What is freemasonry?
Freemasonry is a moral and ethical education society, and a universal brotherhood. It is affectionately known to its members as ‘The Craft’. Its primary aim is to teach morality and ethics to its members.
One of the best ways to define Freemasonry is to quote from Masonic ritual itself: ‘Freemasonry is a peculiar System of Morality veiled in Allegory and illustrated by Symbols’. ‘Peculiar’ here means ‘special’ rather than ‘strange’ or ‘unusual’. The idea of teaching through allegories and symbols is not a new one. All great teachers have followed this method. The System of Morality is that which every Freemason is bound to profess and practise. It includes principles with which he was to some extent familiar before his entry into Freemasonry. The new member will, nevertheless, find them presented in new ways and in forms different from those previously encountered. If he finds in Masonic teaching nothing particularly new, he must remember that in some respects at least ‘there is nothing new under the sun’, and that the essence of morality is to be found in the simplicity of its requirements.
Freemasonry recognises the richness of the cultural beliefs of all men and excludes no individual from membership on the basis of race, religion or politics. In this sense it is a liberal organisation, recognising the value of all men who share a belief in a Supreme Being, the goal of self-improvement, and who work towards the betterment of mankind. A man who becomes a Freemason makes a commitment to strive for excellence in all aspects of daily life.
Three great principles that are the cornerstone of the beliefs of Freemasonry are taught in lodges throughout the world. These are traditionally described as Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth.
Freemasons are expected to practise these principles by:
- Showing tolerance and respect for the opinions of others and behaving with kindness and understanding to all people.
- Practising charity and care for their own and for the community by charitable giving and voluntary work.
- Striving for achievement of the highest ethical and moral behaviour and spiritual truth.
A wider look at ‘Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth’ is useful:
Masonry is a worldwide brotherhood, with a worldwide membership. Masons call themselves ‘brothers’ (plural: ‘brethren’). Within the parameters of Masonic rules, a brother can visit and sit in any Masonic lodge in the world. It has been said that ‘There is no other organisation in the world where a man can walk into a room of strangers, anywhere on the surface of the globe, and immediately be welcomed and honoured as a friend and brother’. The Brotherly Love taught in Freemasonry is not confined just to Freemasons—Masons are taught that all are our brothers, regardless of religion, race or creed.
One of the great teachings of Freemasonry is charity. That said, the Craft is not a ‘charitable organisation’ like Rotary or Lions. Unlike these organisations, it does not spend its total energies raising monies and dispensing charity. Instead, its principal role in this area is to teach charity as an important part of life. As a result, Masons are expected to practice charity in their daily lives. Charity, to a Freemason, can be defined as helping others, rather than necessarily ‘dipping into one’s pocket’. That said, many lodges and brethren donate a great deal of money and time to charitable pursuits through the medium of Freemasonry, as well as, in many instances, through non-Masonic charitable or community organisations. Many Masons are also Rotarians, Lions, etc. In many areas of the world, Masonry operates a wide variety of Masonic Homes for the elderly, and hospitals. In most cases, one does not have to be a Mason, or relative, to be admitted to these facilities.
The teaching of Truth, in a Masonic sense, is seen as a belief in God (his own God) and His revealed will. To become a Mason, one must believe in a Supreme Being – God as each individual may perceive Him.
Why is Freemasonry so popular?
There must be a reason why millions of men have joined Freemasonry over the last few centuries. Undoubtedly, men have joined for a variety of reasons, based on their perceptions of it—which will have come, invariably from friends and relatives who were already members. Some men join, find it is not for them, and leave. A great many more join and stay as members for life.
According to Masonic ritual, men are attracted to Freemasonry in three ways:
- ‘By a favourable opinion preconceived of the Institution’.This could be formed by reading and study, but is more likely the result of a personal acquaintance with a Mason—father, relative or friend.
- ‘A general desire for knowledge’.As Freemasonry is founded on the purest principles of piety and virtue—or faith in God, the acceptance of the Brotherhood of Man and a belief in Immortal Life—it is not surprising that so many are drawn by its philosophy and idealism to seek membership in the Craft.
- ‘A sincere wish to render yourself more extensively serviceable to your fellow creatures’.Brotherly love, in Freemasonry, finds expression in benevolence and charity. It seeks to improve our citizenship, intensify our patriotism and extend our philanthropy.
Friendship is one of the strongest appeals of Freemasonry. More addresses are given in Masonic Lodges on friendshipthan on any other theme. Friendship becomes an unworthy motive when we allow the solicitation of a friend to over-ride our own set inclination and considered judgment. The reason to enter Freemasonry must be the moral choice of a free man—even free from the coercion and persuasion of a friend.
A conscientious candidate for Freemasonry must also be free from any form of self-interest. A true ethical society such as Freemasonry demands of all its would-be members, faith in God and the free acceptance of the Moral Law.
This is the dynamic of Freemasonry today. To be sure, it has an intellectual appeal and it captures the imagination in colourful and often dramatic rituals, but underlying all this is a sense of belonging to a Brotherhood reaching far back into the historic past and full of promise for the limitless future. The deeper messages of our Rituals have more impressiveness as they are illuminated by friendliness and a unity of spirit, tied together by a bond of mutual understanding and peace.