Square & Compasses

The Origin of the Finnish Freemasonry and its development during the 20th century

by R.W.B. Eero Ekman

Note:

This article is written by Right Worshipful Bro. Eero Ekman.

It was published in the book "Gold and Sky-Blue" in 1992 by the Grand Lodge F. & A.M. of Finland. The book was a historical catalogue produced for their Freemasonry exhibition, held in honor of the 70th anniversary of the coming of Freemasonic light to Finland -- its second arrival.

The Article has been delivered to the Internet by Bro. Timo Hahtala with approval of the author. Any comments or opinions about publishing this article on the Internet should be sent to Bro. Hahtala <ttg@sci.fi>.


Finland had been a part of the Swedish kingdom for more than half a millennium when Freemasonry made its appearance in the country, about the middle of the 18th century. During those centuries the lot of Finland had been that of an eastern outpost of the realm until Sweden-Finland, becoming a major power in Europe, had pushed the frontier far beyond the eastern border of Finland.

The collapse of its status as a great power and the peace treaty of Uusikaupunki in 1721 made Finland again the outpost of the kingdom. This peace, which brought to an end a long period of war, would, it was hoped, become a lasting one, but hardly were the scars healed when a foreign policy based on friendly eastern relations was abandoned. The changes in the political balance of power in Europe incited a spirit of revenge, and so Sweden-Finland found itself at war again. It led to the eventual occupation of Finland by Russian forces, but it also brought along something else; a manifest of the Russian Empress Elisabeth containing the first concrete proposal for an independent Finland. The idea was then premature for the Finns were not yet ripe to secede from Sweden. Anyhow, it kindled some discussion about a free Finland. At same time new winds began to blow, presaging social reforms. The Estates granted inter alia free sea trading rights to the peasantry, and the freedom of the press.

EARLY PHASES

The Age of Enlightenment arrived in Finland and along with it one of its manifestations, Freemasonry. It came, naturally, the western way from Sweden, as did all tendencies of the age. It had to Sweden principally from France, where contacts with this new and exciting organization had been made by Swedish noblemen staying in Paris.

The first lodge of Freemasons, albeit working without any proper warrant, had already been founded in Stockholm in 1737. The first lodge intended for Finland, St. Augustin, also was founded there, in 1756. This lodge only commenced its proper work in 1758 in Turku, the then most important city of Finland. Its first Master was Captain, later Master of the Royal Household John Jennings. In 1762 St. Augustin Lodge was transferred to Helsinki, most probably because the majority of members were Army officers, stationed at the important fortification Sveaborg off Helsinki.

In 1777 Helsinki acquired the Phoenix Lodge, entitled to work the St. Andrew`s degrees. Along with it came a fresh breath of wind from Britain: the Phoenix Lodge was originally founded in Stockholm in 1767 by a British Embassy official, Charles Tullman, to work the first degrees of Freemasonry. Later the lodge added the St. Andrew`s degrees to its working programme. When the activities of the lodge in Stockholm were terminated, its name and furnishing were transferred to the new St. Andrew`s lodge, founded in the same year in Finland.

For the higher degrees the Finska Capitlet (Finnish Chapter) was founded in 1778 in Turku. Thus Freemasonry had already gained a sure footing in Finland by the close of the 18th century. Favourable development would undoubtedly have continued still longer, had not the political status of Finland charged radically. As result of disastrous war Finland was annexed to the Russian Empire in 1809, and the bonds with the old mother country were totally severed. In spite of the fact that Finland, as a Grand Duchy, was given a rather wide autonomy, some regulations of the Empire proper were still enforced here. One of them concerned Freemasonry. The Finnish masons however had already come to a private decision among themselves. Due to the fact that the majority of Finnish masons had emigrated to Sweden, and that communications with the former mother country had become almost impossible, it was decided to suspend all Masonic work in Finland, and that the assets of the lodges, approximately 3000 Dalers, should be donated to the City of Helsinki for relief work. The donation was confirmed by then Grand Master, King Charles XIII in 1815.

Thus the edict of Emperor Alexander I of 1822, which forbade all Masonic in the realm of the Russian Empire, had no effect as far as Finland was concerned. The lodges had already voluntarily closed their doors. Finns had, anyhow, the right to participate in Masonic work outside the boundaries of the Empire, until an edict of Emperor Nicholas l of 1848, directed especially against the Finns, closed this venthole also. The revolutionary movements raging then throughout Europe caused this decree. The Emperor wanted to tighten his hold on and to reduce the rights of his subjects.

So contacts with Masonry remained for many decades only with those Finns permanently settled abroad. An exception was made in the case of number of merchant navy officers, who in defiance of the prohibition took park in Masonic work when visiting foreign ports.

A NEW DEVELOPMENT

Around the turn of the century numerous Finns had emigrated to the USA. Some of them, though, dreamed of returning to their native country. Among them we find those men who rekindled the Masonic light in Finland. The matter was specially considered by the Masons of Finnish origin living in Chicago. As one of them, J. E. Tuokkola, had permanently returned to Finland in 1918, Things started to move. The circumstances in Finland were favourable as the country had declared its independence in the previous year, and the decrees of the Russian Emperors no longer had any authority there.

