Masons give public a look at old rituals

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 12:00 06/12/2010

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Dressed in decorative aprons and badges, a group of men let people in on a little secret over the weekend.

The public was invited to witness the induction of Freemasonry grand lodge officers in Foxton on Saturday, shrouded in traditions and surrounded by tool symbols.

About 30 men gathered at the Masonic Lodge in Foxton for the event.

The fraternal society has an emphasis on charity and a reputation of secret handshakes and rituals. But, with an ageing membership, Freemasonry is increasingly opening its doors to the public to attract more members.

A discreet shoulder-tap is no longer a membership requirement; interested men can shoulder-tap the Freemasons' website instead.

There are three requirements for entry: members must believe in a higher being; be a person of good character; and be male.

There are about 3000 members in the lower North Island under the guidance of divisional grand master Steve Salmon. He described Freemasonry as a "society with secrets" rather than a "secret society".

Freemasonry has existed in New Zealand for more than 100 years. The group's membership surged after World War II.

Freemasonry offered war veterans a chance to meet friends and escape the war, as politics and religion cannot be discussed at meetings.

The group's focus has turned to charity and community service.

During Saturday's meeting John Shroud was honoured for 50 years of service. Mr Shroud said he joined Freemasonry in 1960 after being impressed by the moral standing of other members.

"It's the bond of friendship and they provide moral and physical support if you need it.

"Some things have never changed and good ethical behaviour is one of them. Supporting your fellow man is another."

Mr Salmon said the secrets behind the society originate from the Middle Ages when stonemasons moved around the countryside between building projects. Being mostly illiterate, they learned secret words and signs which enabled them to prove their skill levels to prospective employers, much like a CV.

The more secrets they learned, the more highly skilled they were considered.

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- The Manawatu Standard

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