WHAT IS FREEMASONRY
A BRIEF HISTORY
Freemasonry can traces its origins to the operative crafts and Guilds which, records indicate, were introduced across Europe as early as 674 A.D. Freemasonry is directly descended from those associations of operative stonemasons, primarily the cathedral builders of the Middle Ages. These master craftsmen, because of their special knowledge and skills, were privileged to travel from country to country employing the secrets and skills of their craft. They developed means of recognition and identification of their work.
In the 17th and early 18th centuries, membership in the fraternity was confined to men who were engaged in the actual design, supervision and construction of buildings and, in the most part, were members of operative stone Mason Guilds or Lodges. From the early 1700’s non-operative masons were admitted and it was from this situation that theoretical and symbolic masonry, called speculative masonry, developed. Gradually the Lodges came to be composed almost entirely of these accepted or speculative masons. From these groups, the Freemasonry of today had its beginning.
WHAT IS FREEMASONRY?
Freemasonry is the oldest and largest fraternal order in the world and is active in virtually every free country. It is a society of friends and brothers and thus is limited to men of sound mind and good character who have reached the age of twenty-one years. The Fraternity does not solicit members; a man must seek membership of his own free will and accord. The desire to become a Mason must come from within. Freemasonry is a fraternity of men who share a firm belief in the existence of a Supreme Being. The main qualification to joining the fraternity is that an applicant believes in a Supreme Being. You will be asked if you have a belief in a God, but you will never be asked in which God you believe.
Freemasonry is a fraternity of men of good principle and character, resulting in strong bonds of friendship between men of the same nature who might otherwise have remained strangers. It regards all men as equals and recognizes no distinctions of rank or class.
It is a serious fraternity, which conducts its formal ceremonies in the Lodge rooms with high dignity. The ceremonies are often considered by Masons as having been the most moving experience of their lives. Employing the tools of the stone Mason as symbols of basic moral truths, Masonic ceremonies dramatize a philosophy of life based on morality. At other times it encourages debate and discussion, except on matters of creed or race, religion, politics, or other topics likely to excite personal animosities or disharmony among the members.
Freemasonry is not an insurance or benefit society. It is not organized for profit. It is not a charitable institution, although it does assist its members by many means through times of hardship, and its membership is taught to be of service to mankind. It teaches monotheism. It teaches the Golden Rule that we should treat others as we would like them to treat us. It seeks to make good men better men, from a firm belief in the brotherhood of all mankind, and the immortality of the human soul.
It uses builders’ tools as symbols to teach the basic moral truths, thereby impressing on the minds of the members the cardinal virtues; brotherly love, relief of the distressed, and truth, which should be applied to their everyday activities.
FREEMASONRY AND RELIGION
Freemasonry is neither a religion nor a substitute for one. Freemasonry has no dogma, no priesthood and no plan for salvation. Neither is it an off-spring of any church, synagogue, mosque or religious group – ancient or modern. It espouses none of them nor is it subservient to any. While Freemasonry does require a belief in a Supreme Being, each Mason may worship in his own religious belief (You will be asked if you have a belief in a God, but you will never be asked in which God you believe.).
It has a philosophy of its own which is compatible with the teachings of religious institutions. The teachings of Freemasonry transcend all denominational and sectarian divisions. In the field of human conduct it is complementary to religion, but as has been said, religious topics may not be discussed.
The names used for the Supreme Being enable men of different faiths to join in prayer (to God as each sees Him) without the terms of the prayer causing dissention among them. There is no separate Masonic God; a Freemason’s God remains the God of the religion he professes. The Religious books of all religions, are referred to by Masons as the Volume of the Sacred Law, and are always open at every Masonic meetings. Where members of a lodge belong to different faiths, other sacred volumes, all Volumes of the Sacred Law will be open alongside each other.
