What do Freemasons do

Freemasons Building blocks for a better world

A rectangular, sacred-looking room in the Logenhaus in Cologne, a hall facing east-west. High ceilings, no windows, rows of chairs on the long sides. And the front sides - in the east and west, are dominated by stepped platforms and desks.

"Our rituals take place in this temple area. You can say that these are moments of spiritual experience, confronted with symbols," says Hans-Hermann Höhmann, "the ritual essentially consists of conversations: in the east the master sits from his chair and leads them Lodge, the two overseers sit in the west, the three hold conversations, such performative conversations. "

The focus is on active action

"A back room in a pub can be a temple, and it only becomes something else through what people do symbolically in it. And when we stop, it becomes something else again," says Klaus-Jürgen Grün, Professor the philosophy, Freemason of the Lodge "Zur Einigkeit" in Frankfurt am Main: "So getting used to the fact that we do not confuse the words with the things and that we do not ascribe something special to any things through the words, that has to do with Freemasonry and seems to me to be a very important exercise in the contemporary world. "

It's about performative acts, says the professor. When a person acts - even if it is only symbolic action - he changes himself and the world. Comparable to a wedding: when a person says "yes" and undergoes a ritual, he changes his status: from single to married.

"That's how it is, yes. Every ritual is a performative act. We have rituals in the church, in every religious community. Every ritual in Freemasonry is there to remind us: We pretend it is so - and thus create a changed idea of ​​meanings. "

Freemasons were also persecuted during the Nazi era

And what are they really doing, the Freemasons?

"My brothers, we rise."

Freemasons were and are still considered to be secret agents, as secret allies - and soon also as dangerous conspirators.

"Just like the Jews as an organization of the Jews in which stupid Aryan bullfinches were captured, Freemauer have with fuss ..."

1943 - Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer SS, Police Chief, Reich Minister of the Interior.

"... and actually planned, operated, predicted and carried out November 1918 for a high political purpose, just like the Jews, just like the communists."

The Freemasons were supposedly responsible for Germany's defeat in World War I. A conspiracy. They had stabbed the German army in the back. Like the communists.

"Well, it was always clear to the Nazis: Jews and Freemasons are in cahoots, and they could fall back on old, Christian-Catholic beliefs."

Michael Blume emphasizes that the level of persecution of Freemasons under National Socialism was different from that of Jews, Sinti or Roma (private)

Michael Blume, religious scholar, representative of the Baden-Württemberg state government against anti-Semitism.

Old prejudices meet new ones

Even today, Freemasons have to reckon with hostility or attacks: In the spring of 2019, so-called "yellow vests" stormed a Masonic lodge in France and smashed the inventory. In Iserlohn, strangers smeared the box house with swastikas.

"I always like to say that when Rotarians run a potato stand at the Christmas market, people go out and like to eat."

Hans-Hermann Höhmann.

"When the Freemasons do that, people say: Oh, Freemasons! Who knows what they're going to put into it."

Typical utensils of the ritual in a Masonic temple (Picture Alliance / dpa / Arno Burgi)

Klaus-Jürgen Grün grants an insight into the dark chamber. Here in the Frankfurt Logenhaus, not far from the train station. Really a chamber - with dark curtains. Those who are accepted into the lodge experience their personal initiation rite in this gloom.

"He is separated from the community. And then he experiences himself there in a way all alone with himself."

Square measure, compass and light

June 24, 1717. The lodges form the first Grand Masonic lodge in England. The roots of the Freemasons go even deeper. In the centuries before, the stonemasons formed brotherhoods to protect and support one another. And to pass on technical knowledge. At that time, unlike in the following years, unlike today, there were no reservations on the part of the Catholic Church. On the contrary: in the beginning, the organized masons cultivated a close relationship with the Benedictines, for example. They passed on their masonry knowledge orally, as hardly anyone could read or write. Or with the help of symbols and identifiers. The most common can be found today in every well-stocked hardware store:

The angle measure. It stands for leading an upright life, for values ​​like honesty and straightforwardness. Also for rules and order.

The circle. It stands for the cycle of life, but also for the infinity and immortality of the community. And for the inner circle, the inner personal space of the person.

The light. Symbolizes knowledge, insight, wisdom and warmth.

The Freemasons attach great importance to their symbols (Deutschlandradio / Wolfgang Meyer)

"There are two directions in Freemasonry"

"My brothers, we rise up. Since I am in the East through the free choice of my brothers, and therefore the time is right to begin our work, I am opening this just and perfect lodge according to the ancient customs of Freemasonry!"

Some of the identification marks, but above all most of the rituals, were and are only accessible to Freemasons.

"You have to see, of course, that Freemasonry as such did not form a single bloc."

Matthias Pöhlmann, sect and ideology advisor to the Protestant Church.

