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Lifestyles -

May 31, 2014

More than meets the all-seeing eye

Unraveling the mystery of the Freemasons

A disembodied all-seeing eye. 

Tools such as compasses and squares that look as though they belong in a mechanical drawing class. 

Titles such as Knight of the Brazen Serpent and Master of the Royal Secret, which sound like characters in fantasy novels. 

And rumors of secret passwords, rituals and handshakes.

A little creepy, no?

No, not really. It all belongs to the world of one of America’s oldest institutions, the Freemasons.


Freemasonry, according to Richard Vang of Otsego Lodge No. 138 in Cooperstown, is “a very large and complex subject,” an intricate tapestry of historical fact and myth that began in the Middle Ages of Europe and evolved through the centuries into the international fraternal organization of modern times.

Vang, who lives in Schenectady, is an historian of Freemasonry. He wrote and published the books “History of Otsego Lodge No. 138 F.&A.M. Cooperstown” and “My Dad Is a Freemason.” He has been a Mason for 23 years.

According to Vang, the roots of Freemasonry are in the craft guilds of medieval Europe, particularly those that organized and regulated stonemasons, who built cathedrals and other grand edifices, many of which have survived to the current day.

Medieval and Renaissance stonemasons progressed through stages in their craft. Each mason began as an entered apprentice, advanced to the status of fellow craft, and finally to master mason. They met in formal groups known as lodges.

Stonemasons kept their knowledge of the craft secret, according to Bruce Van Buren, secretary and past master of Oneonta Lodge No. 466. Van Buren has been a Freemason for 44 years, he said.

“In order to keep the secrets of their trade, they used secrets,” Van Buren said. Hand signals were employed so that stonemasons would recognize each other, symbols and passwords were created to impart information and secret rituals with oaths developed to mark the advancement of stonemasons in their craft. “There were religious aspects to the rituals,” Vang said.

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