In a short time Tuokkola succeeded in gathering a circle of interested persons and encouraged his old friend Toivo H. Nekton, who lived in New York, to promote the idea in the USA. Thanks to him some influential American brethren got enthusiastic about the proposal, and thus everything was ready when in 1922 the Grand Lodge of the State of New York received a petition from Finland to found a Masonic lodge in Helsinki. Grand Master Arthur S. Tompkins appointed Toivo H. Nekton Deputy Grand Master of the Masonic District that was to be established in the Republic of Finland, and authorized him to constitute Masonic lodges in that country until such time as a national Grand Lodge was founded.

The request to form a lodge in Helsinki was granted, and the lodge was called Suomi Lodge No 1. The Grand Master Tompkins himself arrived in Finland and concerned the new lodge together with his retinue at a Communication held on the 18th of August, 1922. The membership of the lodge was composed of high government officials - inter alia the Governor of the Capital Province and two former Senators, and representatives of business and cultural circles. The most famous of the latter was Jean Sibelius, already a composer of world renown. Next in turn were consecrations in the cities of Tampere and Turku. In the former the Tammer Lodge No. 2 was consecrated on the 1st of August, 1923, and on the following day the Phoenix Lodge No. 3 in the latter.

There was now a sufficient number of lodges in Finland to form our own Grand Lodge. A petition in this respect was sent to the Grand Lodge of the State of New York, on which a positive reply was directly received. For the second time Arthur S. Tompkins arrived in Finland, and on the 9th of September, 1924, the Grand Lodge of Finland was consecrated. As first Grand Master there was elected the W. M. of Suomi Lodge No. 1, Consul General Axel Solitander. He held the office for a long time, indeed until he was taken very ill in 1940.

Amongst the events of the first years of the new Grand Lodge must be mentioned the Ritual Music composed in 1927 by Bro. Jean Sibelius. This music has ever since enriched our lodge work and created the right atmosphere. The last published work of the Maestro was also Masonic. Jean Sibelius was elected the first Honorary Member of the Grand Lodge of Finland.

CROSS-CURRENTS

In the run up to thirties, totalitarian governments took over power in many European countries, and dust clouds raised by iron shod boots began to envelop the continent. This cloud also obscured Masonry in many countries. Finland was not fully spared, but as new governments in many countries brought about total abolition of Masonry, the sensible and sound attitude of the Finnish government prevented any illegal action being taken and permitted continuation of Masonic work.

The writings of General Ludendorff in the twenties aroused quite a lot of attention in Germany, and the ascending National Socialist Party found them a most useful weapon of propaganda. Some ripples of it also reached the shores of Finland, but the propaganda did not work out as expected, and lodges could continue working. Some harm was done, however, by other attempts such as that which tried to totally exclude from certain government offices any who had Masonic connections and at the Annual Assembly of the Regular Army Officers' Association in 1931 a proposal was made to forbid officers being members of lodges. The then Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces did not approve of the proposal, but the Grand Master drew his own conclusions and released the army officers from membership. In Church circles also matter was discussed. The Synod of 1932 even made proposal, which, if realized, would have prevented all priests being members. The next Synod did not accept this proposal, but turned it down as being uncalled-for.

Even the Parliament discussed the question of masonry. In 1939 a law was proposed to make Masonry illegal in Finland, but it was rejected.

THE WAR YEARS

The outbreak of the Winter War at the end of November 1939 caused an interruption in all Masonic activities for almost a year. Finland was dragged into the maelstrom of the 2nd World War, but succeeded, thanks to a heroic defence, to detach itself from it for a short time, and Masonic work could be taken up again in the Autumn of 1940, even thought it was to last for only a short time. The German Ambassador in Helsinki intervened demanding cessation of all Masonic activities in Finland. The then Prime Minister, later President of the Republic Risto Ryti - himself a member of Suomi Lodge No. 1 - conveyed this demand to the Grand Master. The Grand Master fell seriously ill, and the matter became the responsibility of the Deputy Grand Master. At a communication of the Grand Lodge on February 14th 1941, it was resolved that in the prevailing difficult circumstances it would be compatible with the best interests of the Nation to temporarily cease all Masonic activity. The lodge rooms were locked up and all furnishing were put into safe keeping.

Thus the Authorities were not compelled to make any decisions in the matter, or to submit to the pressure of a foreign power. This voluntary decision proved later to have been completely correct. In the Summer of 1941 hostilities commenced anew. The Continuation War broke out and the Masons too were required for more important tasks. The Nation was again in mortal danger and its independence threatened.

STRONG RECOVERY

Finland emerged from the wars with its Western democracy maintained, met the very heavy war damages demanded by the Russians and re-settled its almost half a million refugees: tasks of an almost superhuman kind for a small nation. In spite of these heavy obligations other activities again commenced by and by and so did Masonic work. Already in January 1945 the Grand Lodge had sent round a circular letter in this regard, and after some initial difficulties the new start bore fruit, leading to a brisk growth of the Organization from the fifties onwards. There were only five lodges before the wars, whereas today the number is one hundred. Before the wars the activity was limited to the three largest cities only whilst today there are lodges all over the country. The country is divided into eight Masonic districts, in which District Deputy Grand Master supervise the work. A great number of lodge rooms have been built or reconditioned so that every lodge has access to proper and comfortable accommodation. The Grand Lodge also has quite up-to-date office facilities, acquired in 1966. We can record that Freemasonry has become at part of Finnish society in every corner of the country. Membership today is about 4800.

