Masons and Freemasonry: Who and What They Are
* Information provided here courtesy of Peter R. Swank, PM.

Who are the Freemasons?

    That's not a surprising question. Even though Freemasons are members of the largest and oldest fraternity in the world, and even though almost everyone has a father, grandfather, or uncle who was a Mason, many people aren't quite certain just who Masons are or what Freemasonry is about.

    The answer is simple. Freemasons are members of a fraternity known as Freemasonry or Masonry. A fraternity is a group of men (just as a sorority is a group of women) who join together because:

    • There are things they want to do in the world.
    • There are things they want to do "inside their own minds."
    • They enjoy being together with others they enjoy and respect.
Top of Page

What is Freemasonry?

    Freemasons are a unique institution that is a major part of community life throughout the world and throughout history. It is the largest and oldest fraternity, and one that continues to be an important part of many people's personal lives and growth. Freemasonry is an organization of men bound together with a philosophy of moral standards, mutual understanding, and brotherhood in which all men are on a level and equal. Freemasons are men who have decided they like to feel good about themselves and others. They care about the future as well as the past, and do what they can, both alone and with others, to make the future good for everyone. Freemasons take pride in "taking good men and making them better." They strive to always portray admirable, noble, and dignified characteristics (such as fortitude, responsibility, and firmness of purpose), the fundamental decency that in Yiddish is called Menschkeit.

    No one knows just how old Freemasonry is because the actual origins have been lost in time. It more than likely arose from the guilds of stone masons who built King Solomon's Temple in or about 953 BC. Masons of various "degrees" refer to its origins based upon the date of creation of the particular degrees (see "Masonic Calendar" below).

    In 1717, Freemasonry members created a formal organization in England when the first Grand Lodge was formed. A Grand Lodge is the administrative body in charge of Freemasonry in some geographical area. In the United States, there is a Grand Lodge of Freemasonry in each state/territory and the District of Columbia. In Canada, there is a Grand Lodge of Freemasonry in each province. Local organizations of Freemasony are called "lodges." There are Freemasonry lodges in most towns, and large cities usually have several. There are an estimated 14,000+ lodges in the United States alone. Almost every country throughout the world is host to Freemasons.

Top of Page

Is Freemasonry a Religion?

    Although Freemasonry is not a religion, its emphasis on a supreme being ensures that the Brotherhood of Man follows naturally. This coupled with the obligation to abide by the Golden Rule, particularly with a fellow Freemason, makes for one of the strongest bonds of society. When you meet other Freemasons, the odds are very high indeed, that they will treat you as you would like to be treated.

Top of Page

What Makes a Freemason?

  • Virtue: When they can look out over the rivers, the hills, and the far horizon with a profound sense of their own littleness in the vast scheme of things, and yet have faith, hope, and courage- which is the root of every virtue.

  • Nobility: When they know that down in their heart every man is as noble, as vile, as divine, as diabolic, and as lonely as himself, and seeks to know, to forgive, and to love their fellow man.

  • Sympathy: When they know how to sympathize with men in their sorrows, even in their sins, knowing that each man fights a hard fight against many odds.

  • Friendship: When they have learned how to make friends and to keep them, and above all how to keep friends with themselves.

  • Life: When they love flowers, can hunt birds without a gun, and feels the thrill of an old forgotten joy when he hears the laugh of a little child.

  • Happiness: When they can be happy and high-minded amidst the meaner drudgeries of life.

  • Rememberence: When star-crowned trees and the glint of sunlight on flowing waters subdue themselves like the thought of one much loved and long dead.

  • Aiding a Distressed Voice: When no voice of distress reaches their ears in vain, and no hand seeks their aid without response.

  • Faith: When they find good in every faith that helps any man to lay hold of divine things and sees majestic meanings in life, whatever the name of that faith may be.

  • Supreme Being: When they have kept faith with themselves, with their fellow man, and with their Supreme Being- In their hand, a sword for evil; In their heart, a bit of a song... glad to live, but not afraid to die.

