PITTSFIELD — Thirteen presidents, including Williams College graduate James A. Garfield, have been Freemasons. So have such disparate personalities as NAACP founder W.E.B. Du Bois of Great Barrington, and Confederate General George Pickett, who led his army’s last desperate charge at Gettysburg. Yet, the famous names have done little to raise Freemasonry’s public profile. Freemasonry is known more for the secrecy and mystery that surround its traditional rituals and symbols than for the personal growth its members acquire and the charitable events they sponsor.
Not all of Freemasonry’s rituals and symbols are private, but Berkshire members say the public perception of the nonprofit organization is formed by the publicity that is given to these rituals.
The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, the state’s governing body, believes part of the “mystique” surrounding Freemasonry is attributed to the speculation about the organization’s roots, which have never been conclusively determined. Freemasonry is thought to have begun from English and Scottish guilds of stonemasons during the Middle Ages, but documents exist that trace geometry and masonry to ancient Egypt.
“The biggest secret about masons is there are no secrets,” said Bob Ciempa of Adams, district deputy grand master of the six lodges located between Dalton and Williamstown. Ciempa later attributes that quote to Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere, who became the grand master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in 1794.
Freemasonry was very popular among the Founding Fathers. Benjamin Frankin, John Hancock, Henry Knox and George Washington were all members of the group. Masons are believed to have participated in the Boston Tea Party and been among the patriots who fought at the battles of Lexington and Concord.
Charles Hunter Jr. of Middlefield, the District Deputy Grand Master of the six Berkshire lodges between Great Barrington and Pittsfield, believes the Founding Fathers were content to keep the organization’s existence hidden. Considering those men were engaged in a war with Great Britain at the time, that idea is entirely plausible.
Staying under the radar for so long was also a way for masons to attract attention.
“At one point in time, they thought it would be better to keep it a mystery because we live in a country where drama and mystery attracts people,” Ciempa added.
Freemasons identify each other through grips, signs and words that are used to gain admission to meetings and identify visitors. Masons use these symbols to signify their standing within the organization when they meet other members, Ciempa said.
There are also the symbols, metaphors of architecture, such as the square and compass, that are found in every lodge. There is also the “all seeing eye,” similar to the eye on the back of a $1 bill, which is used to signify a supreme being.
The square is often used by lodge officers as a way to show they are either being “square” or “level” with their fellow members, while the compass can signify that a lodge’s actions are within the bounds of mankind.
Kevin McGinnis of Lee, who belongs to lodges in West Stockbridge and Pittsfield, said sometimes use of the symbols can spill out into conversation.
“Something is square or we’re talking on the level, or you’re putting me through the third degree,” he said. “It’s kind of funny.”
Article Taken from: http://www.berkshireeagle.com/headlines/ci_5835432