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Secret societies are fascinating, and there may be none more interesting than the Freemasons. The mystery and myth run deep with tales of secrecy, ceremonial rites, sacrifice, and power. Popular movies, books, and shows that portray cultist and sinister secret societies only add to the allure of the Freemasons.
Conspiracy theorists and mystery lovers worldwide revel in stories of international government control, murder, and worshipping of the dark arts. But what is the reality of this super-secret group? Who are they, and what do Freemasons do at meetings?
Famous names like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Mark Twain, John Wayne, Buzz Aldrin, the Revered Jesse Jackson, Arnold Palmer, and Henry Ford all make the membership list for Freemasons. Jump in and learn more about the mystery and reality of the Freemasons.
- What Is A Freemason? A Brief History Of Freemasons
- What Do Freemasons Do?
- What Are Masonic Lodges?
- What Is A Masonic Temple?
- What Happens At Freemason Meetings?
- What To Expect At Your First Freemason Meeting
- The Requirements Of Being A Freemason
- What Are The Three Degrees Of Freemasonry?
- Learn More About Life’s Great Mysteries
- Why Trust Safe Smart Living?
What Is A Freemason? A Brief History Of Freemasons
The Freemasons, also called Masons, are considered the oldest fraternal organization in the world. The exact origin isn’t fully known but can be traced back to medieval stonemason guilds. In 1390, the first known Masonic text called the “Regius Poem” or “Halliwell Manuscript” was written.
The Freemasons are a worldwide organization with lodges dating back several centuries. For example, historians know that Masonic lodges existed in Scotland as early as the 16th century. Today’s Freemason official organization started in England. Members of different men’s groups and guilds began to meet at local pubs, eventually forming what they called a “Grand Lodge.“ That led to the formation of organized meetings and initiation rituals and requirements for new members.
Lodges began as the place where the stonemasons laid their stones — they were quiet and isolated in privacy. Eventually, they moved these meetings to local taverns with private backrooms. Once they grew bigger, groups began to build their own properties to guarantee privacy and allow for the practice of traditional rituals during meetings without the threat of interruption. Different Masonic lodges worldwide started their own organizations, eventually spreading to the United States.
Today, Freemasons are no longer always stonemasons. While many no longer require strict common bonds, such as each member having the same occupation, others consider these common bonds necessary. As such, these groups may have limits on membership to those with similar occupations. One thing that all Freemasons hold in common, however, is an interest in their community and charitable work.
What Do Freemasons Do?
The Freemason organization is based on principles of self-improvement. The Masons focus on establishing and building themselves up as people of integrity. These pursuits include volunteering, community service, building deep friendships, personal development, and teaching intellectual, moral, and spiritual lessons. One of the fraternity’s overall goals is to build connections to the community and better the world. As some say, they work to make good men better.
As Freemasons pull together for the local community, they can give back to their society and maintain a finger in the pot when it comes to making community-related decisions. Freemasons are frequently looked down upon for this viewpoint, and conspiracy theorists claim that this is to ensure that they maintain control of the local government.
In modern times, Masons have donated millions of dollars to charity, set up disaster relief, founded hospital visitation programs, and set up education programs about the world of Freemasonry, among many other community-building efforts in their localities.
What Are Masonic Lodges?
Groups meet in lodges, which means two different things at the same time. A Masonic lodge is both a physical building and a group of people. The building serves as the fundamental gathering place for members to bond, build fraternal connections, and become comrades in both the group and life. Freemason lodges are also called Blue Lodges or Blue Lodge Freemasonry.
Each lodge or Grand Lodge has its own set of rules, rituals, ceremonies, and official business. Lodges must meet specific qualifications to be considered “regular;” only official lodges are granted a charter by the Grand Lodge they are under. A Grand Lodge is an administrative body with authority over Freemasonry in a particular geographical area. Each Masonic lodge maintains a list of regular lodges and members to keep track of those who disobey the rules of their branch of Freemasonry.
Irregular lodges are those operating without an approved charter. These groups often engage in rituals or hold beliefs that differ from the larger Freemason organization. These may include allowing women to be members, among other things. An unrecognized lodge may operate under traditional Masonic beliefs but has no charter under the Grand Lodge. A clandestine lodge may operate or emulate Freemason rituals, beliefs, and symbols but is, in truth, only representing itself as Masonic.
