What Is Freemasonry?

Presented below are varying definitions of Freemasonry. You are welcome to take them into consideration in your research, you are encouraged to do your own research on the matter.

Be Advised: Freemasonry is an organization conducted by men. Men are not perfect. Politics are a fact of life in Freemasonry, and where there are politics involved, hypocrisy is found as well.

You will hear a lot about RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE when you look at the address of Freemasonry. In some countries, this is true. However, those members of the Masonic Fraternity of North America and other jurisdictions, are trying to Christianize Freemasonry. Those who are not brainwashed in the trappings of Church dogma can see that where the Christian Church gains the power to enforce its intolerance of others, darkness soon follows.

What is Freemasonry - United Grand Lodge of England
What is Freemasonry - Grand Lodge of Missouri
What is Freemasonry - Co-Masonry
What is Freemasonry - On the Other Hand
What Is Freemasonry - Catholic Encyclopedia
What is Freemasonry - Book of Hiram
Freemasonry - John Michael Greer
What Is Freemasonry - Organization
What is Freemasonry - Membership
What is Freemasonry - Women in Freemasonry
What is Freemasonry - Prince Hall
What is Freemasonry - Principals and Activities
What is Freemasonry - Ritual and Symbols
What is Freemasonry - Degrees
What is Freemasonry - Freemasonry in the Arts
What is Freemasonry - Landmarks
What is Freemasonry - Research
History of Freemasonry
The Two Great Schisms of Freemasonry
Freemasonry and Anticlericalism
Criticism, Persecution, and Prosecution
Religious Tolerance
Political Conspiracy Theories Involving Freemasonry
Criticism of Masonic "cronyism"
Criticisms that Freemasonry is a New Religion
Criticisms that Freemasonry Worships Satan
Criticisms of Masonic Blood Oaths
Criticisms of the Process of Becoming a Freemason
In Defense of Liberty
Contemporary Challenges
What Is Freemasonry - Steven Sadlier
Freemasonry and Religion

WHAT IS FREEMASONRY?

According to the United Grand Lodge of England, which is the Mother Lodge of all Ancient Free and Accepted Masons (AF&AM) and Free and Accepted Masons (F&AM), the definition of Freemasonry is as follows:

Freemasonry is one of the world's oldest secular fraternal societies. The following information is intended to explain Freemasonry as it is practiced under the United Grand Lodge of England, which administers Lodges of Freemasons in England and Wales and in many places overseas.

The explanation may correct some misconceptions.

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.

(Click Here to Read Entire Text)


In Missouri

If you visit the Missouri Grand Lodge Web Site (momason.org) you will likely not find a document entitled "What Is Freemasonry". Instead, there is a section called "About Freemasonry" in which several issues are addressed, including "What Freemasonry Teaches", which I have included an excerpt from:

Because of the way in which Masonry teaches - confronting the person with symbols and allegory and then asking him to reflect upon them and discover the lessons for himself -it is impossible to list all of the things a man can learn in the fraternity. Masonry is a process of self-discovery and self-awareness.

But there are certain great lessons that, as almost all Masons would agree, form the basis of Masonic philosophy.

Human Beings are creatures of God.

Because God is our common Father, all men are brothers.

The fact of that common heritage is more important than race, denomination, wealth, position, education, social status, or anything else.

Faith is essential to us if we are to be truly free.

Only the knowledge of the Deity in our lives can give freedom.

Each person is entitled to dignity, and no one, for any reason or under any pretext, has the right to compromise the dignity of another.

Each man and woman is entitled to complete freedom of thought, belief, political expression, and speech. No person, government, or earthly spiritual authority has the right to dictate the thought or belief of another individual. No tyranny, no matter how benign, is ever acceptable.


Co-Freemasonry

Then there is Co-Freemasonry, of which has its own view of what Freemasonry is, as defined by the Le Droit Humain Grand Lodge of Progressive or Co-Freemasonry, located out of France:

Freemasonry is the subject of various interpretations and remarks, and is often regarded as a mystic and secret society. The expression "Masonic Lodge" evokes in people different ideas coupled with an ignorance about the true objective of the masonic process.

This presentation will help many men and women to understand better the masonic process of the members of the International Order of Co-Freemasonry "LE DROIT HUMAIN" and their humanist ideal.


On The Other Hand

There are, however, other resources one can turn to in order to find a definition of what Freemasonry is, some by those who are neutral, some by those who are pro-Masonic, and those who are anti-Masonic. Much of the Pro-Masonic definitions only paint for the reader what they want the reader to see, leaning away from areas of which are conceived to be secretive or guarded. The Anti-Masons are almost humorous in their accusations, accusing members of the Masonic Fraternity of secretly being Satanist, of having an Jewish Agenda of World Domination, and even of being reptilian aliens with a secret base hidden on the dark side of the moon. The best resources I have found defining Freemasonry to the uninitiated come from those who are neutral and basing their information on extensive research and contact with a variety of people inside the Masonic Movement.

Occultist and Author, John Michael Greer, offers this explanation of Freemasonry in his latest book, An Encyclopedia of the Occult:

The Order of Free and Accepted Masons is an international fraternal order with massive historical connections to occultism. While not actually an occult organization, Freemasonry is the, most important of the fraternal orders in the Western world, and the source of a very large percentage of occult ideas about lodges, degrees, initiations, symbolism, and the like. In its basic and essential form, Freemasonry consists of three degrees of. initiation that draw their symbolism and teachings from the stonemason's trade, and from the biblical account of the building of King Solomon's Temple. On this relatively simple foundation has been raised an immense structure of ritual, symbolism, philosophy, magic, philanthropy, spirituality, speculation, and sheer hogwash.

The origins of Freemasonry are wrapped in a thick fog of guesswork and wishful thinking. Masonic historians, at various points over the last three hundred years, have traced the origins of Freemasonry to ancient Egyptian priests, Roman colleges of architecture, and the medieval Knights Templar, as well as to King Solomon's Temple itself. Many of these claims can still be found in popular literature today. There is, however, no actual evidence that any of these groups had anything to do with the historical origins of Freemasonry. Rather, the evidence of current research suggests that its roots can be found in the much more prosaic realm of late medieval stonemasons' guilds in Scotland and England.

In the middle of his article on Freemasonry, John Michael Greer continues by saying:

Despite the tide of Catholic rhetoric, and more recent flurries of criticism from fundamentalist Protestants who have become convinced that Masonry is somehow connected to secular humanism and the Antichrist, the reality of the Masonic lodge is prosaic enough. Lodges hold business meetings for third-degree members at intervals ranging from once each week to once each month, usually with a dinner either before or after the. meeting; perform traditional and rather verbose initiation rituals for new members; raise money to donate to a wide range of worthy causes; and behave like most other clubs. On initiation, members promise to keep the rituals, identification signals, and private business of the lodge secret from non-members, to follow the various rules and bylaws of the lodge and the order, and to maintain standards of good behavior with other Masons. The tone of the whole system can be measured adequately by the fact that an open Bible is part of the lodge furnishings, and the Pledge of Allegiance is recited by American Freemasons at the beginning of each meeting.

(see article below)


The Catholic Encyclopedia, in its discussion and definition of what Freemasonry is, makes a very informed and fair assessment in its beginning, stating:

There have been many controversies among Masons as to the essential points of Masonry. English-speaking Masons style them "landmarks", a term taken from Deuteronomy 19:14, and signifying "the boundaries of Masonic freedom", or the unalterable limits within which all Masons have to confine themselves. Mackey specifies no less than twenty-five landmarks. The same number is adopted by Whitehead "as the pith of the researches of the ablest masonic writers". The principle of them are:

In truth there is no authority in Freemasonry to constitute such "unchangeable" landmarks or fundamental laws. Strictly judicially, even the "Old Charges", which, according to Anderson's "Constitutions", contain the unchangeable laws, have a legal obligatory character only as far as they are inserted in the "Book of Constitution" of each Grand Lodge. But practically there exist certain characteristics which are universally considered as essential. Such are the fundamental principles described in the first and sixth articles of the "Old Charges" concerning religion, in the texts of the first two English editions (1723 and 1738) of Anderson's "Constitutions". These texts, though differing slightly, are identical as to their essential tenor. That of 1723, as the original text, restored by the Grand Lodge of England in the editions of the "Constitutions", 1756-1813, and inserted later in the "Books of Constitutions" of nearly all the other Grand Lodges, is the most authoritative; but the text of 1738, which was adopted and used for a long time by many Grand Lodges, is also of great importance in itself and as a further illustration of the text of 1723.

In "The Book of Hiram", written by Masonic authors and researchers Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, their assessment of Freemasonry is that of a dying organization, their opening statement of the book stating:

Freemasonry is Dying.

For most people life is far more complicated than it was just a generation ago. We work harder and we have more disposable income. Long-term commitments are usually avoided at all costs. In an age when employment come packaged as a series of renewable contracts and even marriage is out of vogue, it is not surprising that men no longer feel queue up to sign on for a lifetime of acting out odd-ball rituals in a local hall with no windows. Candidates for the Craft are expected to enter into a lifelong relationship with a lodge before learning what Freemasonry is. They are given no advance warning of what they will be expected to do, or what benefit it will be to them. It is little wonder that the Grand Lodges who govern Freemasonry around the world are having difficulty in selling a proposition that does not meet any of the normal criteria of a marketable product.

An obvious question is 'Does the demise of this secretive Order really matter?' May it should be allowed to quietly wither away.

