What did George Washington, Winston Churchill and Benjamin Franklin have in common with Goethe, Mozart, and Voltaire? And with Motilal Nehru and Swami Vivekanand? They all belonged to the biggest and the oldest fraternal organisation in the world. And so did Edwin E. Aldrin, the first astronaut to land on moon, Sir Author Conan Doyle, the celebrated writer of “Sherlock Holmes” fame, Edward VII - King of England, George VI - King of England, Sir Alexander Fleming who invented Penicillin, many of the Presidents and Vice-presidents of America, many prime ministers of Canada, Henry Ford, pioneer automobile manufacturer, King C. Gillett of the Gillett Razor Co., Rudyard Kipling, the famous writer who lived in India, Sir Thomas Lipton, the Tea Man. Freemasonry, spread across four corners of the globe, has thousands of men who are of rank and opulence. Monarchs and kings have always taken keen interest in Freemasonry, and have with great enthusiasm worked for furtherance of its objectives. Did you know that Royal Society was started as a virtually a Masonic Lodge subsidiary, before becoming an independent body? Those of you who know Masonic symbolism will never fail to notice them on the USA $1 bill.
Without any doubt included in the list of Masons have been people who changed the course of history. However, the organisation they all belonged to remains the least understood organisation among public. It has always perplexed outsiders, and has always been an organisation shrouded in mystery. People lack even the rudimentary knowledge about Masonry, and ignorance results in confused ideas and spread of misinformation. It has a fair share of critics, and detractors,and baseless allegations have often levelled against it. Freemasonry has a long history of not answering to the critics, and this has been the reason why so many misconceptions exist about Freemasonry.
Freemasonry is a society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values. Its members are taught its precepts by a series of ritual dramas, which follow ancient forms and use stonemasons' customs and tools as allegorical guides. The fundamental ritual consists of a drama of building of King Solomon’s Temple, and the fate of its master architect. Using this allegory, moral lessons are taught. Since the story concerns building of a temple, Masonic rituals are replete with the tools of masons like level, plumb-rule, square, compasses and so on. Some of the Masonic terminology has found its way to the dictionary, and ‘on the level’ and ‘on the square’ are no longer exclusive Masonic clichés.
Every Freemason believes in God, and asserts this belief. His way of worshipping may be different, and it is never discussed in a Masonic Lodge (“ Lodge” is the place where Masons meet). What is important is the belief in God. Freemasonry is a brotherhood, and the basic premise for the brotherhood of men is the fatherhood of God. In order to agree to the fatherhood of God, one must agree that there is one Supreme Being controlling our thoughts and actions. It is this philosophy that makes it a prerequisite that Masons have a firm belief in the Supreme Being.
How a man worships God is purely his private affair. Masonry is not a religion, but it certainly is about God, since it wants you to affirm your belief in the Almighty. Since it does not interfere with the way you worship, it stands firmly for the freedom of religions. On the sacred pedestal it is customary to place with reverences the Holy Books of all the faith members subscribe to.
However Masonry is not a substitute for religion. Its essential qualification opens it to men of many religions and it expects them to continue to follow their own faith. It does not allow religion to be discussed at its meetings. Since Masonry is not a religion, it does not offer a pathway to salvation. That is the area of religion. It constantly reminds you of the duty that you owe to the Almighty and to your fellow-men, and expects you to follow the path shown by your religion to attain that. Because religion and politics often drive people apart, they are never discussed in a Masonic Lodge. Masonry also provides an avenue for charity, since Masonic Lodges do a great deal of Charity, it being one of the three tenets of Freemasonry.
While freemasonry expects a member (“brother”) to be active, it also makes it explicitly clear to him that a Mason must never put his duties and responsibilities to Freemasonry ahead of his duties to his family, to his God and to his country.
