The most senior Scottish Freemason has called for the society to become more open in order to attract new members.
Charles Iain Robert Wolrige Gordon of Esslemont, the 110th Grand Master Mason of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, said it was important to dispel myths about “The Craft”.
He said there were “rumours” and “misconceptions” about the society, which he said was “the oldest fraternity in the world”, and a lack of openness had contributed to a decline in membership.
Speaking ahead of a BBC Scotland documentary tonight shedding new light on the freemasons, he conceded that the society was best known to some for secretive handshakes and rolled-up trouser legs. But he said the reality was an “honourable society of men” with benevolent role in communities.
He said: “Historically, the Grand Lodge of Scotland used to have a huge membership. We can’t deny that membership, like many other societies’, has declined.
“As we look at society in the 21st century, we have not taken opportunities to try and promote ourselves to the wider public and those who have a completely different opinion of what freemasonry really is all about.
“This is an opportunity to try and dispel some of the myths that through time freemasons have had to experience. Yes, we have wonderful ancient ritual that we as freemasons all enjoy. I don’t deny that the handshake comes in to it and the rolled-up trouser leg comes in to it, but it all goes back 400 years.
“We don’t have goats trotting around, and we are actually normal individuals who feel it is a great privilege to be a freemason. We are a very honourable society of men and brothers – the oldest fraternity in the world.”
According to the hour-long documentary, Secrets of the Masons, Mr Gordon presides over 1,000 Lodges and 100,000 freemasons in more than 40 countries around the world.
While thousands still join every year, he said sharing more of what actually occurs in the masonic lodge and exploding certain myths could encourage even more.
Archivists in the documentary explain how freemasonry has its origin in Scotland in the late 16th century.
Mr Gordon said that freemasonry was “as far as we can a family-orientated organisation”. However, he insisted it is unlikely it would “ever admit” women members.
However he said it was a misconception that it was a Protestant-only organisation. He said: “There is a huge perception that we are a Protestant organisation but if you were to look throughout the world and assess whether it is Protestant or Catholic, there are probably more Catholic freemasons in the world.
“Many of my own friends have said ‘well I can’t join because I’m a Catholic’ and I say ‘of course you can join’. We don’t prejudice against whether you are Catholic or Protestant.”