Bid to dispel traditional myths about ancient organisation.
The Freemasons - a world of secret handshakes, shady allegiances, occult dealings and hushed meetings behind closed doors? Hardly.
According to Sheffield freemason Ian Barnett, the organisation is far more charity than conspiracy, and those who believe otherwise have been misinformed.
“When people don’t know about something, they draw their own conclusions,” said Ian, who has been a member of the ancient organisation since 2012.
“It’s really difficult to find reliable information about the Freemasons on the internet and so people make it up.”
For those in any doubt, Sheffield lodge ‘Enso Drury’ - based at Tapton Masonic Hall in Fulwood - is throwing opens its doors tonight, offering members of the public the chance to come and see the inner-workings of a local Freemasons’ chapter for themselves.
This is the second year the Sheffield Freemasons have run the event, in an effort to connect better with the public. Last year four attendees went on to join the Freemasons, but Ian insists the aim is not recruiting new members.
“Anybody is welcome to join as long as they meet a couple of requirements,” said the 27-year-old, of Shirecliffe.
“All they have to do is ask, but that’s not what this is about. If all that your time with us does is satisfy your curiosity, that’s brilliant. We’re happy to show people around the hall and answer any questions they may have. Women are more than welcome too. There is a lodge for women that meets at Tapton.”
Freemasonry dates back to the 1700s and has been in the city since 1761, under the jurisdiction of the Province of Yorkshire, which today is the Province of Yorkshire West Riding. Tapton Masonic Hall hosts more than 400 lodge and order meetings a year.
And in the spirit of laying rumours to rest, there are a few myths Ian is keen to dispel. Firstly, for an apparently ‘secret’ organisation...there’s nothing secret about them.
“We have a Facebook page, how secret can we be?” laughed Ian.
“We’re proud of our work in the community, especially our extensive charity work and are happy to shout loud and proud about who we are and what we do,” he said.
“When the earthquake happened in Nepal recently, our grand lodge in London sent a cheque for £50,000 over straightaway to help with the relief effort.
“We also raise lots of money for local charities, including The British Red Cross Yorkshire and Sheffield Children’s Hospital.”
Secondly, it’s not a religion. Yes, faith is important to the Freemasons, but Ian insists they don’t care which religion their members practice. Worship does not appear on the activity list - jam-packed with quiz nights, race nights and monthly dinners - and the only time anybody is ever asked about their religious orientation is when they first join. Even then, Ian says this is only so they can be sure they have the correct religious texts to hand.
“We have a Bible and Koran at Enso Drury as we have members that are both Christian and Muslim,” he explained.
“The choice of faith isn’t as important as the fact that you have it; we only care that you believe in a supreme being, a higher power. The Freemasons is a safe place where men of any race and any religion can come together to celebrate their faith. It is in no way a religious substitute.
“The only requirements for joining the Freemasons are that you’re over 21, of some faith and of good standing - meaning you don’t have a bad criminal history. It’s important to us to have members who are good and moral and are interested in improving the community in which they live.”
Thirdly, he says, being a Freemason is a lot of fun. Yes really! “There’s nothing dark and eerie, the Freemasons is filled with good men, a great social scene and tons of charity work,” said Ian.
“There are dinners, BBQs and charity events. I have a lot of great friends, plus my brother and brother-in-law have both joined since I did, so there’s a great feeling of family at these gatherings.
“The beautiful thing about Freemasonry is that everybody comes to it for their own reasons. I’m fascinated by the history and it’s genuinely taught me to be a better person. There are very real bounds of morality and so much of what we stand for is acting lawfully and properly, doing the right thing and being charitable.”
So what about the secret handshake?
“There IS a handshake, sort of,” he admitted.
“It’s actually a special grip, a mode of recognition, that helps members to identify one another and their ranking within the organisation and has been around for a lot of years. I don’t know how secret it is though; thanks to the internet I think pretty much anybody can masquerade as a Freemason if they access the right YouTube video.”
So what does Ian make of all the conspiracy theories surrounding the Freemasons?
He said: “We have had a chuckle at it before - the idea that people honestly think we’re secretly controlling the world. We can barely control getting ten busy guys together in a room for dinner once a month.”
The open event is at Tapton Masonic Hall, Sheffield, this evening from 7pm.