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Freemasons For Dummies®, 2nd Edition

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Table of Contents

Introduction

About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Part I: What Is Freemasonry?

Part II: The Inner Workings of Freemasonry

Part III: When One Lodge Isn’t Enough: The Appendant Bodies

Part IV: Freemasonry Today and Tomorrow

Part V: The Part of Tens

Part VI: Appendixes

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: What Is Freemasonry?

Chapter 1: Lodges, Aprons, and Funny Handshakes: Freemasonry 101

What Is Freemasonry?

What Do Masons Do?

Conferring the three degrees

Meeting in lodges, blue lodges, craft lodges, and more

Performing public ceremonies

Wearing aprons (Real men do it!)

Keeping “secrets”

Providing something for everyone

Are [Fill in the Blank] Freemasons, Too?

Chapter 2: From Cathedrals to Lodge Rooms: A History of the Freemasons

Turning Stonecutters into Gentlemen: Freemasonry before 1700

Operative Masons: The great builders

Speculative Masons and the big change

Building Men: The 1700s

Founding the first Grand Lodge

Establishing Masonry in America

Finding favor and persecution during and after the French Revolution

Growing, Changing, and Branching Out: The 1800s

Reuniting Antients and Moderns

Spreading throughout America

Surviving and Surging: The 1900s

Relieving social concerns in the early 1900s

Being cast as villains and heroes in World War II

Growing again post-war

Declining in the ’60s

Experiencing the New Millennium: More Changes on the Way

Traditional Observance lodges

The Dan Brown effect

Chapter 3: The Philosophy of Freemasonry

Defining What Masons Believe In

Promoting brotherly love, relief, and truth

Adhering to basic principles

Establishing a New World Order?

Experiencing Mystic Masonry

Connecting members through a mystic tie

Expressing concepts through symbolism

Chapter 4: Politics, Religion, and Freemasons: They Don’t Mix

Exploring the History of Religion and the Masons

Bringing limited religion into the lodge

Examining the history of Freemasonry and Catholicism

Pairing Freemasons and Protestants peacefully (mostly)

Bridging great divides: Freemasonry and Judaism

Finding conflict between Freemasonry and Islam (where none exists)

Refusing to Play Politics

Placing Freemasonry amid the political turmoil of 18th-century Europe

Sparking anarchy in French lodges

Surviving the revolution

Enduring the rule of dictators

Continuing to weather distrust

Maintaining Brotherhood during war

Part II: The Inner Workings of Freemasonry

Chapter 5: How the Freemasons Are Organized: Who Does What and Why

What’s Inside the Lodge?

Examining the lodge room

Meeting and eating at the lodge

Who’s in Charge around Here?

Officers in the progressive line

Officers not in the progressive line

What Makes a Grand Lodge So, Well, Grand?

The Grand Master

The rules

What Is a Regular, Recognized Lodge?

Which one’s legit? Sorting through multiple Grand Lodges

Irregular, unrecognized, and all over the place: Lodges out of the mainstream

Chapter 6: The Ceremonies of Freemasons

Understanding Where Masonic Ritual Comes From

The historical medieval guild rituals

The written account

Performing the Rituals of the Modern Lodge

Setting the stage for the ritual

Entered Apprentice: Initiation and youth

Fellow Craft: Passing through manhood

Master Mason: Raising, age, and death

Movin’ on up!

