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Freemasons

 

Freemasons

"Freemasons" redirects here. For other uses, see Freemasons (disambiguation).
"Masonic" redirects here. For the ghost town in California, see Masonic, California.

Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation that traces the origins to the local fraternities of stonemasons, which from the end of the fourteenth century regulated the qualifications of masons and their interaction with authorities and clients. The degrees of freemasonry, its gradal system, retain the three grades of medieval craft guilds, those of apprentice, journeyman or fellow (now called fellowcraft), and master mason. These are the degrees offered by craft, or blue lodge Freemasonry. There are additional degrees, which vary with locality and jurisdiction, and are now administered by different bodies than the craft degrees.

The basic, local organisational unit of Freemasonry is the Lodge. The lodges are usually supervised and governed at the regional level (usually coterminous with either a state, province, or national border) by a Grand Lodge or Grand Orient. There is no international, world wide Grand Lodge that supervises all of Freemasonry. Each Grand Lodge is independent, and they do not necessarily recognise each other as being legitimate.

Principles and Activities

While Freemasonry has often been called a "secret society", Freemasons themselves argue that it is more correct to say that it is an esoteric society, in that certain aspects are private.[1] The most common phrasing is that Freemasonry has, in the 21st century, become less a secret society and more of a "society with secrets".[2] The private aspects of modern Freemasonry are the modes of recognition amongst members and particular elements within the ritual.[3] Despite the organisation's great diversity, Freemasonry's central preoccupations remain charitable work within a local or wider community, moral uprightness (in most cases requiring a belief in a supreme being) as well as the development and maintenance of fraternal friendship, as James Anderson's Constitutions originally urged amongst brethren.

Ritual, symbolism, and morality

Masons conduct their meetings using a ritualised format. There is no single Masonic ritual, and each jurisdiction is free to set (or not set) its own ritual. However, there are similarities that exist among jurisdictions. For example, all Masonic ritual makes use of the architectural symbolism of the tools of the medieval operative stonemason. Freemasons, as speculative masons (meaning philosophical building rather than actual building), use this symbolism to teach moral and ethical lessons of the principles of "Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth;" or as related in France, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity."


Two of the principal symbolic tools always found in a Lodge are the square and compasses. Some Lodges and rituals explain these tools as lessons in conduct: for example, that Masons should "square their actions by the square of virtue" and to learn to "circumscribe their desires and keep their passions within due bounds toward all mankind." However, as Freemasonry is non-dogmatic, there is no general interpretation for these tools (or any Masonic emblem) that is used by Freemasonry as a whole.[4]

These moral lessons are communicated in performance of allegorical ritual. A candidate progresses through degrees,[1] gaining knowledge and understanding of himself, his relationship with others, and his relationship with the Supreme Being (per his own interpretation). The philosophical aspects of Freemasonry tend to be discussed in Lodges of Instruction or Research, and sometimes informal groups, although Freemasons and others frequently publish studies, with varying degrees of competence, that are available to the public. Any mason may speculate on the symbols and purpose of Freemasonry, and indeed all masons are required to some extent to speculate on masonic meaning as a condition of advancing through the degrees. There is no one accepted meaning, and no one person "speaks" for the whole of Freemasonry.[5]

Some lodges make use of tracing boards. These are painted or printed illustrations depicting the various symbolic emblems of Freemasonry. They can be used as teaching aids during the lectures that follow each of the three Degrees, when an experienced member explains the various concepts of Freemasonry to new members. They can also be used by experienced members as self-reminders of the concepts they learned as they went through their initiations.

Freemasonry uses the metaphors of operative stonemasons' tools and implements, against the allegorical backdrop of the building of King Solomon's Temple, to convey what has been described by both Masons and critics as "a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols."[6][7]

The Supreme Being and the Volume of Sacred Law

Candidates for regular Freemasonry are required to declare a belief in a Supreme Being.[8] However, the candidate is not asked to expand on, or explain, his interpretation of Supreme Being. The discussion of politics and religion is forbidden within a Masonic Lodge, in part so a Mason will not be placed in the situation of having to justify his personal interpretation.[9] Thus, a Christian Mason will interpret the term "Supreme Being" in a Christian context, while a Muslim Mason will interpret it in a Muslim context, and a Hindu Mason will interpret it in a Hindu context, (etc.). While most Freemasons would take the view that the term Supreme Being equates to God, others may hold a more complex or philosophical interpretation of the term.

In the ritual, the Supreme Being is referred to as the Great Architect of the Universe, which alludes to the use of architectural symbolism within Freemasonry.[10][11]

A Volume of the Sacred Law is always displayed in an open Lodge in those jurisdictions which require a belief in the Supreme Being. In English-speaking countries, this is frequently the King James Version of the Bible or another standard translation; there is no such thing as an exclusive "Masonic Bible".[12] Furthermore, a candidate is given his choice of religious text for his Obligation, according to his beliefs. UGLE alludes to similarities to legal practice in the UK, and to a common source with other oath taking processes.[13][14][15][16] In Lodges with a membership of mixed religions it is common to find more than one sacred text displayed. In lodges that follow the Continental tradition other texts may be used, including texts that are non-religious in nature.

Degrees

The three degrees of Craft or Blue Lodge Freemasonry are those of:

  1. Entered Apprentice – the degree of an Initiate, which makes one a Freemason;
  2. Fellow Craft – an intermediate degree, involved with learning; and
  3. Master Mason – the "third degree", a necessity for participation in most aspects of Masonry.

