In part one we saw how Hitler toned down his initial anti-masonic rhetoric in order to focus primarily on his Jewish conspiracy theory whereby in Catholic Spain Fascists were less restrained. In this third part, now we come to the present time period where we follow in the footsteps of a recent documentary titled Terra Masonica, Around The World In 80 Lodges including Stephen Knight claims about a Masonic conspiracy, activities like those of the Ndrangheta, when only four weeks ago $193m in assets were seized, Dan Brown's masonic musings in The Lost Symbol, including the  role of Freemasonry in British India including the little, researched influence on Indian Nationalism.

Having presented what happened in Spain, we should ad that Catholicism was not the only home for religious anti-Masonry. In the early 1990s, some evangelical Protestant groups in the United States expressed an anti-Masonic phobia not seen since the Taxil hoax of the 1890s. Their propaganda alleged that Masons in the highest Degrees all worshipped Baphomet, the goat-headed avatar of the devil supposedly revered by the Templars in the fourteenth century, as by Taxil’s fictional Palladian rite in the nineteenth. Albert Pike, Confederate general and guru of the Scottish Rite in the Civil War era was portrayed as the anti-Pope of the Masonic anti-Church.

Although the Southern Baptist Convention ruled in 1993 that Masonic membership was a question for each individual Christian’s own conscience, the spread of the Internet in subsequent years ensured that there would always be a home for such ravings. For example, Albert Pike’s strange afterlife as the star of conspiracy theories looks set to continue. Pike hit the news recently because in 1871 he supposedly made a prophecy about a Third World War between the Christian West and Islam. British tabloid newspapers the Sun and the Star first reported the story in 2016. In their wake, a long list of websites now tells us that the secret goal of the Illuminati is to make Pike’s prophecy come true. Which is indeed ‘chilling’, as the Sun called it. As long as you are extremely naïve and entirely without historical memory.

There are many parts of the world where anti-Masonry is a much darker force. Since the 1960s, Freemasonry has disappeared from almost all of the Muslim world. When the Raj ended in 1947, the Craft survived the partition of India. However, in Pakistan, the number of members and Lodges fell dramatically with the migration of most of the white British population. There were about one thousand Freemasons left, many of them Muslims, when an ominous series of press attacks began in 1968: the Craft was accused of being a Zionist front group financed by the CIA. It was outlawed by President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972. The Masonic Temple in Lahore, where Rudyard Kipling was initiated, is now a general-purpose government building.

In Iran, to cite just one more example, Freemasonry reappeared as an aristocratic club in 1951 under the new Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who used it to build loyalty to his regime among the elites and middle classes. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 swept the Lodges away, and many Brothers, particularly those close to the deposed Shah, were executed.

As of 2019, Freemasonry is banned everywhere in the Muslim world except Lebanon and Morocco. The Charter of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, better known as Hamas, describes Freemasonry, the Lions and the Rotary Club as ‘networks of spies’ created by the Jews to ‘destroy societies and promote the Zionist cause’.

In western democracies, Freemasonry’s reputation for secrecy continues to provide an awkward test for tolerance. Masons have some justification in regarding themselves as the pit canaries of freedom of association and the rule of law. Even Britain, the very cradle of the Craft, provides a demonstration.


The alleged secrets of British Masonry

In 1976, a young provincial journalist called Stephen Knight claimed that a Masonic conspiracy was responsible for Jack the Ripper’s series of unsolved murders in 1888. Knight’s book, Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, was dismissed as laughable. Nonetheless, it captured the imagination enough to go through twenty editions. Its echoes endured: the gloriously spooky graphic novel From Hell (1989), and a slasher movie of the same title starring Johnny Depp (2001), were both inspired by Knight.

At the time of Jack, the Ripper: The Final Solution, the United Grand Lodge of England had a longstanding policy of maintaining silence in the face of conspiracist accusations. Stephen Knight’s subsequent book, The Brotherhood (1983), would expose the limits of that policy.

The Brotherhood was an odd mixture. There were painstaking and tedious protestations of good faith (‘we should not judge Freemasonry by the actions of a few individuals’), together with ambiguous evidence of workaday misdeeds by Masons within the police force. But there were also absolutely false claims that Knight had unmasked upper tiers of Masonry so secretive that even the vast majority of Brethren had no idea they existed. Based on an error-strewn summary of the P2 story, Knight went on to propose that Soviet intelligence had masterminded Gelli’s plot so as to discredit an enemy government. He concluded that, in the UK, the ‘KGB’s use of Freemasonry for placing operatives in positions of authority’ was ‘almost certain’.

