Freemasonry is a fraternity, an organization for men, much like a sorority is for woman. It's a Brotherhood, an organization for men from all walks of life, who meet as equals and enjoy each other's company. Men of good moral character, who seek harmony with their fellow man, work;toward self-improvement and wish to make this world a better place.
Masonic membership reflects a mosaic of society. Members include good men of every profession and all age groups, of all religions and of all social, economic and ethnic ,backgrounds. Masons are Doctors, Judges, Lawyers, Ministers, Teachers, farmers and Ranchers. Name a profession and you will find Masons.
There are approximately 12,000 Masonic Lodges and almost 2 million members in North America. World wide there are over 4 million members.
Membership demands are few, but firm. Freemasonry is not a religion, but a man who wants to become a Mason must have a belief in a Supreme Being. He might refer to him as God, Jehovah, Allah or any other familiar name of the Deity. His guide for living may be the Holy writings such as the Bible, the Tora, or the Koran. Freemasonry encourages every member to be active in the faith of his choice. The important thing is that the Brother realizes he is part of an ordered universe.
The Masonic Lodge is not intended for business networking or for advancing any particular political or religious agenda. Masonry is about fraternity, pure and simple. Men join freemasonry because they are seeking fellowship in a world with vanishing constants. In other cases, fathers, grandfathers and uncles have made masonry a family tradition.
Once admitted members find participation rewarding in many ways. Members can match their abilities and their available time to activities offered. No one is pushed beyond his pace.
The ritual, called the work, is a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols and has a beauty of words and motion. The three basic ceremonies, or rituals of initiation into Freemasonry, are called degrees. They are dignified ceremonies, with no hazing or negative elements.
Those who accept a leadership role acquire speaking confidence and new skills. Skills are exchanged as much as they are taught. The lodge lets men associate with other men of integrity who believe in things like toleration, trust, charity, truth and knowledge. Just getting together with friendly and interesting people can be its own reward. And socializing often involves the entire family.
Another reward is our philanthropic work. Masonry focuses on specific needs, always humanitarian.
Of course being a Mason does take time, which means one or two nights a month, along with 24 hours a day. Those two evenings a month can extend into more time should the member pursue a leadership role. As for the 24 hours a day it simply means that Masonry is a way of life that stays with you every waking hour.
Every State has a Grand Lodge, which is actually an organization of all the Masonic Lodges in that State. Many small towns have a Lodge; and large cities have several Masonic buildings where a number of Lodges meet. Africa, Asia, Austalia, Europe, North America, South America and all those islands that look like they are not part of any continent all have Masonic Lodges and they have had them for centuries. In fact Masonry is spread over 60 countries around the globe.
Freemasonry came to North America long before there were coulies called the United States or Canada. The earliest settlers, mainly of Irish, Scottish or English stock, were eager to embrace Freemasonry in the New World as a part of their heritage from the old county Military units, from the British Isles, were also posted in the New World. They carried their Lodges warrants issued in Dublin, Edinburgh and London and their Masonic regalia from camp to camp.
When the Colonists joined them as militia volunteers they were welcomed into the social life of the unit which included meetings of the military, or traveling Masonic Lodge. This was the case in the Colonies, which became the United States.
No one knows for sure but many scholars think Freemasonry had its beginning among skilled but illiterate stone masons in medieval Europe, probably in the 15th century. These operative craftsmen built mighty fortresses and magnificent cathedrals.
Since they were strangers in the villages where they worked, they lived apart and had their own compound. They took meals together and slept under the same roof. These craftsmen would assemble in their Lodges to discuss problems and plan the next days work.
It was natural that a social order would arise under these circumstances, and order similar to an Officers mess, combining comradely and the recognition of rank.
In medieval days, long term projects required craftsmen to establish more permanent Lodges referred to simply as the Lodge. Even today Freemasons use the term Lodge to describe both their meeting place and the group itself.
Castles took decades to build. As the landlords grew wealthier, their strongholds grow larger. Armies and regiments of Knights increased. Cathedrals took centuries to complete.
Like modern homes, both required additions and the older sections needed maintenance. This kept some stone masons employed, but not all. So, after the work was finished, like the engineers and construction workers of today, they traveled in search of new projects. The demand for stone masons was high. As skilled artisans they could negotiate a good contract, somewhat like professional athletes do today. They carried their skills in their head and their tools in a bag.
How could an employer know he was getting a workman who was truly skilled? There were no Government sponsored apprenticeship programs, certificates of graduation or letters of recommendations because only the clerics and scribes could read or write.
With all these traveling workers there had to be some system of recognition. Enter the Craft Guilds. Those were the precursors of to day' s trade unions and professional associations. And enter the Masonic Lodge.
The traveling brothers passed through many settlements on their way to the next cathedral or castle site. They faced the usual perils of the road, which included robbery and murder, because those were lawless days and many people were desperate. They, usually, arriving hungry and in need of shelter. What could be more natural than seeking out a fellow craftsman and asking for help? Tradition tells us that this was the origin of Masonic hospitality and the hand of friendship to a fellow craftsman.
How did the stone masons recognize each other as skilled members? Back as far as the Old Testament passwords were used to get people through military lines. And if someone suggests the concept is archaic or quaint, just remind them they get into computer programs with a password and into their bank account with a pin number.
Our ancient Brethren carried a password to gain access to a work site, the same way modern Masons memorize a password to gain access to a Lodge. Like yom pin number it's a secret. Not likely shared.
In a tough world those Masons held together. They had to. As traveling men they were far removed from their families and their home villages.
If a man were injured or killed on the job, his fellow Masons would offer assistance and helped care for his family, or his widow and children. It was a type of social insurance, before government programs were available. Masons looked out for each other, on and off the job.
And when the divine right of kings was used as an excuse for tyranny the masons held a belief that all men were created equal.
As civilization gave way to nations and states, villages no longer needed defenses. Construction moved to the cities where factories were needed because of increased trade. To accommodate this growth, new buildings were needed.
The stone masons settled down, establish roots and their lodges became permanent fixtures in nearly every city.
As skilled craftsmen they were paid high wages and became part of the emmerging middle class. Their neighbors couldn't help but notice that they had a pretty good time and a good way of life. And the question arose, "Can we join too?" And the answer was "Yes".
This started the evolution of the Masonic Lodges from the shapers of stone to the shapers of men. Today many organizations accept associate members, applicants who agree with the clubs ideals and activities. In Masonry those who did the stone work were called Operative Masons and those who associated with them were called Speculative Masons or Freemasons. From its inception it accepted only men of high morals who believed in brotherhood.
By the late 16 hundreds the demand for stone masons had decreased and by the early 17 hundreds most of the Lodge's members were Speculative Masons and the Lodges had made the transition from being Craft Guilds to being a fraternity for gentlemen.
That is just a brief explanation of who we were then and who we are today. If someone wants to know something about Freemasonry, we tell them, it's no secret. Some things in Freemasonry have changed through the ages, others remain firm, and we call them landmarks. These never change.
Freemasonry is exclusively for men of the highest moral character. It is rich in history and in heritage. It practices family values and is dedicated to helping others.