A Visit to Hungary
As the editor of the Souvenir Brochure of the Masonic Spring Ball, I
wrote this account of my Masonic experiences in Hungary. I thought I
would share it with you:
HUNGARY, a country "behind the Iron Curtain" for almost a generation,
is fast opening up as a destination for the South African tourist,
following the collapse of the former Eastern Block. Toward the middle
of 1995, I decided to realise a long-time ambition to visit this
I had already done plenty of research into the history of this
ancient country, but knew nothing of Masonic activity there. I reasoned
that since Freemasonry was strong in the Austro-Hungarian empire of
yore, some Masonic activity might well have survived the World Wars, and
Communist oppression. It turned out that I was right.
My first move was to contact the Freemasonry Mailing List on the
Internet to find out whether there were any Hungarian brethren on the
list, or whether any member of the list had contact with any.
Within a few days, I was sent four replies. Most of them gave me the
snail-mail address for the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungary, but by this
time there was hardly enough time to write and expect a reply. I also
suspected that Lodge buildings in Hungary would probably not be as
clearly marked as they are in SA, so contact with an individual would be
One reply from a brother in New York looked like it was promising.
He gave me the e-mail address of a Brother in Budapest, and I lost no
time in dropping him a mail frame. It turned out he was a member of
Lodge Egyenloseg (Equality) in Budapest, and he gave me his telephone
number so that I could contact him.
Upon my arrival in Budapest, I did, and we got together for a cup of
coffee on the banks of the Duna (Danube) the next day. He informed me
that a Lodge would be working the following evening, and I made it clear
that I was keen to attend.
My knowledge of the geography of Budapest was still limited, so we
agreed to meet at a landmark that I knew the next evening just before
the working. I followed him in my car through traffic that makes Cape
Town look like a permanent Sunday afternoon.
We soon arrived at a square that looked (at that stage) to me like
any of the myriad squares in Budapest. Miraculously, we found parking
close to one another, and I was ushered to a building that looked no
different from hundreds of buildings in hundreds of squares. The only
indication that this was our destination was a small compass and square
next to one of about 10 bell pushes at street level.
After negotiating some stairs, we entered the antechamber of the
Budapest temple. By taking that small step over the threshold, I left
behind all that was foreign and unfamiliar, and entered, what could for
all the world have been the antechamber of our own temple in Cape
I still understood nothing of the language which was being spoken,
but the firm grip I received from each person I met told me I was among
Brothers in Our Ancient Craft.
I was introduced to the Worshipful Master of Lodge Galilei, who
perused my Masonic Passport. I believe it was once he found references
"I.T.N.O.T.G.A.O.T.U.", and when I told him of our Netherlandic ancestry
that he was satisfied.
At this stage, having set this scene, let me embark on a short
history of Freemasonry in Hungary.
Hungarian Masonic history, which spans almost two and a half
centuries, should be viewed in the context of the long and turbulent
history of this, the most eastern reaches of central Europe.
The first Hungarian lodge was founded in Brasso, Transylvania (now
part of Romania) in 1749 by Saxon inhabitants of German origin. In
Pozsony (Pressburg, now Slovakia) the parliamentary city of Hungary, the
first lodge was founded in 1775.
Today's capital, Budapest, is actually the union of the towns Buda
and Pest, which lie on opposite sides of the Duna, the Hungarian name
for the Danube. The towns were united in 1873. Masonry began around
1770 with military lodges and in 1781 the Hungarian Provincial Grand
Lodge was formed in union with Austrian Freemasonry. This Grand Lodge,
which functioned until 1786, presided over 12 Lodges.
Masonic criticism of Emperor Joseph II caused a restriction of
Masonic activity to county capitals crippling Masonic work. Emperor
Francis dissolved the Lodges in 1792.
In 1849 the Freedom movement was defeated. Among others, national
leader Louis Kossuth fled to America where he joined Cincinnati, Ohio
Lodge #113, as an Entered Apprentice in 1852.
