Early in my Masonic career, I was struck by the
statement contained in the north-east charge in the initiation ceremony to the
effect that the branches of Freemasonry are spread over the whole surface of the
habitable globe. Likewise, in the tracing board lecture in the first degree, I
was interested in a further reference to the world-wide nature of the order,
which reads as Freemasons will know: "Let me first call your attention to
the form of the Lodge, which is a parallelepipedon, in length from east to west,
in breadth between north and south, in depth from the surface of the earth to
the centre and even as high as the heavens. The reason a Freemason's Lodge is
described of this vast extent, is to show the universality of the science."
For some time, I felt that these references may have
been an exaggeration or an over-emphasis of the real situation and the truth
would be that Freemasonry was, in the main, a British institution with lodges
functioning in the United Kingdom, In some countries formerly members of the
British Empire, in parts of America and, perhaps, in a few other
English-speaking areas around the world. It was with these feelings in mind that
I decided to conduct an examination into this aspect of the Craft's operations.
My research was carried out under the following four main headings:
(i) Is Freemasonry really spread over the whole surface
of the habitable globe!
(ii) If so, why2
(iii) Is Freemasonry the same the whole world over!
(iv) The conclusion of the matter!
This, now, is as I see the universality question.
(i) Is Freemasonry really spread over the whole surface
of the habitable globe?
For a start, there are more than 750 lodges on the
register of our own United Grand Lodge of Victoria with two-thirds of these
meeting in the metropolitan area of Melbourne and the remaining one-third in
country districts. Within the six state Masonic jurisdictions in Australia,
there is a total of some 2500 lodges. Outside Australia, the United Grand Lodge
of Victoria recognises and enjoys fraternal relations with 110 Grand Lodges
representing countries and states in other parts of the world.
But this is not the full story because there are many
other countries where Freemasonry lives. Mainly because these areas are not
large enough Masonically, they do not have their own Grand Lodges, but Masonic
Lodges do function in these places under the aegis of what might be called
"parent" or home Grand Lodges which have their headquarters in, for
example, England, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and the Philippines. Some
of the lodges were formed in small communities by early settlers migrating to
overseas colonies. Others were constituted under the sponsorship or authority of
travelling military lodges, ie, lodges which were attached to British military
regiments which saw service in many parts of the world in the 18th and 19th
In the matter of "parent" Grand Lodges and
taking, as an example, the United Grand Lodge of England, which is the largest
of them, this Grand Lodge has constituted some 47 Provincial Grand Lodges in
various counties in England and Wales as well as in the Channel Isles and on the
Isle of Wight. In Kent, Lancashire and Yorkshire, the counties are of such size
that they have been split geographically and two Provincial Grand Lodges operate
in each case.
The United Grand Lodge of England has also created a
number of District Grand Lodges in certain countries to control the operations
of groups of lodges formed under the English Constitution. These, in the same
way as the Provincial Grand Lodges, do not have the status of full Grand Lodges.
The United Grand Lodge also exercises control over smaller groups of lodges in
other areas by appointing Grand Inspectors in a supervising capacity. There is a
further smaller category of cases where lodges meet under the English
constitution as single lodges in isolation, so to speak.
A somewhat similar situation obtains under the other
"parent" constitutions to which reference has been made.
Looking at the overall situation, my researches have
indicated that there are Masonic lodges in all states of Australia, including
the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory; all states of the
United States of America; all provinces of Canada, including the maritime
provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island; somewhat
surprisingly, perhaps, the Central American states, including Costa Rica,
Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama and El Salvador; the Caribbean including Jamaica,
Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic and even in the small
areas of the Leeward, Windward and Virgin Islands; all countries in South
America; the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, and most countries in Europe outside
the so-called Iron Curtain (although in the latter regard, Freemasonry was a
strong force in most of those countries years ago, and there are current reports
that in some of those areas clandestine meetings of Freemasons take place from
time to time); many countries in Africa, including some nations now regarded as
"emerging" such as Botswana, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Togo;
the Mediterranean area including Gibraltar, Cyprus and Malta; the Middle East in
Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan; various parts of Asia, including Hong Kong,
India, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and
Taiwan; and the Pacific area, including New Zealand, Papua/New Guinea, New
Britain and in smaller islands such as Fiji, Guam and Vanuatu.
