Scottish Freemasons open their doors for new TV programme

“Secrets of the Masons” will be screened on BBC Two Scotland at 9pm on Monday, March 19th

“Freemasons open door for cameras to banish myths”

The inauguration of Robert Burns as Poet Laureate of the Lodge was depicted by William Stewart Watson in 1846

by Marc Horne
March 9 2018
The Times

Scotland’s Freemasons have broken with centuries of tradition and opened their doors to public scrutiny.

Long regarded as a secretive society that has closely guarded its clandestine rules and arcane rituals, the masons have allowed cameras into their lodges for the first time.

Several famous figures – including King George VI, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – have been members of the Grand Lodge of Scotland but the all-male organisation has always eschewed publicity.

Now it has permitted a documentary film crew to enter its buildings and document some of the previously off-limits ceremonies.

Robert Cooper, the lodge’s curator and official historian, hopes that the documentary will help to boost the masons’ image and dispel myths and misconceptions.

He is frustrated by persistent suggestions that members wield a powerful and sinister influence over public life.

“Most of our members are ordinary working guys; bus drivers and taxi drivers, with the odd dentist and mid-ranking professional,” Mr Cooper said.

“The idea that we somehow run the country behind closed doors is laughable. If we genuinely were a secret society, you would know very little about us. People love conspiracies and, unfortunately, we fit the bill.

“We have never had an opportunity to explain ourselves to wider society. We are keen to improve our public profile and redress the balance. However, we accept that a minority of people will always be against freemasonry whatever we say or do.”

The Grand Lodge is also keen to dispel the idea that it has any links to similarly named Protestant-only groups.

Mr Cooper said: “It’s a popular perception, but completely false. We are open to men of all faiths and creeds and have members who are Catholic, Jewish and Muslim.

“In the documentary, viewers will see members wearing regalia in green and gold, which are colours that people would associate with Ireland.” However, members must swear to a belief in a supreme being, meaning atheists, agnostics and humanists cannot join.

He is also keen to distinguish his lodge from its sister organisation in the south, the United Grand Lodge of England. “In terms of demographics there is no doubt that freemasonry in England is very middle and upper class,” he said.

“In Scotland the lodge was created by working men and that is reflected in our membership today.”

Despite giving access to outsiders the lodge has refused to reveal the details of its unique handshakes, or grips, or to allow its initiation ceremonies, which involve blindfolds and raised trouser legs, to be filmed.

Mr Cooper said: “It would be the ultimate spoiler. If I told you the butler did it would you still go and see the play? I don’t think so.”

In recent years the lodge, whose roots date back to the 16th century, has had to come to terms with a marked decline in membership. In 2015 it launched a public Facebook account where it revealed that the number of new recruits, or initiates as they are known, had fallen from more than 45,000 a year in 1918 to about 2,000 a year. It has since launched a university lodge in Edinburgh to attract younger members.

The BBC confirmed that its hour-long documentary will be narrated by Bill Paterson, the actor from Glasgow known for the BBC series Sea of Souls.

A spokesman for BBC Scotland said: “The Freemasons is an organisation that many people have heard of, but relatively few know much about.

“To some observers it is a club characterised by funny handshakes and raised trouser legs, to others it’s a secret group with genuine power which can have a questionable influence in some areas of society.

“For the first time Freemasons have allowed cameras into a number of Scottish lodges to shed light on the organisation.”

Secrets of the Masons will be screened on BBC Two at 9pm on Monday, March 19.

Courtesy of The Times

Download a copy of the original article HERE

Programme Website

In Secrets of the Masons, cameras for the first time go behind the doors of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Scotland, in Edinburgh, the home of freemasonry, and lift the veil on the inner secrets of this normally closed world. With exclusive access to its 400-year-old archive, its members around the country and its grand master, who presides over 1,000 lodges and 100,000 Scottish Freemasons worldwide, we film at lodge meetings, the selection of new candidates and the installation of grand masters.

This documentary explores the truth about an organisation characterised by many for funny handshakes and rolled trouser legs, and by others as a dangerous, secret society, “the hidden hand that has shaped Scotland”.

We discover famous Scots whose careers have been “helped” by being masons, including Robert Burns and leading light in the Scottish Enlightenment, James Watt. Deputy Scottish Grandmaster Ramsay McGee, ex assistant chief constable of Northern Constabulary, remembers when, in the 1970s, 50 per cent of the force under him were masons. But he defends the close links between freemasonry and the police – “I could argue all policemen should be masons, it would make them much better men!”

In the bomb-proof safes below the grand lodge in Edinburgh’s George Street, archivist Robert Cooper, in white gloves, finds the original minutes of the first lodge meeting in 1598. We trace how this organisation grew from stonemasons to freemasons, became enshrined in America, where 40 per cent of presidents have been masons, was banned by the Pope and Hitler, and “done in”, in Robert Cooper’s words, by Dan Brown. And we ask if its lasting legacy is less its influence and more its secrecy.

BBC iplayer Scotland

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