Rituals associated with Freemasons
By Patrick Mathangani
For many people, separating freemasonry from religion has been difficult.
Although officials say it is not a religion, its mystic nature and reference to religious beliefs has not helped matters.
At the entrance of freemasons hall in Nairobi, one is greeted with a biblical reference about King Solomon.
The message, taken from the book of Chronicles, stares down at visitors: "God said of King Solomon, he shall build me an house and I will establish his throne forever," it reads.
On the corridors, as one enters the building, another message pinned on the wall reminds members of the importance of the Bible.
"The Bible, referred to by freemasons as the Volume of the Sacred Law, is always open in the lodges. Every candidate is required to take his obligation on that book or on the volume which is held by his particular creed to impart sanctity to an oath or promise taken by it," it says in part.
The Bible is always present when members engage in their ritual dramas which, according to members, impart morality.
The East African lodge is registered under the United Grand Lodge of England, which practices a "pure" form of freemasonry.
The ritual dramas, which are hundreds of years old, add to the mystery of the society.
The dramas, which are usually conducted during evening meetings, have baffled those who are not members.
Throw in some secret forms of recognition known to members only, and the picture of a mysterious cult becomes complete.
Members swear by the Bible that breaking the obligations of Freemasonry would lead to death.
The one taken by new members is known as the Masonic Entered Apprentice Oath.
One binds himself "under no less a penalty than that of having my throat cut across, my tongue torn out, and with my body buried in the sands of the sea." Members who profess other faiths other than Christianity swear by the books recognised by their religions.
The obligations include keeping the society’s secrets.
However, officials insist no one is killed because of breaking those obligations.
"The physical penalties, which are purely symbolic, do not form part of an obligation. The commitment to follow the principles of Freemasonry is, however, deep," says a booklet issued by the United Grand Lodge of England.
Masonic symbols have also been found in some churches.
This, however, is because the founders of Freemasonry were Christians.
Discussing religion and politics are strictly prohibited during their meetings.
Yet, a key requirement is that one be a religious person who believes in a supreme being, or universal architect.
"There is no separate Masonic God; a Freemason’s God remains the God of the religion he professes. Freemasons meet in common respect for the supreme being, but he remains supreme in their individual religions, and it is no part of Freemasonry to attempt to join religions together," says the booklet.
"There is, therefore, no composite Masonic God," it adds.
Freemasons are deeply involved in doing good deeds to others and in charity.
Dr V K Talwar, the district grand master for East Africa, says believing in a supreme being is important because most religions teach love for humanity.
It, therefore, enables the society to achieve its objectives of charity, integrity and caring for each other.
"This is for human beings, not only masons. In masonry, they are called love, relief and truth," adds Talwar.
He notes: "All religions that we believe in say the same thing – truth, morality and integrity, and respect for each other; help for each other. So if you believe in a religion, this is what your religion teaches. So we feel that you’ll be a good man."
He says the society has nothing to hide. "We meet in a public place. Freemason halls are situated on the main streets in all countries. In almost all parts of the world, there are freemasons," says Talwar.
Another booklet reminds members that they should always do the wish of the Supreme being they believe in.
"A Freemason is encouraged to do his duty first to his God (by whatever name he is known) through his faith and religious practice; and then, without detriment to his family and those dependent on him, to his neighbour through charity and service," it says.
Although membership is open to any man in society, freemasonry is associated with the rich.
Women are not allowed as members. Although some lodges are allowing women members, the United Grand Lodge of England strictly prohibits this in lodges associated with it.
Members of the local lodge are strictly forbidden to have "Masonic contact with lodges which admit women to membership."
Some people have postulated that it is a secret, religious society for the rich, who have an agenda to rule over the world.
They say members are often powerful people, and cite several American presidents who have been masons.
Several kings in Europe were also masons.
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