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American Square & Compasses
American Square & Compasses

Freemasonry is a worldwide fraternal organization. Its members are joined together by shared ideals of both a moral and metaphysical nature, and, in most of its branches, by a common belief in a Supreme Being. Freemasonry is an esoteric art, in that certain aspects of its internal work are not generally revealed to the public. Masons give numerous reasons for this, one of which is that Freemasonry uses an initiatory system of degrees to explore ethical and philosophical issues, and this system is less effective if the observer knows beforehand what will happen. It often calls itself "a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols."


Organizational structure

Main article: Grand Lodge

There are many different jurisdictions of governance of Freemasonry, each sovereign and independent of the others, and usually defined according to a geographic territory. There is thus no central Masonic authority, although each jurisdiction maintains a list of other jurisdictions that it formally recognizes. If the other jurisdiction reciprocates the recognition, the two jurisdictions are said to be in amity, which permits the members of the one jurisdiction to attend closed meetings of the other jurisdiction's Lodges, and vice-versa. Generally speaking, to be recognized by another jurisdiction, one must (at least) meet that jurisdiction's requirements for regularity. This generally means that one must have in place, at least, the ancient landmarks of Freemasonry—the essential characteristics considered to be universal to Freemasonry in any culture. In keeping with the decentralized and non-dogmatic nature of Freemasonry, however, there is no universally accepted list of landmarks, and even jurisdictions in amity with each other often have completely different ideas as to what those landmarks are. Many jurisdictions take no official position at all as to what the landmarks are. Much of the landscape of Washington D.C. was in fact inspired by, or directly designed by Freemasons including the layout of national buildings, the mapping of streets and roadways, and the placement of national monuments which has caused some to speculate that some of the occult practices and symbolism prominent in Freemasonry has embedded itself within the structure of several governments, in this case, the United States.

There is no tidy way to split jurisdictions into separate camps. For instance, jurisdiction A might recognize B, which recognizes C, which does not recognize A. In addition, the geographical territory of one jurisdiction may overlap with another's, which may affect their relations, for purely territorial reasons. In other cases, one jurisdiction may overlook irregularities in another due simply to a desire to maintain friendly relations. Also, a jurisdiction may be formally affiliated with one tradition, while maintaining informal ties with the other. For all these reasons, labels like "Anglo" and "Continental" must be taken only as rough indicators, not as any kind of clear designation.

The ruling authority of a Masonic jurisdiction is usually called a Grand Lodge, or sometimes a Grand Orient. These normally correspond to a single country, although their territory can be defined more broadly or narrower than that. (In North America, each state and province has its own Grand Lodge.) The oldest jurisdiction in the Anglo branch of Freemasonry is the Grand Lodge of England (GLE),(Moderns)founded in 1717. This later became the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) when it joined with another English Grand Lodge (Antients) in 1813. Its headquarters are at Freemasons Hall, Great Queen Street, London. The oldest in the Continental branch is the Grand Orient de France (GOdF), founded in 1728. At one time, these branches recognized each other, but most jurisdictions cut off formal relations with the GOdF sometime after it started accepting atheists in 1877. In most Latin countries, as well as in Belgium, the French style of Freemasonry predominates. The rest of the world, accounting for the bulk of Freemasonry, tends to follow the English lead.

UGLE requires all British members to check with them before visiting lodges abroad to confirm amity - for example visiting American lodges is discouraged.


Contrary to popular belief, Freemasons meet as a Lodge and not in a lodge. (This is similar to the distinction made by Christians who meet as a church, with the actual building officially considered no more than a meeting place.)

According to masonic legend (see below), the operative lodges constructed a lodge building adjacent to their work site where the masons could meet for instruction and social contact. Normally this was on the southern side of the site (in Europe, the side with the sun warming the stones during the day.) The social part of the building was on the southern side, hence the social gathering of the lodge is still called the South.

Early speculative lodges met in taverns and other convenient public meeting places, and employed a Tyler to guard the door from both malicious and simply curious people.

Lodge buildings have for many years been known as a Temple. In many countries this term has now been replaced by Masonic Centre. (See also Shriners and their Temples.)

In the United States specifically, Masonic Lodges are typically known as "Blue Lodges" and are the foundation of a collection of Masonic groups or bodies: York Rite, Scottish Rite and The Shrine. To be a member of these other bodies, a man must pay dues to a Blue Lodge. The Blue Lodge and its ceremonies establish the fundamental bond which makes all Masons "brothers", and is the cement which binds all other appended Masonic bodies together.

