Lodges remain a mystery

By Ged Cann

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Alexandra Lodge members  back row L-R Ron Cross, John Gozdz, Roger Johnstone, Jacques Cameron. Front row L-R Stever Roberson, Michael Davies, Peter Fox, Paul Mounsey, Geoffrey Wood, George Arnel.
Alexandra Lodge members back row L-R Ron Cross, John Gozdz, Roger Johnstone, Jacques Cameron. Front row L-R Stever Roberson, Michael Davies, Peter Fox, Paul Mounsey, Geoffrey Wood, George Arnel.

Above Torpedo 7 on Barton Street is the last place you would expect to find a 150-year-old Free Mason Lodge.

But tucked away upstairs is a fully decked out meeting place complete with impressive high-backed chairs, plush carpets and a plethora of symbolic decoration. The Lodge will celebrate its sesquicentennial with a celebration in which the public will be invited to enter and learn a little of the society.

The Lodge was first founded in 1866 at Alexandra, now called Pirongia, which at the time was an important military outpost within half a mile of the boundary line of the King Country.

A history of the Lodge records how the aftermath of the Maori War and withdrawal of military caused membership to dwindle. In the early years meetings would average only 12 members. The rocky beginning continued when the Earl of Zetland refused to issue a charter to the Lodge. This was a bombshell at the time, because it meant the Lodge had illegally imparted Masonic mysteries to more than 30 people.

An emergency meeting was called and the lodge put itself on a self-imposed hiatus until they knew the outcome of a petition to receive a charter. The situation was later resolved and a charter issued, and the new masons were found to have correctly joined.

But what are these Masonic mysteries?

Roger Johnstone has been a mason for 51 years. He joined the Alexandra Lodge in 2000 and became the master in 2003.

"I was master again last year and this year," he said.

An hour of questioning and the Lodge master proves just how illusive the secrets can be.

"The mantra is 'taking good men and making them better'," Mr Johnstone said.

This includes its members being taught precepts by a series of ritual dramas, using stonemason customs and tools as allegorical guides. Still a little vague? Unfortunately Mr Johnstone refuses to give much away.

"You will have to join," he said.

Now may be a good time, with the Lodge's number at a low of 23 and including everyone from accountants and builders to army and teachers.

How do you become a Free Mason?

If you're a woman you're out of luck as the Masons are a strictly fraternal society. It's the job of the applicant to take the first step and make enquiries, which will then begin a character test.

"The first requirement of anybody who wants to be a Mason is they have to believe in a supreme being. We have members in this country who are Protestants, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu - you name it, we've got them."

"Two subjects which are strictly forbidden to be discussed in the lodge is religion or politics. When you enter the lodge everyone is equal, no matter who it is. If the lord of the manor is in the lodge and the master of the lodge is the local road sweeper then he has to bow to the will of the master," he said. "You leave all your money and all your trappings out there."

A question and answer pack hints at "traditional modes of recognition", which Mr Johnstone said goes back to the days when masonry was still synonymous with stone masonry. Back then the secret signals used to identify each other served to identify an expert in the craft, so that no matter the language or cultural barrier a certified builder could always make himself known.

"What happened is over the years these guilds invited local dignitaries in as someone who wasn't apprenticed or tied, so they became the first Free Masons," Mr Johnstone said.

In modern times these secret methods of identification are most often used to make oneself known to other Lodges, but any use of them for personal gain is forbidden.

"It's solely a test of membership," Mr Johnstone said.

A history records in 1878 The Doncaster Arms, where the lodge met, was renamed The Alexandra.

By 1883 the Lodge was prosperous, with only the death of Jean Aubin in 1889, the "father" of the lodge since its inception, to put a damper on things.

This heralded in another period of depression in 1890 which lasted almost a decade.

Then came the outbreak of World War I. The master at the time declared "owing to the large amount of distress caused by the war, now prevailing throughout a large portion of the Empire, that expenses in this direction [of entertaining guests at the lodge] be curtailed as much as possible".

No record exist to show the number of members who left for the war, except one Cyril Daking, who died in Flanders in 1916.

The last meeting at Pirongia was held in February 1918, and a site on Anglesea Street was purchased.

The first meeting in Hamilton was in 1919 at Oddfellows' Hall.

"It was then moved to the first of a number of locations within Hamilton where it still meets at the Waikato Masonic Centre in Barton Street," Mr Johnstone said.

Next year the United Grand Lodge of England will be celebrating the formation of the first Grand Lodge in London 300 years ago in June 1717.

Mr Johnstone said in New Zealand individual English Constitution Lodges would be organising events to mark this historical event.

"I would invite anyone interested to consider joining this wonderful moral institution which has stood the test of time," he said.

The official opening to visitors will be on held on November 5.

"We will be opening our meeting and, after conducting our domestic business, this will be adjourned.

"We will then invite our non-Masonic visitors to enter. There will then be a presentation of the Lodge history followed by a handing over of a donation of tablet computers to the McKenzie Centre for the use of the special needs children," Mr Johnstone said.

"The non-Masonic visitors will then be invited to withdraw, we will then close our Lodge and join together again for a light luncheon in our refectory.

"We are inviting the Mayors of Waipa District Council and Hamilton City to attend."

Anyone wishing for further information on events or joining can contact Roger Johnstone at rogerj1188@gmail.com

- Hamilton News

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