What Is a Freemason Lodge?
The word lodge really has two meanings to a Freemason. It is both a place where Masonic meetings are held, and a collective term for the members who meet there. So, as weird as it sounds, you could say that a lodge meets in a lodge. In fact, many different lodges can meet at different times in the same lodge building. This practice is common in larger cities, where one building may have many rooms for lodge meetings and dozens of lodges that share them.
Masonic lodges are named by their original founding members. They can be named after the town they're in, a historical figure, a famous Mason, or even a symbolic word or phrase. The name of the lodge is always followed by a number, such as Washington Lodge #13 or Ancient Landmarks Lodge #319. The number is issued by the governing Grand Lodge and designates the order in which lodges have been chartered in that jurisdiction. The older the lodge, the smaller the number.
Many of the details in a lodge room are patterned after aspects of King Solomon's Temple, as described in the Bible and other historical records. Freemasonry teaches by symbolism, and much of that symbolism is based upon the accounts of Solomon's Temple. The Temple was built in the 10th century B.C. on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. Solomon built it as a temple to God and to store the sacred Ark of the Covenant, which contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses. The details of Solomon's Temple are described in the Bible in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles. In its time, the temple's magnificence was known all over the ancient world.
Early stonemasons claimed their guilds originated with the great construction projects of the Bible, to give themselves a long, proud, and sacred pedigree. When Freemasonry became a philosophical organization in the 1700s, the Masons who developed the ceremonies and practices of the fraternity seized on the symbolism of Solomon's Temple to help teach moral and spiritual ideas.
A lodge room contains much that is based on interpretations of descriptions of Solomon's Temple. There are many variations throughout the world, depending on differences in customs, rituals, and rules, but in general, lodge rooms are arranged in a very similar fashion.
Here's how a typical modern lodge may look like:
- The modern Masonic lodge is a rectangular room, with seating around the perimeter. The ceremonies of the lodge take place in the center of the room, so everybody has a good view.
- Lodge rooms are usually oriented east to west. Ancient temples were constructed this way to be aligned with the east-to-west path of the sun. Even if a Masonic building actually faces north and south, when you walk into the lodge room, you're symbolically facing the East.
- There is an altar where the Bible (or other holy book sacred to that lodge's members) is opened. This book is referred to as the Volume of Sacred Law. In U.S. lodges, the altar is in the center of the room. In other parts of the world, the altar may be directly in front of the Master's chair.
- Three candles are placed in a triangular position next to, or surrounding, the altar, to illuminate the Volume of Sacred Law.
- Officers have chairs in specific positions in the room. The Master is in the east, on a raised platform of three steps. The Senior Warden is in the west on a platform of two steps, and the Junior Warden is in the south on one step. The steps symbolize the progression of life: youth, manhood, and age.
- There are two tall pillars with globes on the top, patterned after two bronze columns that were prominent architectural features of Solomon's Temple. The pillars are usually on either side of the Senior Warden, or sometimes next to a doorway leading into the lodge.
- An illuminated letter G is suspended over the Master's chair in the east, or sometimes over the altar. It represents both God and the science of geometry, which was the secret knowledge of the original stonemasons.
All the ceremonies and rituals of Ancient Craft Freemasonry (the most basic brand of Masonry practiced in local lodges all over the world) are conducted in rooms similar to this.
Lodge buildings can be large or small, and so can lodge rooms. In some parts of the world, lodge rooms typically seat no more than 30 or 40 members, whereas many lodge rooms in the United States were built for hundreds. Often the difference is whether many small lodges meet in the same building or if one large lodge dominates the area. Most buildings generally have a dining room and, perhaps, other social rooms.
Until recently, it was common for a lodge building to be called a Masonic temple. Because of a public misunderstanding about the role of religion in Freemasonry, as well as the accusation that Freemasons actually go to their lodges to "worship," many jurisdictions have asked lodges to remove the word temple from their buildings.
Lodges meet at regular intervals throughout the year. Most assemble once a month for a business meeting, where communications are read, bills are paid, proposed members are voted on, and the members catch up on each other's lives. Often, guest speakers are invited, or a member will give a presentation on the ritual, history, philosophy, or symbols of Masonry.
Other special meetings are held to initiate new members and perform the various ceremonies to advance them to full membership. These ceremonies are called degrees.
Because the primary goal of Freemasonry is fellowship, a meal is usually served before or after the meeting, either in the lodge building or at a nearby restaurant. Depending on the traditions, formality, and finances of its members, meals can be as simple as pizza or bologna sandwiches or as sumptuous as a seven-course feast, in the old English Festive Board tradition of a banquet and ceremonial toasting. Masons also gather for the somber purpose of conducting funeral services for their deceased members.