Freemasonry Q & A
Many people, both masons and non-masons have questions about freemasonary. We have listed the most frequently asked questions below.
What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is the UK’s largest secular fraternal and charitable organisation. It is best understood by considering the three basic principles on which Freemasonry is founded.
Brotherly Love: Freemasons should show tolerance and respect for the opinion of others and show kindness and under standing to their fellow creatures. In Christianity, for example, this might be translated as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. In Judaism, “thou shall love thy neighbour as thy self”. In Islam,”No one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” Most other faiths have similar sayings
Relief: Freemasons are taught to practice charity, though without detriment to themselves or their dependants. Members are urged to regard the interest of the family as paramount. However, they should care for other Masons in distress and for the community as a whole, by charitable giving and by voluntary work where possible.
Truth: Freemasons should act honestly and truthfully and uphold high moral standards in both their professional and private lives. Freemasons believe that there is still such a thing as honour and that man has a responsibility to act honourably in everything he does. It teaches its members the principle of personal decency and personal responsibility.
Freemasonry is a social organisation that brings good men together to study, teach and practice these principles. The intention is to improve and strengthen the character of the individual Mason. It follows that by improving men and making better ones, Masonry seeks to improve the community as a whole. Although it is apparent that Freemasonry has high ideals and indeed some men join on purely moral grounds, for the majority of Freemasons it is a pleasant way of joining with friends, having a meeting, a drink, dinner and making lasting friendships.
Is Freemasonry a "Secret Society"?
Most emphatically not.
Like many clubs, societies and business corporations, Freemasonry has aspects that are private to its members but are not secret. This is evident when one considers that almost every country in the world has a Grand Lodge of Freemasons and each has its own public web site. Freemasons freely wear rings and other Masonic ornaments, Masonic buildings, which often give a tour of their premises to the public, are clearly marked and their addresses can be found in the Yellow Pages, and in some countries cars have Masonic licence plates and bumper stickers! Moreover, libraries carry many books on Freemasonry. If Freemasons are secret, they need a refresher course in camouflage! Nevertheless, the “secrets” or private aspects of Freemasonry can be classed as grips (handshakes), passwords and signs which function as modes of recognition. Practically every other aspect of Freemasonry can be aired in public.
How did Freemasonry Arise?
The “mythical” origins of Freemasonry date back to the building of the Temple of King Solomon in Jerusalem around 1000 B.C. Its innermost sanctuary was the Sanctum Sanctorum and was built to house the Ark of the Covenant which itself housed the tablets which Moses was given by God and on which were inscribed the Ten Commandants. The building of the Temple was carried out by stonemasons and their practices form the basis of Freemasonry.
The “historic” origins of Freemasonry are not known but two theories are generally put forward. In the first of these, Freemasonry can be traced back to the stonemasons’ guilds that formed in the Middle ages in England, Scotland and Wales. Such Masons, before 1700, were called Operative Masons as they worked with stone, chisels and hammers. The origin of the term Freemason is not known but may be connected with the fact that the Masons were free to travel to look for work- thus free Masons. Alternatively, it may be a shortening of the term freestone Mason (freestone is a soft fine-grained stone). Masons were members of craft guilds or lodges which were developed to train men in the skills needed to construct great buildings, to enforce a standard of workmanship and to protect their valuable trade secrets. They had a moral code and a strong desire to promote friendship amongst members. Master Masons were in possession of the Master’s word (password) and handshake, secret methods these master workmen used to recognise one another. Entered Apprentices were indentured to a Master Mason for seven years during which time they went through an initiation ceremony and were given their own secret password and handshake. After seven years they became a Fellow of the Craft, again with their own secret signs of recognition. In the 1640’s, lodges began to admit members who were not workers in stone. They were called “accepted or “speculative” Masons. Gradually these non-operational Masons took over lodges and turned them from operative to “free and accepted” or “speculative” lodges.
