THE United Grand Lodge of England yesterday placed advertisements in three English newspapers calling for an end to discrimination against freemasons.

Headlined ‘Enough Is Enough’ the adverts cite the £33m raised by masons for charity each year, and its chief executive David Staples has complained to the Equality and Human Rights Commission that its 200,000-plus members are the victims of gross misrepresentation and discrimination.

He said: “At the United Grand Lodge of England, we value honesty, integrity and service to the community above all else. Last year we raised over £33 million for good causes.

“As an organisation we welcome individuals from all walks of life, of any race, faith, age, class or political persuasion.”

The adverts provoked a strong reaction and no shortage of laughter yesterday. MP Melanie Onn questioned how anyone could discriminate against members as “we don’t know who they are” while others pointed out that the vast majority of masonic lodges are male only.


THEY are members of a society which says it is not secret but which has rituals full of them. There are around five million masons worldwide. Although it is not compulsory, members typically meet as a lodge. Within a masonic lodge, ceremonies of initiation take place using rituals and oaths that date back centuries.

It used to be that masons could tell other masons by hand signals and ‘tokens’, which were handshakes that confirmed your ranking in freemasonry. Nowadays if a mason visits another lodge he will probably have to show a ‘dues’ card from his own lodge.

Even yesterday Staples refused to perform a masonic ‘handshake’ for the cameras, as part of becoming a mason is to take an oath not to reveal such secrets.

There is no world governing body. Instead ‘Grand Lodges’ on a national or a regional basis are the controlling entities and they do not have to recognise other Grand Lodges or their rituals and codes.

In most masonic rituals across the western world, a person is initiated as an apprentice, then is passed to the degree of fellowcraft before finally being raised to the degree of master mason.

Only ‘free’ men of good character can join, and most grand lodges demand that an applicant believes in a Supreme Being, sometimes known by masons as the Great or Grand Architect – a person’s religion is usually known but never, in theory, questioned by fellow masons, and talking about religion is banned in many if not most lodges in Scotland.


THE original masons were just that – stone masons who travelled from job to job, and who banded together in the early middle ages as a sort of trade union to maintain standards and get the best jobs for their members. They were known as a ‘free’ masons because they had no landlord and were free to travel to find work, especially on religious buildings.

(Whether true or not, it remains a major criticism of freemasonry that members discriminate in favour of other members in all walks of life.)

Though its provenance is disputed – a not uncommon facet of freemasonry – in Scotland it is generally accepted that the oldest lodge and the oldest in the world is the Kilwinning Lodge which is numbered zero and is known as the Mother Lodge. The masons who built Kilwinning Abbey in the late 12th century are supposed to have laid down the basic rules, and by the 15th century Kilwinning Lodge had royal permits to form other lodges.

England’s Grand Lodge formed itself in 1717 based on the principles of those original Scottish masons – brotherly love, relief (charitable works) and truth. Ireland and Scotland formed their own Grand Lodges shortly afterwards and as the British empire expanded, so did freemasonry, with Americans taking it to their hearts – George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were both masons.


YOU can name them by the dozen: John Wayne and Clark Gable, Dr Barnardo, comedian Jim Davidson, composers Mozart and Sir Arthur Sullivan, writers Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain and Anthony Trollope, quite a lot of US presidents, Winston Churchill and King George VI – the current Grand Master in England is the Duke of Kent.

Roman Catholics are banned from becoming masons, but plenty do and the lodge which gained most notoriety in the 20th century was ‘Propaganda Due’ in Italy which was a state within a state and penetrated the Vatican itself.

The most famous Scottish mason of them all was Robert Burns.


ROBERT Burns was initiated an entered apprentice in Lodge St. David, Tarbolton on July 4, 1781, aged 22. He swiftly passed to the degree of fellowcraft, and was raised to the degree of Master Mason on October 1, 1781.

He remained a fervent freemason all his life, and recounted as one of his greatest honours that at a meeting of Lodge St. Andrew in Edinburgh in 1787, he was toasted by the worshipful Grand Master, Most.

Worshipful brother Francis Charteris, later Lord Elcho, with the words “Caledonia and Caledonia’s bard, Brother Burns”.

You can find references to freemasonic beliefs throughout Burns’s many works and “A Man’s a Man” was inspired by the brotherhood he found in freemasonry.

If you ever use the terms ‘square up’, ‘the all-seeing eye’, ‘on the level’ or ‘the third degree’ you are using words inspired by freemasonry.