The degrees represent stages of personal development. No Freemason is told that there is only one meaning to the allegories; as a Freemason works through the degrees and studies their lessons, he interprets them for himself, his personal interpretation being bounded only by the Constitution within which he works.[12] A common symbolic structure and universal archetypes provide a means for each Freemason to come to his own answers to life's important philosophical questions.

There is no degree of Craft Freemasonry higher than that of Master Mason.[1] Although some Masonic bodies and orders have further degrees named with higher numbers, these degrees may be considered to be supplements to the Master Mason degree rather than promotions from it.[17] An example is the Scottish Rite, conferring degrees numbered from 4° up to 33°.[18] It is essential to be a Master Mason in order to qualify for these further degrees. They are administered on a parallel system to Craft or Blue Lodge Freemasonry; within each organisation there is a system of offices, which confer rank within that degree or order alone.

In some jurisdictions, especially those in continental Europe, Freemasons working through the degrees may be asked to prepare papers on related philosophical topics, and present these papers in open Lodge. There is an enormous bibliography of Masonic papers, magazines and publications ranging from fanciful abstractions which construct spiritual and moral lessons of varying value, through practical handbooks on organisation, management and ritual performance, to serious historical and philosophical papers entitled to academic respect.

Signs, grips, and words

Freemasons use signs (gestures), grips or tokens (handshakes), and words to gain admission to meetings and identify legitimate visitors.[19]

Many exposés revealing these signs grips and passwords to the uninitiated have been written over the years (the earliest appeared in the eighteenth century). The fraternity responded in different ways. One response, made by many Masonic jurisdictions, was to deliberately transpose certain words in the ritual, so as to catch out anyone relying on an exposé. Other Grand Lodges simply chose new signs, grips, and passwords. Since each Grand Lodge is free to create its own rituals, the signs, grips, and passwords differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.[4] Furthermore, Grand Lodges change their rituals periodically, updating the language used, adding or omitting sections.[20] Therefore, any exposé can only be valid for a particular jurisdiction at a particular time, and is always difficult for an outsider to verify. Today, an unknown visitor may be required to produce a certificate, dues card, or other documentation of membership, in addition to demonstrating knowledge of the signs, grips, and passwords.

Obligations

Obligations are those elements of ritual in which a candidate swears to abide by the rules of the fraternity, to keep the "secrets of Freemasonry" (which are the various signs, tokens and words associated with recognition in each degree), and to act towards others in accordance with Masonic tradition and law.[3] In regular jurisdictions these obligations are sworn on the aforementioned Volume of the Sacred Law and in the witness of the Supreme Being and often with assurance that it is of the candidate's own free will.

Details of the obligations vary; some versions are published[3] while others are privately printed in books of coded text. Still other jurisdictions rely on oral transmission of ritual, and thus have no ritual books at all.[21] Moreover, not all printed rituals are authentic – Léo Taxil's exposure, for example, is a proven hoax, while Duncan's Masonic Monitor (created, in part, by merging elements of several rituals then in use) was never adopted by any regular jurisdiction.

Whilst no single obligation is representative of Freemasonry as a whole, a number of common themes appear when considering a range of potential texts. Content which may appear in at least one of the three obligations includes: the candidate promises to act in a manner befitting a member of civilised society, promises to obey the law of his Supreme Being, promises to obey the law of his sovereign state, promises to attend his lodge if he is able, promises not to wrong, cheat nor defraud the Lodge or the brethren, and promises aid or charity to a member of the human family, brethren and their families in times of need if it can be done without causing financial harm to himself or his dependents.[3][22][23]

The obligations are historically known amongst various sources critical of Freemasonry for their so-called "bloody penalties,"[24] an allusion to the apparent physical penalties associated with each degree. This leads to some descriptions of the Obligations as "Oaths". The corresponding text, with regard to the penalties, does not appear in authoritative, endorsed sources,[3] following a decision "that all references to physical penalties be omitted from the obligations taken by Candidates in the three Degrees and by a Master Elect at his Installation but retained elsewhere in the respective ceremonies."[25] The penalties are interpreted symbolically, and are not applied in actuality by a Lodge or by any other body of Masonry. The descriptive nature of the penalties alludes to how the candidate should feel about himself should he knowingly violate his obligation.[26] Modern actual penalties may include suspension, expulsion or reprimand.

Landmarks

Main article: Masonic Landmarks

The Landmarks of Masonry are defined as ancient and unchangeable principles; standards by which the regularity of Lodges and Grand Lodges are judged. Each Grand Lodge is self-governing and no single authority exists over the whole of Freemasonry. The interpretation of these principles therefore can and does vary, leading to controversies of recognition.

The concept of Masonic Landmarks appears in Masonic regulations as early as 1723, and seems to be adopted from the regulations of operative masonic guilds. In 1858, Albert G. Mackey attempted to set down 25 Landmarks.[27] In 1863, George Oliver published a Freemason's Treasury in which he listed 40 Landmarks. A number of American Grand Lodges have attempted the task of enumerating the Landmarks; numbers differing from West Virginia (7) and New Jersey (10) to Nevada (39) and Kentucky (54).[28]

Charitable activities

The fraternity is widely involved in charity and community service activities. In contemporary times, money is collected only from the membership, and is to be devoted to charitable purposes. Freemasonry worldwide disburses substantial charitable amounts to non-Masonic charities, locally, nationally and internationally.[29][30] In earlier centuries, however, charitable funds were collected more on the basis of a Provident or Friendly Society, and there were elaborate regulations to determine a petitioner's eligibility for consideration for charity, according to strictly Masonic criteria.

