What is Freemasonry?
|A History of Freemasonry
No one knows with
certainty how or when the Masonic Fraternity was formed.
A widely accepted theory among Masonic scholars is that
it arose from the stonemasons’ guilds during the Middle
Ages. The language and symbols used in the fraternity’s
rituals come from this era. The oldest document that
makes reference to Masons is the Regius Poem, printed
about 1390, which was a copy of an earlier work. In
1717, four lodges in London formed the first Grand Lodge
of England, and records from that point on are more
Within thirty years,
the fraternity had spread throughout Europe and the
American Colonies. Freemasonry became very popular in
colonial America. George Washington was a Mason,
Benjamin Franklin served as the head of the fraternity
in Pennsylvania, as did Paul Revere and Joseph Warren in
Massachusetts. Other well-known Masons involved with the
founding of America included John Hancock, John
Sullivan, Lafayette, Baron Fredrick von Stuben,
Nathanael Greene, and John Paul Jones. Another Mason,
Chief Justice John Marshall, shaped the Supreme Court
into its present form.
Over the centuries,
Freemasonry has developed into a worldwide fraternity
emphasizing personal study, self-improvement, and social
betterment via individual involvement and philanthropy.
During the late 1700s it was one of the organizations
most responsible for spreading the ideals of the
Enlightenment: the dignity of man and the liberty of the
individual, the right of all persons to worship as they
choose, the formation of democratic governments, and the
importance of public education. Masons supported the
first public schools in both Europe and America.
During the 1800s and
early 1900s, Freemasonry grew dramatically. At that
time, the government had provided no social "safety
net". The Masonic tradition of founding orphanages,
homes for widows, and homes for the aged provided the
only security many people knew.
Today in North
America, the Masonic Fraternity continues this tradition
by giving almost $1.5 million each day to causes that
range from operating children’s hospitals, providing
treatment for childhood language disorders, treating eye
diseases, funding medical research, contributing to
local community service, and providing care to Masons
and their families at Masonic Homes.
The four million
Masons worldwide continue to help men and women face the
problems of the 21st century by building bridges of
brotherhood and instilling in the hearts of men ideals
for a better tomorrow.
|Organization of Freemasonry
Freemasonry is the
oldest fraternal organization for men in the world, and
its organizational structure shows its age. The basic
organizational unit of the fraternity is the lodge. We
believe the term comes from the lodges (shelters)
constructed at the building sites of cathedrals and
castles during the Middle Ages. Masons worked and lived
in these shelters.
Each lodge is headed
by an officer called the "Worshipful Master."
"Worshipful" means "highly respected" or "honored." The
term comes from the judicial system of England and
carries no religious implication. "Master" means
"leader," or "best qualified," as in "Concert Master" or
Each officer of a
lodge has a title that originated during the Middle
Ages. These titles may vary somewhat from state to state
Until 1717, each lodge
of Masons was autonomous. On June 24, 1717, four of the
lodges operating in London met together to form the
first Grand Lodge of England. It became the first
administrative or policy-making body of Freemasonry.
Masonic lodges still
retain autonomy over their finances, activities, officer
election, fundraising, and joining ceremonies. But
administratively, each State or Province has a Grand
Lodge which co-ordinates activities, serves as a central
source of record keeping, and performs other
administrative and policy functions for the fraternity.
The state president is called the Grand Master of the
Grand Lodge. He has broad powers in overseeing the
progress of the fraternity and while there is no
national spokesperson for the fraternity, within his own
state (Jurisdiction) he is the chief spokesman.
|Freemasonry and Brotherhood
The fraternity of Free
and Accepted Masons has members from every ethnic group
and every continent in the world. Brotherhood is a
primary teaching of Masonry--that each person must be
judged as an individual, on his own merits, and that
such factors as race, national origin, religious creed,
social status, or wealth are incidental to the person's
Freemasonry was brought to North America in the 1700s, a
time when racial attitudes were very different from
today. As happened with many churches and social
organizations, these attitudes caused Freemasonry for
African-American men to develop independently. In 1776 a
group of African-American Masons in Boston began meeting
as a Lodge; they were formally chartered by England in
1784 as African Lodge #459. African Lodge and its
descendants developed a separate Grand Lodge system,
known as Prince Hall Masonry (after the first Master of
African Lodge). Prince Hall Grand Lodges ascribe to the
same beliefs and rituals of Freemasonry as do all
regular Masonic Lodges throughout the world.