Despite the reports of growing membership numbers, Freemasonry is dying in many places around the United States today. In their attempt to encourage membership, many Grand Lodges have adopted either the Chance to Advance Class, where men who have taken their First Degree (Entered Apprentice), may take their Second and Third Degrees in a single day as a part of a group of men, thus allegedly speeding the process up. Others have gone a step further, holding what is called a One Day Class, where men can take all three of their degrees in a single afternoon as a part of a group. These methods have been used by the Scottish and York Rite to get new members through their many degrees in one or two Saturdays, but as was the case with the Rites of Freemasonry, many people are taking advantage of the 'fast-track' degree work of the Masonic Fraternity to become a member of the Mystic Shrine (Shriners).

The Grand Lodge of Missouri (AF&AM) has found a way to speed the process up even more. In order to educate new brethren in the degrees they had taken, a proficiency was required of their current degree before they could take their next degree. This requirement was taken away, and no lodge could require that a person perform the proficiencies for the degrees in order to advance. This combined with the rule that requires that a man only take on degree per day, sped up the process of getting a new member through the degrees if the people could be found to confer the degree work.

A lot of men have taken advantage of both the One Day / Change to Advance Classes and the No Proficiencies rule to rapidly get through all three degrees and become a full member of the Masonic Fraternity. However, a majority of these men have not become active in the Masonic or Blue Lodge itself. Many are recruited specifically to pass through the degrees and become members of the Mystic Shrine (Shriners). Many of these men never had any intention of being involved in the Blue Lodge itself, and while there have been those who have gotten involved in the Blue Lodge and become strong members, they are far outnumbered by those who never enter a Blue Lodge again.

Where the Blue Lodge and Freemasonry is the strongest, and is actually growing in numbers and participation, is within the Prince Hall branch of Freemasonry. This form of Freemasonry in North America is primarily Black men, but is not restricted to Black men. Prince Hall Freemasonry has held on to the stricter traditions, and higher initiation fees. They clearly live under the opinion that they would rather have a few good men, than a high number of men who are not knowledgeable or active in the fraternity. Unlike the AF&AM, it is reported that a member of Prince Hall can be suspended for missing two meetings in an allotted period of time. Participation is mandatory, the degree work is taken very seriously, and unlike the AF&AM in Missouri, the hazing or harassment of initiates has not been prohibited in the degrees. Prince Hall takes their Freemasonry very seriously, which is believed to be the main reason that Prince Hall Masons aren't thrilled about opening visitations between the two mainstream branches.

Freemasonry, AF&AM, has been too willing to change in order to make itself more acceptable or more attractive to the general public. Doing so, it is becoming more than a social club open to only men, which comes complete with its own levels of corruption brought in by its leadership. The days of enlightened Freemasonry, or making good men better, are over. The organization, in many places, has degenerated to the level of only paying lip service to the excellent tenants of which it claims to uphold so dearly.


Freemasonry

The Order of Free and Accepted Masons is an international fraternal order with massive historical connections to occultism. While not actually an occult organization, Freemasonry is the, most important of the fraternal orders in the Western world, and the source of a very large percentage of occult ideas about lodges, degrees, initiations, symbolism, and the like. In its basic and essential form, Freemasonry consists of three degrees of. initiation that draw their symbolism and teachings from the stonemason's trade, and from the biblical account of the building of King Solomon's Temple. On this relatively simple foundation has been raised an immense structure of ritual, symbolism, philosophy, magic, philanthropy, spirituality, speculation, and sheer hogwash.

The origins of Freemasonry are wrapped in a thick fog of guesswork and wishful thinking. Masonic historians, at various points over the last three hundred years, have traced the origins of Freemasonry to ancient Egyptian priests, Roman colleges of architecture, and the medieval Knights Templar, as well as to King Solomon's Temple itself. Many of these claims can still be found in popular literature today. There is, however, no actual evidence that any of these groups had anything to do with the historical origins of Freemasonry. Rather, the evidence of current research suggests that its roots can be found in the much more prosaic realm of late medieval stonemasons' guilds in Scotland and England.

Scottish records of working stonemasons' lodges provide the oldest known references to the Mason Word (the secret method of identifying oneself as a Mason to other Masons), permanent masons' lodges, multiple degrees of initiation, and the initiation of people who were not working stonemasons into lodges. As late as 1691, the Rev. Robert Kirk referred to the Mason Word as one of five "curiosities" common in Scotland but rare or nonexistent else ere. There is also documentary evidence that Scottish stone asons were expected to study the Art of Memory as of 1599, the date of statutes issued by William Schaw, Master of Works to the King of Scotland. This points to a familiarity with traditions of Hermetic imagery that later played a central role in Masonic ritual and practice.

These traditions, and the symbolic and ceremonial dimensions that ultimately became the core of the Masonic movement, took their place gradually over at least a century. In the early sev eenth century, most members of Mason's lodges were operative masons-that is, working men who made their living in the building trades. Starting around 1640, men who had no business connection to building, but were interested in the masons' rituals and symbols, began to join lodges; they were called accepted masons. By 1700, accepted masons were in the majority in most lodges, and there were many lodges without a single member who had ever spread mortar with a trowel.

In 1717, four London lodges came together to form the Grand Lodge of England (now the United Grand Lodge of England), the oldest Grand Lodge in Freemasonry. The next hundred years were a period of explosive growth, as lodges were founded throughout Britain, Europe, and the American colonies as well.

During this time Masonry became entangled in the complex net of political and magical intrigues surrounding the House of Stuart, which was driven off the British throne in 1688 and tried for most of a century to regain its former place. The Jacobites, as the pro-Stuart party was called, used the secrecy of Masonic lodges as a shield for their conspiracies against the House of Hanover, the new British royal house. The Hanoverian side, responded in kind. The Grand Lodge of England, which was a stronghold of Hanoverian Masons, and the Scottish Rite, which developed out of Jacobite lodges in France, both took shape in the midst of these controversies.

Central to these intrigues was Scottish Freemason Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686-1743), a Jacobite and Catholic convert who spent most of his life in exile in France. In the 1730s, as part of the preparations for the Stuart rising of 1745, Ramsay played a central role in creating a new, more complex system of "Scottish" Freemasonry closely allied to the Jacobite cause, and heavily loaded with Hermetic and occult material, in keeping with Ramsay's own interests. After Ramsay's death and the failure of the 1745 rising, Scottish Freemasonry regrouped into a Rite of Perfection of twenty-five degrees, which later evolved into the Scottish Rite of thirty-three degrees.

Another set of complexities emerged out of the relations between Freemasonry and the Catholic Church., These started off poorly and rapidly worsened. Anything associated with Protestant England was looked at suspiciously in Rome, and as Masonry spread in France and Italy, it drew most of its members from liberal circles who supported political reform and religious toleration-two things the church was not prepared to accept. The first Catholic condemnation of Masonry, the papal bull In Eminente, was promulgated in 1732, and followed by others. To this day a Catholic who becomes a Mason risks excommunication. The Catholic condemnation of Freemasonry has at times risen to the level of claiming that Masonry is actually a front for the deliberate worship of Satan, a charge that has involved the church in extreme embarrasment at least once already in its history.

Despite the tide of Catholic rhetoric, and more recent flurries of criticism from fundamentalist Protestants who have become convinced that Masonry is somehow connected to secular humanism and the Antichrist, the reality of the Masonic lodge is prosaic enough. Lodges hold business meetings for third-degree members at intervals ranging from once each week to once each month, usually with a dinner either before or after the. meeting; perform traditional and rather verbose initiation rituals for new members; raise money to donate to a wide range of worthy causes; and behave like most other clubs. On initiation, members promise to keep the rituals, identification signals, and private business of the lodge secret from non-members, to follow the various rules and bylaws of the lodge and the order, and to maintain standards of good behavior with other Masons. The tone of the whole system can be measured adequately by the fact that an open Bible is part of the lodge furnishings, and the Pledge of Allegiance is recited by American Freemasons at the beginning of each meeting.

The degrees of initiation conferred in Freemasonry fall into two broad classes. The first, the Symbolic- or "Blue Lodge" degrees, are the foundation of the entire system, and any person who has received them is considered to be fully i' 'tiated as a Freemason. They are:

1°: Entered Apprentice
2°: Fellow Craft
3°: Master Mason

Beyond this, matters get confusing very quickly. There are higher Masonic grades, assembled in a variety of rites, and there are also concordant booms-with their own degrees, which are not considered Masonic but which recruit members only among Master Masons. In the United States, two main rites-the York Rite and the Scottish Rite-attract most Masons interested in higher degrees, but other rites exist, and concordant bodies number in the dozens. None of these additional rites or bodies have any authority over the Blue Lodges that work the three degrees already mentioned.

