Everyone knows freemasons run the world, right? I've heard the stories. It's all virgin sacrifices, goat blood, and orgies. They created the New World Order, they worship the devil, and they killed Marilyn Monroe. Also, Jack the Ripper was totally a freemason. Being the hardcore investigative journalist that I am, I decided infiltrate them and uncover a dastardly conspiracy that was bound to go all the way to the top. First I decided I would have to penetrate a grand masonic lodge. So I went to the big one near Covent Garden in central London, on some crazy subterfuge shit, ready to do whatever it took to get in. But it turns out that they do free tours for the public. I went on one and it was filled with lots of old people and tourists. It was quite nice. I surreptitiously took a picture of the temple with my camera, so I could study it later for clues, but then I went on the website and there were loads of photos of it already on there. Undeterred, and still convinced that people like David Icke couldn't possibly be blathering, paranoid nutsacks, I tracked down an Irish grand master, who was willing to talk to me. He would only do so anonymously, which made me slightly suspicious, but it turned out that he was a lovely elderly man and the freemasons just sounds like a happy little club where old dudes get together and chat over coffee and give money to charity.
Vice: How did you join the freemasons?
Irish freemason grand master:
I joined in 1999. I met someone who was a mason; I didn't know what it was about, so I asked him and he said, "I can't tell you, it's all secret." So after a while, I went down. I didn't quite know what was happening first; people joke that there would be a goat there. Then I went for my first degree. It's called your entered apprentice degree. It's linked to the old stone masons in the middle ages.
Sounds sinister, tell me more.
There's three basic degrees in freemasonry, and they're to do with moral living and plays which you act out. They're very odd and strange to the man in the street and this is why there's a cloud over it. They make very dire promises which are very poetical but very odd. For example, one where you pretend to have your throat slit and your chest slit. This is carried on from the middle ages and you do that simply because anybody with an independent mind back in the 16th and 17th century would get into trouble with the inquisition or the authorities. So that's were a lot of the secrecy originates from.
So what are the freemasons exactly?
The definition is that it is a fraternity or a brotherhood of very close friends – wonderful people who are very helpful to each other and kind. The other definition is that it's a system of morality which is veiled in allegory and symbols. In Ireland it is very much a fraternity, bringing people together. The actual content of the rituals is there but people don't seem to study them in depth, which other nations definitely do. Most of this stuff is on the net nowadays. You have secret passwords for all the degrees and secret handshakes, as well as other secret signs and symbols. You've actually got, in the whole of freemasonry, 32 degrees. The first three are basic but you can go up to what they call the royal arch chapter.
Are there Satanic rituals and black magic going on?
A big point of interest that has come up for the public, especially since the
Da Vinci Code
, is if there's any magic or strange things involved. Every country is different. Certainly in Ireland there's not; if you bring it up people shy away. There could possibly be people who use the rituals to influence people's will or influence events in life. If there is, I don't know. I'm quite sure there must be somewhere in the world where there's something going on like that. We had a man who joined our lodge, he took the first degree and was disappointed that there was nothing happening in the way of anything sinister and he left. Because of the
Da Vinci Code
there's two or three people who've joined our lodge, gone through the first or second degree and found out that it wasn't anything of that nature.
What are all the crazy symbols about?
The big thing in masonry is certainly the symbols. In the churches you have the doctrine and dogma; with symbols it's all about your personal response to those symbols. They use these symbols to illicit a response and it is a more fruitful way of teaching. There's a lot of work on symbols and you can use the rituals for moral improvement.
Is it all a massive global network?
There is a fraternity all over the world. The grand lodge of Ireland has jurisdiction in many places, we even have representatives in Poland. But our constitution is quite different from the English one, so one or two lodges we're forbidden to go to. Usually if a mason from Ireland goes to England to visit a lodge, he's made extremely welcome. You have to carry your masonic certificate with you and there is a system where you have to be vouched for and you have a test before you go into the lodge. They ask you some basic questions about certain secrets, which you should know, and that's also part of the opening and closing of lodge. Everyone is asked if they can vouch for everyone in the room. If there's a stranger there, you're meant to interview them to determine whether they are a genuine person.
