En: Finland

From Freimaurer-Wiki

A historian review of the finnish freemasonry

By Jukka Järvinen, Editor in Chief of Koilliskulma magazine

Freemasonry under the Swedish rule

For a long time Finland has been the eastern part of the Swedish Empire. The Swedish rule begun, according to different sources, between the years 1150-1250. The notion of Finnish Grand Duchy was established in the 1500s because the king entitled himself as a Grand Duke of Finland in the year 1577. The last Grand Duke of Finland under the Swedish rule was Gustav IV Adolf’s second son Carl Gustaf in the years 1802-1805.

Finland remained as a part of Sweden about 700 years, until Sweden was forced to surrender the land to Russia in 1809 after losing the Finnish War in 1808-1809. In 1809 Finland became an autonomic part of the Russian Empire; an autonomic Finnish Grand Duchy, which already filled some criteria of an independent nation. Finland became independent in the year 1917, so the Russian rule lasted 108 years.

Originally freemasonry came to Finland during the Swedish rule. The first lodge was part of the Swedish order S:t Johanneslogen (= the three degrees of St. John, followed by the three degrees of St. Andreas). S:t Augustin for Finland was established in Stockholm 24.6.1756. The lodge had its first meeting on the Finnish soil in 29th of April 1758 in Åbo (Turku) when captain Anders Boije was initiated into the first degree. Therefore he is the first freemason raised in Finland. The meetings were arranged in a variety of places; sometimes in Stockholm, sometimes in Åbo (Turku) and also in Helsinki, where the regular meetings were arranged on a more steady basis from the year 1763. In the year 1777 a S:t Andreas lodge Phoenix was established in Helsinki. During the years of Swedish rule 150 Brethren were granted degrees in this lodge. Freemasonry blossomed in Finland during the Swedish era; S:t Augustin’s member count increased even to 460.

Freemasonry under the Russian rule

Because the majority of the lodge members were soldiers or of some other military occupation the work in the lodges ceased totally after the Finnish War started in 1808. As a consequence of the war the relations to the former mother Grand Lodge in Sweden were practically impossible to maintain. A very substantial part of the lodge members had moved to Sweden or to different parts of Finland. The last masonic meeting was kept in Tornio in 1809. The first era of freemasonic work in Finland could be seen to have stopped in 13th of December 1813 when the Worshipful Master of S:t Augustin and Phoenix lodges, Axel Lejonhufvud, appealed to the Swedish Grand Master for having a permission to donate the funds of the lodges to the city of Helsinki to use them for caritative purposes. The permission was granted in 10th of June 1813.

In the 1st of August 1822 the Russian emperor Alexander I gave on order to ban all secret societies on Russia and also in the Grand Dutchy of Finland. Factually the masonic activities in Finland have ceased years before the ban came effective. This ban did not include masonic activities outside the borders of Russia and Finland. Therefore some Finnish men, usually merchants and seamen, that have been members of masonic lodges in Finland, joined or visited the lodges abroad. The next Russian emperor, Nicholas I, was more strict and created laws that banned Finnish citizens from joining any secret societies, including Masonic lodges. That meant, that masonic activities have ceased from Finland for about 100 years, although some men continued to take part of the lodge meetings while visiting foreign cities.

The time of Independence: coming of Craft-masonry

After Finland became an independent nation in 6th of December 1917 the idea of reviving the freemasonry became potential again. With the support of the Grand Lodge of New York the first Craft Masonry Lodge Suomi Lodge Nr 1 was established in Helsinki on 18th of August 1922.

During the Russian rule many Finns have emigrated to USA and joined the lodges there. At the beginning of the 20th century they brought up the idea of bringing freemasonry back to their former homeland. The most active of these brethren was engineer J.E.Tuokkola who had already in 1917 inquired the possibilities of setting up Freemasonry on the Craft masonry basis in Finland. The most important Finnish-American freemason that Tuokkola brought on-board to this endeavour was the lawyer Toivo H. Nekton (originally Toivo H. Itkonen) who was a past master of a lodge working under the Grand Lodge of New York. The Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York Arthur S. Tompkins granted a temporary charter for the Suomi Lodge Nr 1, with which the lodge granted all three degrees to 27 men in the first craft masonry lodge meeting in the independent Finnish Republic on 18th August 1922. Among these brethren were many influental men, captains of industry, officers of the government and even the world famous composer Jean Sibelius. In August 1923 two other lodges were established with the charter from New York Gran Lodge: one in Tampere (Tammer-lodge Nr. 2, 1.8.1923) and the other in Åbo (Turku) (Phoenix –lodge Nr. 3, 2.8.1923).

