1) What’s Masonry?
Masonry (or Freemasonry) is dedicated to the Brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God. It uses the tools and implements of ancient architectural craftsmen symbolically in a system of instruction designed to build character and moral values in its members. Its singular purpose is to make good men better. Its bonds of friendship, compassion, and brotherly love have survived even the most divisive political, military, and religious conflicts through the centuries. Freemasonry is a fraternity which encourages its members to practice the faith of their personal acceptance. Masonry teaches that each person, through self-improvement and helping others, has an obligation to make a difference for good in the world.
2) Who Are The Masons?
Masons (also known as Freemasons) are men of good character who strive to improve themselves and make the world a better place. They belong to the ldest and most honorable fraternal organization in the world. Today, there are more than two million Freemasons in North America. Masons represent virtually every occupation and profession, yet within the Fraternity, all meet as equals. Masons come from diverse political ideologies, yet meet as friends. Masons come from varied religious beliefs and creeds, yet all believe in one God.
Many of North America’s early patriots, the Founding Fathers—thirteen signers of the Constitution and fourteen President of the United States, Paul Revere, Joseph Warren, and John Hancock — were Masons. In Canada, the Father of the Confederation, Sir John A. MacDonald, was a Mason.
Masons and Masonry played an important part in the Revolutionary War and an even more important part in the Constitutional Convention and the debates surrounding the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Many of those debates were held in Masonic lodges.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Freemasonry is how so many men, from so many different walks of life, can meet together in peace, always conducting their affairs in harmony and friendship and calling each other “Brother.”
3) Where Did Masonry Begin?
No one knows just how old it is because the actual origins have been lost in time. Most scholars believe Masonry rose from the guilds of stonemasons who built the majestic castles and cathedrals o the middle ages. Possibly, they were influenced by the Knights Templar, a group of Christian warrior monks formed in 1118 to help protect pilgrims making trips to the Holy Land.
In 1717, Masonry created a formal organization when four Lodges in London joined in forming England’s first Grand Lodge. By 1731, when Benjamin Franklin joined the Fraternity, there were already several Lodges in the Colonies, and Masonry spread rapidly as America expanded west.
Today, Masonic Lodges are found in almost every community throughout North America, and in large cities there are usually several Lodges. So far, there are about 13, 200 lodges in the United States.
A Mason can travel to almost any country in the world and find a Masonic Lodge where he will be welcomed as a “Brother.”
4) Some Important Masonic Principles:
- Faith must be the center of our lives.
- All men and women are the children of God.
- No one has the right to tell another person what he or she must think or believe.
- Each person must take responsibility for his/her own life and actions.
- Each person must learn and practice self-control.
- Each person has a responsibility to be a good citizen, obeying the law.
- It is important to work to make the world a better place for all.
- Honor and integrity are keys to a meaningful life.
5) When does a man become a Mason?
- When he can look out over the rivers, the hills, and the far horizon with a profound sense of his own littleness in the vast scheme of things, and yet have faith, hope, and courage—which is the root of every virtue.
- When he knows that down in his heart every man is as noble, as vile, as divine, as diabolic, and as lonely as himself, and seeks to know, to forgive, and to love his fellowman.
- When he knows how to sympathize with men in their sorrows, yea, even in their sins—knowing that each man fights a hard fight against many odds.
- When he has learned how to make friends and to keep them, and above all how to keep friends with himself.
- When he loves flowers, can hunt birds without a gun, and feels the thrill of an old forgotten joy when he hears the laugh of a little child.
- When he can be happy and high-minded amid the meaner and drudgeries of life.
- When star-crowned trees and the glint of sunlight on flowing waters subdue him like the thought of one much loved and long dead.
- When no voice of distress reaches his ears in vain, and no hand seeks his aid without response.
- When he finds good in every faith that helps any man to lay hold of divine things and sees majestic meanings in life, whatever the name of that faith may be.
- When he can look into a wayside puddle and see something beyond mud, and into the face of the most forlorn fellow mortal and see something beyond sin.
- When he knows how to pray, how to love, how to hope.
- When he has kept faith with himself, with his fellowman, and with his God; in his hand a sword for evil, in his heart a bit of a song—glad to live, but not afraid to die!