  • Fellow Man: When they can look into a wayside puddle and see something beyond mud, and into the face of the most forlorn fellow mortal and see something beyond sin.

  • Hope: When they know how to pray, how to love, and how to hope.

  • Secrets: Such men have found the only real secret of Freemasonry, and the one which it is trying to give to all the world.

Top of Page

What is a Masonic Lodge?

    The word "lodge" means both a group of Freemasonry members meeting in some place as well as the room or building in which they meet. Masonic buildings are also sometimes called "temples" because much of the symbolism Freemasonry uses to teach its lessons comes from the building of King Solomon's Temple. The term "lodge" itself comes from the structures which the stonemasons built against the sides of the cathedrals during construction. In winter, when building had to stop, they lived in these lodges and worked at carving stone.

Top of Page

Is Freemasonry an Education?

    Yes. In a very real sense, education is at the center of Freemasonry. Freemasons have stressed its importance for a very long time. During the Middle Ages, schools were held in the lodges of stonemasons. You have to know a lot to build a cathedral: geometry, structural engineering, and mathematics, just for a start. Such education was not widely available. All of the formal schools and colleges trained people for careers in the church, law, or medicine. Only members of the social upper classes went to these schools. Stonemasons did not come from the aristocracy, but the lodges had to teach the necessary skills and information. Freemasons' dedication to education started there and continued.

    Freemasons started some of the first public schools in both Europe and the Americas. They supported legislation to make education universal. In the 1800's Freemasons as a group lobbied for the establishment of state-supported education and federal land-grant colleges. Today Freemasons in the U.S. give millions of dollars in scholarships each year. Freemasons encourage their members to volunteer time to their local schools, purchase classroom supplies, help with literacy programs, and do everything possible to ensure that each person, adult or child, has the best educational opportunities available.

    Freemasonry supports continuing education and intellectual growth for its members, insisting that learning more about many things is important for anyone who wants to keep mentally alert and young and teaches some important principles. There's nothing very surprising in the list. All men and women are entitled to dignity, respect for their opinions, and consideration of their feelings.

    Each person must take responsibility for his/her own life and actions. Neither wealth nor poverty, education nor ignorance, health nor sickness excuse any person from doing the best he or she can do or being the best person possible under the circumstances.

    No one has the right to tell another person what he or she must think or believe. Each man and woman has an absolute right to intellectual, spiritual, economic, and political freedom. All tyranny, in every form, is illegitimate.

    Each person must learn and practice self-control. Each person must make sure his or her spiritual nature triumphs over his or her animal nature. Another way to say the same thing is that even when one is tempted to anger, one must not be violent. Even when one is tempted to selfishness, one must be charitable. Even when one wants to "write someone off," one must remember that he or she is a human and entitled to respect. Even when one wants to give up, one must go on. Even when one is hated, one must return love, or, at a minimum, one must not hate back. It isn't easy.

    Faith must be in the center of our lives. We find that faith in our houses of worship, not in Freemasonry, but Freemasonry constantly teaches that a person's faith, whatever it may be, is central to a good life.

    Each person has a responsibly to be a good citizen and obey the law. That doesn't mean we can't try to change things, but change must take place in legal ways.

    It is important to work to make this world better for all who live in it. Freemasonry teaches the importance of doing good, not because it assures a person's entrance into heaven, that's a question for a religion versus a fraternity, but because we have a duty to all other men and women to make their lives as fulfilling as they can be.

    Honor and integrity are essential to life. Life without honor and integrity is without meaning.

Top of Page

What are the Requirements to Become a Freemason?

    The person who wants to join Freemasonry must be a man (it's a fraternity), sound in body and mind, who believes in a Supreme Being (of any sort or name), is at least the minimum age required by Freemasonry in his state, and has a good reputation. Incidentally, the "sound in body" requirement, which comes from the stonemasons of the Middle Ages, doesn't mean that a physically challenged man cannot be a Freemason; many are. Also there is a Masonic order for women called the Order of the Eastern Star, and children are accepted through the Order of Demolay and the Order of Rainbow Girls.