Some examples of Masonic charities include:

  • Homes[31] that provide sheltered housing or nursing care.
  • Education with both educational grants[32] or schools such as the Royal Masonic School (UK)[33] which are open to all and not limited to the families of Freemasons.
  • Medical assistance.[34]
  • Masonic Child Identification Programs (CHIP).

In addition to these, there are thousands of philanthropic organisations around the world created by Freemasons. The Masonic Service Association,[35] the Masonic Medical Research Laboratory,[36] and the Shriners Hospitals for Children[37] are charitable activities that Masons have founded and continue to support, both intellectually and monetarily.

History

United Kingdom

Since the middle of the 19th century, masonic historians have sought the origins of the movement in a series of similar documents known as the Old Charges, dating from the Regius Poem in about 1425[38] to the beginning of the 18th century. Alluding to the membership of a lodge of operative masons, they relate a mythologised history of the craft, the duties of its grades, and the manner in which oaths of fidelity are to be taken on joining.[39] The fifteenth century also sees the first evidence of ceremonial regalia.[40]

There is no clear mechanism by which these local trade organisations became today's masonic lodges, but the earliest rituals and passwords known, from operative lodges around the turn of the 17th-18th centuries, show continuity with the rituals developed in the later 18th century by accepted or speculative masons, as those members who did not practice the physical craft came to be known.[41] The minutes of the Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel) No.1 show a continuity from an operative lodge in 1598 to a modern speculative lodge.[42]


The first Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster (later called the Grand Lodge of England (GLE)), was founded on 24 June 1717, when four existing London lodges met for a joint dinner. Many English Lodges joined the new regulatory body, which itself entered a period of self-publicity and expansion. However, many lodges could not endorse changes which some lodges of the GLE made to the ritual (they came to be known as the Moderns), and formed a rival Grand Lodge on 17 July 1751, which is now known as the "Antient Grand Lodge of England". These two Grand Lodges vied for supremacy until the Moderns promised to return to the ancient ritual. They united on 25 November 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).[43][44]

The Grand Lodge of Ireland and the Grand Lodge of Scotland were formed in 1725 and 1736 respectively, although neither persuaded all of the existing lodges to join for many years.[45][46]

North America

Freemasonry was exported to the British Colonies in North America by the 1730s – with both the "Antients" and the "Moderns" (as well as the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland) chartering offspring, or "daughter," Lodges, and organising various Provincial Grand Lodges.

The earliest known American lodges were in Pennsylvania. In December 1730, Benjamin Franklin’s Gazzette states that “there were several Lodges of Freemasons erected in this Province.” [47] After the American Revolution, independent U.S. Grand Lodges formed themselves within each state. Some thought was briefly given to organising an overarching "Grand Lodge of the United States," with George Washington (who was a member of a Virginian lodge) as the first Grand Master, but the idea was short-lived. The various state Grand Lodges did not wish to diminish their own authority by agreeing to such a body.[48]

Prince Hall Freemasonry

Prince Hall Freemasonry exists because of the refusal of early American lodges to admit African-Americans. In 1775, an African-American named Prince Hall,[49] along with fourteen other African-Americans,was initiated into a British military lodge with a warrant from the Grand Lodge of Ireland, having failed to obtain admission from the other lodges in Boston. When the military Lodge left North America, those fifteen men were given the authority to meet as a Lodge, but not to initiate masons. In 1784, these individuals obtained, a Warrant from the Premier Grand Lodge of England (GLE) and formed African Lodge, Number 459. When the UGLE was formed in 1813, all U.S.-based Lodges were stricken from their rolls – due largely to the War of 1812. Thus, separated from both UGLE and any concordantly recognised U.S. Grand Lodge, African Lodge re-titled itself as the African Lodge, Number 1 – and became a de facto "Grand Lodge" (this Lodge is not to be confused with the various Grand Lodges on the Continent of Africa). As with the rest of U.S. Freemasonry, Prince Hall Freemasonry soon grew and organised on a Grand Lodge system for each state.[50]

Widespread segregation in 19th- and early 20th-century North America made it difficult for African-Americans to join Lodges outside of Prince Hall jurisdictions – and impossible for inter-jurisdiction recognition between the parallel U.S. Masonic authorities. By the 1980s such discrimination was a thing of the past, and today most U.S. Grand Lodges recognize their Prince Hall counterparts, and the authorities of both traditions are working towards full recognition.[51] The United Grand Lodge of England has no problem with recognising Prince Hall Grand Lodges.[52] While celebrating their heritage as lodges of black Americans, Prince Hall is open to all men regardless of race or religion.[53]

Grand Orient de France

The Grand Orient de France (GOdF) is often dated from 1728 or 1733.[54] However, the early decades of Freemasonry in France were distinguished by a lack of organisational structure, the lodges being united by a weak allegiance to an acknowledged Grand Master who never interfered in their running. Between 1755 and 1766 the masters of the Paris lodges attempted to unite French Freemasonry under their own Grand Lodge, but this in turn broke up over disputes about the higher degrees. The structure of the current Grand Orient de France began to form in 1773, when lodges from the whole of France met to agree a central body with a democratic structure.[55] Most English-speaking jurisdictions cut formal relations with the GOdF around 1877, when (following the Lausanne Congress of 1875) the GOdF removed the requirement that its members have a belief in a Deity. The Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF)[56] was the last French Grand Lodge to be in regular amity with the UGLE, until UGLE withdrew recognition on 12 September 2012.[57]