Knight became a follower of the Indian cult leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in the year The Brotherhood came out. He died two years later after refusing conventional medical treatment for a tumor. Despite his lack of authority and his book’s glaring shortcomings, The Brotherhood had a huge impact. As conspiracy theories began to circulate about Knight’s death, another journalist took up his work on Masonic scheming within the police. The same old refrain began: if the Freemasons are as innocent as they say, why all the secrecy? In June 1988, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party leader between 2015 and 2020 but then a backbench MP, declared in parliament:

Many of us are gravely suspicious about the influence of Freemasonry. I am utterly opposed to it and to the influence of other secret organizations because I believe them to be a deeply corrupting influence on society … Masonic influence is serious … Freemasonry is incompatible with being a police officer … I am suggesting that the power of a Masonic Lodge on any organization is sinister and insidious. The British public was ready to stretch its credulity a long way when it came to a police force that had a shabby reputation, especially for framing Irish people for IRA bomb attacks. These were the years of the notorious Guildford Four, Maguire Seven, and Birmingham Six cases, as well as of Operation Countryman (an investigation into collusion between the City of London Police and professional criminals). This distrust of the police made a potent cocktail when combined with the centuries of suspicion surrounding Masonic secrecy. Henceforth, newspaper editors were all on the lookout for a Masonic angle to stories of wrongdoing.

The strongest evidence of Masonic foul play that Knight had to offer was the United Grand Lodge’s refusal to dignify his allegations with a reply. So in response, the English Masonic leadership looked hard at its own culture of secrecy. It turned out that even rank-and-file Masons thought that they were supposed to keep silent about their membership, despite there being no such rule in place; some had not even told their families. Henceforth, they were encouraged to speak openly. A post of Director of Communications was created. Freemasons Hall in Covent Garden opened its doors to visitors for the first time in 1985. English Freemasonry’s lax disciplinary procedures were also tightened, and the number of expulsions rocketed from 12, between 1934 and 1986, to 277, between 1987 and 1996. In the early 1990s, non-Mason historians would begin to delve into the archives of the Grand Lodge.

However, this Masonic glasnost failed to stop the suspicion, which took parliamentary form in 1992 with an all-party Home Affairs Select Committee set up to investigate any influence the Craft might have within the criminal justice system. Every imaginable insinuation against Masons and Masonry was aired – with anticlimactic results set out in the Select Committee’s report. Yes, individual Freemasons had committed crimes, and some of those Freemasons were policemen. But no, these individuals were not representative of Masonry as such, nor was Masonry a factor in what they had done. The overwhelming majority of witnesses who alleged that there was illicit networking by Masons had no proof. The number of Brothers in the police and judiciary was far smaller than suspected and was falling. A certain kind of secrecy was part of Freemasons’ rituals, but the organization itself was no more secret than a sports club or professional body.

In the end, everything boiled down to an image problem. Widespread mistrust of British Freemasonry, groundless as it was, nevertheless damaged public confidence in the institutions. So the solution was for all Masons in the judiciary to make a declaration of interest, the Select Committee advised in 1997.

This final recommendation sounded sensible enough, and the Labour Party, which came to power in 1997, set about trying to implement it. Wielding the Sword of transparency against a stuffy institution like the Craft would help justify the ‘new’ in New Labour, as leader Tony Blair had rebranded the party. From 1998, judicial appointees were obliged to declare if they were Freemasons.

However, the policy never escaped a tangle of practical issues and legal objections. If there was no evidence that the Craft was a source of trouble, why target it? Would the declaration-of-interest policy not lead to prejudice against Masons, a presumption of guilt? If it applied to Masons, what reason could there be for not applying it to other forms of belonging that might conceivably lead to bias, like religions, or Oxford colleges? In the early 2000s, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on two cases in Italy where local government had tried to apply a similar policy to Freemasons: the Court decided that the measure was discriminatory and contrary to the right of free association. In 2009, on the verge of losing power, the Labour government very quietly gave up on the scheme, acknowledging that it had achieved nothing. Meanwhile, an assumption had long since bedded down in the public mind: Freemasonry was ‘the mafia of the mediocre’, a coterie of paunchy men pursuing preferment in their careers and protection from scrutiny.