Such a man has found the only real secret of Masonry, and the one which it is trying to give all the world.
6) What’s a Lodge?
The word “lodge” means both a group of Masons meeting in some place and the room or building in which they meet. Masonic buildings are also sometimes called “temples” because the original meaning of the term was “place of knowledge” and Masonry encourages the advancement of knowledge. Masonic Lodges usually meet once or twice a month to conduct regular business, vote upon petitions for membership, and bring new Masons into the Fraternity through three ceremonies called degrees. In the Lodge room Masons share in a variety of programs. Here the bonds of friendship and fellowship are formed and strengthened.
7) What Do Masons Do?
The Masonic experience encourages members to become better men, better husbands, better fathers, and better citizens. The fraternal bonds formed in the Lodge help build lifelong friendships among men with similar goals and values.
Beyond its focus on individual development and growth, Masonry is deeply involved in helping people. The Freemasons of North America contribute over two million dollars a day to charitable causes. This philanthropy represents an unparalleled example of the humanitarian commitment of the great and honorable Fraternity. Much of that assistance goes to people who are not Masons. Some of these charities are vast projects. The Shrine Masons (Shriners) operate the largest network of hospitals for burned and orthopedically impaired children in the country, and there is never a fee for treatment. The Scottish Rite Masons maintain a nationwide network of over 150 Childhood Language Disorder Clinics, Centers, and Programs.
Many other Masonic organizations sponsor a variety of philanthropies, including scholarship programs for students, and perform public service activities in their communities. Masons also enjoy fellowship of each other and their families in social and recreational activities.
Masonry teaches that each person has a responsibility to make things better in the world. Most individuals won’t be the ones to find a cure for cancer, or eliminate poverty, or help create world peace, but every man and woman and child can do something to help others and to make things a little better.
8) Who Can Qualify To Join?
Applicants must be men of good character who believe in a Supreme Being. To become a Mason one must petition a particular Lodge. The Master of the Lodge appoints a committee to visit the applicant prior to the Lodge balloting upon his petition.
9) What’s a Degree?
A degree is a stage or level of membership. It’s also the ceremony by which a man attains that level of membership. There are three, called Entered Apprentice, names are taken from the craft guilds. In the Middle Ages, when a person wanted to join a craft, such as the gold smiths or the carpenters or the stonemasons, he was first apprenticed. As an apprentice, he learned the tools and skills of the trade. When he had proved his skills, he became a “Fellow of the Craft” (today we would say “Journeyman”), and when he had exceptional ability, he was known as a Master of the Craft.
The degree are plays in which the candidate participates. Each degree uses symbols to teach, just as plays did in the Middle Ages and as many theatrical productions do today.
The Masonic degree teach the great lessons of life—the importance of honor and integrity, of being a person on whom others can rely, of being both trusting and trustworthy, of realizing that you have a spiritual nature as well as a physical or animal nature, of the importance of self-control, of knowing how to love and be loved, of knowing how to keep confidential what others tell you so that they can “open up” without fear.
10) Why is Masonry so “Secretive?”
It really isn’t “secretive,” although it sometimes has that reputation. Masons certainly don’t make a secret of the fact that they are members of the fraternity. We wear rings, lapel pins, and tie clasps with Masonic emblems like Masonic signs which, logically, recall the fraternity’s early symbolic roots in stonemasonry. Masonic buildings are clearly marked, and are usually listed in the phone book. Lodge activities are not secret—picnics and other events are even listed in the newspapers, especially in smaller towns. Many lodges have answering machines which give the upcoming lodge activities. But there are some Masonic secrets, and they fall into two categories.
The first are the ways in which a man can identify himself as a Mason—grips and passwords. We keep those private for obvious reasons. It is not at all unknown for unscrupulous people to try to pass themselves off as Masons in order to get assistance under false pretenses.
The second group is harder to describe, but they are the ones Masons usually mean if we talk about “Masonic secrets.” They are secrets because they literally can’t be talked about, can’t be put into words. They are the changes that happen to a man when he really accepts responsibility for his own life and, at the same time, truly decides that his real happiness is in helping others.