Membership and organisational structure

Freemasonry exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated by the United Grand Lodge of England at around six million worldwide.[58] The fraternity is administratively organised into independent Grand Lodges (or sometimes Grand Orients), each of which governs its own Masonic jurisdiction, which consists of subordinate (or constituent) Lodges. The largest single jurisdiction, in terms of membership, is the United Grand Lodge of England (with a membership estimated at around a quarter million). The Grand Lodge of Scotland and Grand Lodge of Ireland (taken together) have approximately 150,000 members.[58] In the United States total membership is just under two million.[59]

Masonic Lodge

Main article: Masonic Lodge

The Masonic Lodge is the basic organisational unit of Freemasonry. It meets regularly to deal with the usual formal business of any small organisation, but the main part of the meeting is taken up with either a Masonic ritual[60] or a lecture, which is usually on some aspect of masonic history or ritual.[61] At the end of this meeting in a Masonic Temple, the lodge usually adjourns for a formal dinner, or festive board, involving toasting and song.[62]

Ritual comprises one of four ceremonies. Candidates for Freemasonry are progressively initiated into Freemasonry, passed to the degree of Fellowcraft at a separate ceremony, and finally raised, in the third degree ritual, to the rank of Master Mason. The last ritual is the annual installation of the Master of the lodge.[60] In all of these ceremonies, the candidate is entrusted with the passwords, signs and grips peculiar to his new rank.[63] In Regular masonry the Installed Master is valued as a separate rank, with its own secrets to distinguish its members.[64] In other branches of masonry, the grade is not recognised, and no inner ceremony conveys new secrets during the installation of a new Master of the lodge.[65]

Lodges also have social and charitable activities. The lodge organises social events for the benefit of their members, and often their spouses and partners. The lodge's charitable function involves raising funds for worthy causes, and recommending local projects to larger funds in their local Grand Lodge.[66]

These private lodges form the backbone of Freemasonry, and a Freemason will necessarily have been initiated into one of these. There also exist specialist lodges where masons meet to celebrate anything from sport to Masonic research. The rank of Master Mason also entitles a Freemason to explore masonry further through other degrees, administered separately from the craft, or "blue lodge" degrees described here, but having a similar format to their meetings.[67]

Form and ritual vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but there are broadly two types of masonic lodge at the craft level. The French ritual has fewer essential officers and places both wardens in the west of the lodge, to the north and south of the lodge guard (couvreur), facing the master in the east.[68] This is distinguished from what the French call the "Regular" ritual, which has two extra officers (the deacons), and places only the senior warden in the west, with the junior warden in the south. This format is the norm in the English-speaking world.[67]

Lodge Officers

Every Masonic Lodge elects certain officers to execute the necessary functions of the lodge's work. The Worshipful Master (essentially the lodge President) is always an elected officer. Most jurisdictions will also elect the Senior and Junior Wardens (Vice Presidents), the Secretary and the Treasurer. All lodges will have a Tyler, or Tiler, (who guards the door to the lodge room while the lodge is in session), sometimes elected and sometimes appointed by the Master. In addition to these elected officers, lodges will have various appointed officers – such as Deacons, Stewards, and a Chaplain (appointed to lead a non-denominational prayer at the convocation of meetings or activities – often, but not necessarily, a clergyman). The specific offices and their functions vary between jurisdictions.

Many offices are replicated at the Provincial and Grand Lodge levels with the addition of the word 'Grand' somewhere in the title. For example, where every lodge has a 'Junior Warden', Grand Lodges have a 'Grand Junior Warden' (or sometimes 'Junior Grand Warden'). Additionally, there are a number of offices that exist only at the Grand Lodge level.[69]

Anglo-American and Continental Freemasonry

Freemasonry is often said to consist of two branches not in mutual regular amity:

The majority of Masonic jurisdictions around the world follow the Anglo-American style. The United Grand Lodge of England lists 194 Grand Lodges which it considers to be Regular.[70] The umbrella organisation for Liberal Freemasonry, CLIPSAS, lists 72 members.[71] The Anglo-American style is especially dominant in the United States and the countries that once formed the British Empire. It has a minority presence in France and most Latin American countries. The Anglo-American branch has several noteworthy sub-branches, most notably Prince Hall Freemasonry (a legacy of past racial segregation in the United States, and so predominantly found in that country).

The Continental Style dominates in France, and has a majority presence in several European countries and in most Latin American countries. It has a minority presence in other parts of the world.

In addition to these two main branches, there are several smaller ones. For example, the Swedish Rite (which is exclusively open for confessors of the Christian faith, and has a significant presence in Scandinavia), is recognised by the Anglo-American branch, but is best viewed as a separate branch on its own.[72]

There are three fundamental issues that separate the Anglo-American Branch and the Continental Branch of Freemasonry:

Issue Anglo-American Continental
Belief in Supreme Being Requires its members to express a belief in God as a condition of membership (although it does not specify what form that belief should take). A regular lodge must have an open volume of scripture when it is in session. Laïcité has been a guiding concept since 1905. Not only are members free to believe or disbelieve in God, they are expected to promote the strict separation of church and state.[73]
Female membership No female membership. Female masons are not recognised. In some jurisdictions (especially America) there are associated organisations (for example the Order of the Eastern Star) which are open to women, but members are not considered Masons. Views on female membership vary among Grand Lodges and Orients. Mixed and female lodges are generally recognised.