The York Rite in North America offers the following degrees, divided up into three sets:

Chapter degrees

Mark Master
Past Master
Most Excellent Master
Royal Arch

Cryptic degrees

Royal Master
Select Master
Super Excellent Master

Knights Templar degrees

Order of the Red Cross
Order of the Knights of Malta
Order of Knights Templar

For its part, the Scottish Rite provides its initiates with a much more extensive set of degrees. The following degrees are offered in the Southern Jurisdiction of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, which includes most of the United States:

Lodge of Perfection degrees

4°: Secret Master
5°: Perfect Master
6°: Intimate Secretary
7°: Provost and judge
8°: Intendant of the Building
9°: Elu of the Nine
10°: Elu of the Fifteen
11°: Elu of the Twelve
12°: Master Architect
13°: Royal Arch of Solomon
14°: Perfect Elu

Chapter of Rose Croix degrees

15°: Knight of the East, of the Sword, or of the Eagle
16°: Prince ofJerusalem
17°: Knight of the East and West
18°: Knight of the Rose Croix

Council of Kadosh degrees

19°: Pontiff
20°: Master of the Symbolic Lodge
21°: Noachite or Prussian Knight
22°: Knight Royal Axe, Prince of Libanus
23°: Chief of the Tabernacle
24°: Prince of the Tabernacle
25°: Knight of the Brazen Serpent
26°: Prince of Mercy or Scottish Trinitarian
27°: Knight Commander of the Temple
28°: Knight of the Sun or Prince Adept
29°: Scottish Knight of Saint Andrew
30°: Knight Kadosh or Knight of the White and Black Eagle

Consistory degrees

31°: Inspector Inquisitor
32°: Master of the Royal Secret

Supreme Council degree

33°: Sovereign Grand Inspector General

Many of these Scottish Rite degrees have fairly explicit occult content, and Albert Pike, who was reponsible for creating much of the present Scottish Rite system, expounded that system in occult terms in his massive Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (1871); SEE PIKE, ALBERT. Nonetheless, very few Scottish Rite Masons pay much attention to this aspect of the system, and there seems to be no reason to think that the present leaders of the Scottish Rite are occult adepts-or, for that matter, occultists at all.

The internal politics among the various Masonic bodies are extremely complex, involving overlapping jurisdictions, disputes as to who is or is not a valid Mason, and the like. There are also bodies such as Co-Masonry, a Masonic order open to women as well as men, which nearly all other Masonic bodies refine-to recognize, and Adoptive Masonry, open only to women, which has a complex relationship to the male-only Masonic Lodges.

The above was taken from "The New Encyclopedia of the Occult" by John Michael Greer.

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What Is Freemasonry?

Freemasonry is a worldwide fraternal organization. Its members are joined together by shared ideals of both a moral and metaphysical nature, and, in most of its branches, by a common belief in a Supreme Being. Freemasonry is an esoteric art, in that certain aspects of its internal work are not generally revealed to the public. Masons give numerous reasons for this, one of which is that Freemasonry uses an initiatory system of degrees to explore ethical and philosophical issues, and this system is less effective if the observer knows beforehand what will happen. It often calls itself "a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols."

Organizational Structure

Grand Lodge

There are many different jurisdictions of governance of Freemasonry, each sovereign and independent of the others, and usually defined according to a geographic territory. There is thus no central Masonic authority, although each jurisdiction maintains a list of other jurisdictions that it formally recognizes. If the other jurisdiction reciprocates the recognition, the two jurisdictions are said to be in amity, which permits the members of the one jurisdiction to attend closed meetings of the other jurisdiction's Lodges, and vice-versa. Generally speaking, to be recognized by another jurisdiction, one must (at least) meet that jurisdiction's requirements for regularity. This generally means that one must have in place, at least, the ancient landmarks of Freemasonry—the essential characteristics considered to be universal to Freemasonry in any culture. In keeping with the decentralized and non-dogmatic nature of Freemasonry, however, there is no universally accepted list of landmarks, and even jurisdictions in amity with each other often have completely different ideas as to what those landmarks are. Many jurisdictions take no official position at all as to what the landmarks are.

Freemasonry is often said to consist of two different branches: the Anglo and the Continental traditions. In reality, there is no tidy way to split jurisdictions into distinct camps like this. For instance, jurisdiction A might recognize B, which recognizes C, which does not recognize A. In addition, the geographical territory of one jurisdiction may overlap with another's, which may affect their relations, for purely territorial reasons. In other cases, one jurisdiction may overlook irregularities in another due simply to a desire to maintain friendly relations. Also, a jurisdiction may be formally affiliated with one tradition, while maintaining informal ties with the other. For all these reasons, labels like "Anglo" and "Continental" must be taken only as rough indicators, not as any kind of clear designation.

The ruling authority of a Masonic jurisdiction is usually called a Grand Lodge, or sometimes a Grand Orient. These normally correspond to a single country, although their territory can be broader or narrower than that. (In North America, each state and province has its own Grand Lodge.) The oldest jurisdiction in the Anglo branch of Freemasonry is the Grand Lodge of England (GLE) (the Moderns), founded in 1717. This later became the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) when it joined with another English Grand Lodge (the Antients) in 1813. It is today the largest jurisdiction in England, and generally considered to be the oldest in the world. Its headquarters are at Freemasons Hall, Great Queen Street, London. The oldest in the Continental branch, and the largest jurisdiction in France, is the Grand Orient de France (GOdF), founded in 1728. At one time, the Anglo and Continental branches recognized each other, but most jurisdictions cut off formal relations with the GOdF around the time it started unreservedly admitting atheists, in 1877. In most Latin countries, and in Belgium, the French style of Freemasonry predominates. The rest of the world, accounting for the bulk of Freemasonry, tends to follow the English lead.

Most jurisdictions allow their members to visit Lodges in recognized jurisdictions without reservation, leaving it to the foreign Lodge to confirm that the two jurisdictions are in amity. The UGLE, on the other hand, requires its members to check with them before visiting lodges abroad to confirm amity—for example visiting American lodges is discouraged.

Lodges

Contrary to popular belief, Freemasons meet as a Lodge and not in a lodge. (This is similar to the distinction made by Christians who meet as a church, with the actual building officially considered no more than a meeting place.)

According to Masonic legend (see below), the operative lodges (the Medieval lodges of actual stonemasons) constructed a lodge building adjacent to their work site where the masons could meet for instruction and social contact. Normally this was on the southern side of the site (in Europe, the side with the sun warming the stones during the day.) The social part of the building was on the southern side, hence the social gathering of the lodge is still called the South.

Early speculative lodges (which included members who were not actual stonemasons) met in taverns and other convenient public meeting places, and employed a Tyler to guard the door from both malicious and simply curious people.

Lodge buildings have for many years been known as Temples. In many countries this term has now been replaced by Masonic Centre. (See also Shriners and their Temples.)

In North America, the Lodge in which a member becomes a Master Mason is known as his "Blue Lodge". The Lodge is the foundation of a collection of further "appended" Masonic groups or bodies: York Rite, Scottish Rite and The Shrine. To be a member of these other bodies, a man must pay dues to a regular Masonic Lodge. The Blue Lodge and its ceremonies establish the fundamental bond which makes all Masons "brothers", and is the cement which binds all other appendant Masonic bodies together.

Specialist lodges

Some specific specialist lodges exist within many Masonic jurisdictions.

The most obvious are the specially constituted Lodges of "Research and Instruction" (R&I). These are associated with a world-wide organization of Masonic research, typically specialising in discovering and interpreting historical records and the meanings of Masonic symbolism left unrecorded, and for preserving and developing Masonic ritual. Membership in these many Lodges is typically open to interested members of other, normally-constituted Lodges.

There are also Lodges formed by groupings of persons with similar interests or background, such as "old boy" Lodges associated with certain schools, universities, military units, or businesses.

Concordant and appendant bodies

Freemasonry is associated with several appendant bodies, such as the Scottish Rite, which is a system of Freemasonry developed on the Continent (particularly in France), and the York Rite, which includes three sovereign and distinct rites: the Holy Royal Arch, Royal and Select Masters (aka Cryptic Masonry), and Knights Templar. In regard to the (Masonic) Templars, this particular organization is limited to Cryptic Masons of the Christian faith and does not in any way impose this requirement on the entire York Rite system, as is commonly and erroneously believed. Other groups include the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (Shriners), the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm (Grotto), the Tall Cedars of Lebanon, and the Ancient and Heroic Order of the Gordian Knot, among numerous others, all of which tend to expand on the teachings of Craft or Blue Lodge Freemasonry—often with additional so-called higher degrees—while improving their members and society as a whole. The Shrine and Grotto tend to emphasise fun and philanthropy and are largely a North American phenomenon.

Different jurisdictions vary in how they define their relationship with such bodies. Some consider them wholly outside of Freemasonry proper. Others may give them some sort of formal recognition (or not). Some of these organizations may have additional religious requirements, compared to Freemasonry proper (or "Craft Masonry"), since they elaborate on Masonic teachings from a particular perspective.

There are also certain youth organizations (mainly North American) which are associated with Freemasonry, but are not necessarily Masonic in their content, such as the Order of DeMolay (for boys aged 12–21), Job's Daughters (for girls aged 10-20 with proper Masonic relationship) and the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls (for girls 11–20 who have Masonic sponsorship). The Boy Scouts of America is not a Masonic organization, but was first nationally commissioned by Freemason Daniel Carter Beard. Beard exemplified the Masonic ideals throughout the Scouting program.

Membership

Freemasonry accepts members from almost any religion, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and so forth. Masons require a belief in a Supreme Being. But even there, one finds a high degree of non-dogmatism, and the phrase Supreme Being is often given a very broad interpretation, usually allowing Deism and often even allowing naturalistic views of "God/Nature" in the tradition of Spinoza and Goethe (himself a Freemason), or views of The Ultimate or Cosmic Oneness, such as found in some Eastern religions and in Western idealism (or for that matter, in modern cosmology). This leads some to suggest that even Anglo Freemasonry will, in practice, end up accepting certain kinds of atheists—those willing to adopt a certain brand of spiritual language. Such claims are difficult to evaluate, since many Anglo jurisdictions consider any further enquiry into a prospective member's religion, beyond the "Supreme Being" question, to be off limits. However, in some Anglo jurisdictions (mostly English-speaking), Freemasonry is actually less tolerant of naturalism than it was in the 18th century, and specific religious requirements with more theistic and orthodox overtones have been added since the early 19th century, including (mostly in North America) belief in the immortality of the soul. The Freemasonry that predominates in Scandinavia, known as the Swedish Rite, accepts only Christians.