In the old Masonic catechetical lectures, Freemasons
are told that our ancient brethren "assembled on high hills and low vales,
even in the valleys of Jehosophat and many other secret places."
Today, Masonic lodges are active from Alaska, Iceland,
Newfoundland and Finland in the frozen north to Argentina, Chile and New Zealand
in the south, in the west and east, in the mountainous areas, in valleys, on the
plains, by lakes, on the equator and on large and small islands.
To quote a few examples, there is a Lodge Polaris in
Goose Bay, Labrador, Lodge Star of the South in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Lodge
Mt Everest -- Lebong in Darjeeling, India, Lodge San Lorenzo Valley in Boulder
Creek, California, City of the Plains Lodge in Bathurst, New South Wales, Lodge
of the Lakes in Baldwin, Michigan, Lodge Equator in Kisuma, Kenya, and Lodge St
Helena meeting in Jamestown on the tiny island of St Helena in the south
There are approximately 40,000 lodges throughout the
world with a total membership in excess of five million. The Craft has spread
through all strata of society -- kings, princes and other royal personages,
presidents, statesmen, churchmen, military and civic leaders, men of all
professions, crafts and trades, men of all races and cultures.
From the foregoing, it can be seen that Freemasonry is
spread, indeed, over the whole surface of the habitable globe.
(ii) If so, why?
What is there about Freemasonry that appeals to men on
a multi-national basis!
Do men join our Masonic ranks because of mere
inquisitiveness, because father was a Freemason and it might be a nice family
gesture to continue the association, because it could be a WASP (White
Anglo-Saxon Protestant) organisation or because it could tend to improve one's
personal status and possibly lead to some social or business advancement?
Or, on the other hand, do many of our candidates join
because they have had the opportunity of mixing with Freemasons and their
families or, as we are told, of developing a preconceived favourable opinion of
the institution, a general desire for knowledge or a sincere wish to render
themselves more serviceable to their fellow men!
Certainly, I believe, there have been men who have
become members for one or other of the first group of reasons. But, because we
do not solicit or coerce men to join our order, I hold the view that Freemasonry
has flourished because there is a world-wide belief that Freemasons are
respectable men. In the face of prejudice, disbelief, :scorn and sometimes
prohibition, the Craft has attracted members over its long history despite the
aura of secrecy which has been allowed to cloak its activities. Freemasons were
seen to be men of goodwill, doing good and providing balance in the community.
It could be that many have sought to enter our portals
because of our professed special regard for the equality of man, irrespective of
colour, class, caste or creed -- a world brotherhood transcending individual
states and individual nationalities. We hope that people are coming to the
realisation that Freemasonry is not an organisation that has something to hide
but is, in fact, a rather special fraternity of men dedicated to the development
of character, social conscience and true charity in all men.
(iii) Is Freemasonry the same the whole world over?
To this question, there must be two answers -- Yes and
Yes It is the same everywhere in the sense that all
Masonic jurisdictions agree on:
· the fundamental nature of the Masonic concept
· the historical part played by the ancient
stonemasons in relation to the development of our speculative art
· recognition of the presence of a Supreme Being, a
Great Architect, a Grand Geometer from whom all goodness springs
· the use of a Sacred Volume to act as a rule to guide
our faith and actions
· the principles and tenets on which the order is
based, namely brotherly love, relief and truth and the other human virtues
· the use of a ritual and associated ceremonial as the
means of presenting the Masonic message.
