festive boards.
     The very extensive glass cabinets have interesting pieces: a yellow stained drinking glass just 30mm wide at the mouth in the shape of a lady’s boot with the square and compasses prominently engraved on both sides; an unusual flat glass whisky or port flask decorated with masonic emblems on one side and a measure scale up to six quarts on the other; a decanter with the second verse of the well known ‘Enter’d ‘Prentices Song’ engraved within a floral frame: This is the earliest known masonic song, which appears in James Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723 with the comment: ‘by our late Brother Mr Mathew Birkhead, deceas’d. To be sung when all grave busi-ness is over, and with the Master’s leave.’ The words and music were adapted from an old Irish ballad and are attributed to the actor-singer and comedian, Mathew Birkhead (d.1723)
     A few shelves placed in flat cabinets display an array of minor and fascinating everyday objects with masonic emblems: buttons and seals, tie pins, money clips, watches and prisoner of war-related artwork. We saw an excellent collection of early nineteenth century snuff boxes, one wooden box in particular exceptionally attractive, shaped as a triangle and the inside hallmarked silver gilt. The decorative carving of the wood included along the sides, ‘Honour the Queen’, ‘Love the Brotherhood’ and ‘Fear God’. The circular brass disk centrally placed shows this to have been a presentation by Lord Leigh to the Lodge of Light, No. 689, on the occasion of his Mastership in July 1854. Also carved on the side is the name Stoneleigh which was Lord Leigh’s residence and the wood for the snuff box was said to have been taken from this property.
     John Emms paid tribute to the work of the late Mike Connett, who sadly passed away in August this year after a long illness, whose initial dedication and enthusiasm was the catalyst for the present rejuvenation of the library. The province’s web site states that ‘The library has been described as one of the hidden mysteries of Masonry’. Clearly that is no longer so and the province looks forward to welcoming Brethren to utilise the library and museum.

The Museum is opened daily except weekends between 10 am and 4 pm. Those wishing to visit the library can do so by contacting John Emms via the Provincial Office on 0121 454 4422.
Monday, 19 April 2010 15:18

The Business of Freemasonry

The Grand Secretary Explains to Michael Baigent the New Approach of Grand Lodge

There was a time, not so long ago, when Freemasonry was run discreetly, like a private gentleman’s club and the Grand Secretary seemed a distant, even aloof, figure gazing down from privileged heights. But no longer: Freemasonry is now run as a modern business and the Grand Secretary is a hands-on chief executive but accountable, not to shareholders, but to a large and diverse membership. It is a job needing skill, business acumen and diplomacy.

It seemed right, at a time when important changes are taking place amongst our rulers, that I should speak with Nigel Brown, Grand Secretary, about the changes in the administration of Grand Lodge since he was appointed and the plans for the future which he is tasked with implementing. 
The first thing, he explained, was to understand that Grand Lodge was the centre of a large and dynamic international network of Freemasons. 
As an example he mentioned the trip he recently made to Singapore to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the District of the Eastern Archipelago - which covers masonic lodges of the English Jurisdiction in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. This was an important milestone and celebrated not only the District’s longstanding success but 150 years of contribution to the local communities. 

Many District Grand Masters from other areas were present and so he took the opportunity to chair business meetings to ascertain how well they are supported by Grand Lodge and how easily can they communicate their needs and concerns. 
‘The Districts have long supported us and we need to demonstrate that we are constantly supporting them,’ he explained. 
‘The Districts are a good example of the dynamic network of Freemasonry founded upon a shared moral understanding which, far from being anachronistic, is actually the way forward in the twenty-first century.’ 
‘In England and Wales we are increasingly dealing with a diverse population and Freemasonry could not be better placed to support and promote an understanding of that diversity since, in the end, what we are looking for are men of quality.’ 
‘And how would you define quality?’ 
‘People who understand the need for mutual respect of each other, who seek to become better men themselves and who understand that the community is better served by an active participation without expecting any reward. Therefore the need to select candidates of quality is essential.’ 
‘In Singapore, almost seven thousand miles away, I was heartened to find myself in the company of just such men of quality who selflessly give to their local community as we do here in England and Wales.’ 

