"I think a lot of people's misconception of the fraternity is that it's a bunch of stodgy old men," says Master Mason J.R. Roach. Roach, 41, is a big dude with black hair and a couple of tattoos that he keeps covered up. Once he was the drummer for Boston stalwarts Sam Black Church and played with KISS, Ted Nugent, Motörhead, Black Sabbath, and Dio.
"There's a saying in the ceremony that basically says the organization will not regard any man for his wealth or appearance. So it's a very interesting mix of people. You go to Lodge and the reverend of your church could be sitting next to a guy with really long hair, and nobody cares. Everybody's considered equal."
THE HAZING GOAT
Roach is at the vanguard of the Masonic resurgence. Membership — like that of all fraternal orders — declined after the salad days of the 1960s. But something changed in the mid-2000s: young men became interested in the Masons once more. Gen-Xers settled down and needed a night away from the wife and kids, and Gen-Yers rebelled against navel-gazing, Baby Boomer parents.
Or maybe they read Dan Brown's 2003 thriller, The Da Vinci Code, or saw Nicolas Cage's star turn in the 2004 film National Treasure. Both narratives placed Masons at the heart of international conspiracies upon which hinged nothing less than the fate of the world.
Or maybe it was the exposure. Lead by Massachusetts lodges, the Masons began to open the doors of their temples of the public and offer guided tours of their facilities. Whatever the reason, the number of men who joined the Masons began to increase dramatically. And with it, the number of young creatives.
Nick Batzell, a 25-year-old sculptor's apprentice, got interested in Masonry when he saw a picture of Czech printmaker Alphonse Mucha in full Masonic regalia. "I studied Romanesque and Gothic architecture in [art] school," Batzell says. "William Hogarth was a Mason, and Paul Revere — he was the most famous silversmith, ever."
Roach spent 18 years on the road as a musician. "Record labels, promoters, club owners — sometimes you meet the sweetest people in the world and sometimes not so much," he says. "I really wish, with all the traveling I did, that I had been a Mason." Now, as a professional Mason, Roach spends his days in the headquarters of the Supreme Council, 33rd Degree, of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite.
Headquarters shares a Lexington campus with the National Heritage Museum. In the high-ceilinged museum lobby, a librarian keeps watch at the information desk. In the middle of the exhibition, a horrifying contraption looms on a metal tripod, covered in wool and brown with age. It has stirrups. Large glass eyes stare out from a head with giant goat horns. The placard identifies it as a Bucking Billy Goat and says that lawsuits precluded its continued use in initiation rituals.
'I SEE THEM AS MY SONS'
The hazing goat's presence in the museum shows that today's Masons don't take themselves entirely seriously. In addition to portraits by and of famous Masons, there's a glass case with Mason bobbleheads. The National Heritage Museum embraces goofiness as part of its Masonic legacy.