Generally, to be a Freemason, one must:

Traditionally, membership was limited to men only, and the degree of recognition that should be accorded to feminine and co-Masonic jurisdictions is still a matter of great controversy. The "free born" requirement does not come up in modern Lodges, and there is no indication that it would ever be enforced, but remains there for historical reasons (it is often interpreted as meaning something like "freethinking"). The "sound body" requirement is today generally taken to mean physically capable of taking part in Lodge rituals, and most Lodges today are quite flexible in accommodating disabled candidates.

Women in Freemasonry

The position of women within Freemasonry is complex. Traditionally, only men could be made Freemasons. While this has been slowly changing, especially over the past century, there were exceptions to the rule as early as the 18th century. Perhaps the most authoritative account of a woman being admitted to Freemasonry in these early years surrounds Elizabeth Aldworth (nee St. Leger), who is reported to have viewed the proceedings of a Lodge meeting held at Doneraile House, the house of her father, first Viscount Doneraile, a resident of Cork, Ireland. In the early part of the 18th century, it was customary for Lodges to be regularly held in private houses; this Lodge was duly warranted as number 150 on the register of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. Apparently, she removed a brick and saw the ceremony in the room beyond. After being discovered, Elizabeth's situation was discussed by the Lodge, and it was decided that she should be initiated into Freemasonry. The story is supported by other accounts that record how she was a subscriber to the Irish Book of Constitutions of 1744 and that she frequently attended, wearing her Masonic regalia, entertainments that were given under Masonic auspices for the benefit of the poor and distressed. She afterwards married Mr. Richard Aldworth of Newmarket. It is also reported that when she died she was accorded the honour of a Masonic burial.

International Co-Masonry began in France in 1882 with the initiation of Maria Deraismes into the Loge Libre Penseurs (Freethinkers Lodge), a men's Lodge under the Grande Loge Symbolique de France. Along with activist Georges Martin, in 1893 Maria Deraismes oversaw the initiation of sixteen women into the first Lodge in the world to have both men and women as members, creating the jurisdiction Le Droit Humain (LDH).

In the United Kingdom and France, and most other countries, women still generally join co-Masonic Lodges, such as those under LDH, or they join Lodges under local jurisdictions that admit only women. In North America, it is more common for women not to become Freemasons per se, but to join an associated body with its own, separate traditions, such as the Order of the Eastern Star (OES), which admits only male Freemasons and their female relatives. In the Netherlands, there is a completely separate, although allied, sorority for women, the Order of Weavers (OOW), which uses symbols from weaving rather than stonemasonry.

The GOdF and other Continental jurisdictions give full formal recognition to co-Freemasonry and women's Freemasonry. The UGLE and other Anglo jurisdictions do not formally recognize any Masonic body that accepts women, although in many countries they have an understanding and a kind of informal acceptance that such bodies are part of Freemasonry in a larger sense. The UGLE, for instance, has recognized (since 1998) two local women's jurisdictions as regular in practice, except for their inclusion of women, and has indicated that, while not formally recognized, these bodies may be regarded as part of Freemasonry. Thus, the position of women in Freemasonry is rapidly changing in the English-speaking world. While in many cases North America is following England's lead on the issue of women, the remaining resistance to women in Freemasonry is mostly concentrated there.

Prince Hall Masonry

In 1775, an African American named Prince Hall was initiated into an Irish Constitution Military Lodge, along with fourteen other African Americans, all of whom were free by birth. When the Military Lodge left the area, the African Americans were given the authority to meet as a Lodge, form Processions on the days of the Saints John, and conduct Masonic funerals, but not to confer degrees nor to do other Masonic Work. These individuals applied for, and obtained, a Warrant for Charter from the Grand Lodge of England in 1784 and formed African Lodge #459. Despite being stricken from the rolls (like all American Grand Lodges after the 1813 merger of the Antients and the Moderns) the Lodge restyled itself as the African Lodge #1 (not to be confused with the various Grand Lodges on the Continent of Africa), and separated itself from UGLE-recognised Masonry. This led to a tradition of separate, predominantly African American jurisdictions in North America, known collectively as Prince Hall Freemasonry. Widespread racism and segregation in North America made it impossible for African Americans to join many so-called "mainstream" Lodges, and many mainstream Grand Lodges in North America refused to recognize as legitimate the Prince Hall Lodges and Prince Hall Masons in their territory.

Presently, Prince Hall Masonry is recognized by some UGLE-recognized Grand Lodges and not by others, and appears to be working its way toward full recognition (see [1]). It is no longer unusual for traditional lodges to have significant African-American membership.

John Marrant the Huntingdonian minister preached to the Prince Hall Lodge on 24th June 1789. His Nova Scotia congregation was significant in the successful agitation for repatriation by Black Loyalists as well as the subsequent revolt which occurred in Sierra Leone in 1800.

Principles and Activities

Freemasonry upholds the principles of "Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth" (or in France: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"). It teaches moral lessons through rituals. Members working through the rituals are taught by "degrees". Freemasons are also commonly involved in public service and charity work, as well as providing a social outlet for their members. There is considerable variance in the emphasis on these different aspects of Masonry around the world. In Continental Europe, the philosophical side of Freemasonry is more emphasized, while in Britain, North America, and the English-speaking parts of the world, the charity, service and social club aspects are more emphasized.

While Freemasonry as an organization does not directly involve itself in politics, its members have tended over the years to support certain kinds of political causes with which they have become associated: the separation of Church and State, the replacement of religiously-affiliated schools with secular ones, and democratic revolutions (such as the United States and France on a smaller scale, but on a larger scale in other places such as Mexico, Brazil, Greece, Poland and repeatedly in Italy). In some places, especially Continental Europe and Mexico, Freemasonry has at times taken on an anti-Catholic and anti-clerical overtone.

Many organizations with various religious and political purposes have been inspired by Freemasonry, and are sometimes confused with it, such as the Protestant Loyal Orange Association and the 19th century Italian Carbonari, which pursued Liberalism and Italian Unity. Many other purely fraternal organizations, too numerous to mention, have also been inspired by Masonry to a greater or lesser extent.

Freemasonry is often called a secret society, and in fact is considered by many to be the very prototype for such societies. Many Masons say that it is more accurately described as a "society with secrets". The degree of secrecy varies widely around the world. In English-speaking countries, most Masons are completely public with their affiliation, Masonic buildings are usually clearly marked, and meeting times are generally a matter of public record. In other countries, where Freemasonry has been more recently, or is even currently, suppressed by the government, secrecy may be practised more in earnest. Even in the English-speaking world, the precise details of the rituals are not made public, and Freemasons have a system of secret modes of recognition, such as the Masonic secret grip (by which Masons can recognize each other "in the dark as well as in the light"); however, Masons acknowledge that these "secrets" have been widely available in printed exposés and anti-Masonic literature for, literally, centuries.

Ritual and Symbols

The Freemasons rely heavily on the architectural symbolism of the medieval operative Masons who actually worked in stone. One of their principal symbols is the square and Compasses, tools of the trade, so arranged as to form a quadrilateral. The square is sometimes said to represent matter, and the compasses spirit or mind. Alternatively, the square might be said to represent the world of the concrete, or the measure of objective reality, while the compasses represent abstraction, or subjective judgment, and so forth (Freemasonry being non-dogmatic, there is no written-in-stone interpretation for any of these symbols). Often the compasses straddle the square, representing the interdependence between the two. In the space between the two, there is optionally placed a symbol of metaphysical significance. Sometimes, this is a blazing star or other symbol of Light, representing Truth or knowledge. Alternatively, there is often a letter G placed there, usually said to represent God and/or Geometry.

The square and compasses are displayed at all Masonic meetings, along with the open Volume of the Sacred Law (or Lore) (VSL). In English-speaking countries, this is usually a Holy Bible, but it can be whatever book(s) of inspiration or scripture that the members of a particular Lodge or jurisdiction feel they draw on—whether the Bible, the Qur'an, or other Volumes. A candidate for a degree will normally be given his choice of VSL, regardless of the Lodge's usual VSL. In many French Lodges, the Masonic Constitutions are used. In a few cases, a blank book has been used, where the religious makeup of a Lodge was too diverse to permit an easy choice of VSL. In addition to its role as a symbol of written wisdom, inspiration, and spiritual revelation, the VSL is what Masonic obligations are taken upon.

Much of Masonic symbolism is mathematical in nature, and in particular geometrical, which is probably a reason Freemasonry has attracted so many rationalists (such as Voltaire, Fichte, Goethe, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and many others). No particular metaphysical theory is advanced by Freemasonry, however, although there seems to be some influence from the Pythagoreans, from Neo-Platonism, and from early modern Rationalism.

In keeping with the geometrical and architectural theme of Freemasonry, the Supreme Being (or God, or Creative Principle) is sometimes also referred to in Masonic ritual as the Grand Geometer, or the Great Architect of the Universe (GAOTU). Freemasons use a variety of labels for this concept in order to avoid the idea that they are talking about any one religion's particular God or God-like concept.

Degrees

There are three initial degrees of Freemasonry:

Entered Apprentice
Fellow Craft
Master Mason

As one works through the degrees, one studies the lessons and interprets them for oneself. There are as many ways to interpret the rituals as there are Masons, and no Mason may dictate to any other Mason how he is to interpret them. No particular truths are espoused, but a common structure—speaking symbolically to universal human archetypes—provides for each Mason a means to come to his own answers to life's important questions. Especially in Europe, Freemasons working through the degrees are asked to prepare papers on related philosophical topics, and present these papers in an open Lodge, where others may judge the suitability of the candidates' ascension through the higher degrees.

