FREEMASONRY – JUST WHO ARE THE FREEMASONS?
That’s not a surprising question. Even though Freemasons are members of the largest and oldest fraternity in the world, MASONS or FREEMASONRY, and even though almost everyone has a father or grandfather or uncle who was a Mason, many people aren’t quite certain just who Masons are or what freemasonry is about.
The answer is simple. Freemasons are members of a fraternity known as Freemasonry or Masonry. A fraternity is a group of men (just as a sorority is a group of women) who join together because:
- There are things they want to do in the world.
- There are things they want to do “inside their own minds.”
- They enjoy being together with men they like and respect.
(we’ll look at some of these things later)
FREEMASONRY EXPLAINED – WHAT IS IT?
No one knows just how old freemasonry is because the actual origins have been lost in time. Probably, it arose from the guilds of stone masons who built the castles and cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Possibly, they were influenced by the Knights Templar, a group of Christian warrior monks formed in 1118 to help protect pilgrims making trips to the Holy Land.
In 1717, Freemasonry members created a formal organization in England when the first Grand Lodge was formed. A Grand Lodge is the administrative body in charge of Freemasonry in some geographical area. In the United States, there is a Grand Lodge of Freemasonry in each state and the District of Columbia. In Canada, there is a Grand Lodge of Freemasonry in each province. Local organizations of Freemasony are called lodges. There are freemasonry lodges in most towns, and large cities usually have several. There are about 13,200 lodges in the United States.
WH0 ARE THE MASONS?
Freemasons are a unique institution that has been a major part of community life in America for over two hundred and fifty (250) years. It is America’s largest and oldest fraternity, and one that continues to be an important part of many men’s personal lives and growth.
The fraternity of masons are an organization of men bound together with a philosophy of moral standards, mutual understanding and brotherhood in which all men are on a level and equal.
WHAT ARE THE MASONS?
Masons are men who have decided they like to feel good about themselves and others. They care about the future as well as the past, and do what they can, both alone and with others, to make the future good for everyone.
Many men over many generations have answered the question, “What are the Masons?” One of the most eloquent was written by the Reverend Joseph Fort Newton, an internationally honored minister of the first half of the 20th Century and Grand Chaplain, Grand Lodge of Iowa, 1911-1913.
IS FREEMASONRY A RELIGION?
Although Freemasonry is not a religion, its emphasis on the Fatherhood of God ensures that the Brotherhood of Man follows naturally. This coupled with the obligation to abide by the Golden Rule, particularly with a fellow Mason, makes for one of the strongest bonds of society. When you meet other Masons, the odds are very high indeed, that they will treat you as you would like to be treated.
The goal of this site is to serve as a forum for communication with the membership of the Michigan Masons in the Grand Lodge of Michigan, as well as an information resource for masons and non masons alike in Michigan and around the world.
WHEN ARE MEN CONSIDERED MASONS?
Freemasons and virtue:
When they can look out over the rivers, the hills, and the far horizon with a profound sense of their own littleness in the vast scheme of things, and yet have faith, hope, and courage — which is the root of every virtue.
Masons and nobility:
When they know that down in their heart every man is as noble, as vile, as divine, as diabolic, and as lonely as himself, and seeks to know, to forgive, and to love their fellowman.
Freemasons and sympathy:
When they know how to sympathize with men in their sorrows, yea, even in their sins — knowing that each man fights a hard fight against many odds.
When they have learned how to make friends and to keep them, and above all how to keep friends with themselves.
Masons and life:
When they love flowers, can hunt birds without a gun, and feels the thrill of an old forgotten joy when he hears the laugh of a little child.
When they can be happy and high-minded amid the meaner drudgeries of life.
Masons and rememberence:
When star-crowned trees and the glint of sunlight on flowing waters subdue themselves like the thought of one much loved and long dead.
Freemasons and aiding a distressed voice:
When no voice of distress reaches their ears in vain, and no hand seeks their aid without response.
When they find good in every faith that helps any man to lay hold of divine things and sees majestic meanings in life, whatever the name of that faith may be.
Masons and fellow man:
When they can look into a wayside puddle and see something beyond mud, and into the face of the most forlorn fellow mortal and see something beyond sin.
When they know how to pray, how to love, how to hope.
Masons and their God:
When they have kept faith with themselves, with their fellowman, and with their God; in their hand a sword for evil, in their heart a bit of a song — glad to live, but not afraid to die! – Masons.
Mason and Secrets:
Such men have found the only real secret of Masonry, and the one which it is trying to give to all the world. These are the Masons.
FROM BRITAIN TO AMERICA, HOW?
In a time when travel was by horseback and sailing ship, Masonry spread with amazing speed. By 1731, when Benjamin Franklin joined the fraternity, there were already several lodges in the Colonies, and Freemasonry spread rapidly as America expanded west. In addition to Franklin, many of the Founding Fathers — men such as George Washington, Paul Revere, Joseph Warren, and John Hancock — were Masons. Masons and Freemasonry played an important part in the Revolutionary War and an even more important part in the Constitutional Convention and the debates surrounding the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Many of those debates were held in Masonic lodges.
WHAT IS A LODGE?
The word “lodge” means both a group of Freemasonry members meeting in some place and the room or building in which they meet. Freemasonry or Masonic buildings are also sometimes called “temples” because much of the symbolism Freemasonry uses to teach its lessons comes from the building of King Solomon’s Temple in the Holy Land. The term “lodge” itself comes from the structures which the stonemasons built against the sides of the cathedrals during construction. In winter, when building had to stop, they lived in these lodges and worked at carving stone.