The suppression of Freemasonry in Hungary continued until Hungary
became a constitutional kingdom as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
in 1868. Lodge "Unity in the Fatherland" and six more Lodges were
formed and the first Symbolic Grand Lodge was formed in 1870, using the
constitution of the Grand Lodge Zur Sonne in Bayreuth, Germany.
The Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungary was formed in 1886 comprising
Craft Lodges and 13 Scottish Rite Lodges with a membership of more than
1 800. At the end of the 19th century and during World War I, there
were 32 Lodges in Budapest, 51 in the country and 20 in border areas and
At its height, Hungarian Freemasonry boasted more than 7,000 members.
The end of World War I saw Hungary reduced in size and population by one
third. In 1920 the Temple was seized and the Ministry of Interior
Affairs dissolved Masonic Lodges "Forever".
The next 25 years were devoid of formal Masonic activity in Hungary.
Masonic Activity was confined to the few who could, visiting Lodges in
Austria and elsewhere. By 1945, the number of Masons in Hungary had
been reduced to around 300, all having been initiated before World War I
or outside Hungary between the Wars.
Membership slowly climbed to 1 500 by 1950 when 11 Lodges were
operating in Budapest and three in the country. But in June of that
year the Secret Police surrounded the Grand Lodge building and
confiscated Lodge property. The Ministry of Internal Affairs dissolved
the Masonic Lodges which had become "meeting places for enemies of the
Peoples' Republic, capitalists and other supporters of Western
The modern history of Hungarian Freemasonry follows the loosening of
travel restrictions following Perestroika in the mid 80s, when some of
the now aging Masons could again travel to foreign lands. This breathed
new life into "underground" Masonry in Budapest.
In 1989, following a petition to the Ministry of Internal Affairs,
Freemasonry was again legalised in Hungary and the Grand Master of
Austria returned four Lodges from his jurisdiction to that of Hungary.
Today the Grand Lodge of Hungary is recognised by more than 80 Grand
Five Craft Lodges now operate in Budapest. Some of the brethren are
ageing, but a constant stream of young candidates, now breathing new
life into Hungarian Freemasonry.
On the night I visited Lodge Galilei, as there was no candidate to
initiate, one of the BB gave a talk on some or other aspect of Masonic
history. Of this I understood nothing, but other than that, the
language barrier became irrelevant inside the Temple.
Hungarian Freemasons, having taken their ritual from German and
Austrian sources, work in a similar way to our South African
constitution, as opposed to the English, Scottish and Irish
While all symbols and signs essential to a Regular and Perfect Lodge
are present, it is plain to see that the Temple has been designed to be
stripped of all signs of Masonry at short notice.
Brethren work in plain jacket and tie rather than dinner jacket.
This must be firstly because dinner jackets are costly, and secondly,
because in the times of suppression (and the ordinary Hungarian still
has much distrust of Masonry) a number of men entering the building so
attired would attract unwanted attention.
While the language of the ritual was not understood at all, the gap
was bridged as I perceived the Worshipful Master to say; "Brethren
assist me to open this Lodge".
My feeling of being "at home" was even more apparent during my visit
the following night to Lodge Egyenloseg (Equality) where a Brother from
the Southern Hungarian city of Pecs was to receive the Second Degree.
Here, but for the language of the charges, I found I could follow the
ceremony minute by minute.
At the closing - my interpreter told me - the Worshipful Master
mentioned the shortage of Masonic literature available to Hungarian
Masons. I was glad, at the festive board which followed, to present him
with a copy of "The Freemason's in South Africa" as a new addition to
the small but growing library of the Symbolic Grand Lodge of
I stepped out onto the street of a foreign country - more foreign
than many others I have visited because of my total non-comprehension of
the language, but suddenly it was not so foreign anymore. I knew that
dispersed throughout this city, I had Brethren in The Craft.
Andrew M Bergman
Lodge Concord No. 134
Grand East of the Netherlands
1561 ZV KROMMENIE
Tel: +31 (0)75 6226466
Fax: +31 (0)75 6226467
Mob: +31 (0)64 1549717
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