Specialist lodges

Some specific specialist lodges exist within many Masonic jurisdictions.

The most obvious are the system of lodges of "Research and Instruction" (R&I) which are specially constituted. These are associated with a world-wide organization of Masonic research, typically specialising in discovering and interpreting historical records and the meanings of Masonic symbolism left unrecorded, and for preserving the format of, and developing, Masonic ritual. Membership of these lodges is typically open to interested members of other, normally-constituted lodges.

These are distinct from lodges formed by groupings of persons with similar interests or background, such as "old boy" lodges associated with certain schools, universities, military units, or businesses.

Concordant and appendant bodies

Freemasonry is associated with several appendant bodies, such as the Scottish Rite, which is actually a complete system of Freemasonry, developed on the Continent, particularly France, and the York Rite, which includes three sovereign and distinct rites, including the Holy Royal Arch, Royal and Select Masters (aka Cryptic Masonry) and Knights Templar. In regard to the (masonic) Templars, this particular organization is limited to Royal Arch and Cryptic Masons of the Christian faith and does not in any way impose this requirement on the entire York Rite system, as is commonly and erroneously believed. Other groups include the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (Shriners), the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm (Grotto), the Tall Cedars of Lebanon, and the Ancient and Heroic Order of the Gordian Knot, among numerous others, all of which tend to expand on the teachings of Craft or Blue Lodge Freemasonry—often with additional so-called higher degrees—while improving their members and society as a whole. The Shrine and Grotto tend to emphasise fun and philanthropy and are largely a North American phenomenon.

Different jurisdictions vary in how they define their relationship with such bodies. Some of these organizations may have additional religious requirements, compared to Freemasonry proper (or "Craft Masonry"), since they elaborate on Masonic teachings from a particular perspective.

There are also certain youth organizations (mainly North American) which are associated with Freemasonry, but are not necessarily Masonic in their content, such as the Order of DeMolay (for boys aged 12–21 who have Masonic sponsorship), Job's Daughters (for girls aged 10-20 with proper Masonic relationship) and the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls (for girls 11–20 who have Masonic sponsorship). The Boy Scouts of America was first nationally commissioned by Freemason Daniel Carter Beard. Beard exemplified the Masonic ideals throughout the Scouting program.


Freemasons are expected to exhibit the utmost tolerance both in Lodge and in their daily lives. Freemasonry will thus accept members from almost any religion, including all denominations of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and so forth. Exactly how far this goes depends on the particular branch or jurisdiction of Freemasonry one is dealing with. Deists have traditionally been accepted. In Lodges derived from the Grand Orient of France and in certain other groups of Lodges, atheists and agnostics are also accepted, without qualification. Most other branches currently require a belief in a Supreme Being. But even there, one finds a high degree of non-dogmatism, and the phrase Supreme Being is often given a very broad interpretation, usually allowing Deism and often even allowing naturalistic views of "God/Nature" in the tradition of Spinoza and Goethe (himself a Freemason), or views of The Ultimate or Cosmic Oneness, such as found in some Eastern religions and in Western idealism (or for that matter, in modern cosmology). In some other (mostly English-speaking) jurisdictions, Freemasonry is not as tolerant of naturalism as it was in the 18th century, and specific religious requirements with more theistic and orthodox overtones have been added since the early 19th century, including (mostly in North America) belief in the immortality of the soul. The Freemasonry that predominates in Scandinavia, known as the Swedish Rite, accepts only Christians.

Generally, to be a Freemason, one must:

  1. be a man, if joining regular Masonic jurisdictions, or a woman, if joining an irregular jurisdiction with women's Lodges (unless joining a co-Masonic jurisdiction with no gender requirement),
  2. believe in a Supreme Being, or, in some irregular jurisdictions, a Creative Principle (unless joining an irregular jurisdiction with no religious requirement),
    Irregular denotes jurisdictions outside of Freemasonry, however close they may resemble and influence Masonry, regardless of any relationship to a regularly constituted Grand Lodge. Regular Masonic Jurisdictions follow the Ancient Landmarks and are recognized by other regular Grand Lodges.
  3. be at least the minimum age (18–25 years depending on the jurisdiction),
  4. be of sound mind, body and of good morals, and
  5. be free (or "born free", i.e. not born a slave or bondsman).

