Sunday April 17, 2005
The Freemasons have for centuries been shrouded in secrecy and there is a lot
of speculation about their activities. But now they are slowly opening up to
tell their side of the story, ROYCE CHEAH writes
FREEMASONS have long been the target of theories that say they rival religion, are a secret world order and are also a cult with all sorts of mysterious rituals.
The master's chair in the Masonic temple of Dewan Freemason. A gavel is used to bring order to meetings.
According to Datuk Dr Yeoh Poh Hong, the wild speculation and claims are completely false.
“The attacks on us are absolutely untrue. We are not a cult, we are not deviants and we do not worship Satan,” he said.
“There is nothing spectacular about us. We are not a religion and we do not have any altars, only a meeting room where members are seated in ranks.”
Dr Yeoh said Freemasons have existed in Malaysia for some 180 years.
“We have remained silent all these years while all kinds of stories are spun about us, but now we have received a directive from the grandmaster in England to speak out and tell our side of the story.”
Dr Yeoh, who is the District Grandmaster of the Eastern Archipelago and presides over all 33 lodges in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, said some religions objected to Freemasons because of its meetings that involve people from all faiths.
“Many churches object to how we say a prayer to God when we open and close our meetings,” he said.
“These religions want to claim exclusivity by saying they are the only true religion and see us as undermining their authority. People also say we only promote our members when we actually exist as a benevolent society that contributes a lot to charity.”
Dr Yeoh also spoke about the rituals that the Freemasons perform.
“Unlike what people think, all our ceremonies and rituals are not secrets and are displayed in the public domain,” he said.
“Our rituals are enactments of plays and stories dating back to the building of King Solomon’s temple.”
This is done primarily to impress on the minds of new candidates the values of honour, charity, integrity and honesty.
Dr Yeoh said new candidates and current officers would act out these plays by playing the part of certain characters in biblical history.
“After acting out these plays many times, the good values are instilled in the mind and it becomes very meaningful,” he said.
These rituals come into play during initiation and promotion ceremonies.
NO SECRET: Dr Yeoh in the Masonic temple in Dewan Freemason. The two pillars are symbols of the entrance to
King Solomon's temple. The story of King Solomon's temple plays a vital role in Masonic values and initiation rites.
—STARpic by LOW LAY PHON
Freemasonary has three degrees, or ranks. The Entered Apprentice, Craftsman and Master Mason.
As the rank goes up, more responsibilities are given to the member.
From a historical perspective, Dr Yeoh said, people who were Freemasons were not people who had armies, used force or had great powers.
“It just so happened that many of the great leaders of the world were Masons,” he said, adding that more than half of the presidents of the United States were Masons.
“Henry Ford and George Washington were definitely Masons. So were most of the people who wrote the US Constitution. George Bush Sr & Jr, however, are not Masons.
He said other well-known people who were Masons included Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill and Mozart.
Any man who has a belief in God and is of good reputation can join us, said Dr Yeoh.
“In fact, we welcome people to knock on our door to find out more.”
Dr Yeoh said a good reputation meant that the person had not been convicted of an offence and that he was a responsible citizen.
“Any prospective member has to be proposed and seconded and then undergo some interviews,” he said, adding that the process would take about six months.
“You must have a belief in a supreme being, be loyal to king and country, obedient to the law, respect all beings and must conduct yourself in a moral way.
“All of our meetings and ceremonies revolve around that, to remind our members of honour and fidelity.”
Freemasonary started off as a collection of stone mason guilds in the 12th and 13th century, though nobody knows for sure, said Dr Yeoh.
“However, I can assure you that the wide and esoteric explanations of our origins are just theories,” he said.
“Over the years, these stone masons started inviting non-operative masons or gentlemen masons into the group to increase their influence and promote their interests.
“In the end, it resulted in the establishment of the first Grand Lodge in the north of England in 1717.
“It started as a benevolent organisation where people got together to take care of each other, their widows and their children. And in the process, very strong finances were built up which resulted in a lot of charity being done.”
Dr Yeoh stressed that Freemasons do not raise funds from the public but from its own members and that one of its policies was not to publicise its charity work.
Freemasons are broken up into districts under the United Grand Lodge of England, and all in all there are 80 provinces or districts worldwide that the Duke of Kent, who is the current grandmaster of the Grand Lodge, presides upon.
Under each district, there are lodges – a smaller unit that consists of anywhere between 20 and 150 members.
The first lodge in Malaysia was established in Penang, shortly after Penang was founded.
It was called Lodge Neptune and Sir Francis Light was a member.
However, because of the movement of expatriates during that era, it was closed down a few years later.
There still remains one lodge in Penang called the Royal Prince of Wales. It was established in 1875.
In Singapore, one of the countries in the Eastern Archipelago District, the lodge there was established in 1845.
All the states in Malaysia have a lodge except for Kelantan, Terengganu and Perlis, said Dr Yeoh.
There are over 2,500 members in the Eastern Archipelago, although Dr Yeoh is uncertain how many members there are in Malaysia alone.
Where they meet
An unassuming white bungalow named Dewan Freemason opposite the US Embassy on Jalan Tun Razak is what the Freemasons in Kuala Lumpur call their home.
Its halls are lined with wooden boards that have the names of members, past and present, of the 10 lodges that meet at the office.
There is a dining hall, a bar and other rooms that serve as the offices of the members there, and has been in operation since they moved there in 1981 from Damansara.
They will be shifting out in mid-June to a site in Old Klang Road, where they will stay for three years while waiting for their new and larger premises to be completed in Bukit Jalil.
There are also two Masonic temples, or meeting rooms, where lodge meetings are conducted once a month.
The main temple has three chairs that stand out from the rest. This is where the master and two wardens would sit.
There are two pillars set against the wall that represent the entrance of King Solomon’s temple and Masonic symbols such as a compass and square sits on the master’s table.
Depending on the candidate that is to be initiated, a holy book is also placed on the master’s table
All members must wear a tuxedo when attending meetings, and they also have to put on ceremonial garb that consists of a stonemason’s apron, for symbolic purposes.
Masters or grandmasters wear a much more colourful costume when presiding over their meetings.
Politics and religion cannot be discussed during meetings as they serve as divisive items that could break the cohesiveness of the lodge.
Dr Yeoh, , 56, began his journey as a Freemason in 1983.
He came to know about it from his friends who were Freemasons, and he joined them after some encouragement.
After working his way up the ranks, he was installed as the Eastern Archipelago District Grandmaster in May 2003.
Dr Yeoh was previously the master of the Academy of Medicine Malaysia and served as the president of the Malaysian Medical Association.
He has been an orthopaedic surgeon for 30 years. Dr Yeoh also sat on the Royal Commission of Inquiry that investigated the “black-eye” incident involving former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Responding to the proclamation of the Freemasons