Clandestine lodges may be the closest thing to a genuinely secret society associated with the Freemasons. These unofficial and shady groups often have a nefarious or fraudulent purpose and greatly misrepresent the larger Freemason organization.
Each official Freemason group must display its charter and hold regular meetings with published dates that all members of the fraternity are aware of. Like many official organizations, the Masons must function as a single unit with members electing officials to serve as officers, keep official records and minutes, and manage their assets and property locations.
There are Grand Lodges in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It is estimated at least 13,000 Masonic lodges are operating under those Grand Lodges in the U.S. According to the Masonic Service Association of North America, data taken in 2023 shows 874,548 Freemasons in the U.S. However, American membership once topped four million official Masons under regular lodges.
The earliest records of American Masonic lodges can be traced to Philidelphia. The oldest known Freemason lodge in North America, St John’s Lodge in Boston, was established in 1733 and, given an official charter by the Premier Grand Lodge of England, is still operating today.
What Is A Masonic Temple?
A Masonic Temple, Hall, or Center is a building where a Freemasons lodge or group meets. The temples are generally private buildings the fraternity owns or has access to. These buildings do not have a religious connection. The word temple also denotes a public structure used for fraternal organizations. You will likely be disappointed if you are wondering what happens in a Masonic temple and have visions of darkly lit, smoky rituals. These are simply regular buildings for communal gatherings.
What Happens At Freemason Meetings?
Freemasons have a few different types of meetings. Gatherings serve distinct purposes and will vary in formality and frequency based on the specific lodge, charter, and grand lodge. Most meetings serve to conduct some form of fraternity business, from educating new members to initiation, budget, and event organization. Below, I cover the basics of a few types of Masonic lodge meetings.
- Stated Meetings – Stated meetings, also called business or regular meetings, are to take care of Lodge business and the group’s general needs. These needs may include budgeting, paying bills, building maintenance, and other functional needs. Other stated meetings may be about service and charity projects, reading applications for new members, reports on activity, and voting on committee matters.
- Table Lodges – Table lodges are meetings that involve a meal. Historically, the Freemason business was handled over a meal, and many groups continue this tradition.
- Degree Ceremonies and Meetings – These meetings consist of ceremonies that initiate, pass, or raise members to different degrees.
- Memorial and Funeral Services – Memorial or funeral services are held for deceased Masons. These are usually public.
- Lodge of Sorrow – This is a private funeral service or memorial that is only for masons.
- Officer Installation – A ceremony to install officers within the group, usually a private ceremony.
- Grand Master Visit – A Grand Master is the leader of the Grand Lodge. A visit from the Grand Master is a big event and private to Masons.
What To Expect At Your First Freemason Meeting
Attending your first meeting is sure to be a memorable experience. Meetings are thick with rituals and history. Some lodges may have a meal or refreshments before starting the meeting.
The Master of the Lodge will start the meeting, usually following a script. The meeting will be called to order, and there will likely be the use of a gavel and certain other items.
Members wear aprons in some ceremonies, a testament to the original guild of stonemasons. Throughout the meeting, several recited lines, salutes, gestures, and, yes, secret handshakes are used.
It is hard to know what to expect until you have been to a meeting. Different lodges highlight certain rituals and lines, so meetings can vary significantly from place to place.
Meetings generally happen in a lodge room. These rooms may have decorations with Masonic symbols, images, and emblems, including the Square and Compasses. The square represents morality and squaring one’s actions to be aligned with the virtues of mankind. The compass represents moral boundaries and being able to control one’s behavior within them.
Other Masonic symbols include the All Seeing Eye or Eye of Providence. This represents the eye of God and reminds all Freemasons that their actions are always being observed. The letter G is also an important symbol, though its meaning has some debate. The G is largely thought to represent God, Geometry, and “Gnosis,” which means the understanding of spiritual mysteries.
Perhaps the largest Masonic symbol is the sword. These are wholly symbolic and never meant to be used in battle. The swords represent the Freemason’s history, commitment to making the world better, and a reflection of their tradition, honor, and long history.
How Long Are Freemason Meetings?
Freemason meetings can last one to several hours. Meetings that involve traditional rituals, such as meals or conferring Masonic degrees, may take several hours. Degree ceremonies initiate steps each mason takes to move into distinct membership levels. Of course, this depends on the lodge and its practices.