Traditionally membership was limited to men only, and the inclusion of women is still a matter of controversy in many jurisdictions. The "free born" requirement does not come up in modern Lodges, and there is no indication that it would ever be enforced, but remains there for historical reasons. The "sound body" requirement is today generally taken to mean physically capable of taking part in Lodge rituals, and most Lodges today are quite flexible in accommodating disabled candidates.

Freemasonry upholds the principles of "Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth" (or in France: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"). It teaches moral lessons through rituals. Members working through the rituals are taught by "degrees". Freemasons are also commonly involved in public service and charity work, as well as providing a social outlet for their members. There is considerable variance in the emphasis on these different aspects of Masonry around the world. In Continental Europe, the philosophical side of Freemasonry is more emphasized, while in Britain, North America, and the English-speaking parts of the world, the charity, service and social club aspects are more emphasized.

While Freemasonry as an organization does not directly involve itself in politics, its members have tended over the years to support certain kinds of political causes with which they have become associated in the public eye: the separation of Church and State, the establishment of secular public schools, and democratic revolutions (in the United States and France on a smaller scale, but on a larger scale in other places such as Mexico, Brazil, and repeatedly in Italy).

Many organizations with various religious and political purposes have been inspired by Freemasonry, and are sometimes confused with it, such as the Protestant Loyal Orange Association and the 19th century Italian Carbonari, which pursued Liberalism and Italian Unity. Many other purely fraternal organizations, too numerous to mention, have also been inspired by Masonry to a greater or lesser extent.

Freemasonry is often called a secret society, and in fact is considered by many to be the very prototype for such societies. Many Masons say that it is more accurately described as a "society with secrets". The degree of secrecy varies widely around the world. In English-speaking countries, most Masons are completely public with their affiliation, Masonic buildings are clearly marked, and meeting times are generally a matter of public record. In other countries, where Freemasonry has been more recently, or is even currently, suppressed by the government, secrecy may be practised more in earnest. Even in the English-speaking world, the precise details of the rituals are not made public, and Freemasons have a system of secret modes of recognition, such as the Masonic secret grip (by which Masons can recognize each other "in the dark as well as in the light"); however, Masons acknowledge that these "secrets" have been widely available in printed exposés and anti-Masonic literature for, literally, centuries.

See also: List of famous Freemasons

Women in Freemasonry

The position of women within Freemasonry is complex. Traditionally, only men could be made Freemasons.

Perhaps the most authoritative account of a woman being admitted to Freemasonry surrounds Elizabeth Aldworth (nee St. Leger) who is reported to have viewed the proceedings of a lodge meeting held at Doneraile House, the house of her father, first Viscount Doneraile, a resident of Cork, Ireland. In the early part of the 18th century, it was customary for lodges to be regularly held in private houses; this lodge was duly warranted as number 150 on the register of the Grand Lodge of Ireland . Apparently, she removed a brick and saw the ceremony in the room beyond. After being discovered, Elizabeth's situation was discussed by the lodge and it was decided that she should be initiated into Freemasonry. The story is supported by other accounts that record how she was a subscriber to the Irish Book of Constitutions of 1744 and that she frequently attended, wearing her Masonic regalia, entertainments that were given under Masonic auspices for the benefit of the poor and distressed. She afterwards married Mr. Richard Aldworth of Newmarket. It is also reported that when she died she was accorded the honour of a Masonic burial.

International Co-Masonry began in France in 1882 with the initiation of Maria Deraismes into the Loge Libre Penseurs (Freethinkers Lodge), a men's lodge under the Grande Loge Symbolique de France. Along with activist Georges Martin, in 1893 Maria Deraismes oversaw the initiation of sixteen women into the first lodge in the world to have both men and women as members, creating Le Droit Humain .

In the United Kingdom and France, and most other countries, women still generally join co-Masonic Lodges, such as those under the international jurisdiction Le Droit Humain (LDH), which admit both men and women, or they join Lodges under local jurisdictions that admit only women. In North America, it is more common for women not to become Freemasons per se, but to join an associated body with its own, separate traditions, such as the Order of the Eastern Star (OES), which admits only male Freemasons and their female relatives. In the Netherlands, there is a completely separate, although allied, sorority for women, the Order of Weavers (OOW), which uses symbols from weaving rather than stonemasonry.

