For the Seriously Interested Potential member
(Published by the Grand Lodge of Ireland)
Origins of Freemasonry
According to the legends, which form part of the tradition of Freemasonry, the fraternity dates back to the time of the construction of King Solomon’s Temple. This enormous structure required a highly organized workforce and led to stonemasons, architects and others, being organized into various grades or guilds, each with its own responsibilities. Towards the end of the 19th century, while excavating in the Libyan Desert, the British archaeologist and Egyptologist, Sir William Petrie, unearthed papyrus records describing secret meetings around 2000 BC of such a guild. These records concerned not only matters such as working hours, wages and rules for their labour, but also the relief and assistance for workers in distress and for widows and orphans.
Of the many great buildings erected by the masons of the Middle Ages, attention has focused mainly on the great cathedrals of England and Europe. To build these vast structures, it was necessary for masons to gather in large groups, which moved from one finished structure to the next one under construction. Considerable knowledge of geometry, arithmetic and engineering was necessary and these craftsmen formed themselves into guilds to maintain a level of qualification for their membership and to protect the secrets of their trade. The resulting Guild of Stonemasons became a significant center of learning, serving not only to protect its members, but also to educate worthy apprentices and to increase the reputation of the craft.
It was not then possible to verify a man’s credentials by a union card or by telephone, and signs and words were used for this purpose. Much of the work of these marvelous craftsmen survives to this day; and from it we find a living inspiration to bring similar qualities to the creation, not of a material building, but of a brotherhood of men of good will.
The status and reputation of these Craft Guilds rose to such a height that it became common for leading citizens to become honorary members. They were known as “Speculative” (as opposed to Operative) masons or Freemasons. As their numbers grew, and as matters concerned with education and qualification of craftsmen were formalized and controlled at a national level, so the structure of the guilds changed over the years and Lodges came to be composed exclusively of “Freemasons”.
What is a Lodge?
The term “Lodge” has two meanings in Freemasonry. Firstly, it is used to describe the place where meetings are held. It refers to the temporary buildings erected by Masons alongside their construction projects. These were used by the craftsmen as places to rest, eat, plan the project, receive their wages, and socialize. Training and education would also have taken place in the Lodges.
The second use of the term “Lodge” refers to individual groups of Freemasons.
A national structure evolved for the control of these Lodges and was called the “Grand Lodge”. These were established in the early seventeen hundreds.
What happens at Lodge meetings?
As in any organization, the meeting is first called to order, and the ceremony of opening the Lodge is quite formal and draws on elements of the very foundations of masonry. It serves to remind Freemasons of the virtues they seek to live by.
Once this is complete, minutes and correspondence are read, projects are planned, and other business taken care of, very much like any other organization.
When new members are being received or are being advanced through the degrees of Craft Masonry, formal ceremonies are again used to teach Freemasons important moral lessons. Following the formal closing of the Lodge, it is usual for some socializing to take place, often over supper.
Why do Freemasons dress up for meetings and have secret handshakes and signs?
The different forms of dress, based on ceremonial aprons, collars and gauntlets are to distinguish rank and derive from and reflect the protective garments worn by the original stonemasons. In olden times aprons would have been of leather, tied around the waist, to protect the mason as he handles stone. The ceremonial aprons worn at Lodge meetings become more ornate as the Mason progresses through the three Degrees of Craft Masonry. The most identifiable symbols would be the common tools of ancient stonemasons.
The various levels of Freemasonry
At its basic level, known as “the Craft” Freemasonry has three degrees, beginning with the degree of “Entered Apprentice” representing the apprentice of the working stonemason who learned how to use the tools of the trade. After a period, he advances first to the degree of “Fellow (of the) Craft” and finally to that of “Master Mason”.
Religion and Politics
Perhaps the most frequently asked questions nowadays are about the relationship between Freemasonry and religion & politics. The Media frequently implies or directly states that Freemasonry is “anti-religious” or “politically oriented”. These charges are, in fact, entirely inaccurate and without foundation. It is an absolute requirement for membership that a Mason must believe in a Supreme Being. Every Lodge, at its meetings must have the Holy Bible known to Freemasons as “The Volume of the Sacred Law”, in evidence and open. For the Jew the Old Testament, for the Muslim the Koran, and so on may also be in evidence if Brethren of such beliefs are present.
Freemasonry regards a man’s relationship with his God as a purely personal matter, and never enquires into it or lays down any rule or regulation about it save that: (i) all Masons must believe in God, however they address Him, and (ii) no discussion on religious matters is permitted at Masonic gatherings.
The ruling on politics is much the same. Freemasonry has no political attitudes except to require its members to be peaceable and law abiding citizens regardless of their individual political opinions, and discussion on politics is similarly prohibited in Masonic assemblies.
The “Old Pals” Factor
Freemasonry demands that its members respect the law of the land in which they live and work. Its principles do not conflict in any way with their duties as good citizens, but rather strengthen them in fulfilling these duties. It never calls on a member to put the Order before his family or friends and condemns the use of his membership to promote his own or anyone else’s business or personal interests. It insists that a member may never attempt to shield another Freemason who has acted dishonourably or dishonestly.
Membership and Secrecy
Masonry is not a secret society, but it is a society with a few secrets. Very few, in fact, and these are solely concerned with modes of recognition. They are simply the methods by which a Mason can prove he is a member. Like many other aspects of Freemasonry these are traditional. Again for reasons of tradition, modern Freemasonry has retained the means of mutual recognition.
The membership, meeting places and activities are readily ascertained by anyone who is interested enough to enquire. Freemasonry is clearly a Society with certain secrets, but cannot be described as a Secret Society with all the connotations which that implies.
What and Who?
What are Freemasons? They are ordinary men who try to live as good citizens with high moral principles. They do not claim a monopoly on these ideals, but by joining together in Lodges, they practice and teach these ideals of kindness, honesty, decency, fairness, courtesy, understanding and concern for others, and hope thus to become better members of society.
Who are Freemasons? They are ordinary men from all walks of life without social or financial distinction. Some do not openly declare membership; others do and wear Masonic ties or rings. Some you will like; others you may not. They are in other words, a cross section of society.
How do I join?
Most of our members will have come to Freemasonry through contact and friendship with existing members. As with most other clubs and fraternities, each application will be considered by a committee which will meet the candidate to ensure that he has been properly and adequately informed about the Order.
You will not be pressurized into joining. If you join, it will be because you want to, and not because you have been persuaded by us to do so. Membership is a commitment to live with integrity and honour, to care for others, to trust each other and to place one’s ultimate trust in one’s God.