Who Are The Next Freemasons?
Every time my grandfather would pick me up from preschool as a child, I sat in the backseat of his car, watching the familiar reflection of sunshine hit the ring adorning his hand on the steering wheel. I never saw him without this ring, but it wasn’t a token of his marriage to my grandmother.
Unlike a traditional wedding ring, it wasn’t worn on his left hand. Rather, he wore it on his right. But that wasn’t the only thing interesting about it. It had a thick gold band with a strange ruler and compass symbol topped with the “all-seeing eye” on a red center stone. Years later, I would learn that this symbol was associated with one of the most well-known societies in the entire world, and he was a member.
My grandfather was a Freemason. He joined the society in 1976, and before his death in 2008, he climbed the ranks to earn recognition as a 32nd-degree mason, one of the highest degrees in the order. He was a powerful man in the business community too―sitting on the board of a local credit union―and an important contributor to our local community, involving himself in many charities and other organizations. He was a philanthropic and socially just man, and like many Freemasons, he attributed his personal success to the lessons learned in this secretive community.
A (Not So) Storied Past
One of the world’s largest fraternal organizations, freemasonry first emerged in Europe around 1717, with its roots tracing back to local stonemasons in England. Within thirty years, freemasonry ideals spread as far as the American colonies, where it was widely accepted by colonists and several of our nation’s Founding Fathers.
Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine were Freemasons. Though there were more signers who were rumored to be members of the society, it was confirmed through masonic records that Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Hewes, Wiliam Hooper, Richard Stockton, George Walton, William Whipple, Robert Treat Paine, John Hancock, and William Ellery all belonged to masonic lodges on the East coast.
Thirteen signers of the Constitution and 14 US presidents (including George Washington, James Monroe, and Andrew Johnson) were also confirmed Freemasons. So were Mozart, Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, J.C. Penney (a member of the Wasatch Lodge No. 1 in downtown Salt Lake City), J. Edgar Hoover, and hundreds of other affluent men throughout history.
With a membership list full of powerful individuals like the ones listed above, it’s no secret that the Freemasons are surrounded by myth, poorly-researched misconceptions, and even some hard-to-believe urban legends. My favorite is the belief that the Eye of Providence (the all-seeing eye symbol found on the Great Seal of the United States) is an indication of heavy masonic influence in the US government when it was being created.
And while that might have been true, the reality is that this symbol has been used by artists and Christians as far back as 1525, and isn’t even exclusive to freemasonry―though, I can see why many would think this, given the fact that most of the men involved in politics at the time were also involved in the organization.
Regardless of the urban legends surrounding the society, Freemasons aren’t members of a secret cult with ulterior motives to overthrow society or take over the government. I’m told by members of the society themselves that being a mason means something much different. And it’s much less sinister.
A (Not So) Secret Society
“[We’re] not a secret society, but a private society,” explains John Liley as he walks me through his masonic lodge. Liley is a 33rd-degree freemason, and the official spokesperson and former grandmaster of the Utah Grand Lodge in Salt Lake City. He’s also a local mortgage professional. I find myself getting nostalgic as he shows me the rooms used for lodge (or, masonic meeting) because he’s walking me through the same one I once visited as a child.
Despite what Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol may lead you to believe, members of the Masonic fraternity know nothing about where the Holy Grail is buried or when world gold supply is going to fluctuate. They are not a religious group either. “We’re not scrolling bonds and we’re not some secret society that rules the world,” he tells me.
Instead, they are a community. And communities have a powerful effect on society. Communities create important connections get public officials elected, and hire CEOs. Far more than any other skill, the “networking” that comes with being part of a community has been showing to be the greatest indicator of success.
The proof is in the statistics: according to a Virgin USA study, 85 percent of jobs are filled through networking and 80 percent of professionals consider networking to be crucial to career success. And James Jackson, III, founder of the Black Chamber would definitely agree. He lives by the Robert Kiyosaki phrase, “the rich build networks, everyone else looks for work.”
