Secret handshakes. Arcane symbols. Dark rituals inspiring wild conspiracy theories in film, fiction and popular culture.
And, according to Guy Olsson, Freemasons are all around us, even right here in Cloverdale.
He should know. Olsson is the Worshipful Master of the Cloverdale Mason Lodge, hosting an open house next Tuesday, offering the uninitiated a glimpse inside one of the world’s oldest secret societies.
It’s the second time the lodge has held the event. Last year the evening drew 115 people – more than half were women, even though women can’t join.
“They came with prospective members and some members brought their wives and girlfriends,” he said. “It was a mix.” The evening was such a success, the lodge decided to make it an annual affair.
It’s a chance for the curious to see a real Mason lodge room, he said, and find out what the group is all about, says Olsson, whose ringtone is the Imperial March from Star Wars.
(It’s OK. Masons are in on the joke. The Cloverdale lodge’s slo-pitch softball team is called the Stonecutters, after the irreverent Simpsons send-up.)
Olsson says curiosity about the fraternal order is booming, thanks to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, its sequel, and the Hollywood film franchise Book of Secrets starring Nic Cage.
“We are busier in our district processing new members than we have been in 50 years,” he says.
A large segment of the new joiners are under 30.
In the 20th Century, membership flourished, especially in the ‘30s to 50s, but dropped off by the 1980s – the “Me Decade.” His own generation – Generation X and the Boomers – are a lost generation who didn’t join anything, he says.
The Cloverdale Masonic Lodge is 54 years old, and currently has 65 members.
It’s a diverse group made up of men from all walks of life, from some of Cloverdale’s longest-serving merchants to plumbers, musicians and welders.
Most people, he says, have no idea what the Masons do.
“It’s a set of moral and ethical principles you set your life by,” he says. “Freemasonry seeks to take a good man and make him a better man.”
What Olsson likes the most about being a Mason is the opportunity for “cerebral cross-polination”, adding he’s learned so much from the other members through osmosis.
For instance, one of his best friends in the lodge is a man in his 70s.
“Ultimately, it’s a fraternity, but it’s a fraternity with a common goal,” he says.
The Pacific district is one of the most active ones in B.C. and Yukon, with six lodges in this district, which takes in White Rock, South Surrey and Langley.
Langley’s Eureka Lodge hall is home to two other lodges, including Cloverdale’s, which hasn’t had a hall to call its own since the 1960s.
Strictly speaking, Masons aren’t a service organization like Kinsmen or Rotary. The focus is on self-improvement, and, by extension, the greater community, says Olsson, who joined 12 years ago.
“It’s not for everybody. You have to be of a certain mind set. You have to want to make a difference, not only in your own life, but in the community at large.”
Freemasons date back to the Middle Ages when Europe’s cathedrals were being built, but some believe their origins go back even further, to King Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, Olsson says.
Unlike other organizations that were once bastions of male preserve but have since opened their doors, women still can’t join the Masons.
“It’s not about exclusion. It is a fraternity of men,” he says, pointing out women can join the female auxiliary Masonic organizations, the Order of the Eastern Star and Job’s Daughters.
For young men, there’s the Order of Demolay.
In North America, Masons donate $3 million to charity every single day.
Their major charity is the B.C. Cancer Car project, where volunteers help drive patients in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and B.C. Interior to hospitals for treatment.
Locally, the Cloverdale Masons are responsible for the Christmas tree that lights up the historic Dale Building on 176 Street during Santa’s Parade of Lights and they offer educational bursaries.
Olsson will let you in on one little secret – no one will ever invite you to join the Freemasons. “You have to ask.”
A simple way to get the ball rolling is to check out the website at cloverdalemasons.com to find out how you can request an application.
“Freemasonry Explained” is April 19 at the Eureka Masonic Hall at 20701 Fraser Highway, Langley.
Doors open at 7 p.m., and the program runs from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Along with an introduction and other revealing topics, the lodge’s grand historian will offer an overview on Freemasony in culture – how its depicted in movies, books and TV, from the Flintsones to the Honeymooners and the Simpsons to name but a few.Follow the Cloverdale Reporter on Twitter and Facebook. View our print edition online.