Dismantling the Freemason myths

Laurel expert's book seeks to provide tools for understanding centuries-old fraternity


If you ask S. Brent Morris to define Freemasonry, he'll probably respond with the question, "Do you want a technical answer or a simple one?"

Morris, who gives tours of a Freemason museum in Cockeysville, finds that most people opt for the short answer. So he tells them that Freemasonry is the world's oldest (it was founded more than 300 years ago) and largest (about 1.7 million members nationwide) fraternity.

With interest in the subject being raised by word that Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code, has a new book coming out that deals with Freemasonry, Morris has written a book of his own - and will sign copies today at the Barnes & Noble store in Towson.

A search by representatives of the New York-based Alpha Books for a Freemasonry expert to write a book on the subject that even an "idiot" could understand led them to Morris. He is one of Maryland's 20,000 Masons, and he edits the Washington-based Scottish Rite Journal, the largest-circulation Masonic magazine in the world.

"Brent knows everything about the Freemasons," said Randy Ladenheim-Gil, an executive editor for Alpha.

Alpha released Morris' book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry, in late May.

The 56-year-old Laurel man, who became interested in Freemasonry about 40 years ago, called writing the book "the most intense mental exercise I have ever engaged in." He started the 334-page book last June and finished it in October.

"It was hard for me to condense everything about Freemasonry into one book," said Morris. "But I think I included everything a layperson needs to know to understand the subject."

In his book, Morris writes that Freemasonry is a centuries-old fraternity whose modern form can be traced to 18th-century London, later counting George Washington and other Founding Fathers as members.

"Freemasons supported some pretty radical ideas with tolerance of religious differences and democracy among them," Morris writes of the organization, whose secrecy arouses suspicions among some. "Masons spend over $2 million a day on philanthropy, but they're also charged with organizing World Wars I and II and having World War III planned, all supposedly to bring about their `total global domination.' "

He seeks to quash misconceptions about the fraternity.

"He not only talks about the myths in the book, but he busts a lot of them," said Ladenheim-Gil. "If I had any doubts before about the mysteries surrounding Freemasons, I don't anymore."

Responding to the misconception that Freemasonry is a religion, Morris writes in his book: "If Freemasonry is a religion, the members don't know it, the Worshipful Master has never been told, and the grand lodge is clueless."

But a few secrets and a good theory are all it takes to start a wave of interest, said H. Paul Scholte, the purchasing agent for Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company Inc. in Richmond, Va.

"People are always looking for a good conspiracy, and since we are a secret society, people think we must be hiding something," said Scholte.

Morris has appeared on Good Morning America and in documentaries for the History Channel and the National Geographic channel.

On a recent afternoon, Morris gave a tour of the museum in the Grand Lodge in Cockeysville, showing the aprons that are part of the organization's regalia.

"Each apron has symbol or characteristic that represents something about the history of the lodge," said Morris. "The symbols on the aprons serve as the private language of the masons."

And the masons' tools represent moral lessons.

For example, a 24-inch gauge teaches a mason to divide his day into three parts - eight hours for the service of God, eight hours for vocation and eight for refreshment and sleep.

"We are taught a symbolic system of morality," said Morris. "But we are also a good bunch of guys that get together, have fun and try to make a difference in the world."

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