Headlines in the press have alleged that Freemasons were responsible for a whitewash at the inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, and for concealing the dreadful police misconduct at the Hillsborough stadium disaster, which led to the death of ninety-six Liverpool football fans in 1989. Such ‘revelations’ typically cite little or no supporting evidence and die with the first headline. In both of these cases, the conspiracy interpretation looks feeble on even a cursory second glance. The British marine establishment of 1912, and the South Yorkshire police of 1989, both had compelling motives for covering up their own mess and scapegoating – respectively – the captain of the Titanic and a mass of innocent soccer fans. There are no loose ends for the Masonic conspiracy theory to explain. Yet such stories regularly make it past the bullshit detectors of reputable newspapers.


Italy's underground Freemasonry

Nowhere, among the western democracies, is hostility to Freemasonry more widespread than in Italy. Nowhere more than in Italy has Freemasonry been tainted with corruption. Now the conviction has taken root in Italy’s poorest region that the Freemasons are in league with the mafia, that bastard branch of the fraternal tradition.

Calabria, the region in the ‘toe’ of the Italian ‘boot’, is home to the Ndrangheta. Of all the world’s gangster fraternities, the Ndrangheta has the best claim to being global: it has colonies in northern Italy, northern Europe, North America, and Australia. Regional and local government has been beset for decades by organized criminal influence, and the dilapidated rural communities of Calabria are home to some of Europe’s biggest drug traffickers. The Ndrangheta is no mediocre mafia.

In October 2011, in a farm building in one of those rural communities, police listening devices recorded the local ’ndrangheta boss, Pantaleone ‘Uncle Luni’ Mancuso: ‘The ’ndrangheta doesn’t exist anymore! … The ’ndrangheta is part of Freemasonry … let’s say, it’s under Freemasonry. But they’ve got the same rules and stuff … Once upon a time the ’ndrangheta belonged to the rich folk! After, they left it to Giuliano Di Bernardo, the university professor who, between 1990 and 1993, was the Grand Master of Italy’s biggest and most prestigious Masonic order, the Grand Orient. In June 2019, speaking through the beard that makes him resemble an Armani-suited Karl Marx, Di Bernardo testified before a Calabrian court. He recalled his shock when, as Grand Master, he looked into the state of Masonry in Calabria: ‘I discovered that twenty-eight of thirty-two Lodges were governed by the ’ndrangheta. So at that moment, I decided to leave the Grand Orient.’

Calabria has provided plenty of fuel for conspiracist newspaper headlines that are as confusing as they are inflammatory – along the following lines: ‘Mafia boss says, “Freemasons run the ’ndrangheta!’” ‘Former Grand Master confesses, “The ’ndrangheta runs the Freemasons!”’ On 1 March 2017, on the orders of the permanent Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry into the Mafia, police mounted dawn raids on the offices of the four biggest Masonic orders, and confiscated membership lists. Their search concentrated on Freemasonry in Calabria and Sicily, Italy’s most notorious mafia hotbeds.

The raids by the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry brought back Masons’ memories of similar raids twenty-five years earlier. At that time, a sprawling criminal investigation had sought to map hundreds of criminal and wheeler-dealer networks over the impossible tangle of different Masonic orders, Lodges, and rites – both regular and irregular, open and covert. In 1993, the confiscated membership lists were leaked, and Italy’s Freemasons were named in many newspapers. Some Brothers reported receiving anonymous threats in the aftermath; others said they were cold-shouldered by friends. (Strangely, the lists in the press excluded all but a tiny number of the women Masons from mixed orders.) Eventually, in 2000, a court in Rome halted the investigation, declaring that it owed more to the ‘collective imaginary’ about Freemasonry than it did to any evidence that Freemasons were infiltrating the public institutions for illicit ends. Many dismissed this ruling as a cover-up. Masons were left bitter.