Freemasonry tries to induct good men into its Order, and strives to make better men out of them, by constantly reminding them of the duty they own to their family, friends, neighbours, to people in distress, and to the Almighty. There is only one essential qualification for admission into and continuing membership of a Masonic Lodge: Belief in a Supreme Being. Membership is open to men of the age of 21 and above, of any race or religion who can fulfil this essential qualification and are of good repute. The greatest condition, the belief in Supreme Being, is asserted before one is initiated into the Lodge, and before one takes the Masonic Oath. It is required to be asserted much before that, at the time when one applies for the membership of a Lodge. How to become a Freemason? Traditionally, a Mason would not invite a friend to join, but would wait for the friend to ask "of his own free will". If you want to join Freemasonry, you may contact another Freemason, of may get in touch with the Masonic Lodge in your city.
For many years Freemasons have followed three great principles: Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. Every true Freemason will show tolerance and respect for the opinions of others and behave with kindness and understanding to his fellow creatures, pouring his brotherly love over him. By relief Masons mean relief to the community from their sufferings. When a candidate is initiated in the Lodge, he is reminded of this duty he is expected to fulfil to those who need his help. Freemasons are taught to practise charity, and to care, not only for their own, but also for the community as a whole, both by charitable giving, and by voluntary efforts and works as individuals. Moreover, charity need not be a financial charity alone; a Mason is expected to practice charity of thought. Needless to say the charity expected of a Mason is an absolutely voluntary contribution. Freemasonry has seldom publicised its charitable activities, though Masons do a great deal of charity through its institutions spread all over the world. From its earliest days, Freemasonry has been concerned with the care of orphans, the sick and the aged. This work continues today. In addition, large sums are given to national and local charities. Freemasons strive for truth, requiring high moral standards and aiming to achieve them in their own lives. Freemasons believe that these principles represent a way of achieving higher standards in life.
Freemasonry demands from its members a respect for the law of the country in which a man works and lives. Its principles do not in any way conflict with its members' duties as citizens, but should strengthen them in fulfilling their public and private responsibilities.
The use by a Freemason of his membership to promote his own or anyone else's business, professional or personal interests is condemned, and is contrary to the conditions on which he sought admission to Freemasonry. His duty as a citizen must always prevail over any obligation to other Freemasons, and any attempt to shield a Freemason who has acted dishonourably or unlawfully is contrary to this prime duty.
Allegations have often been levelled on Masonry that is a secretive organisation. Let me clarify, it is not a secret society, but is a society with secrets. The secrets of Freemasonry are concerned with its traditional modes of recognition. It is not a secret society, since all members are free to acknowledge their membership and will do so in response to inquiries for respectable reasons. Its constitutions and rules are available to the public. There is no secret about any of its aims and principles. Thousands of books have been written about various aspects of Masonry by both Freemasons and non-Masons, and they are easily accessible to the general public. Search the Internet and you will find thousands of pages giving all the information about different aspects of Freemasonry. People are often invited to visit the Masonic Lodge buildings to see the place where Masons meet. Like many other societies, it does regard some of its internal affairs as private matters for its members. A visit to the United Grand Lodge of England is a treat for the Masons as well as non-Masons, and they welcome you to a guided tour. How can an organisation with so much public presence be called a Secret Organisation?
A Freemason is encouraged to do his duty first to his God (by whatever name He is known) through his faith and religious practice; and then, without detriment to his family and those dependent on him, to his neighbour through charity and service. While none of the ideas Masons follow are exclusive to Freemasonry, and there may be many organisations which have similar objectives, what is however, unique about Freemasonry is the allegorical drama in which the principles are presented to the members, and the constant reminders that the Masonic rituals give to the members to help them remember the duties that people often tend to forget.
From a more historical perspective...
Freemasons are members of a fraternity dedicated to the brotherhood of man which came to be in the late 1600 to early 1700s. There is an estimated membership of 5 million in England, Scotland, and Ireland and 2 million in the United States. This brotherhood shares moral and metaphysical ideals, which includes a constitutional declaration of belief in a Supreme Being.