The Administration of Freemasonry

The precise role of a Grand Secretary is to represent the Rulers - the Grand Master, Pro-Grand Master and his Deputy and Assistant - and the executives, the Board of General Purposes. He is rather like an honest broker to both these groups, advising them on all situations which arise. His task is also to implement whatever action they decide as a result of that advice. 
‘So that takes care of missives from the top down,’ I commented on hearing this explanation, ‘what about concerns from the bottom up?’ 
‘We needed to reorganise the staff in Grand Lodge to create clear communication lines in order that Provincial, District and individual concerns can quickly be addressed by the right people and in a timely manner.’
‘At the beginning of my appointment one of the first objectives I was given was to make sure that Grand Lodge was run as a business. Of importance was the need to focus on an ease and efficiency of communication.’ 
‘Lord Northampton has been an enormous influence and working with him has been a very constructive experience. He was the right man in the right place and right time, the catalyst driving all these major initiatives vital for us to be a member of the twenty-first century.’ 
‘You have been Grand Secretary now for two years. How well have these objective been met?’ 
‘We are well on the way to achieving them. In fulfilling this remit the first organisational changes were made after my first six months in office and on behalf of the Board. I now have a clear understanding of what still remains to be put in place.’ 
The two main changes which were made were firstly to address the problem that Grand Lodge operated like a series of independent entities and that sometimes Provinces and Districts were not receiving the attention they deserved. Grand Lodge needed to understand fully what it was required to provide to Provinces and Districts and so a close analysis was made of the relationships. 
At the same time Nigel Brown travelled around the Provinces and Districts with the Pro Grand Master, Lord Northampton, to be introduced to the Provincial Grand Masters and hear directly their concerns and requirements. 
As Grand Scribe E he also performed the same task for the Royal Arch. ‘One of the great decisions to allow me the time to concentrate on Provinces and Districts was the appointment of the Grand Chancellor. We have regular meetings and discuss any matters which might impact on the Districts. There can be issues between Districts under our jurisdiction and a sovereign Grand Lodge in the same country but, to date, all such issues have been resolved.’ 

Initiatives for the twenty-first century

One important recent success has been the Library and Museum Trust which has been transformed under the direction of Diane Clements. It has achieved official recognition by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council for its displays, comprehensive holdings and research. 
Freemasonry has also been capitalising on the extraordinary nature and architecture of Freemasons’ Hall itself which is now listed among the ‘Unique venues of London’. 
Shows, concerts, lectures and presentations have all been held here and, as most will now know, it is also used as a film and television location - most notably in recent years as the headquarters of the Intelligence agency featured in the Television series ‘Spooks’. 
A major initiative about to bear fruit is the new United Grand Lodge of England website which is designed to be extremely easy to access and explore and will be regularly updated. It should provide everything anyone needs to know about Freemasonry and is designed particularly for the under-forty-five age-group both for members interested in Freemasonry and those thinking of joining. It will make it clear that Freemasonry is founded on Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth and explain what that means in a twenty-first century context. In this way it will underpin English and Welsh Freemasonry’s desire for more open communication. 
‘But what then should we keep to ourselves?’ 
‘The only things we wish to keep private are the modes of recognition which might be required when entering a lodge of which you are not a member. Of course, there should be an element of mystery about the rituals but it is not exactly secret since ritual books are freely available. Of course, reading the ritual is one thing, being part of it is another. What really counts is the felt experience of the ceremonies.’ 
‘One word we do not like is ‘secret’ for there are no secrets in Freemasonry. Nevertheless, at its heart is that great mystery of what it truly means to be human in an uncertain world and our ceremonies are a personal journey of discovery deep into this often uncharted region. Here, the recently introduced Orator and Mentoring programmes are important for they are focused upon the help, advice and support of those who choose to make the masonic journey.’ 
‘To have respect for others, give to the community and to journey towards insight and wisdom is to fully adopt those fundamental and ancient masonic principles of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth which have served Freemasonry since time immemorial and which will serve Freemasonry just as well into the future.’ 

