Freemasons For Dummies
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Freemasons are part of an ancient tradition with rituals and symbols all their own. As a Mason, you can earn degrees, join esoteric and social organizations, and become privy to the language and abbreviations specific to Freemasonry.

Freemason Blue Lodge degrees

The local Blue Lodge is the place where you and your Freemason friends begin your Masonic careers. A Blue Lodge is a lodge of Freemasons that confers the first three ceremonial degrees: 

1º — Entered Apprentice 

2º — Fellow Craft 

3º — Master Mason 

Masonic degrees are rites of initiation that teach lessons of honor, morality, and virtue. You can join additional Masonic organizations which confer many other degrees, but none are considered to be of higher rank or privilege than the 3° Master Mason. 

Groups affiliated with Freemasons

Freemasons are generally a pretty social bunch who want more and more people to enjoy their fraternity. The mid-1800s saw the addition of more groups joining the extended Masonic family, including groups for female relatives of Masons, as well as their children. 

Called appendant bodies, some of these groups developed to confer more involved Masonic-style degrees. Some were started solely as social clubs for Masons. Others satisfied a desire for military-style drill teams marching in parades. Still others were created to allow wives and children to take part in the lodge experience. The following list lays out the groups for adults affiliated with Freemasonry. 

The York Rite: York Rite is actually a descriptive term used for three cooperative groups (the Royal Arch, the Cryptic Council, and the Knights Templar) that confer a total of ten degrees in the United States. The degrees making up the York Rite are considered concordant to the first three Masonic degrees, meaning they confer additional Masonic degrees that enlarge and expand on the first three lodge degrees. You must already be a Master Mason before you can join the York Rite. Outside of the United States, the York Rite is often referred to as the American Rite. In addition to the initial three groups, there are many additional York Rite-related sub-groups, such as: 

  • Knight Masons 
  • Allied Masonic Degrees 
  • York Rite College 
  • Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis (Masonic Rosicrucians) 
  • Red Cross of Constantine 
  • St. Thomas of Acon 
  • The Operatives 

The Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite (or the Scottish Rite): Perhaps the most visible and least understood appendant body of Freemasonry, the Scottish Rite isn’t particularly ancient, and it didn’t come from Scotland. The Scottish Rite confers degrees 4 through 32, plus the additional 33rd degree, given for performing great service to Freemasonry or the community. It is technically a concordant body, because some of its degrees continue the story of the building of Solomon’s Temple started in the first three lodge degrees. The Scottish Rite appears in a major role in Dan Brown’s novel (and the 2021 Peacock network streaming series), The Lost Symbol. 

Masonic Social Groups

  • Shriners international: The Shrine has often been called the “playground of Freemasonry.” Shriners wear red fezzes, ride little cars in parades, sponsor circuses, and do other wacky things to raise money for their 23 children’s hospitals in North America. 
  • The Mystic Order of the Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm (simply and affectionately known as the Grotto): Over the years, the Grotto has unfairly earned the unflattering nickname “the poor man’s Shrine,” and built on the premise that men would be better Masons if the solemn teachings from the lodge could be interspersed with a little socializing and fun. 
  • The Ancient Egyptian Order of SCIOTS: Its motto is “Boost One Another.” They’re dedicated to social activities and helping each other in their personal and business lives. 
  • The Tall Cedars of Lebanon: Founded as a fraternal organization to promote “fun, frolic, and friendship,” and to standardize its ritual. Local chapters are called forests, and members are called tall cedars. Its adopted headgear is a pyramid-shaped hat with a tassel. The degree is purely for fun. 
  • High Twelve: A lunchtime organization for Master Masons who generally meet for an hour once a week to enjoy fellowship and to support Masonic and patriotic causes. 
  • National Sojourners: An organization designed especially for Freemasons who have served in active duty of the armed forces of the United States. 

Masonic Women’s Groups

  • The Order of the Eastern Star (OES): Created to be a Masonic-style organization open to women, without simply being a copy, parody, or rip-off of the Masonic degrees. The Order of the Eastern Star is open to men who are Master Masons, and female relatives, spouses, and descendants of Master Masons. 
  • The Order of the Amaranth: A group for both Masons and their spouses and female relatives, it’s open to all faiths. 
  • The Social Order of the Beauceant: This order is unusual in American Masonry because it does not require or even admit men. It is an organization of women limited to the wives and widows of Knights Templar. 

Youth groups affiliated with Freemasonry

Freemasons encourage young people to become involved in their rituals. Over the years, Freemasons have started several groups for young people. 

  • Order of DeMolay (for boys): DeMolay confers initiation and knighthood on boys, followed by awards of merit. Its members hold office and conduct the ritual and business of the chapter, teaching boys leadership skills, financial responsibility, civic awareness, and public speaking. Today, membership is open to boys between the ages of 12 and 21. 
  • Job’s Daughters (for girls): The purpose of the order is to band together young girls for character building through moral and spiritual development, teaching a greater reverence for God and the Bible, patriotism, and respect for parents. 
  • The International Order of the Rainbow (for girls): Although its teachings are based on Christian writings used to show basic values integral to many religions., the order is open to girls of all religions. 

Officers of a typical Freemason lodge

Freemasonry is full of ritual, and for rituals you need people to be responsible for the various roles associated with the ceremonies and for the lodge in general. And what would any lodge be without a leader? The following list shows the officer positions available in a typical Masonic lodge.