Do you still use secret handshakes?
I went to the pub up the road and this fella was introduced to me and he sort of gripped my hand in a certain way and it suddenly dawned on me that he was a freemason. So you can still find out a mason by the way he shakes your hand, if you're aware. There is a certain link all over the world.
So what the hell do you all do?
The main thrust of what we do in masonry is for charity. Last year we raised about 640,000 euros for charities. The members, at one time, were business people, but the members nowadays are from all walks of life. There's even Catholic members now. You could be a Muslim, or any religion. You have to swear oaths on whichever holy book. The main thing in freemasonry is that you believe in a supreme being. If you don't believe in that, you can't become a mason.
You all help each other get jobs, right?
The big controversy is whether freemasons infiltrate the workplace and use it to get people jobs. There have been certain scandals involving this and rules have now been written in to masonry about joining certain professions.
Is it true that once you join, you can never leave?
No. You must pay your full subscription to leave the masons, if you don't then you're struck off and you can't be a mason again. It doesn't sound very nice but that's the system.
What do you know about all the masonic conspiracies? What's really going on?
Well, there was some fella found hung under a bridge in Westminster who supposedly belonged to the freemasons and the mafia in Italy. They were trying to make out that there were certain symbols involved in his death. I can't answer for freemasons all over the world – there's always going to be people going in a certain direction. Certainly in Italy, that's maybe why the church were afraid of them, even though there have been several bishops and cardinals in the freemasons. I don't really know about these conspiracies but I can imagine there could be something happening. There's masses of stuff on the net, I'm mad keen on it myself.
Didn't they set up America as their base for world domination?
All I know is that there has been a strong masonic influence among the presidents of the U.S. On the dollar bill there's a few masonic symbols on there. But I can't really believe that, even though the press would love it. As far as masons helping each other, as a fraternity you would do, but whether that's carried further, I don't know. Some of the masonic halls in America are massive places.
So there's people using masonry for nefarious practices?
Well, originally, somewhere in the back of my head I had this fear that there was something evil going on there. You can use the masonic rituals to do anything you want with them and people have done, like Aleister Crowley. Here in Ireland we have a strict constitution which we follow closely. I heard that there is a group of people in Ireland who are going into the rituals more deeply, but I don't think there's anything untoward going on there.
So why does everyone think it's so sinister?
There is that sinister aspect that's portrayed. You can see it in certain books where there is this massive aggression. Even now, I'm very circumspect to tell people that I'm a mason because this wall comes up. There's some really bitter people there. Maybe it's the secrecy that engenders this superstition and condemnation.
What happens at your meetings?
Last of the Summer Wine
. We're all fairly old fellas. We have coffee mornings, we have a chinwag. The rituals are an excuse for us to get together; we bring in refreshments and get dressed up in suits. We make toasts, lovely masonic ones like: "Happy to meet, sorry to part and happy to meet again." At Christmas we all meet and give speeches, toasts, jokes, sometimes very rude jokes. We have a great laugh.
That sounds really nice. You must have loads of people wanting to join.
We had a massive drop-off in new members but we're just starting to see an increase now. The ones that are interested in the
Da Vinci Code
and the occult come in and find out that there's nothing like that, they end up leaving. You have to be 21 and "perfect in all your parts". There's no women, not in Ireland. Young people are very welcome though.
Great, how do I join?
You just find out where your local lodge is on the internet. Then you go for a coffee morning with some of the people to see what you're like. We can't accept anyone with a criminal record though, you have to be a good citizen. Then you get interviewed, there's a vetting process and there's a ballot and the members vote. We ballot with white beans and black beans – that's where the phrase "black balling" comes from. But you could join, it's a fairly easy process.