March 27, 2008

It's hard these days to be a freemason

It's hard these days to be a Freemason

Craig Offman, National Post Published: Saturday, September 29, 2007

On the University of Toronto campus last Saturday night, a cadre of
six or so angry anti-Masons armed themselves with video cameras,
so-called "9/11 Truth" pamphlets and a lot of aggressive questions.

Swarming near the entrance of the George Ignatieff Theatre, they were
poised to intercept the Freemasons who hoped to join a meeting that
would address their relevance to the modern world. Or perhaps, how
they can take it over.

When I arrived at the doors, the protesters were browbeating an
attendee who had stuck his head out to see what the protest was about.
"Have you ever read this book?" a protester asked, waving a copy of
Morals and Dogma in his face. "Do you obey it?"

Wri tten by Southern mason and confederate-army general Albert Pike,
the book is a putative tell-all about the Scottish Rite of Masonry, a
classic of the conspiratorial canon.

Some members of the group -- otherwise known as the Craft -- will just
tell you it's grossly misquoted, utterly antiquated or totally

"I haven't," the Mason said and walked away.

"He just isn't high up enough to know the truth," one of them said to his back.

Detractors call them a secret society. Freemasons call themselves a
society with secrets.

For three centuries, Freemasons have held their secret meetings, worn
their aprons, exchanged their grips --or knuckle-to-knuckle hand
greetings -- and built a mystical life philosophy on the constructs of

Part of the mystique is the august membership, a staggering list that
almost seems to sum up the march of modern history: numerous Canadian
and British prime ministers, many U.S. presidents and senators. Jazz
legends Duke Ellington and Oscar Peterson. Explorers such as Sir
Richard Burton and Sir Ernest Shackleton. Food-chain king Colonel
Saunders and Tim Horton.

Then there's infamous FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, repentant
segregationist George Wallace and the controversial Maple Leafs owner
Harold Ballard. Killer Paul Bernardo is a long-rumoured brother.

In recent years, however, the 2.5 million Masons worldwide have faced
the typical men's club quandaries: marriage, for one. What with all
the responsibilities men have at home these days, they can't be out
planning their conspiracies every night. (One seminar held last
weekend was entitled, "How to tell your wife you're a Freemason. Free
hint: include her in your Masonic studies!)

Retention is also a problem. In Ontario alone, 20,000 people join each
year, the organizers say, but 20,000 leave. What is it about the Lodge
that drives them away?

And with the drop in numbers, there is the other existential question:
Do you let the ladies in?

David Sheen, a traditionalist kind of Mason who sits on a governing
body called the board of general purposes, said the Masons shouldn't
worry about relevance.

"No organization can be everything to anybody," said Mr. Sheen, the
divisional chief for the Toronto Fire Services. "It has less validity
if it bends and changes to whichever way the wind blows."

But all these problems might seem quaint next year, when one of the
world's most commercially successful authors, Dan Brown, publishes the
Solomon Key.

His previous novel, The Da Vinci Code, whose 60 million-plus copies
sold made it one of the best-selling books of all time, is notorious
for demonizing the powerful Catholic lay order Opus Dei.

Now he is training his sights on the Freemasons.

The novel's title is a reference to the Key of Solomon, a medieval
book of occult practices erroneously attributed to King Solomon, and
though its publishing date hasn't been confirmed, a cottage industry
of conjecture has already sprung into action.

Two years ago, Greg Taylor published The Guide to Dan Brown's the
Solomon Key and has been trailing clues left by Mr. Brown in the
media. Accordingly, he predicts the novel will involve Masonry, take
place in Washington, D.C., and will involve the murder of politicians
in the capital.

Mr. Brown's art-historian and slick sleuth, Robert Langdon, will be
the protagonist.

"Other aspects of the plot may involve the Masonic-like Skull and
Bones society," Mr. Taylor wrote in an email. "Brown enjoys pointing
out amazing conspiratorial facts, and one of the biggest from last
year was that the opposing candidates for the Presidential election
were part of the same secret society (Bush and Kerry)."

Mr. Sheen, the Toronto Mason, doesn't rue the inevitable bonanza of
scrutiny that is bound to accompany the upcoming novel.

"I think it will be good for us," he said, echoing others at the
meeting who support the any-publicity-is-good-publicity notion, keen
to generate new interest in the organization.

Still, weathering the Dan Brown effect was not an easy challenge for
Opus Dei, a conservative movement in the church that was largely
unknown to the general public until the Da Vinci Code. The novel
portrayed the membership as a cult-like, conniving and homicidal

Monsignor Frederick Dolan, Opus Dei's Vicar in Canada, said that at
first, it wasn't easy being under the magnifying glass, and defending
one's beliefs. But he learned to relax.

"In hindsight, it was a blast. I learned how to make lemonade out of lemons."

Before I was allowed to enter the theatre and find out about the
plight of the Freemasons, the protestors asked me if I knew that
George H.W. Bush was a Freemason and his son was a member of Yale
University's secret society Skull & Bones.

Soon came the inevitable insights about 9/11: Guess who really planned it?

"Why are you here?" I finally asked. "What do you want out of this?"

"We're here to free the masons."

As I passed, I was handed a pamphlet that asked if Freemasons
worshipped Satan, which had this caveat: "Most Masons do not worship
Satan. But in the higher initiation degrees they all must participate
in rituals such as drinking wine from a human skull whilst kneeling at
a black altar with serpents in it."

While that particular rite was curiously absent, this gathering was a
rare event. Hosted by the Toronto Society for Masonic Research, it
permitted public participation; Master masons, the highest-ranking
brothers, sat on the stage with uninitiated panelists, which is
typically a no-no. Freemasons like to keep to themselves.

"It's not a scientific fact or anything, but I think this was
unprecedented," said organizer Peter Renzland, a reform-minded member.
During the discussions, Mr. Renzland was frustrated with the group's
inability to answer the woman question head-on.

The 45-minute question period was tense and sombre. The 30-odd greying
attendees couldn't agree on much.

At the end of the panel, I asked Mr. Sheen about the whole
drinking-from-the-skull business.

"In all my years as a Freemason, I have never heard of such a thing."

And he said it with a straight face.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a Mason, I really don't get anti-Masonry at all. If anything, the lack-of-retention comes from what the article states: people's lives are too busy, and we're not really a culture of "joiners" or being into fraternal clubs much any more.

Look at the self-proclaimed enemies of the principles of Freemasonry, and you'll see: the Nazis, slaveholders of the Antebellum South, Aryan Nations types, the KKK, radical Islam, racist Blacks in the hip-hop movement (there are Black Masons, it's called the Prince Hall system, I've met some of them)and sundry other bigots and reactionaries. That describes a good-chunk of the 9/11 truth movement, which I consider to be a waste of almost anyone's time.

Do I think there was an "inside-job"? Possibly, our fighters were told to stand-down--why not focus on that, rather than the usual speculations?

And anyone who thinks Skull & Bones has anything to do with the same concepts of Freemasonry--namely, universal brotherhood and a respect for the rights and liberty of other--is cracked. Masons have covered the whole range of the political spectrum, but I can assure you that someone like J. Edgar Hoover was not a good Mason in any respect, and many Masons feel this way.