+ What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is one of the world's oldest secular fraternal societies. The explanation may correct some misconceptions. Freemasonry is a society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values. Its members are taught by a series of ritual dramas, which follow ancient forms and use stonemasons' customs and tools as allegorical guides.
+ Is Freemasonry a secret society?
Freemasonry is a closed association whose new members are co-opted. The list of members is confidential and is not published in any public document.
Every Freemason is free to reveal his own membership to anyone he wants, but he is not allowed to reveal that of another member. What is done and said in the Lodge is theoretically covered by the seal secrecy and must not be disclosed to non-masons. This requirement of confidentiality is in every respect comparable to that of any board of directors or any similar association!
But if Freemasonry is discreet, it does have secrets that are nothing other than the means of mutual recognition that were used in former days by masons of the trade, who were often illiterate. These secrets, which are nowadays described in works available to anyone, are used only for ritual purposes, during the different Masonic ceremonies.
+ Is Masonry a religion?
Masonry is a fraternity, not a religion. Masonry acknowledges the existence of God, but Masonry does not tell a person which religion he should practice or how he should practice it. That is a function of his house of worship, not his fraternity.
Sometimes people confuse Masonry with a religion because we call some Masonic buildings "temples." But we use the word in the same sense that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called the Supreme Court a "Temple of Justice." Neither Masonry nor the Supreme Court is a religion just because its members meet in a "temple." Some lodges now refer to their buildings as Masonic centers.
+ Why is Masonry so secretive?
It really isn't secretive, although it sometimes has that reputation. Masons certainly don't make a secret of the fact that we are members of the fraternity. We wear rings, lapel pins, and tie clasps with Masonic emblems like the Square and Compass. Masonic buildings are clearly marked, and are usually listed in the phone book. Lodge activities are not secret - events are often listed in the newspapers, especially in smaller towns. But there are two traditional categories of secrets. First are the ways in which a man can identify himself as a Mason: grips and passwords. This is the same for any fraternity. Second are Masonic ceremonies, which are private (for members only) but are not secret.
+ Why does Masonry use symbols?
Everyone uses symbols every day because it allows us to communicate quickly. When you see a red light, you know what it means. When you see a circle with a line through it, you know it means "no." In fact, using symbols is probably the oldest method of communication and teaching. Masons use symbols for the same reasons. Certain symbols, mostly selected from the art of architecture, stand for certain ethics and principles of the organization. The "Square and Compass" is the most widely known symbol of Masonry. In one way, this symbol is the trademark for the fraternity. When you see it on a building, you know that Masons meet there.
+ Who can be a Freemason?
Any man who is at least 18 years old, is law-abiding, of good character and believes in God, can become a Freemason. The order is not associated with any religion: it is open to all men of all faiths, such as Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs. Contrary to popular belief, the Order has many Roman Catholics in its membership.
+ Can you be a Mason no matter your religion?
The only religious requirement is that candidates believe in the Supreme Being. If you can in good faith profess a belief in the Supreme Being, you are eligible to be a Mason. No atheists will ever knowingly be made a Mason. There are Christian (Catholic, Protestant, Mormon), Jewish, and Muslim Masons. It would be tedious and pointless to go into a religion-by-religion (and then denomination-by-denomination) discussion. The key points to remember are the requirement of belief in the Supreme Being and the fact that Masonry is a fraternity, not a religion.
+ What do Freemasons aim for?
They strive to be good citizens, to practice the highest moral and social standards, and to be men of friendship, charitable disposition, and integrity. It is often said that Freemasonry makes good men better.
+ What is the York Rite?
The York Rite, like the Scottish Rite, is an appendant body of Masonry, and confers degrees beyond the Blue Lodge's three degrees. It consists of nine degrees additional degrees: Mark Master, Past Master, Most Excellent Master, and Royal Arch Mason; the Cryptic Degrees of the Royal Master, Select Master, and Super Excellent Master; and the Chivalric Orders of the Order of the Red Cross, Order of the Knights of Malta and the Order of Knights Templar.
The Temple degrees, which comprise the top degrees of the York Rite are specifically Christian. Or at least, it can be stated that the oath is: in some Grand Lodges in the US and abroad, one need not be a Christian, but rather only be willing to take a Christian OATH. The difference here is that there are some who would willingly swear to defend the Christian faith on the grounds that they would defend any man's faith. The Chapter (or Royal Arch) and Council Of Royal and Select Masters (Cryptic Rite), which comprise the first two sections of the York Rite, are not specifically Christian.
+ What is the Scottish Rite?
The Scottish Rite is an appendant body of Masonry, meaning that it is not part of the Blue Lodge per se, but closely associated with Masonry. It requires that a man be a Master Mason before joining the Scottish Rite. The Scottish Rite confers the 4th through 32nd degrees. The degree work may be, but is not necessarily, completed at one time. Any Master Mason is eligible to join the Scottish Rite. The degrees of the Scottish Rite continue the symbolism of the first three Masonic degrees. For a discussion of the 33 degree, see below. The above refers to the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR), not the Rectified Scottish Rite , which exists both in UGLE-recognized and non-recognized Masonic bodies in the Europe.
+ What is the Shrine?
