What is Masonry?

There are numerous accounts and explanations about Freemasonry. We provide this portion of our Website to help answer your questions, or clarify misinterpretations you may have about our Gentle Craft. Please feel free to "Click" on any of the frequently asked questions to go directly to any of the answers in the text on this page.

What is Masonry?
How was Masonry started?
What is a Lodge?
How is Masonry organized?
What are the degrees of Masonry?
Is Freemasonry a secret society?
What are Freemasons and what do they do?
What do Freemasons believe in?
How can I join?
How can I learn more about Masonry?

What is Masonry?

Masonry (Freemasonry) is the oldest and one of the largest fraternities in the world, and encourages good citizenship and political expression, but is not a political or religious organization. Its charitable activities are manifold; yet, it is not a welfare or benefit organization.

Masonry teaches that each person has a responsibility to make things better in the world. Most individuals will not be the ones to find a cure for cancer, or eliminate poverty, or help create world peace. Yet, every man, woman, and child is capable of doing something to help others, or to make things a little better.

Masonry is deeply involved with helping people -- it contributes millions of dollars every day in the United States alone, just to make life a little easier. The great majority of that help goes to people who are not Masons. Some of the Masonic charities are vast projects, like the Children's Hospitals and Burn Institutes built by the Shriners. The Scottish Rite Masons maintain two Children's Hospitals, one in Atlanta, Georgia, and one in Dallas, Texas, as well as a nationwide network of over 100 Childhood Language Disorders Clinics, Centers, and Programs. Some services are less noticeable, like helping a widow pay her electric bill or buying coats and shoes for disadvantaged children. The community services provided by Masons fall into a wide range of activities. With projects large or small, Masons and their Lodges try to help make the world a better place in which to live. The Lodge gives them a way to combine with others to perform and provide even more good.

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How was Masonry started?

The background of today's Masonry rests in the centuries of the endeavors of mankind, when industrious and reliable craftsmen built the beautiful cathedrals, abbeys, and castles of medieval Europe. The stonemasons who created these awe-inspiring structures formed craft guilds to protect the secrets of their building trade, and to pass on their knowledge to worthy and deserving apprentices. By the time the need for this type of "Operative" Mason declined in the Seventeenth Century, the practices and customs of the Operative Craft left such an impression, that men who had no inclination of being operative builders sought membership. These "Speculative" builders were learned and well-intentioned men, men of integrity, and good will. With their introductions in to the guilds, "Speculative Masonry" evolved.

In 1717, Masonry created a formal organization in England when the first Grand Lodge was formed. In a time when travel was by horseback and sailing ship, Masonry spread with amazing speed. It soon found its way to the shores of the Colonies in America. By 1731, when Benjamin Franklin joined the fraternity, there were already several lodges in the Colonies, and Masonry 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 Masonry played important roles in the Constitution Convention, and the debates surrounding the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Many of the debates were actually conducted in Masonic Lodges. Lewis and Clark, both believed to be practicing Masons, opened the expanse of the nation from sea to shining sea.

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What is a Lodge?

Lodges are the basic, and the oldest, organizations in Freemasonry. The term "Lodge" comes from the structures, which the stonemasons built against the sides of the cathedrals during construction. In winter, when building had to stop, Masons lived in these Lodges and worked at carving stone.

Today, a Lodge is a local organization of Masons. It is a group of Masons in one area that meet together, and it is also the physical building, or a room in which they meet. There are about 13,200 Lodges, like our Blue Lodge in Newport, in the United States.

A Grand Lodge is the administrative body in charge of Masonry in specific geographical areas. In the continental United States, there is a Grand Lodge in each State, and one in the District of Columbia, for a national total of 51 Grand Lodges.

What takes place in our lodges is partly the formal business that any association conducts. There is the consideration of minutes of previous meetings, dealings with petitions for membership, reviewing accounts of general and charitable funds, subscriptions, donations, and planning for new activities and endeavors.

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How is Masonry organized?

Each Lodge is governed by a Grand Lodge, which serves certain geographical areas. Each Grand Lodge is the supreme authority in its own jurisdiction or State, and owes no allegiance to any higher authority. Each Grand Lodge complies to the Ancient Masonic Uses and Landmarks, which come from past ages, adopts it's own laws and rituals, sets it's own standards of operation, and governs the Lodges and Masons within its defined jurisdiction.

Of the various officers of the Lodge, some are obligatory while others are optional. A Blue Lodge, like our Lodge in Newport, has a Worshipful Master (an English term of authority and respect), a Senior Warden, a Junior Warden, a Treasurer, a Secretary, a Marshal, a Senior Deacon, a Junior Deacon, an Inner Guard, and a Tyler. Other officers include our Chaplain, a Director of Ceremonies, an Assistant Director of Ceremonies, an Organist, an Assistant Secretary, and Stewards.