Given this history, in 2017 there was a complete breakdown in trust between the members of the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry and the Masonic leadership. The Commission’s report accused the chief Masons of being in denial about mafia infiltration, and of being ‘far from transparent and cooperative’: all four Grand Masters had refused to hand over their membership lists. Soon afterward, the Grand Master of the Grand Orient published a pamphlet that compared the Parliamentary Commission to the Inquisition. (As coincidence would have it, the Commission’s hearings are held in the same Roman palazzo where Galileo was forced to recant his scientific findings.)

Yet there is a strong sense that the Craft’s dispute with the Commission of Inquiry was fueled by political grandstanding from both sides. It is worth remembering that the most senior Masons are elected: they are the Prime Ministers and Presidents of their little democracies. Denouncing anti-Masonic prejudice and evoking the memory of Masonic martyrs have always been rallying cries among the Brethren, and thus a useful electoral gambit. On the other side, it would have taken a strong-willed parliamentarian on the Commission of Inquiry to face up to the public animosity towards the Craft. In February 2017, for example, Italy’s leading current affairs magazine carried the front-page headline, ‘Let’s abolish Freemasonry’. The populist Five-Star Movement, which came to power in June 2018, has a policy of expelling Freemasons from its ranks, and Masons are often listed among its ‘establishment’ enemies.

Amid the misunderstanding and grandstanding, our best hope of reaching the truth lies with the judges presiding over a huge case, known as the Il gotha di Cosa nostra trial, which is now running through the Calabrian courts. It has already consumed thousands and thousands of pages of evidence and legal argument in an effort to dispel the confusion. A tough reading task awaited me when I got back from Calabria: the 2,500-page ruling issued by judges to explain their verdict on a small but significant part of the Gotha Trial. The verdict is being appealed, so we are still quite some distance from a definitive legal truth. Nevertheless, leaving aside the guilt or innocence of the individuals involved (I will not even name them here), the ruling offers a plausible account of what has really been going on. As we will see, it has uncanny echoes from the history of Freemasonry.

The Ndrangheta is a curious organization, having more than twice as many members as Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, and a much more complicated structure: for example, each stage in the career ladder of an Ndrangheta is marked by a new rank with its own elaborate initiation ritual. The Calabria mafia is an underworld mirror of the Craft, which blends local autonomy for the Lodges with national and international ‘brand’ control. What we could call the Ndrangheta brand or franchise – meaning its rules, ranks, and rituals – are all centrally controlled by a body called il Crimine (‘the Crime’). Even when they are based outside Calabria, ’ndranghetisti seek authorization from the Crime to set up new cells. But the Ndrangheta is also decentralized, in that its individual clans and cells pursue all kinds of criminal activities at their own initiative. Nobody is answerable to the Crime when they smuggle in a shipment of drugs, for example.

Things began to shift in the 1970s when the Ndrangheta grew vastly richer on the profits of kidnapping, narcotics, and infiltrating public works contracts. As the money flowed in, the criminal brotherhood’s structure evolved: unbeknownst to the mass of the membership, ever more upper ranks were invented. By creating them, most senior bosses were trying to monopolize access to the money derived from infiltrating public works, and keep the peace among themselves while they did so. But they could never settle on a definitive formula, just as at various times in the history of Freemasonry, there was runaway inflation in the number of Degrees and rituals, and a fight over who got to authorize them. Such internal wrangles were one of the reasons behind savage Ndrangheta civil wars in the 1970s and 1980s. In the end, around 2001, an alliance of the most powerful bosses founded an entirely separate and highly secretive group within the Ndrangheta – so investigators believe. The group’s members include men with the kind of white-collar, political skills needed to get on with brokering corrupt deals with business and the state, while the crime bosses were left free to use their own less specialized skills to best effect. A few bosses who knew about this group have been bugged using various names to describe it: ‘the invisible ones’, for example. And because, like everyone else, Calabrian gangsters love to think of the Freemasons as the last word in occult power, they also refer to the new group, according to one supergrass, as ‘something analogous to Freemasonry’.

That is what the Ndrangheta boss Pantaleone ‘Uncle Luni’ Mancuso was doing when he was recorded in 2011 saying that the Freemasons had taken over the Ndrangheta. He was using a metaphor – as almost no one pointed out when Uncle Luni’s words were splashed over the newspapers.

