The trivial truths about Freemasons
It could be a Trivial Pursuit question: Which organisation has donated $3 million to hospices this year, has members of many faiths and is the biggest private provider of scholarships to New Zealand universities?
The 50 people who turned out to the Everything you wish to know about Freemasonry but were afraid to ask session in Timaru yesterday now know the answer.
The afternoon was organised by the South Canterbury Historical Society and Friends of the Museum to coincide with the museum's Freemasons exhibition.
On hand to answers the questions were The Grand Lodge of New Zealand's grand master Stan Barker, grand secretary Laurence Milton and chairman of directors Neville Patrick.
The questions ranged from why there are no women in the lodges, to whether Catholics could join, and what was behind the "goat" jokes.
So why no women in the lodge? It would take a change at international level to allow that. It's an organisation that aims to make men "better men". There were still roles for women. Mr Milton's wife was heavily involved in his lodge's social committee and charity work.
Is the lodge dying off? The "flower power, hippy generation" were not interested in the lodge, meaning there is a missing generation. New Zealand membership reached a high of 47,000 in 1964. More younger members are joining than ever before, but older members are dying.
What's the regalia about? The symbolism teaches members the lessons of life, just as the regalia a church minister wears has special significance.
Are masons anti-Christian? Certainly not. Every freemason must believe in a superior being. Many are Christians and choose the Bible as their "sacred law" on which they swear their "obligation". Yet Mr Barker has been at ceremonies where five "sacred laws" have been used because of the different beliefs of members.
"You can have a Muslim sitting next to us, and a Hindu on the other side. It teaches tolerance and you expect the same back."
What they must all have is high moral standards.
Do freemasons help each other? One criminal who gave the masonic sign to a British judge was sentenced to hang - proof there was no favouritism.
The organisation probably helps non members more. It has already donated $3 million to hospices this year, funds university research into gerontology, brain disease and paediatrics, and is the largest private provider of university scholarships.
Can you leave the lodge? Yes. Some choose to. Others are expelled when they breach the high moral standards demanded, or are convicted of an imprisonable offence.
And what about the goats? Lodge buildings used to be on large sections and while the grass might be mowed in residential areas, in the rural areas a farmer Freemason might tie up a goat to eat the grass. With the buildings having no windows, rumours were rife as to why the goat was there.
A "goat" is also a traditional mason's tool – a two legged lifting device. Some say the lodge's symbol, the square and compass, looks like a goat head with horns when turned upside down. Anything else you might have heard about Freemasons and goats is purely myth.
It was not the first time Mr Milton had been asked the "goat" question.
The Timaru Herald