Meaning behind Masons

Discussion in 'General Freemasonry Discussion' started by Blake Bowden, Nov 17, 2009.

  1. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member

    By Kelsey Dayton, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
    November 11, 2009

    The names on the wall are familiar, echoing from street signs and organizations in town: Ralph Gill, CW Mercill and Roy Van Vleck.

    They are the names of Jackson’s past and present politicians: Cliff Hansen, Bob Zimmer and Bruce Hayse.

    The names – Nels Dahlquist, Robert Lundy and Sparky Imeson – are not ones that conjure dark rituals.

    Their faces shine behind the glass holding their pictures, just a few of the men who have held the highest position of worshipful master in the Jackson Mason Lodge.

    Sitting quietly on the corner of King and Hansen, the brown building that acts as the organization’s lodge remained largely unnoticed. And then Dan Brown’s newest book came out.

    The release of The Prophecy was a national sensation, with stores across the country staying open late to put the book in people’s hands at midnight. In Jackson, the effect was quieter but perhaps more historical. For the first time, the Masons of Jackson opened their lodge and invited the public inside to learn about the fraternal organization.

    The Masons, also known as Freemasons, are opposite of what many people imagine, said Chris Schroeder, senior warden with the Jackson Mason Lodge. Masons have long been cloaked in mystery, but with the release of the book, they took on the air of shadowy villains, Schroeder said.

    In actuality, the organization’s main purpose is about being better men. It’s about morality and moving forward, Schroeder said.

    The group has worked quietly, often under the radar, especially in small towns like Jackson. But with the release of Brown’s book, suddenly people were curious. They began asking questions, and conversations often steered toward speculation about the group, Schroeder said.

    The open house was a way to teach people a little bit about Masons, especially what they stand for.

    The nondenominational group has one requirement: Members can’t be atheists. The lodge is a place where all who enter are equals, no matter a person’s rank or job in the community. But at meetings, religion and politics aren’t talked about, a trademark of all Masons. What is discussed remains a secret.

    People often think group members are involved politically, because so many of America’s founding fathers were in the group, Schroeder said. But what people do politically is separate from the Masons. It just happens that the people most involved in the country’s early history were also Masons.

    The Masons are about caring for their own, said Mark Mickelson, a Jackson member. They quietly help widows and orphans in the community. The Masons took national action when the Shriners began to work to eradicate polio.

    Today, most notably, the Masons have helped through creating the Shriners Hospitals for Children. All Shriners, known more publicly for the fez hats they wear in parades, are master Masons.

    In a vault in the building, there are wooden compasses preserved in glass, remnants from a meeting decades ago. Compasses with a square must be present for a meeting to start. The compass represents the spiritual, and the square represents the Earth and all things solid, Schroeder said. Together they remind Masons of the boundaries of their actions.

    Women’s civic organizations, such as Job’s Daughter, and the co-ed Eastern Star, are affiliated with the Masons, an all-male group.

    “It’s something you do because you care,†Schroeder said.

    The Masons began as actual stonemasons, dedicated to geometry and trigonometry. The term freemason referred to those who were allowed to travel to other countries to work, Schroeder said.

    The organization’s secretive nature began for a good reason: to protect trade secrets. Even as masons branched out beyond the stone trade, the fraternity kept rituals at the start of meetings – and handshakes and signs used to identify fellow masons – a secret.

    “There is a prestige in being recognized as a Mason,†Schroeder said.

    Centuries ago, when Masons met, guards stood near the door, on alert to find eavesdroppers, a term that is said to come from the Masons. Today, someone called a tyler still sits in the guard position.

    With the tyler and their other elected positions – such as the worshipful master always sitting in the east, the senior warden in the west and the junior warden in the south – the Masons have the air of a secret society, but they aren’t one, Schroeder said.

    “We do internally have secrets that we hold dear to ourselves as a way of expressing our fraternal organization,†Mickelson said.

    Rituals are kept secret, because there is still the risk of outsiders trying to glean Mason traditions without undergoing the studies.

    “It is still a very real problem with people trying to pass as a Mason but aren’t,†Schroeder said.

    To become a Mason, a prospective member inquires about the group. Masons do not recruit.

    Prospective members must take what is called an obligation and then go through an initiation process, the details of which are secret. The ritual is studied so that it can be passed down unchanged, but also so that the Masons truly live by their creeds, Schroeder said.

    A man is interviewed several times and must present a petition to a committee on character. The lodge votes on the petition, and acceptance must be unanimous, with members urged to vote for the good of the organization, not for personal reasons.

    Once in the Masons, a man must study, graduating through levels like entered apprentice, fellowcraft, up to the highest of master mason. Each step represents advanced learning, but not advanced rank, Schroeder said. The process of reaching master mason takes at least several months, and people are encouraged to take their time, relishing the learning process.

    There are about 80 members in the Jackson lodge.

    Membership in the Masons is declining. There was a boom in those wanting to be join in the World War II era. In the ’60s and ’70s, civic organizations saw membership decline, and the Masons were no exception, Mickelson said.

    Membership in the Masons was something passed down in families. Young men would remember hushed conversations of visitors to their fathers, who stumble across items from grandfathers or great-grandfathers with Masonic symbols – such as a compass, etched in, said Mickelson, who comes from a long line of Masons.

    The tradition skipped a generation during the Vietnam War era, when many men felt disconnected from their fathers, Schroeder said. A lot of members today are just discovering the Mason roots in their families.

    As the country’s oldest fraternal organization, the group made wise investments, and dues aren’t needed to keep grous functioning. Members aren’t needed for funding, but fellowship, Schroeder said. “We live off having the right people around us.â€
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