The Mother Lodge

Janusz Buda PM, PZ

Full oft on Guv’ment service
This rovin’ foot ‘ath pressed,
An’ bore fraternal greetin’s
To the Lodges east an’ west,
Accordin’ as commanded
From Kohat to Singapore,
But I wish that I might see them
In my Mother-Lodge once more!

Rudyard Kipling. “The Mother-Lodge”. The Seven Seas. 1896

Bro Rudyard Kipling’s encomium to Lodge of Hope and Perseverance in Lahore, written thirty years after his admission into the Craft, continues to sound a sympathetic chord in Masons the world over. It speaks of a lifelong bond between a Mason and the lodge in which he was initiated.

In December 2011 I severed all ties with my mother lodge. Instead of loss and regret, I felt freedom and release. Unlike Kipling, who was initiated at the age of 20, I joined Masonry in late middle age. It is highly unlikely that, thirty years hence, I will still be alive to reconsider those feelings. I doubt, however, that I will ever experience the nostalgia and longing of Kipling’s poem.

I was initiated in 1998 and passed through all but one of the chairs in my mother lodge, serving as Master twice. I also served as Secretary for five years. My mother lodge is old but small. Founded in 1879 to serve the Masonic community in one of Japan’s major international ports, until the end of the Pacific War it was characterised by a volatile membership of expatriate professionals. After leaving Japan, most of those expatriates allowed their memberships to lapse. A few maintained their links by paying reduced annual test fees and sending greetings and regrets. Others requested demits or submitted resignations, usually because they wished to join lodges in jurisdictions that did not permit dual or multiple affiliation.

I resigned for personal reasons. Some of these became apparent soon after I joined; others surfaced over the ensuing years. The result was cumulative dissatisfaction and loss of interest. Masonry, at least in my mother lodge, was no longer a source of enjoyment and inspiration. I found both of these in other lodges and Masonic bodies I joined or attended, and concluded that there existed a strong incompatibility between my mother lodge and myself. Hence my resignation.

When the authors of our Masonic rituals charged us to revere our mother lodges, the communities in which they lived were far different from the mobile, mercurial, and individualistic societies of today. Perhaps those authors also found the idea of Masonic estrangement alien to the ideals of early speculative Freemasonry.

Our rituals are not immutable. Significant changes have been made over the centuries and small changes are legion. In some jurisdictions, at least, gone are the gruesome penalties of the obligation. Gone are some of the specifically Christian or Trinitarian references. Gone are requirements that would now be considered not only discriminatory but actionable in a court of law. Yet some anachronisms remain. The First Degree Charges of some jurisdictions refer to the allegiance due to the sovereign of the candidate’s native land. Some obligations refer to the exclusion of applicants with physical disabilities or of female gender.

Perhaps the time has come to lay the concept of mother lodge to rest. The lodge of initiation, passing and raising will always remain an essential data point in a Mason’s record, but may have little more significance than a geographical location and a series of dates.

I was born in Italy but have never felt it to be my ‘mother country’. Neither have I felt the indissoluble attachment referred to in Masonic charges. My birth in Italy was the result of chance: my mother happened to be there when I was born. A few weeks after my birth I was taken to England and raised there as a stateless immigrant. I do not feel any particular attachment to the country of my birth, the country of my infant nurture, the country of my ancestors, or the country that has afforded me a place of permanent residence—all of which happen to be different.

Unlike Kipling, I do not look back with nostalgia at the evenings I spent in the company of the Brethren of my mother lodge. Two or three of them I remember with fond affection, but as Masons and individuals, not as members of a particular lodge. Sadly, all of them have passed on.

In my Masonic travels I have met Brethren who have affiliated to dozens of lodges in many countries. I have also met Brethren who were initiated in one lodge, only to move to another country and receive their second and third degrees elsewhere. Many of these Brethren felt no particular attachment to the lodge in which they were first made Masons. Indeed, some had difficulty recalling the name and number. On the other hand, they often spoke fondly of other lodges which they visited or to which they belonged.

‘Mother lodge’ is such a convenient and memorable phrase to describe the lodge of initiation that it would be a pity to remove it from the Masonic vocabulary. However, perhaps the time has come to strip it of some of the emotional and obligatory connotations it once possessed.