It’s a wonderful feeling, but it’s something you simply can’t explain to another person. That’s why we sometimes say that Masonic secrets cannot (rather than “may not”) be told. Try telling someone exactly what you feel when you see a beautiful sunset, or when you hear music, like the national anthem, which suddenly stirs old memories, and you’ll understand what we mean.
“Secret societies” became very popular in America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There were literally hundreds of them, and most people belonged to two or three. Many of them were modeled on Masonry, and made a great point of having many “secrets.” Freemasonry got ranked with them. But if Masonry is a secret society, it’s the worst-kept secret in the world.
11) Is Masonry a Religion?
The answer is No.
We do use ritual in meetings, and because there is always an altar or table with the Volume of the Sacred Law open if a lodge is meeting, some people have confused Masonry with a religion, but it is not. That does not mean that religion plays no part in Masonry—it plays a very important part. A person who want to become a Mason must have a belief in God. No atheist can ever become a Mason.
Meetings open with prayer, and a Mason is taught, as one of the first lessons of Masonry, that one should pray for divine counsel and guidance before starting an important undertaking. But that does not make Masonry a “religion.”
Sometimes people confuse Masonry with a religion because we call some Masonic buildings “temples.” But we use the word in the same sense that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called the Supreme Court a “Temple of Justice” and because a Masonic lodge is a symbol of the Temple of Solomon. Neither Masonry nor the Supreme Court is a religion just because its members meet in a “temple.”
In some ways, the relationship between Masonry and religion is like the relationship between the Parent—Teacher Association (the P.T.A) and education. Members of the P.T.A believe in the importance of education. They support it. They assert that no man or woman can be a complete and whole individual or live up to his or her full potential without education. They encourage students to stay in school and parents to be involved with the education of their children. They may give scholarships. They encourage their members to get involved with and to support their individual schools.
But there are some things P.T.A.s do no do. They don’t teach. They don’t tell people which school to attend. They don’t try to tell people what they should study or what their major should be.
In much the same way, Masons believe in the importance of religion. Masonry encourages every Mason to be active in the religion and church of his own choice. Masonry teaches that without religion a man is alone and lost, and that without religion, he can never reach his full potential.
But Freemasonry does not tell a person which religion he should practice or how he should practice it. That is between the individual and God. That is the function of his house of worship, not his fraternity. And Masonry is a fraternity, not a religion.
12) What’s a Masonic Bible?
Bibles are popular gifts among Masons, frequently given to a man when he joins the lodge or at other special events. A Masonic Bible is the same book anyone thinks of as a Bible (it’s usually the King James translation) with a special page in the front on which to write the name of the person who is receiving it and the occasion on which it is given. Sometimes there is a special index or information section which shows the person where in the Bible to find the passages which are quotes in the Masonic ritual.
13) If Masonry isn’t a religion, why does it use ritual?
Many of us may think of religion when we think of ritual, but ritual is used in every aspect of life. It’s so much a part of us that we just don’t notice it. Ritual simply means that some things are done more or less the same way each time.
Almost all school assemblies, for example, start with the principal or some other official calling for the attention of the group. Then the group is led in the Pledge of Allegiance. A school choir or the entire group may sing the school song. That’s a ritual.
Almost all business meetings of every sort call the group to order, have a reading of the minutes of the last meeting, deal with old business, then with new business. That’s a ritual. Most groups are use Robert’s Rules of Order to conduct a meeting. That’s probably the best-known book of ritual in the world.
There are social rituals which tell us how to meet people (we shake hands), how to join a conversation (we wait for a pause, and then speak), how to buy tickets to a concert (we wain in line and don’t push in ahead of those who were there first). There are literally hundreds of examples, and they are all rituals.
Masonry uses a ritual because it’s an effective way to teach important ideas—the values we’ve talked about earlier. And it reminds us where we are, just as the ritual of a business meeting reminds people where they are and what they are supposed to be doing.
Masonry’s ritual is very rich because it is so old. It has developed over centuries to contain some beautiful language and ideas expressed in symbols. But there’s nothing unusual in using ritual. All of us do it every day.
14) Why does Masonry use symbols?
