Freemasonry often gets a lot of bad press, strangely it’s usually the result of secrecy, but as Freemasonry is not a secret society, the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), the English and Welsh Grand Lodge, decided a few years ago that “enough is enough” and opened the doors of Lodges for all to see. But some secrets in our rituals remain, mainly signs, tokens and words for each degree. This is simply a legacy from the evolving of Freemasonry from the stone masons who, due to the fact that in Medieval Europe, most were illiterate, these signs, tokens and words were used by stone masons to show their level (degree or stage) of competence in the craft. This “ancient” fraternity evolved into a system where non stone masons were allowed to join, this was during the period (age) of enlightenment in the 16th/17th century. Over time the rituals evolved, but these signs, tokens and words were kept, although there is no knowing they remained the same as in the earlier days. The rituals were probably formed from same idea as the mystery/morality plays that the craft guilds practiced at the time; each guild had their own. However, the stonemasons, being mostly a band of travelling craftsmen, didn’t really have a play of their own, so perhaps they formed their rituals from a morality play around at the time called ‘Everyman.1” In this play man is taken through life encountering a series of life’s typical encounters, for example fellowship, kindred, cousin, goods and eventually Good Deeds. Each is played by a person, including Death. At the end of the play only Good Deeds is required to have remained to enter heaven. Freemason’s rituals are very much in line with this thought, but acted out in a manner that is based upon the building of a grand temple, that of King Solomon.
Unfortunately, conspiracy theories abound surrounding Freemasonry, and like many of such theories, not one word is factual. Freemasons do not worship the devil, in fact Freemasons do not worship at all, this is left to the respective religion of each member, and in their particular place of worship, definitely not in a Freemason’s lodge.
So stories like Freemasons are criminals, **judges, being Freemasons, would pardon a fellow Freemason, Freemasons gain financial benefits from membership, Freemasons launder money, and numerous others are all untrue and invented by people; as some strange folk, when they can’t see openly what others get up to, they make it up. Conspiracy theorists are simply people that want to pretend that they are insiders, they know something no one else knows, and that makes them feel they are special (and there is no convincing them of reality at all). Of course, it is partly Freemasonry’s own fault for appearing secretive.
**Be assured, this definitely does not happen, firstly any Freemasons summoned to attend a court hearing would immediately be expelled
Then let us address this question: What is Freemasonry? Sometimes it is easier to say what Freemasonry is not.
- First and foremost, Freemasonry is NOT a religion and there is no worship of any kind. Freemasonry is not a substitute for a member’s particular religion, but members are required to believe in God; religious discussion of any kind is strictly forbidden,
- It is NOT a place for business networking, nor a place where you can solicit promotion,
- It is not a place for those with a criminal record, nor a place for criminals of any kind; members will not gain favour in a court of law, nor expect to be able to gain favours from a judge,
- It is not political and has no political agenda (irregular Freemasonry may disagree), political discussion of any kind is totally forbidden.
- It is not a place for money laundering, the only money collected is very small sums and apart from an annual membership fee, all goes to either a local charity or the Freemasons central charity. Charitable donations are used for the benefit of both Freemasons and non Freemasons alike.
- Freemasonry does not follow pagan rites, the devil, satan, or any other such evil beings, the rituals in Freemasonry have evolved from the morality plays of Medieval England and Bible stories (especially King Solomon’s Temple).
So, what is it then? If you ask Freemasons this question it will be highly likely you’ll get a different answer from each, as Freemasonry is interpreted in different ways by different people. Ask the same question of a rotary club, football club or a member of the Lions and they will all give you a clear answer. The official Masonic explanation is that Freemasonry is “a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” Freemasonry isn’t open to just anyone, but it is open to men (and women) of any race or religion who meet the following requirements:
- First and foremost, you must ask, you will never be invited,
- Belief in a Supreme Being (God) is paramount,
- Come (to Freemasonry) of your own free will and accord,
- Be of good report (a persons high standing amongst others),
- Be of lawful age, in England and Wales, 18 for students, 21 for all others (this could rise to 25 in some jurisdictions in other parts of the world),
- Be recommended by at least two existing Freemasons,
- Be unbiased and uninfluenced by friends or any mercenary motive (there are no benefits to membership other than self improvement, happiness and friendship),
- Already have a favourable opinion of Freemasonry
- Agree to follow the “rules of Freemasonry,” originally depicted in the “Old Charges.”
