Friday, September 10th, 2010
“I’ll be honest. I knew nothing about Freemasonry before I came to work at the Scottish Rite Temple. I was an American studies major at American University and had a slight interest in the connection between Freemasonry and early-American history. Outside of that, I didn’t know too much about the different sects and the history of the temple. When I got an interview here, I had to go to Wikipedia to figure things out. I did get the job and started out giving tours here. Now, I work with the collection.
One of the great things about being involved with the Freemasons is that I now see masonic symbols and architecture everywhere.
“People always ask if I am a Freemason, but the thing is that you have to me a man to be a Freemason in the United States. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t have any family members who were Freemasons or in the Order of the Eastern Star, which is the masonic group for women and men. Many of the guides and people who work here are Freemasons, but you obviously don’t have to be.
“Since coming here, I have learned a lot about the incredible history of the Freemasons and their impact on Washington and this country. Some people think that masonry goes back to the Egyptians and the pyramids. I am unsure if that is true, but I do know that Scottish Rite masonry goes back to France in the 1600’s. That is the root for how they practice masonry at the temple here.
“The Scottish Rite Temple on 16th between R and S Streets was constructed from 1911 to 1915. The temple is almost exclusively practical stone masonry and the walls are eight to nine feet thick to hold the weight of the building. It has always been a public space since it opened, and the temple housed D.C.’s first public library. The books were from Albert Pike’s personal collection of about 8,000 volumes. Pike was an influential Freemason in the 19th century. He was very well read, so his books covered anything and everything. It remains a library today and we get a lot of scholars and interested people who come in to see our collections.
“Many people may also know about the Freemasons from their influence in early American politics. George Washington and many of the founding fathers were Freemasons. A lot of Freemasonry focuses on people seeking personal enlightenment and many of the founding fathers took the masonic principles and incorporated them into their personal and political life. Because of that, a lot of people have misconceptions of the Freemasons. As a guide, people would always ask me if there were tunnels that ran from our temple to the White House of Capitol. I have heard all kinds of conspiracy theories, including people who think they do human sacrifices at the temple.
“The truth is that the Freemasons are a fraternal order. The Scottish Rite is about seeking personal knowledge and enlightenment in your life. In Scottish Rite masonry, the highest degree of membership is 33 degrees. Once you reach the third degree in your local lodge, you can decide if you want to join the Scottish Rites at the fourth degree. You can go from the fourth to the 32nd in as little as three months. After that, the 33rd degree is dependent on years of membership, philanthropy, and community service. All of the 33 degree masons meet every two years, on the odd years, in Washington, D.C. The temple is not big enough, so they use a conference room in a hotel and try and set up a temple like atmosphere in the hotel.
“One of the great things about being involved with the Freemasons is that I now see masonic symbols and architecture everywhere. If you look around this city, you will see the square and the compass etched into main buildings, which is the main symbol of the Freemasons, as they were their primary working tools. I would encourage other people to learn more about the Freemasons and to look for their influences around Washington.”
Learn more about Scottish Rite Masonry here.