2. Clash of Cultures

Following the rapid rundown of my first meetings with Freemasonry, we are now getting to the point where things start to fall into place, and I will address my progress in smaller portions.

I had missed the Night of Culture‘s visits to Freemason’s Hall a couple of times, mainly due to laziness, but in the spring of 2004 I got a chance to see the stronghold of Danish Freemasonry (DDFO) in Copenhagen. As part of of an “exchange deal”, my work place at the time (Zentropa Interaction, related to Lars von Trier’s production company) visited the Hall. It was an amazing day in many ways, if slightly surreal. Our group was obviously out of place and filled with incredulity (but, it has to be said, also curiosity). The situation was elucidated by the presence of another group: a well-dressed social club fitting more appropriately into the setting, and in many ways the diametrical opposite to the chaotic movie people. But at the same time, I, and many others in our group, felt an immediate fascination with and understanding of the attraction, and the building does impress. Sure, we were far removed from all the banners, royalist trappings and vintage porcelain, both politically and socially, but on the other hand we did have an basic understanding of the material, based on our background in fiction and academics. It was a thorough tour, where we were introduced to the dining hall, the Armiger Hall (displaying knightly crests), a lodge room (see picture), the museum and several other parts of the building.

So, the overall mood was positive. Some of the questions posed from our side of the room had a doubtful and critical tone, but I think it had its reasons: Zentropa is notoriously anti-authoritarian (the self-proclaimed last Communist state) – and that clashed openly with the conservative values apparent in the Masonic order. Also, we did get a couple of comments from our hosts that were less tolerant than what would be expected of Masonic virtue. Let me put it this way: Zentropa demonstrated its respect for the Danish flag and the values which it should represent by reversing the cross horizontally – you probably couldn’t imagine DDFO doing something similar. Another problem of communication was in regards to the “secrets”: We are used to openness. I personally believe that it is possible to share some of the exciting material without anybody coming to harm or betraying any obligations. And I think being kept in the dark touched a nerve, because symbolism, mythic material, drama, history, storytelling etc. are subjects movie people are very familiar with. I think it seemed needlessly arrogant to some, the way the Order on the one hand refuted being secret, and on the other hand wouldn’t talk about what it was actually doing. I wasn’t nearly as provoked as I had some knowledge beforehand, but I can understand those who did: you could, without getting too specific talk about the myths, the Biblical passages and the ritual form in the lodge – present a picture, without getting concrete.

Well, I don’t want to sound all negative, for even though both sides probably confirmed as many prejudices as they eliminated, there was, as I have said, an acceptance of Freemasonry and a certain amount of respect for the institution, although it was probably considered a bit of a curiosity, shrouded in a romantic history – similar to the monarchy. Meanwhile, it strengthened my own fascination. A couple of friends asked me directly if I shouldn’t join. Not at that particular instant, no, but I remember standing in the Armiger Hall, with its collection of heraldic emblems, looking out over the Commons and trying to imagine myself within the Order – there was a definite attraction, certainly, but I still had reservations. And not until new Year’s Eve did things fall into place …

[Date of original post: May 22, 2005]

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