Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest and largest non-religious, non-political, fraternal and charitable organisations. It teaches self-knowledge through participation in a progression of ceremonies. Members are expected to be of high moral standing and are encouraged to speak openly about Freemasonry. The following information is intended to explain Freemasonry as it is practised under the United Grand Lodge of England, which administers Lodges of Freemasons in England and Wales and in many places overseas.
Freemasonry is a society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values. Its members are taught its principles (moral lessons and self-knowledge) by a series of ritual dramas – a progression of allegorical two-part plays which are learnt by heart and performed within each Lodge – which follow ancient forms, and use stonemasons’ customs and tools as allegorical guides.
Freemasonry instils in its members a moral and ethical approach to life: its values are based on integrity, kindness, honesty and fairness. Members are urged to regard the interests of the family as paramount but, importantly, Freemasonry also teaches concern for people, care for the less fortunate and help for those in need.
When did it all begin?
Freemasonry, as a society is so ancient that it's origins are lost somewhere in the mists of time. What we do know, however, is that it had links to the stonemason's fraternities of old, who were responsible for the building of great cathedrals, castles and fortresses. The word 'Lodge' where Freemasons meet today, derives from that time, when stonemasons would build a place 'on site' where they could all meet, eat and sleep.
During the mid-1500s, Freemasons Lodges first appeared in London and these closely followed the structure and hierarchy of the trade guilds which had been created a century earlier as a way of regulating the qualifications of their craft.
Freemasonry today retains and follows the three accepted grades of skill that originated within the medieval stonemason's guild. These are the Entered Apprentice, the Fellowcraft and the Master Mason.
What qualifications do you need to become a Freemason?
Freemasonry is the oldest fraternal and charitable organisation in the world. So if you like to meet with friends, help others and believe that integrity is an important virtue, you already qualify. All Freemasons possess these traits as well as a concern for each other and for the common good. Peace and harmony is also important to Freemasons, especially when they meet, and that is why any discussion concerning religion or politics is banned in our Lodge meetings. The important qualification is that Freemasons believe in a Supreme Being whatever their particular belief.
How can Freemasonry help me?
A myth that surrounds Freemasonry is that it is a "jobs for the boys" network. It isn't. You'll make friends who will be there to help if you need it, but it isn't a fast track to business success What Freemasonry will do, however, is make you a better public speaker, administrator, organiser, even a better person because of it's moral and ethical approach to life.
How does Freemasonry help others?
One of our best kept secrets is that Freemasonry is one of the three biggest contributors to national and local charities (which includes the National Lottery). In Sussex alone Freemasons have made significant donations to local charities and good causes.
What happens when you join?
There are three stages to becoming a fully-fledged Freemason, all based on the ancient hierarchy of the stonemason's guilds. These are the Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason. Each level has its own special ceremony which is varied out without personal embarrassment or ridicule to the candidate. The perceived rolled-up trouser leg does happen, but this is a reference back to the old days when an apprentice had to be 'free'. meaning not owned by a master. The baring of the leg, now purely symbolic, shows that there are no shackle marks of slavery around the ankle. there are many other symbolic gestures that will be explained to you as you progress through the three stages.
What about the handshakes?
Different handshakes were used to demonstrate the level of skill and knowledge that a stonemason possessed. Freemasonry adopted this practice.
Why all the secrecy?
In the years building up to the World War 2, the Communist Soviet Union and Hitler's Nazi Germany began to persecute Freemasons. Because of this, Freemasonry adopted an attitude of privacy and failed to defend itself when the press speculated what went on behind closed doors.
Who can join?
Any man over the age of 21 who respects and wants to do good for his fellow man and woman.
Can any harm come to me?
No! Any mention of physical penalties has always been purely symbolic in Freemasonry.
Why are women excluded?
They're not. Lady Freemasons have their own Lodges which are strictly women only, and have the same values and goals as the male lodges.
Do you have to be wealthy to be a Freemason?
You have to commit to the annual subscriptions (an average of £3-£4 per week), and you will be expected to contribute to charity (perhaps equivalent to a pint of beer a week). In any event, it is never more than you can afford.