Grand Orient of France allows initiation of women.[74]

Political involvement Strict ban of the discussion of politics in a lodge setting, and its Grand Lodges will not comment on political matters. Political discussion is allowed, and its Grand Orients/Lodges often issue statements on political issues, particularly civil rights and the separation of church and state.

Grand Lodge

Main article: Grand Lodge

Grand Lodges and Grand Orients are independent and sovereign bodies that govern Masonry in a given country, state, or geographical area (termed a jurisdiction).[75] There is no single overarching governing body that presides over worldwide Freemasonry; connections between different jurisdictions depend solely on mutual recognition.[76]

Regularity

Regularity is a constitutional mechanism whereby Grand Lodges or Grand Orients give one another mutual recognition. This recognition allows formal interaction at the Grand Lodge level, and gives individual Freemasons the opportunity to attend Lodge meetings in other recognised jurisdictions. Conversely, regularity proscribes interaction with Lodges that are irregular. A Mason who visits an irregular Lodge may have his membership suspended for a time, or he may be expelled. For this reason, all Grand Lodges maintain lists of other jurisdictions and lodges they consider regular.[77]

Grand Lodges and Grand Orients that afford mutual recognition and allow intervisitation are said to be in amity. As far as the UGLE is concerned, regularity is predicated upon adherence to a number of fundamental principals (known as Landmarks), set down in the UGLE Constitution and the Constitutions of those Grand Lodges with which they are in amity. Even within this definition there are some variations with the quantity and content of the Landmarks from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Other Masonic groups organise differently.[78]

Anglo-American Freemasonry considers the other branch to be "irregular". CLIPSAS, the umbrella organisation of continental-style Freemasonry, seeks fellowship with all branches of Freemasonry.[79]

Other degrees, orders and bodies

There is no degree in Freemasonry higher than that of Master Mason, the Third Degree.[1] There are, however, a number of organisations that require being a Master Mason as a prerequisite for membership.[17] These bodies have no authority over the Craft.[1] These orders or degrees may be described as additional or appendant, and often provide a further perspective on some of the allegorical, moral and philosophical content of Freemasonry.

Appendant bodies are administered separately from Craft Grand Lodges but are styled Masonic since every member must be a Mason. However, Craft Masonic jurisdictions vary in their relationships with such bodies, if a relationship exists at all. The Articles of Union of the "Modern" and "Antient" craft Grand Lodges (into UGLE in 1813) limited recognition to certain degrees, such as the Royal Arch and the "chivalric degrees", but there were and are many other degrees that have been worked since before the Union. Some bodies are not universally considered to be appendant bodies, but rather separate organisations that happen to require prior Masonic affiliation for membership. Some of these organisations have additional requirements, such as religious adherence (e.g., requiring members to profess Trinitarian Christian beliefs) or membership of other bodies.

Quite apart from these, there are organisations that are often thought of as being related to Freemasonry, but which have no formal or informal connections with Freemasonry. These include such organisations as the Orange Order, which originated in Ireland, the Knights of Pythias, or the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.[80]

In addition, many Masonic lodges and associated masonic bodies sponsor various youth groups. These groups are not part of Freemasonry.

Membership requirements


Contrary to common misconception, joining Freemasonry is not by invitation only. In fact, in many jurisdictions, the brothers of the lodge are not allowed to ask potential candidates to join (in these jurisdictions, the brethren must wait for the potential candidate to inquire).[81] Other jurisdictions allow for varying degrees of solicitation.

However the initial introduction is made, the official process of becoming a Mason begins when a candidate for Freemasonry formally petitions a lodge. The brethren will then investigate the candidate, to assure themselves of his good character, and hold a secret ballot election (often using an old fashioned ballot box). The number of adverse votes needed to reject a candidate varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (in some, one "black ball" is enough to reject, in others up to three are required).

General requirements

Generally, to be accepted for initiation as a regular Freemason (in a lodge following Anglo-American style), a candidate must:[1]

  • Be a man who comes of his own free will.
  • Believe in a Supreme Being (the form of which is left to open interpretation by the candidate).
  • Be at least the minimum age (from 18–25 years old depending on the jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions the son of a Mason, known as a "Lewis," may join at an earlier age than others).
  • Be of good morals, and of good reputation.
  • Be of sound mind and body (lodges had in the past denied membership to a man because of a physical disability; however, now, if a potential candidate says a disability will not cause problems, it will not be held against him).
  • Be free-born (or "born free", i.e., not born a slave or bondsman).[82] As with the previous, this is entirely an historical holdover, and can be interpreted in the same manner as it is in the context of being entitled to write a will. Some jurisdictions have removed this requirement.
  • Be capable of furnishing character references, as well as one or two references from current Masons, depending on jurisdiction.

Some Grand Lodges in the United States have an additional residence requirement, candidates being expected to have lived within the jurisdiction for a certain period of time, typically six months.[83]

Having been elected and initiated, a member may subsequently resign from membership of his lodge if he so desires. Additionally, the fraternity may either suspend or expel a member for cause. Where a member has resigned in good standing, not excluded for misdemeanour or non-payment of fees, he continues to be regarded as a mason, albeit non-practising, may rejoin at any time, and may have limited visiting rights.

