What is Freemasonry?

Freemasonry (or simply, Masonry) is a fraternal order whose basic tenets are brotherly love, relief (philanthropy), and truth. We strive to enjoy the company of our brother Masons, assist them in times of personal trouble, and reinforce essential moral values. There is an old adage that Masonry "takes good men and makes them better, which is our goal.

It has often been observed that men are the products of everything with which they come into contact during their lifetime. Masonry offers a man an opportunity to come into regular, enjoyable contact with men of good character, thus reinforcing his own personal moral development. Of course, Masonry is also meant to be enjoyed by its membership, so the order should not be viewed simply as a philosophical club but rather a vibrant fellowship of men who seek to enjoy each other's company; a fraternity.

To maintain this fraternity, discussion of secular religion and partisan politics within the Lodge is not permitted as these subjects are those that have often divided men in the past. Masons cover the spectrum of both religious and political beliefs. Masonry encourages a man to be religious without advocating a particular religion, and to be active in his community without advocating a particular medium of political expression.

While there are probably some actual stone-workers who are Masons, the operative art is not taught to Masons. Rather, Masonry takes the "operative" work of medieval stonemasons and uses it as an allegory for moral development. Thus the symbols of Masonry are the common tools that used by medieval stonemasons, including the gavel, the rule, the compasses, the square and the level. Each of these has a symbolic meaning in Masonry. For example, Masons are said to meet "on the level, meaning that all Masons are brothers, regardless of social status, personal wealth or office within the Lodge or in the world at large. Similar symbolism exists for other tools.

Masonry is distinguished from other fraternal orders by its emphasis on moral character, its ornate rituals, and its long tradition and history, which dates back to at least the 17th century in modern form the 14th century (c. 1350-1390) in the written evidence of its precursors, and back to the mists of antiquity: Since 1598 in Scotland upon the introduction of the Schaw Statutes, which required lodges there to keep records of proceedings; Since 1723 in England, which is the earliest the records go back -- written records of the Grand Lodge of England formed in 1717 did not commence straight away. (Thanks to Richard White for these dates.)

There are also a great many things that Masonry is NOT: a religion, a cult, a political power, etc. We'll address these and many more in these FAQs.

There are three degrees in Masonry: Entered Apprentice (first degree), Fellow Craft (second degree), and Master Mason (third degree). Advancement generally requires the mastery of a small body of memorized material, the contents of which varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, only the signs, tokens, and grips of each degree must be learned; more material in others. Other appendant bodies confer additional degrees, up to the 32nd (or the honorary 33rd) of the Scottish Rite, but in symbolic Masonry (or Blue Lodge Masonry) proper, there are only three.

Of course, no Mason would ever look down upon a Brother simply because he was of a lower degree - the degrees do not exist to create a pecking order or to confer rank. Rather, they are a system of initiation that allows men to become familiar with the august and ancient history and principles of Masonry at a comfortable pace.

Proceeding from Entered Apprentice to Master Mason in the US can take as little as three months, while in England the degrees are usually spaced farther apart. Additionally, some US Grand Lodges now hold one-day classes wherein all three degrees are conferred during a single day.

Most Lodges have regular "stated" communications (meetings) once or twice a month that may also be referred to as "business meetings." In many Lodges in the US, these are open only to Master Masons, but a growing number of jurisdictions allow lodges to open on whatever degree necessary to accommodate a Fellow Craft or Entered Apprentice Mason. In England, these meetings are always opened in the first degree, and Entered Apprentices may attend with the exception of grand lodge and provincial/district grand lodge. Conferring of degrees is usually done at other "special" meetings (a.k.a degree nights) because of the time involved, although degree conferral can take place at a stated communication.

While conferral of degrees and mundane business do take up a lot of a Lodge's time, there are a host of other activities within the fraternity. Charitable work is often done in the form of fund-raisers, community volunteer work and so on. And there are also a great many things done for the simple pleasure of company: monthly breakfasts or dinners, picnics, card/chess matches, lectures on Masonic history; you name it. Masonry is a fraternity, and its membership seeks to have fun.

Local Masonic Lodges are organized under Grand Lodges. In the United States, each state has its own Grand Lodge, which is a peer with every other Grand Lodge. There is no "Grandest Lodge" in the United States -- each Grand Lodge is supreme in its jurisdiction, usually a single U.S. State, and has no authority elsewhere*. Of course, this does not mean that Masonry in New York is radically different than Masonry in Scotland or New Mexico. Masons are very traditional and the differences between Grand Lodges are usually minor.

(* Masonic jurisdictions can extend outside state or national borders, most often to support and govern lodges on overseas military bases, such as those currently in Iraq.)

The head of a Lodge is given the title Worshipful Master. This does not imply that Masons worship him; it is merely a stylish title similar to Honorable or Sir.

Masonic Lodges can be found in many cities, of all sizes, around the world. There are presently approximately 1.5 million Masons in the U.S., approximately four million worldwide.

 

The above was copied from a website in August 2006

This Frequently Asked Question comes from the weekly USENET MASONRY FAQ, posted to alt.freemasonry every Friday at 08:00 Pacific. Please refer to the weekly FAQ for other resource and contact information.

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What is Freemasonry?