By the end of 2004 I had another surge in Masonic interest. I don’t quite recall why it had resurfaced, but on New Year’s Eve we had a guest, “MD”, who wore a pin on his jacket lapel. “It’s from the order I belong to,” he declared with some pride. It was an important turning point. Three things to reflect upon: MD’s personal openness, the realisation of how many orders existed, just within Denmark, and how the Masonic orders viewed secrecy. I will address these subjects here.
There are numerous informative sites on the Internet and serious books on the subject (side by side with quite a bit of misinformation and slanted sources). Which is fine. But what have really made an impression on me is the personal/first hand contact. And looking at it as an outsider, it’s not really something that I see happening much here in Denmark – Freemasons keep a very low profile about their membership (which is of course their personal decision), but even ddfo.dk maintains a very objective angle – there’s no hint of what it means to the individual member to be Mason (please don’t get me wrong: of course we need objective information). Therefore MD’s openness was important: I only knew him a little, but well enough that I put his first hand knowledge higher than what I had been able to read up on. I got that same feeling, only stronger, when I talked to my father – his recommendation was worth more than thousands of pages of history, background and sober explanations of Freemasonry. He didn’t comment on the contents at all, but it was him talking, and he had been a part of it, so there had to be something to it. Likewise I have felt a wonderful sense of global brotherhood through a number of forums: Brethren from across the world offering stories from their part of the planet, sharing their knowledge of the Craft – not as official mouthpieces for any Grand Lodge, but as ordinary people sharing their experiences. Everywhere, once I have gotten behind the slightly intimidating facade, have I met kindness and openness – and like I said, everything becomes more concrete, understandable and meaningful, when you meet a representative in the flesh, because that marks the end of easy prejudice toward a faceless organisation.
MD is not a Freemason himself, but something similar, and that made me look into what orders were actually out there. Surprisingly many, is the answer! And that is just from what I could Google. Some of the orders are seemingly very small and possibly even inactive, but they’re out there. Even if it’s just the Danish Order of Freemasons, and two other orders that are recognised by the United Grand Lodge of England. Sometime in the future I will post my overview on this site, but I have to figure out a suitable format and update my research. The list includes a dozen Masonic and just as many similar orders (Odd Fellow, Druids, Templars etc.). (It was also this overview that made my journalist wife consider if there might not be a story in Freemasonry for women …)
Different Masons have different attitudes to how discrete you should be. The British Masons with whom I correspond say that it’s only the “Signs, Words & Tokens” that are secret, and anyone so inclined can go down to Great Queen Street in London and buy a ritual book. Naturally that does not mean that they are babbling left and right about the ritual, nor would I want to hear it, for it could never match the actual experience, and might possibly ruin it, if I decided to walk the path myself. But I have come to the opinion that you can delve deeper into the content than what is done today. I can understand the reservation, though – things can be misunderstood when taken out of context. MD told me that there were members of his order that even kept their degree secret – but why? The same goes for symbolism in the lodges: the tour guide in Freemason’s Hall in London would gladly explain every visible symbol, from his own understanding, while here in Denmark I have heard a couple of non-answers such as “as any Mason would understand” (the same problem I also mentioned in the previous essay). I think that is complicating things unnecessarily: A rose also holds meaning outside of Lodge – you can describe the symbolism and offer a look into the lodge’s mindset and method, without disclosing any secrets. The meeting with MD was a reminder that there are many ways to view the question of secrecy. He never talked about the practicalities of the ritual, but I still gained an understanding of why he would be attracted to it, and how his order worked.
Naturally these are thoughts I spend a lot of time reflecting on, but the talk did have one immediate consequence: I went to DDFO’s homepage, found the first information meeting and sent off an email …
[Date of original post: July 6, 2005]