A group of Master Masons talk about topics of Masonic interest--each from their own unique perspective. You'll find a wide range of subjects including history, trivia, travel, book reviews, great quotes, and hopefully a little humor as well on topics of interest for Freemasons and those interested in the subject of Freemasonry.
"I was a Freemason before it was trendy." ~Mr. Burns, The Simpsons
Oh, Freemasonry is trendy, all right; and the "modern" trend, in my estimation, began November 19, 2004. That's the day a blockbuster film, National Treasure, had its United States debut. The movie takes you on a wild adventure as competing groups track down and rediscover history's greatest treasure. Adding to the mystery of the search is the revelation that the loot is the fabled Templar Treasure, hidden and guarded by none other than those enigmatic Freemasons. The popular film sparked an interest in Freemasonry, with Grand Lodges reporting an increase in inquiries and petitions.
Soon afterward, author Dan Brown released his national bestseller, The DaVinci Code. The book contained Masonic symbolism and references, some disputed, but once again, interest in Freemasonry surged. Hollywood, ever mindful of the financial benefits of capitalizing on a popular trend, took notice. The DaVinci Code movie soon came out, followed by the sequel National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Brown followed with Angels and Demons, another book with Masonic allusions, with a film that followed. Finally, Brown published his long-anticipated Lost Secret. In all of these works of fiction, the Masons were generally, but not always, the good guys. They were also cloaked in mystery. The Masonic ritual in Brown's books had many inaccuracies, but the general public would not know that. The end result was that Freemasonry found itself on a pop-culture roll that continues through today.
Now, a slew of Hollywood writers have jumped on the bandwagon. It seems the new theory is this: to make a story (good or bad) more popular — stick a Freemason in it. Freemasons are popular and mysterious. Fiction writers know they can weave interesting, even supernatural, tales into shows involving Masons and, since they are perceived to be so secretive, who is to dispute what is and is not fact?
Apparently viewers are eating it up. The History Channel, A&E and others are replete with Masonic programming ranging from documentaries about the Freemasons to sinister "exposés." Even CBS recently tossed its hat into the ring with a segment about the Masons on its popular Sunday Morning show.
Prime-time TV has seen new shows that have followed the trend. This season alone, at least three popular dramas have gone the "stick a Freemason in it" route.
Sleepy Hollow is a modern-day rendering of Washington Irving's classic short story of the same name. In the new version, Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman return to life in the 21st century to continue their dichotomous and apparently never-ending battle representing good vs. evil. Crane teams up with a female lieutenant in current-day Sleepy Hollow's police department to fight against the forces wreaking havoc on the town. Perhaps an interesting enough scenario to those enjoying the genre, the authors have stirred the pot further by making Crane a Freemason. The series depicts the Freemasons as having mystical powers with secret and magical tools to help ward off the evil forces. Additionally, it turns out under the leadership of George Washington, they were the architects of a plan to thwart the Apocalypse.
Castle is an ABC crime drama now in its 6th season. Its premise: a best-selling novelist, Richard Castle, teams up with a New York homicide detective so he can do research and, together, they end up solving crimes. It does not have any sort of Masonic undertones but this season, in an episode entitled "Get A Clue," the pair are thrust into a case reminiscent of The DaVinci code and Lost Symbol. The episode weaves a tale with the protagonists bouncing from one Masonic clue to another, culminating in the discovery of a Masonic treasure.
White Collar debuted in 2009 on the USA network. In this series, a former criminal gains an early release from prison by agreeing to help the FBI solve crimes. Several episodes this year have chronicled a case guided by an ancient Masonic codex which leads the pair through several Masonic venues, ultimately leading to the solution of the crime and recovery of a great treasure, the sister stone of the Hope diamond.
Without going into too much detail, let's just say none of these shows gets Freemasonry right. In Sleepy Hollow, we learn Freemasons have tools like "hex candles" with magic powers. In Castle, we see "Masonic symbols" that aren't Masonic symbols. In White Collar we find "Masons have their hand everywhere including all the Masonic symbolism on Michael Jackson's Dangerous album cover." We also learn asking a reluctant Brother — and I quote exactly — "Who will help the widow's son," will induce him to offer minor assistance, in this case a drink of water.
In addition to all this, the granddaddy of all the media attention coming our way this season is a new movie simply called The Freemason. It's different from the other shows. It's producer, Joseph James is, in fact, a Freemason. He didn't "stick a Freemason in it;" he wrapped the entire film around Freemasonry in a well-produced nail-biter of a who-done-it. Brother James has acknowledged some of the Masonic events and symbolism in the film aren't exactly as you might expect, but that's on purpose: there were some things he felt he shouldn't put in a film. Yet, more than other shows it's true to the Craft and — big spoiler alert — the Freemasons are the good guys.
So there you have it. Pop culture may or may not be getting it right, but trendy we are. The question is, so what? Are Freemasons prepared for this? How do we deal with it? Do we continue to ignore it? Can we take advantage of it? Do we have a (gasp!) plan?
This trend isn't going to go away anytime soon. Plans to release films like National Treasure III and The Lost Symbol are in the works. Maybe it's time we bite the bullet and come up with that plan — perhaps a plan to help make future Masonic references more realistic; or to help dispel some myths; maybe one to subtly promote the fraternity.
Y'know, when Hollywood makes a medical show, producers hire doctors as consultants. For legal shows, they consult with attorneys. How about a few Freemasons as consultants in shows with a Masonic theme? And just maybe we should work with producers like Brother Joseph James and writers like the Midnight Freemasons' own novelist Todd Creason who know the fraternity and are already casting it in a good light. In fact, maybe we should encourage Brothers James and Creason to team up... that would work for me.
Steve Harrison, 33° KCCH, is a Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is the editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine, author of the book Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research and also its Senior Warden. He is a dual member of Kearney Lodge #311, St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite, Moila Shrine and is a member of the DeMolay Legion of Honor.