By Roland Lakey

There are secret societies meeting all over Oregon, many right here in Portland.  Some have been here for more than 100 years.  And they are growing all the time. Don’t worry though.  Despite old rumors that they are going to take over the world, Oregon Freemasons are a pretty friendly bunch!  Chances are you know quite a few.

Freemasonry is the oldest fraternal organization in the world.  It is dedicated to promoting improvement in the character of its members and to philanthropy.  A Mason is taught to be a good citizen, to be of good character, to care for those less fortunate, and to give back to his community.  One of Masonry’s catch phrases is, “we take good men and make them better.”

aSymbols-of-Freemasonry-GFreemasonry (these days usually termed “Ancient, Free, and Accepted”) traces its roots to the Europe of the Middle Ages, and its association with actual or ‘operative’ stone masons.  They roamed old Europe building the glorious cathedrals, monasteries, and castles of the period.  They were styled ‘free’ because during those times, very few were granted the privilege of roaming ‘free’ to ply their trade.  This demonstrates the degree of respect in which these craftsmen were held.  These groups, or guilds, eventually accepted members who were not actual working stone masons but prominent and worthy residents in their communities, hence the term “accepted”, and Freemasonry was born.

Many prominent characters in American history have been ‘brother’ Masons.  Fourteen presidents, including George Washington, Teddy and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry Truman, have been Masons.  It is even rumored that the great Jefferson himself was a Mason.   The list seems almost endless and covers every walk of American life;  Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington, Charles Lindbergh, John Wayne, Brigham Young and Joseph Smith, Ernest Borgnine, Will Rogers, Roy Rogers and Jimmy Rodgers … you get the picture.

The Masonic fraternity contributes over $1 billion each year to its philanthropic pursuits, with over $750 million of that in the United States.  Most do not realize that Shriners, yes those fellows with bright red hats, funny little cars and wonderful children’s hospitals, are Masons.  Virtually every Masonic organization has at least one, and most several, charities to which they dedicate their efforts.

Oregon currently has approximately 110 ‘blue’ lodges, the basic Masonic unit accommodating the first three ‘degrees’ of Masonry. As might be expected, the majority of these follow the state’s population pattern; that is Portland, the I-5 corridor, the coast, and the Columbia River.  At last count there were 8,600 blue lodge members. But that is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg!  The Oregon Masonic family has literally scores of ancillary bodies. The two most prominent are the York Rite and the Scottish Rite with all their intermediate degrees.  The Scottish Rite numbers its degrees up to 33.  The York Rite names theirs, the highest being the Knights Templar.  Blue lodge members may belong to either or both of these, or none.  It remains their choice.  And of course there are numerous honorary associations catering to every taste and fancy.  Add to this all the national and international levels and you begin to get the scope of Masonry.

Now all this seems a little ‘masculine’ to say the least! And true, membership of the already mentioned bodies is mostly limited to men over 18.  Fear not, the ladies are not overlooked by any means.  Nearly every male body has an auxiliary for the fairer sex, and some groups are focused on, but not limited to, the ladies. The Order of the Eastern Star and the Order of Amaranth are among the more prominent.  There are also numerous youth groups for all ages.

Putting all these together, it begins to look suspiciously like there may be a degree of truth to the “taking over the world” rumor!  Again, don’t worry!  Couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Despite all the Masonic claims to be striving for improvement, which are indeed genuine, they suffer from all the human frailties that everyone else does.  No, they cannot leap tall buildings.  They just choose to handle their imperfections differently than most do.

While they may not be able to leap tall buildings, they are willing to stand on each other’s shoulders to achieve the desired ends.  And what are those ends?  Why simply to make the world a better place for everyone who shares it.  Conspiracy theorists even venture that there are ancient connections between the Masons and the original Knights Templar and even the Druids!  In America, the square and compasses circumscribe a large capital “G”.   Some say it stands for ‘geometry.’  Some for ‘God.’ Some say they might be the same thing.  The one undeviating requirement of Masonry is that the Mason have faith in a higher power.  Call them what you will, but in Masonic vernacular, a Great Architect of the Universe.  How you choose to perceive and worship is up to you.

Masonry is a true fraternity but is it a ‘secret society’?   Or just a society with secrets?  True, they have closed rituals, secret handshakes and passwords.  Who doesn’t!  But they can be found in every telephone directory and, these days, on line.  Nearly every Masonic building is adorned with a giant overlapping ‘square and compasses’, ancient stone-working tools of the Master Mason, prominently, and proudly, displayed somewhere on the outside.  Don’t remember the KGB doing that, although the CIA in Langley does have a rather conspicuous road sign!

By the way, Masons are prohibited from recruiting, so, 2 B 1 ask 1.

Roland Lakey is a 32 degree Scottish Rite Mason and a York Rite Knight Templar. He is the chaplain of Washington Lodge No. 46 in SE Portland.