Freemasons Call on Public to Join Centuries-Old Tradition to Remind Them They Are 'Not Alone' Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

As one of the world's most famous secret societies, the Freemasons have built something of a reputation for keeping the inner workings of their organization under wraps.

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, however, Britain's Freemasons are breaking with convention to invite the general public to take part in a centuries-old tradition to remind people that they are "not alone."

The "Nine O'Clock Toast" is "a tradition within Freemasonry that has been observed for many hundreds of years," Dr. David Staples, the CEO and Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) told Newsweek on Monday.

From modern-day meetings at the pub to gatherings convened at the height of two world wars, the tradition, he said, sees members raise a glass during dinner at 9 p.m. each evening to honor their "Absent Brethren" or their fellow Freemasons who cannot be there with them.

"Our members know that wherever they are in the world and whatever they are doing at 9 o'clock, somebody will be raising a glass to them and remembering them," Staples said.

In the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has forced friends and family around the world to remain apart in order to avoid catching and spreading the virus, such a message could likely not be more welcome.

"This is a tradition that we have had for 300 years and it's something that we think helps people to not feel quite so lonely and isolated," Staples said.

With the COVID-19 outbreak forcing people to stay apart, whether they are living under lockdown policies, are in quarantine, or are choosing to self-isolate, Staples said he hoped that participating in the Freemason tradition might help them feel less alone.

Using the hashtag #TimetoToast, Freemasons and members of the public are being asked to participate in a nightly "virtual" toast.

"This is about sharing one of our traditions which we think will help people to feel a little less lonely, a little less isolated," he said. "If they can do that every night, to raise a glass to the people they're missing."

In addition to sending out a reminder to people that they are not alone, Staples said participants will also be toasting to the many health care workers who are at the frontlines of combating the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as to workers, such as delivery drivers, who are also keeping cities and countries running behind the scenes, despite the risks.

In a separate statement shared with Newsweek, Christine Chapman, the head of Freemasonry for Women, a relatively new branch of the organization, which historically only allowed men to join, shared in that sentiment, saying: "We must combat loneliness by ensuring that, even if we are all in our own homes, we are still connecting across the country."

"Dr Staples and I urge everyone to charge their glass at 9pm and say a toast to absent friends, and those working on the frontline," Chapman said.

For Freemasons around the world, the coronavirus outbreak has posed a unique predicament for those seeking to honor the time-held traditions of the secret society.

The United Grand Lodge of England. Founded in 1717, UGLE is the oldest masonic Grand Lodge in the world. Pictures Ltd./Corbis/Getty

In a message sent to members of the society last week, Staples said that, according to the, Grand Registrar, Lodge meetings and Freemason ceremonies could only take place with members physically present in a properly tiled "Lodge Room."

With all Freemason activity suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak, however, Staples said it was acceptable for them to practice certain ceremonies over the internet when it comes to their spoken components.

He only asked that members refrain from reproducing "choreography" involved in such ceremonies due to "security implications."

"The security implications and pitfalls (for example the ability to record on a number of software platforms) unfortunately do not square with our Obligation to assure privacy and confidentiality of proceedings," he wrote. "And we therefore ask members to refrain from any demonstrations of those elements of the ceremonies covered in the Obligation, or any attempt to reproduce the 'choreography' online."

Some traditions, it seems, may, always be kept under lock and key within the Freemason society. The Nine O'Clock Toast, however, Staples told Newsweek, is "a tradition that we'd be very happy to share."

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