Born in Northern Rhodesia in 1948. Educated in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, he entered the British Army and after graduating from Sandhurst joined the Grenadier Guards with whom he served in Northern Ireland, British Honduras, Kenya and Cyprus. He was an instructor at the School of Infantry and commander of the Queen’s Company. After leaving the army he first entered financial publishing then later ran a company advising clients on winning global tenders.

Published in UGLE
Sunday, 19 April 2009 16:01

The Origins of Freemasonry

The Canonbury Masonic Research Centre Held its 11th International Conference: Michael Baigent Reports

‘There is no one fixed origin for Freemasonry.’ Professor Andrew Prescott, University of Wales, Lampeter, certainly gained delegates’ attention. ‘There are no unchanging landmarks in Freemasonry. Like all historical phenomena, it has no origin.’

Published in Features
Sunday, 19 April 2009 11:55

The Journey of the Initiate

Michael Baigent explores the quest from darkness to light
Published in Features
Sunday, 01 March 2009 14:02

Lord Northampton's Legacy

The Pro Grand Master Speaks to the Editor About Freemasonry 

Lord Northampton has been a much admired ruler and charismatic leader of English Freemasonry for fourteen years, first as Assistant Grand Master from 1995 and since 2001 as Pro Grand Master. He has worked tirelessly and travelled extensively throughout the Provinces and our Districts and lodges overseas as well as to other Grand Lodges on behalf of the Craft. He has been a great ambassador for English Freemasonry all over the world. It was then, with a sense of loss and sadness that we learned of his decision to retire next March. ‘The Craft is now going through a time of consolidation,’ he explains, ‘and I will have been in high office for fourteen years. It is time to give someone else a chance.’

Lord Northampton has helped usher in a new way of defending and advancing Freemasonry with the introduction of changes to its corporate structure and augmenting the experience of its ritual and the understanding of its profound philosophical side which arise from the deepest meaning of those central masonic principles, Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. 

Vision and Management

Under his guidance the management of the Craft was revised: Lord Northampton explains: ‘You cannot have a vision without a strategy. This is pointless. The vision needs to be grounded.’ 

In the past the Rulers came up with ideas, the Board of General Purposes devised the strategy and the Grand Secretary implemented it; this did not always work. Now those at the top of Freemasonry meet on a regular basis to consider the vision, the strategy and implementation together. The strategy is then proposed to the Board and, if agreed, passed to the Grand Secretary for implementation. Thus vision, strategy and implementation operate on a more integrated and consensual basis. 
The daily management of Freemasonry too received his attention; the aim has been to introduce corporate business practices into a smaller, more accountable, Board of General Purposes bringing efficiency of practice and transparency of decision making. At the same time he started business meetings each December with Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents to discuss the direction he thought the Craft and Royal Arch should be taking. 
All Provincial Grand Masters have direct access to the Rulers in the case of any problems. 
The role of the Grand Secretary has also changed. In the past he was an often remote and powerful figure and this attitude, coupled with the undue secrecy Freemasonry pursued, had a negative effect on both members and the public. Today the Grand Secretary concentrates on our brethren in England and Wales; our relations with other Grand Lodges is the concern of the recently appointed Grand Chancellor. 
There is, of course, a healthy overlap since the Grand Secretary is still responsible for Grand Lodge’s Districts and lodges overseas. 
Lastly, Lord Northampton has encouraged more integration between the Centre and the Provinces through better communication. He believes strongly in the sovereignty of each lodge and encourages them to introduce changes that will enhance the enjoyment their members get out of freemasonry. ‘We place too much importance on the form our meetings take and not enough on their content’. 

