A not so secret society opens its doors

If there's one thing you'd expect a secret society to do really well, it's to not have any open houses to share information about what they do.

If there’s one thing you’d expect a secret society to do really well, it’s to not have any open houses to share information about what they do.

Yet that’s exactly what the Whitehorse Freemasons chapter is doing next Monday evening.

The organization, whose membership numbers about 100 in Whitehorse, is opening its doors so it can promote Freemasonry and dispel some of the myths that exist about it.

Granted, you won’t learn any secret handshakes or passwords, but members will shed more light on activities that go on within the lodge.

The fraternal organization has two lodges in the Yukon, one in Whitehorse and one in Dawson City.

Whitehorse members meet on the third Monday of every month inside a modern, two-storey building in the Porter Creek subdivision.

The main room is large and surrounded by comfortable chairs, some more elevated than others to reflect different ranks.

In the middle lies a checkered floor with an altar, where membership oaths are taken. Above it hangs the letter G on a string, for God.

The walls are covered with ceremonial items such as swords, pins and medals. There are pictures of famous Freemasons, like Robert Burns.

The back rooms are filled with ceremonial robes, hats, crowns, and other regalia used for special occasions.

Meetings usually consist of two things, according to Jens Nielsen, a senior warden with Whitehorse Lodge No. 46.

Mostly it’s just mundane business, such as voting to pay a utility bill or admit new members.

Sometimes ritual ceremonies take place to admit newcomers or promote members to higher ranks.

Although it might come as a surprise to some, there is no Satan worshipping, naked dancing or goat-riding at these events, all misconceptions about Freemasonry that have popped up over the years.

Novelist Dan Brown stoked the fires of conspiracy in 2009 when his novel, The Lost Symbol, was published.

In it he goes into detail about some of the Freemasons’ lesser-known secrets, such as having a universal distress signal and a secret cipher code, both of which are true.

The book also features a high-ranking mason drinking out of a skull, which is a myth.

But long before Brown’s book hit the shelves, Freemasons were accused of conspiring to run the world, practising sexual deviancy or secretly communicating with extraterrestrials.

The first Grand Lodge was founded almost 300 years ago, in 1717 in London. At the time, Freemasonry was secretive out of a necessity to avoid persecution.

But in today’s world, Freemasonry doesn’t really have any secrets, Nielsen said.

“You can find pretty much all of it on the Internet,” he said.

The leadership of the Catholic Church has long been an outspoken critic against Freemasonry. For a long time Catholics were forbidden to become Freemasons under threat of excommunication, though since 1983 this penalty is no longer in effect.

Nielsen, whose father was also a Freemason, describes the organization as a brotherhood.

Each Masonic lodge exists and operates according to a set of ancient principles known as the Landmarks of Freemasonry.

Because there is no international administrative or controlling authority over Freemasonry, the basic beliefs boil down to three simple concepts: brotherly love, relief and truth.

Relief refers to charity for others, while truth refers to the search for answers to the universal questions of morality.

“I think being a mason has made me a better person,” said Nielsen.

Freemasonry is open to all men over 21, regardless of nationality or religion. Atheists need not apply – members need to believe in a supreme being.

Historically, women haven’t been allowed to join, but some have started their own masonic lodges around the world. Still, they are not formally recognized by their male counterparts.

If you’re considered “of sound reputation,” and have two sponsors to back you up, a committee of three existing masons will visit you to determine whether you’re interested in becoming a member for the right reasons.

That is followed by a secret ballot vote, with black and white cubes. Two black cubes means you don’t make it in, although that never happens, Nielsen said.

Members start off as an apprentice, then move on to the fellow craft and finally master mason, the highest rank a Freemason can earn.

Naturally, there are elements of Freemasonry that remain secretive and for members only, such as handshakes and passwords.

Members might recognize each other by wearing the organization’s symbol, the Masonic square and compass with the letter G in the middle.

Nielsen wouldn’t confirm whether a noose is actually used during one of the ceremonies where a member gains a new rank. Other myths involve a rolled-up pant leg.

“A lot of things in masonry are symbolic,” he said.

“Even in churches there is a lot of symbolic stuff that’s weird.”

Masonic roots in Whitehorse go back to 1907. The lodge was previously located on Second Avenue, then on Lambert Street. Whitehorse Lodge No. 46, located at 1501 Dogwood Street, is having an open house on Monday, March 14 at 7 p.m.

Contact Myles Dolphin at