It’s that time of year when we look forward to Christmas. I was reading the other day about what the actual meaning of advent is. Not in a Christian context but in terms of looking forwards, moving from darkness to light, the expectation of better things to come – indeed, paralleled in allegorical form in our own Masonic journey through the Craft and into the Holy Royal Arch.
If you visit an old church, particularly those that still reflect a Medieval influence it’s often worth turning round and looking to the West, in the opposite direction to the altar, towards the liturgical West wall. You may be surprised! You will often find images of hell and damnation depicted, so called Doom pictures and reflecting scenes drawn from Saint John’s book of Revelations. Why? These pictures and indeed the period of advent remind us of both the dark times and the good, our chequered existence, and in the Christian period of Advent the thoughts of better things to come, as in the journey from the West to the East. All recognisable from a Masonic context, particularly from the white and black squares of our chequered pavement. These messages are clearly not specific to Christianity and are reflected across the full breadth of religions, societies and belief systems. At this time of year many Hindus, Sikhs and Jains have just celebrated Diwali, the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. One of the core strengths of freemasonry is that it is independent of religious belief. By its very nature it embraces diversity as one of its foundational supports.
I have been reminded of this diversity many times in my travels around the world. I have been lucky to visit lodges and indeed am a member of a number of lodges across continental Europe, North America and beyond. At this time of year, I am particularly missing a visit to Sarastro lodge in Vienna in the lead up to Christmas. Sarastro is an English speaking Lodge working a version of Emulation ritual. It is named for Sarastro, a character who is key to the plot in Mozart’s ‘Masonic’ Opera, The Magic Flute written in part reflect Mozart’s own membership of our society. Sarastro lodge is populated with a very broad spectrum of Freemasons, from members of Vienna based United Nation organisations, through to members of the Vienna State Opera and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Meetings are always well attended but the meeting in December is one that is always extremely well supported. I will write further on the fascinating evolution of Austrian Freemasonry in another article, but I wanted to draw out one key point today. Vienna has always been situated at the crossroads of Europe. By its very nature the City has an immensely diverse community reflected in the membership of the Lodge and draws its members from all walks of life, from all backgrounds, all religions and indeed from multiple countries. Yet even to this day it suffers from the shadow of the terrifying events of the Second World War and the persecution of so many groups, including Freemasons. I was reminded of this after a meeting when we had retired to a bar in the City for after dinner chat and I was still wearing a Masonic tie. It was suggested rather abruptly that I remove it, as there were still concerns about the overt declaration of Masonic membership in local society driven by the echoes of oppression of the events of the last Century.
What are the parallels with Advent and Diwali? Well for me, the messages of Advent, Christmas and Diwali, the rebuilding of European Freemasonry after the Second World War, and indeed the hope of what may be the approaching finals phases of the terrible pandemic carry similar messages of that transition from darkness to light. And as we start to hear more positive news of light at the end of the Covid tunnel I have every hope that we can look forward to times in 2021 that will enable us to meet with loved ones, with friends and with our Brethren in Freemasonry and renew and deepen our fraternal bonds.
“I look for better things to come”