    Those are the only "formal" requirements, but there are others, not so formal... He should believe in helping others. He should believe there is more to life than pleasure and money. He should be willing to respect the opinions of others. And he should want to grow and develop as a human being.

Top of Page

How Does a Man Become a Freemason?

    Some men are surprised that no one has ever asked them to become a Freemason. They may even feel that the Freemasons in their town don't think they are "good enough" to join, but it doesn't work that way. For hundreds of years, Freemasonry has been forbidden its members to ask others to join the fraternity. Freemasons can talk to friends about Freemasonry. They can tell others about what Freemasonry does. They can tell others why they enjoy it. But Freemasons can't ask, much less pressure, anyone to join.

    There's a good reason for this. It isn't that Freemasons are trying to be exclusive, but becoming a Freemason is a very serious thing. Joining Freemasonry is making a permanent life commitment to live in certain ways. Listed above are most of these ways: to live with honor and integrity, to be willing to share with and care about others, to trust each other, and to place ultimate trust in a supreme being as well as each other. No one should be "talked into" making such a decision.

    So, when a man decides he wants to be a Freemason, he asks a Freemason for a petition or application. He fills it out and gives it to the Freemason, and that Freemason takes it to the local lodge. The Master of that lodge will appoint a committee to visit with the man and his family, find out a little about him and why he wants to become a Freemason, tell him and his family about Freemasonry, and answer their questions. The committee reports to the lodge, and the lodge votes on the petition. If the vote is affirmative, and it usually is, the lodge will contact the man to set the date for the "Entered Apprentice" degree. When the person has completed three degrees, he is a Master Mason and a full member of Freemasonry.

    Any person displaying any of the following symbols (or derivative there-of) on his/her vehicle, person, clothing, jewelry, etc. should be able to assist anyone interested in Freemasonry:

Top of Page

What is the Masonic Structure?

Top of Page

Who are Shriners?

    The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, commonly known as Shriners, was established in 1870 and is an appendant body to Freemasonry. The Shriners are committed to community service and have been instrumental in countless public projects throughout their domain. The Shrine's charitable arm is the Shriners Hospitals for Children, a network of twenty-two hospitals in North America who provide medical treatment and care for children who are faced with orthopedic conditions, burns, and Cleft Lip/Palate at absolutely no cost to the patients or their families. The Shrine also pioneers new treatments for these conditions.

Top of Page

What is the York Rite?

    The term York Rite is a term most often used in the United States to refer to a collection of Masonic degrees that, in most other countries, are conferred separately. As such, it constitutes one of the two main branches of Masonic Appendant Bodies in U.S. Freemasonry, which a Master Mason may join to further his knowledge of Freemasonry. Its name is derived from the city of York, where, according to a Masonic legend, the first meetings of Freemasons in England took place, although only the lectures of the York Rite College make reference to that legend. Some obediences of the Scottish Rite, outside the U.S. where the York Rite is not active, may confer some of the York Rite degrees.

    The divisions within the York Rite and the requirements for membership differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but the essentials are the same. In all the workings, the one requirement is that all applicants be in possession of the degree of Master Mason.

    The York Rite is not found as a single system in the majority of countries outside the U.S., nor are any of the separate degrees subject to the local Grand Lodge jurisdiction. Each sovereign and distinct rite or "Order" elsewhere has some differences in ritual details to the York Rite system. However, provided that the Grand Lodge in question regards the parent "Craft" jurisdiction as regular, each distinct Order has recognized fraternal inter-relations with the respective Rite within the York system.

Top of Page

What is the Scottish Rite?

    The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, commonly known as simply the Scottish Rite, is one of several Rites of Freemasonry. A Rite is a series of progressive degrees that are conferred by various Masonic organizations or bodies, each of which operates under the control of its own central authority. In the Scottish Rite, the central authority is called the Supreme Council.

