WHAT IS FREEMASONRY?
Freemasonry, or Masonry, is the oldest and largest fraternal organization in the world. It is a universal brotherhood, a society of friends seeking to become better men through their association with one another and their families. It may surprise you to learn that it is a 600-year-old fraternity with a 3,000-year tradition. For ages, it has been the prototype of most fraternal societies and service organizations. In a world whose moral values are being severely tested, Masonry brings men from diverse backgrounds together for fellowship and the promotion of integrity and good citizenship. Arguably, no other organization does or can do what Masonry does in bringing together men who are otherwise so different that they would have remained forever strangers.
All over the world, the Masonic Community is perhaps the only voluntary union of people which does not judge its members by the color of their skin, their religious affiliation, political beliefs, wealth, or status in society. In principle, members of a Masonic Lodge are a representative sample of our entire society.
Masonry requires a belief in God and urges its members to be faithful to their own religious beliefs, but it is not a religion. Nor is it a political organization. It encourages its members and their families to be good citizens and to choose their own best means of political expression. If it is conservative, it is only with regard to its own traditions, to the faithfulness of its transmission through the ages. If it is liberal, it is with regard to admitting men not for their status in society, but for their inner qualities, their character.
Thus, Freemasons welcome men from every religious denomination or creed, requiring only that they affirm their belief in a Supreme Being, and that they are of high moral character and are good citizens. Masonic lodges are non-sectarian; that is, they are not affiliated with nor do they endorse any particular religion or political party or orientation. So strict is this that partisan and religious discussions are forbidden when the lodge is in session. Masonry is not a substitute for church or religion. The Fraternity urges its members to practice their own particular religious beliefs in their daily lives.
WILL I BE ASKED TO JOIN?
No, not directly. And you should not wait to be asked! Some men who would like to become Masons never do because they are unaware that a Mason is not permitted directly to solicit new members. Regrettably, it is not uncommon to hear a man say that he waited in vain to be invited into the fraternity. If you are interested in membership, or desire more information, all you need to do to begin the process is to approach a Mason and satisfy yourself concerning what Freemasonry is all about. Or possibly one of your Masonic friends may introduce the subject in conversation with you. But, he won’t actually ask you to join because Freemasons believe that a man should seek membership only of his own free will and accord, not because he was solicited.
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS FOR MEMBERSHIP?
Membership in a Masonic lodge is open to men 18 years of age or older, without regard to race, color or religion. Those accepted for membership must be of good character and reputation, and believe in a Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul. A candidate for membership is first recommended by a member of the Lodge he wishes to join. His application or “petition” is read at a meeting and referred to a committee, usually composed of three members, who interview the applicant, normally in his home, so that the applicant’s wife and family may become familiar with the organization and its activities.
After the committee reports back to the lodge, the applicant is voted on by a secret ballot of the lodge members. The vote must be unanimous and, if accepted, begins the process of becoming a lodge member.
WHAT HAPPENS AT THE INITIATION?
There are three basic degrees of Masonry—Entered Apprentice (First Degree), Fellow Craft (Second Degree) and Master Mason (Third Degree)—which are conferred at three separate meetings over a period of several weeks or months. It is a solemn and dignified process, an enlightening and interesting experience for the candidate. We are not a “college” fraternity, so rest assured, there are no embarrassing moments. Between meetings, he is given further instruction concerning the meaning of the ritualistic ceremony in which he has participated. He will also be asked to memorize a few key passages of the ritual. The Masonic ritual dramatizes its philosophy of the importance of a moral life. It uses the tools of ancient stonemasons as symbols to teach these ideals. A Mason promises to build his life and character with the same care and precision that stonemasons used to construct the great cathedrals centuries ago.
WHERE DID FREEMASONRY START?