All Masonic groups use the architectural symbolism of the tools of the medieval operative stonemason, which is the square and compass. They use this symbolism to teach moral and ethical lessons of the principles of “Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. In France, it means: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity”. The square represents “square your actions by the square of virtue” and the compass represents “circumscribe their desires and keep their passions within due bounds toward all mankind”. These interpretations are non-dogmatic and not necessarily used by all Freemasons.
Freemasonry has been called a “Secret Society” but they will argue that they are an esoteric society, as some aspects are private. Masons conduct their meetings in a ritualistic fashion. There are no set rituals but they do use a degree program to move up in the brotherhood. There are 3 degrees, the highest being the Master Mason (Third Degree). The private aspects of modern Freemasonry are the modes of recognition amongst members and particular elements within the ritual. Their main preoccupation is charity work within the community, moral uprightness, and the development and maintenance of fraternal friendship.
The three degrees are: Entered Apprentice (initiate); Fellow Craft (in the learning process) and Master Mason (necessary to participate in most aspects of masonry).
Candidates for Freemasonry are required to declare a belief in a supreme being, whatever that may mean to them. They are not asked to explain their interpretation of a supreme being. Politics and religion are never discussed in a Masonic Lodge. This is so they are not put in a situation of having to justify their interpretation of a supreme being.
Each degree represents the stages of personal development. They are not told that there is only one meaning, but rather are to make their own interpretation of the allegories. 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 the “Scottish Rite” body that supplements the degree program. They are numbered degrees ranging from 4-33 and you must be a Master Mason in order to qualify for these further degrees.
Freemasons use gestures, grips, words, and handshakes to gain admission to meetings and identify legitimate visitors. Each jurisdiction creates its own rituals and their own gestures and signs as well. Each Freemason is obliged to keep the secret of Freemasonry rituals and well as perform certain duties and to avoid doing those things which are prohibited by his obligation. Only men are allowed in Freemasonry however, there is a Co-Freemasonry lodge that allows men and women.
Conspiracy theorists believe that the Freemasons are a cult society associated with the New World Order and other agents, such as the Pope, the Illuminati and Jews who are bent on world domination, or are already secretly in control of world politics. Many political figures in the past 300 years have been Masons which gives credence to the idea.
Freemasonry is also criticized for the practice of “cronyism”, which is the practice of giving favors to its members. Some believe that membership helps with employment opportunities or more unscrupulous favors like getting out of a driving ticket.
Freemasons have also been criticized as being a new religion due to the similarities to other religions, such as the fact that they have their own version of the Bible known as the VSL. They have their own way of saying “amen” (so mote it be); more developed rituals than most Protestant denominations, and some groups of Masons like the Scottish Rite, call their lodges “Temples” which also have a large amount of iconography and symbolism.
The United States Presidents that were or are Freemasons: George Washington, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, Warren Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Gerald Ford.
Dan Brown’s book “The Da Vinci Code” spurred conspiracy theorists into action by theorizing that the fall of the Knights Templar spawned the birth of the Freemasons. Dan Brown’s book entitled “The Solomon Key”, addresses Freemasonry.
Conspiracy theorists claim that Freemasons played a powerful role in the founding of our country for devious and evil purposes. Many high officials of society are Freemasons and Masonic references found in Washington DC may have been subconsciously implemented because Freemason tenets are so ingrained upon members of the brotherhood.
History indicates that the many of the Knights Templars escaped to Scotland to find refuge under King Robert Bruce upon hearing that King Philip IV of France was pressuring the Pope to dissolve the group. Many were tortured and executed by King Philip.
Although documentation of the Freemasons did not begin until 1717, it is believed that the history of the operative masons can be traced back to Solomon’s Temple. King Baldwin II of Jerusalem set up the headquarters for the Knights Templar in his castle which is believed to be the ruins of Solomon’s Temple.
