After novelist Dan Brown portrayed the Freemasons in his new book 'The Lost Symbol', and wrote on the various myths surrounding them, the search for the truth behind the myths began.
The Freemasons have for a long time been accused of everything from conspiring with extraterrestrials to practicing sexual deviancy to engaging in occult rituals to running the world-or trying to end it.
'The Lost Symbol', released September 16, begins with a wine-filled skull, bejewelled power brokers, and a dark Masonic temple steps away from the White House.
In order to find out whether the world's largest international secret society did indeed practice what the book said, the help of two Masons and a historian of the ancient Christian order was taken.
The first myth was that Masonic symbols are everywhere, and, according to Freemason and historian Jay Kinney, author of the newly released Masonic Myth, the symbols are anything but lost.
"I view the Masonic use of symbols as a grab bag taken from here, there, and everywhere," the National Geographic quoted Kinney as saying.
"Masonry employs them in its own fashion," he said.
Freemasonry is rich in symbols, and many are ubiquitous like the pentagram, or five-pointed star, or the "all-seeing eye" in the Great Seal of the United States, but most symbols are not unique to Freemasonry, Kinney said.
The pentagram, for example, is much older than Freemasonry and acquired its occult overtones only in the 19th and 20th centuries, hundreds of years after the Masons had adopted the symbol.
Likewise, the all-seeing eye saw its way to the Great Seal, and the U.S. dollar bill, by way of artist Pierre Du Simitiere, a non-Mason.
The second myth was that Masons descended from the Knights Templar, which was a powerful military and religious order established to protect medieval pilgrims to the Holy Land and dissolved by Pope Clement V, under pressure of King Phillip IV of France, in 1312.
After modern Masonry appeared in the 17th or 18th century Britain, some Freemasons claimed to have acquired the secrets of the Templars and adopted Templar symbols and terminology-naming certain levels of Masonic hierarchy after Templar "degrees", for example.
"But those [Knights Templar] degrees and Masonic orders had no historic connection with the original Knights Templar," Kinney explained.
"These are myths or symbolic figures that were used by the Masons. But because the association had been made with these degrees, and the degrees had perpetuated themselves, after a time it began to look like there had been a connection," he said.
Helen Nicholson, author of 'The Knights Templar: A New History', agrees that there is no possibility that Freemasons are somehow descended from the Knights Templar.
The Cardiff University historian said, "there were no more Templars" by the time of the first Masons.
The third myth is that the Masons are hiding Templar treasure, and that some Templars survived the order's 14th-century destruction by taking refuge in Scotland, where they hid a fabulous treasure beneath Rosslyn Chapel.
The myth goes that the treasure and the Templar tradition were eventually passed down to the founders of Freemasonry.
Nicholson said, there was in fact Templar treasure, but it ended up in other hands long ago.
"The most likely reason [the Templars were dissolved] is that the king wanted their money. The King of France was bankrupt, and the Templars had lots of ready cash," she said.
The fourth myth is that powerful Freemasons embedded Masonic symbols in the Washington, D.C., street plan designed mainly by Frenchman Pierre L'Enfant in 1791.
"Individually, Masons had a role in building the White House, in building and designing Washington, D.C.," Mark Tabbert, director of collections at the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia, said.
"And [small scale] Masonic symbols can be found throughout the city, as they can in most U.S. cities," he stated.
But there's no Masonic message in the city's street plan, as for starters Pierre L'Enfant wasn't a Mason.
And, Tabbert asked, why would Masons go to the trouble of laying out a street grid to match their symbols?
"There has to be a reason for doing such a thing," Tabbert, who is himself a Mason, said.
"Dan Brown will find one, because he writes fiction. But there isn't one," he explained.
The fifth myth is that Freemasons rule the world, with the list showing prominent members from Napoleon to F.D.R. to King Kamehameha (IV and V!), and it has led some to suggest the group is a small cabal running the globe.
But Kinney, the Masonic historian, paints a picture of a largely decentralized group that might have trouble running anything with much efficiency.
"I think the ideals that Masonry embodies, which have to do with universal brotherhood, are shared by Masons around the world [regardless of] religious, political, or national differences," he said.
"But having shared ideals is one thing-having some sort of shared hierarchy is something else altogether," he explained.
Internationally, Masonic lodges not only don't speak with a single voice but sometimes refuse to even recognize each other's existence, and many Masons are independent minded and tend to resist edicts from above.
"There is no way that they could be run by a single hierarchy. There is no such entity," he said.
The sixth myth is that Freemasonry is a religion or a cult, but Masons have stressed that it is not so, and that it has no unique theology and does not represent a path for believers to salvation or other divine rewards.
To be accepted into Freemasonry, initiates must believe in a god, any god, however at lodge meetings religious discussion is traditionally taboo, Kinney and Tabbert revealed.
The seventh myth is that the Freemasons started the American Revolution, especially since members of the order, Ben Franklin and George Washington, played essential roles in the battle.
But Freemasonry, which was born in Britain, had adherents on both sides of the conflict.
Tabbert, of the George Washington Masonic Memorial, said Masonic groups allowed men on both sides of the revolution to come together as brothers, not to promote a political view, which would be against Masonic tradition.
"For many years [Masons] claimed in their own quasi-scholarship that all of these revolutionaries and Founding Fathers were Freemasons," Tabbert said.
"A fair number of them were, but they weren't doing these things because they were Freemasons," he stated.
The eighth myth is that to become a member one requires to have shadowy connections, and contrary to "The Lost Symbol", one does not have to drink wine from a skull to become a ranking Freemason.
In fact, tradition dictates that Masons don't recruit members but simply accept those who approach them of their own free will.