Freemasonry is the world’s oldest and largest fraternal Organization; and it is without a doubt the most misunderstood. It is a traditional initiatic order and one of the last remaining institutions in the Western world to preserve and practice traditional forms.
Freemasonry is based on the Ancient Charges, and teaches lessons of social and moral virtues. According to a Masonic ritual “Freemasonry is a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols”. Freemasonry is not a religion, even though based on religious principles. It is open to all men over the age of 21 who profess a belief in a Supreme Being. No man can be a Freemason if he is an atheist.
Freemasonry arose in the late 16th to early 17th century and following the Masonic tradition it is believed to have originated with the craft guilds of medieval Europe and latterly, to have expanded to admit those who did not actually belong to the trade.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Freemasons took their inspiration from the rites and customs of the Guild of Masons in order to give their work the structure, organization and symbols necessary to fulfill a specific purpose. This was to gather together people of different origins and different opinions and enable them to work on a common project : the creation of a temple for the whole of humanity. It has taken its modern form during the Enlightenment, but its traditions, symbols and lessons reach back to pre-modern times.
The first Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster (later called United Grand Lodge of England – UGLE) was founded on 24 June 1717. The Grand Lodge of Ireland and The Grand Lodge of Scotland were formed in 1725 and 1736 respectively.
From 1717 to 1813 the fraternity stabilized its governing structure and settled on its regular operations. The oldest jurisdiction on the continent of Europe, the Grand Orient de France (GOdF), was founded in 1733. Freemasonry was exported to the British Colonies in North America by the 1730s and 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.” After the American Revolution, independent U.S. Grand Lodges formed themselves within each state.
Within Freemasonry members advance through symbolic degrees, or ranks in their intellectual and philosophical development. There are various rites that are practiced within Freemasonry around the world with varying numbers of degrees. For every Mason there are philosophical, historical and organizational aspects in the study of Freemasonry.
The three degrees of Craft or Blue Lodge Freemasonry are those of: Entered Apprentice – the degree of an Initiate, Fellow Craft – an intermediate degree, involved with learning; and Master Mason – the “third degree”, a necessity for participation in most aspects of Masonry.
There is no degree in Freemasonry higher than that of Master Mason, but there are, however, a number of organizations that require being a Master Mason as a prerequisite for membership.
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. The two majors are The Scottish Rite and the York Rite.
The fraternity is administratively organized into independent Grand Lodges (or Orients), that varies from territory to territory and recognizeeach other, or not, based upon adherence to landmarks. Grand Lodges consists of subordinate Lodges. A Lodge is the basic organizational unit of Freemasonry and must hold regular meetings at a fixed place and published dates throughout the year.
The term “Lodge” is used for the group of Masons who meet together, for the room they meet in or even for the building in which they gather. Every Masonic Lodge elects certain officers to execute the necessary functions of the lodge’s work.
Freemasonry past members include Kings, Presidents, military leaders, writers, scientists, musicians, philosophers, etc.
Today, freemasonry exists in various forms all over the world. There are about 33.700 lodges worldwide and its members estimated at around six million, including approximately 150,000 under the jurisdictions of the Grand Lodge of Scotland and Grand Lodge of Ireland, over a quarter of a million under the jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodge of England, and just under two million in the United States.
Generally, to be accepted for initiation as a regular Freemason, a candidate must:
• Be a man who comes of his own free will.
• Believe in a Supreme Being.
• Be at least the minimum age (from 18–25 years old depending on the jurisdiction.
• Be of sound mind and body.
• Be free-born (or “born free”, i.e., not born a slave or bondsman).
• 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.