Real Inside Story of the Freemasons; Membership Growing Reports Society Leader during 'Open Day' Charisse Ed E Enters the Inner Sanctum of Freemasonry in the Midlands to See at First Hand What Goes on Behind the Doors of Birmingham's Grand Lodge

Article excerpt

Freemasons attempted to shatter the myths of the 270-year-old society by throwing open the doors at their West Midlands headquarters in Birmingham.

More than 100 people attended the annual event at the Provincial Grand Lodge of Warwickshire in Edgbaston.

While the move was seen by critics as a response to increasing claims that Freemasonry was involved in miscarriages of justice, the association said it was always trying to prove it was an open book.

The public, including women and children, could wander through the huge Stirling Road lodge in the city centre and were given tours and explanations of the traditions of the world-wide society.

The building is equipped with meeting and conference rooms, a museum, and rooms dedicated to the numerous ceremonies and "chapters" of the society.

The main meeting room could be mistaken for the House of Commons, with its seats arranged around the perimeter facing four lecterns and a decorated carpet, used to initiate new members in a lengthy ceremony.

Freemasonry is steeped in tradition and ritual.

Christian symbols and principles are a significant part of the customs involved in the society, with many of the beliefs derived from the Old Testament.

Peace, enlightenment, equality and honesty are just some of the principles to which Masons must adhere.

Rooms are flanked by flags, candles, and other items that symbolise the principles, and are an integral part of the rituals and "moral teachings".

Masons, or brothers as they are known, wear "aprons" and "jewels" or carry "wands" to identify their seniority and position in the lodge. They also wear white gloves as an emblem of innocence and purity.

To qualify as a Freemason men must meet certain criteria, the first and most important of which is a minimum age of 21.

Only undergraduates at Cambridge and Oxford universities can apply at the age of 18, although the Provincial Grand Master of the lodge, Mr Stanley Lates, said it was now felt the entry age should be reduced to 18 to reflect the accepted age of responsibility.

Yet the average age of applicants into Freemasonry is between 30 and 40 years of age.

Mr Lates, who was giving guided tours of the lodge during the open day, said it was "rubbish" that it was a secret organisation. …