But now is not the time for the Freemasons of Italy to shout their outrage at the way their reputation has been attacked because of a mere metaphor. The Gotha Trial may yet hold damning surprises in store. It is also crucial to understand that when Ndrangheta refers to Freemasonry they are not just speaking in metaphor. Masonic Lodges – real Masonic Lodges – are part of the Calabrian mafia’s pervasive networking system.

Here is how the judges think it all works. The Ndrangheta loves to get its hands on state contracts for collecting and disposing of rubbish, building and maintaining roads and hospitals, and so on. ’Ndranghetisti use mediators to wheedle their way into winning these contracts: politicians, administrators, entrepreneurs, and lawyers. Indeed, mafia organizations are only as strong as the mediators they can call on; they have a constant hunger to co-opt new ones, and will use any mix of bribery, blackmail, and intimidation to do so. This is where Masonic Lodges fit in.

Especially since the P2 scandal, Freemasonry has attracted unscrupulous men from the same kind of professional background as the honest Masons I met in Calabria, most of whom were doctors and lawyers. Many of the unscrupulous new arrivals get bored and go elsewhere when they realize what honest Masons actually do. But within the confused world of Calabrian Freemasonry, there are plenty of niches where clusters of them can find a base. Most of the Lodges cited in the judges’ ruling in the Gotha Trial are the kind of ‘covert’ or ‘irregular’ Lodges not authorized by the main national orders. They act like dating agencies, matching ’Ndranghetisti  to mediators from among the professional classes, and can offer a route to the very top of the grey zone where the criminal underworld meets the upper world of politics and business. But regular Lodges are at risk too: by accepting a banal favor from a Brother secretly in league with the ’Ndranghetisti , even an honest Mason can be drawn into a web of blackmail.

If the first Gotha Trial ruling is right, then there is an obvious way that the interests of Freemasonry could be harmonized with the fight against the mafia. The main Masonic orders could seek the help of the law in policing the boundary between regular and irregular forms of Masonry. Alas, no such approach will be adopted any time soon. There are too few people on either side who have an interest in collaboration. Masonry and anti-Masonry seem doomed to carry on their centuries-old slanging match.


The Lost Symbol

In 2009, Grand Lodges across the United States were in a state of fibrillation. Six years earlier, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, a cloak-and-dagger thriller about earth-shattering truths supposedly concealed by the Catholic Church, had sold in Harry Potter quantities and been adapted into a hit movie. Now Brown’s sequel, The Lost Symbol, was imminent: set in Washington DC, its theme would be the secrets of Freemasonry, and the initial print run a record-breaking 6.5 million copies. The fear was that, just as the Vatican had been besieged by cranks in the wake of The Da Vinci Code, so the Masonic establishment would be made answerable for whatever portentous baloney Dan Brown had made up this time around. Even before The Lost Symbol, the Scottish Rite headquarters in Washington DC regularly had to report threatening letters to the police.

The Lost Symbol sold a million copies on its first day alone. But it proved to be a false alarm. Within a few short weeks, the tide of interest in Freemasonry had subsided to normal levels. Part of the explanation for the anticlimax lies within the novel itself. Whatever its flaws, which were gleefully nailed by reviewers at the time, The Lost Symbol has a clever way of feeding our enduring obsession with Masonic secrecy, without making too many concessions to the silliest myths. In the end, it is only the novel’s deluded, psychopathic villain who believes that the Masons are guarding momentous mysteries. By contrast, the hero, ‘symbologist’ Professor Robert Langdon, gives the Brothers a glowing press: ‘For the record, ma’am, the entire Masonic philosophy is built on honesty and integrity. Masons are among the most trustworthy men you could ever hope to meet.’ The real star of The Lost Symbol is Washington DC, which is reimagined as a Masonic maze of unknown tunnels, high-security laboratories, underground sanctuaries, and coded inscriptions. In the real world, Masonic Washington certainly has plenty of history. However, far from being hidden, it could scarcely be less ostentatious. Most of it consists of huge monuments from the golden age when Masonry was central to male life across the nation. More than any other Freemasons across the western world, Craftsmen in the United States have a huge architectural patrimony to administer.

