What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry aims to promote Friendship, Morality, and Brotherly Love among its members. It is, by definition, a fraternity; comprised of men from every race, religion, opinion, and background who are brought together as Brothers to develop and strengthen the bonds of friendship.
With over 3 million members, Freemasons belong to the largest and oldest fraternal organization in the world. Freemasonry proposes to “make good men better” by teaching – with metaphors from geometry and architecture – about building values based on great universal truths. Its purpose is engaged in building a better world made up of dreams, aspirations, hopes, and the inspired visions of humanity.
Where did Freemasonry come from?
What historians have been able to properly analyze is the official story of Freemasonry emerged from the lodges of stone masons who worked on the great churches and cathedrals in Europe, during the Middle Ages. Operative Masonry (as it was called then) acted as a type of union for many equipped with building skills looking for work. The stone masons who worked on various building projects were highly educated with knowledge in mathematics and sacred geometry. Prior to this, no one knows for certain as to Freemasonry’s true origins, as much of it is shrouded in mystery and speculation.
Over time, as the demand and need for building new cathedrals and churches diminished during the transitional period from the Dark Ages into the Age of Enlightenment, many philosophers and great thinkers of the time became attracted to the principles used by the stone masons. This eventual process transformed the stone masons into a new kind of masonry based on philosophy and reason, with a new focus on building innovative ideas in the hearts of men. Operative Masonry then became known as Speculative Masonry — or Free Masonry as it is called today.
Is there a difference between Masons and Freemasons?
The names are interchangeable. The term Freemason is often used today in public to differentiate the fraternity from actual operative stonemasons, and is said to more accurately describe the enlightened “freethinking” of the membership.
Why is there so much interest in Masonry today?
Over the last four centuries, Freemasonry seems to have flourished during times of great enlightenment and change. It is no coincidence that Freemasonry rose to prominence during the Age of Enlightenment in both Europe and America – where a new generation believed it could develop methods to foster personal improvement, bring order to society, and understand the whole universe. This sentiment is perhaps even stronger today than it was in the 18th century.
Today, men seek out Masonry for the same reasons – to better themselves and improve society in the company of like-minded Brothers. As we learn more about how our physical world works, there’s also heightened interest in intangible things we don’t yet fully understand – especially topics based upon tradition or having a more mystical nature.
Also, books like The Da Vinci Code and movies like “National Treasure” have inspired both new interest and renewed speculation about the nature of the Fraternity. Though these books and movies are a product more of a vivid imagination than historical fact, the real history of Masonry is perhaps the best story of all, one learned only by asking – and becoming – a Freemason.
Is Masonry some sort of secretive, religious cult?
No, Freemasonry lacks the basic elements of religion. It has no dogma or theology, no wish or means to enforce religious orthodoxy. It offers no sacraments. It does not claim to offer a plan of salvation by works, by secret knowledge, or by any other means. The secrets concerning Freemasonry are only with modes of recognition, not with the means of salvation.
What about secret handshakes, ritual, and passwords?
Freemasonry, often called the “Craft” by its members, is founded on metaphors of architecture. Following the practice of the ancient stonemason guilds, Freemasons use special handshakes, words, and symbols to not only identify each other, but to help, as Masonic author William Preston said in 1772, “imprint upon the memory wise and serious truths.”
Although every new Freemason takes an oath – and vows to keep secret the metaphors of Masonry – the metaphors are only used to help Masons become better men. And there’s certainly no secrecy surrounding the character traits required to be good and true.
Is Masonry biased towards or against any particular faith?
No, Freemasonry is far from indifferent towards 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, 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; however, it is not a substitute for religion. Freemasonry leaves it up to the individual to choose his pathway to God, and that policy naturally includes no rules, advice, or admonitions as to the means of salvation. The Mason is expected, quite properly, to get that spiritual guidance from his own religious faith, which he is encouraged to support with both his energy and his personal finances.
Freemasonry requires of its members a belief in God as part of the obligation of every responsible adult. However, a Mason will never be instructed to put his duties and responsibilities to the Masonic fraternity ahead of his duties and responsibilities to his religious beliefs, to his country, and most importantly, to the duty and care of his own family.
Can African Americans become Masons?
Masonry accepts men from every race, color, creed, nationality, and culture, and there are many Freemasons of African-American decent. In addition, Prince Hall Masonry, formed by Prince Hall, an African-American Freemason who received a charter for a Lodge in 1775, has maintained active Lodges for the African-American community throughout America for over 200 years.
I’ve heard about Shriners in my community. Are Shriners Masons?
Yes, all Shriners are Masons. Before a man can join the Shrine, he must first receive three “degrees” in his “Blue Lodge,” or Home Lodge. After that any Mason can move on to one or more of the appendant bodies, including the Scottish Rite, York Rite, and Shrine. Masons may also affiliate with other Lodges. It should be noted that although these other Masonic bodies allow members to pursue advanced degrees and get more Masonic education, there is no “higher” degree than the 3rd, which is received in the Blue Lodge.
Will becoming a Mason get me out of a speeding ticket, or get me preferential treatment over other citizens if I am ever tried in a Court of Law?
No, any Masonic oath that a member takes as part of his membership specifically excludes any contravention of the Laws of any land in which a Mason may live, all crimes specifically included. Subsequently, any member who is convicted of a criminal act, which brings discredit upon himself and to Freemasonry, rightfully forfeits his membership status. Freemasonry is in the business of making good men better. It does not serve as a breeding ground, outlet, or safe haven for criminal activity, nor does Freemasonry serve as a rehabilitation program for criminals.