Membership and religion

Masonic Governing bodies insist that Freemasonry is neither a religion nor a substitute for one. "There is no separate Masonic God", nor a separate proper name for a deity in any branch of Freemasonry.[8][84]

Regular Freemasonry requires that its candidates believe in a Supreme Being, but the interpretation of this term is subject to the conscience of the candidate. Consequently, Freemasonry accepts men from a range of faiths, including (but not limited to) Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. As a result, Freemasonry uses Volume of the Sacred Law (VSL) as a generic term for a religious book. As Anglo-American Freemasonry also requires that a VSL be present on the Altar, many Lodges have multiple VSLs available, and a candidate can be obligated on his book of choice.

Since the early 19th century, in the Continental European tradition (which is considered irregular by those Grand Lodges in amity with the United Grand Lodge of England), a very broad interpretation has been given to a non-dogmatic Supreme Being; in the tradition of Baruch Spinoza and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – or views of The Ultimate Cosmic Oneness – along with Western atheistic idealism[citation needed] and agnosticism.

The form of Freemasonry most common in Scandinavia, known as the Swedish Rite, accepts only Christians.[85]

Freemasonry and women

The status of women in the old guilds and corporations of mediaeval masons remains uncertain. The principle of "femme sole" allowed a widow to continue the trade of her husband, but its application had wide local variations, ranging from full membership of a trade body to limited trade by deputation to approved members of that body.[86] In masonry, the small available evidence points to the less empowered end of the scale.[87]

At the dawn of the Grand Lodge era, during the 1720s, James Anderson composed the first printed constitutions for Freemasons, the basis for most subsequent constitutions, which specifically excluded women from Freemasonry.[88] As Freemasonry spread, continental masons began to include their ladies in Lodges of Adoption, which worked three degrees with the same names as the men's but different content. The French officially abandoned the experiment in the early 19th century.[89][90] Later organisations with a similar aim emerged in the United States, but distinguished the names of the degrees from those of male masonry.[91]

Maria Deraismes was initiated into Freemasonry in 1882, then resigned to allow her lodge to rejoin their Grand Lodge. Having failed to achieve acceptance from any masonic governing body, she and Georges Martin started a mixed masonic lodge that actually worked masonic ritual.[92] Annie Besant spread the phenomenon to the English speaking world.[93] Disagreements over ritual led to the formation of exclusively female bodies of Freemasons in England, which spread to other countries. Meanwhile, the French had re-invented Adoption as an all-female lodge in 1901, only to cast it aside again in 1935. The lodges, however, continued to meet, which gave rise, in 1959, to a body of women practising continental Freemasonry.[90]

In general, Continental Freemasonry is sympathetic to Freemasonry amongst women, dating from the 1890s when French lodges assisted the emergent co-masonic movement by promoting enough of their members to the 33rd degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite to allow them, in 1899, to form their own grand council, recognised by the other Continental Grand Councils of that Rite.[94] The United Grand Lodge of England issued a statement in 1999 recognising the two women's grand lodges there to be regular in all but the participants. While they were not, therefore, recognised as regular, they were part of Freemasonry "in general".[95][96] The attitude of most regular Anglo-American grand lodges remains that women cannot be made masons, and therefore, women Freemasons do not exist.[97]

Opposition to and criticism of Freemasonry

Main article: Anti-Masonry

Anti-Masonry (alternatively called Anti-Freemasonry) has been defined as "opposition to Freemasonry."[98][99] However, there is no homogeneous anti-Masonic movement. Anti-Masonry consists of widely differing criticisms from diverse (and often incompatible) groups who are hostile to Freemasonry in some form. Critics have included religious groups, political groups, and conspiracy theorists.

There have been many disclosures and exposés dating as far back as the 18th century. These often lack context,[100] may be outdated for various reasons,[20] or could be outright hoaxes on the part of the author, as in the case of the Taxil hoax.[101]

These hoaxes and exposés have often become the basis for criticism of Masonry, often religious or political in nature (usually by totalitarian dictatorial regimes,[102] but also arising in the historical Anti-Masonic Party in the United States), or are based on suspicion of corrupt conspiracy of some form. The political opposition that arose after the "Morgan Affair" in 1826 gave rise to the term "Anti-Masonry," which is still in use today, both by Masons in referring to their critics and as a self-descriptor by the critics themselves.[103]

Religious opposition

Freemasonry has attracted criticism from theocratic states and organised religions for supposed competition with religion, or supposed heterodoxy within the Fraternity itself, and has long been the target of conspiracy theories, which assert Freemasonry to be an occult and evil power.[104]

Christianity and Freemasonry

Although members of various faiths cite objections, certain Christian denominations have had high profile negative attitudes to Masonry, banning or discouraging their members from being Freemasons.

The denomination with the longest history of objection to Freemasonry is the Roman Catholic Church. The objections raised by the Roman Catholic Church are based on the allegation that Masonry teaches a naturalistic deistic religion which is in conflict with Church doctrine.[105] A number of Papal pronouncements have been issued against Freemasonry. The first was Pope Clement XII's In Eminenti, 28 April 1738; the most recent was Pope Leo XIII's Ab Apostolici, 15 October 1890. The 1917 Code of Canon Law explicitly declared that joining Freemasonry entailed automatic excommunication.[106] The 1917 Code of Canon Law also forbade books friendly to Freemasonry.