Now Finland had three independent lodges which was a prerequisite for establishing a new Grand Lodge. In 26th of March 1924 the Finns applied from the New York Grand Lodge a permission to establish an own Grand Lodge for Finland. This request was dealt with positive attitude in the New York Grand Lodge Meeting in 7th of May 1924 and the Grand Master W.A.Rowan sent a letter to the Finnish applicants granting the permission to proceed. The Finnish Grand Lodge could be seen to be established in a meeting on 9th of August 1924, because the Grand Officers were then chosen. Grand Master was to be Bro. Axel Solitander who remained in that office until his death in 1944. The officers were officially installed in 9th of September 1924 by The Past Grand Master Arthur S. Tompkins and member of the New York Grand Lodge James Kilby.

As Finland became an independent nation the swedes also became motivated to restart their orders’ masonic activities in Finland. The S:t Johannes Lodge S:t Augustin started their activities using a Swedish language and working under the Swedish Order using the Swedish Rite. The Swedish Grand Master King Gustav V gave the permission to start the work immediately as soon as the new premises were found. As this happened quite soon the admiral Carl Olsen came to Helsinki for installing the S:t Augustin lodge again in the 3th of May 1923.

Masonic activities in Finland during World War 2

The number of members in masonic lodges increased in the 1920s and early 1930s. The peak was the year 1932, when the lodges had 313 members. At that time there were five craft lodges in Finland. But in the 30s the development became worse; the member count started to decrease. This is best described with the numbers: in the 1920s the lodges’ average intake was 12,2 new members annually but in the 1930s that number decreased to 1,7 (sic!). In the first part of the decade (1930-1934) the average number of new Master Masons for each lodge was 2,5 but on the other half (1935-1939) only 0,8. In the year 1938 the total account of members in Finnish lodges was 256 and after the war had its influence on the member count there were only 209 members left in 1945.

As the war begun in 1939 there were no changes made to the lodge meeting time tables in Finland. Only when the Winter War started in November 1939 between Finland and Soviet Union all meetings were naturally cancelled. The Winter War was over in 13th of March 1940 as the Moscow Peace Treaty was signed. The peace lasted for 15 months. When Germany became interested in the Murmansk area and the whole peninsula was strategically important with its nickel reserve the German government asked for the permission to transport some military units to the far northern areas in Norway using Finnish harbours along the coast of The Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea. At the same time Germany offered Finland the possibility to buy weapons, which Finland needed badly after the Winter War.

Germany became interested also in Finnish national politics and the coming presidential election. Wipert von Blücher, who was the German ambassador in Helsinki, received a statement from state secretary Ernst von Weizsäcker in Berlin, that German would prefer to have prime minister Risto Ryti as a president, rather than any weaker compromising candidate or J.K. Paasikivi. He would be their choice despite they knew that Ryti was a high ranking freemason and known to have sympathies for the United Kingdom.

On the 7th of December 1940 Grand Master Axel Solitander told Gösta Salingre, who represented S:t Augustin lodge of the Swedish Order, that two Finnish ministers had demanded the disbanding of all freemasons’ and other secret societies. Solitander did not mention then or even later the names of the ministers he refered to. He also mentioned that some Finnish freemasons had the opinion that they should suspend or even terminate the masonic work in Finland so that this decision would come from the freemasons themselves and not from the Finnish government.

Axel Solitander and Worshipful Master of S:t Augustin Auli Markkula met prime minister Risto Ryti, by himself a freemason, on 16th December 1940. While Solitander asked his opinion on the matter of freemasonry in Finland and the possibilities of continuing the work, Ryti told that he has not became familiar with the idea at all nor has it been discussed in the government. Ryti did not see the interruption or terminating the masonic work necessary or timely at that point but said that it could become favourable later. Prime minister told that the government could not dismantle the Finnish lodges because it would be embarrassing for Finland in the eyes of the Americans who have favoured the Finnish freemasons for some time already. In addition to that, dismantling the Swedish orders’ lodges with some instructions from the Finnish government would be a direct insult for the Swedish king since he was the Grand Master of the Swedish order.

Ryti gave an opinion, that if the suspension of the masonic work should become preferable because of national interest at some point, the initiative of suspension should come from the masons themselves and not from the government. He also asked, that this subject should not be discussed in public or informed further. After this meeting Ryti had no direct contact with the Finnish Grand Lodge or with the directorate of the Swedish Order. He discussed the topic in 16th December with the minister of foreign affairs Witting, who was known to have some anti-masonic opinions. Minister Witting met the German ambassador Wipert von Blücher whose diary on the 17th of December clearly shows that the German government was not behind the decisions that were about to be made by the masons concerning activities in Finland.

