Condensed by Wor. Wallace M. Gage, PGStd
The following has been extracted from an article appearing in the quarterly publication of United Masters Lodge No. 167 (Research), of Auckland, New Zealand, regarding the requirements and preparation of a candidate for the First Degree in the Netherlands.
"The Netherlands has a population of over 14 million people. According to the figures in the 1986 "List of Lodges", there are 135 lodges with a total membership of 6800. Additional lodges working under Netherlands charters are located in the Netherlands Antilles (5), Surinam (3), Zimbabwe (7) and Johannesburg, South Africa (1). Craft lodges in Holland meet once a week, with an eight week recess during the Summer.
The lodge room which is called the temple is only used for ritual work, normally once a month. The majority of meetings are devoted to lectures which are discussed the same evening. These lectures are not only on Masonic subjects, but also deal with social, philosophical, historical and cultural topics. These cover such matters as, for example Care of the Aged, Human Rights, The History of the Grand Lodge of Austria, etc. These lectures are always given in the "Forecourt" which we call the dining room or banquet hall.
Before a lodge meeting, all visitors are officially received in the forecourt, and after being welcomed by the Master, enter the temple together with members of the lodge.
The opening and closing ceremonies for the three degrees are the same, except for the pass words and signs applicable to the degree in which the lodge is working. After being initiated, it normally takes two years before the candidate has attained his Master Mason degree.
Before advancing to the next degree, a ballot is taken to decide if the candidate is worthy to receive the next degree, depending on whether his attendance has been regular and whether he has done some Masonic research. He is also expected to give a short lecture on a Masonic subject.
The principal parts of the ritual are laid down, except for some of the Charges and Lectures which are free and may be given in the lecturer's own words.
All officers are elected for three years, but can be elected for further terms. There is no automatic promotion of officers, and the Master can call on any officer he thinks fit to work a degree. The rank of Past Master does not exist, and when the Master has vacated his chair, he becomes again an ordinary member.
The brethren pay annual dues amounting to about $60 US dollars, pay for their own refreshments and a charity collection is taken at each meeting.
In applying for the degrees, the prospective candidate must submit references from people who have been closely associated with him, and a written summary of his life to the Board of Inquiry. This is followed by an interview during which he is tested on his moral and religious conceptions. At the end of the interview, the candidate signs a declaration that he is fully acquainted with the principal tenets of Freemasonry. When these formalities are completed, and the ballot at the next regular meeting is favorable, he is advised of the date of his initiation.
On the evening of his initiation, his proposer takes him to the lodge and turns him over to the Preparer, who takes him to the Reception room. Contact with any other of the members of the lodge before the ceremony is not permitted. The Preparer explains to him in general terms the solemnity and the meaning of the ceremony in which he will be engaged, and impresses upon him the importance of the step he is about to take.
After the candidate has signed a declaration of secrecy, he is divested of all metals, which teaches him that in Freemasonry a man is not esteemed for his worldly possessions.
He is then taken into the Dark Room, or Room of Contemplation, a small room adjoining the lodge, barely furnished with a table and chair where no noise or light can penetrate. The candidate is left there to contemplate in order to enable him to prepare for the ceremony of initiation. The only illumination is a single candle. Realizing the darkness in his own heart, he should have a real desire to search for the light.
In the Dark Room the candidate finds the Volume of Sacred Law (the Holy Bible), emblems of mortality, an hour glass and the words KNOW THYSELF. The Volume of Sacred Law is opened to the first Chapter of St. John, which teaches the creation of all things. The emblems of mortality remind him of his inevitable destiny and that every rebirth is preceded by death. The hour glass reminds him of his short earthly existence and that time is an everlasting sequence of the past, the present, and the future. His turning the hour glass signifies that he is starting a new period in his life.
Before the candidate is led out of the Dark Room, he extinguishes the candle, and hoodwinks himself. He is now prepared to seek the new light. The Preparer leads him before the Temple door, and the moment of his Initiation has arrived.