In 1983, the Church issued a new Code of Canon Law. Unlike its predecessor, it did not explicitly name Masonic orders among the secret societies it condemns. It states in part: "A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; one who promotes or takes office in such an association is to be punished with an interdict." This named omission of Masonic orders caused both Catholics and Freemasons to believe that the ban on Catholics becoming Freemasons may have been lifted, especially after the perceived liberalisation of Vatican II.[107] However, the matter was clarified when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a Declaration on Masonic Associations, which states: "... the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion." Thus, from a Catholic perspective, there is still a ban on Catholics joining Masonic Lodges. For its part, Freemasonry has never objected to Catholics joining their fraternity. Those Grand Lodges in amity with UGLE deny the Church's claims and state that they explicitly adhere to the principle that "Freemasonry is not a religion, nor a substitute for religion."[8]

In contrast to Catholic allegations of rationalism and naturalism, Protestant objections are more likely to be based on allegations of mysticism, occultism, and even Satanism.[108] Masonic scholar Albert Pike is often quoted (in some cases misquoted) by Protestant anti-Masons as an authority for the position of Masonry on these issues.[109] However, Pike, although undoubtedly learned, was not a spokesman for Freemasonry and was controversial among Freemasons in general, representing his personal opinion only, and furthermore an opinion grounded in the attitudes and understandings of late 19th century Southern Freemasonry of the USA alone. Indeed his book carries in the preface a form of disclaimer from his own Grand Lodge. No one voice has ever spoken for the whole of Freemasonry.[110]

Free Methodist Church founder B.T. Roberts was a vocal opponent of Freemasonry in the mid 19th century. Roberts opposed the society on moral grounds and stated, "The god of the lodge is not the God of the Bible." Roberts believed Freemasonry was a "mystery" or "alternate" religion and encouraged his church not to support ministers who were Freemasons. Freedom from secret societies is one of the "frees" the Free Methodist Church was founded upon.[111]

Since the founding of Freemasonry, many Bishops of the Church of England have been Freemasons, such as Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher.[112] In the past, few members of the Church of England would have seen any incongruity in concurrently adhering to Anglican Christianity and practicing Freemasonry. In recent decades, however, reservations about Freemasonry have increased within Anglicanism, perhaps due to the increasing prominence of the evangelical wing of the church. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, appears to harbour some reservations about Masonic ritual, whilst being anxious to avoid causing offence to Freemasons inside and outside the Church of England. In 2003 he felt it necessary to apologise to British Freemasons after he said that their beliefs were incompatible with Christianity and that he had barred the appointment of Freemasons to senior posts in his diocese when he was Bishop of Monmouth.[113]

In 1933, the Orthodox Church of Greece officially declared that being a Freemason constitutes an act of apostasy and thus, until he repents, the person involved with Freemasonry cannot partake of the Eucharist. This has been generally affirmed throughout the whole Orthodox Church. The Orthodox critique of Freemasonry agrees with both the Roman Catholic and Protestant versions: "Freemasonry cannot be at all compatible with Christianity as far as it is a secret organization, acting and teaching in mystery and secret and deifying rationalism."[114]

Regular Freemasonry has traditionally not responded to these claims, beyond the often repeated statement that those Grand Lodges in amity with UGLE explicitly adhere to the principle that "Freemasonry is not a religion, nor a substitute for religion. There is no separate 'Masonic deity,' and there is no separate proper name for a deity in Freemasonry."[8] In recent years, however, this has begun to change. Many Masonic websites and publications address these criticisms specifically.

Islam and Freemasonry

Many Islamic anti-Masonic arguments are closely tied to both antisemitism and Anti-Zionism, though other criticisms are made such as linking Freemasonry to Dajjal.[115][116] Some Muslim anti-Masons argue that Freemasonry promotes the interests of the Jews around the world and that one of its aims is to rebuild the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem after destroying the Al-Aqsa Mosque.[117] In article 28 of its Covenant, Hamas states that Freemasonry, Rotary, and other similar groups "work in the interest of Zionism and according to its instructions ..."[118] Many countries with a significant Muslim population do not allow Masonic establishments within their jurisdictions. However, countries such as Turkey and Morocco have established Grand Lodges,[119] while in countries such as Malaysia[120] and Lebanon[121] there are District Grand Lodges operating under a warrant from an established Grand Lodge. In Pakistan in 1972 Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, then Prime Minister of Pakistan, placed a ban on Freemasonry and confiscated all the literature. The lodges were then disbanded. Masonic lodges existed in Iraq as early as 1919, when the first lodge under the UGLE was opened in Basra, and later on when the country was under British Mandate just after the First World War. However the position changed in July 1958 following the Revolution, with the abolition of the Monarchy and Iraq being declared a republic, under General Qasim. The licences permitting lodges to meet were rescinded and later laws were introduced banning any further meetings. This position was later reinforced under Saddam Hussein, the death penalty was "prescribed" for those who "promote or acclaim Zionist principles, including freemasonry, or who associate [themselves] with Zionist organisations."[115]

Political opposition

Regular Freemasonry has in its core ritual a formal obligation: to be quiet and peaceable citizens, true to the lawful government of the country in which they live, and not to countenance disloyalty or rebellion.[12] A Freemason makes a further obligation, before being made Master of his Lodge, to pay a proper respect to the civil magistrates.[12] The words may be varied across Grand Lodges, but the sense in the obligation taken is always there. Nevertheless, much of the political opposition to Freemasonry is based upon the idea that Masonry will foment (or sometimes prevent) rebellion.

