GOOD Guide: to Shadowy Organizations, the Freemasons

The quintessential shadowy organization, Freemasons have been connected with almost any conspiracy you can think of.

"Ordo ab chao" ("Order from chaos")

DOCTRINEFreemasonry espouses the values of "brotherly love," "relief" (i.e., charity), and "truth" (i.e., good morals). The masonry part comes from the idea that by applying to our lives the precepts of ancient master builders we can all benefit-of course, those precepts are proprietary Masonic knowledge.

HEADQUARTERSIn the United States, each state has a Grand Lodge with smaller, subordinate lodges, but every Grand Lodge is independent, as are foreign Grand Lodges. The United Grand Lodge of England, which has some sway over international Freemasonry, especially in the United Kingdom-can be found in London at 60 Great Queen Street. In Washington, D.C.-where the most powerful American Masons probably practice secret handshakes-the lodge is at 5428 MacArthur Boulevard, NW. MYTHICAL ACHIEVEMENTSThe quintessential shadowy organization, Freemasons have been connected with almost any conspiracy you can think of, from powerful Jews of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to Satan worship to the faked moon landing-not to mention nearly all the other groups mentioned here.GREATEST ACTUAL ACHIEVEMENTThe Shriners (the Masonic subgroup with the fezzes and little cars) have donated almost $10 billion to building hospitals and supplying free health care for children. A commonly cited statistic is that U.S. Masons give $2 million to charity every day. MembershipThough Freemasonry is alleged to have been founded by the men who built Solomon's Temple, its first recorded appearance is more than 2,000 years later, in 1717. Today, any man over 21 who believes in "a supreme being" can join the ranks-after forking over a small fee, passing a cursory background investigation by fellow lodge members, and then engaging in a fairly tame ritual involving hammers, chisels, blindfolds, and references to the building of the temple.AlumniFreemasonry counts innumerable historical figures among its membership, including Voltaire, Atatürk, Salvador Allende, and Winston Churchill. George Washington was an especially committed Mason, leading to many of the founding-of-America-as-Masonic-plot theories. In fact, many signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were Masons, along with 13 other presidents (Jackson, both Roosevelts, and Truman among them) and more than 30 Supreme Court justices.The ExposéAn Anti-Masonic political party ran presidential candidates in 1828 and 1832. Since then, Masons have tried to moderate their secrecy with transparency about their aims, if not their practices. Most lodges offer tours. There is even a Freemasons entry in the For Dummies series, but if there were something to hide, one of the 5 million members worldwide probably would have let something slip by now. Still, Dan Brown's upcoming Mason-themed novel, The Solomon Key, will probably reignite some of the fire.In Their Own WordsRonald Steiner, the head of the communications umbrella for the Grand Lodge of New York, says, "We do have some handshakes and means of recognition. But we would like the world to know who we are and what we are, and hope that they will recognize that we are a force for good in this troubled world."

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