No It is not the same in all constitutions in relation
to the detailed nature of procedures, practices and general operations. There
are substantial differences in approach in many matters, including modes of
recognition, method of appointment of Grand Lodge officers, form of dress,
regalia, types of symbols employed, lodge officers' titles, layout of temples,
frequency of meetings, means of advising brethren regarding meetings, entrance
of brethren into the temple, time lapse between the taking of degrees,
proficiency tests for candidates before progression through degrees, toast lists
at festive boards and in the use of alcohol or otherwise at festive boards.
For purposes of illustration and as a matter of
interest, a number of special examples of differences are set out hereunder:
The ritual varies in matter of detail from one
constitution to another. In England, for instance, there are some 20 or more
rituals in use due, no doubt, to the reluctance to commit any part of Masonic
workings to paper for many years. It was all left to memory, even after an
agreed upon ritual was laid down in 1813, and variations have inevitably arisen
from differing interpretations in different areas and, also, from a desire to
retain certain long-observed customs in particular places. The Irish
constitution is unusual in that it does not authorise a printed ritual but
relies on an oral tradition.
In some constitutions, but particularly in lodges
operating under the Grand Lodge of Scotland, all brethren, irrespective of
Masonic rank, are addressed as "Brother". In many constitutions in the
United States of America, Masonic lodges sponsor and give moral support to young
people's organisations, namely, the Order of De Molay for young lads up to the
age of 18 years, and the Orders of the Rainbow and Job's Daughters for girls.
Representatives of these orders often are invited to attend Craft
communications. The Grand Lodge of Ohio, in particular, makes annual
"Excellence in Youth" awards to outstanding leaders in these three
The installation ceremony in many English lodges, by
design, has a certain degree of informality built into it contrasting with the
ceremony in Victoria which, especially when carried out by Grand Lodge teams, is
made an occasion of formal pageantry. There is a somewhat similar difference of
approach in degree work. On the other hand, visitors to English lodges are
"proved" more diligently than in Victoria.
Informality is taken in some of the USA constitutions
to an extent that Victorian brethren would find a little difficult to
understand. In some lodges, the wearing of sports shirts with open-necked
collars predominate and smoking during ceremonies is regarded as normal.
The membership roll of some lodges in south-cast Asian
countries includes brethren of different religions, such as Mohammedans, Sikhs,
Hindus, Parsees, Zoroastrians and Christians. In these lodges, the Sacred Volume
of each religion represented is displayed during meetings.
In the USA, Masonic lodges are more involved in
community service work than our Victorian lodges. American Freemasonry has
sought to develop an overt image in society by active participation in community
projects such as schools, children's homes, retirement villages, libraries and
other public building:. Often, Freemasons are invited to lay foundation stones,
or corner stones as they are termed in America, for these buildings. In the
past, Victoria has adopted a rather low profile attitude in the matter of
community involvement, preferring to proceed on the basis that Freemasonry's
responsibility is to prepare brethren in a philosophical manner to appreciate
the virtue of displaying charity and benevolence to one's fellows and to
stimulate them to wish to join organisations working for worthy community
causes. But, our approach is clearly changing and we may be drawing nearer to
the American Freemason's way of thinking in this aspect of Masonic operations.
The work of our newly-formed Masonic disaster task force as a unit member of the
State's Emergency Services organisation in times of bushfires and floods and
other catastrophes is a significant development in this respect.
In various countries and in some of the other states of
Australia, master masons are permitted to present a number of the degree charges
and addresses. Victoria differs in this regard and allows only past masters, in
their role as rulers in the Craft, to make these presentations. This policy has
been followed on the principal score of not wishing to do anything that could
possibly endanger standards. Master masons in Victoria, however, are permitted
to deliver the tracing board lectures and the wardens, of course, present the
To encourage lodges to aim for high standards of
efficiency in their operations, the Grand Lodge of Ohio issues Grand Master's
awards to lodges complying with a large number of stipulated requirements. This
Grand Lodge also presents each year a distinguished service award to a member of
the Constitution for notable service to the Order.