Everyone uses symbols every day, just as we do ritual. We use them because they communicate quickly. When you see a stop sign, you know what it means, even if you can’t read the word “stop.” The circle and line mean “don’t” or “not allowed.” In fact, using symbols is probably the oldest way of communication and the oldest way of teaching.
Masonry uses symbols fro the same reason. Some form of the “Square and Compasses” is the most widely used and known symbol of Masonry. In one way, this symbol is a kind of trademark for the fraternity, as the “golden arches” are for McDonald’s. When you see the square and Compasses on a building, you know that Masons meet here.
And like all symbols, they have a meaning. The Square symbolizes thing on the earth, and it also symbolizes honor, integrity, truthfulness, and the other ways we should relate to this world and the people in it. The Compasses symbolize things on the spirit, and the importance of a well-developed spiritual life, and also the importance of self-control-of keeping ourselves within bounds. The G stands for Geometry, the science which the ancients believed most revealed the glory of God and His works in the heavens, and it also stands for God, Who must be at the center of all our thoughts and of all our efforts.
The meanings of most of the other Masonic symbols are obvious. For example, the gavel teaches the importance of self-control and self-discipline. The hour-glass teaches us that time is always passing, and we should not put off important decisions.
15) So, is Masonry education?
Yes. In a very real sense, education is at the center of Masonry. We have stressed its importance for very long time. Back in the Middle Ages, schools were held in the lodges of stonemasons. You have to know a lot to build a cathedral—geometry, and structural engineering, and mathematics, just for a start. And that education was not very widely available. All the formal schools and colleges trained people for careers in the church, or in law or medicine. And you had to be a member of the social upper classes to go to those schools. Stonemasons did not come from the aristocracy. And so the lodges had to teach the necessary skills and information. Freemasonry’s dedication to education started there.
It has continued. Masons started some of the first public schools in both Europe and America. We supported legislation to make education universal.
In the 1800s Masons as a group lobbied for the establishment of state-supported education and federal land-grant colleges. Today we give millions of dollars in scholarships each year. We encourage our members to give volunteer time to their local schools, buy classroom supplies for teachers, help with literacy programs, and do everything they can to help assure that each person, adult or child, has the best educational opportunities possible.
And Masonry supports continuing education and intellectual growth for its members, insisting that learning more about many things is important for anyone who wants to keep mentally alert and young.
16) What does Masonry teach?
Masonry teaches some important principles. There’s nothing very surprising in the list. Masonry teaches that:
- Since God is the Creator, all men and women are the children of God. Because of that, all men and women are brothers and sisters, entitled to dignity, respect for their opinions, and consideration of their feelings.
- Each person must take responsibility for his/her own life and actions. Neither wealth or poverty, education nor ignorance, health nor sickness excuses any person from doing the best he or she can do or being the best person possible under the circumstances.
- No one has the right to tell another person what he or she must think or believe. Each man and woman has an absolute right to intellectual, spiritual, economic, and political freedom. This is a right given by God, not by man. All tyranny, in every form, is illegitimate.
- Each person must learn and practice self-control. Each person must make sure his spiritual nature triumphs over his animal nature. Another way to say the same thing is that even when we are tempted to anger, we must not be violent. eve when we are tempted to selfishness, we must be charitable. even when we want to “write someone off,” we must remember that her or she is a human and entitled to our respect. Even when we want to give up, we must go on. Even when we are hated, we must return love, or, at a minimum, we must not have back. It isn’t easy!
- Faith must be in the center of our lives. We find that faith in our houses of worship, not in Freemasonry, but Masonry constantly teaches that a person’s faith, whatever it may be, is central to a good life.
- Each person has a responsibility to be a good citizen, obeying the law. That doesn’t mean we can’t try to change things, but change must take place in legal ways.
- It is important to work to make this world better for all who live in it. Masonry teaches the importance of doing good, not because it assures a person’s entrance into heaven—that’s a question for a religion, not a fraternity—but because we have a duty to all other men and women to make their lives as fulfilling as they can be.
- Honor and integrity are essential to life. Life without honor and integrity is without meaning.
Information source: The Masonic Information Center (MIC)