Chapter 7: The Symbols of Freemasonry

Symbolizing the Lessons of Freemasonry

Deciphering the Key Masonic Ideas

The number three

Tracing boards: 18th-century PowerPoint

Solomon’s Temple

Square and compass

Explaining More Masonic Symbols

Scythe and hourglass

The 47th Problem of Euclid or the Pythagorean theorem

Jacob’s ladder

Anchor and ark

Sun, eye, Moon, and stars

Lamb and lambskin apron

Slipper

Point within a circle and parallel lines

Pot of incense

Beehive

Plumb

Level

Letter G

Five-pointed star

Naked heart and sword

Tyler’s sword and the Book of Constitutions

Trowel

Handshake

Rough and perfect (or smooth) ashlars

Pillars

The shovel, setting maul, coffin, and sprig of acacia

24-inch gauge and the common gavel

Chapter 8: Myths and Misconceptions about Masons

Digging to the Root of Freemasonry Misunderstandings

Debunking Common Myths about Freemasonry

Riding the lodge goat

Keeping an eye on you with the all-seeing eye and the U.S. $1 bill

Reading a Masonic bible

Worshipping strange gods

Pairing up Pike and Lucifer

Taking over the world

Breaking the law

Part III: When One Lodge Isn’t Enough: The Appendant Bodies

Chapter 9: Introducing the Appendant Bodies: Who’s Who, and Who Isn’t

What Are Appendant Bodies?

Concordant bodies

Appendant bodies

So What about These Other Groups?

Animal lodges

Service clubs

Other unrelated fraternal groups

Masonic-sounding groups

Chapter 10: The York Rite

The York Rite System

Why York?

How it’s organized

Royal Arch Masonry

Mark Master

Past Master

Most Excellent Master

Royal Arch

The Cryptic Rite

Chivalric Masonry and the Knights Templar

The chivalric orders

A crash course in Templar history

Other York Rite Bodies

York Rite College

Knight Masons

Allied Masonic Degrees

Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis

Rectified Rite or Chevalier Bienfaisant de Cite Saint (CBCS)

Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests

Knights of the York Cross of Honour

Red Cross of Constantine

St. Thomas of Acon

The Operatives

York Rite Charities

Chapter 11: The Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite

Surveying the Scottish Rite System

Organization: Meeting the departments that confer degrees

Membership: Earning degrees in the Scottish Rite

Presentation: Raising the curtain and lighting the lights

Seeing How the Scottish Rite Started

France: Freemasonry’s foundry furnace

The Americas: The Scottish Rite’s real home

Meeting Albert Pike: Sage of the Scottish Rite

Pike’s life outside of Masonry

Discovering Freemasonry

Writing and revising rituals, morals, and dogma

Putting Pike in perspective

Listing the Degrees of the Scottish Rite

The Southern Jurisdiction degrees

The Northern Masonic Jurisdiction degrees

Serving Communities through Charitable Work

Chapter 12: Shriners International

Getting to Know the Shriners

Tracing the History from Partiers to Philanthropists

The Knickerbocker boys start the fun

So why the goofy hats?

The first growth of the Shrine

Polio and the first Shrine hospital

Depression and growth

Greatest philanthropy in the world

Putting a Little of the Boy Back in the Man

Becoming initiated

Gathering at temples

Forming units to suit every Shriner

Having fun in little cars

Considering the Shrine’s Place in Freemasonry

Chapter 13: The Extended Masonic Family

Bringing Women into the Lodge

The Order of the Eastern Star

The Order of the Amaranth

The White Shrine of Jerusalem

The Social Order of the Beauceant

Not Just Kidding Around: The Youth Groups

DeMolay International for boys

The International Order of the Rainbow for Girls

Job’s Daughters

Checking Out Lesser-Known Masonic Groups

The Mystic Order of the Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm of North America

The Ancient Egyptian Order of SCIOTS

The Tall Cedars of Lebanon of North America

National Sojourners

High Twelve International

Investigating Masonic Research Societies

Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076

Philalethes Society

Phylaxis Society

Scottish Rite Research Society

Lodges of research

The Masonic Society

Part IV: Freemasonry Today and Tomorrow

Chapter 14: So Is It Still Relevant?

