Discovering What Freemasonry Is
Freemasons don't always do such a good job of defining just what they are or what they do, but that's often because the answers non-Masons are looking for are really too complicated. Freemasonry (or just plain Masonry, for short) is a society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values, and one of the world's oldest and most popular fraternal organizations.
Freemasonry is perhaps the most misunderstood, yet popular, "secret society" the world has ever known. And the most visible one. Every state in the United States and almost every country in the world has a Grand Lodge of Freemasons, and each has its own Web site. Freemasons wear rings, jackets, and hats emblazoned with the square and compass on them. Their cars often have Masonic license plates and bumper stickers identifying them. Masonic buildings are clearly marked, and their addresses and phone numbers are in the Yellow Pages. Some Grand Lodges have even started advertising on billboards. If the Freemasons are a secret, they need a refresher course on camouflage. Almost immediately after forming the first Grand Lodge in England in 1717, books trumpeting the secrets of the lodge began to arrive on shelves.
Masonry does have ceremonies it wants to keep private, along with methods of identification (passwords, handshakes, and others), just as corporations have information they want to keep private.
No simple, one-line definition satisfactorily describes what Freemasonry is. It is a philosophy and a system of morality and ethics — and a pretty basic one at that — but these are the main points that make Freemasonry different from any other organization:
- Freemasonry is a fraternity of men, bound together by oaths, based on the medieval stonemason craft guilds.
- Masonic laws, rules, legends, and customs are based on the Ancient Charges, the rules of those craft guilds.
- Freemasonry teaches lessons of social and moral virtues based on symbolism of the tools and language of the ancient building trade, using the building of a structure as a symbol for the building of character in men.
- Masons are obliged to practice brotherly love, mutual assistance, equality, secrecy, and trust between each other.
- Masons have secret methods of recognizing each other, such as handshakes, signs, and passwords.
- Masons meet in lodges that are governed by a Master and assisted by Wardens, where petitioners who are found to be morally and mentally qualified are admitted using secret ritual ceremonies based on the legends of the ancient guilds.
- Freemasonry is not a religion, and it has no religious dogma that it forces its members to accept. Masons must simply believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, whatever they conceive that deity to be. Their personal beliefs are just that: personal.
- Freemasonry is not a science, but it does teach its members to value learning and experience. It encourages Masons to think but does not tell them what to think.
- Freemasonry teaches Masons to be tolerant of the beliefs of others and to regard each man as their equal, deserving both their respect and their assistance.