The most magnificent Masonic edifice in the capital is the House of the Temple (1915), the headquarters of the Scottish Rite (Southern Jurisdiction). With a Mesopotamian ziggurat roof and a columned façade guarded by sphinxes, it is modeled on the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – which was intended to bestow god-like status on a Persian imperial satrap. The man immortalized in the House of the Temple is Confederate general Albert Pike: his ashes are walled in next to a shrine dedicated to big donors. The heart of the building is the Temple Chamber, the holy of holies of Scottish Rite Masonry: a lavish square hall of black marble, purple velvet, Russian walnut, and bronze – all dramatically lit by high windows and a skylight. It is open to visitors.

Atop a hill across the Potomac, a Metro ride away in Alexandria, Virginia, stands the George Washington Masonic National Memorial (1932), which rises where the great man was a member of the local Lodge. It too is a copy of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: the Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt. In its atrium stands a titanic 5.2-metre bronze statue of the first President, Brother George Washington, in his apron; it was unveiled in 1950 by the thirty-third President, Brother Harry S. Truman.

Freemasons today have a less heroic outlook than the monuments bequeathed to them by earlier generations. With the Craft in decline, they now seem almost embarrassed by the grandeur that surrounds them. The House of the Temple is a massive financial burden for the Scottish Rite: $45 million has been raised in a decade to fund a renovation, renovation, but much more is needed to endow ongoing repairs. The George Washington Masonic National Memorial is forlorn, struggling for a purpose. While it holds one or two genuine artifacts from the life of the great man, most of the rest is the detritus of Washington’s posthumous Masonic personality cult. The Director told me when I visited that ‘90 percent of the stuff that is on display in this building is contrived, it’s fake’.

Ironically, cinema is important to the survival of these buildings and NBC is adapting “The Lost Symbol, into a television series, Deadline reports. The planned series, titled “Langdon,” will be produced by CBS Television Studios, Universal Television, Imagine Television Studios, and Daniel Cerone.

For example, The Prince Hall Grand Lodge tells us about a very distinctive conception of what Freemasonry is about. It stands at the center of U Street and was at the heart of the black community with which U Street was synonymous. Beginning life as an encampment of freed slaves after the Civil War, the U-Street area was a town-within-a-town in the era of segregation. At a time when white capital was denied to African-American businesses, they were funded by the Industrial Bank: created in 1934 by Most Worshipful Past Grand Master Jessie H. Mitchell, it was and is located just across from the Grand Lodge. U Street was once known as the ‘Black Broadway’, where the likes of Brother Cab Calloway came to play. Brother Duke Ellington was at home here: he was a member of Social Lodge no. 1, which met (and still meets) in the Grand Lodge building. A few blocks away, Howard University-trained a black intellectual élite: Brother Thurgood Marshall graduated from the Law School in 1933. Indeed, civil rights were built into the very fabric of the U-Street Grand Lodge. The plan for the building was suggested by Brother Booker T. Washington when he came to speak in 1912. The lower floors were to contain a big dining hall and shop spaces that could be rented out to provide sustainable funding for the Masonic activities on the upper floors: hence the pharmacy. Still today, at the end of a corridor within the Grand Lodge building you can find a door guarded by fluted columns and encased in mirrored plastic: it is marked ‘Washington DC Branch NAACP’.

Yet U Street is no longer the force it once was. The heart was ripped out of the community in 1968 by the desperate revolt following the assassination of Martin Luther King. Much has changed in the lives of African Americans. U Street has made a slow recovery, which has been driven by yuppification in recent years; the place now lives on its heritage. The Prince Hall Craft has seen better days too: in United States Masonry, white, and black areas one in having a greying membership.

Chequered No force more than the British Empire was responsible for creating the ‘Masonic Earth’ celebrated in Bourlard’s documentary. So perhaps the most appropriate theme to finish with is the legacy of the Empire in Masonry and how it influenced also Hindu Nationalism.


Freemasonry and Indian Nationalism

The Masons of Bengal in the 1860s knew what opening up Freemasonry to Indians would mean, and they were dead set against it. It was Lord Zetland (the English Grand Master) and his deputy, Lord Ripon, who in the 1860s had to insist upon the principle of universal brotherhood and, in doing so, promoted, albeit from the top down, a new vision of empire among Masons.

Indian Masons assimilated only too well to the British imperial community-to the point of becoming "brothers" to the English, Scottish, and Welsh-and they strove to obtain the rights and privileges which attended this fraternal assimilation. This was the genesis of the nationalist impulse among the western-educated Indians.