A Breakdown in Community

Isolating individuals

Disconnecting from each other

Getting shortchanged in social capital

Where Freemasonry Fits In

Making good men better ones

Providing something for everybody

Supporting brotherly love

Involving people in charitable work

Practicing religious tolerance

Giving comfort through constancy

Chapter 15: Freemasons and the Future

Speculating on the Future of the Craft

One-day classes

Advertising

Paying your dues

Going Back to the Future

Staying small to survive

Returning to old ways

Exploring ancient lessons with new technology

Breaking Down Barriers through the Internet

Chapter 16: So You Want to Become a Freemason

Examining Why Men Become Masons

What’s in it for you

Hearing from Masons themselves

Why I joined

To Be One, Ask One

Finding a Freemason

Finding a lodge

Joining a Lodge

Qualifying for membership

Petitioning to join the lodge

Being investigated

Balloting

Scheduling your degree ceremonies

Being welcomed as a Brother

Part V: The Part of Tens

Chapter 17: Ten Groups of Famous Masons

Founding Fathers

Explorers and Adventurers

Pioneers of Science and Medicine

Actors and Entertainers

Incredible Athletes

Military Leaders

Significant Businessmen

Players in the World of Statecraft

U.S. Civil Rights Leaders

Men of Arts and Letters

Chapter 18: Ten Amazing Conspiracies, Anti-Masons, and Hoaxes

Leo Taxil and the Great Hoax!

The Illuminati!

Trilats, CFRs, and Bilderbergers, Oh My!

The Secret 33rd Degree!

Jack the Ripper: A Freemason!

The Italian P2 Lodge Scandal!

Washington, D.C., Is Satan’s Road Map!

Aleister Crowley, Satanist and Freemason!

Freemasons Founded the Nazis!

Masonic Cops! Masonic Judges!

Chapter 19: Ten Cool Masonic Places

George Washington Masonic Memorial (Alexandria, Virginia)

House of the Temple (Washington, D.C.)

Freemason’s Hall (Philadelphia)

Masonic Temple (Detroit)

Grand Lodge of the State of New York (New York City)

Scottish Rite Cathedral (Indianapolis)

Freemason Hall (London)

Templar Church (London)

Rosslyn Chapel (Roslin, Scotland)

Grande Loge Nationale Française and Other Masonic Buildings (Paris)

Part VI: Appendixes

Appendix A: The Regius Manuscript

Appendix B: Anderson’s Constitutions

i. Concerning God And Religion

ii. Of The Civil Magistrate Supreme And Subordinate

iii. Of Lodges

iv. Of Masters, Wardens, Fellows, And Apprentices

v. Of The Management Of The Craft In Working

vi. Of Behavior

Appendix C: Finding a Lodge

Cheat Sheet

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About the Author

Christopher Hodapp is the editor of the Journal of the Masonic Society. He has been a Freemason since 1998 and is a Past Master of Broad Ripple Lodge #643 and Lodge Vitruvian #767, Free & Accepted Masons of the State of Indiana. He is an honorary member of African Lodge #459, Prince Hall Affiliation, in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a member of the Royal Arch Masons, Cryptic Masons, the Allied Masonic Degrees, and the Knights Templar. He is a 33° Mason in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Indianapolis Valley, and he is a member of the Royal Order of Scotland.

He has served on the Masonic Education and Technology Committees of the Grand Lodge of Indiana and is a member of the boards of Indiana Freemasons’ Hall and the Grand Lodge of Indiana Library and Museum.

Chris is a Founding Fellow of the Masonic Society. He is a member of the Southern California Research Lodge, the Scottish Rite Research Society, the Philalethes Society, the Phylaxis Society, the Grand College of Rites of the United States of America, and the Quatuor Coronati Correspondence Circle. In 2006, Chris was presented with the Duane E. Anderson Excellence in Masonic Education Award from the Grand Lodge of Minnesota for Freemasons For Dummies.

His second book, Solomon’s Builders: Freemasons, Founding Fathers and the Secrets of Washington D.C. (Ulysses Press), was published in December 2006. He has also co-written The Templar Code For Dummies and Conspiracy Theories & Secret Societies For Dummies with Alice Von Kannon. He has written numerous articles about Freemasonry for both the Masonic and mainstream press and has appeared in numerous television documentaries about Masonry.

