19th March 2005, by W.Bro Michael J Herman.
Brethren Let me for a moment take you back to that magic and mystical moment when I was first initiated into Freemasonry. After the formal elements of the ritual, there was the festive board and just when I thought it was all over, someone whispered in my ear "You will have to respond to the toast to the initiate." Some of you may have been more fortunate than I and your proposer will have warned you in advance or perhaps even have given you the outline of a speech.
For me this address is somewhat similar to that very first response by me as the initiate. I was of course not surprised, since it has always been a tradition in this lodge that the Incoming Master addresses the Brethren, but there are no guidelines to help and the words and thoughts are those of the Master of The Lodge.
My first thought was "Research". Some of you who may be familiar with the works of Tom Lehrer and the subject of one his pieces on the 19th Century mathematician Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky the theme of which is "Plagiarism" ("Plagiarise, plagiarise, let no one else's work evade your eyes. But be sure to call it Research."). I do not know whether either Lehrer or Lobachevsky were Freemasons; I can find neither in the various lists of famous Freemasons. But I can tell you that Lobachevsky was one of the founders of a branch of mathematics known as elliptic or hyperbolic geometry. Much of our Masonic tradition and ritual is based on Euclidian geometry. The Past Master's jewel is the diagram used to explain Euclid's 47th proposition; the explanation of the square, level, plumb rule in the second degree, the parallel lines of the first degree lecture, and the regular Platonic bodies of the Royal Arch all rely on the principles of Euclidian geometry. Elliptic geometry (at its most simplistic) takes account of the plane of existence in which the lines and shapes exist. In other words, we exist on a curved spherical world and straight lines are actually curved.
Lobachevsky's mathematics disputed the 5th postulate of Euclid, which defined parallel lines and by extension right angles. He said that if the plane in which the lines existed is a sphere or otherwise curved then that rule no longer applied.
When Lobachevsky and his colleagues were developing their ideas, the traditionalists mocked them. It was not until the early 20th Century that his ideas were fully accepted and, since the advent of air travel, used to define the great circles which are the shortest distance between two points on the earth's surface.
How can we have a consistent geometry when sometimes right angles and parallel lines behave in a Euclidian manner and sometimes not? Well of course the truth is that Euclidian geometry 'works' when the size of the objects is very small compared to the curvature of the plane in which it exists.
Brethren, we live in changing times. The fundamental principles of geometry went undisputed for 2000 years and have now been successfully questioned and modified to allow for more up to date knowledge.
When the Internet Lodge was founded in 1998, the world was a different place to that of today. Very few people used the internet or email and when we petitioned to form the first ever "Internet Lodge" we were questioned as to our motives and plans. After our consecration, I would be asked by fellow Masons, when introduced as a founder of Internet Lodge, "Do you wear regalia when you are sitting at the computer?", "How do you perform a ceremony over the internet?", "Is the room with your computer properly tyled?". These questions are no longer asked. Where we led others now follow.
From the outset, we gained permission that our members would receive summonses and minutes via email. Grand Lodge insisted that the transmission had to be in such a manner that the receipt was not dependant on a particular hardware or software platform. Since then Grand Lodge has decreed that it is in order for any lodge to send summonses and minutes by email, provided that a member is willing to receive them in that manner.
We have always presented via email, the reports of the Treasurer, Charity Steward, Almoner, and other representatives who might usually speak in open lodge.
How ordinary that now sounds! But we were the first to organise the management of a lodge around the internet.
We have from the very first day of our existence had a web site. And I must congratulate our IPM on the project that he undertook to revitalise our web presence. I am sure that you will all agree that the new web site is an excellent achievement.
Nowadays Masonic web sites are commonplace and Grand Lodge issues guidelines for style and content of such pages.
As an aside, I quote from the little blue book "Information for the Guidance of Members of the Craft" that we were all given as initiates, and that lodge secretaries receive updated versions of on an annual basis. "In view of the great improvement in the quality of ball-pointed pens since Grand Lodge's resolution in 1951, the Board now considers that such pens may properly be used for writing minutes or other important records……no objection can be raised to the use of a typewriter…" (Extract from Report of the Board of General Purposes 3rd June 1959)
In March 2002 there was a specific injunction against the use of mobile phones in lodge. At that same time and of particular importance to ourselves, details of what can and cannot be communicated via the internet were published. W Bro. Chris White (a Past Master of the Lodge) has chaired one of the committees which formulates these guidance notes.
Who says "Grand Lodge doesn't move with the times."?
Internet Lodge has always celebrated both its regularity and uniqueness. Our web presence brings us into contact not only with Masons from several recognised constitutions throughout the world, but also with non-masons and members of unrecognised Masonic bodies. Despite our open and inclusive approach to Freemasonry, our own guidelines and procedures are sufficiently robust that we have never, as far as I am aware, contravened any regulation of Grand Lodge.
Inexpensive international air travel has made it more and more likely that we will meet fellow Masons from all over the world. The gradual erosion of dictatorships and repressive regimes has seen flourishing growth of regular Freemasonry across the globe but most particularly in Eastern Europe. Our membership of this lodge has put us into contact with Freemasons all over the world and given us the opportunity to visit lodges that would have otherwise been unknown to us.
