Labeled as one of the world’s notorious secret societies, a quick visit will surely prove they are anything but. Just outside the tourist area of Washington DC at the corner of 16th St., NW and S St. you’ll find a temple that most certainly stands out amongst its neighbors. The House of the Temple is home to the world’s oldest and largest fraternity known as Freemasonry. Born of the stonemasons’ guilds of Europe this fraternal organization has been around since the 14th century. The Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia has been the headquarters of the Scottish Right of Freemasonry since its completion in 1915. Designed by architect John Russell Pope, construction began in 1911, and was inspired by the famous Mausoleum at Halicarnassus; one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World”. If you are interested in seeing some of Pope’s other architecture while you are in town check out the National Achieves, the Jefferson Memorial and The National Gallery of Art. At first glance and throughout your visit you will notice an Egyptian influence, and our tour guide noted that this is reflexive of the time of its inception.
Freemasons believe in honor and that a man has a responsibility to behave honorably in everything he does. Freemasonry teaches its members the principles of personal decency and personal responsibility. It hopes to inspire them to have charity and good will toward all mankind, and to translate principles and convictions into action.The Scottish Rite
Ritual and Symbolism:
Ritual governs the Freemasons. Members ascend through the levels or degrees of the fraternity, with 33 being the highest degree a member can obtain. Unlike most organizations you can only achieve 32 of these degrees through your own actions, to achieve the final level it most come from your brothers. They have abided by their rules and customs since their inception and show no signs of changes; right down to the Tyler whom stands guard over member meetings, sword in hand. However, what happens on the other side of the door from the tyler inside the grand Temple Room will leave little doubt that the traditions of Freemasonry are practiced to this day.
Symbolism is as much a part of the world of the Freemason as ritual is. Most prominent is the Masonic Square and Compass: the Square, to square our actions and the Compass, to keep us within due bounds. Others examples are scattered through all parts of the building. For example; Hermes the messenger of the gods, in Greek mythology, can be seen on the light fixtures delivering illumination “knowledge” to the facility. Thirty three shows up again in the number of columns surrounding the facade of the building which correlates to the highest level a member can ascend to in the society.
The quest for enlightenment, interchangeable with knowledge in this case, is an important cornerstone of Freemasonry. That point was evident by the number of reading rooms and book collections throughout the Temple. The Scottish Rite had the first library open to the public in the District of Columbia and it remains open to this day. A prime example of their belief that knowledge is to be shared for all’s benefit.
Their acceptance of all who enter was something that immediately caught my eye. With one notable exception, sorry ladies; fear not though the Eastern Stars is your exclusive home. They do believe in a higher power, but they do not single one entity out over another; in their eyes Judaism stand shoulder to shoulder with Muslims, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and any other religion. I think this is one of their most important aspects and I am delighted to see it in practice. With a goal to simply make the world a better place it is hard to find any fault with the organization.
Logistics: Tours are free and are available Monday thru Thursday. In June and August they are open from 9 am and 4 pm, the rest of the year it is 10 am to 4pm. Tours typically take about one hour.
The Library is open year-round from 10 am to 4:30 pm. Special appointments can be made between 8 am to 10 am. Note this is a reference library so books cannot be removed or checked out.
Recommended: Whether you are a fan of architecture and symbolism, you are dying to know more about this fraternity of men or you just want to see a Sphinx in DC; this is an excellent place to pay a visit.