FREEMASONRY IN SOCIETY
Freemasonry is not connected in any way with a political creed. A Freemason’s political views are his own and a lodge may well have members belonging to many different political parties. For that reason, no discussion of political matters is permitted in a lodge. A Brother may not seek to persuade his Brethren in a lodge to adopt this or that views in matters of Government – local, national, or international. Nor does any lodge endorse candidates of any political persuasion.
A member is charged to be true and loyal to the Head of State and Government of his country, and to be a law abiding citizen. Freemasonry is NOT a secret society. It does not conceal its existence or activities. Masons are proud of their affiliation. True, it has secrets of its own, such as its method of recognition of brother Masons, and symbolic instruction in its principles. So, Freemasonry is not a secret Society, but actually a Society of secrets- The only real secret in Freemasonry, is we make good men, better men.
Freemasonry is a charitable, benevolent and educational society. It is charitable in that it is devoted to the promotion of the welfare and happiness of mankind and not to the profit of any individual or individuals. It is benevolent in that it teaches ethical principles acceptable to all men. Principles such as kindness and faithfulness in the home, honesty and fairness in business and occupation, courtesy in social contacts, help for the weak and unfortunate, forgiveness of the penitent, respect for one another and, above all, reverence towards a Supreme Being.
It is educational in that it teaches morality and lawfulness, develops self-discipline in thought and action and confidence in communicating and dealing with one’s fellows. It encourages research into its origins, and contemplation and discussion of the moral concepts espoused.
It must be clearly understood by every member of the Craft, that his membership does not in any way exempt him from his duty to meet his responsibilities to the society in which he lives. The Charge to the new initiate calls on him to be exemplary in the discharge of his civil duties; this duty extends throughout his private, public, business and professional life.
IRREGULAR AND UNRECOGNIZED GRAND LODGES
There are some self-styled Masonic bodies that do not meet the standard of believing in a Supreme Being, or which allow or encourage their members to participate as such in political matters. These bodies are not recognized by the Grootoosten der Nederlanden (Grand East of The Netherlands) as being Masonically regular, and Masonic contact with them is forbidden.
WHO MAY BECOME A FREEMASON?
Any adult male of good repute, of high moral character, of sound mind who believes in a Supreme Being, and has the usual senses of a man can become a Freemason. You must be in such financial circumstances as to be able to meet your monetary obligations as a member of your lodge without detriment to your family or yourself. These obligations include lodge subscriptions and the cost of regalia. Freemasonry should not be allowed to harm a man’s family or other connections by taking too much of his time or money, or causing him to act in any way against their interests.
The essential qualification for admission into and continuing membership is a belief in a Supreme Being. Membership is open to men of any race,religion or Belief, who can fulfill this essential qualification and who are of good repute.
You must be recommended by two brethren, who will have to vouch for your character and sincerity of motive. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that you should not enter Freemasonry in the hope of material gain or advancement. If you do you will be disappointed. Admission must not be sought from mercenary or other unworthy motives.
Your partner should be made aware of the likely claims on your time and efforts, and fully support your application.
WHAT FREEMASONRY EXPECTS OF YOU
All Freemasons voluntarily commit themselves to the principles of brotherly love, relief, and truth, non-sectarian principles which are universally recognized as the moral virtues. These three great principles may be explained thus:
- BROTHERLY LOVE, every true Freemason will show tolerance and respect for the opinions of others and behave with kindness and understanding to his fellow creatures;
- RELIEF, Freemasons are taught to practice charity, and to care, not only for their own, but also for the community as a whole, both by charitable giving, and by voluntary efforts and works as individuals; and
- TRUTH, Freemasons strive for Truth, requiring high moral standards and aiming to achieve them in their own lives.
Freemasons believe that these principles represent a way of achieving higher standards in life. Freemasons are to be found in all walks of life – business, labour, government, professional, and entertainment to name a few. They are admonished to obey all laws under whose protection they live; to serve their fellow man, and maintain high standards of conduct.