The second theory is that in the late 1500s and early 1600s, there was a group which was interested in the promotion of religious and political tolerance in an age of great intolerance when differences of opinion on matters of religion and politics were to lead to bloody civil war. In forming Freemasonry, they were trying to make better men and build a better world. As the means of teaching in those days was by allegory and symbolism, they took the idea of building as the central allegory on which to form their system. The main source of allegory was the Bible, the contents of which were known to everyone even if they could not read, and the only building described in detail in the Bible was King Solomon’s Temple, which became the basis of the ritual. The old trade guilds provided them with their basic administration of a Master, Wardens, Treasurer and Secretary, and the operative Masons tools provided them with a wealth of symbols with which to illustrate the moral teachings of Freemasonry.
In 1717, the first Grand Lodge of England was formed. In 1751, a competing Ancient Grand Lodge was formed causing friction between the two Grand Lodges. This was eventually healed by their merging in 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England (www.ugle.co.uk). This body provides the Constitution for Freemasonry and oversees how Masonry generally functions. It was also the stimulus for the development of Freemasonry in the USA and many other countries where it became a figurehead. However, the development of so called Regular Freemasonry internationally has seen many changes. Such changes have not always been sanctioned by the United Grand Lodge of England and there exists a situation where Freemasons working under the constitution of the United Grand Lodge of England are prohibited from having anything to do with lodges not approved by them, including women’s lodges.
How are Freemasons Organised?
Freemasons belong to one or more lodges. Such lodges are named by their founding members and may take the name of a town, an historical figure, a famous Mason or even a symbolic word or phrase. Lodge names are always followed by a number and the smaller the number, the older the lodge.
Lodge meetings take place in lodge rooms, many of the details of which are patterned after King Solomon’s Temple. Freemasonry teaches by symbolism and much of this is also based upon accounts of Solomon’s Temple (for example, the square used by stonemasons to adjust rectangular corners is taken to denote “morality”, while the plumb rule teaches” justness and uprightness in life and actions”). The modern lodge room is a rectangular room with seating around the perimeter. It is usually oriented east to west, to be aligned to the east-west path of the sun. There is an altar where the Bible (or other book sacred to that lodge’s members) is opened. This book is referred to as the Volume of the Sacred Law to allow it to be universally recognised as a sacred book irrespective of the faiths of the lodge’s membership. People of all religious faiths can become Freemasons. Likewise, God is called the Great Architect of the Universe or the Supreme Being to prevent disharmony or offence to the different faiths. The floor of the lodge is part covered by a carpet having a regular pattern of black and white squares, symbolically representing, for example, good and evil, light and dark, joys and sorrows.
Officers of the lodge are elected by members of the lodge and usually serve for one year. This allows for a progression so that all members can eventually become officers. The officers themselves progress from a “lowly” position, over several years (usually 5) to become the Master, who presides over the lodge. The other main officers of the lodge, in order of seniority are Senior Warden, Junior Warden, Senior Deacon, Junior Deacon and Inner Guard. Each has a particular role to play. There are also other offices such as Secretary, Treasurer, Almoner, Charity Steward, Director of Ceremonies, and Chaplin.
What happens in a Lodge meeting?
The meeting is in two parts. As in any association there is a certain amount of administrative procedure-minutes of the last meeting, proposing and balloting for new members, discussing and voting on financial matters, election of officers, news and correspondence and collection of charity. Then there are the ceremonies of admitting new Masons and the annual installation of the new Master and appointment of officers. There are three ceremonies for admitting new masons. Each ceremony is in two parts- a slight dramatic instruction in the principles and lessons taught in the Craft followed by a lecture in which the candidate’s various duties are spelled out. Needless to say, those members who play a part have to learn by heart, various texts, the Master having the lion’s share!
At the completion of each ceremony, the candidate is given particular regalia to wear. At the completion of the third ceremony, the candidate becomes a Master Mason and wears his regalia to every meeting of his or any other lodge that he visits. For every meeting, Masons wear dark suits, a black or Craft tie, or a tie appropriate to an organisation, such as an old school tie, and white gloves. Such clothing and regalia have historical and symbolic meaning and like a uniform, servers to indicate to members where they rank in the organisation.
Because the primary goal of Freemasonry is fellowship, a meal is usually served, generally after the meeting. This goes by the name of “festive board” and ceremonial toasting takes place, not least to welcome the newly made Mason as well as visitors and guests.
