The Freemasons have been shrouded in mystery since the organisation’s inception. The TT chapter is no different, although its members often laugh at or are disgusted by the rumours that surround their brotherhood.
Some of the rumours say the Freemasons brand members when they join, participate in blood sacrifices, sleep in coffins, are a religious cult, or cut out members’ tongues when they die.
This is not true, said Courtney WT Browne, district deputy grandmaster of the 8th Masonic District of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.
“I have been in this game almost 45 years and I have never experienced any of the things I hear some people talking about,” he told Sunday Newsday.
Asked why he thought Freemasonry had so many negative connotations, Keiron Regis, worshipful master of Alpha Lodge No 20 of the 8th Masonic District, said, in general, the human mind tends to gravitate toward the negative.
Also, people place their own meanings on what Freemasons do, on the basis on their own culture, background and influences.
“I think because people don’t understand certain things about the power that Freemasonry has, they place their own meanings upon it and present that as fact, when it is actually speculation.”
Another reason could be the history of the Knights Templar, which was a Masonic Order. He said, in the distant past, a king of France and a pope got together to accuse the Knights Templar of worshipping the pagan deity Baphomet, and the accusations about involvement in the occult stuck with the organisation.
Browne stressed that the Freemasons are not a religious cult and do not force an extreme level of control on members. In fact, they do not discuss politics or religion at meetings because they want to keep harmony among themselves.
But he said members have to accept “the fact” that there is a supreme being because they believe to truly be a great person, one must have a connection with that higher power.
But why all the secrecy?
Regis said, “To paraphrase an old Egyptian proverb, if you take fire and place it in the hands of a good man, he’s going to keep his family warm and care for them. Take fire and place it in the hands of an evil man, he’s going to destroy lives and burn people’s homes down.
“This is the reason we don’t share our knowledge willy-nilly and why we are cautious about who we allow to gain access to this knowledge.”
“The power that Masonry has is just like fire, so we have to be guarded, as best as we can, with regard to who we give this power to. A person could take that knowledge and use it to manipulate others or take it to enhance society.”
Prince Hall, an activist
Prince Hall was a free man of colour, possibly from Barbados, born between 1735 and 1738. In 1765 he went to Boston, Massachusetts, where he became a leather worker, a soldier, a caterer, and later a minister, Browne said, explaining the history of the lodge.
Hall was not allowed to join white Masonic lodges in North America, even though the ideals of Freemasonry were to unite all men in a universal brotherhood as they were all equal.
In 1775, he and 14 other “free blacks” became members of the British Army Lodge No 441, and they later petitioned the Grand Lodge of England to establish a lodge and were granted permission to do so.
Regis added that, in some circles, Hall was considered the first recorded activist in the US. He converted his home into a school which taught black children to read, and fought for the abolition of slavery, as well as the humane treatment of Asians.
“He was vocal against acts against humanity and opened a catering business to show that black people can be successful in business. I think he displayed the perfect example of what a Mason is supposed to be, especially in the light that, at that time, he was being rejected by the white lodgers.”
Hall became a master of the African Masonic Lodge, which later declared itself independent and was renamed the African Grand Lodge No 1.
Many years later, “Prince Hall Freemasonry came to Trinidad around the early 1960s, just before we got our Independence. We started off with one lodge, Harmony Lodge No 18 in those days, and other lodges came out of that,” Browne recalled.
TT is district number eight of ten and has three lodges under Prince Hall – Alpha No 20 and Dan Ruben No 33 in Port of Spain, and Cosmopolitan No 21 in San Fernando.
Although the Prince Hall Grand Lodge was started by black men for black men, Browne noted that it is open to men of all races, religions, classes, and skill.
“I don’t think there is any other organisation in this country that is as together as Freemasonry.”
In addition, all Freemasons in TT, approximately 100, are members of two organisations – the TT Masonic Charitable Organisation, and the TT Masonic Provident Society. And they pay three separate dues for all three.