Research into Freemasonry

Academic research too has received Lord Northampton’s attention. He helped found, and personally helped to fund, the academic centre at Sheffield University which offers Doctoral and Masters degrees in masonic research. He also was instrumental in the formation of the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre which holds lectures and organises annual international conferences and the Cornerstone Society which aims to increase knowledge of the Craft amongst Master Masons. He encourages too the growth of organisations of younger masons which involve their friends, girlfriends and wives. He is concerned that the important support of Freemason’s families should receive recognition. He has been very lucky to have the support of his wife Pamela who understands the transformative nature of the Craft and has been a great source of strength and advice. ‘I could not possibly have carried out my role as Pro Grand Master without her love and support’. It is important that younger masons and especially their partners ask questions about the Craft so that they can understand the symbolic nature of its teachings. The Mentoring and Orator programmes which have recently been introduced will aid this. 

The Wisdom of Freemasonry

Lord Northampton was first initiated into Ceres Lodge No.6977, Northampton, in 1976. His enthusiasm has never diminished and as anyone who has heard him speak will know, he is eloquent and inspiring on Freemasonry and is a strong advocate of its importance to our often troubled modern society. 
‘I don’t think that any other Order could do what Freemasonry does,’ he explained. ‘A moral system which can transform a shy and insecure man into a confident and compassionate, kind and trusting person; and all this within everyday life. Freemasonry teaches social conscience and brings leadership qualities; it breaks down the barriers raised by religion and politics.’ 
In an important move the Royal Arch has been brought into closer communication with the Craft. It is no longer considered as the completion of the Third Degree but as a completion of all the Craft degrees, the apex of the masonic journey. 
‘Why,’ I asked Lord Northampton, ‘in the twenty-first century, should anyone become a Freemason?’ 
‘The idea of “becoming a Freemason” is something of a misnomer. I think that you are born a Freemason. There is something within you which leads you to want to develop in an integrated way, to seek self-development to become a better person. And part of this search involves considering the major questions about life and death. You should join Freemasonry if you are looking for moral and spiritual values in a world which is predominantly focussed upon material concerns.’ 

Values of the Heart

Why are spiritual values so important within Freemasonry? 
Lord Northampton is clear: ‘Our basic precepts of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, by their very nature, invoke spiritual values. Brotherly Love or compassion is a value of the heart: if the mind deals with reason, the heart is concerned with the spiritual values of compassion and clarity. And nothing could be more archetypal than truth but it is difficult to explain: we can view it as that which integrates, as the oneness of all reality, but there are many different ways of looking into reality and we get many different perceptions of truth. The ritual and symbols reveal signposts on your personal journey of experience.’ 
‘Absolute truth is outside time and place; it is a constant from which all things flow. This has to be the highest state of integrity possible. We can best explain this symbolically and one very good symbol is that of Jacob’s ladder which is depicted on the First Degree Tracing Board. This ladder reaches from earth to heaven; as you climb higher on the ladder you can see further. You can see how you are connected with, and contribute to, the whole, you can see that integrity, truth and freedom are all connected.’ 
‘Just before we take our obligation in the first degree we are told that “Masonry is free, and requires a perfect freedom of inclination.” That is, we must try and put aside any preconditions. This is not easy as we are so dominated by our culture from birth; we are encouraged to think from the mind not from the heart but the Craft needs more humanity, more heart.’ 
‘We are all on the level and we need to be able to talk to anybody. I have always enjoyed conversations with less experienced brethren. Everyone has something interesting to say. I will always seek out the young masons and encourage them to question what we do and why. The Orator scheme’s importance is very much found in the discussions which take place after the Oration is delivered.’ 
‘I think Freemasonry is the most wonderful male life-changing experience and we could make so much more of it. And that is the challenge faced by each one of us from the moment that we freely begin our personal journey by stepping into the lodge for the first time.’

Published in UGLE
Thursday, 01 March 2007 10:56

The Heart of Freemasonry

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." 

Spiritual Values

"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.

Published in UGLE
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