Just what’s it, this Freemasonry, some kind of Rotary club, Lions maybe? While these are, of course, wonderful organisations there is absolutely no comparison, although integrity is at the heart of these organisations and Freemasonry too.
Freemasonry is not, never has been, nor ever will be an NGO. Freemasonry never partners with or gets involved in any project.
We should pause and note here that Freemasonry is regulated by independent Grand Lodges and is split into two groups, regular and irregular Freemasonry. Regular Freemasonry is simply the side that follows the ancient customs and tenets form over three hundred years ago, where as irregular Freemasonry has veered away from some of these. Regular Freemasonry will never get involved in politics, will never align itself with projects of any kind, is not classed as an NGO, and does not support any “causes” of any kind, like fighting corruption, anti- smoking, etc. Regular Freemasons must believe in God, but which religion they chose for their worship is entirely up to each individual. Regular Freemasonry is male only, but we do acknowledge regular woman’s Freemasonry, which we know to be identical in every way in England to that of UGLE. However, irregular Freemasonry, having veered from the ancients tenets, etc., will admit atheists and women, does get involved in politics, and much of the above. Irregular Freemasonry began when the Grand Lodge of France veered from regular Freemasonry with the “Masonry of Adoption.” There is still a regular Freemason’s Grand Lodge in France, and two irregular Grand Lodges.
Unfortunately, there is a third, unregulated group we call clandestine freemasons, this group is when a “lodge’ is formed which is outside a regular or irregular Grand Lodge’s jurisdiction and does not follow any of the rules that govern the rest of Freemasonry, and are often corrupt or even criminal in their activities. These give real Freemasons a bad name.
As I am not a member of any Lions or Rotary, I will let the reader use their own knowledge of these. Neither am I a member of irregular Freemasonry, but that of pure ancient and speculative Freemasonry (in England under UGLE).
So now I will try to explain what regular Freemasons actually do in their meetings. Freemasonry is a secret society, right? Wrong, that could not be further from the truth.
Firstly, let us first recognise some similarities in philosophy. All these groups, Freemasonry included, have integrity at their heart, and giving in their soul. To join Rotary, etc, you must be invited, to join Freemasonry you must ask. Each new member of these clubs (Rotary, etc.) is inducted into their organisation, Freemasons are initiated. You join Rotary, etc. you are “made” a Freemason. In Rotary, etc, you take a pledge, in Freemasonry you take an obligation on your holy book. What else happens in Rotary (except that Rotaract’s aims is to make leaders of the future) I have no idea, but of course, I know exactly what Freemasons get up to.
Let’s start with a little history. Freemasonry evolved from the stonemasons guilds of Medieval Europe and, as guild members, the “secrets and mysteries” of the craft they represented were kept strictly among the members of each particular guild. A stonemason’s guild was similar in nature, except for one thing. Members of a the other craft guild normally practised their craft to serve the town where they resided, whereas stonemason’s, by the very nature of their work, travelled. Therefore, as they needed a more national/international way of recognising each other as skilled craftsmen out side of their guild, they developed a secret way “to know a fellow stonemason by.” These are the other secrets of a stonemason, and traditionally these “secrets” evolved with the evolution of this guild into Freemasonry we know today.
Freemasonry also believes in brotherly love, we care for each other. But it is so much bigger than self, we, too, reach outside of Freemasonry with our charitable giving. In the UK we are the second biggest supporter of charitable work. But we differ here at local level as, although individual members may volunteer to work in various charities, projects or good causes, as a Lodge we don’t partnership with anyone. At the national level in England, UGLE supports the Masonic Charitable Foundation, a charity that not only supports Freemasons and their families, but none Freemasons, national and international charities and good causes too, including disaster relief. So where does that cash originate? All donations are made by Freemasons and all inside a Freemason meeting. We do frequently open our doors after our meeting to friends and family, and here, of course, we collect money, usually through a fun raffle, for example. We never jangle a collection box on these occasions (or any other). So, at a Freemason’s lodge meeting donations are made by the brethren according to their station in life, if you can’t afford to give, that is fine; no donation is expected. Charitable donations at this level are generally given out to local charities, for example, to a hospice. Freemasonry in England is divided into regions (provinces) and every so often provinces have a massive fund raising exercise, know as a Festival Appeal, and these last for a period of years. Each lodge collects funds, usually above that collected for local charities, and these are donated to the Festival Appeal. This money goes the national charity.
