A few months ago I traveled to St. Louis to take part – social distancing protocol observed – in making a video of the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction degrees. While there, I received a phone call from someone back home. She wanted to discuss a project we were working on together. Then, just to make conversation, she asked what I was up to that day. I told her I was out of town with a group filming the degrees. She let out a gasp so loud it almost sucked the phone out of my hand, "ISN'T THAT SECRET?"
I've been a Freemason for twenty-two years now and her question brought to mind the things I have been most often asked by non-Masons. In my experience – yours, of course, may differ – there are three main areas of… uh… concern.
We've all heard it a thousand times: "We are not a secret organization, we're an organization with secrets." Try convincing someone outside the fraternity we're not all about secrets. It was the first thing that caller thought to ask and she isn't alone. Our closed doors conjure up all kinds of speculation about our activities and motives. I have even known Brothers who joined just for the purpose of learning those secrets. Not too long ago my own Lodge had one such Brother. I'll give him credit: he went through the line and became Master, all the time wondering, "When do the really juicy secrets kick in?" For him, they never did. He came to the installation of the Master who succeeded him and left, apparently disappointed, never to be seen again. The secrets… they want to know about those mysterious secrets.
The second question I get is, "Just WHAT do you do in those meetings?" It just follows, if we have all those secrets, we must be up to something strange and mysterious, even dark and evil, in our meetings. I can reach into my own experience for this. When I went with my dad to present his 50-year jewel I was not yet a Freemason. His Lodge conducted its entire meeting before letting me in to make the presentation. Even having been a DeMolay I couldn't help but wonder just what was going on in there. It's sometimes hard to convince people we're not making sacrifices, levitating the altar to reveal a picture of Satan, or having orgies. No, guys, we're not doing any of that, but we can sure plan a good bean dinner.
The other thing I am most often asked, "Are you a 33°?" That seems to be the only level of "rank" people outside the fraternity know or care about. I have never once been asked if I am a Worshipful, Right Worshipful, Most Worshipful, Master, Knight, Commander, 32°, Grand Master, or anything else. Well, there is "Poo-Bah." I've been asked about that. We really should think about making that an official title. Apparently to outsiders it would rank right up there with the 33°.
That pretty much covers the Big-3 of the questions I'm most often asked. I suppose I should give an "honorable mention" to some of the hats we wear. My wife Carolyn calls my Commandery Chapeau a "pirate hat," and when I'm headed for a Scottish Rite meeting she always asks if I have remembered my "bellhop cap." And let's not forget the Shrine Fez – the "poster child" of all funky Masonic caps.
I actually kind of like getting questions like these and I suppose my favorite is the question about the 33°. Now that I am one, my standard response is, "Yes I am a 33° which means I know ALL the secrets, MWAHAHAHAHA!"