FAQs about Masonry
What is Freemasonry?
Masonry (or Freemasonry) is the oldest fraternity in the world. No one knows just how old it is because the actual origins have been lost in time. Probably, it arose from the guilds of stonemasons who built the castles and cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Possibly, they were influenced by the Knights Templar, a group of Christian warrior monks formed in 1118 to help protect pilgrims making trips to the Holy Land. In 1717, Masonry created a formal organization in England when the first Grand Lodge was formed. A Grand Lodge is the administrative body in charge of Masonry in some geographical area. In the United States, there is a Grand Lodge in each state and the District of Columbia. In Canada, there is a Grand Lodge in each province. Local organizations of Masons are called lodges. There are lodges in most towns, and large cities usually have several. There are about 13,200 lodges in the United States.
If Masonry started in Great Britain, how did it get to America?
In a time when travel was by horseback and sailing ship, Masonry spread with amazing speed. By 1731, when Benjamin Franklin joined the fraternity, there were already several lodges in the Colonies, and Masonry spread rapidly as America expanded west. In addition to Franklin, many of the Founding Fathers -- men such as George Washington, Paul Revere, Joseph Warren, and John Hancock -- were Masons. Masons and Masonry played an important part in the Revolutionary War and an even more important part in the Constitutional Convention and the debates surrounding the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Many of those debates were held in Masonic lodges.
What's a lodge?
The word "lodge" means both a group of Masons meeting in some place and the room or building in which they meet. Masonic buildings are also sometimes called "temples" because much of the symbolism Masonry uses to teach its lessons comes from the building of King Solomon's Temple in the Holy Land. The term "lodge" itself comes from the structures which the stonemasons built against the sides of the cathedrals during construction. In winter, when building had to stop, they lived in these lodges and worked at carving stone. While there is some variation in detail from state to state and country to country. If you've ever watched C-SPAN's coverage of the House of Commons in London, you'll notice that the layout is about the same. Since Masonry came to America from England, we still use the English floor plan and English titles for the officers. The Worshipful Master of the Lodge sits in the East. "Worshipful" is an English term of respect which means the same thing as "Honorable." He is called the Master of the lodge for the same reason that the leader of an orchestra is called the "Concert Master." It's simply an older term for "Leader." In other organizations, he would be called "President." The Senior and Junior Wardens are the First and Second Vice-Presidents. The Deacons are messengers, and the Stewards have charge of refreshments. Every lodge has an altar holding a "Volume of the Sacred Law." In the United States and Canada, that is almost always a Bible.
Masonry does things in the world.
Masonry teaches that each person has a responsibility to make things better in the world. Most individuals won't be the ones to find a cure for cancer, or eliminate poverty, or help create world peace, but every man and woman and child can do something to help others and to make things a little better. Masonry is deeply involved with helping people -- it spends more than $1.4 million dollars every day in the United States, just to make life a little easier. And the great majority of that help goes to people who are not Masons. Some of these charities are vast projects, like the Crippled Children's Hospitals and Burns Institutes built by the Shriners. Also, Scottish Rite Masons maintain a nationwide network of over 100 Childhood Language Disorders Clinics, Centers, and Programs. Each helps children afflicted by such conditions as aphasia, dyslexia, stuttering, and related learning or speech disorders.
Some services are less noticeable, like helping a widow pay her electric bill or buying coats and shoes for disadvantaged children. And there's just about anything you can think of in-between. But with projects large or small, the Masons of a lodge try to help make the world a better place. The lodge gives them a way to combine with others to do even more good.
Masonry does things "inside" the individual Mason.
"Grow or die" is a great law of all nature. Most people feel a need for continued growth as individuals. They feel they are not as honest or as charitable or as compassionate or as loving or as trusting or as well-informed as they ought to be. Masonry reminds its members over and over again of the importance of these qualities and education. It lets men associate with other men of honor and integrity who believe that things like honesty, compassion, love, trust, and knowledge are important. In some ways, Masonry is a support group for men who are trying to make the right decisions. It's easier to practice these virtues when you know that those around you think they are important, too, and won't laugh at you. That's a major reason that Masons enjoy being together.
Masons enjoy each other's company.
It's good to spend time with people you can trust completely, and most Masons find that in their lodge. While much of lodge activity is spent in works of charity or in lessons in self-development, much is also spent in fellowship. Lodges have picnics, camping trips, and many events for the whole family. Simply put, a lodge is a place to spend time with friends. For members only, two basic kinds of meetings take place in a lodge. The most common is a simple business meeting. To open and close the meeting, there is a ceremony whose purpose is to remind us of the virtues by which we are supposed to live. Then there is a reading of the minutes; voting on petitions (applications of men who want to join the fraternity); planning for charitable functions, family events, and other lodge activities; and sharing information about members (called "Brothers," as in most fraternities) who are ill or have some sort of need. The other kind of meeting is one in which people join the fraternity -- one at which the "degrees" are performed. But every lodge serves more than its own members. Frequently, there are meetings open to the public. Examples are Ladies' Nights, "Brother Bring a Friend Nights," public installations of officers, cornerstone laying ceremonies, and other special meetings supporting community events and dealing with topics of local interest.
What's a degree?
A degree is a stage or level of membership. It's also the ceremony by which a man attains that level of membership. There are three, called Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. As you can see, the names are taken from the craft guilds. In the Middle Ages, when a person wanted to join a craft, such as the gold smiths or the carpenters or the stonemasons, he was first apprenticed. As an apprentice, he learned the tools and skills of the trade. When he had proved his skills, he became a "Fellow of the Craft" (today we would say "Journeyman"), and when he had exceptional ability, he was known as a Master of the Craft.The degrees are plays in which the candidate participates. Each degree uses symbols to teach, just as plays did in the Middle Ages and as many theatrical productions do today. (We'll talk about symbols a little later.) The Masonic degrees teach the great lessons of life -- the importance of honor and integrity, of being a person on whom others can rely, of being both trusting and trustworthy, of realizing that you have a spiritual nature as well as a physical or animal nature, of the importance of self-control, of knowing how to love and be loved, of knowing how to keep confidential what others tell you so that they can "open up" without fear.