What is the role of religion in Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is not a religion. It requires a belief in God and its principles are common to many of the world’s great religions. Freemasonry does not try to replace religion or substitute for it. Every candidate is exhorted to practise his religion and to regard its holy book as the unerring standard of truth. Freemasonry does not instruct its members in what their religious beliefs should be. Freemasonry deals in relations between men; religion deals in man’s relationship with God.
Is Freemasonry involved in politics?
No. Whilst individual Masons will have their own views on politics and State policy, Freemasonry as a body will never express a view on either. It does however, encourage its members to be loyal to their country of origin, to be obedient to its laws and cheerfully to submit to the Government under which they reside. The discussion of politics (and religion) at Masonic meetings has always been prohibited.
Why is Freemasonry "men only"?
Traditionally, Freemasonry under the United Grand Lodge of England has been restricted to men. The early stonemasons were all male and when Freemasonry was organising, the position of women in society was different from today. However, as early as the 1740s some French lodges began to initiate women as fellow members. Over the years, and almost entirely in Europe, several lodges made up of men and women (called Co-Masonry) or for women only have been formed. In England these include the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Free-Masons, founded in 1913, www.hfaf.org,and most recently the Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for Men and Women, founded in 2001, www.grandlodge.org.uk.
How do you join a Freemasons Lodge?
To ensure that only worthy and qualified men are admitted, the strictest precautions have to be taken. In the first place it will be necessary for you to find an appropriate lodge. This you can do by asking the United Grand Lodge of England. You will then need to find two members of the lodge to sponsor you. Great responsibility rests on these two members for they must not only be in the position to satisfy their fellow members that your character reaches a very high standard but also to help, guide and advise you. To be able to vouch for your suitability, they must have known you for a reasonable length of time. They should be conversant with your home life. There are several essential requirements necessary before your application can be considered.
1. Do you honestly and sincerely believe in the existence of a Supreme Being?
2. You must generally be 21 years of age or over
3. You must be unbiased by your friends and uninfluenced by any mercenary motives
4. Have you consulted with your wife/partner and is she in complete agreement with you joining Freemasonry?
5. Are you both agreed that your membership will not be detrimental to your family life, bearing in mind the financial aspects of a joining fee, annual subscription, donations to charity, and the commitment of time?
6. Are you willing to reserve as far as possible the day of each meeting, which may be weekly, monthly or quarterly?
If you decide to join, your sponsors will arrange for you to attend an interview when any questions you may have will be answered as far as possible and when it will be determined that your joining would be appropriate. An application form is then completed by you and your sponsors and submitted to your chosen lodge, after which it may take some months, depending when the lodge meets and its order of business, before you are actually admitted.
How many Freemasons are there?
Under the United Grand Lodge of England, there are 330,000 Freemasons, meeting in 8,644 lodges. There are separate Grand Lodges for Ireland and Scotland with a combined membership of 150,000. Worldwide, there are in the region of 5 million members.
What's in it for me?
When asked about the benefits of their membership in Freemasonry most members speak of the friendships they make or the spiritual or philosophical growth it has stirred in them. There are other benefits members receive from becoming a Mason, including the following:
A worldwide fraternity: There is prestige and honour in being part of the biggest and best society of gentlemen.
Centuries of tradition: The Masonic rituals connect you with 300 years of history, 1100 years of tradition and 3000 years of legend.
A network of mutual friendship and aid: Masons pledge to help, aid and assist each other in every walk of life.
Help for your community: The charities of Masonry are vast. These aid both Masonic and Non-Masonic charities.
Retirement homes: One of the most extensive Grand Lodge charities and benefits is the Masonic Retirement homes, designed for members of the fraternity and their relatives.
Spiritual awareness: Masonry encourages a man to study his own religion and strengthen his own faith.
Cameraderie: If you are a member of an Old School Lodge, or a lodge of a particular nature, such as a police or military lodge, you will have a special relationship with your fellow brethren based on the fact you were all at the school together, or in the police or military. Thus a special bond is apparent.