THE Masons have long been the target of funny handshake jokes, and a whole culture of myths has grown up around them and their meetings.
In a drive to dispel the rumours, Masonic Halls across the country, including the lodges at Skegness, have held open days to show the strong community links that Freemasonry fosters, and to prove the stereotypes fall a long way short of pinpointing who and what the masons really are.
Trevor Clingan, a Worshipful Brother at the Hall, was one of the members who were involved in hosting the open day.
"Some people think of it a secret society. The purpose of these days is to open it up to the public, and hopefully provide some food for thought".
For Freemasons, the idea that they belong to a secret society is a myth. They say the only things they keep secret are the signs and words by which they recognise each other.
This notion of secrecy came about after the 30s when Freemasonry began to turn inward, in response in part to the persecution that Hitlers distrust initiated against its German members. This distrust, and the subsequently lurid misinformation that was spread about its rituals, such as the rumours of animal sacrifice, marked a sudden change for an organisation that had been a central part of communities around the world.
The actual reasons for its formation are not known. Possible theories include a society formed during the 1600s by the stonemasons that built the cathedrals and a group initiated to promote religious and political tolerance during the Civil War.
Whatever its origins, the first making of a Freemason occured in 1646 with Elias Ashmole, after whom the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, is named.
Organised Freemasonry began in 1717, with the founding of the Grand Lodge of England.
Harmony Lodge at Boston is thought to be the oldest in our area. According to Neil R Wrights "Book of Boston" it was established in 1789. The Lumley Lodge at Skegness came into being in 1881.
As it exists, Freemasonry is open to any man of good character and over 21 years of age. The requirement of being a "freeman" is something of a misnomer today, as we are all free citizens, but it is retained as part of the link with tradition.
Contrary to rumour, membership is not limited to men of property and any attempt to use the meetings as a forum for business discussion is disapproved of and could be a case for expulsion.
It is not a specifically religious organsation, but it is open to all who believe in a supreme being, irrespective of denomination. The lodge at Skegness has Hindu and Jewish members.
The tolerance and community values that are at the centre of Freemasonry are reflected in the charitable work that it does. Contributions from Masonic Charities to non-masonic bodies are second only to that given by the National Lottery.
And of course there is the fellowship that the members enjoy. As Worshipful Brother James Barry of the lodges at Skegness says: "There is a lot of cameraderie. The Masons do a lot of good and the meetings are also a place to meet socially, to have a drink and a meal".
The organisation that has counted Beethoven, Churchill and Robert Burns among its members is heading forward into the 21st century with a new openness. Times have not always treated it kindly, but some of the attitudes it has had to cope with in the past could now be laid to rest with these open days which reveal the true face of the Masons.