The GOdF and other Continental jurisdictions give full formal recognition to co-Freemasonry and women's Freemasonry. The UGLE and other Anglo jurisdictions do not formally recognize any Masonic body that accepts women, although in many countries they have an understanding and a kind of informal acceptance that such bodies are part of Freemasonry in a larger sense. The UGLE, for instance, has recognized (since 1998) two local women's jurisdictions as regular in practice, except for their inclusion of women, and has indicated that, while not formally recognized, these bodies may be regarded as part of Freemasonry. Thus, the position of women in Freemasonry is rapidly changing in the English-speaking world. While in many cases North America is following England's lead on the issue of women, the remaining resistance to women in Freemasonry is mostly concentrated there.

Prince Hall Masonry

In 1775, an African American named Prince Hall was initiated into an Irish Constitution Military Lodge, along with fourteen other African Americans, all of whom were free by birth. When the Military Lodge left the area, the African Americans were given the authority to meet as a Lodge, form Processions on the days of the Saints John, and conduct Masonic funerals, but not to confer degrees nor to do other Masonic Work. These individuals applied for, and obtained, a Warrant for Charter from the Grand Lodge of England in 1784 and formed African Lodge #459. Despite being stricken from the rolls like all American Grand Lodges after the merger of the "Premier" Grand Lodge and the "Ancient" Grand Lodge in 1813 when they formed the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), the Lodge restyled itself as the African Lodge #1 (not to be confused with the various Grand Lodges on the Continent of Africa) and separated from UGLE-recognised Masonry. This led to a tradition of separate, predominantly African American jurisdictions in North America, known collectively as Prince Hall Freemasonry . Widespread racism and segregation in North America made it impossible for African Americans to join many so-called "mainstream" Lodges, and many mainstream Grand Lodges in North America refused to recognize as legitimate the Prince Hall Lodges and Prince Hall Masons in their jurisdictions.

Presently, Prince Hall Masonry is recognized by some UGLE-recognized Grand Lodges and not by others, and appears to be working its way toward full recognition (see [1]).

John Marrant the Huntingdonian minister preached to the Prince Hall Lodge on 24th June 1789. His Nova Scotia congregation was significant in the successful agitation for repatriation by Black Loyalists as well as the subsequent revolt which occurred in Sierra Leone in 1800.

Ritual and symbols

The Freemasons rely heavily on the architectural symbolism of the medieval operative Masons who actually worked in stone. One of their principal symbols is the square and compasses, tools of the trade, so arranged as to form a quadrilateral. The square is sometimes said to represent matter, and the compasses spirit or mind. Alternatively, the square might be said to represent the world of the concrete, or the measure of objective reality, while the compasses represent abstraction, or subjective judgment, and so forth (Freemasonry being non-dogmatic, there is no written-in-stone interpretation for any of these symbols). The compasses straddle the square, representing the interdependence between the two. In the space between the two, there is optionally placed a symbol of metaphysical significance. Sometimes, this is a blazing star or other symbol of Light, representing Truth or knowledge. Alternatively, there is often a letter G placed there, usually said to represent God and/or Geometry.

The square and compasses are displayed at all Masonic meetings, along with the open Volume of the Sacred Law (or Lore) (VSL). In English-speaking countries, this is usually a Holy Bible, but it can be whatever book(s) of inspiration or scripture that the members of a particular Lodge or jurisdiction feel they draw on—whether the Bible, the Qur'an, or other Volumes. In many French Lodges, the Masonic Constitutions are used. In a few cases, a blank book has been used, where the religious makeup of a Lodge was too diverse to permit an easy choice of VSL. In addition to its role as a symbol of written wisdom, inspiration, and sometimes as the revealed will of the Deity, the VSL is what Masonic obligations are taken upon.

Much of Masonic symbolism is mathematical in nature, and in particular geometrical, which is probably a reason Freemasonry has attracted so many rationalists (such as Voltaire, Fichte, Goethe, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and many others). No particular metaphysical theory is advanced by Freemasonry, however, although there seems to be some influence from the Pythagoreans, from Neo-Platonism, and from early modern Rationalism.

In keeping with the geometrical and architectural theme of Freemasonry, the Supreme Being (or God, or Creative Principle) is sometimes also referred to in Masonic ritual as the Grand Geometer, or the Great Architect of the Universe (GAOTU). Freemasons use a variety of labels for this concept in order to avoid the idea that they are talking about any one religion's particular God or God-like concept.


