Niagara Falls Review
Dispelling the myth of the Masons
Monday, March 9, 2009
By John Law, Niagara Falls Review
It's a secret society that hid treasure around the world during the American Revolution.
It's a centuries-old cult that once had William Shakespeare and Thomas Jefferson among its ranks.
It's a club so powerful, everyone who signed the Declaration of independence was a member.
Actually, none of those are true, but they're part of the mythology surrounding Freemasonry, that fraternal organization with about five million members worldwide.
They aren't a cult, or a religion, or a service club. So what are they, exactly? And what were they up to in Niagara Falls this weekend?
Ontario Mason Grand Master Allan Petrisor has a chuckle at all this talk of mystery. Yes, he admits, the Freemasons hold things close to the vest, but they aren't sworn to secrecy by some ancient ritual.
You just need to join to 'get it.'
"Those who aren't Masons wonder what it's all about and you really never find out until you become a Mason," said Petrisor before speaking at a reception held by the Niagara District lodges Saturday at the Americana Resort. "It's a leap of faith."
"It's not a cult, and it's not (like) Scientology. But it is one of the oldest and largest fraternal organizations in the world dedicated to the brotherhood of man."
The Freemasons have been around since the late 16th century and adhere to a code of self-fulfillment and the betterment of their brothers and community at large. Their most secret aspect are certain words and gestures used to recognize other members of the fraternity.
The group's code is symbolized by the tools of the stonemason. They meet once a month in Masonic lodges (there are 26 in Niagara), and members can only join at the behest of other Masons. If two from the same lodge recommend you, a committee will examine your character - even meet your family - and make a recommendation to the lodge. A secret ballot then determines whether you're in.
"You have to ask a Mason to join, because we won't ask you," says Petrisor.
The only criteria: You must be 21 or older, male, and believe in a supreme being: God, Allah, it doesn't matter. You aren't judged by your religion.
Books like "The Da Vinci Code" and movies like "National Treasure" capitalized on the mystery of Freemasonry. In a classic 1995 episode of the Simpsons, Homer is crowned new leader of a secret club called The Stonecutters - a group so ominous, they hold back the electric car and rig every Oscar show.
Not quite says Petrisor, a dentist from Woodstock who joined the Freemasons in 1970.
"We're a moral institution ... a brotherhood of like-minded men who get together and share a lot of common areas."
Joining the brotherhood requires an obligation to each other, he adds. Masons, by nature, stay out of trouble because they simply don't want to let each other down.
"By associating with these other good men, you want to uphold those lessons that you're learning. You join a group and you don't want to do something that will reflect badly on that group.
"We can't account for the actions of everyone, but the Masons are mostly a moralistic society."
That's what intrigued former Fort Erie math teacher Ric Simpson when he retired. He joined the Masons believing he would "stick around" for six months.
Nineteen years later, "I'm here 'til I drop."
He was among dozens of Niagara Masons and their wives who gathered to hear Petrisor speak about Masonry's place in today's world, and the importance of past Grand Masters to lead the way. "Everybody I met that I admired turned out to be a Mason," says Simpson. "I wanted to find out why."