The secret world of Freemasonry

Ancient order of men misunderstood, say Masons

Maple Ridge News, British Columbia/August 20, 2009

It's known for its secrecy and mysterious rituals.

Some say it's a cult, while others call it a fraternity. Its members wear tuxedos, decorative aprons, and sashes to monthly meetings which are held inside large open rooms without windows. Many have heard of Freemasonry, but few actually know what goes on behind closed doors.

On a recent tour of Maple Ridge's Masonic hall, located on 116th Avenue and Callaghan Avenue, lodge master Myles Stark set the record straight.

"We're a fraternity of men. It's about camaraderie, friendship and brotherhood," he said.

"You meet all kinds of people from all walks of life. But when you're here, we're all equal."

The 61-year-old is a member of the Prince David Lodge, a group of 98 men who practice the ancient work of Freemasonry.

"We have certain handshakes and certain words that only we know," said Stark.

"Just like the boy scouts have to earn badges, we have to earn different degrees. It's memorization and you have to do an oral exam in the lodge in front of everybody."

Al Adams is another member of the lodge who has dedicated almost 50 years of his life to the ancient work of Freemasonry.

"It's a way of life," he said.

"We're not a cult. We just take good men and make them better. We do it by ritual lessons and memory work."

Members of the Prince David Lodge meet twice a month inside a sky blue room on the second floor of the hall. Guards stand at the door while meetings are in session and members sit on wooden benches. Appointed officers, such as deacons, wardens and the lodge master, are assigned special chairs at a throne. A Bible also sits open during meetings on a table in the middle of the room.

"We have no secrets," said Adams.

"The only thing secret about us is our means of recognition."

A square and compass surrounding the letter "G" - which represents God - is the most recognizable Freemason trademark. The symbol appears on the front of the lodge.

The practice of Freemasonry dates back centuries to operative masons in Scotland and England. They were a group of skilled men who built cathedrals, abbeys and castles. In the 17th century, the need for such buildings declined, but the practices and customs of the operative craft carried on. Groups of men began meeting in various places around England and in 1717 the first Grand Lodge opened in London. Today, there are 149 lodges in British Columbia and the Yukon, with more than 12,000 members. The Prince David Lodge opened in 1931. Any man over the age of 21 who has a belief in a supreme being can become a Freemason. However, they must meet with a review committee beforehand.

"We're open to all races and creeds," said Adams, a retired hydraulics designer. "We're not a religious organization. We do not discuss politics or religion because it causes disharmony among the members."

Adams says the lodge's biggest challenge is declining membership. They do hold "buddy nights" to help attract new membership. But the society's veil of secrecy could be preventing people from joining, he said.

"If people don't know about it, they figure something is wrong. You can invite somebody, but you can't be persistent," Adams said. "But if the men in the world tried to live up to the criteria that we try to live up to, there would be no more problems in the world."

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