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Exploring Freemasonry in St. Gallen: Lodges, Temples, and Traditions

Freemasonry in St. Gallen: Lodges, Temples, and Rituals.

Next week, Swiss Freemasons will gather in St. Gallen for their annual meeting. However, this secretive organization continues to be met with suspicion by many due to its prominent members and confidentiality.

The ambiance is distinct. Dimly lit, an altar rests on a three-tiered platform. A beam of light directs one's gaze to a golden compass and square – the Freemasonry symbol. Above the altar, the all-seeing eye presides.

Unveiling Freemasonry: Secrets, Traditions, and Brotherhood in St. Gallen

To the left, a moon shines, and to the right, the sun. A three-armed candle holder sits on the altar. Wooden benches are arranged lengthwise in two rows. It is quiet.

This is how one envisions the room of a secret lodge, and indeed, it appears just so.

We find ourselves on Zeughausgasse in St. Gallen, on the upper floor of Restaurant Schlössli, in close proximity to the Cathedral.

Three Freemason lodges meet here regularly: Concordia, Humanitas in Libertate, and Bauplan. Normally, access to the temple is reserved for the Brothers.

However, Urs Weber makes an exception for us. Weber is a long-standing Freemason and serves as the Organizing Committee President for this year's annual meeting of the Grand Lodge Alpina – a sort of umbrella organization for Swiss Freemason lodges (see sidebar).

Urs Weber: one takes the Freemason identity from him without a second thought. Impeccably dressed, broad-shouldered, tall, with graying hair, and carrying a leather briefcase.

The 64-year-old lawyer exudes a somewhat aristocratic air, as if accustomed to a different, more refined society. His face reflects a life rich in experience. But above all, his gaze is special.

Determined, serious, and penetrating, even conspiratorial. Does this look like someone who pulls the strings of history behind closed doors?

Influential Members For centuries, Freemasonry has been shrouded in mystery.

The founding fathers of the USA included numerous Freemasons.

The all-seeing eye on the one-dollar bill is a Freemasonry symbol.

Switzerland's first President was a confirmed Freemason, as were British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Both in the past and present, Freemasons have been suspected of being part of a global conspiracy.

Freemasonry is even legally prohibited in many countries. Although Switzerland rejected a referendum for a ban in 1937, just last year, nearly half of the Valais cantonal parliament voted in favor of a disclosure requirement for parliamentarians who belong to Freemasonry, citing allegations of state infiltration.

Urs Weber is well aware of the mistrust directed towards Freemasons.

He says, "I find it flattering when people attribute this much power to us, but unfortunately, none of it is true."

Weber draws a clear line between the past and the present. "It is true that Freemasonry was a cornerstone of the Enlightenment; the French Revolution or the founding of the United States would hardly have been conceivable without prominent Freemasons."

The foundational principles of Freemasonry are freedom, equality, brotherhood, tolerance, and humanity – values that were hard to come by in the early modern era but are now, at least on paper, established in the West.

Weber believes that Freemasonry has achieved many of its goals. "In a sense, we have become victims of our own success." Weber sees the contemporary role of Freemasonry as "cultivating a moral way of life.

" The lodge imparts values to its members for their personal conduct. Or, as Weber puts it symbolically, "We provide people with tools to work on themselves. They must do the work themselves."

Strict Secrecy Freemasons are prohibited from revealing the names of their Brothers.

To identify a fellow Freemason, specific codes, such as greetings, are used. To ascertain whether someone is a fellow Freemason, one asks a particular question and waits for the response.

Even these signs of recognition are not to be disclosed, let alone the lodge rituals. Why this secrecy if Freemasons allegedly engage in nothing conspiratorial? Weber's response delves into history. With their ideas of liberty, Freemasons were once a threat to the prevailing authoritarian order. Consequently, the Brothers had to be cautious.

Urs Weber acknowledges that the secrecy can lead to misunderstandings in the present day. "At the same time, we must be aware that traditions matter greatly to us – and that includes the tradition of secrecy."

The role of women is also traditional within Freemasonry. In regular lodges, women have no place. Weber's position is a mixture of fatalism and approval.

He refers to the Freemason regulations of the "Old Charges" and the stance of the English Grand Lodge. "If we admit women into our lodge, we lose regularity and can no longer engage with other lodges."

Weber emphasizes that there are also women's lodges – although they are not permitted to have official contact with the established (men's) lodges. He says, "The presence of women would change the dynamics of the conversation; many men are glad to have some time exclusively among themselves."

Intellectual and Esoteric Freemasons meet almost weekly. They aim to stimulate both the mind and the heart. Conferences consist of a lecture and a discussion, designed to engage the intellect.

The topics often revolve around philosophy or psychology. Recent subjects in St. Gallen lodges have included the limits of tolerance, the Chinese art of strategy, the symbolism of astrology, and dreams.

On the other hand, the spiritual-emotional aspect is addressed during temple work.

About once a month, a ritual lasting about two hours takes place in the temple. The exact proceedings here are confidential, even to Urs Weber, who is otherwise very forthcoming. Weber likens it to a theatrical performance and a religious service.

Everything follows a strict plan. He recalls his initiation ritual some 40 years ago. "It was extremely intense – it was as if my essence opened up."

Delicate Relationship with the Church Weber entered a lodge through his father and grandfather, but he says the entry is generally open to anyone.

The prerequisite is the desire to become a morally better person – and belief in a higher being. Somewhat paradoxically, while the Catholic Church and Islam still view Freemasonry as incompatible with faith, Freemasonry rejects atheists.

Even agnostics have a hard time gaining entry into a lodge, according to Weber. The specific deity one believes in, however, is not important. According to the "Old Charges," discussions about religion and politics are even prohibited.

Freemasonry is divided into three degrees: apprentices, journeymen, and masters. They all share the goal of becoming morally better individuals. Or, as Urs Weber puts it, "We are all rough stones when we come into the world.

Every Freemason aims to turn his stone into a cube and, together with his fellow human beings, build the temple of humanity." To achieve this, the apprentice focuses on self-discovery, the journeyman on self-mastery, and the master on self-improvement.

For years, Freemasonry has struggled with declining membership, and many lodges are aging.

Weber says that the idea of Freemasonry has never been more relevant than it is today. "In the 21st century, Freemasonry could become a bridge builder in a world where people are increasingly focused on their own interests, rather than solidarity and commitment."


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