The mysterious world of a freemason's wife - Part III

(...) The Norwich Temple is deep within a grand building on St Giles.
The huge, ballroom-sized space is surrounded by wooden pews, looking on to a black and white chequerboard floor. Right at the centre of the high panelled ceiling is a big golden G - variously believed to represent God, or geometry, or even goodness.
Masonic symbols abound - the square and compass of the medieval stone mason, a block of rough stone and cube of highly polished marble, representations of ancient building tools.
And during formal meetings the masons will be dressed in their regalia - aprons and collars, adorned with medal-like “jewels”.
“I got a lot of 'Why will you put on an apron for them but not put on an apron at home?'” said Martin.
Alongside the heritage from the Old Testament and medieval masons, is a theory that freemasons had to become even more secretive because they believed in religious and political tolerance, and equality (at least of all men).
Even today, formal meetings are still guarded by a ceremonial look-out, plus a man at the door with a sword and another outside with a dagger.
There are thrones for the chief masons representing the sun and the moon and it is here that the ceremonies are carried out - ritual dramas which new masons must learn and re-enact. In the first, the man is blindfolded and has a noose placed around his neck and is taught never to reveal the secrets of masonry.
They make you question what you are doing in the world, and make you want to do your best, and there are parts of the ritual which do take some guts to get through,” said Martin.
And while some of the ritual is still kept secret - parts have entered into common parlance. Giving someone “the third degree” refers to the third initiation ritual, which deals with the inevitability of death.
And masons vote on admitting a new member using glass balls like marbles. Each mason puts a marble in a box, with a black ball a “no” vote.
The sense of mystery and strangeness is intensified by the use of old paintings or “tracing boards” in the ceremonies.
As Alan Fairchild, information officer for the Provincial Grand Lodge of Norfolk, dragged a selection from a storeroom, the Norwich temple filled with pictures of skulls and skeletons, stylised trees, figures with swords and arrows and hour-glasses, huge eyes, broken buildings and the tools of stonemasonry. They are two centuries, or more, old but have strangely futuristic dates because freemasonry counts its years from King Solomon's time. One reads AD5811, amongst the semi-erased symbols and skeletons.
It's all very Dan Brown,
So has the mass of interest in Dan Brown generated more curiosity about freemasonry?
“Very much so,” said Pip. “I think it has opened up a new wave of interest that has generated both positive and negative feelings towards the craft. It has made it seem more mystical to some, which again has had a double edged effect. One great thing about writing The Handbook for the Freemason's Wife, was being able to dispel the majority of ridiculous and often downright damaging myths that have surrounded Freemasonry for so long.”
As she researched freemasonry, and watched her husband being drawn into its ancient embrace, Pip fell for its combination of mystery and brotherhood. “I love freemasonry! I believe it is a powerful force for good in a society that has really lost its way,” she said.
And she admitted: “I often wished I could do it too.

She has considered joining one of the break-away European lodges which welcome women members and has written another book about the self-styled masonic magician who helped found them.
But she does not resent being excluded from the English masonry. “It doesn't really bother me as the whole system of freemasonry per se is geared up towards making men better men,” she said.
Philippa Faulks wrote A Handbook for the Freemason's Wife with fellow freemason's wife Cheryl Skidmore. It includes explanations of the words and symbols used by masons plus information on the ceremonies, aims, roles, history and charitable work of freemasons. It is available locally from Waterstones and from publisher Lewis Masonic at www.lewismasonic.com