[Essay written for the 2016 Annual Masonic Essay Contest by Ontario Mason Magazine & College of Freemasonry.
Contest Theme: If a non-Mason asked you, “Why are you a Mason?”, what would your answer be?]
I grew up in a place where Masonry was illegal – forbidden. It could have meant even jail time. Sometimes it was cautiously whispered that this great poet or that writer, philosopher or outstanding figure in history was a member of a lodge, without going into details what that meant. It made my young mind, curious – although there was no place where to turn for answers. Furthermore, I didn’t come from a family with the usual background to be a Mason. My ancestors were mainly Transylvanian peasants, tradesmen, small business owners, hardworking simple people – and Masons in Eastern Europe, traditionally, were intellectuals, aristocrats, rich bourgeois, professionals, artists. Never nameless working men! By chance this son of a skilled tradesman and the grandson of peasants became a noted member of that class known as “intelligentsia“: the first university graduate in the whole large family; and the first man earning a living through intellectual work: teaching, writing newspapers, authoring and translating books.
As time went on, I learned more and more about the history of the Craft in my native Transylvania, and also in Hungary (where I happened to move in the late eighties). In my journalist years, I once interviewed the Grand Master of the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungary – I just didn’t know whom I was speaking to at the time. It was, probably, one of the first newspaper articles talking openly about Masons around the time of the collapse of the communist regimes in the Eastern European Block1. For my personal interest I even got some “reprinted” brochures for those seeking the light, but I didn’t act upon those. Thinking back, I wasn’t ready.
During a dinner on a national holiday2 in Budapest, I sat next to the husband of the Director of the Festive Concert at the Opera House. The man wore a small pin on his lapel. When I looked at it closely, he told me he was a Mason. And he put me in contact with the most wonderful Masonic mentor and teacher, anyone could wish for, a former Grand Master of the Grand Lodge3, Bro. István Galambos. I had hundreds of questions and he was a treasure chest of Masonic knowledge; he could converse and lecture about Masonic topics in at least four languages. Plus, he had the patience to answer all my silly questions, encouraging my quest and setting an example of nurturing the light seeker and (later) the novice EA and FC.
I am a history buff and a rational thinker, I think. As I realized later, all the 19th century romantic, occultist, pompous layers that were introduced in many branches of “Masonry” by different authors with rich fantasy (claiming ancient roots and magic knowledge) would have been turned me away without having a chance to get to know the beauty in simplicity of the craft lodges. On the other hand, the original ideals set in the Age of Enlightenment, way before the schism (and the reunion decades later) between the rival English grand lodges and systems and rituals, those ideals of reason, knowledge, science, liberty and equality of men, represented an irresistible “thing” – I wanted to be part of it! My old mentor understood, perfectly, what was attracting me. He gave me books and then I had to tell him what I learned from them; he took the time to sit down with me for long discussions about the very complicated history of Hungarian Masonry and the different traditions that we inherited from different eras and above all, he was a perfect example of Masonic tolerance, kindness, knowledge, and virtue.
First time, I went to my would-be mentor with a half-baked intention to join (I will decide later, I told myself). The wise old brother’s example as a Mason, a man of integrity, his way of being, gave me the last impetus; if Masons are like this man, I want to be one! Plus, what I already knew about so many great luminaries of our history, who were Masons. It is difficult to even try to explain in a foreign language this strange and proud feeling to those unfamiliar with my (Hungarian) background: becoming a member of a Masonic lodge, that has been banned by both the right and left extreme regimes4 and dictatorships in the past two hundred years, and to become the virtual descendant of those great men that shaped the history and culture of our nation, trying to bring a small, humble contribution the completion of the building they started to build.
A mundane first task I was given at the suggestion of my dear mentor was to catalog the pile of books and ever-growing number of Masonic magazines that the new Grand Lodge was receiving from friendly and wealthier fraternal lodges and individual brethren from abroad. Somehow, they figured my classic scholarship predestined me to work with books (in many languages), so I began to do my duty. And two unexpected things happened: out of the blue, I was made “Grand Librarian”, and secondly, I spent more time reading and learning than cataloging the printed material in our library room. I didn’t even know there was such a title or office, and I felt myself completely awkward among all those distinguished older gentlemen that kept the light secretly alive during the 40 years in the wilderness (as they affectionately called the years of illegality), all important Grand Lodge officers – and myself, a novice Fellowcraft, barely finished my apprentice year, sitting with them around the table at Grand Lodge meetings. Oh, we had to spend at least one year in each degree to learn our stuff, there was no rush… but they took the equality seriously! I will, probably, not be remembered as the outstanding librarian of all things Masonic. But I can’t thank enough for that task they have given me to catalog and arrange all those publications. It was my Masonic “university” – one day I spent hours by reading and trying to understand everything, next day I visited my good old namesake brother, and bombarded him with questions. I so hope that he was proud seeing as my knowledge kept growing, my understanding getting deeper and, hopefully, my way of being becoming more Mason-like.
In my FellowCraft year, I traveled to foreign lands, just like the medieval fellows went from guild to guild, and later one day I landed in Canada, already as a MM, where I continued my Masonic journey in another language with new brethren, but in the same spirit. I still wear a pin on my lapel because I want to give the chance to anybody that might have a genuine interest and the readiness to become a Mason, to have someone to ask. I still think back often to my mentor (who since departed to the Grand Lodge above) when I have to make a decision in my life and outside of the lodge. I don’t even dream to achieve what he did, but I can try to be a worthy Craftsman.
I am a Mason because I’ve never met better men than Masons. I am a Mason because I want to live as a Mason.
- 1989-1990 ↩
- October 23: in 1956 the anti-Soviet uprising started on this day ↩
- The Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungary was reconstituted on Dec. 27, 1989 and its first Grand Master has been Bro. Istvan Galambos ↩
- The first lodge in the Hungarian Kingdom was formed in the city of Brassó/Brașov/Kronstadt (Hu/Ro/De names) in Transylvania in the year of 1749. The emperor Joseph II then banned Freemasonry in 1795 on the whole territory of the Hapsburg Empire. In 1868 a lodge was officially established in Budapest that has been recognized by UGLE in the next year. Freemasonry in Hungary had its ‘golden age’ between 1886-1919, when it became illegal again. After the WWII it has been restarted in 1945 but the new Communist authorities banned their activity just after five years in 1950 and it was outlawed till 1989. ↩