Since a petition for membership in Masonry does not ask
a petitioner's race, statistics on ethnic breakdowns are
not kept by any Grand Lodge. Collecting such information
is considered as inappropriate as collecting information
about a Brother's financial standing. A lodge is not
permitted to accept or exclude a candidate on the basis
of his race or national origin. To petition for
membership, the petitioner must be "a man of legal age,
good reputation, and possess a belief in God." While
election to membership in the fraternity is a matter for
the local lodge to decide, the qualifications for
membership are standard, and all Masons are required to
|Freemasonry and Religion
Freemasonry is not a religion, nor is it
a substitute for religion. It requires of its members a
belief in God as part of the obligation of every
responsible adult, but advocates no sectarian faith or
practice. Masonic ceremonies include prayers, both
traditional and extempore, to reaffirm each individual's
dependence on God and to seek divine guidance.
Freemasonry is open to men of any faith, but religion
may not be discussed at Masonic meetings.
The Supreme Being. Masons believe that
there is one God and that people employ many different
ways to seek, and to express what they know of God.
Masonry primarily uses the appellation, "Grand Architect
of the Universe," and other non-sectarian titles, to
address the Deity. In this way, persons of different
faiths may join together in prayer, concentrating on
God, rather than differences among themselves. Masonry
believes in religious freedom and that the relationship
between the individual and God is personal, private, and
Volume of the Sacred Law. An open
volume of the Sacred Law, "the rule and guide of life,"
is an essential part of every Masonic meeting. The
Volume of the Sacred Law in the Judeo/Christian
tradition is the Bible; to Freemasons of other faiths,
it is the book held holy by them.
The Oath of Freemasonry. The
obligations taken by Freemasons are sworn on the Volume
of the Sacred Law. They are undertakings to follow the
principles of Freemasonry and to keep confidential a
Freemason's means of recognition. The much discussed
"penalties," judicial remnants from an earlier era, are
symbolic, not literal. They refer only to the pain any
honest man should feel at the thought of violating his
Freemasonry Compared with Religion.
Freemasonry lacks the basic elements of religion: (a) It
has no dogma or theology, no wish or means to enforce
religious orthodoxy. (b) It offers no sacraments. (c) It
does not claim to lead to salvation by works, by secret
knowledge, or by any other means. The secrets of
Freemasonry are concerned with modes of recognition, not
with the means of salvation.
Freemasonry Supports Religion.
Freemasonry is far from indifferent toward religion.
Without interfering in religious practice, it expects
each member to follow his own faith and to place his
Duty to God above all other duties. Its moral teachings
are acceptable to all religions.
|Freemasonry and Secrecy
People sometimes refer
to Freemasonry as being a "Secret Society." In one sense
the statement is true. Any social group or private
business is "secret" in the sense that its business
meetings may be open only to its members. In
Freemasonry, the process of joining is also a private
matter, and its members are pledged not to discuss with
non-members certain parts of the ceremonies associated
with the organization.
Freemasonry does have certain handshakes and passwords,
customs incorporated into later fraternities, which are
kept private. They are means of recognizing each
other--necessary in an organization which spans the
entire world and which encompasses many languages.
The tradition of using handshakes and passwords was very
common in the Middle Ages, when the ability to identify
oneself as belonging to a building or trade guild often
made the difference in getting a job or in obtaining
help for yourself and family. Today, Freemasons make the
same pledge to every member that he will be offered
assistance if he, or his family, ever requests it.
Freemasonry can’t be called a "secret society" in a
literal sense. A truly secret society forbids its
members to disclose that they belong to the
organization, or that it even exists. Much of the
Masonic ritual is in books called "Monitors" that are
widely available, even in public libraries. Most
Freemasons wear rings and lapel pins which clearly
identify them as members of the fraternity. Masonic
lodges are listed in public phone books, Masonic
buildings are clearly marked, and in many areas of the
country Masonic lodges place signs on the roads leading
into town, along with civic organizations, showing the
time and place of meetings.
