Meet the lady Freemasons
Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Meet the lady Freemasons

You might assume it’s the ultimate boy’s club – but the Freemasons are looking for female recruits. A (slightly skeptical) Carolyn Hart investigates…

Written by Carolyn Hart
In terms of gender equality, it’s ironic that the person who has had the most signi cant impact on the matter recently is, as yet, unborn – the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s baby. The sex of the baby is still unknown, but to ensure the  firstborn will inherit the throne, succession rules have been rushed through to allow a girl to become queen – even if she later has a younger brother.

masons2-176Nikki Roberts The move will doubtless have wider repercussions, leading to a deep-rooted shake-up of all those other, diehard, male-dominated British institutions, such as the aristocracy, Parliament, the Garrick Club and the Freemasons…

Actually, stop right there. What sane woman would want to become a Freemason? And even if she did, how would she take their historic rituals seriously?

You have only to recall Fred Flintstone’s membership of the Loyal Order Of Water BuŽffaloes (men only) or catch Homer Simpson’s attempt to join a secret society called the Stonecutters (Masonic initiation song: ‘Who controls the British crown? Who keeps the metric system down? We do! We do! Who keeps Atlantis oŽ the maps? Who keeps the Martians under wraps? We do! We do!) to realise that the Freemasons, easy butt of every satirical jibe on oŽ er, have some way to go before they become a place where women might ”flourish.

Which is why it is surprising to discover that there is already a Masonic organisation in existence in Britain that does indeed welcome women members – and which is not associated with either the United Grand Lodge Of England (Grand Master: the Duke of Kent) or Fred Flintstone. It’s called Freemasonry For Men And Women and the good – or bad – news, depending on your view of such organisations, is that they’re launching a recruitment drive.

Freemasonry For Men And Women was launched in Britain in 1902 by Annie Besant. Besant, an early feminist, was born in 1847, a friend of Helena Blavatsky and a lecturer in Theosophy. Her rather batty credentials are offset by the fact that she set up the Central Hindu College in India and was an ardent supporter of women’s equality.

Post-India, she travelled to France and was initiated into a French Masonic lodge called Le Droit Humain. When she returned home she set up an a… liated lodge of international, mixed masonry in the UK – the  rst group to include both men and women. Besant became the Order’s Most Puissant Grand Commander and, under her direction, Freemasonry For Men And Women ” ourished until the 1990s when a distinct decline set in. Now the organisation, whose membership hovers in the hundreds, wants to revive its fortunes.

IN SEARCH OF MEANING
Smasons3-176Imene Abdouli o what can membership do for you? Sandra Kanfer Clarke, a volunteer on the marketing side of Freemasonry For Men And Women, explains: ‘There’s been an increase in interest in Freemasonry for women recently. There are a lot of people out there looking for something more meaningful: something that offers, as Freemasonry does, a degree of spiritual development. In our meetings, we can provide an environment of like-minded people who want to give something back to their community. You don’t necessarily have to be religious to join, but you should believe that there’s something bigger than us.’

Imene Abdouli, who became a member of the Morning Star Lodge in London last year, agrees. Having grown up in France, she was familiar with Le Droit Humain and is enthusiastic about the spiritual side of Freemasonry.

‘I like their values,’ she says, ‘tolerance, self-improvement, to be more open and listen to people. I joined because of the people I met. They were interesting, and I found it inspiring. In the first year you are not allowed to talk during meetings, only listen. I learnt a lot, and it was very pleasing to be around like-minded people. I believe there’s a lot to learn, and talking to people, listening to what they have to say and then discussing new ideas in meetings was very civilising.’

For Nikki Roberts, Freemasonry has always played a part in her life – both her parents and grandparents were Freemasons. As a teenager, she ‘had tried religion, and Buddhism, but couldn’t find what I was looking for. I liked the fact that with Freemasonry you weren’t bound to any doctrines or dogmas. Instead its values are kindness, honesty and moral awareness. I decided to join seven years ago and it’s had a very positive effect on my life. It’s given me the tools not to let problems hold me back.’

JUST LIKE THE BROWNIES
masons1-176Sandra Kanfer Clarke Sandra Kanfer Clarke is similarly convinced that joining has helped her spiritually, enabling her to understand better her strengths and weaknesses. ‘I used the meetings to help strengthen my weaknesses,’ she says. ‘Our meetings are very formal and ritualised.

‘It’s like the Brownies,’ she adds. ‘I mean, I’m only saying that because my daughter is a Brownie, but we have certain greetings and songs like they do, which we go through, before we do all the other stu  , just like the Brownies.’

The head office of Freemasonry For Men And Women is in Surbiton; other branches exist in Notting Hill, Camberley, Leeds, Northampton and Northern Ireland. Currently the membership is 60 per cent women, 40 per cent men.

And if you are interested in becoming a Freemason, both Abdouli and Kanfer Clarke suggest talking to members before joining. ‘That’s important,’ says Kanfer Clarke. ‘Because you have to become a Freemason before you can attend a meeting. It’s something of a leap of faith. But you can come after a meeting and talk to people there and see if you think it would suit you.’

But is it ultimately about jobs for the boys – and girls? ‘Membership will provide spiritual help, not practical assistance with jobs and so on,’ she adds. ‘I’ve never done a single piece of business through it…’

And what do the male Lodges think of this potential female invasion? ‘I’ve had many supportive letters from maleonly orders,’ says Roberts, ‘they are keen to help. Times are changing.’

Freemasonry For Men And Women: 020-8339 9000, www.freemasonryformenandwomen.co.uk


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