A complicated look at uncomplicated topics to ameliorate your day.
(as interpreted by a completely biased 21st century unhistorian)
Once upon a time there were some dudes that built stuff. More specifically blokes that worked with freestone such as sandstone or limestone to build ornamental masonry. They toiled through time, building medieval columns for churches and royal buildings, chipping away thanklessly but no less artfully than Michelangelo upon his David.
They realised that like every other pleb out there (note this is actually an historically correct contextual use of the word ‘pleb’) they were getting screwed over by the crown. So, like the Barons of the Magna Carta (1215), or perhaps thanks to them because England was now almost a Constitutional Monarchy with a functioning Parliament (circa 1300s), they decided to form a crew (otherwise known as a guild) and get themselves some representation on the Common Council in London.
Once they had their guild, they set to behaving like a union and making life hell for those in charge. Their marketing department felt that they were not getting enough good press and so employed an advertising agency (Ye Great Olde Romantic Poets) to build sufficient speculation and backstory. This involved writing some poems on parchment (and staining it with coffee to make it look old before burning the edges to make it look authentic) linking the current masons back to that long standing book of great conviction and acceptance, the Bible. Clever dicks as they were, they drew a parallel to King Solomon’s porch way in the Old Testament (welcome Jews and Muslims to this tale) so that their story linked with the three great monolithic religions and increased their target audience.
Subsequent marketing campaigns tied in medieval adventures such as the Crusades to add glamour and drama to the guild, with a healthy dose of royalty to add the requisite societal clout. In a particularly lean year, they decided to take it one step further (geographically and chronologically) and link the masons back to Ancient Egypt, as both were fond of triangles and Egypt as we know is full of triangles – the Pyramids, the Nile Delta, Antony/Cleopatra/Octavius Caesar etc
Once they had their crew together, the masons continued to build stuff. Some were a bit more structural, but most had an artistic flair that they just couldn’t contain.
The Master built the first column and then went away to the Crusades.
While he was away the little upstart known as the Apprentice built the other column. And instead of doing it like he was told, he got chip happy and completely superseded the Master. (Image courtesy of Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland. Circa 1400s. )
While they were building monuments out of stone, the rest of the world was busy doing what it does best – fighting with each other, sailing around fighting with each other, discovering new lands and fighting with each other, dying of plagues and diseases mainly because those fighting with each other couldn’t keep it in their pants every time they invaded a new country, writing some stuff and thinking some grand ideas and then fighting over them etc at times all of this fighting with each other changed the way of the world (Reformation) and certain clubs and organisations went underground or became quite exclusive, the masons was one of these.
In the early 1700s though, they got their shit together and started to take minutes at these meetings of theirs and even wrote a list of rules and regulations for the Masons. They elected a bossy boots (called a Grand Master) every year to run the show, and had several lodges to which the masons belonged and these were overseen by a ruling Grand Lodge. The last time they had a lay person as a Grand Master was 1720/21. After this time, they had a new marketing campaign to lift the profile of the Masons and decided only to have nobility as Grand Masters from then on in. (How exactly this was a good idea going into the French Revolution and the enlightenment – ie let’s overthrow the nobility, I will never know)
Their Rules had a few good things in them that actually explained what they did, as opposed to what their marketing campaigns speculated:
– Masonry recognized three grades of craftsman;- the apprentice, the journeyman, and the master. An apprentice who had learned his craft became a journeyman, qualified to do all manner of masonic work. The master was also qualified as a project manager, often functioning as architect as well. As time went along these three stages continued to be integral to the membership of a mason to a lodge – with a new mason naturally progressing through the degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason.
– Masons don’t have a religious affiliation – although they did spend a good 800 years at least building the religions institutions of Europe – they simply believe in the existence of a higher being (another clever marketing ploy). This being said, many of their members have been Protestants but the Catholics didn’t deal so well with an undefined God.
Freemasonry spread around the world, much like the communicable diseases of Europe, to America and Australia. One pre-eminent Freemason we know of is Dallas Brooks, the longest serving governor of Victoria (13 years). He was an English bloke from the navy who fought both WWI and WWII who moved out here to keep the colonies in order, and decided to stay for a while. Whilst he did he was elected Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria (and they built him a hall – Dallas Brooks Hall) and was a very handy cricketer, playing several first class matches for Hampshire. After retirement from being important, he moved to Frankston and lost his will to live a mere three years later (like most people who move there).
These days the Freemasons don’t build as much stuff, but they continue to follow the three steps of membership – apprentice, journeyman and master, and just apply it in different ways. What these ways are remain a mystery their marketing department is yet to share, however we can safely assume it is knowledge, sorcery, worldliness and anything else we’ve speculated upon in that recent Sherlock Holmes movie with the scary dude and Robert Downey Jnr.
The writers and poets of England (formerly known as Ye Great Olde Romantic Poets) have continued to enjoy a long, 700 year partnership as the chief marketing company of the masons, with recent campaigns including ‘Dan Browns – The Da Vinci Code’ and ‘JK Rowling’s Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix/The Deathly Hallows’.
And now you have read this exciting synopsis you can promptly forget all of it. Except for one vital piece of information – don’t move to Frankston.