"There are different types of teaching, teaching systems, and one can perhaps roughly say: There are two directions, even today in Freemasonry: One direction that is very much committed to humanity, the legacy of the Enlightenment - on the other hand, one direction who understands Freemasonry more strongly as a mystery union. "

"Esotericism assumes that the creator of the world, the great master builder, has hidden secret signs from all biblical revelation, such as numbers that can be deciphered. That is what the esoteric covenants are for."

Professor Höhmann.

"We don't think so. You have to work out what is reasonable for us. By thinking clearly, by talking to one another - according to Lessing: Nothing beats thinking aloud with a friend."

From apprentice to master

Recognize yourself!

"We want to think out of our own prejudices. To do this, we try to develop a certain culture of conversation, I always like to say."

Whoever wants to be accepted into a lodge is the seeker. If accepted, the Mason goes through three degrees:

Look inside yourself! That is then the job of the "apprentice". Who are you? Should the newly admitted ask themselves.

Look around you! This is what is expected of those who reach the next level, who have developed into "journeyman".

Look beyond yourself! In the end, this is the goal of the "master".

The Enlightenment fuels Freemasonry

It is no coincidence that the great age of the lodges was the 18th and early 19th centuries, the great age of the Enlightenment, the age of the new rationalism. With the Enlightenment, what had lasted for centuries fell: the world and social order. That was actually the explosive power of the Freemasons' thinking back then.

"During the Enlightenment, the intellectual awareness becomes aware that the awareness that a prince is a prince does not lie with the prince, but with the subjects. If the subjects no longer believe that the prince is a prince, then soon he will not be either more."

Klaus-Jürgen Grün, Frankfurt.

Klaus-Jürgen Grün is a philosopher and freemason (private / CAES of the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences)

"This change in the meaning of who is the mainstay of progress is a spurt in the development of the Enlightenment and a foundation for the emergence of Freemasonry. In the Masonic Lodge, men from different classes come together who would normally never have met in earlier society. "

"Our society needs putty"

Sociability is also one of the pillars of Freemasonry. Lodges organize colorful evenings in their lodge houses - the members of the men's and women's boxes sit together in the festive banquet hall, also with external guests and - as in this case - with a program: whiskey tasting with bagpipe music. Hans-Hermann Höhmann:

"We are there to bring people together. We are a piece of cement that connects people. Our society needs cement, needs people to be open to one another and needs to reject the shrill tones of racism, fundamentalism and the like of Freemasonry. "

Another pillar: the commitment to charitable purposes. Klaus-Jürgen Grün:

"Freemasonry has its strength where it does not declare itself to be identical with a certain ethic and a certain morality, but people get used to it: we have to take responsibility for what we do ourselves. That is the exciting thing."

Christianity and Freemasonry

Not only secular rulers, but also the Catholic Church has repeatedly taken offense at these people who strive to follow their own responsibility. Pope Clement XII. banned membership shortly after the first grand lodge was founded - in 1717 in London. Even today it is incompatible from a church perspective to be a Freemason and a Catholic. Hans-Hermann Höhmann:

"Well, I think it's a question of competition, very simple. Freemasonry does not preclude membership of the Church, but to a certain extent it does transform people. And whoever is a Christian Freemason becomes a different Christian than he might have stayed in a somewhat dogmatic environment. And that is of course a competitive situation. The individual Freemason has the right to his own convictions, but he is not required to be relativistic in his own religious beliefs. He can be a really practicing and believing Christian and at the same time a Freemason, if he is an open person and also wants to communicate with other people. Because there is one thing that Freemasonry wants to be in any case - Lessing has already stated: Freemasonry wants to be an institution of bridge building! "

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was one of the most important representatives of the Enlightenment in Germany - and open to the ideas of the Freemasons. (picture alliance / dpa)

All people are equal. All people are brothers. All people must be free. Lessing propagated a "Christianity of reason" in his writings on the philosophy of religion. And rejected the orthodox "adherence to letters". Open-mindedness and tolerance, plus the principles of humanistic thinking, adherence to human dignity - these are the building blocks of modern Freemasonry.

Role model instead of copy

An approach that fits in with our days? Hans-Hermann Höhmann:

"We can observe that the interest in Freemasonry is increasing among young people; obviously because some of them have the feeling that they will find something here that they are looking for."

Self-responsibility. Know yourself. Doubts are welcome. Isn't there an ideology behind these terms? Klaus-Jürgen Grün:

"Freemasonry is comparable to a work of art in a museum. You have the experience that something is changing you. You want to let it continue to affect you. But as soon as someone says, 'It won't work without it,' or you even defines what the only way to be art means, then it ceases to be art. "

"So I close this just and perfect apprentice's box in awe of the great builder of the worlds through the number that is sacred to us."

The long version of this article was first published as a feature on October 9, 2019 in the series "From Religion and Society".