The Charitable Organisation raises funds for charity and looks after their own while they are alive. For example, a lodge can apply on behalf of a brother for financial assistance for medical expenses, or to pay fees for a home for the elderly.
The Provident Society disburses a sum of money to a brother’s beneficiary when he dies, as well as assisting the family with burial expenses.
Individuals and lodges also donate money and items to charity events like the one that took place on Pembroke Street, Port of Spain on Deceember 19, 2020. There they distributed toys, children’s books, notebooks, household items such as curtains, toiletries, foodstuff, meals, cellphone chargers and cases, clothes and shoes for children and adults, and more for anyone who wanted to take.
For all men
Browne was a teacher at Fyzabad Intermediate School when he became a Freemason.
In the late 60s, his neighbour, who was a lodge brother, shared literature about the lodge and got him interested in Freemasonry. He eventually joined Cosmopolitan No 21.
He worked his way up through the ranks, holding every post except treasurer, until he became the worshipful master of the lodge. At that point he started attending an annual “session” in Massachusetts, where he made friends and started to be recognised.
In 1996 he was appointed the district deputy grandmaster for the 8th Masonic District, and, although he stepped down, he was reinstated after about a year.
“Over the years I got to meet people I admired. I really appreciated what I saw them doing and, as a young man, I decided to pattern my life after them and that continued to grow in me. I don’t like to see people taking advantage of others, and wherever I can help someone, I do it.”
He said Freemasonry was not a “wash your foot and jump in” organisation, and members are expected to be of “a certain calibre” – people who would uphold the reputation of the organisation.
Many famous people have been Prince Hall Freemasons, including singers Rev Al Green, Nat King Cole and Lionel Richie; basketball player Shaquille O’Neal; political activist and minister Jesse Jackson; civil rights activist and minister Al Sharpton; and the first black US Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall.
In TT, its members have been doctors, lawyers, teachers, labourers, scientists, security officers, police officers, accountants, artists, judges, businessmen and more.
Believing there was “more to life,” Regis, a businessman, began some personal research and, in 2009, came across Freemasonry. He met a man who he later discovered was a Mason and immediately signed up.
“The purpose of Masonry is to take a good man and make him into a better man. We believe in personal development, so Masonry assists you in that.”
He said personal development is done mainly through lectures, but would not go into any further detail about their methods.
But he said the Alpha lodge’s culture is about brotherly love, support, and assisting any member of the human family.
“An Alpha man is someone who adds value to the lives of others.”
The Alpha lodge also has a rigorous screening process. He said, generally, a member cannot have a criminal record, but there can be extenuating circumstances.
“Masonry has certain ideals that support humanity. For example, Nelson Mandela had a criminal record, but he fought against a system that was against those ideals.”
Browne added that one aspect of brotherly love is defending a brother and his family if he is wrongfully attacked.
“A lot of people join the Freemasons for all the wrong reasons. They recognise it’s a prestigious organisation and they want to get in to hide behind Freemasonry or use it for selfish gain.”
He admitted that people involved in crime, or who were otherwise not living to the dictates and principles of the order – brotherly love, relief, and truth – have slipped through the cracks, but said once found out, they are removed from the organisation.
For women only
At the moment, the 8th Masonic District of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, is working on starting a chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star (OES) in TT.
Browne explained that, at present, only the wife, daughter, mother, or sister of a master Mason could be a member of the OES. However, there are not enough female family members of master Masons in TT to create a chapter. He’s working to change that so a good friend or extended family member of any Freemason could join the OES.
“There are lots of women out there who are worthy who may not be relatives of master Masons, but who could bring something to the table and really enhance the organisation. The only person with the authority to open that up and allow us to extend membership to others is the grand master, and I’m working on that.”
He said the Freemasons are very concerned about the abuse, kidnapping, and murder of the women of TT. But the issue is becoming political, so they are trying to stay out of the discussion.
However, when the OES is established, it will concentrate on the protection of the women of TT, whether they are members or not.
Regis added that the TT Freemasons were in the process of developing a buddy system so women could notify someone of their whereabouts and other details when travelling, “in case something goes wrong.”