Grand Master Solitander later heard nothing from the Finnish government concerning this matter, even though the prime minister Risto Ryti had promised to tell his and the governments opinion on the matter . At the end of December Grand Master Solitander called the leaders of the Finnish masonic organizations to a meeting where he told that the Finnish government had inquired or wished for the possibilities to terminate the masonic activities in Finland. He said that he considered this discussion a preliminary one and he could suspend the activities for indefinitive time if it became necessary. All the members in that meeting held the opinion that if the government should express that kind of definitive appeal it should be fulfilled by the masons because of national interest. Solitander promised to inform the masons if that should occure. Some time after the meeting Solitander had a severe brain stroke and was hospitalized. He lost his ability to speak.

The Finnish president Kyösti Kallio died in 19th December 1940 and Brother Risto Ryti was elected for the. new President of the Finnish Republic. He took the office the same day. President Ryti chose Mr. Jukka Rangell as the new prime minister. Rangell met the Assistant Grand Master Harry Backberg and the member of the Finnish Grand Lodge Toivo Tarjanne in January 1941. While discussing the matter of freemasonry in Finland, he told that the government had no reason to interfere with the masonic activities in the country. But he said that it would be fine, if the masons should suspend their activities and he could answer the Germans honestly, that there are no masonic meetings or activities going on in Finland, should they ask about it. Rangell did not express any bans or orders by the German government but wanted to eliminate in advance any suspicions that they might have.

On the 4th of February 1941 The Worshipful Master of S:t Augustin lodge Auli Markkula wrote a letter to the Grand Master of the Swedish Order, King Gustav V, where he told that the president of Finland had expressed the hope that all masonic activities should be suspended in Finland and that this request should not be given to the public. Risto Ryti as a prime minister or as the president never gave any order to terminate or stop the masonic activities in Finland, but only expressed a subtle hint that it would be of national interest that the masonic activities were interrupted for some time. Ryti himself never resigned from the membership of the Suomi Lodge Nr 1 but remained a member until his death.

The situation in the Finnish Grand Lodge in January 1941 was a bit confusing because the Grand Master was seriously ill and unable to speak, the deputy Grand Master Marcus Tollet was on a long business trip to New York (he never returned) and all the decision were to be made by “the third man” Assistant Grand Master Harry Backberg. It was now his duty to inform about the decision according to which all masonic activities should have to be stopped (in Swedish “inställa”) by the order from the “highest level”. This (untruthful) statement he gave in the meeting of the Phoenix Lodge, in Åbo (Turku) on 30th January 1941. The lodge members in Helsinki heard about the situation in February, when Backberg had called the representatives of the lodges to a meeting in the masonic temple of Helsinki on 14th February 1941. He told to the gathered brethren that the freemasonic activities were going to be stopped in the name of national interest. Later some brethren who were present in that meeting told, that Backberg said that the order came from a very influential body and he had given his word that the freemasons will obey that order.

From Backbergs initiative a committee was founded in order to plan the secure investment of the funds of the Grand Lodge and all the existing masonic lodges. The library of the Grand Lodge was placed in the Helsinki University Library and the furniture and all other masonic stuff were placed in the homes of brethren. The money that the lodges had were donated to a fund called February the 14th Day Fund which used the money for caritative purposes, mainly for war orphans. There were some national socialist magazines in Finland who demanded, that the archives of the lodges should be opened to the public. One of those magazines explained, that the archives have already been moved to a safe in America.

Lodge work in Finland was suspended and the Grand lodge did not work anymore. Because of the decision to interrupt the work, the lodges of Helsinki gathered once more in 18th of March 1941 in the Fraternitas Society’s premises to deal with the practical issues of the intermission. There were no large scale information given to the brethren about the reasons of interruption, so many of the brethren assumed that there was an order given by the Germans to terminate the masonic activities. The reason for that kind of impression was nothing more than German-minded Assistant Grand Masters’ personal desire to interpret the wishes of the Germans and of the Finnish government in a lot more strict way that they were meant to be interpreted. When later, after the war, the prime minister Rangell was asked about this matter he told, that no such order was given by the government nor such demand expressed by the Germans. In theory the Finnish lodges could have continued their masonic work also in the years 1941-1944. The only concrete obstacle for that would have been, of course, the absence of brethren who were fighting in the war.

After WW2 ended the Finnish freemasons started to plan the revitalizing of the masonic lodge work. For this purpose a meeting was arranged in the restaurant called Motti (engl. Siege) in Helsinki 17th January 1945. All Grand Lodge members still alive were called to join the meeting. One was not invited: Harry Backberg. He has been sacked from the Grand Lodge in 1942 because of “unclear affairs”. The reasons for that had nothing to do with freemasonry but they can be found from the minutes of the military court and the highest court.