There are three initial degrees of Freemasonry:

  1. Entered Apprentice
  2. Fellow Craft
  3. Master Mason

One works through each degree by taking part in a ritual, essentially a medieval morality Play, in which one plays a role, along with members of the Lodge that one is joining. The setting is Biblical—the building of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem—although the stories themselves are not directly from the Bible, and not intended to be necessarily Jewish or Christian in nature. Nothing supernatural happens in these stories. The Temple can be taken to represent the "temple" of the individual human being, that of the human community, or of the entire universe.

As one works through the degrees, one studies the lessons and interprets them for oneself. There are as many ways to interpret the rituals as there are Masons, and no Mason may dictate to any other Mason how he is to interpret them. No particular truths are espoused, but a common structure—speaking symbolically to universal human archetypes—provides for each Mason a means to come to his own answers to life's important questions. Freemasons working through the degrees are often (especially in Continental Europe) asked to prepare papers on related philosophical topics, and present lectures.

Mozart was a Freemason, and his opera, The Magic Flute, makes extensive use of Masonic symbolism. Two books that give a general feel for the symbolism and its interpretation are:

  1. Freemasonry: A Journey Through Ritual and Symbol by W.K. MacNulty, Thames & Hudson, London, 1991.
  2. Symbols of Freemasonry by D. Beresniak and L. Hamani, Assouline, Paris, 2000.

The British author Rudyard Kipling also made use of Masonic symbolism and myth in his story, "The Man Who Would Be King", which was later made into a film. Two adventurers are taken to be representatives of Alexander the Great because of their Masonic emblems.

Freemasonry in the language

An expression often used in Masonic circles is to be on the square, meaning to be a reliable sort of person, and this has entered common usage. Other phrases from Freemasonry in common use include meeting on the level (without regard to social, economic, religious or cultural differences). The practice of Freemasonry is referred to amongst its members as the Craft.


Landmarks are the ancient and unchangeable precepts of Masonry, the standards by which regularity of Lodges and Grand Lodges is judged. However, since each Grand Lodge is self-governing and no single authority exists over Craft Masonry , even these supposedly-inviolable principles can and do vary, leading to controversies and inconsistency of recognition. Some examples of common landmarks include:

  • A belief in a Supreme Being is required of all candidates for the degrees. However, many Grand Lodges (identified as Grand Orients) now admit atheists to membership.
  • The modes of recognition are to be kept inviolate. They consist of covert gestures made with the hands, called signs; distinctive ways of shaking hands, called grips and tokens; and special identifying passwords, most often based on Hebrew words of the Old Testament. Variations have crept in over time and often the modes of recognition will mark a Mason as coming from a specific jurisdiction.
  • The legend of the 3rd degree, involving the building of King Solomon's Temple, is an integral part of Craft Masonry.
  • The government of Lodges in an area, usually geographic, is in the hands of a Grand Lodge, specifically the Grand Master or Provincial Grand Master. A Grand Master rules autocratically, but is elected democratically. He may attend any meeting, anywhere within his jurisdiction, at any time and may conduct the Lodge at his pleasure.
  • Each Lodge is governed by a Master, variously styled Worshipful or Right Worshipful Master, and two other officers, called the Senior and Junior Wardens.
  • A Senior and Junior Deacon assist the Master and his Wardens by passing messages and guiding candidates around the lodge.
  • The Inner Guard is situated by the door of the lodge to lock and unlock it as the need arises, to admit latecomers and candidates.
  • All lodges when at work must be tyled, that is, the door is guarded so that non-Masons may not enter or overhear the proceedings. The Tyler or outer guard, as his name implies, is situated outside the door of the lodge "being armed with a drawn sword to keep off all intruders and cowans to Masonry".


Freemasonry has a system of Lodges of Research and Instruction (see above).

Additionally, most Masonic jurisdictions appoint Lecturers who are empowered to research, develop and/or deliver lectures in lodges for the purpose of instructing the members.

On 5 March 2001, the University of Sheffield in England established the Centre for Research into Freemasonry, as part of the University's Humanities Research Institute, that "undertakes and promotes objective scholarly research into the historical, social and cultural impact of freemasonry, particularly in Britain." The CRF is headed by Professor Andrew Prescott , a medieval historian and expert on humanities computing, who was initially seconded from the British Library to the University of Sheffield for three years to establish the new Centre.

