I think I'd partially written this twice and done two recorded versions (I use my mobile as a dictaphone) before embarking on this here post. In other words, I've been chewing on this one for a while. Not that it shows. I'm still not sure what the point of all this is and it's not a particularly revelatory post. In fact, I broached much of the same material in a post called The Law of Tangents back in December, 2009. If I were to define my objectives for this piece, it would be to provide a context for the excitement I felt when I began to see triangles everywhere in logos relating to real estate and construction, as well as the encounters which punctuated this period and fed my curiosity.
Like I said, I'm not sure what it all means, but give it a read, knowing of my hesitancy to release it and take a gander at the slideshow afterwards.
One of my first French friends once told me that Freemasons (this would be the Grand Orient) were deeply involved in the real estate and construction industry in Toulouse. I still do not know if this is true.
I later attended the first Salon du Livre et de la culture maçonniques de Toulouse where I saw the following book about the Masonic Delta:
Of course, this is natural as it is a symbol which is both stable and dynamic, could easily represent the roof of a house and, at least before CAD, is one of the fundamental tools of the architect (as are the square and compasses, natch). There is even an American fraternity called Triangle for engineers, architects and scientists, showing that the symbol crosses cultures and perhaps undercuts the idea of a Masonic connection.
One of the perks of my job is that I get to meet people from circles I normally would not cross paths with in a lifetime of walking paths: the well-to-do and well-connected. I have a student, an ex-banker, now an executive in a consulting firm in Toulouse. I asked him about Freemasons here. He became quite serious and told that as a rising young banker he had been approached to join. Unlike Anglo-Saxon Freemasonry, which in theory does not recruit, the Grand Orient actively seeks new members. (I can verify this, a long-time friend of the Gid and I has a small company in Toulouse and was invited by a Toulouse Lodge to a kind of lecture/soirée; my contacts verified this was in fact a common recruitment method).
Anyway, the consultant told me a dark tale of a friend, a doctor, who had joined and became so changed that he divorced his wife and left his family and ultimately, the two had a falling out. Another tale was that of a distant relative who built hotels and large buildings and had become a Freemason for the contacts. He became beholden to them yet refused to return some favors when the time came. He found himself ruined. The consultant said they can destroy a man as quickly as build him up.
Now, this man is also a devout Catholic, which in Europe, means a lot with regards to Freemasonry. Unlike in America, where the Craft is very ecumenical, the Grand Orient is actively anti-clerical and a strict defender of secularism (atheists are permitted to join, unlike in the US). So, this must be taken into account. I have no reason to doubt the integrity of my student, I'm sure he believes he is telling the truth, but he may be inclined by his religious persuasion to attribute to Freemasonry what is possibly, even probably, due to entirely separate causes.
He also mentioned the Opus Dei, which also actively recruited him. He visited their Toulouse headquarters only to be shocked and disgusted with their opulence. His aversion to secret(ive) societies was clear, so his aversion to Freemasonry is not only a politico-religious difference. Intriguingly, he told me that in Toulouse the Grand Orient and Opus Dei were engaged in "a kind of war."
This second guy is a bit like the first: Catholic, a highly-placed executive, well-connected (he was schoolmates with ex-Health Minister Douste-Blazy and was once a senatorial electeur, kind of like a member of the Electoral College, for you US readers).
So I put the same question forward. He got uncharacteristically serious and told me a similar tale. He avoided any involvement, he hinted that one sacrificed too much, that the benefits could be tangible but came at a price. He told me they were very influential in business circles....this last word being something of a code. One could tell the Masonically-owned businesses because of their logos...as he said this, he was drawing a triangle on a piece of paper..."like this" he said as he showed me. They also formed clubs or associations with "circle" in their name. For example, the most influential business association in Toulouse is also among the newest, the "Cercle d'Oc." All the founders of this group, he claims, are Freemasons.
You expect closure?
People believe Freemasons are powerful factors behind politics and business in France. Searching "franc-maçonnerie immobilier" on Google, one fins an interview (October 2001) with the following question:
On prête parfois au Grand Orient un «empire immobilier». Qu'en est-il?
At time we hear about a "real estate empire" of the Grand Orient. What is it?
Nous disposons d'un patrimoine immobilier considérable et très ancien pour des raisons historiques: nous sommes propriétaires, soit directement soit par nos loges, d'environ 500 temples maçonniques dans les villes de France. Depuis le XVIIIe siècle, nous avons acquis et aménagé ces locaux souvent délabrés, qui vont de la simple pièce à l'immeuble entier.
We have considerable and very old real estate holdings for historical reasons: we are owners, either directly or by our lodges, of about 500 Masonic temples throughout French cities. Since the 18th century we have acquired and refurbished the locales, often dilapidated, ranging from simple rooms to an entire building.
So, this interview tells us that the belief in Masonic real estate power extends to beyond my first friend. It doesn't necessarily prove or disprove the veracity of this belief.
I honestly don't know. I can say that the belief in Masonic influence and power is widespread in France and indeed, the Grand Orient is more political than its Anglo-Saxon counterparts. One must also remind anyone seeking a monolithic Masonry that the Grand Orient Masonry of Europe and Latin America (Red Masonry) is not on particularly warm terms with Blue Masonry--that is to say the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) and the Lodges it recognizes; basically, the Lodges of the English-speaking world.
There is definitely business among Masons, as outlined in this city-by-city survey on the French business website capital.fr, part Prisma Presse, the second-largest publishing group in France.
I suppose the natural question would be why? Why use a triangle or other Masonic image in a logo? I don't think this is too weird. It could be a mark of pride. Maybe a way to send a signal to other Masons and win business. As a propaganda tool, it would be a sign of wealth, power and influence. This could either attract recruits or be a way of saying "Don't fuck with us". I'm not advocating any of these reasons. I'm sure there are other possibilities.
Also, I've mentioned this before in comments and say it again here: I'm not an anti-Mason nor a conspiracy theorist, despite my interest in both of these things. I'm mapping an interest in order to contextualize the photos which follow. Hey, I'm interested in triangles. So sue me if they always ring the bells in my esoteric belfry. Helps clear out the bats.