MASONIC RELATIONS

When the Grand Lodge of Finland was founded with the support of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York in the early twenties, one of its first tasks was to acquire the recognition of the United Grand Lodge of England and thus gain an official status as a recognized regular Grand Lodge. This was achieved in March 1927, since when fraternal relations have been established with official recognized Grand Lodges all over the world.

Closest of all have been the bonds with our Swedish brother organization, principally for long standing traditional reasons. As mentioned before, there were Masons' lodges, working in Finland during the Swedish era, which suspended work when Finland was united with Russia. This interval lasted for one hundred years, ending when Finland became independent. The St. Augustin Lodge was able to resume work again in 1923. The Phoenix Lodge, a St. Andrew's Lodge, opened its doors again in 1934. The Chapter was resuscitated in 1953 as a so called Steward Lodge, which in a couple of decades developed into the Provincial Lodge of Finland. Nowadays it works as a Grand Chapter: Stor Capitlet i Finland. This form of Masonry, working in Finland but under the Grand Master of Sweden, has developed strongly since the war, and today covers all the parts of the country where Swedish speaking citizens of our nation are living. The membership of these lodges is about 1100, making the total number of Freemasons in Finland about 5900.

ADDITIONAL DEGREES

When the status of the Grand Lodge of Finland had been stabilized towards the end of twenties, the question was raised of extending the work to include some additional degrees as well. The most enthusiastic advocate of this idea was Heikki Liipola, who at the Annual Assembly of the Grand Lodge in May 1929 proposed the inclusion of the degrees of Mark Master and Royal Arch in our system. He had been in correspondence with an experienced English Brother, who, taking into account the circumstances in Finland had proposed the following degrees:

The Assembly made a favourable decision regarding the MMM and RA degrees. Today we are able to note that the developments have followed exactly those lines first staked out by that English Brother: all the degrees which he proposed nowadays form part of Finnish Freemasonry.

RESEARCH, INFORMATION, INSTRUCTION

To carry out Masonic Research work, the Humanitas Society was founded in 1951. Later, as the Society focused its activities principally on arranging Masonic events and functions, and organizing relief work, the responsibility of research has fallen upon the Research Lodge Minerva No. 27, founded in 1962. The Lodge publishes a Year Book called Annales Minervae and also larger special studies in a series called Acta Minervae. The Lodge holds its communications in different cities around the country having a nationwide membership of about 500.

From 1956 a Masonic magazine called Koilliskulma ("The North-East Corner") has been published in Finland. The magazine started as private initiative of Bro. Risto Enarvi, and from 1963 it has been the official organ of the Grand Lodge of Finland. In addition to local news and items, it contains an abundant measure of different kinds of Masonic knowledge, and its articles illuminate many different sides and faces of Masonry at home and abroad.

The instruction work is concentrated into different seminars, the most important being the general ones arranged annually by the Sompala Society, and the seminars for Masters and Wardens of lodges, arranged also annually by the Grand Lodge.

The Grand Lodge Library and Museum serve also all research and instruction work.

OTHER ACTIVITIES

Charity work forms everywhere a major part of Freemasonry. In this respect Finland is no exception. we have already seen how, in the beginning of the 19th century, when Masonic work was suspended, the means gathered were donated to charity. This tradition has been honoured ever since the Masonic light was re-kindled in this country. It is nowadays cherished by the Pro Humanitate Foundation and the Ragnar Ekberg Foundation.

During the last two decades charity work has, to a great extent, been concentrated on building homes for aged persons. The work is carried out under the name Foundation for the Support of Children and the Aged, with strong financial support from the two other foundations mentioned above. The first homes for aged persons of small means were built in Helsinki in 1975. Next was an aged persons' home in Karhula 1982, and a third in Turku in 1986.

The inhabitants to all these houses are selected by social authorities of the respective townships.

When talking of relief we cannot bypass the Nova Humana association of the wives of Freemasons. This association, which was founded in 1965, has almost one thousand members working in local clubs all over the country. The association supports the charity work done by the Brethren.

As a summary we can record that Freemasonry lives a full and active life in today's Finland. Anyhow, it seems unavoidable that Freemasonry should be subject to attacks from time to time. That has happened in our country also during recent years.

The Press and Radio/TV have had in their employ persons who have made their mission to malign the organization, and about the middle of the eighties some extremely aggressive articles were published. This action caused no visible damage, but only some embarrassingly misleading publicity.

A couple of times the question of Freemasonry has also been taken up in Parliament, but in both instances the interrogation was found to be unjustified. The Archbishop of Finland has stated officially that the Freemasons have been subjected to an unfounded witch hunt.

At the present moment everything is completely tranquil and Masonic work continues in Finland very successfully.


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