One of original aims was "to make such use of the opportunities that global digital communication presents as will benefit the Craft". Such an aim implies even more open communication with our brethren overseas and it was this aim that made it one of my ambitions to preside over the first Internet Lodge meeting outside the United Kingdom.
Earlier this week I heard that we have been denied permission to hold our October meeting in Estoril, Portugal. We shall therefore meet as scheduled in October but the meeting will take the form of an emergency meeting of another UGLE lodge, Lancaster Lodge No 9413, one of four such UGLE lodges meeting in Portugal.
I will make arrangements to hold our regular meeting on a Saturday within 28 days of the scheduled date. I have made enquiries at Cloisters, Letchworth, Hertfordshire, but have not received a reply as yet. Their office is only open Tuesday and Friday mornings. I have already had the offer of a talk from one of our members and hopefully this can be scheduled accordingly.
When we first considered founding Internet Lodge, the idea of a "Travelling Warrant" was suggested. Such warrants were commonly granted to lodges attached to military units who could not predict where they might be for their next meeting and would frequently be in territories far from their home. Business and social life today is similar in many ways. Several of us travel abroad frequently for both work and pleasure - how nice it would be to schedule a business trip or family holiday with an overseas meeting of Internet Lodge.
My original intention was to hold our August meeting in Hertfordshire at the Cloisters, which is a most unusual building, built about 100 years ago in a medieval style as a "school for stimulating and encouraging young people to think for themselves about the meaning of life". It was used as a Masonic venue from about 1950 and donated to Freemasonry shortly before its owner Miss Annie Jane Lawrence died in 1953. In September, I learnt that it will be closed for refurbishment throughout this August. My second choice, wishing to stay close to home was Ashwell House, St Albans. Unfortunately, that likewise proved to be closed for refurbishment over the summer. I was recounting this tale of woe to Brother Vic Dorman who suggested "The Old School House at Beaconsfield". I asked if he could be sure that we would get permission; would they be willing to open up for us; can he be sure that it won't be closed for refurbishment; etc etc. His reply was simple "I'm the Provincial Grand Secretary. I've got the keys."
Our speaker in August will be Brother Yasha Beresiner, Batham Lecturer 2000, when his subject was "The Royal Arch - The fourth degree of the Grand Lodge of the Antients." This work makes particularly interesting reading in the light of recent events concerning the links between the Craft and the Royal Arch in this country. His background is eclectic - Russian father, Greek mother, born and brought up in Istanbul, until 1948, emigrated to Israel till 1950 and thence to Milan, Italy for three years, from there to England from 1953 to 1961, back to Israel until 1969, and since then domiciled in England. His theme will be historic and takes the form of an investigation into Ellias Ashmole and his initiation into Freemasonry. Those of you who have heard Brother Yasha speak will know that we are to be uncommonly entertained.
Our guest speaker at the October meeting, which will take place, as I said earlier as emergency meeting of Lancaster Lodge, is to be Professor José Anes. Brother Anes is a Past Grand Master of the Regular (Legal) Grand Lodge of Portugal. He combines the virtues of great wisdom and knowledge with being friendly, interesting and open to new ideas. He was the former head of Police Forensics in Lisbon, Portugal, and published several academic papers and books on the subject. After retirement he followed his passion for esotericism by becoming a researcher and lecturer in anthropology at the "Universidade Nova de Lisboa", and has been prolific in the generation of academic work on Esotericism and the Hermetic Traditions. His knowledge appears almost boundless and it is a great pity that his extensive works have not yet been translated into English. It is a project that I am discussing with him.
The theme of his talk will be a History of Freemasonry in Portugal from the 12th Century until today. I estimate that he has approximately 3 minutes per century. José will be our guide for our visit to Quinta Regaleira on the Friday before the meeting and to Tomar - The Templars' Castle on Sunday.
Our charities this year and next continues to be "Aspire" and "Hope and Homes for Children".
Aspire is a U.K. based charity which works with people with spinal cord injury to reate opportunity, choice and independence for disabled people in society.
Hope and Homes is provides children worldwide who have nowhere to live due to war or disaster by providing them with loving family homes.
We will continue to respond to sudden disasters such as Sudan and the Tsunami, to which this lodge and its members contributed generously. Recent changes to our by-laws will allow us to make more generous contributions to the relief of the victims of such disasters.
I look forward to continuing improvements to our application process and the availability of a database of members accessible via private side of the web site. At the same time it is my intention to extend the personal photographs section of the web site so that all of us are represented. Let me assure you that members' photographs will only be available on the members' site.
So, what has all this got to do with the mathematics of non-flat surface geometry?
Masonry after all relies on the geometry of right angles and lines that are straight. Lobachevsky showed that although straight lines were not actually straight the rules still applied. The lesson that I take from it is that sometimes what appears to be a paradox or contradiction is in fact an extension of a rule that we have always taken for granted. We must not be afraid to question the established wisdom or to try new things. Sometimes we will be criticised and knocked back but if we believe in something and know in our hearts that belief is justified then we should stick with it.
Brethren, I thank you for the honour bestowed on me today when you installed me as Master of Internet Lodge. Like my predecessors I promise you that I will do everything in my power to assure you that your faith is well founded. I look forward to an exciting year with you all.
W.Bro Michael J Herman, 19th March 2005