They envisioned and expected to live in an empire of nationalities, in which Indians played an equal role with whites in governing the Indian Empire. Unfortunately for them, the British were simultaneously forging a national identity based on their superior position in the Empire. In the contest between these two nationalisms, British and Indian, the middle path of an imperial brotherhood based on parity would necessarily lose out. Indian Masons, then. who had gone a long way in reaching parity with the British in the lodge, sought the same thing in the Raj as nationalists, but were to find that parity there was "blocked," or at least too slow in coming.

At the first Congress in 1885, Dadabliai Naoroji explained what drew the western-educated Indians politically to the British: 'What attaches us to this foreign rule with deeper loyalty than even our own past Native rule, is the fact that Britain is the parent of free and representative Government and that we, as her subjects and children, are entitled to inherit the great blessing of freedom and representation.' (Briton Martin, New India, 1885, p. 298)

In the front ranks of Indian leaders in the early Congress Party (and even before) were a number of Masons: Dadabliai Naoroji, Pherozeshah Mehta, Badruddin Tyabji, Narayan Chandavarkar, among those in Bombay. In Bengal, there was W.C. Bonnedee, Man Mohan Ghosh, and Rash Behari Ghosh, and probably others who research in lodges there would no doubt turn up.

What these men wanted was respect, to be treated as equals, to be "brothers" with the British in running India, just as they were "brothers" with them in the lodges.

An examination of the Masonic Presidents of the Indian National Congress from its inception in 1885 to the Surat "split" between Moderates and Extremists in 1907, is impressive. Of the Congress Presidents from the Bombay Presidency, a staggering seventy-eight percent-were Freemason. In addition, one President-Lal Mohan Ghosh was the brother of the Mason, Man Mohan Ghosh, and thus may have been a Mason himself (which would have made forty-eight percent of the I.N.C. Presidents Masons):

1885     W.C. Bonnedee Mason (Bengal)

1886  Dadabhai Naoroji Mason (Bombay)

1887  Badruddin Tyabji Mason (Bombay)

1888  George Yule Unknown

1889  William Wedderburn Unknown

1890  Pherozeshah Mehta Mason (Bombay)

1891  P. Ananda Charlu Unknown

1892  W.C. Bonnedee Mason (Bengal)

1893  Dadabhai Naoroji Mason (Bombay)

1894  Alfred Webb, M.P. Unknown

1895  Surendranath Banedea Unknown

1896  Rahirntulla Muhammad Saymni Mason (Bombay)

1897  Sir C. Sankaran Nair Unknown

1898  Ananda Mohan Bose Unknown

1899  Ramesh Chandra Dutt Unknown

1900  Narayen Ganesh Chandavarkar Mason (Bombay)

1901  Dinshaw EduIji Wacha Doubtful (Bombay)

1902  Surendranath Banedea Unknown

1903  Lal Mohan Ghosh Unknown (brother of M.M. Ghosh)

1904  Sir Henry Cotton Unknown

1905  Gopal Krishna Gokhale Doubtful (Bombay)

1906  Dadabhai Naoroji Mason (Bombay)

1907  Rash Behari Ghosh Mason (Bengal)


Compared to the early days of the Grand Lodge of India, the Lodges no longer attract the ‘very highest echelons’ of society. Partly as a result, money is a problem too. Indian Lodge buildings often betray their origins in the infrastructure of the Empire: they are on land leased long term from the railways or the military. Many such plots have rocketed in value as India has prospered. With the leases coming up for renewal, the Brothers face a tough challenge to stay in their collective homes.

There are also looming recruitment problems. Many educated young men simply do not have time for Lodge business: those employed in the burgeoning IT industry work extremely long hours, often on American or European time, in facilities situated far from the historical city centers where the Temples are.

One thing that is decidedly not a problem for Indian Freemasonry is intolerance. The very first Grand Master elected at the foundation of the Grand Lodge of India in 1961 was a Muslim; recent Grand Masters have included a Sikh and a Parsi, and the current head of the Southern Region is a Syrian Christian. Indian Lodges all recognize no fewer than five different Volumes of Sacred Law: the Bhagavad Gita, the Qur’an, the Bible, Guru Granth Sahib (for Sikhs), and the Zend-Avesta (for Zoroastrians). Bharat even has words of understanding for Rudyard Kipling, author of ‘The Mother Lodge’, whose racism he says was no more than ‘a reflection of the time’. Indeed, Kipling’s portrait adorns the home page of the Grand Lodge of India website, side by side with that of his Brother from Allahabad days, Motilal Nehru.