    The 33 degrees of the Scottish Rite are conferred by several controlling bodies. The first of these is the Craft Lodge which confers the Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason degrees. Craft lodges operate under the authority of Grand Lodges, not the Scottish Rite. Although most lodges throughout the English-speaking world do not confer the Scottish Rite versions of the first three degrees, there are a handful of lodges in New Orleans and in several other major cities that have traditionally conferred the Scottish Rite version of these degrees.

    The Scottish Rite is one of the appendant bodies of Freemasonry that a Master Mason may join for further exposure to the principles of Freemasonry. In England and some other countries, while the Scottish Rite is not accorded official recognition by the Grand Lodge, there is no prohibition against a Freemason electing to join it. In the United States, however, the Scottish Rite is officially recognized by Grand Lodges as an extension of the degrees of Freemasonry. The Scottish Rite builds upon the ethical teachings and philosophy offered in the craft lodge, or Blue Lodge, through dramatic presentation of the individual degrees.

Top of Page

What is The Order of the Eastern Star?

    The Order of the Eastern Star is the Masonic organization comprised of persons (men and women) with spiritual values, but it is not a religion. Its appeal rests in the true beauty of the refreshing and character-building lessons that are so sincerely portrayed in its ritualistic work. A deep fraternal bond exists between its members. It is the wholesome relationship of sisterly and brotherly love brought about through high principles exemplified in our lives, which makes us near and dear to each other. The stated purposes of the organization are: Charitable, Educational, Fraternal and Scientific; but there is much more to The Eastern Star than that...

Top of Page

What is DeMolay?

    The DeMolay is the Masonic organization for young men and is dedicated to preparing young men to lead successful, happy, and productive lives. Basing its approach on timeless Masonic principles and practical, hands-on experience, DeMolay opens doors for young men aged 12 to 21 by developing the civic awareness, personal responsibility and leadership skills so vitally needed in society today. DeMolay combines this serious mission with a fun approach that builds important bonds of friendship among members in thousands of chapters worldwide.

    DeMolay alumni include Walt Disney, John Wayne, Walter Cronkite, football Hall-of-Famer Fran Tarkenton, legendary Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne, news anchor David Goodnow and many others. Each has spoken eloquently of the life-changing benefit gained from their involvement in DeMolay.

Top of Page

What is the Masonic Calendar?

    Many people, both Masons and non-Masons, are curious as to the different dates used throughout Freemasonry. For example, the Craft Lodges date the year 2008 as 6008, whereas Knights Templar refer to 2008 as 890. The following explanation should provide further light into these Masonic customs:

    Craft Masonry's calendar commences with the Biblical creation of the world and uses the term Anno Lucius (A.L.), which means "In the Year of Light." To arrive at this date, they add 4000 to the common time, as the Earth was believed in conventional theology to have began in 4000 BC. Therefore the year 2008 becomes 6008.

    Royal Arch Masons date time from the year the second temple was commended by Zerubbabel. Anno Inventionis (A.I.), which means "In the Year of Discovery," is the terminology used by Chapters of this degree. This adds 530 to the common time, therefore the year 2008 becomes 2538.

    Royal and Select Masters or Cryptic Masons date from the year in which the Temple of Solomon was completed. It is called Anno Depositionis (A.D.), which means "In the Year of the Deposit," and adds 1000 to the common time. Therefore the year 2008 becomes 3008.

    Knights Templar start their calendar with the formation of their Order in 1118 AD. Anno Ordinis (A.O.), which means "In the Year of the Order," is the terminology used. This deducts 1,118 from the common time; therefore the year 2008 becomes 890.

    The Scottish Rite date the same as Craft Masons, except for the use of the Jewish Chronology. Anno Mundi (A.M.), which means "In the Year of the World," is their calendar terminology and adds 3760 to the common time. Therefore the year 2008 becomes 5768.

Top of Page