He has spent 25 years as a commercial filmmaker and editor and has written scripts for corporate and nonprofit clients. He and his wife Alice have spent more than 30 years positively besotted with each other, and they live with their very French poodle, Wiley, in Indianapolis.

Dedication

To Alice, to the memory of her father, and to a little group of Texas Freemasons who unknowingly started me on my journey.

Author’s Acknowledgments

This is one of those books that I wondered why no one had written over the years, and then I wound up being the guy writing it. I owe profuse and heartfelt thanks to Richard J. Elman, Grand Master of Masons in Indiana during 2004 and 2005, for many reasons too complex to bore you with here, but especially for saying, “I know someone who could write this.” I owe an equal debt of gratitude that can never be repaid to Roger S. VanGorden, Grand Master of Masons in Indiana during 2002 and 2003. From my first Internet contact with an Indiana Freemason to his boundless assistance with this book — and everything in between — Roger remains my greatest Masonic mentor, and I am ever grateful for his trust and his friendship.

Thanks to Dr. S. Brent Morris of the Scottish Rite Southern Masonic Jurisdiction and editor of the Scottish Rite Journal and Richard Curtis of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction and former editor of the Northern Light Magazine for their assistance in negotiating the shoals and eddies of the Scottish Rite. And special thanks to the late Nelson King, past president of the Philalethes Society and editor of The Philalethes Magazine, and to Bud Householder, also of the Philalethes Society, who served as technical editors of this book.

Thanks for the assistance of Brothers Jeff Naylor, Eric Schmitz, Tom Fellows, Timothy Bonney, Jim Dillman, Bill Hosler, Billy Koon, Ed King and Stephen Dafoe; for Worshipful Brother Don Seeley whose example always reminds me to get it right; and for Worshipful Brothers Jerry Cowley and Wilson Lorick, who introduced me to Prince Hall Masonry. And an extraordinary note of thanks goes to my great friend of three decades, Nathan Brindle, who never fails to whisper good counsel in my ear, and was my Brother long before we joined a lodge together.

Thanks to Tracy Boggier at Wiley Publishing, for putting a lot of trust in an unproven author and for teaching me everything I know about raising a puppy, and to my editors Elizabeth Kuball, Vicki Adang, and Caitlin Copple for calmly guiding me through the wilderness.

My deepest gratitude goes to Carolyn Steele, for taking care of business when I couldn’t. And finally, to my wife Alice, for her support and her boundless energy, and for more than 30 years of better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health. She remains my biggest cheerleader, my greatest research assistant, my dearest friend, the love of my life, and the best writer I personally know.

Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments at http://dummies.custhelp.com. For other comments, please contact our Customer Care Department within the U.S. at 877-762-2974, outside the U.S. at 317-572-3993, or fax 317-572-4002.

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Vertical Websites

Senior Project Editor: Victoria M. Adang

(Previous Edition: Elizabeth Kuball)

Senior Acquisitions Editor: Tracy Boggier

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Assistant Editor: David Lutton

Editorial Program Coordinator: Joe Niesen

Technical Editor: Bud Householder

Editorial Manager: Michelle Hacker

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Cover Photo: © Christopher Hodapp

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Indexer: Potomac Indexing, LLC

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

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Introduction

Take a look at the symbol on the cover of this book. Whether you know it or not, you’ve seen this symbol in many places — on buildings, car bumpers, jewelry, and the Internet. Chances are actually pretty good that every day you drive past a Masonic lodge without even noticing it. Chances are also pretty good that you don’t really know what a Freemason is. That’s okay. You aren’t alone.

A hundred years ago, this book wasn’t needed. Back then, 1 out of every 4 American men was a member of some kind of fraternal organization, and 1 out of every 25 men was a Freemason. So many secret handshakes, passwords, lapel pins, and funny hats were going around that it was a challenge for a man just to remember all the groups he belonged to. I’d be willing to bet that your father, grandfather, uncle, or another man in your family was a Freemason.