Most Grand Lodges and many regional Masonic Centres/Temples have a library, which is used for research.

One notable collection is the collection at the library of the University of Poznan in Poland. Some 80,000 books are housed at the main library and the Chateau de Ciazen some 80km distant. These were reportedly collected during World War II when Heinrich Himmler's SS confiscated the books of Masonic libraries in Germany and other occupied countries such as Belgium and stored this archive in Poland.

History of Freemasonry

Main article: History of Freemasonry

Freemasonry has been said to be an institutional outgrowth of the medieval guilds of stonemasons (1), a direct descendant of the "Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem" (the Knights Templar) (2), an offshoot of the ancient Mystery schools (1), an administrative arm of the Priory of Sion (3), the Roman Collegia (1), the Comacine masters (1), intellectual descendants of Noah (1), and to have many other various and sundry origins. Others will claim that it dates back only to the late 17th century, and has no real connections at all to earlier organizations. These theories are noted in numerous different texts, and the following are but examples pulled from a sea of books:

  1. In A History of Freemasonry by H.L. Haywood and James E. Craig, pub. circa 1927
  2. In The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, pub. 1982
  3. In Born in Blood by John Robinson, pub. 1989

Much of this is highly speculative, and the precise origins of Freemasonry may be lost in history. It is likely that Freemasonry is not a straightforward outgrowth of medieval guilds of stonemasons, for numerous reasons well documented in Born in Blood. Amongst the reasons for this conclusion are the fact that stonemasons' guilds do not appear to predate reasonable estimates for the time of Freemasonry's origin, that stonemasons lived near their worksite and thus had no need for secret signs to identify themselves, and that the "Ancient Charges" of Freemasonry are nonsensical when thought of as being rules for a stonemasons' guild.

Freemasonry is said by some, especially amongst Masons practising the York Rite, to have existed even at the time of King Athelstan of England, in the 10th century C.E. Athelstan is said by some to have been converted to Christianity in York, and to have issued the first Charter to the Masonic Lodges there. This story is not currently substantiated (the dynasty had already been Christian for centuries).

Some critics and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints note similarities between the church's sacred "Endowments" performed in LDS temples, and masonic rituals. Some Mormons have said this similarity may be because the Masonic rituals are descended from those given by God at the Temple of Solomon, and still contain many of the original truths. It may also be that early Mormon leaders (including Smith) were members of Masonic Lodges and incorporated their liturgy into the new religion.

The Catholic Church is also extremely hostile to Freemasonry, deeming it at least partly responsible for the French Revolution and the resulting decline of the church in Europe. The Knights of Columbus and other Catholic fraternal organizations were established to provide alternatives to Freemasonry for observant Catholics.

Although most members of masonic lodges are Protestant, many Protestant denominations also hold that Freemasonry is incompatible with being a member of a community of Christian faith. This may be based on scripture that "no man can serve two masters" or a holdover of lingering suspicion of the secrecy and ritualism of Freemasonry.

A more historically reliable (although still not unassailable) source asserting the antiquity of Freemasonry is the Halliwell Manuscript or Regius Poem, which is believed to date from ca. 1390, and which makes reference to several concepts and phrases similar to those found in Freemasonry. The manuscript itself refers to an earlier document, of which it seems to be an elaboration.

It seems reasonable to suppose that, whatever its precise origins, Freemasonry provided a haven for the unorthodox and their sympathizers during a time when such activity could result in one's death, and that this has something to do with the tradition of secret meetings and handshakes. As the Middle Ages gave way to the Modern Age, the need for secrecy subsided, and Freemasons began to openly declare their association with the fraternity, which began to organize itself more formally. In 1717, four Lodges which met at the "Apple-Tree Tavern, the Crown Ale-House near Drury Lane, the Goose and Gridiron in St. Paul's Churchyard, and the Rummer and Grapes Tavern in Westminster" in London, England (as recounted in (2)) combined together and formed the first public Grand Lodge, the Premier Grand Lodge of England (PGLE). The years following saw Grand Lodges open throughout Europe, as the new Freemasonry spread rapidly. How much of this was the spreading of Freemasonry itself, and how much was the public organization of pre-existing secret lodges, is not possible to say with certainty. The PGLE in the beginning did not have the current three degrees, but only the first two. The third degree appeared, so far as we know, around 1725.

