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Mystery of the Masons explored

Driving east on North Bend Way through North Bend's only stoplight, if you look just beyond Twede's Cafe you'll see blue lettering identifying an old white building as Unity Lodge No. 198 F. & A. M.

The building was constructed by the Freemasons in 1913 and serves as the organization's meeting location to this day.

Who exactly are the Freemasons? With author Dan Brown's books "Angels and Demons" and "The Da Vinci Code" and the recent movie "National Treasure," interest in the organization has piqued.

Freemasons (or Masons, an interchangeable term) are an ancient fraternal organization, said Jonathan Seaton, treasurer and past master of the lodge. "In terms of history, we came from operative real masons," he explained.

There has long been an air of mystery and secrecy surrounding the Masons.

Addressing that issue, Ken Hearing, North Bend mayor and past master of the lodge, said that the connotation of mystery is partly due to the fact that Masons meet behind locked doors. "It's a very typical perception. Any part of any ceremony you want to know about is on the Internet."

Masons were employed throughout Europe building castles and cathedrals. As early as the 1300s, unofficial guilds were formed as a way for masons to protect their craft and ensure their income wasn't threatened by non-masons. They were the forerunners of trade unions.

"When one job was done, the masons would move on to the next cathedral," said Norman Parkinson, a 45-year Mason from North Bend.

Therein lies part of the secrecy. To maintain their position based on their knowledge, "They needed a way to communicate their level of competency and they had to prove it with grips, signs and words," Parkinson, past master of the lodge, explained.

The Freemasons became a formal organization in 1717, Parkinson said, and a grand lodge formed in England to ensure consistent regulations.

For nearly 300 years, the Masons have attracted men of the highest caliber from varying backgrounds and professions. There are more than two-million Masons in the United States.

Famous Masons include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Lewis Meriwether, Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, Mark Twain, Harry Houdini, Davy Crockett and J. Edgar Hoover.

To be a Mason, a man must believe in a god - any god, any religion; he must be a person in good standing in the community; must be sponsored by a current Mason; and he must want to improve his life and the lives of people around him.

In return, Seaton said, a man will get lifelong fraternal support and the sense of what self-sacrifice does for others. "It improves your own feeling of self worth when you're able to extend to others."

A third-generation Mason, Hearing finds the connection difficult to put into words. "Once you have gone through the initiation, you recognize how deep it is - it becomes a part of who you are. That's the whole point of masonry - to make a good man better."

The symbol of the Masons, a compass and a square, refer to the tools used by working masons and are used as a metaphor for living today. "You can't build a building without using a square ... we square our actions with people," said Seaton. "The compass means to circumscribe our lives, give ourselves a periphery in which we act." The "G" stands for God.

The Unity Lodge in North Bend includes about 55 members and Seaton said they welcome new members. "We get together a couple of times a month, plus some volunteer work occasionally. It's very much our intention to be involved in the community."

Shriner's hospitals, the Eye Foundation, the Heart Foundation and a child identification program are a few of the Mason's philanthropic contributions. Local Masons also built a house for Habitat for Humanity on Snoqualmie Ridge a few years ago.

Conspiracy theories abound regarding the Masons. Here in North Bend, the lights have been seen flickering in the windows of the Unity Lodge, prompting some speculation as to what it means. Secret rituals or initiations?

"It's a sign of bad wiring - not anything else," Seaton said. "We did have a neon sign that was flickering and it's been repaired."

For more information on Unity Lodge No. 198 in North Bend, go to www.unity198.org or contact secretary Ron Woods at (206) 953-9788. There is also a Fall City Masonic Lodge No. 66. For information on that lodge, call Ed Opstad at (425) 941-8262.

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