Thus, in India at least, the legacy of Freemasonry’s role in the British Empire is largely a positive one. Elsewhere, Freemasons have a tougher task coming to terms with the shadows in their past. Australia is a case in point. One of the many troubling aspects of the inhuman treatment of Aboriginal peoples over the centuries since the first whites arrived in 1788 is the abuse of indigenous burial sites, which all Aboriginal nations regard as essential to their bond with the landscape. Identifying and reinterring ancestral remains is a cause pursued with passion by Aboriginal groups. In 2002, following an amnesty, Freemasons handed over to the Melbourne Museum a large but uncatalogued collection of indigenous remains, ‘usually crania and arm or leg bones’. For many years, the Lodges of the state of Victoria had been using Emblems of Mortality stolen from Aboriginal graves. A member of the Museum’s Indigenous Advisory Committee was appalled:

This material has turned up without information on the source of these remains or why they were collected. It’s scandalous that so many of our ancestors were held by the Freemasons, but it’s made worse by the fact that the Freemasons cannot tell us where they come from. How are we to rebury our ancestors when we don’t know where they came from? No wonder that the Craft was recently called to account for its role in colonization by one of Australia’s leading artists, in a prize-winning work that now hangs in the National Gallery of Australia. Danie Mellor’s From Rite to Ritual depicts a Masonic Lodge and its associated symbols: columns, chessboard floor, coffin, and the skull-and-crossbones. The scene is painted in the same blue as the Willow pattern crockery decorated with kitsch Chinese scenes that were first produced in Britain in the late eighteenth century – a typical consumer commodity of the imperial economy at the time when the Craft was being transplanted across the globe. Standing out incongruously against this background are color cameos of Australian animals, such as koalas, kangaroos, and red-winged parrots. At the center of the temple floor are ghostly Aboriginal men enacting a ceremonial dance. The picture reminds us of how the Craft provided a solemn and harmonious cover story for the lethal and greedy business of carving out colonies.

Yet Danie Mellor is aware of the Craft’s insistent contradictions: not only is he a former Freemason, but he is also of mixed indigenous and European heritage. From Rite to Ritual also dwells on the fragile common ground between western Freemasonry and indigenous Australian cultures, notably the way knowledge is embedded in ceremonies, and death is seen as central to the experience of being human. Australian Freemasons point to some Aboriginal community leaders who have been on the Square, such as Sir Douglas Nicholls, the élite Aussie rules footballer, campaigner, and Governor of South Australia in the mid-1970s. A glance at the indigenous press suggests that Nicholls is not an entirely isolated case. Historically, Freemasons may have poached symbols from other cultures around the world for use in their ceremonies, but the Lodges have proven again and again that they are also cradles of cultural dialogue.

A sense of history has always been crucial to Freemasonry. But all too often, the Masons have squeezed their history into rosy identity narratives. And they would be truer to their values if they explored ways to write their story that have a bit less Masonic harmony and a bit more social tension. Freemasonry’s past is as chequered as a Lodge floor.



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A. Brown-Peroy, ‘La franc-maçonnerie et la notion de secret dans l’Angleterre du XXe siècle’, PhD thesis, University of Bordeaux Montaigne, 2016; for the whole Knight-Brotherhood affair in the UK. Number of expulsions rocketed from twelve, between 1934 and 1986, to 277, between 1987 and 1996, p. 289.


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H. Richardson, ‘Chilling letter written almost 150 years ago predicted both world wars and a THIRD battle against Islamic leaders’, the Sun, 7 March 2016.


R.S. Sidhwa, District Grand Lodge of Pakistan (1869–1969), Lahore, 1969


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United Grand Lodge of England, ‘Gender reassignment policy’,


T. Zarcone, Le Croissant et le Compas. Islam et franc-maçonnerie de la fascination à la detestation, Paris, 2015. On the fate of Masonry, and of Kipling’s Mother Lodge, in Pakistan, p. 113. On Iran, p. 115.


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