Secret Society Thrives in the Information Age

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MTT News Desk's picture
Matt Geiger
George Washington, one of many famous freemasons.

Wellington Amaral, Jeff Breunig and John Ertl are sitting in a small but comfortable room not far from Middleton High School. There are chairs, a low couch, and a couple portraits of George Washington on the wall. Sacrificial goats, satanic rituals and clandestine strings that control the world’s power structure are all conspicuously absent.

They are Masons, and they say being in the world’s most famous “secret society” is a little tricky in the digital age.

“We’re on Facebook and everything,” Breunig explains. “We’re not exactly a secret.”

The organization’s website even features an interactive “lodge finder,” as well as listing the names of high ranking members. No secret handshake or password is required to peruse the site.

The inner workings of the twice monthly meetings held at Middleton Ionic Lodge No. 180 are a bit of a secret, at least to non-Masons, but local members say their brotherhood is based on fairly simple, open principles.

“We’re the world’s oldest fraternity,” says Breunig. “We’re a group of guys.”

Exactly how old is a topic around which some debate swirls. Some point to England in the 17th Century. Others go back as far as the building of King Solomon’s Temple. Still others say Confucius made reference to a brotherhood of stoneworkers.

“We come together around common ideals and goals,” says Amaral. “Brotherhood, truth, love, and belief in a deity.”

God is a term used in an inclusive sense here, where belief in any supreme being is enough to at least apply for membership.

“It’s not a religion,” says Ertl.

“You just can’t be an atheist,” Amaral adds.

Masons exist all over the world, giving millions to charitable causes. Here in the United States, states have their own districts, and districts contain their own lodges. Most function with a high level of independence.

Those who are accepted into the fraternity begin as Apprentices. They later become Fellowcrafts, and finally Master Masons.

Amaral, Breunig and Ertl are all Master Masons, but they come from diverse backgrounds.

Breunig, the area administrator for District 7 and the Master of Lodge 180, was drawn to Masonry by its rich history. He found himself fascinated by the many famous men – from Wyatt Erp and Duke Ellington to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Andrew Jackson – who were members.

“I’m a property maintenance guy by day and I’m the Master of Lodge, and we also have Supreme Court Judges,” he points out. “All kinds of people are Masons.”

As the local lodge’s leader, Breunig wields nearly absolute veto power, but his term lasts only a year.

Ertl, a DNA analyst at the state crime lab, found Masonry through his wife. “I’m not from this area,” he says. “I’m from Racine, and when I moved here I didn’t really know many people. My wife suggested this. I went to a couple talks and I found the kind of fraternity I was looking for.”

Amaral, a scientist, was attracted by yet another aspect of Masonry: charity. “It was that idea of giving that brought me in,” he says. “Then I started to learn all about the philosophy of it.”

Any man is eligible to be a Mason, but he must ask to join of his own free will and accord. The Masons, in sharp contrast to Jehovah’s Witnesses, are not big on recruiting.

However, acceptance is anything but guaranteed. Less than 20 percent of applicants this year have been accepted into Lodge 180. Initiates are subjected to family interviews and intensive background checks.

Once people join, they become part of a worldwide network of men, all of whom are sworn to help one another if the need arises. “You can be in any other country and if you meet another Mason, they’ll take you in and feed you,” Breunig said.

Inside the ceremonial lodge itself, the walls are adorned with ancient symbols and scrolls. Regal, high-backed chairs sit, awaiting those who run local meetings. When they convene, donning ceremonial aprons and jewels, only Masons are allowed in the room, and the doors are carefully guarded.

Politics and religion are strictly off limits - liberals and conservatives, Christians, Jews and Muslims set aside their differences and take part in an assortment of ancient rituals and modern housekeeping like paying the bills and organizing family cookouts.

“Ritual is what binds us together,” says Amaral. “It is what we pass from generation to generation.”

“Once we walk in that room, we are all equals,” adds Breunig.

Outside these walls, the modern lexicon contains a smattering of references to Masonry. “Getting the third degree” refers to intense interrogation by police but is probably a reference to the Third Degree of Master Mason in Freemasonry, the conferring of which includes an interrogation ceremony.

To “blackball,” or to exclude from a club by adverse votes, also stems from Masonry, according to Breunig.

In conclusion, brotherhood and charity, yes. Satanic rituals and secretly manipulating the gears of world power, no.

At least that’s what they say.

“No goats, no politics, no religion,” says Breunig in conclusion. “And we don’t control the world.”

Unable to resist the opportunity to jest, Amaral adds: “Just the important parts.”


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