Freemasonry in the Arts

Mozart was a Freemason, and his opera, The Magic Flute, makes extensive use of Masonic symbolism. Two books that give a general feel for the symbolism and its interpretation are:

Freemasonry: A Journey Through Ritual and Symbol by W.K. MacNulty, Thames & Hudson, London, 1991.
Symbols of Freemasonry by D. Beresniak and L. Hamani, Assouline, Paris, 2000.
The British author Rudyard Kipling also made use of Masonic symbolism and myth in his story, "The Man Who Would Be King", which was later made into a film. Two adventurers are taken to be representatives of Alexander the Great because of their Masonic emblems.

Freemasonry in the Language

An expression often used in Masonic circles is to be on the square, meaning to be a reliable sort of person, and this has entered common usage. Another phrase from Freemasonry in common use is meeting on the level (without regard to social, economic, religious or cultural differences). The practice of Freemasonry is referred to amongst its members as the Craft, a term also used to distinguish the basic level of Freemasonry from other Masonic orders. A Mason who has served as Worshipful Master is known as a Past Master, which has passed into common use to indicate an expert in a subject.

Landmarks

Landmarks are the ancient and unchangeable precepts of Masonry, the standards by which the regularity of Lodges and Grand Lodges is judged. However, since each Grand Lodge is self-governing and no single authority exists over Craft Masonry, even these supposedly-inviolable principles can and do vary, leading to controversies and inconsistency of recognition. Some examples of common landmarks include:

A belief in a Supreme Being is required of all candidates for the degrees. The definition of "Supreme Being" is generally left to the candidate's discretion.

The modes of recognition are to be kept inviolate. They consist of covert gestures made with the hands, called signs; distinctive ways of shaking hands, called grips and tokens; and special identifying passwords, most often based on Hebrew words of the Old Testament. Variations have crept in over time, and often the modes of recognition will mark a Mason as coming from a specific jurisdiction.
The legend of the Third Degree, involving the building of King Solomon's Temple, is an integral part of Craft Masonry.

The government of Lodges in an area, usually geographic, is in the hands of a Grand Lodge, specifically the Grand Master or Provincial Grand Master. A Grand Master rules autocratically, but is elected democratically. He may attend any meeting, anywhere within his jurisdiction, at any time and may conduct the Lodge at his pleasure.

Each Lodge is governed by a Master, variously styled Worshipful or Right Worshipful Master, and two other officers, called the Senior and Junior Wardens.

A Senior and Junior Deacon assist the Master and his Wardens by passing messages and guiding candidates around the Lodge.

The Inner Guard is situated by the door of the lodge to lock and unlock it as the need arises, to admit latecomers and candidates.

All Lodges, when at work, must be tyled, that is, the door is guarded so that non-Masons may not enter or overhear the proceedings. The Tyler or outer guard, as his name implies, is situated outside the door of the Lodge "being armed with a drawn sword to keep off all intruders and cowans to Masonry".

Research

Freemasonry has a system of Lodges of Research and Instruction.

Additionally, most Masonic jurisdictions appoint Lecturers who are empowered to research, develop and/or deliver lectures in Lodges for the purpose of instructing the members.

On 5 March 2001, the University of Sheffield in England established the Centre for Research into Freemasonry, as part of the University's Humanities Research Institute, that "undertakes and promotes objective scholarly research into the historical, social and cultural impact of freemasonry, particularly in Britain." The CRF is headed by Professor Andrew Prescott, a medieval historian and expert on humanities computing, who was initially seconded from the British Library to the University of Sheffield for three years to establish the new Centre.

Most Grand Lodges and many regional Masonic Centres/Temples have a library, which is used for research.

One notable collection is the collection at the library of the University of Poznan in Poland. Some 80,000 books are housed at the main library and the Chateau de Ciazen some 80km distant. These were reportedly collected during World War II when Heinrich Himmler's SS confiscated the books of Masonic libraries in Germany and other occupied countries such as Belgium and stored this archive in Poland.

History of Freemasonry

Freemasonry has been said to be an institutional outgrowth of the medieval guilds of stonemasons (1), a direct descendant of the "Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem" (the Knights Templar) (2), an offshoot of the ancient Mystery schools (1), an administrative arm of the Priory of Sion (3), the Roman Collegia (1), the Comacine masters (1), intellectual descendants of Noah (1), and to have many other various and sundry origins. Others will claim that it dates back only to the late 17th century, and has no real connections at all to earlier organizations. These theories are noted in numerous different texts, and the following are but examples pulled from a sea of books:

In A History of Freemasonry by H.L. Haywood and James E. Craig, pub. circa 1927
In The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, pub. 1982
In Born in Blood by John Robinson, pub. 1989

Much of this is highly speculative, and the precise origins of Freemasonry may be lost in history. It is thought by many that Freemasonry cannot be a straightforward outgrowth of medieval guilds of stonemasons. Amongst the reasons given for this conclusion, well documented in Born in Blood, are the fact that stonemasons' guilds do not appear to predate reasonable estimates for the time of Freemasonry's origin, that stonemasons lived near their worksite and thus had no need for secret signs to identify themselves, and that the "Ancient Charges" of Freemasonry are nonsensical when thought of as being rules for a stonemasons' guild.

Freemasonry is said by some, especially amongst Masons practising the York Rite, to have existed even at the time of King Athelstan of England, in the 10th century C.E. Athelstan is said by some to have been converted to Christianity in York, and to have issued the first Charter to the Masonic Lodges there. This story is not currently substantiated (the dynasty had already been Christian for centuries).

Some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints note similarities between the church's sacred "Endowments" performed in LDS temples, and masonic rituals. Some Mormons have said this similarity may be because the Masonic rituals are descended from those given by God at the Temple of Solomon, and still contain many of the original truths. It may also be that early Mormon leaders (including Smith) were members of Freemasonry and incorporated its liturgy into the new religion.

A more historically reliable (although still not unassailable) source asserting the antiquity of Freemasonry is the Halliwell Manuscript, or Regius Poem, which is believed to date from ca. 1390, and which makes reference to several concepts and phrases similar to those found in Freemasonry. The manuscript itself refers to an earlier document, of which it seems to be an elaboration.

It seems reasonable to suppose that, whatever its precise origins, Freemasonry provided a haven for the unorthodox and their sympathizers during a time when such activity could result in one's death, and that this has something to do with the tradition of secret meetings and handshakes. As the Middle Ages gave way to the Modern Age, the need for secrecy subsided, and Freemasons began to openly declare their association with the fraternity, which began to organize itself more formally. In 1717, four Lodges which met at the "Apple-Tree Tavern, the Crown Ale-House near Drury Lane, the Goose and Gridiron in St. Paul's Churchyard, and the Rummer and Grapes Tavern in Westminster" in London, England (as recounted in (2)) combined together and formed the first public Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of England (GLE). The years following saw Grand Lodges open throughout Europe, as the new Freemasonry spread rapidly. How much of this was the spreading of Freemasonry itself, and how much was the public organization of pre-existing secret Lodges, is not possible to say with certainty. The GLE in the beginning did not have the current three degrees, but only the first two. The third degree appeared, so far as we know, around 1725.

Opinions about the origins, objectives and future of Freemasonry remain controversial from the times of its inception to our times. For example, Shoko Asahara, founder of the controversial Japanese religious group Aum Shinrikyo, has prophesied in some of his sermons that "in the future, Freemasonry will merge into united stream" with Aum Shinrikyo.

According to Sir Richard Burton, "Sufi-ism [was] the Eastern parent of Freemasonry." (See, F. Hitchman, Burton, Volume 1, p. 286) The possibility that Burton was correct is examined in detail by Idries Shah in his book entitled The Sufis, beginning on page 205.

The Two Great Schisms of Freemasonry (1753 and 1877)

The GLE (Grand Lodge of England), along with those jurisdictions with which it was in amity, later came to be known colloquially as the Moderns, to distinguish them from a newer, rival group of Freemasonry, known as the Antients. The Antients broke away and formed their own Grand Lodge in 1753, prompted by the GLE's making changes to the secret modes of recognition. Tensions between the two groups were very high at times. The Antients tended to be more working class in membership, and probably more Christian, while the Moderns were more aristocratic and educated, and less religiously orthodox. Benjamin Franklin was a Modern and a Deist, for instance, but by the time he died, his Lodge had gone Antient, and would no longer recognize him as one of their own, declining even to give him a Masonic funeral (see Revolutionary Brotherhood, by Steven C. Bullock, Univ. N. Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1996). It has been speculated that the Antients desired a more Christian style of Masonry, since they made popular a higher degree, called the "Holy Royal Arch", which is generally thought of as having a more Christian flavour than the first three degrees.

The schism was healed in the years following 1813, when the competing Grand Lodges were amalgamated into the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), by virtue of a delicately worded compromise which returned the modes of recognition to their pre-1753 form, and kept Freemasonry per se as consisting of three degrees only, but which was ambiguously worded so as to allow the Moderns to think of the Antient Royal Arch degree as an optional higher degree, while still allowing the Antients to view it as the completion of the third degree (see [2]). This compromise, along with subsequent changes made in 1815 (see below), left English Masonry still clearly not Christian, but at the same time somewhat less comfortable for unorthodox members, such as Deists and Pantheists. The merger also marked a levelling of the Masonic membership, in terms of social class and education.