Opinions about the origins, objectives and future of Freemasonry remain controversial from the times of its inception to our times. For example, Shoko Asahara, founder of the controversial Japanese religious group Aum Shinrikyo, has prophesized in some of his sermons that "in the future, Freemasonry will merge into united stream" with Aum Shinrikyo.

According to Sir Richard Burton, "Sufi-ism [was] the Eastern parent of Freemasonry." (See, F. Hitchman, Burton, Volume 1, p. 286) The possibility that Burton was correct is examined in detail by Idries Shah in his book entitled The Sufis, beginning on page 205.

The two great schisms of Freemasonry (1753 and 1877)

The PGLE (Premier Grand Lodge of England), along with those jurisdictions with which it was in amity, later came to be known colloquially as the Moderns, to distinguish them from a newer, rival group of Freemasonry, known as the Antients. The Antients broke away and formed their own Grand Lodge in 1753, prompted by the PGLE's making changes to the secret modes of recognition. Tensions between the two groups were very high at times. Benjamin Franklin was a Modern and a deist, for instance, but by the time he died, his Lodge had gone Antient, and would no longer recognize him as one of their own, declining even to give him a Masonic funeral (see Revolutionary Brotherhood, by Steven C. Bullock, Univ. N. Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1996).

The schism was healed in the years following 1813, when the competing Grand Lodges were amalgamated, by virtue of a delicately worded compromise which left English Masonry clearly not Christian, returned the modes of recognition to their pre-1753 form, kept Freemasonry per se as consisting of three degrees only, but which was ambiguously worded so as to allow the Moderns to think of the Antient Royal Arch degree as an optional higher degree, while still allowing the Antients to view it as the completion of the third degree (see [2]).

Because both the Antients and the Moderns had daughter Lodges throughout the world, and because many of those Lodges still exist, there is a great deal of variability in the Ritual used today, even between UGLE-recognized jurisdictions. Most Lodges conduct their Work in accordance with an agreed-upon single Rite, such as the York Rite (which is popular in the United States; not to be confused with York Rite), or the Canadian Rite (which is, in some ways, a concordance between the Rites used by the Antients and Moderns).

The second great schism in Freemasonry occurred in the years following 1877, when the GOdF started accepting atheists unreservedly. While the issue of atheism is probably the greatest single factor in the split with the GOdF, the English also point to the French recognition of women's Masonry and co-Masonry, as well as the tendency of French Masons to be more willing to discuss religion and politics in Lodge. While the French curtail such discussion, they do not ban it as outright as do the English (see [3]). The schism between the two branches has occasionally been breached for short periods of time, especially during the First World War when American Masons overseas wanted to be able to visit French Lodges (see [4]).

Concerning religious requirements, the oldest constitution of Freemasonry (that of Anderson, 1723) says only that a Mason "will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine" if he "rightly understands the Art". The only religion required was "that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves" ([5]). Masons disagree as to whether "stupid" and "irreligious" are meant as necessary or as accidental modifiers of "atheist" and "libertine". It is possible the ambiguity is intentional. In 1815, the newly amalgamated UGLE changed Anderson's constitutions to include more orthodox overtones: "Let a man's religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order, provided he believes in the glorious Architect of heaven and earth, and practices the sacred duties of morality." The English enforce this with a requirement for belief in a Supreme Being, and in his revealed will. While these requirements can still be interpreted in a non-theistic manner, they made it more difficult for unorthodox believers to enter the fraternity.

In 1849, the GOdF followed the English lead by adopting the "Supreme Being" requirement, but there was increasing pressure in Latin countries to openly admit atheists. There was an attempt at a compromise in 1875, by allowing the alternative phrase "Creative Principle" (which was less theistic-sounding than "Supreme Being"), but this was ultimately not enough for the GOdF, and in 1877 they went back to having no religious entrance requirements, adopting the original Anderson document of 1723 as their official Constitutions. They also created a modified ritual that made no direct verbal reference to the G.A.O.T.U. (although, as a symbol, it was arguably still present). This new Rite did not replace the older ones, but was added as an alternative (European jurisdictions in general tend not to restrict themselves to a single Rite, like most North American jurisdictions, but offer a menu of Rites, from which their Lodges can choose.)