A Mason is expected to treat every man as his brother, to practice charity, temperance and justice. His mode of life should be such as to earn the respect and trust of those with whom he comes in contact. He must recognize that humility, patience, charity, and gentleness should be among the characteristics of a true Freemason. He must never propose for membership any man whom he knows to be an atheist or otherwise unworthy to become a Freemason.
The basic unit of the Masonic Fraternity is the “Lodge”, which operates under rules and regulations prescribed by a Grand Lodge. In The Netherlands, this is the Grootoosten der Nederlanden (Grand East of The Netherlands). The chief executive officer of a lodge is termed Master and addressed as the Worshipful Master; the chief executive officer of the Grand Lodge is the Grand Master. Both are elected officials. In a Masonic Lodge the Master and officers of the lodge generally serve for a one year term at the will and pleasure of the membership. The officers of the lodge comprise a number of brethren occupying positions responsible for ceremonial, administrative, and social matters. The officers of the lodge also include a Secretary and Treasurer.
It is the Masonic Lodge that receives petitions from candidates for membership and confers upon them the principal Masonic Degrees. The new member immediately becomes an integral part of the Lodge and regular and punctual attendance at its meetings is one of his first duties. As a Freemason you have the right to visit other lodges wherever Freemasonry is practiced throughout the world. Each Masonic meeting concludes with a social gathering of the members at a Meal (referred to as a Festive Board) where masonic fellowship is conducted in lighter vein. Most lodges arrange social functions to include the Partners, Families and Guests of the members.
On your admission into the Craft, you will be required to make a solemn promise to fulfil your obligations to Freemasonry. You can be assured that you will never be required to obligate yourself to anything which might conflict with your other duties and loyalties.
IS FREEMASONRY A SECRET SOCIETY?
Freemasonry is not a secret society. It does not hide its existence. Members in the Netherlands do not hide their membership, although they may decide to keep their membership of the Craft discrete. There has been no attempt to conceal the purpose, aims and principles of Freemasonry.
Its constitutions are published for the world to behold. Its rules and regulations are open for inspection. Great numbers of books on Freemasonry have been published and they are available in public libraries.
It is true that in Freemasonry we have modes of recognition and ceremonies with which the world is not acquainted. In this regard, all human groups and institutions have their private affairs. For example families have their discussions on subjects which do not and should not concern their neighbors. The Masonic fraternity is, in many respects, like a closely knit family.
The secrets of Freemasonry are concerned with its traditional modes of recognition. Its ceremonies are private. In ordinary conversation there is very little, if anything about Freemasonry that may not be discussed. So, Freemasonry is not a secret Society, but actually a Society of secrets – The only real secret in Freemasonry, is we make good men, better men.
People become Freemasons for a variety of reasons, some as the result of family tradition, others upon the introduction of a friend or out of a curiosity to know what it is all about. Those who become active members do so principally because they enjoy it. They enjoy the challenges and fellowship that Freemasonry offers. There is more to it, however, than just enjoyment.
Participation in the dramatic presentation of moral lessons and in the working of a lodge provides a member with a unique opportunity to learn more about himself and encourages him to live in such a way that he will always be in search of becoming a better man, not better than someone else but better than he himself would otherwise be and therefore an exemplary member of society.
Each Freemason is required to learn and show humility through initiation. Then, by progression through a series of degrees he gains insight into increasingly complex moral and philosophical concepts, and accepts a variety of challenges and responsibilities which are both stimulating and rewarding. The structure and working of the lodge and the sequence of ceremonial events, which are usually followed by social gatherings, offer members a framework for companionship, teamwork, character development and enjoyment of shared experiences.
It is your decision to become a member, your entry into Freemasonry will open the door to many and lasting friendships. There is one thing that you must clearly understand and appreciate.
Although we strive to make Freemasons better members of society, to make them masters of their passions and prejudices, to broaden their sympathies, charities and their service to others, to make them tolerant of the political and religious beliefs of their neighbors, you personally will gain nothing without your own honest endeavor.