The reader will notice that “not having a criminal record” is missing from the list. This is covered by “be of good report.” Minor crimes may allow membership but a serious criminal record will always mean exclusion. But in all cases, it is the responsibility of every potential member to disclose all criminal offences and records of any level, and it is the responsibility of a candidate’s proposer and seconder to disclose any criminal record to the Lodge secretary for further advice and investigation from Grand Lodge; pending court appearances must also be disclosed. All of this really depends upon the applicant’s attitude and remorse. If accepted, any further offences of any nature will lead to exclusion for life. Freemasons will always err on the side of caution, so it is almost always that any form of criminality will lead to exclusion. Finally, this is the reason why in the first requirement, you must ask, it is normal and preferred, but not mandatory, that you ask of a friend.
If you asked a few Freemasons what is Freemasonry? it will be highly likely you’ll get a different answer from each, as Freemasonry is interpreted in different ways by different people. Ask the same question of, for example, a rotary club, a football club or the Lions and they will all give you a clear answer. The Masonic definition of Freemasonry is “a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” High morals are already deemed a requirement for membership, so what else? Some may say:
- It’s a personal development programme that promotes family and community values,
- Others may see it as a way to improve self confidence, as Freemasons that choose to serve their Lodge must learn the ritual by heart and speak it publicly (within the Lodge, so among friends).
- Others will say it’s character building,
- Others that Freemasonry teaches high morals and honesty,
Keep asking and I am sure more definitions will be given, but taking the last of these, high morals and honesty are not qualities exclusive to Freemasons, after all, you don’t have to join the Masons to study ethics, this is the responsibility of everyone, and every religious body expects its followers to attain high moral values. Surely, then, there must be a quality Freemasons attain after their initiation? Well, there certainly is something that binds Freemasons together in this fraternity that is the oldest in the world? Take, for example, Freemasons will visit other Lodges when they can as they are assured a very warm welcome and are accepted as a Brother and like a long lost friend.
How then is this “taught?” Freemasonry comprises three degrees, Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason, with a further recommended degree of Royal Arch Masonry. The third degree, that of a Master Mason is the highest degree in Masonry. There are many concordant degrees, but these fall outside the governance of a Grand Lodge. Our degrees take us through life, just like the morality play, Everyman:
- Entered Apprentice represents being in “the state of helpless indigence, a representation of the entrance of all into this mortal life.” You are reminded of our natural equality and mutual dependence, and the importance of charity and more,,,
- Fellowcraft (journeyman) represents your journey through life, your mind is modelled by virtue and science.
- Master Mason teaches, among other things, the importance of integrity, it reminds you that to a just and virtuous person, there are no terrors equal to the stain of falsehood and dishonour.
Some lessons of each degree are illustrated by the tools of a stonemason, others by words and passages, for example:
- The 24 inch gauge, represents the 24 hours in a day and teaches us to spend time wisely, part in the service of God, part in play, and part in working at our usual vocation,
- The common gavel to remove from our minds all thoughts of vices and impurities,
- The square represents morality,
- That we are all equal in the eyes of God,
- That we live our lives according to our chosen religion’s most sacred text, the VSL
These are but a few examples, another is that our journey in the first degree is represented by a rough stone, hewn from the quarries, in the second degree an ashlar (a smooth stone) by using the common gavel (second lesson above), implying that it has “knocked down all vain and unbecoming thoughts” and more.
In summation, there are no short ways to describe Freemasonry as we are a complex body bound together as a brotherhood, meeting always as equals and enjoying each others company. This is done in the firm belief that Freemasonry promotes PEACE, LOVE and HARMONY, not just within Freemasonry, but within our communities.
Al-Khabar is grateful to the words by a South African Freemason, W. Bro Clive Herron.
These articles are written by W Bro Steve Froggatt PPJGD, former Chaplain of Neptune Lodge No 5150 EC. Steve was initiated into Freemasonry in 1986.They do not represent the view of any Grand/Provincial Grand Lodge.
© Copyright 2019 Al-Khabar/Stephen Froggatt all rights reserved