Freemasonry and anticlericalism

Historically, Freemasonry has been identified with 19th-century bourgeois liberalism, and Freemasons have often tended to regard traditional Christianity as allied to reactionary powers defending the status quo against the advance of human freedom. Masonic lodges of this period were often associated with anticlericalism, and were part of a broader movement, as is pointed out by Ralph Gibson: "The republican enemies of the Church did not simply attack it on the grounds of its political alignment, but also in terms of more positive ideologies: to the old traditions of the Enlightenment were added first positivism, and then scientism. Science was supposed to be the key to the understanding of the universe, and even to enable men to grasp its essential meaning. Social science was believed to be able to provide the basis for an ethical system. This new faith was ardently preached under the Third Republic in Masonic lodges and circles of libre pensée, in learned journals, and in educated republican society in general" (A Social History of French Catholicism, 1789-1914 [London & New York: Routledge, 1989], pp.237-38).

Controversies over the historical involvements of Freemasonry and anticlericalism reach a peak in attempting to understand the role of Freemasonry in the history of anticlericalism in Portugal, Italy, and Mexico.

Freemasons were prominent in the foundation of the modern Mexican state and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the writing of its anticlerical constitution. Under the regime of Plutarco Elías Calles, the enforcement of anticlerical laws provoked the Cristero War.

These animosities persist. As recently as 2004, Norberto Cardinal Rivera of Mexico at a conference in Mexico City denounced the influence of Freemasonry.

Criticism and repression

Freemasonry has been a long-time favorite target of conspiracy theorists, who see it as an occult and evil power, often associated with Judaism, and usually either bent on world domination, or already secretly in control of world politics.

Freemasonry is almost universally banned in totalitarian states. In 1925, it was outlawed in Fascist Italy. In Nazi Germany, Freemasons were sent to concentration camps and all Masonic Lodges were ordered shut down. German Masons used the blue forget-me-not as a secret means of recognition and as a substitute for the traditional (and too easily recognized) square and compasses. According to some interpretations of canon law, Roman Catholics are forbidden to become Freemasons by their church, though Freemasons do not bar Roman Catholics and it is not terribly unusual to find Catholic members. The Eastern Orthodox church forbids its members from being masons. Freemasonry is also discouraged by some denominations of Protestantism.

In modern democracies, Freemasonry is occasionally accused of being a sort of club, or network, where a lot of influence peddling, and perhaps illegal dealings, take place. In the early 1800s, William Morgan disappeared after threatening to expose Freemasonry's secrets, causing some to claim that he had been murdered by Masons.

In Italy, in the 1970s, the P2 lodge was investigated in the wake of a financial scandal and a suspicious death. As a result, the lodge was expelled from Italian Masonry (although it continued to function independently).

In Nice, France, the head prosecutor accused some judges and other judicial personnel of deliberately stalling or refusing to elucidate cases involving Masons.

In the 1990s in Britain, the Labour Party government tried unsuccessfully to pass a law requiring all public officials who were Masons to make their affiliation public.

See also: Anti-Masonic Party, Anti-Masonry

Contemporary challenges

Freemasonry in some districts of the United States, the UK and other Anglo jurisdictions is losing members faster than it can get new petitioners. In the United States, the average age of members is around 45. By contrast, in South America and Continental Europe the number of Masons is generally on the rise.

Many Grand Lodges in the U.S. have tried a variety of often-controversial measures to address declining membership, including "one-day" ceremonies of the three degrees for large groups of candidates (as opposed to individual degree conferrals taking months or years to complete), advertising on billboards, and even active recruitment of new candidates by members (as opposed to the tradition of considering only those who actively seek membership for themselves). Some Masons object to the traditions and principles of Freemasonry being diluted by these "innovations", feeling that the Fraternity has survived centuries of social change without changing itself; others cite a need for Freemasonry to modernize and make itself relevant to new generations.

U.S. Freemasonry also faces an image problem because some people perceive it as being racist. This is due in part to the fact that only three Grand Lodges in the states that were part of the Confederacy during the Civil War era now recognize their Prince Hall counterparts (all those in the Northern part of the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii, recognize their Prince Hall counterparts; see [6]).

Cultural references

  • The plot of the opera "Die Zauberflöte" ("The Magic Flute") contains several references to Masonic ideals and ceremonies. Mozart and his librettist Emanuel Schikaneder were brothers in the same Masonic lodge.
  • The plot of the 2004 movie National Treasure revolves heavily around the Freemasons, and is somewhat unusual in that it depicts them in a benign light.

See also

External links

Last updated: 08-29-2005 22:16:28