Ancient Freemason order casts web wide seeking young blood

Grand Master Robert Parsons, seated, with Deputy Grand Master Stephen Mikalak in the Grand Lodge on North Tce. Picture: Naomi Jellicoe.

While Mr Parsons said it was  not a secret organisation, there were some things they kept to themselves. | May 18, 2012

by Tom Bowden

GOOGLE “Freemasonry” and you’re likely to find a host of websites about conspiracies, secrecy and the illuminati.

But the truth, according to the Freemasons, is that the group is about symbols, rituals, allegories and metaphors that help men live a better life.

South Australia and Northern Territory Grand Lodge Grand Master Robert Parsons and Deputy Grand Master Stephen Michalak say that far from being a secret society, the Freemasons simply has an image problem.

They are now focusing on ways to attract younger members keen to give back to their community.

“In the past, going back 10 or 15 years, I believe, in our attempts to attract men to Freemasonry, we’ve been too old-fashioned,” said Mr Parsons, who has been a Freemason since 1968.

“We have not kept up with the times inasmuch as the way to go about it,” he said.

“Now we are experiencing a good influx of men, both young and older, who are joining and it’s because we have changed our ways with technology.

“It’s about time that we did and up until about three years ago we were struggling – we’re still struggling as far as membership goes – but it has increased quite considerably over the past couple of years.”

Building foreman Jarrod Acres, 25, who joined two months ago, said he wanted to give back to the community.

“One comment that really resounded with me was that it makes good men great,” he said. “It’s the reason I joined a football club or the reason anybody joins any group is just  because they want to be  a  part of something bigger  than themselves.”

Disability employment service worker Peter Berekally, 29, said Freemasonry was not a religion but a secular and inclusive group of men.

“You’ve got this mentality where you want to help and I think that’s why many of us are attracted to masonry because it gives us the opportunity to channel that,” he said.

Freemasons have existed in South Australia since 1836. Prominent members have included former governor Sir Eric Neal, chief justices such as the first Grand Master, Sir  Samuel Way, and busi- ness leaders Owen Redman and Allan Scott.

At its peak, there were more than 27,000 registered South Australian Freemasons.

So exactly what are Freemasons and what do they do?

“We’re normal people,” Mr Parsons said.

“It’s just being with people that you know are like-minded – they have the same principles, the same family values and you know  when you meet a Freemason that he’s an honest and upright person.”

While Mr Parsons said it was  not a secret organisation, there were some things they kept to themselves.

“We are an organisation that has a few secrets, and that sort of expression has been used a great deal, and we keep that within our organisation,” Mr Parsons said.

“Those secrets are mainly methods of recognition and some signs that we use and, yes, there is that mystique.”

Mr Parsons said Freemasonry’s mystique was a blessing and a curse.

“This doesn’t do us any harm as long as we make it clear we’re not behind closed doors doing stupid things,” he said.

“Our organisation is about 300  years old and there have been rumours about Freemasons doing the wrong thing.

“But a lot of the religions of  old regarded us as a religion – and therefore competition for  them.

“There’s no truth in any of the things that you hear from time to time, as far as I’m aware – going back 200 years it might have been something, but I don’t know.”

The “craft” of Freemasonry involves ceremonial rituals – allegorical teachings of how to be a better father, husband and member of society.

Masons study three ritualistic degrees – the entered apprentice, the fellow craft and the master mason degrees.

Each degree relates to a step  of character development, says Mr Michalak, who has risen to the role of Deputy Grand Master in just 12 years.

“The first ritual talks a lot about the basics of life … and in the second degree we talk more about the intellect – the things that we as adults get involved in,” he said.

“The third degree is really about preparations for our last moments of life … and it reminds us to live our lives as best as we can as a preparation for that moment.”

Mr Michalak said the principles of Freemasonry were simple. “We use the symbolic tools of the stonemasons of old and these are metaphors of how we should live,” he said.

The set square reminds masons of the importance of squaring actions away, the chisel to smooth off a person’s rough edges and the compass represents a person’s “circle of attainment”.

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