What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is a fraternity. Its membership is restricted to men, but there is no hazing, as is found in some college fraternities. The Masonic Order is a serious group. It exists to take good men and help them to become better men. Thus, it is not a reform society. It does not exist to reform criminals, nor would such individuals benefit from its teachings.
Variously known as Freemasonry, Masonry, or The Craft, the beginnings of our fraternity are lost to history. Although Masonry is believed to be the oldest surviving fraternal organization in the world, the exact date of its founding is uncertain. Freemasonry can, however, be easily traced to sixteenth century Scotland, although the first Masonic governing body was not founded until 1717 in London. The oldest Masonic document, the Regius poem, dates to around 1390 A.D. We know of no Masonry before that date. Somewhere between 1390 and 1717 lodges of operative masons began to accept as members men who did not work in the building trade. Eventually whole lodges composed of such persons arose, leading to a transition from lodges being composed of stone masons to lodges being composed of men from other occupations who gathered and shared a ritual replete with allusions to carpentry, architecture, and stone masonry.
Symbolic, Craft, or Blue Lodge Masonry has three degrees. The three degrees are, in order: Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason. In early Speculative Masonry, there was only one degree. Later a two-degree system developed and finally the three-degree system of today evolved and was firmly in place by around 1760 A.D.
A “degree” is a drama in which a newcomer to Masonry, the candidate, is made to play a key part. These dramas have several characteristics and are progressive in nature, that is, they build on each other. These dramas are enacted with only Masons being present and are for moral instruction. A unique characteristic of each Masonic degree is an “obligation” taken by the candidate. The obligation is an oath taken for instructing the candidate in his Masonic duty.
The three degrees have a biblical basis. Much biblical imagery is used in the ritual of the degrees. The central biblical image used in Masonic ritual is that of the building of King Solomon’s Temple, as meticulously described for us in the Old Testament books of I Kings and II Chronicles. Whenever a Masonic lodge is in session, the Holy Bible is open upon the lodge’s altar.
Masonry does require of its adherents a belief in God and in life after death, though it asks no one to expound upon the particulars of his understanding of those two beliefs. There is some memory work the candidate must learn after the conferral of each degree upon him. He has a set amount of time to learn the catechism, that is, a set of questions and answers, and to recite them before the lodge members at a lodge meeting.
Masonry is not a religion. There is nothing in Freemasonry to interfere with a man’s religious life. Persons of all faiths and Christian denominations are a part of the worldwide Masonic fraternity. Religion and politics are two subjects not allowed to be discussed when a lodge is in session.
Masonry teaches the importance of helping the less fortunate. It especially stresses care for the widows and orphans of Masons. Indeed, most Grand Lodges have within their jurisdiction a home for aged Masons, their wives, and widows, and also a home for Masonic orphans.
Masonry asks its candidates not to tell the details of its ritual to non-Masons. This is not because Masonry is ashamed of anything. It is because an element of secrecy serves to heighten interest in Masonic teaching. It is also because most people would not benefit from being introduced to Masonic teachings out of the context of the Masonic degree system.
Why do Masons keep their rituals a secret? For the same reason that the ancient stonemasons kept their trade secrets. Their secrecy helped to maintain a better quality of work. Our secrecy today helps us to make a good man better. It is difficult to believe that the secrets of Masonry are evil when you consider the heritage of Masonry that includes a long list of influential leaders such as Paul Revere, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Douglas MacArthur, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston. It is difficult to believe that the secrets of Masonry are evil when you see so many Masons working as a vital part of every community to provide better churches, better schools and better governments. It is difficult to look into the eyes of a little child in a Shrine Hospital and say the secrets of Masonry are evil. If we really believe the biblical teaching, “by their fruits ye shall know them” then we must believe that the secrets of Masonry really do help to make a good man better.
There are nominal one-time fees collected for the conferring of the three degrees. After that, a Mason pays yearly dues to the lodge of which he has become a member. No Mason is supposed to ask another person to become a Mason. It is up to the individual man who has an interest in becoming a Mason to ask a Mason he knows for a petition to join the fraternity.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: What is Freemasonry?
A: A one-line definition is impossible. Volumes have been written in an attempt to define it. Freemasonry has been described as “a beautiful system of morality veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.”
The principles in this system of morality will be more or less familiar to almost all men of good character, but they are presented in a different form from those they have known in the past, through symbols and allegory. It is primarily through this symbolism that this system has achieved its high degree of universality. There are Masons to be found in almost every country in the world, and regardless of their mother language, they all understand the same principles.
Freemasonry was founded upon principles of tolerance, freedom, and free-thinking. No man is entitled to dictate to another what he must believe about his religion or his politics. Freemasonry is open to a wide variety of men, from many backgrounds. How one chooses to practice his religion is his own business.
Q: Who are the Masons?
A: Men of good character who have banded together into a society concerned with morality and ethics. These men come from a wide variety of backgrounds, occupations, ethnicity, and religions, yet conduct themselves with absolute civility towards one another.
Q: Have I heard of any men who were Masons?
A: Many of our nation’s early patriots were Freemasons–George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Paul Revere, John Paul Jones, Rufus King, James Otis, Baron von Steuben, and the Marquis de Lafayette–as were 13 signers of the Constitution. Fourteen Presidents, beginning with Washington, and 18 Vice-Presidents were Masons. Five Chief Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court–Oliver Ellsworth, John Marshall, William Howard Taft, Frederick Vinson, and Earl Warren–were Freemasons, and the ranks of Masonry have included a majority of Supreme Court Justices, of Governors of States, of members of the U.S. Senate, and a large percentage of members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
If you’ve heard the following names, you’ve heard of famous Masons:
The Wright brothers
Stephen F. Austin
Cecil B. DeMille
Nat King Cole
Gen. Douglas MacArthur
Gen. Hap Arnold
Gen. Omar Bradley
Gen. James Doolittle
William Clark and Meriwether Lewis
Sugar Ray Robinson
The list is vast, but suffice it to say that many of the world’s great philosophers, statesmen, and leaders have participated in the fraternity of Masons.
Q: Is Freemasonry a religion?
A: No. Neither is it a substitute for religion. No atheist can become a Mason, and meetings open and close with prayer, but there is no dogma or instruction for worship. The discussion of religion and of politics is not permitted in the lodge, as these subjects are best suited to other venues and forums. Differences in opinion and dogma can ultimately drive men apart, while Freemasonry is geared toward bringing them together, regardless of their differences.
Q: How can I become a Mason?
A: There is an old Masonic expression. “To be one, ask one” or 2B1ASK1. No one will ever invite you to become a Mason. You must take it upon yourself to pose the question to a Mason. If you have no friends who are Masons, as was the case with many of our members when they joined, stop by the lodge and introduce yourself. Before you know it, you’ll have friends who are Masons. You can find more information about petitioning on the Grand Lodge of Texas website.