What is Freemasonry?
What is Freemasonry?
At one time or another almost everyone has heard of Freemasonry, by and far the oldest, the largest, and most widely known fraternal organization in the world. But for many the Masonic Fraternity still remains a mystery, despite the fact that hundreds of books have been published on the subject, and any good library is bound to have the totally erroneous impression that Freemasonry is a ‘secret’ society. It is not. Naturally there are some matters that are truly private (or secret if you prefer) to Freemasonry, just as there are in any organization or family. These involve only portions of our ceremonies. Other Lodge business matters obviously are private, but certainly not secret. Very often friends or close associates of Masons may fell slighted because their Mason friends never extended an invitation to them to become Freemasons. We hope this will explain why: one of Masonry’s oldest traditions regarded as unwritten law is that no Mason may solicit members, even among close friends and family. Those who seek admission must do so of their own volition, based on a favorable impression of the fraternity, unbiased or uninfluenced, as we say, ”by improper solicitation.” This information is not intended, nor should be regarded, as an invitation to become a member of the Masonic Order. Its sole purpose is to provide some basic information about Freemasonry, dispel some misconceptions, and briefly illustrate its significant and worthwhile aims.
The Origins of Freemasonry
Freemasonry as we know it today has been in existence for well over two and one half centuries. But our traditions can be traced directly back to the days of the operative freemasons of the Middle Ages, those skilled and highly sought after men who built the cathedrals, abbeys and castles in times long past. They were termed ”free” because their particular knowledge and skill were so in demand, they were among the very few who were actually not bonded servants, and were therefore able to travel where ever there was work for them to be found. Some historians trace Masonry back to the 10th Century B.C. and biblical accounts of Solomon’s temple, while others claim its origins in ancient societies dating back even farther. Records reveal that freemasonry was introduced into England as early as 926 A.D. Up until about the middle of the 16th Century Masons were strictly an operative craft, bound together by the close ties in the constructive craft guilds. In the latter half of the 16th, and the beginning of the 17th Century, prominent men were admitted to some of these lodges, not as craftsmen, but rather as patrons. They came to be known as ‘Accepted’ Masons. By the end of the 17th Century, these ‘accepted’ or ‘speculative’ Masons were predominant in some of the older Lodges of Freemasons. In time, as the great cathedral building boom of the Middle Ages began to cease many of these Lodges became solely speculative in nature, became their emphasis was on moral philosophy rather than the operative arts of the 16th Century. This speculative character of Masonic Lodges has distinguished Freemasonry ever since. On June 24th, 1717 four of these older lodges, located in London and Westminster, decided to unite in forming a ‘Grand’ Lodge. All modern Freemasonry traces its beginning under the Grand Lodge system of government to that first Grand Lodge. The history of the growth and development of Freemasonry, how it spread to other countries, how other Grand Lodges were formed, how Freemasonry captivated the imagination of men in all walks of life, and continues to do so, is one that never ceases to fascinate. Kings, emperors, presidents, statesmen, and leaders in science, religion, politics, military, and all of the arts have been, and are proud of their membership in this ancient Craft. Today, Freemasonry worldwide numbers close to six million members, with Lodges located in about 164 countries.
The Purpose of Freemasonry
From its very beginning, Freemasonry has provided an opportunity for men of good will to meet and enjoy the pleasures of friendly companionship in the spirit of helpfulness and charity. Guided by certain principles of morality, Freemasonry encourages its members to practice a way of life that will sustain a high standard in their relationships with their fellow men. Put another way, it is the practice of true brotherly love. But while fellowship and fraternalism receive primary stress, many Lodges devote considerable time and energy in support of various charitable, benevolent, and cultural works.
Freemasons meet and perform their work in Lodges, which are chartered by Grand Lodges. With minor differences, each territorial Grand Lodge is independent, autonomous, and sovereign, responsible for administering the Lodges within its jurisdiction. There is no central worldwide authority governing all Freemasonry, but each Grand Lodge, in order to be recognized as ‘regular’ by others must maintain minimum acceptable standards thereby ensuring adherence to established ‘basic principles’ for recognition, and the continuity of many cherished traditions and practices. The officers of a Grand Lodge are either elected or appointed, and each has certain administrative or ceremonial duties or responsibilities as outlined in the Code or Constitution of the particular Grand Lodge, or as dictated by Masonic tradition. The Lodge is the basic unit of Freemasonry. It is sometimes called a ‘Blue’ or ‘Craft’ Lodge. New officers are elected each year to manage its affairs, and they are responsible for the conduct of the ritualistic functions and education of the members in all aspects of Freemasonry. It is through a Lodge that a man becomes a member of the Masonic fraternity. When accepted, he is entitled to receive the three degrees of Freemasonry, in accord with Masonic practice and law. Each of the three degrees stresses a particular Masonic lesson, which can only be fully appreciated and understood by those who receive them in the required manner. No one has ever become a Freemason in any other manner. The lessons imparted in these three degrees are acceptable to men in all walks of life, irrespective of creed.
Although ancient, Freemasonry has always utilized the modern concept of audio-visual instruction throughout its history. In its ceremonies, Freemasonry utilizes symbols as a means of conveying and impressing certain truths. There is no secret, that many of the symbols used in Freemasonry involve some of the tools and implements of the ancient builders’ craft. Two of these especially, have been regarded by many as a ‘trademark’ of the Masons; the square and the compasses.
Freemasonry & Religion
Freemasonry is not a religion, nor is it a substitute for one. The ‘Volume of Sacred Law’ (we use this term because in some lands the Holy Book may be other than the Bible), is displayed prominently in every Lodge. But Masonry adopts no particular dogma; that is the function of religion. Freemasonry does strongly urge each and every Freemason to practice his own faith. Before he can be admitted to membership, a man must profess his belief in a Supreme Being. Beyond that, Freemasonry does not concern itself with a man’s particular faith or religious dogma. Religious discussion is prohibited in every Masonic Lodge, thereby ensuring that men of all faiths can associate in harmony, assured that any religious differences will never be permitted to affect the harmony of the Lodge.
Freemasonry & Politics
Politics in its broadest sense is the art of living with and relating to others. But any attempt to discuss partisan politics within a regular Masonic Lodge is absolutely prohibited. Freemasonry encourages and urges every member to exemplify good citizenship by being active in civic affairs, according to his own convictions. But by prohibiting political discussion in its Lodge rooms, Freemasonry is neither aloof nor ‘burying its head in the sand’. On the contrary, the Lodge is a place where arch political opponents can better learn to appreciate and respect each other on a completely different level, as human beings, as Masons.