What is a Freemason?
A man who has taken an obligation to make of himself the best he can, for himself, his family, and his community.
What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is the oldest and the largest fraternal order in the world. It is a universal brotherhood of men dedicated to serving God, family, fellowman and country.
Freemasonry is not a charity; although it promotes charity in its members -- in North America, masons contribute some two and a half million dollars a day to operate children's hospitals, cancer clinics, burn wards, senior's homes and other such facilities.
One of the better known Masonic charities is the Shriners Hospitals for Children where children under the age of 18 receive excellent medical care absolutely free of charge. These "Centers of Excellence" serve as major referral centers for children with complex orthopedic and burn problems.
Masonic membership in Oregon is restricted to men over the age of 18 who are prepared to profess a belief in supreme being. The expression in some rituals is "freeborn, of mature age and under the tongue of good report". (Some jurisdictions have a language or literacy requirement.) Of a candidates beliefs, only three questions are allowed: Do you believe in the existence of a Supreme Being? Do you believe that the Supreme Being will punish vice and reward virtue? Do you believe that Supreme Being has revealed His will to man? Of these three, only the first must be answered in the affirmative, and in many jurisdictions it is the only one asked.
First, a bit of history. Records strongly suggest a lineage to operative stonemason's lodges or guilds of fourteenth century Scotland and an inner fraternity of the London Company of masons. The records of the Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel) show lawyer and writer, John Boswell of Auchinleck, signing the minutes of a meeting held in 1600, although the first recorded admission of a non-operative doesn't occur until 1634. The oldest surviving Minute Book, that of the Lodge of Aitchison's Haven, is dated 9th January 1598.
It is theorized that their need to travel at a time when travel was uncommon required the need to create a sense of community. This included means of identifying themselves and proving their standing in the group, and a culture of mutual support. Whether operative and non-operative lodges existed concurrently or if operative lodges slowly accepted non-operative members into their ranks is still debatable. By the end of the seventeenth century most lodges were speculative, not operative, and the ritual which involved the tools of stonemasonry as symbols was all that remained. Author John J. Robinson, a historian and non-Mason, makes a strong case for a lineage between the Freemasons and Knights Templar in his book titled Born in Blood. While all Masons may not agree on the content of Robinson's book, the author does make a compelling case and raises some interesting questions.
It was in the 16th century that the first anti-Masonic tracts appeared. Most attacks on the craft have taken the position that any society with a secret ritual must be up to no good. Having evolved in a Christian nation, its foundations would certainly have been Christian but the Masonic claim to equality, fraternity and liberty quickly put the Craft at odds with the established churches when a requirement of membership, a belief in God, did not require the definition of that God. Further, all Masonic oaths contain nothing conflicting with a man's duty to God, his country, his neighbor, or himself.
Masonry has been labeled atheistic and pagan since it removed Christian references at the Union of the Grand Lodges of England in 1813, and dangerously radical because it would not support oppressive regimes. History shows that Freemasonry has always been outlawed under totalitarian regimes. Both the Church of England and the Southern Baptist Church have recently completed studies of the Craft and have decided that it is eccentric but neither dangerous nor in conflict with Christianity.
Various Roman Catholic Popes have published condemnations of masonry, including Pope Leo XIII in 1887, who had been duped by hoaxster Leo Taxil. Taxil had authored several documents claiming that the Masons regularly committed a variety of unmentionable acts and Taxil claimed that the papers had been written by Masonic author Albert Pike. Taxil later admitted the papers to be false and part of his hoax but the documents he produced continue to be mis-attributed to Albert Pike by certain people. For more details on the story, click here.
Although Roman Catholic Canon Law does not specifically mention Freemasonry, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Roman Catholic Church still views association with the Masons and other rotary groups as a serious sin.
What attracts a man to Freemasonry?
Every man comes, of his own free will and accord, with his own individual needs and interests. One man may join so that he can associate with other men who believe that only by improving themselves can they hope to improve their world. Another man may join because he is looking for a focus for his charitable inclinations. And yet another may be attracted by a strong sense of history and tradition. Many join simply because they knew a friend or relative who was a Freemason and they admired that man's way of living his life. All who join and become active discover a bond of brotherly affection and a community of mutual support; a practical extension of their own religious and philosophical beliefs.
Most North American Masonic lodges are composed of less than two hundred members of which perhaps thirty are active and will come out regularly to the one or two meetings a month. One meeting, run to a certain ritual which is not much more than a form of Robert's Rules of Order, is a business meeting to keep the membership apprised of the workings of the lodge: paying of accounts, charitable works in progress, assistance to sick or distressed brethren, and the like. The second monthly meeting is used for the conferring of degrees. Before an initiate receives a degree, and takes an obligation of secrecy, he is assured that the mysteries are founded on the purest principles of piety and virtue and that any vows are not inconsistent with his civil, moral or religious duties.
Some lodges meet monthly, others only four times a year. Many lodges also organize socials, dances, outings, dinners and sporting events for their members and families.
Each lodge is chartered by a regional Grand Lodge. There are some 200 recognized Masonic jurisdictions around the world and no central authority, although all can trace their history from either the United Grand Lodge of England (or its precursor Grand Lodges), the Grand Lodge of Scotland or the Grand Lodge of Ireland. They operate under a system of mutual recognition, working within a set of Landmarks of what qualifies as recognized Freemasonry.
Why are the rituals and ceremonies secret?
Tradition, more than anything -- there have been times and places where promoting equality, freedom of thought or liberty of conscience was dangerous. Also, a lesson that must be earned may have a greater impact. Most importantly though is a question of perspective. Each aspect of the ritual has a meaning. Freemasonry has been described as a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. Such characteristics as virtue, honor and mercy, such virtues as temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice are empty clichés and hollow words unless presented within an ordered framework. The lessons are not secret but the presentation is kept private to promote a clearer understanding in good time.
But the true secrets of a mason are not contained in the ritual. A mason who is true to his obligation will not reveal the modes of recognition but they are not truly secret; this is demonstrated by the number of exposures that have been published over the centuries. The secrets of a mason are those personal, private, and lawful, aspects of a man's life that he may choose to share with a brother, a brother who will keep those secrets. This is not secretiveness, this is discretion. There is also that secret which is not kept secret but is only revealed to those who realize the happiness that comes from living a good life.
The symbols have all been taken from stonemason's tools and endowed with certain meanings. The square "teaches us to regulate our lives and actions by the Masonic rule and line, and so to correct and harmonize our conduct as to render us acceptable to the Divine Being, from Whom all goodness emanates..." The compasses "remind us of the Divine Being's unerring and impartial justice..."
Women are not allowed to join recognized lodges of Freemasons. By contemporary standards it may not appear easy to justify this exclusion and most masons would simply claim tradition. As a private group accepting no money from the public they are under no legal obligation to accept anyone but are entitled to chose whom they wish to associate with. If masonry is a power elite then women could and should feel justifiable outrage at being excluded. But Freemasonry's goal is not the consolidation of power but rather the education of good men. If they wish to do this privately and without the involvement of women, it is no concern of others. One might justify this exclusion, in contemporary terms, as a form of male bonding; meeting a group of like minded men from a broad social, economic and cultural background to practice a ritual derived from those practiced hundreds of years ago. Then, to also "emulate what is seen as praiseworthy in others" by practicing charity to the betterment of family and society in general can only be seen as an added benefit.
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