Who's Afraid of Freemasons? The Phenomenon of Freemasonry by Alexander Piatigorsky - review by Damian Thompson

Damian Thompson

Party Tricks

Who's Afraid of Freemasons? The Phenomenon of Freemasonry


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When I first went to university I was determined to rebel against my middle-class Catholic parents. The only problem was that I wasn’t sure how. This was the early Eighties: the era of revolutionary politics was over; drugs and casual sex were frustratingly unavailable (to me, anyway). And then, unexpectedly, a brilliant solution presented itself, one which reduced my parents to gratifying speechlessness.

I became a freemason.

Let me explain. Unknown to most of its students, Oxford University possesses its own distinguished masonic lodge: Apollo Lodge, membership of which is confined exclusively to members of the university. At the time I joined, however, it had adopted a policy (long since sensibly abandoned) of allowing undergraduate brethren to put forward their own candidates, sometimes with the minimum of screening or preparation.

The word went round college bars and the Union that Apollo was the ne plus ultra of dining societies. Sometimes late-night parties would be invaded by adolescent masons in white tie just back from the lodge. Some of them, I am sorry to say, would then drunkenly enact snatches of ritual. A favourite trick was to launch into an after-dinner routine called ‘sharp fire’, in which masons trace a square and compass in

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