The Freemasons were the first, the biggest, and the best-known gentlemen’s organization in the world. Up until about 1960, if you weren’t a Mason, you at least knew what one was. As secret societies go, they were a pretty badly hidden one. If you started looking for Freemasons at your office, factory, school, or family reunion picnic back then, you could throw a stick and whack a sizeable cluster of them. Today, if you go looking for Freemasons in those same places, you’ll more than likely be met with the sort of blank stares and lizardlike slow blinks usually reserved for conversations with a tax attorney.

Literally hundreds of books that have been written by Freemasons for Freemasons have been moldy tomes or sensational speculation, filled with a miasma of mythological and metaphysical mumbo jumbo and a minimum of facts. And non-Masons who seem to have their tinfoil hats screwed on a little too snugly have peddled lots of books, accusing Freemasons of conspiracies and lunatic plots so whacked out that even an ardent X-Files fan wouldn’t fail to snort uncontrollably at them.

What’s been missing all along is a basic book by someone armed with the facts, the history, the symbolism, and the, well, real secrets. This is your book, and I’m your guy. I am a Freemason myself, a Past Master of two Masonic lodges, and I’m here to help. Don’t get me wrong. As I explain a little later, we do have some secrets that I can’t tell you, and I’m no stoolie. But the list of what I’m leaving out is a whole lot smaller than you’re probably thinking.

About This Book

Freemasonry is a strange topic. It’s not a religion, but it’s religious. It’s not a political movement, but its members have been some of the greatest political and social reformers of history. It’s not a charity or a service club, yet its various organizations operate outstanding charities. Its language comes from the 18th century, yet its lessons apply to the 21st. To really understand it, you need to know a little something about history, religion, politics, philosophy, mythology, language, and symbolism. In this book, I touch on all these topics and more.

So if Freemasonry is a secret society, how can I write a book about it if I’m supposed to keep it all a big secret? Simple. Most of the word on the street about Masonic secrecy is a big misconception, and I can tell you the history and most of the basics of modern Masonry. But as a Mason, there are a few things I’m just not going to tell you. Sorry about that. Them’s the rules. Freemasons promise not to write, print, paint, stamp, stain, cut, carve, hew, mark, or engrave any of the secrets of the fraternity so that non-Masons can discover them. The official secrets of Freemasonry are mostly the methods Freemasons use to identify each other (passwords, gestures, and secret handshakes), and a few of the details of the third and final ceremony ritual of the lodge.

Now, anti-Masons, opportunistic ex-members, and other rats have been publishing books with all the secrets of Masonry in them since about ten seconds after the first lodges met. Most libraries and bookstores have them on their shelves, and the Internet puts nearly every Masonic ritual at your fingertips. You just won’t find those very few details here. And even if you did, you wouldn’t be able to bluff your way into a Masonic lodge. Don’t even try it. We guard our doors with sharp, pointy swords, which I tell you all about in Chapter 5.

Conventions Used in This Book

This book doesn’t use many unusual conventions — I leave that for the Masons themselves. But whenever I use and define a new term, I put that term in italic. And whenever I give you an e-mail address or web address, I put it in monofont so you can easily identify it as such.

What You’re Not to Read

Freemasons For Dummies is a reference, which means that you don’t have to read it from cover to cover, and you won’t be quizzed on what you’ve read on Friday. You can skip over anything marked with a Technical Stuff icon (more about that in the “Icons Used in This Book” section, later in this Introduction). Those paragraphs likely have way more information than you’re interested in knowing — but don’t let that stop me from telling you!

You can also skip over the text in sidebars (boxes with gray shading). The information I include there is interesting, and often pretty detailed, but not necessary to your essential understanding of Freemasonry. Feel free to skip the sidebars for now and come back to them when you have the time and interest.