The Requirements Of Being A Freemason
The Freemasons were once made up of true stoneworkers, but today, the fraternity includes many other types of individuals. Freemasonry is grounded on core ethical principles based on compassion and tolerance. One core principle is that Masons will not use their position in the group to promote any political, religious, secular, or professional agenda. The three pillars of Freemasonry are Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty. Along with that, there are three tenants every Freemason follows.
The Three Tenants Of Freemasonry
- Brotherly Love – Strong devotion to each other, caring for others, and building community.
- Relief – Having concern and selflessness for others and giving to others in need or distress.
- Truth – The use of truth, honesty, knowledge, and understanding to build oneself into a better man.
Becoming a Freemason is a process of initiation, and while many believe that you must be born to a Freemason father to become one, this is not true. A man can apply to be a Mason. Women are not and have historically never been allowed to join the fraternity.
Below are the basic requirements one must meet to be a Freemason:
- You must be a male, at least 18 years old. In some locations, the age requirement is 21.
- All Masons must be of good moral character.
- A Mason must be a man who was born free, has a good reputation, and comes well recommended to the lodge.
- You must be able to support yourself and your family.
- You must believe in a Supreme being, though Freemasonry is not concerned about specific religious beliefs or theological distinctions.
- Applicants must choose Freemasonry of their own free will and accord and not be coerced into it by others.
- Your reasons for joining must not have motivation for personal gain or profit.
- One must have motivation by positive opinions of Freemasonry and Masonic beliefs. You must also be willing to earn knowledge and conform to ancient customs and uses set by the fraternity.
To apply to be a Freemason, you must reach out to the Grand Lodge in your state and then apply to a local lodge. You will need to fill out an application and follow the process for your specific lodge.
What Are The Three Degrees Of Freemasonry?
There are three standard degrees of Freemasonry. I briefly describe each below:
- Entered Apprentice – The first level of the Masonic order. Members at this level learn more about Freemasonry, its language, rituals, symbols, beliefs, secrets, morality, ethics, and more. This degree represents youth.
- Fellowcraft – The second level of membership; members at this level have proven themselves and are ready to dive into deeper learning. They have a more advanced process and search for understanding, moving into the areas of intellectual enlightenment, wisdom, and philosophy. Fellowcraft represents an individual reaching manhood.
- Master Mason – The Master Mason has reached full maturity and advanced wisdom and knowledge. This level usually takes several years to reach. Master Masons have a focus on morality, virtue, and the responsibilities of being a leader in the group.
You may hear the term Past Master in reference to Freemasons. Past Master refers to an individual who once served as a Grand Master of a Grand Lodge, also called a Worshipful Master. In some lodges, Past Masters may take the helm in the absence of other leadership. Past Masters often have the task of upholding Masonic law, principles, and values and promoting unity. The title of Past Master can vary by jurisdiction, and some local lodge leaders may also be given this title.
Scottish Rite Degrees In Freemasonry
One school of Freemasonry, the Scottish Rite, has 33 degrees. These degrees include the three standard degrees of Blue Lodges, as well as 30 appendant degrees. Both Freemasonry schools exist worldwide and here in the United States. The Scottish Rite is just as accepted as the Blue Lodges, and members are often welcome in one group from the other.
Learn More About Life’s Great Mysteries
The world and history itself are full of secrets and great mysteries, just like the Freemasons. They, and other secret societies like Skull and Bones, the Illuminati, and the Knights Templar, fascinate many of us and leave us wanting to learn more. Another area of interest many people have is the twelve disciples, which we discuss as well. There is much to learn about the world around us.
There are plenty of mysterious places, like Easter Island, that many of us have yet to experience. If you, like me, are always seeking new knowledge or new places to explore, you might have an interest in discovering space through the lens of a telescope. Learn more about off-world visual exploration in our best telescope and best beginner telescope guide.
What’s your favorite secret society? Or do you have personal experience with Freemasons to share? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments.
Why Trust Safe Smart Living?
Danielle is a dedicated researcher, educator, and lifelong learner. She has spent countless hours researching many organizations and works to bring our readers the most recent, accurate, science-based, and data-driven information. Danielle works alongside a dedicated team of individuals who share the same goal.Tagged With: