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B.8.4 Freemasonry in the World

Freemasonry in the rest of Europe had nothing to do with operative masons. It evolved directly as speculative Craft under the leadership of the Premier Grand Lodge that opened Provincial Grand Lodges in various countries. In Prussia, as in France before, independent lodges were formed and became “Mother Lodge” to other lodges. With time, most European Lodges became independent of London. A Grand Lodge of France was formed in Paris in 1736 but it did not have many followers. Freemasonry soon spread to Madrid, Hamburg, The Hague, Florence, Rome, Lisbon, Vienna and many other towns and cities although many did not last long. In many places the Craft grew in importance, declined, and revived following political and social changes. In Belgium, for instance, the New Grand Orient of Belgium was created after independence in 1830 with King Leopold I, himself a Mason, as its protector. In the same way, Norway got their own Grand Lodge when the country was separated from Sweden, whose Grand Lodge dates from 1759. In Sweden a number of “Chivalric” Higher Degrees were introduced in the 1750’s and became so popular that they still exist now in Scandinavia. They are known as the “Swedish Rite” and consist of eleven grades.

France has always had complicated and confusing Higher Degrees systems although the Grand Orient of France, that was introduced in 1773, controlled most of the Craft activities in this country. England, with its constitutional monarchy and its elected parliament, allowed a certain amount of social mobility while the Church was not very powerful. Most of the other European countries were run by absolute monarchs, society was rigidly stratified, and the dominant Catholic Church was all-powerful. Freemasonry was not well accepted by the authorities that saw in it a thread to their power. The Catholic Church, in particular, saw the Craft as an anticlerical, secret and conspiring organisation, and condemned it with Papal Bulls in 1738 and 1751 but without great consequences. Even in the most Catholic countries Freemasonry was generally well accepted by the people, and grew to be very strong. Even catholic Bishops joined it when they realised that it was pro-religion. Opposition to Freemasonry was more political that religious.

Undemocratic and totalitarian regimes have always tried to suppress the Craft, very often without succeeding. Russia banned the Craft in 1822, and this ban went on during the Communist regime. The Fascist dictators of Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Germany did the same. Although Germany had been united in 1870, there was no unified Grand Lodge, and the previous Grand Lodges continued their activities as before. When Hitler came to power in 1933 he closed all the Grand Lodges and sent many Masons to concentration camps after banning them from the army and from the administration. Hitler banned them in the occupied country during World War II but Freemasonry survived in hiding, and reappeared after the war. In Eastern Europe the Communists banned the Craft that had just come back to life after the end of the German occupation. The fall of the communist regimes allowed the Craft to be revived again.

Freemasonry reached the European colonies of Africa. The first known Provincial Grand Master was Richard Hull, appointed in Gambia in 1726 although he did not fill his post; the first lodge in Western Africa was opened in 1792. Dutch masons opened lodges in South Africa before 1800 followed by the English in 1811. The first National Grand Lodge of Egypt was founded in 1864 from Italian, Greek and French lodges, the first of which dates from 1786. In Liberia the first Grand Lodge was founded in 1867. Freemasonry in Africa grew on the same scale that it did in Europe. In North Africa, Moslem Fundamentalism led to the prohibition of the Craft. Nowadays the lodges in former English colonies are under the Grand Lodge of England, Scotland, or Ireland whereas in the Old French Colonies they are affiliated to the Grand Orient, the Grand Lodge, or the National Grand Lodge of France. There are also National Grand Lodges in Gabon, the Ivory Coast and Liberia.

The Craft has also been well established in West Indies, Puerto Rico, Guianas, and Cuba (where a lodge was founded in 1804). In central and South America the Craft appeared after the departure of the Spanish and Portuguese.

Masonry is present in India since 1730 with a first lodge in Calcutta followed by Madras and Bombay. Indians were rarely admitted, mainly because it was thought that the Hindus did not believe in a single God. In the 1830’s the Duke of Sussex proclaimed that the Hindu gods were the personification of a single Supreme Being and this allowed the native Indians to join the Craft. Moreover he said that the religion of the Single Mason was his own concern. In 1844 Dr. George Burnes, Provincial Grand Master of Western India for the Grand Lodge of Scotland, opened a lodge in Bombay mainly for Indians. Freemasonry became very popular with Hindus, Muslims, Parsis and Sikhs who joined in large number. After independence in 1947 most English left and a Grand Lodge of India was founded in 1961. In Pakistan, on the opposite, Freemasonry is forbidden for political and religious reasons.

A military lodge opened in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1761 and now there are many more under the English, Scottish, and Irish jurisdictions. The situation is the same in Malaysia where the first lodge dates from 1809. There are also lodges in the Philippine and in Japan. The Craft has been active in China until 1947 but now it is only alive in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In the Middle East most lodges have been closed to please the Islamic Fundamentalists (Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and the Gulf States). There are a few lodges in Jordan and many more in Israel and Turkey.

A lodge was inaugurated in Australia in 1803 but the Governor thought that such meetings were illegal, and all the Brethren were arrested to be soon freed again. Later on Irish military lodges spread in the New South Wales and, after that, in all the country, especially after the gold rush of the 1890’s. By 1900 Grand Lodges had been formed an all the states except Queensland, and a National Grand Lodge was formed in 1921. Freemasonry is very active to day in the first three grades and in the higher ones. These last high grades became independent of Britain in 1980 when a sovereign Supreme Council 33° was constituted for Australia and Great Priories for Knights Templar were formed in most states.

The Craft is socially active and has created many hospitals and retiring homes in all the country. Masonry is also present in many of the island. It is well represented in Hawaii since a French lodge was opened in 1842. A Grand Lodge of Hawaii was created in 1989. In New Zealand the first lodge was opened in 1842 and the Grand Lodge of New Zealand dates from 1890. (9)