"Sunday Morning" looks at the rumors,
fears and conspiracy theories sparked by the Freemasons' fraternal order, its secrets and rituals.
1. When meeting, Masons do not discuss
religion or politics.
certain subjects which are prevented or we simply proscribe from
discussing within the lodge," Piers Vaughan, master of St. John's Lodge #1
in New York, told Mo Rocca. "And religion is one. Politics is another."
One of the world's leading experts on Freemasonry confirms.
"Do they discuss
forms of politics and events that have happened? Yes, they do," said UCLA
history professor Margaret Jacob. "Do they say, 'Well, I'm a Democrat and
therefore I think ...' Or, 'I'm a
Republican ... ' No, I don't think they
2. Freemasonry is not a religion.
the look of a religion," said Jacob. "You think of religion as
ritual, there's also this ritual element.
But there are no priests, there are no ministers, there are no rabbis,
there's no system of clergy of any sort.
Everybody's their own thinker."
3. The Catholic Church condemns Freemasonry.
Jacob said the
initial response to Freemasonry in continental Europe, particularly in Catholic
Europe, was suspicion from seeing "all these men [from] different neighborhoods,
different professions meeting in the cafe, breaking bread together, doing
rituals, what could this be? Political
conspiracy or religion."
In 1738 the Catholic
Church condemned Freemasonry, and has since issued about 20 decrees -- directly or indirectly -- against the
fraternity. In 1983 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) re-affirmed this position.
4. Atheists are not welcome.
Freemasonry is not a
religion per se, but agnostics or atheists cannot belong, said Brent Morris, a Masonic
historian, editor of the Scottish Rite Journal, and a 33rd degree Freemason.
"This is an organization
of believers," he said. "When it was started on a formal basis in
1717, many historians believe that it was trying to bridge the gap between the
religious civil wars that had been going on in England at the time. The Catholics would get in power and beat up
on the Protestants; the Protestants would get in power and beat up on the
Catholics; and everyone was beating up on the Jews.
"So when the
Freemasons were formed, [they] said, 'Here's a group of men that agree that God
is central in their lives, they can even agree that God compels them to do good
in the community, then they can shut up after that." That was a radical concept -- that men could
get together and agree on that fundamental level, and then get on with their
So could an atheist
join? No, said James Sullivan, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York: "The
reason we, I think in the past, wanted somebody that had a belief in a supreme
being is because we take certain obligation to be a good man, to support the
fraternity. And if you didn't have a
belief in a supreme being, the obligation would mean nothing."
5. Most of the Founding Fathers were NOT
Two of America's
earliest presidents, George Washington and James Monroe, were Freemasons, as
were Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Paul Revere. But many leading figures in the American
Revolution -- including John and Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison
and Thomas Paine -- were not Masons.
Of the 56 figures who
signed the Declaration of Independence, only nine were confirmed Masons,
according to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania; and of the 39 delegates of the
Continental Congress who signed the draft of the new nation's Constitution in
1787, only 13 (one-third) were Freemasons.
6. There are NO secret Masonic symbols on the U.S.
The back of the collar bill features an incomplete pyramid with an
eye on top of it. Many people -- including some Freemasons - say it's a
Masonic symbol, but that's not the case. UCLA's Margaret Jacob says
these symbols have been used by many different groups, including Masons,
"I'm sure there are a lot of
Freemasons who want to believe [they're Masonic symbols] and who will tell it to you, because it
makes the Lodges seem important," Jacob said. "I mean, if you have a symbol on the dollar
bill, that's a big deal!"
Brent Morris said
there are two types of people who want to promote the idea that the symbols are
Masonic: "The pro-Masons and the anti-Masons -- and that pretty well
covers the universe.
"The Eye of God
is a common icon for God looking over the affairs of man," Morris said.
"It's an icon that appears in cultures across the centuries. The
uncompleted pyramid [which also appeared on a 50-pound Colonial note]
represented that our country was not yet completed, that we were continuing to
7. The Shriners are Freemasons.
The Shriners (known formally as the
Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine), the charity organization
best known in the popular mind for driving tiny cars in parades, are an
off-shoot of the Masons. They run 22 children's hospitals where patients don't pay a cent.
"You must be a Mason to become a Shriner,"
8. The secret Masonic password originated as a
Masonry began as a guild for stone masons who built the castles and cathedrals of Medieval Europe. "If you were a
baker, a miller, a brewer, you could spend your entire life in one village
practicing your trade," said Morris. "If you are a mason, after they
repair the church or build the town hall, there might not be any mason work in
that town for decades, so you had to move to another jobsite.
illiterate; the officers of the lodge are probably illiterate. So that's why
they believe the Masons' word came into effect.
It allowed the craftspeople to move from one jobsite to another and
identify themselves as being part of the trade union.
evidence in Scotland going back to the early 1600s that the Masons' word
existed, and [that] was how you as a Mason in Edinburgh could identify yourself
to a Mason in Lancashire that you were a member of the guild and could have
secret handshakes?" asked Rocca.
handshakes, of course," replied Morris. "I mean, what's the point of
having a password if you don't have a handshake?"
9. There is no hidden Masonic code on Rolling
Rock beer bottles.
Introduced in 1939,
the Rolling Rock brand of beer, from the Latrobe Brewing Company of Pennsylvania,
ends a statement on its label with the cryptic "33." Over the years it has been suggested that it
refers to the 33rd degree of Scottish Rite Freemasonry.
"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry" (Alpha), Latrobe insists
the "33" refers to 1933, the year Prohibition ended.
In 1986, Cecil Adams' "The Straight Dope" column investigated this urban legend and found
that "33" actually was scribbled under the statement, indicating how
many words it contained, and the printer mistakenly added it to the label. [You
see, it's always printing errors.]