Foolish Assumptions

Freemasons For Dummies is actually written for a pretty wide audience, but I make a few assumptions about you. I assume at least one of the following describes you to a T:

check.png You’re Masonically clueless. If this sounds about right, don’t worry. I explain what the square and compass symbol means, where it came from, what it has to do with building buildings and laying bricks, and why so many men have strapped on a little white apron and locked themselves behind the doors of the Masonic lodge. If you found Grandpa’s Masonic ring in an old cigar box and you never knew what it was, you’ll find the answers here.

check.png You’re thinking about becoming a Freemason or you’ve recently become one. This book is a pretty concise reference, discussing the origins of the Craft, what it is and what it isn’t, what the rituals mean, how lodges are set up, and why Masons do what they do. I also help you make sense of the complex minefield of related Masonic organizations so you can understand why a Shriner is a Mason who might be a Knight Templar but not necessarily a Master of the Royal Secret. Or vice versa.

check.png You’re the wife, girlfriend, or relative of someone who’s thinking about becoming a Mason or of someone who already is a Mason and you want to know what the heck Freemasonry is all about.

check.png You’re suspicious of Freemasons and you’re pretty sure that we’re a bizarre cult — but you’re open to finding out the truth. For the curious crowd who has their heads filled with lots of anti-Masonic mush, I spend plenty of time debunking the more common myths, accusations, and urban legends that have been flung at Freemasons over the last 300 years of its modern life. If you picked up this book looking for serious answers, you’ll find them here.

How This Book Is Organized

If you perused the table of contents on your way here, you saw that this book is divided into six parts. Feel free to read them in any order you choose. After all, you paid for the privilege. Here’s what you’ll find.

Part I: What Is Freemasonry?

This section explains just what Freemasonry is and is not. If you know absolutely nothing about Freemasonry, start with Chapter 1. Chapter 2 is a long one, but it’s a crash course in Masonic history from 1000 BC until today. Chapter 3 discusses the basic beliefs and philosophy of the Masonic institution and the messages it tries to communicate to its members. Chapter 4 talks about the two subjects that Freemasons avoid talking about in lodge — politics and religion — and their effects on the development of Masonry.

Part II: The Inner Workings of Freemasonry

This section gets down to the nuts and bolts, or stones and mortar, of what goes on in a Masonic lodge. Chapter 5 identifies all the officers of the lodge and then goes on to explain the governing powers of Grand Lodges, as well as the thorny issues surrounding recognition and regularity of foreign Freemasonry. In Chapter 6, the ceremonies and rituals of Freemasonry are examined and explained, including secret stuff, bloody oaths, and the three essential Masonic degrees. Chapter 7 talks about the many mysterious symbols used by Freemasons, what they mean, and why they’re used. And Chapter 8 covers the myths, misconceptions, and party gags about Freemasonry, where they came from, why they keep getting passed around, and why your Masonic ring won’t get you out of a speeding ticket.

Part III: When One Lodge Isn’t Enough: The Appendant Bodies

Freemasons are big joiners, and becoming a Mason can often be like trying to eat one potato chip. This section shines a light on the many different groups within the Masonic family (known as appendant bodies), who joins them, who can join them, and what their appeal is. Chapter 9 is an encapsulated overview of the appendant bodies, making the distinction between Masonic organizations and other groups that look and sound similar but aren’t. Chapter 10 is an in-depth explanation of the York Rite degrees, including the Royal Arch, Cryptic, and Knights Templar. Chapter 11 concentrates on the 29 additional Scottish Rite degrees, plus the 33rd degree. Chapter 12 covers the Shriners, why they wear those overturned flowerpots on their heads, why they seem to be in love with all things motorized with wheels, and just what they have to do with being a Freemason. Chapter 13 explains the extended Masonic family, including groups for women, children, and party animals.

Part IV: Freemasonry Today and Tomorrow

How does a very old, very private fraternity that pushes faith, morality, harmony, and personal responsibility survive in an age of isolation, indifference, and no “rulz”? Chapter 14 talks about the abrupt and destructive changes to a society that used to crave togetherness but now does everything it can to keep us all strangers, and how Freemasonry holds the potential to help counteract that. Chapter 15 examines what the Masonic world is doing to get men interested again. Some of it is good, some of it isn’t, and some changes will be forced on Freemasons whether they like it or not. In Chapter 16, you discover the steps to finding a lodge and becoming a Mason.

