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Freemasonry Watch

Now you can log on to the online lodge

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The Guardian - UK

Now you can log on to the online lodge

Monday 28 January 2008

William Shaw

Ever wanted to visit a masonic lodge but been put off by the locked doors, rumours of secrecy and arcane trouser-rolling ritual? Well now it's easy. Just pop along to lodge 9659 - the UK's own masonic internet lodge at internet.lodge.org.uk.

According to its founder, John Dutchman-Smith, it's a place where masons from other lodges come to meet, and, more importantly, it's a place where the rest of us - including women - can sneak in to take a peek. Membership is invitation-only, but if you "express a desire to join", lodge 9659 will direct your "petition" to a local lodge.

Attracting new members is high on the agenda. In the 1960s, there were more than half a million British freemasons, but the rot set in during the early 70s, when high-flying architect and freemason John Poulson was jailed for giving massive bribes in exchange for contracts. The once-respected fraternity became perceived as furtive, conniving and ridiculous.

As a result, freemasonry limped into the 21st century. John Hamill, director of communications at the United Grand Lodge of England, puts it down to the post-second world war generation, who joined in their thousands, now dying off. At the last count, fewer than 800 of the estimated 340,000 remaining British masons were under 25. Lodges in Bath, Bristol, Cambridge, Exeter, Oxford and Sheffield have started to promote freemasonry to a new generation of students. Hamill is optimistic that the long decline is over. "I think we're bottoming out," he says.

But the 300-year-old organisation has little taste for fundamental change. "Being deemed old-fashioned is one of the attractions," Hamill insists. Indeed, its perversely un-modern ways are the attraction, claims Chris Hodapp, author of The Templar Code for Dummies (yes, really). "You have two generations raised on Jedi knights and Lord of the Rings and a concept of chivalry. Now they get to dress up in all this lavish kit, have banquets, go to these fabulous masonic buildings. That's the appeal."

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