SÃO PAULO — "The Olympic Village like you've never seen before! Beautiful and sophisticated apartment." This is a real ad found on a social network in Brazil. So is this: "Click the link below and join the mysteries and privileges of Freemasonry."
The Facebook advertisement breaks with three centuries of tradition. Rather than recruit quietly, through word of mouth, the typically male-only organization is now seeking members through social networks. This particular advertisement, paid by a São Paulo branch of the group, targets men of all ages living in the general area.
Eager to sneak a peek into the otherwise secretive world of the Freemasons, Folha decided to respond to the ad. That meant filling out an inquiry form with questions such as "What is your monthly income?" and "Is your wife opposed to you entering Freemasonry?" Two days later, a response: You've been scheduled for an interview.
A blond woman whose blouse reveals a healthy dose of cleavage and a "carpe diem" tattoo welcomes the candidates into a baby-blue-colored mansion in the city center, near São Caetano Street. The other Freemason hopefuls include a nursing student, a nightclub security guard and a self-employed man.
The Grand Lodge of the state of Sao Paulo — Source: Google Street View
"[Freemasons] help each other find jobs," the security guard explains to the self-employed man before heading in for his interview.
The candidates take turns entering a tiled room with no furniture except for two office chairs. The master (third in the hierarchy) who will direct the interview sits in one of them. We learn that the Masonic Temple plans to open a new lodge, a set group that meets periodically. Currently there are about 3,000 such lodges in Brazil, with a total membership of approximately 40,000 men.
Founding a new lodge requires a quorum of seven new members. Older associates are in charge of sponsoring the newbies, explains the master. The man has rings on three fingers, wears a Dudalina shirt and holds a brand new iPhone.
"There is nothing mystical here," he says. "It's not about religion. We won't murder each other." The meetings, he goes on to explain, are like a never-ending network of relationships. What kind of relationships? "I'll leave it to your imagination," he says.
The interview goes on for about 30 minutes. The farewell at the end comes with a compliment — "Your profile is very interesting" — but also a warning: "We are everywhere and powerful. So it's easy for us to learn more about you."
From there the candidate forms will be shared with other Freemasons and put to a vote. Older members can exercise veto power. Those who are approved must then go through an entrance ceremony and will be expected to pay monthly dues of approximately $40.
Interim President Michel Temer (Dilma Rousseff's vice president); 58 deputies; and six senators are part of the organization, according to an investigation Folha carried out in 2013.
A Masonic Confederation of Brazil secretary who asked not to be identified says the best way to join the organization is through a personal referral. He said he'd never heard of advertisements on the Internet.
When Folha identified itself to the downtown lodge, offering it a chance to discuss the unusual recruitment methods, the latter responded by saying: "Silence and discretion have always guided our work. We therefore won't comment on the matter, which is indeed controversial. Fraternal greetings."