The development of Masonry in Finland after the WW2

Almost immediately after the war the masons contacted the representatives of the Finnish state and inquired the possibility to start the masonic activities again. The permission was granted and in 14th of May 1945 Suomi Lodge Nr 1 had its first meeting ending the suspension. Tammer Lodge Nr 2, from Tampere, had a meeting in the Worshipful Master’s Adolf Taivainen’s home 24th of October 1945. Tammer Lodge continued to have their meetings in brethrens’ home because the lodge premises have been lost during the war. They gathered in lodge members’ homes until at the end of 1946 a new lodge room could be rented. The situation was similar in many other lodges too; they had difficulties with premises and having new members for the lodges. The Grand Lodge also had a meeting in Helsinki on 8th of May 1945 and a new Grand Master V.M.J. Viljanen was chosen as Axel Solitander had died in 1944. In 1948 the sixth lodge was founded in Pori, with the name Satakunta Nr 7 and in 2th of May 1950 the seventh Lodge in Lahti called Pyhän Yrjänän Loosi.

The 1940s was mainly an era of restarting the lodges, finding them premises and balancing their budgets. The real era of growth in Finnish freemasonry was the 1950s and 60s. In 1950s 12 new lodges were established. In 1960s the last part of the decade increased the number of the lodges 59 and the member count raised to 2939. The top year was 1965 when 9 new lodges were founded. This top has never been exceeded. Although there was steady growth also in the 1970s it had not been so excessive after the 1960s. The growth of the members’ count slowed down in the 1980s but the number of members is still growing annually even today.


2015: The current situation of the finnish masonic work

By Ahti Siltanen, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Finland

Membership and fees

The number of lodges is 175, of which three were under jurisdiction of Grand Lodge of Finland working in Sweden. At the end of 2014 the number of members was 7326 and at the end of May 2015 it was 7432.

The table here below shows development of the membership and the yearly net increase during the period 1982 - 2012.

  • 1982: 4028 + 1,3%
  • 1992: 4353 + 0,9%
  • 2000: 5767 + 2,7%
  • 2005: 6359 + 1,9%
  • 2010: 6954 + 1,7%
  • 2011: 7020 + 1,8%
  • 2012: 7158 + 2.0%
  • 2013: 7288 + 1,8%
  • 2014: 7326 + 0,5%

The number of resigned brothers has been about one hundred per year and during 2014 it was 162 brethren. In addition 102 master masons died in 2014 and 24 were discharged, because not paying any member fees.

On the other hand the number of apprentices keeps the masonry still increasing. In 2014 we got 330 new third degree members. The explanation of so small increasing of members is 30 percent increasing in amount of died brethren, resignation and discharged. This shows that young men in Finland are interested in freemasonry. The main problem in their activity is attendance in lodge meetings, when modern business life takes almost all their time. In 2014 the attendance activity was 55 %.

In 2014 was again the average age of the Brethren 60 to 61 years. The gap between the Brethren and the potential candidates is still too big. As a result of this, the Brethren have difficulties finding candidates among their acquaintances. If they manage to find suitable young men to be recommended for the lodge, their other hobbies compete with masonry and the candidates have also to work and take care of their family.

The average annual membership fee of the lodges was in 2014 per member 192 €.

The annual fee of the Grand Lodge was in 2014 per lodge member 64 €, which included the subscription of the masonic magazine Koilliskulma, and the yearbook. The initiation fee was in 2014 per member 20 €.

Relationships

The relationships with other Grand Lodges and Masonic Bodies are good.

There are no open questions with the Central or Local Government.

The relationships with the established Lutheran church are good. In our lodges there are about 40 Lutheran priest members.

The media

Freemasonry has not been widely reported in newspapers and magazines. In our newspapers have the only one article, which told that freemasons gave 600.000 euros donation to the new Hospital of Children. Now and then “the yellow press” publishes our membership catalogue, but the influence of it might even be positive regarding membership numbers. An interesting operation was a straw poll study implemented in autumn 2014 by The Grand Lodge of Finland and performed by Taloustutkimus Oy. This study aimed to collect objective information on what people think about Freemasonry and Freemasons in general.

Events

The 90th Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Finland was held on the 10th of May 2014 in Helsinki. After the Annual Meeting we had World Premiere of a Masonic Opera “The Widow’s Son” composed by Hannu Bister.

The development of the administration is following the strategy.

The Grand Lodge has developed and updated an IT system to serve lodges with a member register as a work tool for the lodge secretaries’ administrative work.

Communication

The Masonic magazine Koilliskulma has been published five times a year and delivered to every member and also Grand Lodges in amity.

The Grand Lodge has two separate web sites, one for public information and one for lodge information and communication.

Charity

The alms were in 2014 all together about 127.565 Euro, which amount was appointed by the lodges to different charity objects. The total charity 2014 was concerning foundations and donation of Hospital of Children over one million euros.

See also

Links