Freemasons seeing revival

Duane Hicks

At a time when membership in community groups is on a decline, Ontario Freemasons saw more than 1,300 men join last year, bolstering their numbers to nearly 50,000.
During a visit to Granite Lodge here last Friday and Saturday, Ontario Grand Master Raymond Daniels said Freemasonry is enjoying a revival.
“We are the oldest and largest fraternal organization in the world,” noted Daniels, who lives in Kitchener-Waterloo.
“We are founded on high moral standards and ethical values—the old-fashioned core values of honesty, integrity, justice.
“We also have a philanthropic side. In other words, we try to help people in need not only within the fraternity but without,” Daniels added, noting each district has a project, such as the MasoniChip child identification program being done here in Rainy River District.
“We are an initiatory order because we do initiate our brethren into the three degrees of Freemasonry, and that means we are in, what I say, the life-changing process of men,” Daniels remarked.
He explained the term “masons” goes back to traditional roots in the stone mason guilds of Europe, which built abbeys, castles, and cathedrals during the Middle Ages.
“We adopted their terminology, their symbols, and many of the artifacts . . . from those stone masons’ guilds,” he noted.
“Stone is the most durable and enduring natural building material known to man, the pyramids of Egypt being a pretty good example of that,” Daniels added.
“As builders of character that we hope will be just as enduring and durable and lasting, we chose stone as the symbol.”
Each Masonic lodge has two blocks of stone sitting in its meeting room—one rough, the other polished.
“As a gentleman’s philosophical society, which Freemasonry is in the modern terminology, that tells you the whole philosophy,” he remarked.
“We take a solid block of stone, a good man, and he refines it, he works on his character, and we aim to be the polished block of stone.
“I will often say, between those two simple symbols that are in every Masonic lodge in the world, that really is the entire philosophy of Freemasonry,” Daniels continued.
“When you work stone, you don’t add anything to it,” he explained. “You take away the rough bits, you go inside the stone to reveal its inner beauty.
“Hopefully, the man will go inside himself. It really has to do with self-improvement.”
Daniels said this involves a five-part process, including self-examination, self-discovery, self-analysis, self-realization, and self-fulfilment “to become the best man he can become.”
In the modern world, Daniels said there’s no stability in the workplace, there’s no stability in families, there’s scandal in high places, and sports figures make headlines for their indiscretions.
“Where does a young man look for a role model?” he asked. “This is why last year, 1,350 young men came to us, knocking on our door, seeking admission.
“As I talked to these young men, invariably they are looking for something they haven’t found anywhere else so far in the world around them,” Daniels noted.
“They’re saying, ‘I’ve been missing something. Maybe I can find it in Freemasonry?’
“We have our traditional core values,” Daniels stressed. “Please believe me, we’re neither gods nor heroes, we’re not perfect by any means. But if we’re honest with ourselves, honest with our brethren, we can be that role model they’re looking for.
“We can’t find what they’re looking for on their behalf, but maybe we can guide them, maybe we can point them in the right direction,” he reasoned.
Daniels said recent advances and trends in technology increasingly have isolated people from one another. And another reason why men come to the Freemasons is because they miss the personal, face-to-face communication such a fraternity provides.
“Over the years, we establish this bond—we call it a ‘mystic tie,’” Daniels explained. “There’s something special that we have.
“We call each other brothers. It’s why it’s such a joy to me to travel the province and meet with all our brethren,” he added.
Daniels said the historic and philosophical aspects of Freemasonry always have interested him, but the most important aspect is that of fraternity.
“I am a much better person because of the men I’ve met over this grand jurisdiction,” he remarked.
“Now as a Grand Master, I have the privilege of travelling all over the world to other grand jurisdictions,” said Daniels, adding he will be France, England, Washington, D.C., and Boston in the next month.
Many individuals who become a Freemason remain so for life. In fact, Daniels said he is travelling to Kingston on Nov. 13 to meet John Ross Matheson, who shepherded the Canadian flag and established the Order of Canada, and present him with a long-service award for his 70 years as a Mason.
Matheson will turn 96 on Nov. 14.
To dispel one myth about the Freemasons, Daniels said they are not a secret society. Its members wear rings and have decals for their vehicles, the lodges have signs, they’re listed in the phone book, and the Masons even have media officers.
“If we’re secret, we’re not doing a very good job,” he chuckled.
Another myth is that Freemasonry is a religion. Daniels said they admit men of all faiths, noting his own lodge has members of the Muslim, Hebrew, and Christian faiths.
“We have spiritual elements, we have religious elements, but no, we are not a substitute religion,” he stressed. “That’s something our detractors like to bring up.
“We don’t offer a means of salvation. It is up to every individual.
“The one thing we require of every applicant to become a member is he must have a belief in something beyond himself.”
Daniels noted that in Dan Brown’s most recent novel, “The Lost Symbol,” the author makes the point that in a world where people are killing each other over whose definition of God is better, maybe the Masons have it right.
“Brown’s not a Mason, but I give him great credit for that perception, that insight,” he remarked.
Daniels visited Thunder Bay and then Fort Frances last week as part of his duties as Grand Master, a position with a two-term.
In Ontario, the Freemasons are divided into 44 districts. Each district hosts a reception for the Grand Master every two years.
This marks the second time Daniels has been in Fort Frances. The first time was 10 years ago when he serving as Grand Junior Warden in the Grand Lodge.
“What astonishes me is this lodge, Granite Lodge, was established in the 1890s,” Daniels said. “Can you imagine what this frontier town was like in that period?
“To have a Masonic Lodge established here back in that period is a thing that just amazes me,” he marvelled.
“It’s been at the heart of this community since before its incorporation, probably before its proper settlement.”
Western District Deputy Grand Master Barry Jackson, joined by representatives from lodges across the region, including Algoma District Deputy Grand Master Bill Davis, greeted Daniels with a warm welcome.
“It’s an honour to have him here,” Jackson said. “We only get a Grand Master representative up every two years.
“And the last time we had [Daniels] was 10 years ago. It’s not an everyday occurrence.”
“I am glad to be back,” said Daniels.
In related news, Jackson said the MasoniChip child identification program has been very well-received in Rainy River District, and that the program will continue in the new year.
Daniels noted both the Western and Algoma Districts have “gone over the moon” with the MasoniChip program, adding “we’re so proud of the work the boys up here have done.”
“It’s one of those projects where I hope it will never have to be used,” Daniels said.
“It has been applied once, and fortunately with very happy results,” he added.