In many German lodges, at the point in the first degree
when light is restored, the senior warden stamps his foot hard on the floor at
which all brethren call out "God punishes the villain." The second
degree ceremony is a joyful one with rose garlands wound around the pillars and
three roses, coloured white, pink and red, are placed on the master's pedestal.
For third degree ceremonies, the lodge room and furniture are completely
shrouded in black with a black carpet to absorb all noise. All brethren wear a
black funeral cloak.
In the Grand Orient of Brazil, the candidate at his
initiation, amongst other procedures of a relatively unusual nature, is required
to drink from two bottles, the first containing a sweet liquid, the other a
bitter one. When his face distorts after the second drink, he is informed that
Freemasons should be able to "take the bitter with the sweet." Later,
his hands are washed and dried by his proposer and then passed through an open
flame. After the initiation is concluded, the atmosphere changes somewhat and
the candidate receives a bouquet of flowers to take home to his lady or family.
In certain constitutions, some Masonic meetings are
permitted to be held in places other than temples. For example, meetings are
held from time to time in the open air in some states of the USA, including
Arizona, Kentucky, Maryland and Georgia. On the other side of the world,
meetings have been conducted in Israel in King Solomon's Quarries or the Caves
of Hezekiah which are located close to the Damascus Gate under the walls of the
Old City of Jerusalem. In Australia, combined meetings of lodges have taken
place in the Jenolan Caves near the Blue Mountains in New South Wales.
There are many constitutions with lodges working in
different languages. For example, the Grand Lodge of Quebec comprises
approximately 100 lodges including a number of lodges where only French is
spoken. These are referred to as Francophone lodges, the others using English
being called Anglophone lodges. In the Grand Lodge of Israel, there are lodges
working in Hebrew, English, French, Arabic, German and Rumanian.
In the Grand Lodge of Florida, there are four
Spanish-speaking lodges. In the Grand Lodge of Turkey, there are lodges working
in Turkish, English, French and German. Many other cases could be quoted.
In some overseas constitutions, the festival days of St
John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist are observed as special Masonic
days. These days are of special significance in
Masonic history. The inaugural meeting of the Grand
Lodge of England was held on 24 June 1717 (St John the Baptist's Day) and the
meeting formally establishing the United Grand Lodge of England was held on 27
December 1813 (St John the Evangelist's Day). In the past, Freemasons in some
parts of England were known as St John's Men. Why the two St Johns were so
honoured by the early Freemasons is not clear as it does not appear that either
had any special connection with building or the craft of the stonemason.
In a number of North American constitutions, regalia
may be worn at divine service on special occasions and at Masonic funerals. One
of these constitutions, the Grand Lodge of Florida, has four lodges on its
register formed for the sole purpose of conducting funerals.
The conclusion of the matter
is certainly entitled to claim that the Craft is of a world-wide character with
only a few countries without a Masonic influence. As has been shown, it has to
be acknowledged that there are many procedural and attitudinal differences in
operations in the various Grand Lodges but these differences between "what
we do and what they do" are not differences that divide. All constitutions
agree unreservedly on the basics.
fact that there are variations in approach from one country to another, from one
state to another, from one district to another, is nor at all a matter for
concern. Rather, the variations have developed in each area as part of local
Masonic history and development, a sort of local Masonic folklore, and from a
blending of the feelings and opinions of Masonic personalities in each
jurisdiction over a long time, and give each area a refreshing and welcome
uniqueness. This is far better than a dull uniformity which could blunt
enterprise and initiative to the overall detriment of the order. It would merely
be a case of uniformity for uniformity's sake and this could be inimical to our
sum up, the all-important thing is that as we Pursue our Masonic duties and
activities in our own areas and endeavour to apply the principles and tenets of
the Craft to our daily lives, we can gain great confidence from the knowledge
that we do not work in isolation. We have brothers in Masonry all over the world
all aiming for the same basic goals.