What is Freemasonry?

It might be easier to say what Freemasonry is not. It is not a religion although it is religious in character. It is not a charity but masons donate over $2,000,000 (two million dollars) each day to charity. It is not an insurance fund for its members although most states have a Masonic Home where its members can spend their old age.

It has been called a secret society. It can be better described as a society with secrets. A trip to any good public library will reveal that there have been volumes written about this ancient fraternity. Its only true secrets are part of the ritual and certain means of recognition that are utilized between members. The members certainly don't hide their identity. Most of them proudly wear a ring or lapel pin bearing the well known emblem of the fraternity.

Freemasonry is known as the world's oldest fraternity. It has existed as an organized society since the early 1700's in much the same form as we know it today. It's basic structure, however, can be traced back at least to the ancient Egyptians. Much of its background comes directly from the medieval builders guilds and earlier, the Comancine Masters, Roman Collegia and Dionsysian Artificers.

Freemasonry is organized into local groups know as lodges. Each country in the world has its own Grand Lodge. None is subservient to any other although all are descended from the Grand Lodge of England. The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the third oldest in the entire world.

In ancient times, masons were the only men free to travel, thus the "Ancient Free and Accepted Masons." Originally only operative builders could become members of the craft. Gradually gentlemen of leisure were "accepted" as members.

Each Grand Lodge is divided into local Symbolic or "Blue" Lodges. In most jurisdictions Lodges are numbered as well as named. In Massachusetts they are named only and not numbered.

A man may ask or be invited to become a Mason , however he can become one only of his own free will and accord. The only requirements are to be male, at least 18 years of age, of good moral character, and the belief in a Supreme Being.

Masonry espouses no one religion. It is left up to the individual to determine with what name he will address his God.

There are three degrees in the Blue Lodge, Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason. After becoming a Master Mason a man can then petition one of the so called Concordant Orders such as the York Rite or Scottish Rite for membership.

The York Rite is composed of Chapters of Royal Arch Masons, Councils of Royal and Select Masters, and Commanderies of Knights Templar. Each has its own officers, by‑laws, procedures, and separate local, state and national organizations.

In the United States, the Scottish Rite has two administrative bodies called Supreme Councils, one Northern Jurisdiction and one Southern Jurisdiction. The degrees of this rite are conferred by the four bodies which compose it ‑ the Lodge of Perfection, Council of Princes of Jerusalem, Chapter of Rose Croix and Consistory of Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret. There are 32 degrees in the Scottish Rite for which a member may petition. The 33rd degree is strictly honorary and is by invitation only.

Even though the York and Scottish Rites confer degrees with larger numbers than three, there is no higher degree than that of Master Mason.

The Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine is probably one of the best know philanthropic and charitable organizations in the world today. Yet many people do not realize that to become part of this great organization a man must first become a Mason.

There are affiliated bodies such as the Order of the Eastern Star and the Order of Amaranth to which both Master Masons and their wives may belong. The Order of DeMolay is composed of young men, while Rainbow Girls and Job's Daughters are for girls.