Now, what happens at a Freemason’s Lodge meeting? We have a meeting agenda like most other organisations, but ours is completely different. So maybe a little more history will help. It is not certain just how a stonemason’s guild evolved into the Freemasons we know today, but in the 17th century many men from the elite in society joined these guilds and slowly they evolved into Freemasonry. This journey became complex and quite political in the early 18th century – but that is a whole story in itself and not for here; there is no political activity today.
If we go back in time to the stonemasons themselves, it is believed that they had a special ceremony when a young man or boy (usually aged 14 or younger) became an apprentice to a master stonemason, a fellow of the guild. In this ceremony he would take a solemn obligation never to divulge the “secrets and mysteries” of stonemasonry. These “secrets and mysteries” were the skills he was about to learn during his 7 year apprenticeship. The new “entered apprentice” would also be read (or recited) a set of charges (today referred to as the “Old Charges”). These you will find referred to in previous articles on Al-Khabar, such as his solemn belief in God and his loyalty to the state where he may reside, also to his behaviour as a stonemason, and many others. There would also be a set of regulations for the guild to follow. He would remain under the “control” of his master as an indentured apprentice. When he had completed his training and a sample of his skills was approved (or passed) by senior fellows of the guild, he would undertake another obligation, similar to before, except this time he would be given the “Mason’s Word.” Both these obligations were “sealed” on his holy book (sacred to the religion where his faith lies).
Most writing in those days was on parchment in manuscript form and one such, believed to be from around 1390, described a historic story with stonemasonry as its central theme; another from a little later (estimated to be from 1450), had more of the Bible in its stories. The earlier manuscript also contained 15 articles which are believed to be the earliest version of the “Old Charges.” These apparently were the oldest record of the rules and regulations and history of Freemasonry. Shortly after the formation of the first recorded Grand Lodge in London and Westminster (England), one member was tasked to write the Constitutions of the Freemasons. This contained the “history” of Freemasonry, taken from many of the old manuscripts, a set of charges (similar to the 1390 & 1450 manuscript) and regulations.
So, here we reach 1723 and evolved Freemasonry was now being governed by a central body, a Grand Lodge. (For the Masonic Historians among my readers, it is acknowledged that there is more to this than described here, there were other forms of Masonic government before this early Grand Lodge was formed in 1717.) These Freemasons would have held meetings similar to their ancient forefathers, but soon the ritual’s we know today evolved, incorporating the ancient charges and regulations, and also the history was incorporated to form the three degrees we know to today, previously there were only two “degrees,” that of apprentice and fellow, as in a stonemasons guild.
So, I am certain some of you who have reached this far into the article are still saying “but what do you do in your meetings?” We start, as with most meetings, with an agenda. This will begin with a ceremonial opening of the Lodge (Item 1), from what was perhaps the beginning of a stonemasons day, and begins the story of each degree (as each degree has an opening ceremony). We then read and agree the minutes (Item 2, etc.) of the previous meeting. If we have one, we will next greet our “official” guest, the Master of a neighbouring Lodge. Then it will be the ceremonial ritual itself, one for each of the three degrees, only one at each meeting. These evolved over the centuries, as explained above, and the candidate is either “made” into a Freemason (Initiated), “passed” (as having his work examined) to the degree of a Fellowcraft, or “raised” to the “sublime degree” of a Master Mason, the highest degree in Freemasonry. In each a special ritual, or play is performed, similar to the mystery or moral plays enacted in Medieval England. It is hoped that each play will give moral guidance to both the candidate and those taking part, but it is left to each to interpret in this in his own way. All of our plays are learned and not read, just like a stage play you may enjoy.
After this, the agenda is concluded by reports from the offices of the Treasurer, Membership, Almoner and Charity. After a small alms collection, and the reading of correspondence from Grand and Provincial and local sources, the lodge is closed with another ritualistic closing. (Each degree has its own closing.)
In England (and many other jurisdictions), the meeting is followed by a meal known as the Festive Board, which is a fun part and further charitable donations and a raffle occur, Twice each year, in my Lodge, we invite friends and family along, and this is the only time that money is collected from none Freemasons (although many of our women guests are Freemasons too), and always in the form of a raffle (with prizes) or an auction.
So now the reader with knowledge of the meetings and work of Rotary, etc, will also be able to see the vast difference to Freemasonry, which in regular form, is neither political nor religious, we don’t pursue any specific projects or causes, we simply enact a ritual where we hope good people will become better people, collect cash to support each other and local, national, international, charities, disaster funds, etc. to allow others to continue with their good work for the benefit of mankind.
These articles are written by W Bro Steve Froggatt PPJGD, current Chaplain of Neptune Lodge No 5150 EC. Steve was initiated into Freemasonry in 1986.
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