Because both the Antients and the Moderns had daughter Lodges throughout the world, and because many of those Lodges still exist, there is a great deal of variability in the Ritual used today, even between UGLE-recognized jurisdictions. Most Lodges conduct their Work in accordance with an agreed-upon single Rite, such as the York Rite (which is popular in the United States; not to be confused with York Rite), or the Canadian Rite (which is, in some ways, a concordance between the Rites used by the Antients and Moderns).

The second great schism in Freemasonry occurred in the years following 1877, when the GOdF started accepting atheists unreservedly. While the issue of atheism is probably the greatest single factor in the split with the GOdF, the English also point to the French recognition of women's Masonry and co-Masonry, as well as the tendency of French Masons to be more willing to discuss religion and politics in Lodge. While the French curtail such discussion, they do not ban it as outright as do the English (see [3]). The schism between the two branches has occasionally been breached for short periods of time, especially during the First World War when American Masons overseas wanted to be able to visit French Lodges (see [4]).

Concerning religious requirements, the oldest constitution of Freemasonry (that of Anderson, 1723) says only that a Mason "will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine [Freethinker]" if he "rightly understands the Art". The only religion required was "that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves" ([5]). Masons disagree as to whether "stupid" and "irreligious" are meant as necessary or as accidental modifiers of "atheist" and "libertine". It is possible the ambiguity is intentional. In 1815, the newly amalgamated UGLE changed Anderson's constitutions to include more orthodox overtones: "Let a man's religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order, provided he believes in the glorious Architect of heaven and earth, and practices the sacred duties of morality." The English enforce this with a requirement for belief in a Supreme Being, and in his revealed will. While these requirements can still be interpreted in a non-theistic manner, they made it more difficult for unorthodox believers to enter the fraternity.

In 1849, the GOdF followed the English lead by adopting the "Supreme Being" requirement, but there was increasing pressure in Latin countries to openly admit atheists. There was an attempt at a compromise in 1875, by allowing the alternative phrase "Creative Principle" (which was less theistic-sounding than "Supreme Being"), but this was ultimately not enough for the GOdF, and in 1877 they went back to having no religious entrance requirements, adopting the original Anderson document of 1723 as their official Constitutions. They also created a modified ritual that made no direct verbal reference to the G.A.O.T.U. (although, as a symbol, it was arguably still present). This new Rite did not replace the older ones, but was added as an alternative (European jurisdictions in general tend not to restrict themselves to a single Rite, like most North American jurisdictions, but offer a menu of Rites, from which their Lodges can choose.)

As a general commentary it is claimed by Freemasonry's critics that the real purpose 'regular' Masonic Grand Lodges requirement in a belief in a diety is it to provide a 'cover' from social criticism, as many of the men it seeks to recruit are in the hiearchy of Society and the Church's, whose teachings it seeks, over the long term in a gradual fashion, to radically modify. As well 'regular' Masonry presents itself as being non-revolutionary as opposed to it's openly athiestic brothers in the revolutionary Grand Orients of Continental Europe and Latin America.

Freemasonry and Anticlericalism

Historically, Freemasonry has been identified with 19th-century bourgeois liberalism, and Freemasons have often tended to regard traditional Christianity as allied to reactionary powers defending the status quo against the advance of human freedom. Masonic Lodges of this period were often associated with anticlericalism, and were part of a broader movement, as is pointed out by Ralph Gibson: "The republican enemies of the Church did not simply attack it on the grounds of its political alignment, but also in terms of more positive ideologies: to the old traditions of the Enlightenment were added first positivism, and then scientism. Science was supposed to be the key to the understanding of the universe, and even to enable men to grasp its essential meaning. Social science was believed to be able to provide the basis for an ethical system. This new faith was ardently preached under the Third Republic in Masonic lodges and circles of libre pensée, in learned journals, and in educated republican society in general" (A Social History of French Catholicism, 1789-1914 [London & New York: Routledge, 1989], pp.237-38).

Controversies over the historical involvements of Freemasonry and anticlericalism reach a peak in attempting to understand the role of Freemasonry in the history of anticlericalism in Portugal, Italy, and Mexico. Freemasons were prominent in the foundation of the modern Mexican state and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the writing of its anticlerical constitution. Under the regime of Plutarco Elías Calles, the enforcement of anticlerical laws provoked the Cristero War. These animosities persist. As recently as 2004, Norberto Cardinal Rivera of Mexico at a conference in Mexico City denounced the influence of Freemasonry.

Criticism, Persecution, and Prosecution

Because of the sometimes secret nature of its rituals and activities, Freemasonry has long been suspected by both church and state of engaging in subversive activities.

In modern democracies, Freemasonry is sometimes accused of being a sort of club, or network, where a lot of influence peddling, and perhaps illegal dealings, take place. In the early 1800s, William Morgan disappeared after threatening to expose Freemasonry's secrets, causing some to claim that he had been murdered by Masons.

In Italy, in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, the P2 lodge was investigated in the wake of a financial scandal that nearly bankrupted the Vatican and numerous murders, including the head of Banco Ambrosiano, Lucio Calvi, who was found hanging under Blackfriars bridge in London, England, his pockets stuffed with 5 kilos of masonry. The trial of some of Calvi's killers will begin, finally, in the fall of 2005. The scandal brought down the Italian Government of the Day and a full blown parliamentary inquiry ruled that P2 was 'a state within a state', containing the heads of all branchs of the Italian Military and Intelligence Services, and many Corporate Titans, including present Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The Grand Lodge of England and many North American Grand Lodges have claimed that P2 was expelled from the Grand Orient of Italy but this has been completely discredited. Additionally the Grand Master of P2, Lucio Gelli was implicated in terrorist bombings throughout southern europe as part of the 'strategy of tension'. Police found paintings of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini on the walls of his Tuscan Mansion when they searched it, where P2 initiations also took place. Gelli ran on behalf of U.S. and Italian Intelligence Agencies the infamous 'Rat-line' that spirited numerous Nazi Party Members to Argentina. Gelli was charged with War Crimes by the Italian Government Commission for his involvement with atrocities committed by the Herman Goering Division, where he served as a liason officer. Lucio Gelli fled to Switzerland over the P2 case, then to France, where he was extradited back to Italy. On bail he fled again and was never recaptured.

In Nice, France, the head prosecutor accused some judges and other judicial personnel of deliberately stalling or refusing to elucidate cases involving Masons.

In Britain, the Labour Party government is currently planning to pass a law requiring all public officials who are Masons to make their affiliation public.

Religious Tolerance

Opinions about Freemasonry around the world may differ from place to place, but Freemasons always stress non-dogmatism and tolerance (albeit often within certain defined limits). This openness has led to friction between Freemasonry and organizations which hold a negative view of ecumenism, or are themselves intolerant towards other forms of belief and worship. Masons have been opposed throughout history by various religious groups, such as some Protestants and certain Muslims.

In general, there are two doctrinal objections to Freemasonry made by established Christian denominations, Catholic and non-Catholic alike:

The most vigorous opposition to the fraternity has come from the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is openly hostile to Freemasonry, deeming it at least partly responsible for the French Revolution and the resulting decline of the church in Europe. The Knights of Columbus and other Catholic fraternal organizations were established to provide alternatives to Freemasonry for observant Catholics. (Ironically, one of these organizations, Opus Dei, has been the target of accusations similar to those leveled against the Freemasons.) Although most Freemasons in the English-speaking world are Protestant, some Protestant churches hold that Freemasonry is incompatible with being a member of a community of Christian faith, based on the scriptural holding that "no man can serve two masters".

The first papal condemnation of Freemasonry came in 1738 from Pope Clement XII in his papal bull "Eminenti Apostolatus Specula", repeated by several later popes, notably Pope Leo XIII in the "encyclical Humanum Genus" (1884).

The 1917 Code of Canon Law explicitly declares that joining Freemasonry entailed automatic excommunication; the revised Code issued in 1983 does not explicitly name Masonic orders among the secret societies condemned in canon 1374. According to some interpretations of canon law, Roman Catholics are forbidden to become Freemasons by their church, though Freemasons do not bar Roman Catholics and it is not unusual to find Catholic members. The Eastern Orthodox church forbids its members from being Masons. Freemasonry is also discouraged by some denominations of Protestantism.

However, in a letter to the United States Bishops from the Office of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the interpretation was made clear—the prohibition against Catholics joining Masonic orders remains. Many Catholic Masons in the US choose to rely on the letter of the law.

One reason the Free Methodist Church was founded in the 1860s was that its founders believed the Methodist Church was being influenced by Freemasons and members of secret societies. The Free Methodist Church continues to prohibit its members from also joining societies such as the Freemasons. Recently the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest association of Baptists in the United States, also stated that participation in Freemasonry is inconsistent with its beliefs.

This form of criticism has been markedly reduced, since modern nation states like the USA and Europe in general are founded on religious tolerance, and many adherents of the religions that formally opposed Masons now believe in the main Masonic principles.

Political Conspiracy Theories Involving the Masons

Freemasonry has been a long-time target of conspiracy theories, which see it as an occult and evil power — often associated with the New World Order and other "agents," such as the Pope, the Illuminati and Jews — either bent on world domination, or already secretly in control of world politics.

Nowadays, the main theme of anti-Masonic criticism involves the idea that Masons involve their organization in covert political activities. This assumption has been influenced by the assertion of Masons that many political figures in the past 300 years have been Masons. Opinions vary between opposing theories concerning this paradox.

Some say the Masons constantly plot to increase their power and wealth, others say the Masonic Brotherhood is engaged in a plot to produce a new world order of a type different (usually more sinister) than the existing world order. These theories would be possible to apply to almost any secret society (since a society with secret meetings allows secret coordination, the very essence of a conspiracy). Nevertheless, Masons have been the largest target because of their size and notable membership.