Jackson was recently informed that his position at Zions Bank was being eliminated. So he turned to his network for help, and they were able to connect him with several job opportunities that might end up being better for him in the long run. And he didn’t have to post his resume on Indeed or spend hours online looking for open positions. Instead, he turned to his network and they were able to help him when it mattered most.
“I don’t think I am rich financially, but my network makes me feel like I’m rich,” says Jackson. “When I need help with something, need a contact, a recommendation, or just need a lift in confidence, I have a network that can do any of that. I feel like nothing is impossible.” And he says that a large enough network brings everything you need to succeed, personally or professionally.
But networking isn’t all about just getting a new job. As shown by the Freemasons, networking expands your mind and introduces you to people that otherwise you might not have known. Liley likes to call the Freemasons “the original social network,” because back in the 1700s, there weren’t things like LinkedIn. “In my lodge, we have lawyers, we have doctors, we have sanitation workers, guys that work for the city, guys that fly airplanes, guys who are in the military, even banking,” he says.
“[Our members] come from all walks of life. And they say that freemasonry takes these men, who would otherwise remain at a perpetual distance, and makes them friends.” Though, it should be noted that one does not become a Freemason for solely selfish reasons like expanding their social network. Rather, one becomes a Freemason to improve themselves as individuals and then go forth and better the society as a whole.
And there is no better way to do that than with a community of likeminded individuals.
A (New) Network
Though the Freemasons were once one of the largest fraternal organizations in the world, membership has declined steadily over the last decade. At the peak of its popularity in the 1960s, there were over four million registered freemasons in the United States. As of 2017, membership was at it’s lowest with little more than a million participants nationwide.
“We still have over 1,900 members or so [in Utah] but we don’t have the numbers that we used to,” says Liley. He mentions things like changes in lifestyle and culture have contributed to lower membership rates, “If you think about it in the old days, there weren’t sports games, there wasn’t TV on every night, there weren’t all of these distractions that have become what society is today.”
Even though freemasonry isn’t as big today as it was in the 1960s, there are still other unique ways for one to expand their community. With urban lore as legendary as that of the Freemason’s, alumni from Ivy League colleges have an equally as powerful community thanks to the inclusivity of the schools, and Liana Kinard, Vice President of Marketing at the Buckner Group could certainly attest to that.
Kinard decided she wanted to further her education, so she enrolled in the Harvard Extension School program to earn her Master’s in business and management. Doing so has allowed her to create lasting friendships with some of the most powerful business leaders in the entire country.
“I do 70 percent [of my schooling] in Utah, and 30 percent on campus,” says Kinard of her schedule, mentioning that many students in the extension program are already experts in their fields and are taking the program to enhance themselves and their careers. “My classmates are executives at Twitter to head designers for Beats by Dre, even the top health care consultant for Mackenzie Healthcare.”
And according to her, the comradery between her classmates is what keeps her focused on the program. “It’s amazing how quickly you build relationships,” she says, mentioning that she has developed connections across the world because of the program. “All of a sudden, the people that I am calling for advice are in DC, New York, Japan, and Australia.”
Kinard is expected to graduate in May of 2021 but knows that she will still depend on her Harvard community, even after graduation. “Everyone [in the program] is very humble, rooted, and so willing to help,” she says. “The friends I struggled [in this program with] will be lifelong friends.”
Lifelong friends. That resonated with me. Because no matter how you choose to do it―whether it be through Masonic lodge, classes at Harvard, or just by communicating with a group of other like-minded individuals― it’s absolutely no secret that building a community can have lasting effects on your personal and professional life.
Eleven years ago, my grandfather passed away after a long fight with cancer. Due to his involvement in freemasonry, he requested that his memorial service be held at the Scottish Rite (the Scottish rite is one of the several “rites” in freemasonry) building. What normally would have been a sad event turned into a wonderful celebration of my grandfather’s life when all of his Masonic brothers arrived to honor him with one last ritual.
Even after death, he still had his community of brothers, and that made him truly rich.