If you’ve ever watched C-SPAN’s coverage of the House of Commons in London, you’ll notice that the layout is about the same. Since Freemasonry came to America from England, we still use the English floorplan and English titles for the officers. The Worshipful Master of the Lodge sits in the East. “Worshipful” is an English term of respect which means the same thing as “Honorable.” He is called the Master of the lodge for the same reason that the leader of an orchestra is called the “Concert Master.” It’s simply an older term for “Leader.” In other organizations, he would be called “President.” The Senior and Junior Wardens are the First and Second Vice-Presidents. The Deacons are messengers, and the Stewards have charge of refreshments.
Every lodge has an altar holding a “Volume of the Sacred Law.” In the United States and Canada, that is almost always a Bible.
SO IS FREEMASONRY EDUCATION?
Yes. In a very real sense, education is at the center of Freemasonry. We have stressed its importance for a very long time. Back in the Middle Ages, schools were held in the lodges of stonemasons. You have to know a lot to build a cathedral — geometry, and structural engineering, and mathematics, just for a start. And that education was not very widely available. All the formal schools and colleges trained people for careers in the church, or in law or medicine. And you had to be a member of the social upper classes to go to those schools. Stonemasons did not come from the aristocracy. And so the lodges had to teach the necessary skills and information. Freemasonry dedication to education started there.
It has continued. Freemasons started some of the first public schools in both Europe and America. We supported legislation to make education universal. In the 1800s Masons as a group lobbied for the establishment of state-supported education and federal land-grant colleges. Today we give millions of dollars in scholarships each year. We encourage our members to give volunteer time to their local schools, buy classroom supplies for teachers, help with literacy programs, and do everything they can to help assure that each person, adult or child, has the best educational opportunities possible.
And Freemasonry supports continuing education and intellectual growth for its members, insisting that learning more about many things is important for anyone who wants to keep mentally alert and young.
Freemasonry teaches some important principles. There’s nothing very surprising in the list. Freemasonry teaches that:
Since God is the Creator, all men and women are the children of God. Because of that, all men and women are brothers and sisters, entitled to dignity, respect for their opinions, and consideration of their feelings.
Each person must take responsibility for his/her own life and actions. Neither wealth nor poverty, education nor ignorance, health nor sickness excuses any person from doing the best he or she can do or being the best person possible under the circumstances.
No one has the right to tell another person what he or she must think or believe. Each man and woman has an absolute right to intellectual, spiritual, economic, and political freedom. This is a right given by God, not by man. All tyranny, in every form, is illegitimate.
Each person must learn and practice self-control. Each person must make sure his spiritual nature triumphs over his animal nature. Another way to say the same thing is that even when we are tempted to anger, we must not be violent. Even when we are tempted to selfishness, we must be charitable. Even when we want to “write someone off,” we must remember that he or she is a human and entitled to our respect. Even when we want to give up, we must go on. Even when we are hated, we must return love, or, at a minimum, we must not hate back. It isn’t easy!
Faith must be in the center of our lives. We find that faith in our houses of worship, not in Freemasonry, but Freemasonry constantly teaches that a person’s faith, whatever it may be, is central to a good life.
Each person has a responsibly to be a good citizen, obeying the law. That doesn’t mean we can’t try to change things, but change must take place in legal ways.
It is important to work to make this world better for all who live in it. Freemasonry teaches the importance of doing good, not because it assures a person’s entrance into heaven — that’s a question for a religion, not a fraternity — but because we have a duty to all other men and women to make their lives as fulfilling as they can be.
Honor and integrity are essential to life. Life without honor and integrity is without meaning.
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS TO JOIN THE MASONS?
The person who wants to join Freemasonry must be a man (it’s a fraternity), sound in body and mind, who believes in God, is at least the minimum age required by Masonry in his state, and has a good reputation. (Incidentally, the “sound in body” requirement — which comes from the stonemasons of the Middle Ages — doesn’t mean that a physically challenged man cannot be a Mason; many are).
Those are the only “formal” requirements. But there are others, not so formal. He should believe in helping others. He should believe there is more to life than pleasure and money. He should be willing to respect the opinions of others. And he should want to grow and develop as a human being.
HOW DOES A MAN BECOME A FREEMASON?
Some men are surprised that no one has ever asked them to become a Mason. They may even feel that the Masons in their town don’t think they are “good enough” to join. But it doesn’t work that way. For hundreds of years, Masons have been forbidden to ask others to join the fraternity. We can talk to friends about Freemasonry. We can tell them about what Freemasonry does. We can tell them why we enjoy it. But we can’t ask, much less pressure, anyone to join.
There’s a good reason for that. It isn’t that we’re trying to be exclusive. But becoming a Mason is a very serious thing. Joining Freemasonry is making a permanent life commitment to live in certain ways. We’ve listed most of them above — to live with honor and integrity, to be willing to share with and care about others, to trust each other, and to place ultimate trust in God. No one should be “talked into” making such a decision.
So, when a man decides he wants to be a Freemasonry Mason, he asks a Mason for a petition or application. He fills it out and gives it to the Mason, and that Mason takes it to the local lodge. The Master of the lodge will appoint a committee to visit with the man and his family, find out a little about him and why he wants to become a member of the Masons, tell him and his family about Freeasonry, and answer their questions. The committee reports to the lodge, and the lodge votes on the petition. If the vote is affirmative — and it usually is — the lodge will contact the man to set the date for the Entered Apprentice Degree. When the person has completed all three degrees, he is a Master Mason and a full member of the Freemasonry fraternity.