  • Worshipful Master (WM): President 
  • Senior Warden (SW): First vice president 
  • Junior Warden (JW): Second vice president 
  • Secretary: Recorder 
  • Treasurer: Financial officer 
  • Senior Deacon (SD): Worshipful Master’s messenger 
  • Junior Deacon (JD): Senior Warden’s messenger 
  • Senior Steward (SS): Page 
  • Junior Steward (JS): Page 
  • Marshall: Master of ceremonies 
  • Inner Guard: Inner door guard 
  • Tyler (or Tiler): Outer door guard 
  • Chaplain 

The Lost Symbol: truth or fiction?

Dan Brown’s book The Lost Symbol and the TV series based on it invites much curiosity — and speculation — about a brotherhood of secrets and symbols. So what’s the truth behind the storytelling? Here are a few facts revealed: 

  • Did the Masons build Washington DC? The Freemasons of Virginia and Maryland conducted ritual ceremonies for the first foundation marker stone of Washington D.C., as well as the cornerstones for the President’s Mansion (the White House) and the Congress House (the Capitol building). George Washington and engineer Pierre L’Enfant were Freemasons, and consulted with non-Mason Andrew Ellicott, who finished designing the street plan of the city after L’Enfant was fired from the project. Masons really did lay the cornerstone of the Washington Monument, along with contributing a series of commemorative stones that appear inside of the obelisk. 
  • Have most U.S. Presidents been Freemasons? Only 14 of them (the first was George Washington, and the most recent was Gerald Ford). 
  • Do 33rd degree Scottish Rite Masons drink out of a skull? Dan Brown cribbed the ceremony in the first pages of The Lost Symbol from an anti-Masonic exposé written in the 1870s to embarrass the Masons. It’s NOT accurate. 
  • Is the “Chamber of Reflection” real? Yes, although Dan Brown took some liberties with it. Some Masonic lodges and appendant groups place initiates into a Chamber of Reflection to meditate on their past life and future mortality before certain degree ceremonies, but it is not a uniform practice. It is far more prevalent outside of the U.S. However, Masons do not have private rooms like this in their homes or businesses (like the basement of the U.S. Capitol building). 
  • Do Masons accept members from all religions? The first requirement for membership in the Masons (along with being for men only) is the belief in a Supreme Being, but a man’s religion is considered his own business. 
  • Is the House of the Temple a real place? Yes, it is the headquarters of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction in Washington D.C. It is located at 1733 16th Street NW, and it can be toured by the public. It is pretty much as described in The Lost Symbol, except that (spoiler alert!) human sacrifices do not take place in it. The George Washington Masonic Memorial is also a very real place in Alexandria, right across from the King Street Metro stop.  
  • Are pyramids a Masonic symbol? No, this is fiction. Pyramids do not appear in regular Masonic ritual or symbolism, and the Masons did not put the “unfinished pyramid and the all-seeing eye” on the back of the U.S. dollar bill. These are myths. 
  • Do Masons really have a universal distress signal? Yes, it is a combination of words and hand signals. 

A glossary of Masonic terms

Freemasons have their own lingo, like many organizations. They give special meaning to some common words and have terms you won’t hear anywhere but in a Masonic lodge. The following list is a glossary of sorts for some common Masonic phrases: 

  • Appendant bodies: Masonically affiliated groups that Masons or their relatives may join. 
  • Degree: One of three progressive stages of advancement in the lodge, conferred using a ritual ceremony; additional degrees are conferred by appendant bodies. 
  • Grand Lodge: A governing organization with authority over the individual lodges in its jurisdiction. 
  • Grip or token: A special identifying handshake used by Masons to identify each other, different for each degree. 
  • Hoodwink: Blindfold worn by candidates during portions of degree ceremonies. 
  • Initiated: The completion by a candidate of the 1st Masonic degree. 
  • Light: Masonic knowledge. 
  • Lodge: A group of Freemasons assembling under the authority of a charter issued by a Grand Lodge; also a building or a room where Masons meet. 
  • Operative: The period of Freemasonry when Masons actually worked with stone and constructed buildings 
  • Passed: The completion by a Mason of the 2nd degree. 
  • Profane: A non-Mason. 
  • Raised: The completion by a Mason of the 3rd degree. 
  • Recognized: The agreement between Masonic Grand Lodges that each other’s rules and customs conform to a certain accepted standard. 
  • Regular: A classification of Freemasonry that practices customs which conform to the laws and regulations of a Grand Lodge. 
  • Sign: A hand gesture used as a mode of identification between Masons, different for each degree. 
  • Sitting in the East: The position in the lodge room where the Worshipful Master sits, also known as the Oriental chair; lodges are symbolically situated east and west. 
  • Speculative: Freemasonry as practiced today, using the symbolism of Operative Masons to build character in men. 
  • Step: A position of the feet used as a mode of recognition between Masons, different for each degree. 
  • Word or pass: A password used as a mode of recognition between Masons, different for each degree. 

About This Article

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Christopher Hodapp and Alice Von Kannon are a husband-and-wife team who’ve had a lifelong love affair with the RV lifestyle. Alice grew up with travel trailers, and Chris traveled and worked out of a motorhome for many years as a commercial filmmaker. Veteran RVers, they’ve explored 44 of the 50 U.S. states so far, staying in literally hundreds of campgrounds and parks.

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