Freemasons For Dummies
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Modern Freemasonry has been around since 1717. The first concocted untruths about the Order appeared in print at almost the same time. The United States was consumed by anti-Masonic hysteria in the late 1820s, and Europe has made Mason-bashing a popular sport for two centuries, often tying it to anti-Semitic propaganda. The Internet has only served to resurrect these myths, as they get dragged out and repeated all over again. Here are some of the most common ones.

The lodge goat

Freemasons do not ride a goat in their lodges. It's a joke, perpetrated often by Masons themselves on nervous initiates.

Since at least the Middle Ages, the goat has been symbolic of the devil, and stories were circulated then of witches who called forth Satan, who came riding into town on a goat to take part in their blasphemous orgies. Then, as the Freemasons gained in popularity, detractors accused them of witchcraft, which is probably where the notion of initiates riding a goat came from.

It didn't help that some early ritual books from the fraternity referred to God as "God of All Things" and abbreviated it as G.O.A.T. That was quickly changed, and God is now referred to by Masons by the acronym G.A.O.T.U., for Grand Architect of the Universe.

Old catalogs from fraternal supply companies in the late 1800s actually offered mechanical goats for use in other fraternal organizations and "fun" degrees. As the golden age of fraternalism resulted in literally hundreds of other groups popping up in competition with the Masons, some were obviously less serious than others. Such items only served to perpetuate the myth that Masons and other fraternities required a goat-ride ritual for their initiations. Freemasonry never has.

Rest assured: There is no lodge goat. The degrees of Masonry are serious business to Freemasons, and there is no horseplay (or goatplay).

The All-Seeing Eye and the U.S. $1 bill

If you saw the movie National Treasure, you know all about this one. The back of the U.S. $1 bill contains Masonic imagery of the All-Seeing Eye over an Egyptian pyramid. And everybody knows that's a Masonic symbol, right?

Well, not really. The eye and the pyramid are actually part of the Great Seal of the United States, which was put on the back of the $1 bill in 1935. There is indeed an All-Seeing Eye floating over an unfinished pyramid, with the words annuit coeptis (Latin meaning, "He [God] has favored our undertakings").

Beneath it are the words, novus ordo seclorum, which translate as "A new order of the ages." It does not mean "a new world order," as has been alleged, which is just one more reason to lament that high schools don't teach Latin classes anymore. (New world order would be written as novus ordo mundi. So there. Now go conjugate ten irregular verbs.)

A committee of four men, including Benjamin Franklin (the only Freemason in the bunch), designed the Great Seal of the United States in 1776. The image of the eye within a triangle to represent God was suggested by the only artist among them, Pierre du Simitiere — who was not a Freemason. Two other committees tinkered with the design before being approved. The unfinished pyramid was suggested by Francis Hopkinson (another non-Mason), and none of the final designers was a Mason.

The eye within a triangle to represent God appears throughout the Renaissance, long before speculative Freemasonry arrived on the scene. The triangle being three-sided represents the Christian belief in the Trinity of God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No records associate Freemasonry with the symbol before 1797, nor is the symbol in any way related to the Bavarian Illuminati.

As for the unfinished pyramid, it represents the strong, new nation of the United States, destined to stand for centuries, just as the famous pyramids have stood in Egypt. There are 13 rows of stones, representing the 13 original colonies, with the image of God watching over them.

Many Masonic lodges, especially in Europe, display the All-Seeing Eye just as it is used on the $1 bill — as a nondenominational representation of God. There is nothing sinister or occult about it, and there are numerous instances of it appearing in Christian art from the 1600s onward.

The Masonic bible

Masons have been accused of using their own, presumably Satanic, bible in their ceremonies. Many people have seen Masonic bibles for sale on eBay and elsewhere and clearly believe that Bibles used by Masons are somehow different.

This myth is actually a two-part one. Lodges in predominantly Christian communities commonly have the custom of presenting the new Master Mason with a commemorative heirloom Bible. In the United States, the most common one is the 1611 translation of the King James version, published especially for Masonic lodges by Heirloom Bible Publishers of Wichita, Kansas. It contains an area in the front for the Mason to commemorate important dates in his degree work, places for his brethren to sign the record of his degrees, and a 94-page glossary of biblical references relating to Masonic ceremonies, along with essays about Masonry and some common questions and answers. The rest of it is the entire King James version of the Old and New Testament that is available in any bookstore.

The second part of this myth has to do with the use of the Volume of Sacred Law in a Masonic lodge. All regular, well-governed lodges must have a book considered sacred to its members open on the lodge altar during meetings. Depending on what part of the world the lodge is in and the beliefs of the lodge's members, this sacred book could be the Bible, the Hebrew Tanach, the Muslim Koran, the Hindu Veda, the Zoroastrian Zend-Avesta, or the Proverbs of Confucius. It's simply referred to as the Volume of Sacred Law, as a nonsectarian term.

In the lodges that operate within the Grand Orient of France, atheists are allowed to join. The Grand Orient believes that a man's religious beliefs — or lack of them — are his own business and that it's improper for their lodges to require him to believe in anything. Furthermore, instead of filling up their altars with many sacred books to satisfy members of many faiths, their lodges are allowed to substitute a book with blank pages as their Volume of Sacred Law, so as not to force any religious beliefs on any of their members. Remember: The Grand Orient of France is considered irregular and is unrecognized by mainstream Grand Lodges around the world. Even so, a blank book is no Masonic Bible either.

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