Total world domination starts here, doesn't it?
14 Jan 2007
By Adam Lusher
Adam Lusher wants power. He wants plots. He wants secret handshakes. He's even prepared to roll up his trousers. Is he right for the masons?
This was all wrong. The chap in the Grand Lodge blazer wasn't even trying to be obstructive. "Straight up the staircase, sir, drinks are by the Grand Temple. You don't need your ticket." Could this really be the way into the freemasons? Could centuries of the finest obsessive secrecy end like this?
My preliminary research, some of it internet-based, suggested that this was an organisation linked to the "Illuminati", the vaults of Parliament, and "CORRUPTION" writ large, in green ink, and The Da Vinci Code. But now, I was being allowed to enter the art deco splendour of London's Freemasons' Hall, home of the United Grand Lodge of England, the national governing body, without a ticket, without a rolled-up trouser leg and without anyone checking whether I really was a civil servant called Ian.
Admittedly, this was a new departure for the freemasons: a drinks reception for the under-35s to "discover more about freemasonry", and perhaps resolve one worshipful brother's complaint that "some lodges look like God's waiting room". So at £15 a head, who was I to resist an entree to an organisation with 270,000 members in 8,322 English and Welsh lodges?
And isn't it rumoured that the masons offer "fraternal support"? No women, lots of men, especially policemen. Get the "fraternal" handshake right and who knows what benefits might ensue.
This lot had history: organised freemasonry dated from the formation of the world's first Grand Lodge in London 1717, but the idea supposedly started among the men building King Solomon's temple. That handshake was apparently a secret sign for medieval stone masons to show each other they had been properly trained. And if you believe all the conspiracy theories, masons were also secretly responsible for every war, assassination and political plot since the temple job.
They also have funny costumes: the rolled-up trouser leg for a start, which was part of the ancient initiation ceremony to prove that you were not carrying a weapon. As you progressed through the ranks you got to wear funny aprons, and become involved in ancient, secret ceremonies … before going to nice dinners. You got to wear regalia. It seemed perfect.
Now, though, no one had the decency to stop me taking a little detour, into a room full of portraits of men in ermine. There I found, well, not quite proof of "the quest for world domination", but a revealing Freemasons' Hall shop catalogue. Those "master mason teddy bears, £7" look harmless, but imagine a vulnerable chief constable getting one for Christmas, what tricks it might play with his fragile mind.
I hurried to the Grand Temple's antechamber, and was shocked: there were women present; there were no funny aprons; my fellow guests were mainly students. They didn't seem to be the world-dominating type.
"Have you seen Spooks [the television spy series]?" asked Chris, excitedly. "They did a walk-through of this building in the first episode." I really should have been less furtive about which branch of the "Civil Service" I "worked" for.
Russell Race, the deputy metropolitan grand master, promised that freemasonry offered "friendship, intellectual development, an oasis of calm, making good men better". Nothing about world domination.
Then we entered the Grand Temple itself, a cavernous chamber adorned with masonic symbols: the all-seeing eye, the square and compasses. We saw the gilt throne used by the Duke of Kent, the grand master of the United Grand Lodge. The United Grand Lodge's (disappointingly accessible) website revealed that monarchs from King George IV (1762-1830) to George VI (1895-1952) were masons.
So were Churchill and Jim Davidson. Who could fail to be inspired? Especially by Richard Knox-Johnston, the metropolitan deputy grand director of ceremonies, brother of the yachtsman Sir Robin. The deputy grand director calmed our fears: "Women have other orders affiliated with the United Grand Lodge, but our meetings are a boys' night out. It's a male preserve."
David, 57, a master of three lodges in 27 years as a mason, joined me. Who would have thought it? David was a former commander in the Metropolitan Police. "I quit masonry for five years, because the bloody Home Office was asking: 'Are you a mason?' I told them to eff off."
He wasn't alone. When the Government tried a voluntary register of masonic police officers in 1999, only 36.6 per cent responded. Of those, only 1.1 per cent said they were freemasons. The Home Office estimated the true figure was 10 times higher. It had instigated the register after a Home Affairs Select Committee report, which cleared freemasonry of being a "primary cause" of 1970s miscarriages of justice by the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad but noted: "We cannot entirely exclude the possibility that it may have been a contributory factor."
The Government had to abandon the notion of compulsory registration plans after fears of a Human Rights Act challenge were raised. Judges and magistrates were more co-operative, with about five per cent admitting they were masons.
David reassured me about the initiation ceremony, with its rumoured threats of a slashed throat for divulging masonic secrets. "We have modified that." Now they just put a noose around your neck.
"Only loosely," smiled David.
He was similarly disappointing about "world domination", giving me a conventional handshake. "Forget myths about climbing the greasy pole. If that's what you want, we don't want you."
His son Greg insisted, though: "That doesn't mean networking doesn't happen. I have met all sorts of people …"
"Dad" offered more hope, invoking freemasonry's links with the ancient past, the Bible, Da Vinci Code stuff. "Once you are a master mason, you can join the Knights Templar. It's a subdivision of the masons, based on the original 12th-century knights."
Then he ruined it. "My wife loves my masonic charity work. Ladies come to some socials. The wine-tasting trip to Rheims was wonderful."
This was not right. Freemasonry couldn't be just about men who liked showing other men their finely turned ankles and going to Rheims. Or could it?
David seemed to read my thoughts. The former policeman smiled, offered a parting handshake. "We need people like you." His hand grasped mine, and twisted slightly. "If you want to join …"