[Square & Compasses]

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 country.

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 far better.

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 Town.

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 neighbouring states.

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 Imperialism".

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 Lodges world-wide.

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 constitutions.

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 Hungary.

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
Presiding Master
Lodge Concord No. 134
Grand East of the Netherlands
Wilhelminastraat 36
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 (0)75 6226466
Fax: +31 (0)75 6226467
Mob: +31 (0)64 1549717

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