What is a Mason?
What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry (or Masonry for short) is the world's oldest and largest Fraternity. Its history and tradition date to antiquity. The singular purpose of Freemasonry is to make good men better. Over the centuries, its bonds of friendship, compassion and brotherly love have survived even the most devisive political, military and religious conflicts. Freemasonry is neither a forum, nor a place for worship. Instead, it is a friend of all religions which are based on the belief in one God.
How did it start?
No one knows just how old Masonry is, because its actual origin has been lost in time. Most probably, it arose from the guilds of stonemasons who built the castles and cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Possibly, they were influenced by the Knights Templar, a group of Christian warrior-monks formed in 1118 A.D. to help protect pilgrims making trips to the Holy Land. The name Freemason appeared as early as 1212 AD in connection with the master builders who traveled throughout Europe erecting the magnificent cathedrals and churches. These builders were called Freemasons because they were a privileged class, not subject to feudal servitude or bondage to a lord. They were free to travel about Europe practicing their building craft, while ordinary people labored as serfs under feudal lords.
The Freemasons were protective of their art, guarding against any proliferation which would cheapen it or could cause them to be less in demand. They knew that so long as their art was practiced only by relatively few craftsmen, the demand for their services would continue and the particular freedoms they enjoyed would endure. But they also recognized the fact that if their work was to continue, the secrets of their craft must be passed on to future generations.
So the Freemasons formed themselves into lodges in which their secrets might be taught and preserved. They were, naturally, most selective of those making application to join their lodges, determined that the secrets of their art should be handed down only to those morally and otherwise fit to receive and perpetuate them.
As time passed and cathedral building came to an end, the lodges of Freemasons received fewer and fewer applications. Meanwhile many men had become interested in the Freemasons, having admired their circumspect behavior and their loyalty to their fellows. So it was perhaps inevitable that the old practicing Freemasons, popularly called operative masons, would eventually accept others (who weren't builders) into their lodges.
These new non-operative or speculative members were taught the same old rituals and were obligated in the same manner as were their operative brethren. In time, the membership of Freemasons came to be totally speculative (that is, composed of members who were not actual stone masons.)
Today, Freemasonry is a fraternal society whose members are linked together by a common moral uprightness, and whose ethical principles are acceptable to all good men. Its doors are open to all men who seek harmony with each other, who feel a desire to self-improvement and who wish to participate in the adventure of making this world a better place in which to live.
The fundamental virtues characteristic of a Mason are: kindness in the home, honesty in all things, courtesy in society, fairness to all, compassion for the sick and unfortunate, resistance toward evil, forgiveness for the penitent, and above all, reverence and love for God.
So, what is Masonry?
In a nutshell, it is a philosophy of ethical conduct and a system of character development practiced by men united by ancient fraternal ties.
What about the Secrets?
Contrary to what many believe, Freemasonry is not a secret society. It does not hide its existence nor its membership. There has been no attempt to conceal the purposes, aims and principles of Freemasonry. It is an organization which has as its principal teachings Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. Its rules and regulations are open for all to see. Thousands of books about Freemasonry have been published and are available in any public library. It is true that Freemasonry does have some secrets, or private information, it attempts to preserve. These have to do with secret modes of recognition, which enable members to quickly recognize each other as Masons and which serve to unite them into one society of friends and brothers.
Masonry does have its secret (or private) rituals. These are the modes by which we instruct new members. These rituals originated with the old cathedral builders mentioned above and have been handed down over the centuries.
Most of these secret rituals are based upon writings in the Holy Bible and the writings of other great philosophers, so they are 'secret' only in their unique adaptation and presentation. This ritualistic mode of instruction has proven remarkably effective over the centuries and its use, being peculiar to Freemasonry, has kept the Fraternity apart from those who would imitate it. The lessons taught in the Masonic ritual are in no way secret; they may be obtained from many and various Masonic writings available to all.
The unique modes of recognition and the rituals for instruction are the only secrets Masonry has.
Free Masonry is not a Religion.
Masonry is not a religion, nor is it a substitute for religion. It provides no system of faith, offers no sacraments, does not have a clergy and does not claim to lead to salvation. Every member is free to follow the Faith or Denomination which best agrees with his personal religious conviction, and he is encouraged to do so.
Masonry expects its members to conduct themselves in accordance with a strict moral code, and it believes the requirements of that moral code are in harmony with the teachings of any religion or with the beliefs of any good man.
Freemasonry accepts men from every religious faith. It does not bar any man because of his religious leanings, so long as he believes in a Supreme Being. The necessity to believe in one Supreme Being is an ancient requirement to insure that if an individual recognizes the Fatherhood of God he can readily accept the concept of the Brotherhood of man.
How does one become a Mason?
The conditions for membership are few. Applicants must be adult males, mentally and physically competent and of good moral character. Masonry does not solicit or recruit new members. A man seeking Masonic membership must do so of his own free will and accord. Masons believe that a man who becomes a Mason of his own personal choice is much more likely to become a dedicated and productive member.
Once a man decides to seek Masonic membership, he needs only to ask for a petition from one whom he believes to be a Mason.
Note: This information was excerpted from the pamphlet: The Marvel of Masonry, a publication of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, 1993.
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Last updated 1830, 08 March, 2003