There are two theories of how Freemasonry rose from the Knights Templar. One is that many of the Knights fled to Scotland because they owned land there and fought in the Battle of Bannockburn for King Robert Bruce. Soon after the battle the Royal Order of Scotland was established at Kilwinning with King Bruce as the Grand Master. King Bruce admitted the Knights into this society that had the similar ceremonies and symbolism as the masons. The Royal Order of Scotland had two degrees: The Heredom of Kilwinning and the Knight of the Rosy Cross.
The second theory was proposed by Andrew Michael Ramsay, a native of Scotland and a mason of the Scottish Rite in France. In his initiation ceremony speech he claimed that the masonry arose from the Knights Templar. He theorizes that after the Knights fled to Scotland, Peter D’Amount and seven other Knights disguised themselves as masons and called themselves the “Franc Masons”. The Knights wanted to maintain the tradition of the Templar and incorporate the tradition of the operative masons. This new order planned to use the idea of rebuilding the Temple of Jerusalem to symbolize building a temple of ‘virtue, truth, and light’.
One connection between the Knights and the Freemasons is the practice of alchemy. Several degrees in Freemasonry use symbols that are important to alchemy. The 9th and 10th degrees bear a rose which is the symbol of perfection, completion, and regeneration. A pentacle symbolizes the four elements (earth, air, fire and water), another symbol used by both the Knights and the Freemasons.
Another connection is their gothic style of architecture. This style of architecture first arose in France when the Knights were building castles and churches. Both societies clearly view their aesthetic tendencies in this similar pattern.
The St. Clair family is another connection between the two societies. The Sinclair’s were a noble Scottish clan whose members are connected to the Rosslyn Chapel, the bloodline of Jesus, and the Holy Grail theories. Hugues de ayens (a key founder of the Knights Templar) was married to Catherine St. Clair and established a Templar headquarters in Scotland at the St. Clair estate. Sir William Sinclair was the designer of the Rosslyn Chapel and a very important member of the St. Clair family. The Sinclair family also has ties to the Freemasons since they are named ‘hereditary protectors of Freemasonry in Scotland.
The Rosslyn Chapel itself lends credence to the connection of the two societies. It fits into the time gap between the disbandment of the Knights Templar in 1312 and the appearance of Freemasons during the 1500’s.
The Rosslyn Chapel’s floor plan includes the shape of the Templar equal-armed cross, and carvings that show the main Templar seal of two men riding a single horse. Also, Masonic symbols include the abundance of squares, a series of carving that portray an initiation ceremony, and the apprentice pillar. Local tradition tells that an apprentice mason carved this pillar so beautifully that his master murdered him in a fit of jealousy. Close to the pillar are carvings of the apprentice’s head, the master’s head, and the head of his widowed mother. This is significant in that the resemblance it bears to the phrase “Is there no help for the widow’s son?” which is uttered by Freemasons as a call for help.
Geometry is a very important part of symbolism. The definition of geometry by the Grand Lodge of Michigan states: In the Fellow Craft Degree, geometry is a symbol not only of mathematics but of the divine and moral significance of abstract truth. Since measuring entails the act of proving, the progress of this art teaches how to establish the truth of a proposition by means of its tools, the set square and the compass.
Pillars are another important symbolism in masonry. Have you heard the term “The Three Pillars of Freemasonry”? This symbolism refers to the trinity of Wisdom-Strength-Beauty.
Numbers are also very symbolic in masonry. The numbers three, five, and seven are of utmost importance to freemasons. The number three is another way of expressing the sacred idea of the triangle. Therefore, the number three is another symbol for the Deity.
The number five is representative of the five human senses, five points of fellowship and the five-pointed star, and geometry is called the fifth science. Pythagoreans consider the number five mystical because it is the union of the first even number and the first odd number, symbolizing “mixed conditions of order and disorder, happiness and misfortune, life and death.