In 1799 English Freemasonry almost came to a halt due to Parliamentary proclamation. In the wake of the French Revolution, the Unlawful Societies Act, 1799 banned any meetings of groups that required their members to take an oath or obligation.[122] The Grand Masters of both the Moderns and the Antients Grand Lodges called on the Prime Minister William Pitt (who was not a Freemason) and explained to him that Freemasonry was a supporter of the law and lawfully constituted authority and was much involved in charitable work. As a result Freemasonry was specifically exempted from the terms of the Act, provided that each Private Lodge's Secretary placed with the local "Clerk of the Peace" a list of the members of his Lodge once a year.[122] This continued until 1967 when the obligation of the provision was rescinded by Parliament.[122]

Freemasonry in the United States faced political pressure following the 1826 kidnapping of William Morgan by Freemasons and subsequent disappearance. Reports of the "Morgan Affair", together with opposition to Jacksonian democracy (Andrew Jackson was a prominent Mason) helped fuel an Anti-Masonic movement, culminating in the formation of a short lived Anti-Masonic Party which fielded candidates for the Presidential elections of 1828 and 1832.

In Italy, Freemasonry has become linked to a scandal concerning the Propaganda Due Lodge (aka P2). This lodge was chartered by the Grande Oriente d'Italia in 1877, as a lodge for visiting Masons unable to attend their own lodges. Under Licio Gelli’s leadership, in the late 1970s, the P2 Lodge became involved in the financial scandals that nearly bankrupted the Vatican Bank. However, by this time the lodge was operating independently and irregularly; as the Grand Orient had revoked its charter in 1976.[123] By 1982 the scandal became public knowledge and Gelli was formally expelled from Freemasonry.

Conspiracy theorists have long associated Freemasonry with the New World Order and the Illuminati, and state that Freemasonry as an organisation is either bent on world domination or already secretly in control of world politics. Historically, Freemasonry has attracted criticism—and suppression—from both the politically extreme right (e.g., Nazi Germany)[124][125] and the extreme left (e.g. the former Communist states in Eastern Europe).[102] The fraternity has met with approval for supposedly founding, and opposition for supposedly thwarting, liberal democracy (such as in the United States).

Even in modern democracies, Freemasonry is sometimes viewed with distrust.[126] In the UK, Masons working in the justice system, such as judges and police officers, were from 1999 to 2009 required to disclose their membership.[127] While a parliamentary inquiry found that there has been no evidence of wrongdoing, it was felt that any potential loyalties Masons might have, based on their vows to support fellow Masons, should be transparent to the public.[126][127][128] The policy of requiring a declaration of masonic membership of applicants for judicial office (judges and magistrates) was ended in 2009 by Justice Secretary Jack Straw (who had initiated the requirement in the 1990s). Straw stated that the rule was considered disproportionate, since no impropriety or malpractice had been shown as a result of judges being Freemasons.[129] The rescinding of the rule did not change the disclosure requirements for police officers.

Freemasonry is both successful and controversial in France; membership is rising, but reporting in the popular media is often negative.[126]

In some countries anti-Masonry is often related to antisemitism and anti-Zionism. For example, In 1980, the Iraqi legal and penal code was changed by Saddam Hussein's ruling Ba'ath Party, making it a felony to "promote or acclaim Zionist principles, including Freemasonry, or who associate [themselves] with Zionist organisations".[115] Professor Andrew Prescott of the University of Sheffield writes: "Since at least the time of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, antisemitism has gone hand in hand with anti-masonry, so it is not surprising that allegations that 11 September was a Zionist plot have been accompanied by suggestions that the attacks were inspired by a masonic world order".[130]


The Holocaust

Main article: The Holocaust

The preserved records of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (the Reich Security Main Office) show the persecution of Freemasons.[131] RSHA Amt VII (Written Records) was overseen by Professor Franz Six and was responsible for "ideological" tasks, by which was meant the creation of antisemitic and anti-Masonic propaganda. While the number is not accurately known, it is estimated that between 80,000 and 200,000 Freemasons were killed under the Nazi regime.[132] Masonic concentration camp inmates were graded as political prisoners and wore an inverted red triangle.[133]

The small blue forget-me-not flower was first used by the Grand Lodge Zur Sonne, in 1926, as a Masonic emblem at the annual convention in Bremen, Germany. In 1938 a forget-me-not badge—made by the same factory as the Masonic badge—was chosen for the annual Nazi Party Winterhilfswerk, the annual charity drive of the National Socialist People's Welfare, the welfare branch of the Nazi party. This coincidence enabled Freemasons to wear the forget-me-not badge as a secret sign of membership.[134][135][136]

After World War II, the forget-me-not flower was again used as a Masonic emblem at the first Annual Convention of the United Grand Lodges of Germany in 1948.[137] The badge is now worn in the coat lapel by Freemasons around the world to remember all those that have suffered in the name of Freemasonry, especially those during the Nazi era.[137][138]

See also

Notes

External links

  •  
  • Web of Hiram at the University of Bradford. A database of donated Masonic material.
  • Masonic Books Online of the Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry
  • (1734), James Anderson, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Royster. Hosted by the Libraries at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Project Gutenberg
  • 1560509
  • The United Grand Lodge of England's Library and Museum of Freemasonry, London
  • – claiming to be the world's oldest Masonic website.
  • Articles on Judaism and Freemasonry
  • Anti-Masonry: Points of View – Edward L. King's masonic website

la:Ordo Massonicus

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