Since Freemasonry is many centuries old, scholars do not agree about precisely when and where it began. The most commonly accepted theory is that the origins of Freemasonry reach back to medieval times when the great cathedrals of Europe were built. The stonemasons who created these awe-inspiring Gothic structures formed craft guilds to protect the secrets of their trade, to help one another, and to pass on their knowledge to worthy apprentices. In 17th century England, these guilds began accepting honorary members, men of learning and position. These new members were not working stonemasons or even associated with the building trades. As “accepted Masons,” they eventually grew into a separate organization, an intellectual and “speculative” one called Free & Accepted Masons, or Freemasonry.
WHAT DO FREEMASONS DO?
Like many people, Freemasons try to live in accordance with high moral principles as good citizens. They do not claim to have a monopoly on these ideals, but they do join together in lodges to help each other intensify their understanding of and dedication to these enduring values. The presence of men of such varied ages, personal and professional backgrounds, all meeting as equals, provides endless opportunities to gain insight into the lessons of life. You might think of it as a form of extended family. Freemasonry teaches and practices the principles and ideals of kindness, honesty, decency, courtesy, fairness, understanding and concern. It upholds the belief that we are all a part of a Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God. Masons practice patriotism and shape their lives in accordance with the best practices of civilized society. They do this in lodges for men, but there often are occasions for family activities.
IS FREEMASONRY A SECRET SOCIETY?
No, this is a mistaken notion although it has been widely believed from the beginning. The membership, meeting places and activities of the Masonic fraternity are actually well known to anyone who is interested. Many members wear distinctive Masonic rings or lapel pins to show their pride in being a part of this ancient and honorable fraternity. In addition, many books have been written about Freemasonry, and you can probably find several in your local public library. Even the constitutions, rules and regulations of the Fraternity have been published. That said, it is true that we have private modes of recognition and ceremonies closed to the public, but the Fraternity is not otherwise secret. Masonic halls and temples often donate their space for community activities and rent it for private parties and even to other organizations for their meetings.
WHO ARE THE FREEMASONS?
Men of every walk of life belong to Masonic lodges. They may be highly visible as lodge members wearing Masonic aprons in civic processions or presiding and officiating at Masonic funerals, or at special Masonic ceremonies such as the laying of cornerstones. For example, George Washington officiated at the Masonic cornerstone-laying of the U.S. Capitol in 1793. The recognized Masonic fraternity in the United States includes 3 million members in 14,000 Lodges. There are about 4 million Masons and more than 100 Grand Lodges worldwide. Washington has 17,000 members in nearly 180 Lodges, which belong to the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of Washington. George Washington and 13 other Presidents of the United States as well as 13 Vice Presidents and 35 Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, have been Masons. Washington took his first Presidential oath of office on a Bible borrowed from a Masonic Lodge in New York City, and the oath was administered by Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, another Mason and, at the time, Grand Master.
WHAT HAPPENS AT LODGE MEETINGS?
A Masonic lodge usually meets one or two evenings each month to conduct its business, vote on petitions for membership, and do the work of conferring the three degrees. If no degree work is being performed, the meeting may include a program of interest, sometimes open to the ladies, and refreshments. Good fellowship is an important part of Freemasonry, and life-long friendships are regularly formed as a result of lodge membership.
HOW DO MASONS HELP OTHER PEOPLE?
A basic teaching of Freemasonry is charity. The tradition of its members helping one another and humankind in general is practiced extensively. Although its charitable activities and good works are for the benefit of all humankind, it is not a benefit society or welfare institution.
In the United States alone, the many Masonic organizations collectively provide over $1 million a day, year after year, for charitable causes. These dollars go to support scholarships, medical research and hospitals for crippled children. It also has facilities for those who have speech disorders or mental illness. Masonic groups also help people with serious eye problems and with respiratory difficulties. They provide retirement homes for members, their wives and widows. Many Masons serve as volunteers in a wide variety of roles in their communities.
IF YOU WISH TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP
It is very important to get to know a few members of the lodge and for them to get to know you. You will need to be sponsored as a petitioner for the degrees of Masonry by three members of the lodge. In addition, three other members of the lodge will be assigned to be on the investigating committee. So you can see you’ll need to be well known by at least six members of the lodge before you fill out the petition for membership.