Dating to 18th-century London, Freemasonry is one of the oldest of these operating fraternal orders, although the group’s mythology claims it is rooted in the building of King Solomon’s Temple around 966 B.C. Like many similar groups, the Masons were borne out of a British craft guild, wherein stone layers learned the tricks of the trade. A present day member named Lettelier, who is a York Rite Mason, a Scottish Rite Mason, a Shriner, and a Past Master of his Lodge in Havana, provides some insight into the not-so-secret society of the Freemason.
“The concept of freemasonry, which taught architecture and geometry, goes back thousands of years,” Lettelier says. “The Greek temples, the pyramids in Egypt, you name it—none of that could have been built without a knowledge of mathematics. So whenever you see the square and compass with the letter G in the center, that stands for God or sacred Geometry.
Back in the 1500s and 1600s when the great European cathedrals were being built, a ‘freemason’ was a bricklayer or stonemason, who was free to travel and work,” he continues. “This was a big deal, because most men weren’t free. There were kings and knights, but the serfs were owned by the king. Uniquely, Freemasons were people who were allowed to travel, work, and receive master-masons wages wherever they went. They were accomplished tradesmen. Back then, you probably spent 10 years as an apprentice before you received a degree. If you gave up the secrets of geometry to someone who wasn’t worthy or well-qualified, the Freemasons would literally put you to death.”
Modern-day Freemasonry, however, emerged when the stone masonry guilds began to initiate honorary members, armchair architects or intellectuals excited about the new ideas of reason and science that were catching on during the Enlightenment. “Geometry is taught in colleges now,” Lettelier says. “But 200 years ago, geometry was only taught in Masonic Lodges. During the Renaissance, men of social class joined their local Masonic Lodges so that they could learn these things.”
A Masonic “Grand Lodge” (also “Grand Orient”) is the governing body that supervises and governs the individual “Lodges” of Freemasons in any particular geographical area or “jurisdiction”, (usually corresponding to a national boundary or other major political unit). Some are large, with thousands of members divided into hundreds of subordinate Lodges. Others are tiny, with only a few members in one or two subordinate Lodges.
“This figure is reproduced here because the Egyptian Thoth is the equivalent of the Grecian Hermes and the Roman Mercury, the true Grand Master of All Symbolic Lodges. From the earliest Masonic manuscripts we see Hermes represented as the ideal of the Master of the lodge and in some traditions is even said to be the founder of Masonry.” - Rex R. Hutchens - A Bridge To Light - pg. 167
The Hiwassee Union Baptist Church in Reliance, Tennessee, was built in about 1899, Church members and members of the local Masonic Lodge joined together to construct the building, the upstairs of which was used as a Lodge meeting room and the downstairs was used for church services. The church was also used as a school for a short time. There was a river ferry very near the church, and every Sunday the church paid for the crossing for those who wished to attend services. They had the place locked up as tight as can be, so the interior photo was shot through a window.
A local group of Masons is trying to reshape the way that California Freemasons conduct themselves in accordance with their obligations. Brethren from Beneficent Lodge No. 4 in Burbank have announced their official intention to petition the Grand Lodge of California to include Wheaton’s Law–an axiom coined by Wil Wheaton of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame that admonishes others “not to be a dick”–in the obligations found within the Masonic ritual.
Society Adventures: Masonic Mysteries and Historic Cocktails at the Grand Lodge of New York
Ever fascinated by the impenetrable Freemasons, the New York Obscura Society recently delved into the fascinating world of secret societies with an elaborate cocktail gala at the Grand Masonic Lodge of New York.
Founded in 1782 and at one time holding the largest membership of any Masonic lodge worldwide, New York’ s Grand Lodge contains floor after floor of ornate hallways and decadently designed rooms, all discreetly hidden within a rather nondescript 23rd Street location. Typically accessible only to initiated Freemasons, the building is as grand and full of mystery as the historic organization itself.
“Evil will never seize to exist until selfishness and greed are overcome as factors in dictating the attitudes of men. It is the common thing for the concrete mind to sacrifice the eternal for the temporal. Man, concentrating upon the limited area of the known, loses sight of the effect of his actions upon the limitless area of the unknown. Shortsightedness, consequently, is the cause of endless misery. Moral shortsightedness results in vice, philosophical shortsightedness in materialism, religious shortsightedness in bigotry, rational shortsightedness in fanaticism.”
BY ALLISON MEIER / 09 JUL 2014
At Atlas Obscura, we’ve written about libraries in cemeteries, on the backs of burros, in Masonic lodges, and other unexpected places around the world. Yet with summer in season and the train to the Rockaways inviting us away from the office here in NYC, there idea of finding a good read on the beach is irresistible.
Books and the beach go together like sun and sand, and around the world libraries have been set up right by the shore. From Spain to Tel Aviv, pop-up mobile carts and elaborately designed structures are offering books to beachgoers to read for free.
Discover all the beaches and books atlas obscura has to offer…