What Is Freemasonry?

No one knows exactly when or how Freemasonry began, but its modern form of Grand Lodges and Local Masonic Lodges began in 1717 in London, England – During the Age of Enlightenment…..when individuals started to search for truth rather than accept what others told them to think. Many people who lived within the British colonies of North America quickly joined and promoted Freemasonry, because its principles were very similar to theirs. Men of the period, like – Ben Franklin, John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington, and other Founding Fathers of the United States were Masons.  And the ideals of Freemasonry itself and those of the budding New World are similar: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of thought….along with the belief that all men are created equal; with indisputable human rights granted to them by God and not a mortal monarch.

While these concepts are clearly taken for granted now by so many people, they were considered quite revolutionary in their day – spreading like wildfire when Freemasonry became organized at the start of the 1700’s.  Masonic lodges were one of the earliest modern experiments in people governing themselves through the debate of ideas, free elections, and an acceptance of the majority rule while respecting the rights and thoughts of those who stood amongst the minorities..

There is no “official” definition of Freemasonry, and many masonic writers have given it different definitions. Similarly, there is no single “leader” of Freemasonry, now or in the past. Each state of the United States has its own Grand Lodge, and each Grand Lodge, headed by a Grand Master, is sovereign in its jurisdiction.  Most would agree that Freemasonry is an organization whose members are deeply concerned with moral and spiritual values, self-improvement and helping their communities with charitable endeavors. Masons (synonymous with Freemasons) take oaths to be good to their Brothers in Masonry, their families and all people. Masons are taught that we are part of the brotherhood of man, under the fatherhood of God.

Some of the often-used definitions are that, “Freemasonry is an organization that takes good men and makes them better,” or that it is, “A system of morality, veiled in secrecy and illustrated by symbols.” Its principal tenets are brotherly love, relief, and truth. Its goal is the universality of mankind, with all will act towards others as we want them to act towards us, and with faith in the social, eternal and intellectual progress of mankind.  Masonry is also sometimes called a “great quest for light and knowledge” that deals with the “intellectual, moral, and spiritual values of life.” To achieve these goals, “freedom of thought, speech, and action belongs to every man.”

Freemasonry is open to men of any race or religion who believe in a Supreme Being and who are judged to be of good reputation and character. It is the inner qualities of men — their characters — that are important, not external characteristics or indications of wealth or poverty.   While it requires candidates to express a belief in a Supreme Being, Freemasonry is not a religion or a substitute for religion. It has no theology, dogma or path to salvation. Each Mason follows his own faith. Altars in masonic lodges are places where the charter of the lodge and the Bible are placed. In addition to the Bible, in lodges that include men who believe in a different holy book, their “Volume of the Sacred Law” is also placed on the altar. God is often referred to as the Great Architect of the Universe – to permit men of all religions to meet and pray in a spirit of toleration.

Freemasonry embraces the basic idea of allowing every man to think for himself and to expand his knowledge. Thus, Masonic lodges have been a meeting place for men who possess truly of open minds. For this reason, too, Masons have been specifically condemned and sometimes imprisoned or worse, by Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and Franco. In fact, even today it is illegal to be a Mason in some countries where freedom and democracy does not prevail.

Contrary to popular opinion, Freemasonry is not a secret society. Its aims, principles, activities and rules are open to the public and its members are at perfect liberty to tell anyone that they are Masons. The only secrets that truly exist are the exact details of the rituals and the opening and closing of meetings. Good Masons will never disclose these secrets because they are taught that keeping some things secret is a sign of good character.

In the United States, Freemasonry is a male-only fraternity. Even in traditional Masonry, though, there are Masonic-related organizations for women as well as for teenage men and women such as the Order of the Eastern Star, the Order of DeMolay, Rainbow Girls and Job’s Daughters. Freemasonry also includes the “Scottish Rite,” the “York Rite,” the “Shrine” and other groups whose membership is open only to Masons. Each of these organizations has its own history, its own rituals and rules, titles for officers and charities. For example, the Scottish Rite confers degrees up to the 33rd degree and the Shrine funds a network of hospitals that provide free care to millions of children and burn victims.

Freemasonry is an organization that has a long and very proud tradition that is firmly grounded in important concepts including a belief in God, democracy, charity, tolerance, liberty and equality……not only for Masons but for all mankind.