Why are they called “Freemasons”?
In ancient times, members of craft guilds were forbidden to travel and practice their craft beyond the borders of the manor in which they lived. They were, for practical puposes, indentured under the Lord, Duke or Baron who was their overlord.
Masons, however, were exempt from this restriction because the numbers of skilled craftsmen necessary to build a great cathedral or temple, far exceeded those who lived in any one manor. Masons were free to travel and work anywhere of their own choosing. Thus, they were referred to as “free masons”, or “freemasons”.
This freedom to travel to foreign lands made a system of recognition necessary, so that impostors could not pass themselves off as a “master” to obtain higher wages than deserved. This recognition system gave rise to the secrecy commonly associated with Masons.
Is Masonry a religion?
Statement on Freemasonry and Religion
Prepared by the Masonic Information Center
Basic Principles. Freemasonry is not a religion, nor is it a substitute for religion. It requires of its members a belief in God as part of the obligation of every responsible adult, but advocates no sectarian faith or practice. Masonic ceremonies include prayers, both traditional and extempore, to reaffirm each individual’s dependence on God and to seek divine guidance. Freemasonry is open to men of any faith, but religion may not be discussed at Masonic meetings.
The Supreme Being. Masons believe that there is one God and that people employ many different ways to seek, and to express what they know of God. Masonry primarily uses the appellation, “Grand Architect of the Universe,” and other non-sectarian titles, to address the Deity. In this way, persons of different faiths may join together in prayer, concentrating on God, rather than differences among themselves. Masonry believes in religious freedom and that the relationship between the individual and God is personal, private, and sacred.
Volume of the Sacred Law. An open volume of the Sacred Law, “the rule and guide of life,” is an essential part of every Masonic meeting. The Volume of the Sacred Law in the Judeo/Christian tradition is the Bible; to Freemasons of other faiths, it is the book held holy by them.
The Oath of Freemasonry. The obligations taken by Freemasons are sworn on the Volume of the Sacred Law. They are undertakings to follow the principles of Freemasonry and to keep confidential a Freemason’s means of recognition. The much discussed “penalties,” judicial remnants from an earlier era, are symbolic, not literal. They refer only to the pain any honest man should feel at the thought of violating his word.
Freemasonry Compared with Religion. Freemasonry lacks the basic elements of religion: (a) It has no dogma or theology, no wish or means to enforce religious orthodoxy. (b) It offers no sacraments. (c) It does not claim to lead to salvation by works, by secret knowledge, or by any other means. The secrets of Freemasonry are concerned with modes of recognition, not with the means of salvation.
Freemasonry Supports Religion. Freemasonry is far from indifferent toward religion. Without interfering in religious practice, it expects each member to follow his own faith and to place his Duty to God above all other duties. Its moral teachings are acceptable to all religions.
Is Masonry a secret organization?
Freemasonry and Secrecy
People sometimes refer to Freemasonry as being a “Secret Society.” In one sense the statement is true. Any social group or private business is “secret” in the sense that its business meetings may be open only to its members. In Freemasonry, the process of joining is also a private matter, and its members are pledged not to discuss with non-members certain parts of the ceremonies associated with the organization.
Freemasonry does have certain handshakes and passwords, customs incorporated into later fraternities, which are kept private. They are means of recognizing each other–necessary in an organization which spans the entire world and which encompasses many languages.
The tradition of using handshakes and passwords was very common in the Middle Ages, when the ability to identify oneself as belonging to a building or trade guild often made the difference in getting a job or in obtaining help for yourself and family. Today, Freemasons make the same pledge to every member that he will be offered assistance if he, or his family, ever requests it.
Freemasonry can’t be called a “secret society” in a literal sense. A truly secret society forbids its members to disclose that they belong to the organization, or that it even exists. Much of the Masonic ritual is in books called “Monitors” that are widely available, even in public libraries. Most Freemasons wear rings and lapel pins which clearly identify them as members of the fraternity. Masonic lodges are listed in public phone books, Masonic buildings are clearly marked, and in many areas of the country Masonic lodges place signs on the roads leading into town, along with civic organizations, showing the time and place of meetings.
In terms of what it does, what it teaches, who belongs, where it meets, there are no secrets in Freemasonry! It is a private fraternal association of men who contribute much toward the public good, while enjoying the benefits of the brotherhood of a fraternity.
Who may join a lodge?
Freemasonry and Brotherhood
The fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons has members from every ethnic group and every continent in the world. Brotherhood is a primary teaching of Masonry–that each person must be judged as an individual, on his own merits, and that such factors as race, national origin, religious creed, social status, or wealth are incidental to the person’s character.
Freemasonry was brought to North America in the 1700s, a time when racial attitudes were very different from today. As happened with many churches and social organizations, these attitudes caused Freemasonry for African-American men to develop independently. In 1776 a group of African-American Masons in Boston began meeting as a Lodge; they were formally chartered by England in 1784 as African Lodge #459. African Lodge and its descendants developed a separate Grand Lodge system, known as Prince Hall Masonry (after the first Master of African Lodge). Prince Hall Grand Lodges ascribe to the same beliefs and rituals of Freemasonry as do all regular Masonic Lodges throughout the world.
Since a petition for membership in Masonry does not ask a petitioner’s race, statistics on ethnic breakdowns are not kept by any Grand Lodge. Collecting such information is considered as inappropriate as collecting information about a Brother’s financial standing. A lodge is not permitted to accept or exclude a candidate on the basis of his race or national origin. To petition for membership, the petitioner must be “a man of legal age, good reputation, and possess a belief in God.” While election to membership in the fraternity is a matter for the local lodge to decide, the qualifications for membership are standard, and all Masons are required to observe them.
Does Masonry allow female members?
In Freemasonry, as in all other areas of life, women play an important role. The opportunities for women to participate in Freemasonry are widespread and meet a variety of needs, from social interaction in the Orders for both men and women, to the unique needs met in the “women only” Masonic-related organizations. The moral and ethical values that Freemasonry encourages are universal and not gender-based.
Masonic Lodges maintain today a long-standing tradition of restricting membership in Freemasonry to men. This tradition is based on the historical all male membership of stonemasons guilds. During the Middle Ages, men traveled far from home and lived in lodges while constructing great cathedrals throughout Europe.
However, in the middle 1800s the fraternity took the progressive step, for that time, of creating organizations that included women, so that men and women could share Masonic fraternalism. The Order of the Eastern Star (the largest of these Masonic-related groups) was established in 1855, the Order of the Amaranth in 1873, and the White Shrine of Jerusalem in 1894.
Two national Masonic-related youth organizations are for young women: the International Order of Job’s Daughters, founded in 1920, and the International Order of Rainbow for Girls, founded in 1922. Rainbow and Job’s Daughters are involved with local charities, community services, and educational programs.
Other Masonic-related organizations limit their membership to women only, such as the Ladies Oriental Shrine of North America, Daughters of the Nile, the Daughters of Mokanna, and the Social Order of Beauceant. These Masonic-related organizations, like many organizations in North America, both social and professional, base their membership on gender. Junior League, P.E.O., National Association of Female Executives, and Girl Scouts, for instance, are organizations created exclusively for women, established to fulfill their unique interests and specific needs.
What Masonry is not:
It does not solicit members.
It is not an insurance or benefit society.
It is neither a religion nor a cult nor a religious order.
It is not a charity organization, but it makes charity a duty.
It is not organized for profit.
It dictates to no man as to his beliefs, either religious or secular.
It seeks no advantages for its members through business or politics.
It is not a forum for discussion of religion, politics or other partisan affairs.
It is not a secret society, as it does not conceal its existence or purposes.