The historical complaints that the Masons have secretly plotted to create a society based on their ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity, and religious tolerance, are not denied by Masons. In an enlightened age many have now accepted the core Masonic values as stated, and persistent enemies of the society have been forced to come up with more sinister motives as to what Freemasons allegedly conspire to achieve.

Criticisms of Masonic 'cronyism'

Another criticism that may or may not have to do with the specific nature of Freemasonry, but may be applied generally to any type of organization or secret society, is the practice of cronyism, or giving favors to fellow members. Anecdotally many have the impression that one increases chances for employment by joining the Masons. This type of cronyism can be seen in the movie Gypsy, where the general idea is alluded to, although possibly not in reference to Freemasons, but to fraternities like the Moose Lodge. Unscrupulous Masons have been known to claim they can get out of driving tickets because of Masonic logos on their car. Again, this criticism can be easily applied to almost any fraternity, but the Masons are a big target because they are the largest fraternity, and because they are worldwide, and not simply based in colleges.

Criticisms based on the moral faults of known Masons

Although any institution with religious overtones can be criticized for the moral faults of some of their members, Freemasonry is especially vulnerable to criticism because amongst its aims is the drive to improve its members' morality above and beyond whatever religion the individual member might profess his preference for.

A general fault ascribed to the Masons is that a Freemason would be charitable mainly to other Masons, an assumption which is made worse by the accusations of classism and racism sometimes leveled against Masonic Lodges. The phrase "charity begins at home" goes some way towards justifying this natural proclivity.

Critics also attack what they perceive as a preoccupation with ritual minutiae and personal status (ie. degree, a concept critics call similar to the thrill of an RPG level) within the hierarchy of the organization. Some critics also argue that the Freemasons are primarily a social club.

Masons respond to these criticisms by pointing out that they can equally well be applied to Christians (or practically any religion)—the assumption being that if certain members of a group are bad, the group itself must be bad.

Criticism that Freemasonry is a New Religion

In a sectarian age many hold that Freemasonry is a new religion. Externally, to some at least, it has many similarities to a religion:

From the perspective of many religions, which feel that they present the perfect system of morality, any competing system of morality can be considered opposed to them—and if not stricly another religion, then certainly as competitor.

Many Masons argue in response that the ritual observances of Masons should be seen in the same context as rituals maintained in the military services, in government, and civil authorities. It has been argued that any organized system of morality (which the Masons claim to be) is a religion; the Green Party might thus qualify as such.

Criticism that Freemasonry Worships Satan

While the practice of any given magical or mystical system is not specifically associated with Freemasonry (mainstream Masonry has always tended as much to rationalism as to mysticism), there are some groups of Masons, such as Masonic Rosicrucians, that may interpret Masonic ritual magically (or "hermetically"), which is their right as Masons, given the fraternity's non-dogmatic stance.

However, the very existence of hermetic interpretations within Masonry has lead some Christians to label Freemasonry as "Satanic". This charge is commonly made about any hermetic society that has ritualistic practices reserved for the initated.

Many Anti-Masonic activists quote Albert Pike's Morals and Dogma to "prove" that Masons worship Lucifer. The oft-quoted section (Chapt. XIX; p.321) reads:

The Apocalypse is, to those who receive the nineteenth Degree, the Apotheosis of that Sublime Faith which aspires to God alone, and despises all the pomps and works of Lucifer. LUCIFER, the Light-bearer! Strange and mysterious name to give to the Spirit of Darknesss! Lucifer, the Son of the Morning! Is it he who bears the Light, and with its splendors intolerable blinds feeble, sensual or selfish Souls? Doubt it not! for traditions are full of Divine Revelations and Inspirations: and Inspiration is not of one Age nor of one Creed. Plato and Philo, also, were inspired.

Some Masons counter that the critics who cite this as evidence of Freemasonry's Satanic leanings ignore the first part of the passage while emphasizing the association of Lucifer with Light. Alternately,the argument is made that because a Pike claims the works of Plato and Philo were as divinely inspired as the The Apocalypse of Saint John, and b that Plato and Philo were pre-Christian pagans, and c that all pagan beliefs are Satanic, and therefore d that Pike (and Freemasonry) practice Satan worship.

Other Masons counter simply by pointing out that Masonry is non-dogmatic, and hence Pike's opinions about it are his own personal (and now somewhat out-dated) interpretations.

Another Satanic quote attributed to Pike reads:

"That which we must say to the world is that we worship a god, but it is the god that one adores without superstition. To you, Sovereign Grand Inspectors General, we say this, that you may repeat it to the brethren of the 32nd, 31st and 30th degrees: The masonic Religion should be, by all of us initiates of the higher degrees, maintained in the Purity of the Luciferian doctrine. If Lucifer were not God, would Adonay and his priests calumniate him?

"Yes, Lucifer is God, and unfortunately Adonay is also god. For the eternal law is that there is no light without shade, no beauty without ugliness, no white without black, for the absolute can only exist as two gods; darkness being necessary for light to serve as its foil as the pedestal is necessary to the statue, and the brake to the locomotive.

"Thus, the doctrine of Satanism is a heresy, and the true and pure philosophical religion is the belief in Lucifer, the equal of Adonay; but Lucifer, God of Light and God of Good, is struggling for humanity against Adonay, the God of Darkness and Evil."

This quote, however, is a part of the Taxil hoax. It was fraudulently published as an excerpt of a letter by Pike, the "Sovereign Pontiff of Universal Freemasonry". In reality Pike was Grand Commander of the Southern Jurisdiction of the American Scottish Rite. "Universal Freemasonry" per se does not exist in any formal sense (though the term is sometimes used loosely by Masons to refer to those aspects of Masonry in common amongst all jurisdictions, or to that strain of Masonry which seeks unity amongst all jurisdictions).

The Roman Catholic Church has repeatedly condemned Freemasonry, and although not claiming that it is directly Satanic, the church has claimed that Freemasonry has "led on or assisted" "partisans of evil" (from Humanum Genus).

Much of the landscape of Washington D.C. is thought by many to be inspired by, or directly designed by, Freemasons, including the layout of national buildings, the mapping of streets and roadways, and the placement of national monuments. This has caused some to speculate that some of the esoteric practices and symbolism in Freemasonry, seen as "occult", have embedded themselves within the structure of several governments — in this case, the United States.

The critics of Freemasonry claim however that what Satan is seeking is a negation of worship and any thought of a higher purpose other than the here and now, i.e. 'naturalism'. And that the purpose of Satanic Rituals is a mocking of religion, that is why they are usually based on a reversal of normative religious rituals and rites. And therefore by closely scrutinizing occult rituals and teachings, which can often be difficult due to the secretive nature of these groups, the presence of reversals and mockeries, sometimes of a very nuanced nature, which would have required a deep theological understanding, can often be detected. And as often many of the initiates have little or no theological understanding or training the satanic 'humour' is all the greater as the candidate has no idea what he has just participated in. And as in the case of much of the Ritual Degree 'work' and writings in many Masonic Orders, especially the 'higher' degrees, the presence of this 'upsidedownness' has been confirmed after intensive investigations by many respected Christian theologians, researchers, and churchs. Essentially the purpose of all occult initiations and rituals is to 'open the door' to familiar possession, thus gaining 'sight' and 'light', say the critics.

Criticism of Masonic Blood Oaths

The traditional Masonic obligations, sworn by a candidate during the initiation ritual, are sometimes called "blood oaths", particularly by those critical of the fraternity. The candidate wishes severe physical punishment upon himself should he ever reveal the secrets of Freemasonry to a non-Mason. While many non-Masons are horrified by this, Masons defend the traditional obligations as no more literal than the commonplace childhood "blood oaths", like "cross my heart and hope to die"—a very psychologically powerful way to express a serious bond or promise.

In addition, some Masons argue that the bloody punishments mentioned in the obligations are, historically, references to the punishments that the state used to inflict on defenders of civil liberties and religious freedoms, such as Freemasons. But in spite of repeated attempts to defend them, by the early 1980s, the "blood oaths" had become quite problematic from a public relations standpoint, and many Masonic jurisdictions replaced them with more politically correct "bloodless oaths".

Some critics of Masonry look at certain historical killings and deduce that they were done as a fulfillment of the blood oath. In particular, Jack the Ripper is theorized by some to have been a Mason made psychotic for having to carry out a blood oath, and who then killed random people in the same fashion. Masons counter that the Ripper mutilations have no similarity to the symbolic punishments of the Masonic obligations.

It should be noted that there are only 3 penalties that Masonry can legally impose on a member: censure, suspension of membership, and expulsion.

Criticisms of the Process of Becoming a Freemason

It is commonly held that individuals become Freemasons through invitation, patrimony, or other non-democratic means, but officially an individual must ask freely and without persuasion to become a Freemason in order to join the fraternity.

This arrangement is said by some to conflict with the Freemasons mission to "make good men better", on the basis that a hidden society cannot promote itself publicly. If the society is secret, it is argued, how is a good man supposed to be attracted to it?

In practice, Freemasons have been known not to question the motives of anyone seeking membership, but clearly members are going to prefer those individuals who can offer something of value to the group, and will thus indicate to potential members some clue that they may be appropriate candidates; it is then incumbent upon the seeker to make the request.

Many of these myths have taken hold in the imagination of "conspiracy buffs" partly because many Freemasons, like government intelligence agencies and big business, and understanding the value of misinformation, have had a tendency of allowing the uninitiated to argue amongst themselves, so that the truth remains private. Masons have only in recent years attempted to make their organization more open to public view.