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What are the degrees of Masonry?

A degree is a stage or level of membership in our Gentle Craft. A candidate attains a level of membership in a degree ceremony. There are three degrees, called Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason. As you can see, the names are taken from the craft guilds. In the Middle Ages, when a person wanted to join a craft, such as the gold smiths or the carpenters or the stonemasons, he was first made an apprentice. As an apprentice, he learned the tools and skills of the trade. When he proved his skills, he became a "Fellow of the Craft" (today we would say "Journeyman"), and when he had exceptional ability, he was known as a Master of the Craft.

Each degree in Masonry uses symbols to teach the great lessons of life -- the importance of honor and integrity, of being a person on whom others can rely, of being both trusting and trustworthy, of realizing that you have a spiritual nature as well as a physical or animal nature, of the importance of self-control, of knowing how to love and be loved, of knowing how to keep confidential what others tell you so that they can "open up" without fear.

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Is Freemasonry a secret society?

Despite historical claims, Freemasonry is not a secret society. Freemasonry's so-called secrets are solely a ceremonial manner of demonstrating that one is a Freemason when in Lodge meetings. There have always been special signs and hand grips by which the initiated might make themselves known to one another, as well as private rituals which are not shared with nonmembers. In this respect, Masonry preserves its centuries-old reputation for secrecy, but the secretiveness is fittingly ceremonial. In fact, Brother Kelly, a Master Mason, founded the Grange Fraternity. Grange Halls dot rural America, and use many of the Masonic rituals.

There are more reasons why Freemasonry is not a secret society. The fraternity does not hide its existence or its membership. In fact, Masons are proud to be Masons, and often wear rings or lapel pins that show the Square and Compasses, the most widely used and recognized symbol of Masonry. They meet in Masonic Lodges and Masonic Halls, which are familiar sights in thousands of towns and cites. Our nation's telephone directories list Masonic Lodges in every state. When Freemasons meet, the meetings are public-record. Publications of Masonic Literature, and Internet entities like our Web Page are readily available to anyone.

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What are Freemasons and what do they do?

A Mason (or Freemason) is a man who has decided that he likes to feel good about himself and others. He cares about the future as well as the past, and does what he can, both alone and with others, to make the future better for everyone. A Mason is a respectable citizen, taught to conform to the moral laws of society and abide by the laws of the government under which he lives. He is a man of charity and good works.

Masonry is deeply involved with helping people. The great majority of that help goes to people who are not Masons. The Freemasons of America contribute millions dollars every day to charitable causes which they, alone, have established. These services to mankind represent an unparalleled example of the humanitarian commitment and concern of this unique and honorable Fraternity.

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What do Freemasons believe in?

Again, Freemasonry is not a religion, nor is it a substitute for religion. Masonry's essential qualification opens the fraternity to men of all religions. Masons are expected to continue to follow their own faith, although neither politics nor religions are discussed during the Lodge meetings.

Masons believe in kindness in the home, honesty in business, courtesy toward others, dependability in one's work, compassion for the unfortunate, resistance to evil, help for the weak, concern for good government, support for public education, and above all, a life-practicing reverence for God and love of fellow man.

Freemasons also believe in Three Great Principles that to them represent a way of achieving higher standards in life. The Three Great Principles are:

Brotherly Love
Every true Freemason will show tolerance and respect for the opinions of others and behave with kindness and understanding to his fellow creatures.

Relief
Freemasons are taught to practice charity, and to care, not only for their own, but also for the community as a whole, both by charitable giving and by voluntary efforts and works as individuals.

Truth
Freemasons strive for truth, requiring high moral standards and aiming to achieve them in their own lives.

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How can I join?

Becoming a Mason is a solemn and sincere undertaking. Joining Masonry means making a profound, life commitment to act and live in certain ways. To live with honor and integrity, to be willing to share and care about others, to trust each other, and to place ultimate trust in God. Masons will not ask you to join. It is a requirement that you join of your own free will and accord.

If you decide you want to be a Mason, you need to ask a Mason for a petition or application. You need to fill it out and give it back to your friend, and your friend, a true Mason, will bring it to our Lodge, or any Lodge in your area. The Worshipful Master of the Lodge will appoint a committee to visit you and your family, to learn more about you, and why you want to be a Mason. Your friend will tell you and your family about Masonry and try to answer all your questions. The committee then reports to our Lodge, and the Lodge votes on the petition. If the vote is affirmative -- and it usually is -- the Lodge will contact you to set the date for the Entered Apprentice Degree. Once you have completed all three degrees, you will be a Master Mason and a full member of the Fraternity.

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How can I learn more about Masonry?

There are hundreds of resources about Masonry on the Internet. You may wish to visit our "Masonic Links" page for some of the best of them.

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