Freemasonry is a huge topic. Do a Google search (I prefer Duck Duck Go) and you will have thousands and thousands of links to all kinds of information. Some of this information is very good, and some of it is outright lies from people who have only heard rumors and make all kinds of crazy assumptions and conspiracy theories. In this post I am going to tell you what Masonry is to me.
First, a little background. I have been a Freemason for over 25 years. I have held membership in several local lodges as well as several other appendant Masonic Bodies such as the chapter, council, and commandery of the York Rite, the Scottish Rite, the Grotto, and the Order of DeMolay. I am a Past Master of my lodge (basically a past president), and currently hold officer positions in two other bodies. All this to say that I have a good bit of experience with the organization.
I am also a Christian. If this surprises you that a man could be a Mason and be a member of a religion, keep reading. Masonry as a religion is just one of the myths I am going to dispel.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s discuss what Masonry is and what it isn’t.
What Masonry is
The simplest explanation is that Masonry is the world’s oldest and largest fraternity. To be a member you must be an adult male, profess a belief in a Supreme Being (we don’t dictate which Supreme Being that is), apply to the organization of your own free will (we don’t recruit), and be of good character and reputation (we run background checks).
We come together under the common thread of wanting to be better than we are now. To learn wisdom from the experience of others that have gone before, made mistakes and had successes, and can teach us about how to be better men.
Masonry can also be called a system of philosophy. In fact we like to say that Masonry is “A system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.” What the heck does that mean?
System of Morality: Masonry is a philosophical system that requires members to live by certain timeless virtues such as Brotherly Love, Relief, Truth, Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, Justice, Hard Work, the Dignity of Labor, etc. Each member recites these promises before the entire lodge.
Veiled in Allegory: We use the story of the building of Solomon’s Temple as an allegory for the building of the Temple of the Soul. This is broken up into sections known as Degrees. The local lodge confers three degrees the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason. Other appendant organizations confer other degrees which are optional but reinforce the teachings in the local lodge.
Illustrated by Symbols: We use symbols from the builder’s trades and nature to represent these virtues, such as the builder’s square to represent truth (this is where the term square deal comes from), the bee hive to represent cooperation and industry, etc.
We hold meetings in our temples or masonic centers once or twice a month. At each meeting we have an opening ceremony that reminds us of whom we are and why we are there, conduct our business such as hearing minutes of previous meetings, paying bills, and voting on charitable donations, have an educational program which could be a brief lecture or a discussion, confer a degree on any new members, close with a closing ceremony, and then meet for food and fellowship. We also have activities such as holiday parties, steak roasts, attend sporting events, and pretty much anything else we want to do as a group or with our families.
What Masonry Isn’t
For every non-member that asks me what Masonry is, there seems to be two people that think they know what it is and quite frankly get it wrong. Here are some of the beliefs I have had to debunk over the years.
Religion is the belief and worship of a particular Supreme Being or beings. It usually has some form of statement of faith, along with rules governing how worship is carried out. Masonry does not identify with any particular Supreme Being, nor do we have a statement of faith or means and modes of worship. While this is not spelled out anywhere, to me we require that faith because true morality cannot come from inside one’s self. If it did, we could not have agreed upon morals and rules of society. Some people believe that murder is wrong because it deprives another person of life, while others may believe that murder is acceptable in certain or all situations. Without an external morality, any sort of uniform morality could not exist.
How do you keep a secret? I was taught that the only way to keep a secret is if two people know about it, and one of them is dead. A secret society is one that denies its own existence. Their offices or meeting places are secret, and their members would have a cover and deny their membership.
This does not define Masonry. Every one of our buildings is clearly marked, usually with a symbol or a name or both. You can look up where our locations are online, and often find webpages or facebook pages for the lodge or other group. Our members often wear rings, lapel pins, and sometimes jackets or caps. We also would not pay to build public monuments like the George Washington Masonic Memorial or the Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial in Gettysburg.
What I would say is that Masonry is a private society with some secrets. A private society is one where you have to be a member (or in some cases family of a member) to participate. The secrets of Masonry (oh boy, here comes the big reveal!) are just passwords and handgrips that help identify a member to another, and include other meanings related to the virtues of Masonry (okay, that was a bit of a let down).
A Good Ol’ Boys Club
Okay, so all of our members are men, and the average age of our members is somewhere in their 60’s. But we take members from all walks of life, faiths, races, socio-economic backgrounds, etc., and we have many young men in their 20’s and 30’s joining our ranks. If a member needs help we will surely help them, but never in a way that would be unethical. So it’s a good boys club, and many (but not all) of our members are old.
My Third Family
There you have it. That is what Masonry is to me. After my biological family, and my church family, Masonry is my family of brothers from all over the world. Almost anywhere in the world you go, you will find a lodge building and brothers coming together in unity. We symbolically use the working tools to better ourselves and our communities. Feel free to post any questions in the comments, I’m happy to answer them.