In Defense of Liberty

It has been said that "the Freemason builds his life around the moral principals that lie at the heart of the Craft, and becomes in his every word and deed the epitome of brotherly love, relief and truth ~ he will thus respect the rights of others to hold beliefs and attitudes that differ radically from his own, for he knows that tolerance is an essential part of brotherly love."

(Freemasonry, A Celebration of the Craft. 1993. Edited by Hamill & Gilbert for Terry Allan).

Freemasons consider the need for vigilance in the defense of human liberty to be as great in society as it is within the Craft. It is a general source of pride within the fraternity that society's aims and values have increasingly come into line with those of Freemasonry, and they view their Order as having helped laid the foundations for many of the cultural norms and values prevalent in the western World today.

The legend at the heart of Masonic Ritual—the story of the building and reconstruction of King Solomon's Temple—is generally seen as an allegory for the creation of a new, just and more tolerant society.

The duty of Masons to "give to the cause of Charity" was stressed by William Preston, in his Illustrations of Masonry of 1772, when he wrote: "To relieve the distressed is a duty incumbent on all men, but particularly on Freemasons, who are linked together by an indissoluble chain of sincere affection.

"To soothe the unhappy, to sympathize with their misfortunes, to compassionate their miseries and to restore their troubled minds, is the great aim we have in view."

A Mason's duty is also in his loyalty, as a peaceful subject, to the civil authority found wherever he resides or works, and it is on these grounds, restrained from pursuing any means of disrupting the established rule of law, that Freemasonry is itself a reformist institution, its members abstaining from any thought of association with rebellion. This may seem at odds with the support given by many Masons over the years to democratic revolutions. This is usually explained by the fact that Masons tend to view their obligations, while of utmost importance, to be in a kind of hierarchy of priority: firstly to God, then to country, then to family and only then to Masonry, for example. So, if one's highest religious and moral principles are violated by an obligation to one's country, only then can that obligation be broken, in favour of the higher principle.

Contemporary Challenges

Like many other fraternal organizations in the post-World War II era, Freemasonry in some districts of the United States, the UK and other Anglo jurisdictions has been losing members, through attrition, faster than it can replenish its rolls. In the United States, the average age of members is around 45. In contrast, the number of Masons is generally on the rise in South America and Continental Europe.

Many Grand Lodges in the U.S. have tried a variety of often-controversial measures to address declining membership, including "one-day" ceremonies of the three degrees for large groups of candidates (as opposed to individual degree conferrals taking months or years to complete), advertising on billboards, and even active recruitment of new candidates by members (as opposed to the tradition of considering only those who actively seek membership for themselves). Some Masons object to the traditions and principles of Freemasonry being diluted by these "innovations", feeling that the Fraternity has survived centuries of social change without changing itself; others cite a need for Freemasonry to modernize and make itself relevant to new generations.

U.S. Freemasonry also faces an image problem because some people perceive it as being racist. This is due in part to the fact that only three Grand Lodges in the states that were part of the Confederacy during the Civil War era now recognize their Prince Hall counterparts (all those in the Northern part of the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii, recognize their Prince Hall counterparts; see [6]).

In Britain, Freemasons are strongly associated with the various police forces throughout the island. In Scotland, they have long been accused of being anti-Catholic. Scotland has a large Catholic minority.

Anti-masonry in Estonia is connected with nazism and anti-semitism.

Taken from: Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

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Freemasonry

The Society of Free and Accepted Masons is a worldwide men's fraternal club that meets primarily for social purposes, and stresses the importance of civic, patriotic, and charitable activities among its members. MAsons, as they are commonly called, differ from fraternal bodies in that (1) a belief in a Supreme Being or God is a necessary qualification for admission, and (2) great emphasis is placed upon members maintaining the highest moral standards and constantly endeavoring to improve themselves spiritually. The Society of Free and Accepted Masons was founded in the seventeenth century in England. The Founders were "gentlemen", not laborers such as stone cutters or carvers as commonly believed. These men formed clubs called Lodges, not only for social purposes, but to discuss and advance their knowledge in the liberal arts and in science (which was in its infancy at that fime).

The union of the local lodges was made in 1717, when four London lodges formed the first "Grand Lodge." Grand Lodges were subsequently formed in Scotland and Ireland, and Freemasonry quickly spread from the British Isles throughout the world, with over 4 million members, 3 million in the United States. The Eastern Star, composed of female relatives of Masons, is the world's largest women's fraternity. Many prominent figures in world history were Masons, including George Washington, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, Rudyard Kipling, David Crockett, and Norman Vincent Peale. Many English Kings and thirteen U.S. Presidents have been Masons, including, recently, Truman and Ford.

The seventeeth century founders of Freemasonry, having formed their Lodges in imitation of actual operative lodges of masons, decided that they would illustrate the teachings of Freemasonry by the use of the working tools of the operative masons. An example: "The Plumb is an instrument made use of by the operative Masons to try perpendicular; the Square, to square their work, adn the level to provide horizontals; but we, as Free and Accepted Masons, are taught to make use of them for more noble and glorious purposes. The Plumb admonishes us to walk uprightly in our several stations before God and man, squaring our actions by the Square of virtue, adn ever remembering that we are traveling upon the Level of time to 'that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.'"

Masons advance in what are called "degrees" within the fraternity. In the first degree, a canidate learns the first principle tenet of Freemasonry, which is Brotherly Love. A candidate for membership is asked to memorize the following: "By the exercise of Brotherly Love we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family, the high and the low, the rich and the poor, who, as created by one almight parent, and inhabitants of the same planet, are to aid, support and protect each other. On this principle MAsonry united men of every country, sect, and opinion; and causes true friendship to exist among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance." In the United States, meetings are opened by repeating the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag (which was written by a Mason), and reciting a non-demoninational prayer. Much of the Activities conducted by Masons focuses on charitable causes, such as support of youth organizations, public schools, and hospitals.

(taken from: The Spiritual Seeker's Guide - Steven S. Sadleir)

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FREEMASONRY AND RELIGION

No man truly obeys the Masonic law who merely tolerates those whose religious opinions are opposed to his own. Every man's opinions are his own private property, and the rights of all men to maintain each his own are perfectly equal. Merely to tolerate, to bear with an opposing opinion is to assume it heretical, and assert the right to persecute, if we would, and claim our tolerance as merit.

The Mason's creed goes further than that; no man, it holds, has any right, in any way, to interfere with the religious beliefs of another. It holds that each man is absolutely sovereign as to his own belief, and that belief is a matter absolutely foreign to all who do not entertain the same belief; and that if there were any right to persecute at all, it would in all cases be a mutual right, because one party has the same right as the other to sit as judge in his own case, and God is the only magistrate that can rightfully decide between them.

To that Great Judge, Masonry refers the matter; and, opening wide in portals, it invites to enter there, and live in peace and harmony, the Protestant, the Catholic, the Jew, the Moslem, the Hindu, every one who will lead a truly virtuous and moral life, love his brethren, minister to the sick and distressed, and believe in the One, All-Powerful, All-Wise, EVerywhere Present God-Architect, Creator, and Preserver of all things, by whose universal law of Harmony ever rolls on this universe: the great, vast, infinite circle of successive death and life; to whose ineffable name let all true Masons pay profoundest homage. For whose thousand blessings poured upon us let us feel the sincerest gratitude, now, henceforth, and forever.

As a Mason in search of light and truth; many journeys made in the different degrees are symbolical. But the search is not for the truth of any particular creed or religion, that search would be in vain, for what is truth to one is not truth to another; often by argument and evidence, but almost always by the accidents of birth, education and circumstances, our religious belief is formed; and argument and testimony strike the mind of man, when arrived at his religious creed and faith only to glance off and leave no impression.

Masonry's symbols and ceremonies envelop the great primitive truths, known to the first men that lived: with whatever particular meaning they may have peculiar, or believed to be peculiar, to particular creeds, and differing, as the faith differs of those who receive them, Masonry has nothing to do.

Masonry conducts initiates through certain forms and ceremonies, to display certain symbols and emblems; it does not give in advance their interpretation, but only indicates their general tendency; it places the thread in the hand that will guide a Mason through the labyrinth; it is for each person to apply and interpret the symbols and ceremonies of the degree in such manner as may seem the truest and most appropriate.

A vast multitude of men believe that the Redeemer of man has already appeared on the earth; many believe he was a man; man, the Son of God; and many, the Deity incarnate: a vaster multitude still wait for the Redeemer: each will apply symbols and ceremonies according to his faith.

The Masonic Testament
The Book of Hiram
Christopher Knight & Robert Lomas


Freemasonry is not a religion, nor is it a substitute for religion. It requires of its members a belief in God as part of the obligation of every responsible adult, but advocates no sectarian faith or practice. Masonic ceremonies include prayers, both traditional and extempore, to reaffirm each individual's dependence on God and to seek divine guidance. Freemasonry is open to men of any faith, but religion and sectarian discussion is forbidden in Lodge rooms. Masons meet in a spirit of toleration and brotherhood.

Masons believe that there is one God and that people employ many different ways to seek and to express what they know of God. Masonry primarily uses the appellation, "Grand Architect of the Universe," and other nonsectarian titles, to address Deity. In this way, persons of different faiths may join together in prayer, concentrating on God, rather than differences among themselves. Masonry believes in religious freedom and that the relationship between the individual and God is personal, private and sacred. It strongly encourages each man to be active in his own church, synagogue or house of worship. It expects each member to follow his own faith and to place his duty to God above all other duties. Freemasonry's moral teachings are acceptable to all religions.