Masonic initiation, Paris, 1745  Public Domain via Wikimedia

No institution is safe, apparently, from the contagion of transgenderism. Not even the old boys network of Freemasons, whose United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) has recently issued guidelines concerning the (potential) problem of transgender “brothers”.

It is well known that Masonic lodges admit only male members. Indeed, “freemason” is not a translation, but rather a corruption of the French frère maçon. where “maçon” means “mason” and “frère” means “brother” — not “free”. Female-only lodges have also been created, but there doesn’t exist such a thing as an “anything goes” lodge. Either you are a male and you join the male lodge, or you are a female and you go with your sisters – provided you have a wish to engage with masonry at all.

Personally, I do not. The closest I have come to freemasonry is through my activity as a musician. As is well known, many great composers were Freemasons, but one of those who most explicitly translated his masonic beliefs into music was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He wrote several works intended to accompany Freemason services, but he also embodied the ideals and creeds to which he subscribed in his wonderful Singspiel (i.e. comic opera) Die Zauberflöte, “The Magic Flute”.

One of the main characters of the opera — along with the princely loving couple (Tamino and Pamina), the “popular” fiancés (Papageno and Papagena) and the unforgettable bad girl who is the Queen of Night — is the latter’s exact antagonist, the wise man Sarastro. Even musically, the parts of these two are perfectly antithetic: the Queen of Night is a role which can only be attempted by the most high pitched, most agile and lightest of all coloratura sopranos, whereas the low notes sung by Sarastro are practically a test for “how low you can reach” among the deep basses.

The Queen of Night is evil, irate, vengeful, seems subject to hysterics and rules over night, darkness and obscurity. Sarastro is pious, calm, wise and (partially) merciful, as was the ideal of freemasonry for Mozart. Ah, before I forget: the Queen of Night represents femininity at her worst, whereas Sarastro is the enlightened male at his best. More about that below.

Meanwhile, back to UGLE and 2018. What happens if brother so-and-so one day decides he wants to become sister so-and-so? The simple response would be: Well, you may join the female lodge. But I doubt that, whatever its merits, freemasonry values simplicity.

“A Freemason who after initiation ceases to be a man does not cease to be a Freemason,” says the guidance. Those who have transitioned from female to male can also apply. And lodges must permit members who have transitioned to female an alternative to the usual dress codes, such as a smart dark skirt and top, reports The Guardian.

“It should also be noted that people who the law classifies as female will still be exempt from membership of UGLE. They may, of course, become members of the two female-only grand lodges – the Order of Women Freemasons and the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons – both of whom refer to members as brothers.” (Note “exempt”, not “excluded” from membership – a language tip for the Catholic hierarchy and men’s clubs beseiged by female applicants.)

Therefore: Brother John may become Sister Jane and still be enrolled in UGLE (as Brother Jane?), or s/he may join the female lodge and be called Brother Jane along with Brother Susy and Brother Emily…

Well, if you are as lost in trans-lation as I am after that I am not surprised. But I suppose it’s the best UGLE can do with an il-lodgical social development.  

What I really would like to see, or better to hear, would be Brother Sarastro transitioning to Sister Sarastra and attempting to sing the Queen of Night. Mozart needed the vocal embodiment of masculinity to convey his idea of what the Perfect Freemason should look (or sound) like, and, not contented with requiring from the singer the lowest notes a man can sing, created a perfect opposition to him in his female antagonist. Now, for the first time, Brother Queen of Night may join Sarastro’s lodge and try to sing with him – provided that Sarastro, in the meantime, has not become Sarastra.

Dr Chiara Bertoglio is a musician and theologian moonlighting as a journalist. She writes from Italy. Visit her website.

Dr Chiara Bertoglio is a musician and theologian moonlighting as a journalist. She writes from Turin in Italy. Visit her website at www.chiarabertoglio.com