As a student of archaeology I am repeatedly asked two things; ‘do you dig up dinosaurs?’ and ‘will I be seeing you on Time Team?’ Almost all social interactions, from family gatherings to meeting people in bars, are plagued by those two simple questions. The stock answers are of course, ‘you’re thinking of palaeontology’ and ‘Time Team got cancelled’, much to the disappointment of the enquirer! Similarly, as a proud member of the Freemasons, I am often asked the question ‘What is Freemasonry?’ Unlike archaeology however, to ask for a definitive answer in Freemasonry would be to miss the point. Yes, it is a club, an organisation – but it is also a way in which to live your life and make a positive impact on the world and people around you.
I grew up with stories of my Grandfather, a Freemason, heading out in a suit on occasional evenings, briefcase in hand, Crombie overcoat keeping out the winter chill. My mother never knew where he was going but she saw how much he looked forward to it, how happy it made him. My Grandfather was going to his monthly Lodge meeting, a chance to meet hard-working men, share some drinks, enjoy great food and socialise in circles that he may otherwise not have known. That was in the late seventies, and while the traditions and values of Freemasonry have not changed since the 17th Century, the openness and acceptance of this fraternity certainly has in more recent times.
When I confirmed my place at the University of Leicester I glanced over the societies on offer. I’d never planned on joining any groups, so I wasn’t overly let down when nothing took my interest. I did however, stumble across the website for what would later become the home of my Masonic journey; The Wyggeston Lodge. I got in touch and was instantly treated with the utmost respect. Attending the Freshers Fair in a rather fragile state (why so early during Freshers Week?) it was easy to see the Masonic stall standing out amongst the others; slick colours, professional banners, smartly dressed men talking confidently on the same level as those asking. A stark contrast to the fast food joints handing out free pizza slices to the hungover masses!
Established in 1910, eleven years before the University was founded, the Wyggeston Lodge is arguably one of the most flourishing and active in the country and is gaining members and momentum at an enviable rate. This is no doubt in part owed to the launch of the Universities Scheme by the governing body of the Freemasons, the United Grand Lodge of England. A tradition of Oxford and Cambridge spanning two centuries, the Universities Scheme branched out in 2005 to other University towns and was fittingly taken on board by the Wyggeston Lodge in Leicester in 2011 – making it the home for University of Leicester students. The scheme aims to bring in students with a sense of morality to add to the future of the fraternity and now consists of over 70 similar Lodges across England and Wales. The Wyggeston Lodge have students of history, biochemical science, law, distant-learners, mature students, alumni and staff. The list is vast. While some would expect there to be a clash in generations, I joined at 21 years old and was welcomed with open arms by men covering every decade up to their nineties. No pre-judgement in sight, perfectly matching Leicester University’s ‘elite without being elitist’ attitude.
So what is Freemasonry? Again, there is no real definitive answer. Freemasonry is what you want to make of it. Our values are based on integrity, kindness, honesty and fairness. We support a large amount of charities, both masonic and non-masonic. We don’t discuss religion or politics, two of the biggest points of disagreement, in order to create a friendly and equal atmosphere. The three great principles we live by are simple: respecting everyone, looking after others and being honest. Once a month we hold official meetings, alongside other casual ones. Drinks are had, beautiful food is eaten and together we aim for intellectual, social and moral improvement, achieved through participation in dramatic ceremonial plays. It’s all done with a positive attitude and a few laughs.
I went out on student nights as much as (or more than) anyone in first year, but I also excitedly looked forward to one evening a month – like my Grandfather had done 40 years earlier – to putting on a suit and tie, polishing my shoes and heading into an incredible building full of interesting people, away from the intensity of living in halls. It made for a welcome change and for me personally, allowed me to recharge my batteries. University is by no means easy and Freemasonry did, and continues to, give me an often needed break from the sleepless nights of student life.
Freemasonry, like so many traditions, is adapting to the present day. In a world in which information is freely available, social media replaces social interaction and chivalry is considered a dying art – rather than shutting doors, Lodges are kicking them open. A new, young generation of Freemasons is pumping life into the fraternity and securing its exciting future for generations to come.
John H. Phillips
The Wyggeston Lodge meets at Freemasons’ Hall on London Road, Leicester and meet once a month on a Friday night from October through to April. We welcome new members particuarly any Leicester University students, alumni or staff who are male and 18 years and older. You don’t have to be invited to become a member and more details about Freemasonry and how to join can be found here.