I stand in front of the Masonic Club on Coleman Street feeling all kinds of nervous. I am, after all, about to enter a building that belongs to one of the world’s largest and most secretive organisations— the Freemasons. Have I just signed up for a lifelong membership with the Freemasons by arranging for this interview?
I met up with Mr Darren Desker, a Freemason for 20 years and a Mentor of the Sir Stamford Raffles Lodge. He was dressed to the nines in a tailored suit, exuding an air of confidence about him. He welcomed me into the Lodge with a smile and asked if I would like to have anything to drink before our interview.
Julian Wong: How would you describe Freemasonry to someone you’re meeting for the first time?
Darren Desker: Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest fraternal organisations whose belief is to make good men better. Freemasons also do charity works, but it tends to be private. We believe that we should give for charity’s sake, that we should not provide simply for publicity.
J: What does a Mentor of the Lodge such as yourself do?
D: The job of the Lodge Mentor is actually to help new members through the induction process, to help them engage in and learn about Freemasonry. We also help to make sure everything is alright with them if they are absent for meetings.
J: What happens when Freemasons meet?
D: Meetings happen in two parts. The first part is the business meeting which is the same as any company or organisation, and the second is the ceremonial part. This is what we would call in the Middle Ages, a mystery play.
J: A mystery play?
D: Back then, a lot of people couldn’t read, so they performed plays from the Bible. The first part of the ceremony is like a play, where the candidate forms part of the tradition, and the second part is a series of lectures—duties to your God, your neighbour, and yourself.
J: What does the Freemason logo represent?
D: The Compass and Square are tools that builders use— Masons were formerly builders who wanted to inculcate specific valuable moral lessons through the use of symbols.
J: How are these symbols used in the teachings of Freemasonry?
D: Symbols are a pictorial representation of ideas. Many ideas appear to be simple at first glance, but they tend to have levels of complexity that become more apparent after you have time to consider it.
J: Do I have to be invited to join Freemasonry?
D: No one can ask you to be a member. We can show you around the place, but we can’t invite you. If you want to improve, you have to want it yourself. All you have to do is register.
J: What is the process from application to initiation into the organisation?
D: The application process can take from a couple of months to two years—the Lodge as a whole will engage with you in activities like fundraising and volunteer work to find out whether you’re suitable for Freemasonry. We have to be sure that someone is joining for the right reasons. For example, would you want an insurance agent who wants to join Freemasonry just to expand his social network?
J: What can you tell me about the Initiation Ceremony?
D: I can’t tell you. The secret about Freemasonry is the experience. When you already know what’s going to happen, this experience gets diluted. That is why whenever someone is interested in joining Freemasonry, I tell them not to Google it anymore. It’s like if you watched all the Harry Potter movies and then read the book— it’s just not the same anymore.
J: Other than character, are there any other criteria for someone to join Freemasonry?
D: It may be a question of commitment, especially when you have newborn children. Freemasonry is also an expense in your budget. If you’re married, you also need your wife’s agreement that you can join.
J: Are there any Freemasons who are famous?
D: I can’t tell you his name. Membership is not a secret, but it is private. It’s not for me to say to you. While I can tell you that I’m a Freemason, I cannot tell you that XYZ is a Freemason unless he agrees. And there are practical reasons why. Certain countries in the world dislike Freemasonry, and if someone were to google you and find out you were a Freemason, it could impact your living.
J: Where does the Lodge get money from?
D: There are two types of expenses—for operating cost, each Lodge determines how much it needs and collects a subscription from all its members. For charity, it comes out from our own pockets. Everyone is encouraged to support, but only as far as their circumstances permit.
Now that I had an idea of what Freemasonry was like in Singapore, I had to clear up the misconceptions that many people, including myself, have about this society.
Freemasonry is only for Caucasians.
D: Do you know how many Freemasons there are in India? When Freemasonry came to Singapore 175 years ago, people were mostly white. The Chinese had their social network, and they tend to associate more there. We did not cross racial boundaries as quickly as compared to now. These assumptions about racial bias are based on the past.
Freemasonry is an all-male society.
D: This is a common misconception because central to Freemasonry is the story of the building of King Solomon’s Temple, which only involved men. It is not true to say that Freemasonry is only open to men—there are women-only and mixed-gender Lodges—just not in Singapore. Freemasonry came to Singapore through the East India Company, which was mostly made up of male members, through Sir Stamford Raffles—the first and probably the most famous Freemason in Singapore.
Freemasonry is a cult.
It is not. Do you know how easy it is to leave Freemasonry? All you have to do is stand up and say “I resign.” You enter and leave of your own free will. It can’t be a cult because, one, once you’re in, you and only you decide to leave. Two, you can find the addresses of all the Freemason Halls on the internet. Three, we have a book of constitutions which is available at a bookshop and online.
Freemasons worship the devil.
D: Freemasonry requires a belief in a God. Whether you’re Anglican, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, or Muslim, we don’t ask you what God you believe in as long as you believe in one. The belief in a God is essential in becoming and remaining a Freemason—the lessons we teach are based off a belief in a God. Also, you can’t achieve evil intentions while pretending to be good. If you’re an evil cult with a belief in the devil and you do good deeds for society, it just doesn’t add up, don’t you think?
Freemasons and the Illuminati are related.
D: There is a possibility that the Illuminati might have been more myth than reality. Have you ever read the Da Vinci Code? The book mentions something about the Prairie of Sion—that it’s hundreds of years old and was found in the library in Paris in France. It was a made-up, and the document was a recent discovery that’s less than a hundred years old.
Freemasons wear hoods.
D: We wear regalia or aprons. When they were building King Solomon’s temple, the builders wore thick leather aprons to protect their clothes and to help prevent injury. The aprons nowadays are symbolic, and each apron has a particular meaning.
All Freemasons are rich.
D: Here in our Lodge, we have people who are in lower management and people who are in banking. There’s a vast diversity of professions, and I wouldn’t say everybody’s rich— they’re comfortable. Freemasonry is a cross-section of society. You have people from all walks of life—the only thing they have in common is that they are all men.
There is a pastor.
D: We have a chaplain. We believe that all works in Freemasonry should start with a prayer, but the prayer is non-secular.
After the interview, I was brought to the second floor of the Lodge, which houses the museum and is filled with artefacts and trivia on Freemasonry, which made me even more impressed with Mr Desker’s knowledge—he remembered every detail about the organisation flawlessly.
Throughout my one hour talk with Mr Desker, was there any form of coercion to join the Freemasons? No. Was there even a tinge of anger when he heard my ridiculous assumptions? No.
I felt a sense of injustice for such a reputable organisation—they were doing so much behind the scenes, yet because of their secrecy, they have often been dismissed as a cult or “devil worshipers”. As I asked Mr Desker question after question, I was embarrassed at how easily I jumped to conclusions, at how none of the assumptions I made was true, and despite all the baseless accusations being thrown around, there wasn’t even so much as to a single word of retaliation.
I hope I have done some justice to this group of wonderful gentlemen and that people can understand that beyond the secrecy, Freemasonry is merely a group of brothers who want nothing more than to better themselves and to give back to society.
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