In terms of what it does, what it teaches, who belongs,
where it meets, there are no secrets in Freemasonry! It
is a private fraternal association of men who contribute
much toward the public good, while enjoying the benefits
of the brotherhood of a fraternity.
|Freemasonry and Women
In Freemasonry, as in
all other areas of life, women play an important role.
The opportunities for women to participate in
Freemasonry are widespread and meet a variety of needs,
from social interaction in the Orders for both men and
women, to the unique needs met in the "women only"
Masonic-related organizations. The moral and ethical
values that Freemasonry encourages are universal and not
Masonic Lodges maintain today a long-standing tradition
of restricting membership in Freemasonry to men. This
tradition is based on the historical all male membership
of stonemasons guilds. During the Middle Ages, men
traveled far from home and lived in lodges while
constructing great cathedrals throughout Europe.
However, in the middle 1800s the fraternity took the
progressive step, for that time, of creating
organizations that included women, so that men and women
could share Masonic fraternalism. The Order of the
Eastern Star (the largest of these Masonic-related
groups) was established in 1855, the Order of the
Amaranth in 1873, and the White Shrine of Jerusalem in
Two national Masonic-related youth organizations are for
young women: the International Order of Job’s Daughters,
founded in 1920, and the International Order of Rainbow
for Girls, founded in 1922. Rainbow and Job’s Daughters
are involved with local charities, community services,
and educational programs.
Other Masonic-related organizations limit their
membership to women only, such as the Ladies Oriental
Shrine of North America, Daughters of the Nile, the
Daughters of Mokanna, and the Social Order of Beauceant.
These Masonic-related organizations, like many
organizations in North America, both social and
professional, base their membership on gender. Junior
League, P.E.O., National Association of Female
Executives, and Girl Scouts, for instance, are
organizations created exclusively for women, established
to fulfill their unique interests and specific needs.
While there are
several youth organizations sponsored or supported by
the various Masonic organizations, three are the largest
and best known.
The Order of DeMolay is an
organization for young men aged 12 to 21. Young men do
not need to have a Masonic relative to join the
organization. DeMolay was founded in Kansas City,
Missouri, in 1919, and is now international in scope.
Like the other Masonic Youth Orders, DeMolay Chapters
(local groups) usually meet in a room at a local Masonic
Lodge. Adult leadership is provided by men (usually
Masons) known as Chapter Dads or advisors. The Order
takes its name from Jacques DeMolay, the last Grand
Master of the Templars, who was martyred in the Middle
Ages for refusing to compromise his honor. The Order
teaches the virtues of reverence, love of parents,
comradeship, patriotism, courtesy, cleanness, and
fidelity. The Order provides many social events and
activities, which help to teach social skills and
The International Order of Rainbow for Girls
is an organization for young women aged 11 to 20. It was
founded in McAlester, Oklahoma, in 1922. No relationship
to a member of the Masonic Order is required for
membership. Local groups or Assemblies are generally
sponsored by either a Masonic Lodge or a Chapter of the
Order of the Eastern Star. Women known as Mother
Advisors give adult supervision and guidance. Each of
the colors of the rainbow is associated with a
particular virtue or source of inspiration. Like the
other Youth Orders, Rainbow is deeply involved with
local charity and support of education. It teaches
character development, planning, leadership, and social
skills through training programs and social events.
The International Order of Job’s Daughters
takes its name from a story in the Biblical Book of Job.
It was organized in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1920. Membership
requires the young woman be related to a Mason. The
local organization is called a Bethel. The teachings of
the Order are Biblically based, and similar virtues are
stressed as in the other Masonic Youth Orders. Job’s
Daughters places special emphasis on community service.
Many Bethels work with drug education programs and with
the Hearing Impaired Kids Endowment (HIKE) Program.
Membership is for young women age 11 to 20.
The youth organizations are separate and independent
organizations that stress the importance of character
development, community service and leadership. While
members of the youth groups are free to seek membership
in Freemasonry or the Eastern Star, it is a personal
choice and not a requirement of membership in a youth
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