Where did Freemasonry begin?
Although there has been hundreds of theories put forth by learned scholars, both Masons and non-Masons, the question of origin has never been definitively answered. Some researchers note parallels with the Essenes, a middle East sect at the time of Jesus. Others connect Masons with the Knights Templar at the time of the Crusades. Still others, provide a convincing argument Masonry came from the great cathedral builders of Europe during the 13 and 1400’s. All agree it is of antiquity, hence the claim to being the oldest fraternal organization in the world.
Modern Masonry is well documented from 1717 when four Lodges in London, England, met to organize the first Grand Lodge. Obviously, Masonic Lodges were in existence before that. In fact, an entry in a diary owned by one Elias Ashmole stated he was made a Mason on October 16, 1646, in a Lodge in Warrington with 7 members present. Yet the first lodge in Warrington of which we have a record is 1775.
It is probably safe to say that Masonry has been around in one form or another for at least 600 years.
Is Freemasonry a Secret Society?
No. Freemasonry is a society which keeps certain matters private, such as the minutes of its meetings, but the organization, its membership, its officers, its purposes are not secret. Freemasonry meets in Lodges, sometimes referred to as Temples. Many of these are beautiful, prominent buildings in the cities and towns in which they are erected. Men enter and leave these buildings openly, not secretly.
A number of Grand Lodges publish the names of the members of the Order in their Proceedings. Many lodges issue directories of their membership. Men wear the square and compasses on their lapels. Who’s Who lists Masonic membership in many of its biographies. Masons appear as such in public at cornerstone laying and at funerals. These are not the characteristics of a “secret” society.
The vast majority of Masons are proud of being such. They boast of it, knowing that the general public conceives of Freemasonry as an honor; that not every one can be a Mason; that it is a character building organization of good men. But let us suppose for a moment that” Freemasonry IS a secret society.” Is belonging to a “secret society” criminal? Only if such a society has inhuman or unlawful purposes. There are “secret societies” which engage in conspiracies, or terrorism, or other illegal practices; membership in them is “secret” because their members do not admit publicly that they belong to such organizations.
Is Freemasonry is a religion?
No, Freemasonry is not a religion. The dictionary (Funk & Wagnall’s Standard) defines religion as “Any system of faith, doctrine and worship, as, the Christian religion.” Freemasonry has no “system of faith”, and its acknowledgment of a Grand Architect of the Universe is, in its own words (Old Charges, first printed in Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723) “that natural religion in which all men agree”–that is, the reverence for a supreme, single, creative Power. No Grand Lodge phrases a doctrine, and a religion without a doctrine is no religion. No Masonic Lodge uses any service of divine worship in its ritual or meetings. True it is that lodges have an Altar, use a Sacred Book upon it, open and close meetings with prayer, possess an officer called a Chaplain, and are dedicated to God and the Sts. John.
In almost every hotel room is to be found a Bible. Does that make the hotel either a religion or a church? The Army and Navy have Chaplains for every regiment, every ship. Does that make the Army and Navy religions, or the ships churches? The American Legion and a hundred other organizations have Chaplains, but no one thinks of them as religions. Our symbols are not religious symbols. Our purposes, while virtuous, are not religious. We seek no converts; we profess no dogma; we gladly accept men of any and of every faith; indeed, we accept men of no particular faith who yet believe in one Supreme Being.
Freemasonry does, indeed, inculcate morality, believes in human dignity, encourages charity, practices relief. The family, schools, institutions of higher learning, organizations of a hundred characters, all are moral, charitable, and humanly helpful. But that does not make them religions.
One of the central teachings of Freemasonry is immortality. Freemasonry insists on a belief in immortality, but it teaches no particular doctrine concerning survival after death. Freemasonry is reverent, charitable, and ethical in precept and practice. So are millions of people who are neither Masons nor church members. The only religious affirmation required of a Freemason is that he believe in one God.
Freemasonry accepts as members the Christian, the Jew, the Mohammedan, the Parsee, the Buddhist; a man may be a Unitarian or a Baptist, a Spiritualist, a Quaker or catholic. Freemasonry accepts him as a man, not as a member of a church. Quakers and Catholics cannot become Masons without offending their own religion, which fact Masonic authorities will always explain to men of those faiths who apply, but Masonry accepts them if they are good men and wish to join. Ministers of all faiths are Masons, just as Masons are members of all churches. A minister of one faith cannot profess doctrine other than his own; yet he can be a Mason. The Fraternity obviously is not a religion, but only a philosophy of life.
Can a woman become a member of the Masonic Fraternity?
No. There are groups which proclaim themselves co-masons, that is male and female members, but they are not considered regular members by mainstream Grand Lodges. The Order of the Eastern Star, an organization for both men and women, is closely aligned with Masonry and provides an opportunity for husband and wife to enjoy the fraternal companionship of like minded people.
Do those men running around in little red hats on mini-cars have any connection to Masonry?
Indeed they do. All Shrine members are Masons first and foremost. Shriners are the most visible as they participate in public activities, such as parades, raising money for the several hospitals across North America they support. But to become a Shriner, you have to be a Mason first.
How do I become a member of the Fraternity, or where can I learn more?
As we previously mentioned, there are thousands of papers and books on Freemasonry available at your local library or on the World Wide Web with more information than you could cover in a lifetime. Search through the articles on this website for a large selection of topics on Masonry.
Better yet, talk to a Mason. In fact, the first step in becoming a member of the Masonic fraternity is to ask for a petition to join. You will never be approached and asked to join because every man who does become a Mason does so of his own free will.
I don’t know any Masons. How can I find one to talk to?
You may be surprised to learn of men within your circle of acquaintances who are Masons. As we said, you will not be approached to become a member which explains why none of them have ever mentioned it to you. Look for activity around the Lodge in your community for an opportunity to speak with one. Ask your friends if they know of any members of the local Masonic Lodge. Numerous Lodges have a website with contact information. Use your favorite search program to locate one nearest you. Here in New Brunswick, use the contact link and we will put you in touch with a Mason from your area.