Part V: The Part of Tens

This section of the book is a conversation starter. Chapter 17 is a list of famous Freemasons, from founding fathers, civil rights activists, and scientists to musicians, actors, and sports figures. Chapter 18 is a list of ten amazing conspiracies, anti-Masons, and hoaxes, proving that you should never trust the history you get from movies, comic books, or fellow college students while they’re drinking. Chapter 19 puts ten cool Masonic places on the map, so whether you’re a Mason or just a Masonic groupie, you’ll have plenty of sightseeing opportunities to drag your family around to.

Part VI: Appendixes

Just like your second cousin Mort in New Jersey, this book could get along without an appendix, but it wouldn’t be a proper reference book without it. So I include the two most important documents from Masonic history: the Regius Manuscript, the first written record of the workings of a Mason’s lodge; and the Ancient Charges, the framework for the government of Masonic lodges and the conduct of their members. I also include contact information for the Grand Lodges in the United States and Canada.

Icons Used in This Book

The icons lurking in the margins of this book help you home in on interesting facts as well as give you a little scenery to gaze at.

askthepastmaster.eps When a new candidate enters the Masonic lodge for the first time, he is faced with unusual rituals, strange vocabulary, and occasionally obscure traditions. New Masons are always encouraged to ask the Past Masters plenty of questions, because they’re sort of the Masonic Yodas of their lodge. They know the rituals, the rules, the right way, and the wrong way to do things. This icon is your personal Past Master. Feel free to pester him.

origins.eps This icon points out the necessary road trips into history — either an important point in Masonic history or an event in history that had an effect on the fraternity. Sometimes it’s blessedly short and to the point. Other trips into the murky mists of time take a little longer to explain and can be skipped over by anyone with a life-threatening allergy to historical subjects. They do give a deeper understanding of why we are who we are and the events that gave birth to modern Freemasonry.

remember.eps Setting aside all touristy side trips and anecdotes, this icon marks key points that are vital to understanding Freemasonry.

technicalstuff.eps This icon highlights such things as additional data, explanations of obscure rituals and practices, or other information that may interest you but can be ruthlessly skipped over without missing the important themes of the chapter.

international.eps Freemasonry is a worldwide fraternity, but it has no international governing body. As a result, there’s a lot of variation from one country (and even one state) to the next in customs, ceremonies, and other details. A lot. This book is written from the point of view of Masonry in the United States, but this icon alerts you when there are major or unusual differences in other places to be aware of.

mythbuster.eps No institution on earth has attracted more lies, half-truths, urban legends, and myths, not to mention fakers, charlatans, con artists, and humbugs, than Freemasonry. This icon takes aim at these myths and misconceptions to reveal the truth about Freemasonry.

Where to Go from Here

If you first came across the Freemasons in Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, you’ve come to the right place to find the real story. That’s fiction. These are the facts. The great news is that this is not a textbook. It’s more like a Las Vegas dinner buffet. You can cut in line, go back for an extra chicken leg, or just snag all the chocolate mousse pie, with no haughty maitre d’ to look you up and down like you’ve packed in enough chow for the night.

If all you want to know about is Masonic symbolism, pore over Chapter 7. If you’ve always heard about 33rd-degree Masons and can’t wait patiently to find out what they are, feel free to plow into Chapter 11. Secret Masonic symbols on the back of the dollar bill got you feeling nervous every time you pull out your flash wad to pay for a double cheeseburger? Brazenly saunter into Chapter 8 like you own the joint. You can always go back and read about Masonic aprons or the Shriners some other time.

Part I

What Is Freemasonry?

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In this part . . .

You’ve seen the symbol on cars, buildings, and jewelry. You’ve heard Freemasons mentioned in books and movies. Dad or Grandpa may have even been a member. So what is it? What isn’t it? What’s the big secret?

In this part, you get the crash course in Freemasonry — its mythical, legendary, and real history; its basic philosophy; and the lessons it hopes to teach its members.