The Shrine is not an appendant body of Masonry, though the distinction would escape many. The Shrine confers no additional degrees. It was founded in 1872 (the Mecca Temple in New York City) and an Arabic theme was chosen. Hence, the distinctive red fez that Shriners wear at official functions. Members of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles the Mystic Shrine for North America (AAONMS is an anagram for "A MASON") are required to be Master Masons (3rd degree Masons). The Shrine is most noted for its emphasis on philanthropy and its jolly outlook on life -- it has been called "the playground of Masonry." This is expressed as "Pleasure without intemperance, hospitality without rudeness, and jollity without coarseness."
+ What is DeMolay?
The International Order of DeMolay is the world's largest fraternal organization for young men between the ages of 12 and 21. The Order was founded in Kansas City, Missouri on March 24, 1919 by Frank Sherman Land. DeMolay Chapters are sponsored by Masonic Lodges, and some members of the sponsoring body also serve as Advisors on the Chapter's Advisory Council. Structurally, it is similar to Masonry. DeMolay Chapters hold monthly or bi-weekly meetings with Masonic-like Ritual. Other activities include athletic tournaments and events, social functions (joint activities with Rainbow are encouraged), fund-raising activities, Masonic service activities, and civic and philanthropic activities. DeMolays are taught the seven cardinal virtues of the Order -- filial love, reverence for sacred things, courtesy, comradeship, fidelity, cleanness, and patriotism -- and the importance of practicing them in their daily lives.
The Order's namesake is Jacques DeMolay, who was the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar and who was executed by the Inquisition on March 18, 1314. Louis Lower, the first DeMolay, and his group of friends, when asked by Dad Land to choose a name for their group, believed that his heroic fidelity and loyalty to his fellow Templars were qualities with which they wanted their group to be identified. Mind you, Dad Land explained this to them before they chose their name.
+ What is a 33 degree Mason?
The Sovereign Grand Commander and other members of the Supreme Council of each Scottish Rite jurisdiction hold this degree. The Scottish Rite also awards a special honorary 33rd degree to those it feels have made outstanding contributions to Masonry, the community as a whole, and to mankind. There is no way to "achieve" this degree or "take" it, in the sense that one takes the 4-32 in the Scottish Rite. It is a singular honor, rarely bestowed, and greatly admired.
+ Who is the head of the Masons?
No one. Each Grand Lodge has its own jurisdiction and is the supreme authority within that jurisdiction. Obviously, many Grand Lodges have regular communication with each other, but official policy in one has no effect in another. In some countries, there is one Grand Lodge for the whole nation. In the United States, each state has its own Grand Lodge. Individual lodges are governed by a Master, who is elected each year from the membership. The best answer to this question, really, is that each individual Mason is in charge of himself. Despite the formal, hierarchical structure of the Lodge, our ceremonies remind us constantly that the only thing that makes a man a Mason is his demeanor and behavior... not his position in the Lodge.
+ Are there dues or fees associated with being a Mason?
Yes. Like all organizations, lodges must be able to pay their light bills. Typically, there is a one-time fee for the three degrees of Masonry, as well as regular annual dues. But these vary widely depending on the number of members, cost of living (rent in Manhattan is higher than it is in rural Oklahoma), the actual physical facilities of the Lodge, etc. The fees and dues, however, are not prohibitively expensive (the author is a college student and has no problem with them). Rather than give a single figure which may be very different than your local Lodge charges, or publishing an extended table of costs, it is easiest to simply refer the interested to their local Lodge.
+ What is a Masonic apron?
"During the ceremonies of his initiation, each Mason is presented with a white apron. It is, to him, an emblem of innocence and the badge of a Mason. It has, in all ages, been cherished by the rich, the poor, the high and the low. It is his for life. He will never receive another one and has, therefore, been cautioned to take it home and instructed in its care. While perfectly satisfactory for him to do so if he desires, he need not bring it to Lodge, as linen aprons are provided for his use during meetings." (From a pamphlet, "To the Lady and Family of a Mason") The above applies to the US. In many other countries, the Master Mason owns his regalia and brings it to the Lodge.
+ What is a Masonic funeral?
"Any member who was in good standing at the time of his death is entitled to a Masonic funeral if he or his family requests it. Such a request should be made to the Master of his Lodge who will make the necessary arrangements with the family, the mortuary, and the minister. A service is authorized by the jurisdiction in which you are located, and consists of participation at the mortuary, the beginning at the mortuary and the closing at the graveside, or graveside only. Pallbearers will be furnished at the request of the family. In general, the Lodge will do as much or as little as the nearest relative wishes it to do." (From a pamphlet, "To the Lady and Family of a Mason")
+ I am interested, but how do I proceed?
If you know a Mason, ask him about membership. He will be glad to tell you all about the Craft and the local lodge and give you a petition if you wish to join; or you can download a petition from the link below. If you do not know a Mason, drop a letter to the local lodge or email expressing your interest in joining and one of the officers will call you.
Typically, the process is as follows: The applicant fills out a petition. The petition asks for two sponsors, though if you meet and talk with the officers, they can usually find sponsors or act as sponsors themselves if you do not know anyone in the lodge. The petition is read at the lodge during the next business meeting. A committee is formed to investigate the candidate. The petition also asks for three character references. The committee meets with the candidate to answer questions, ascertain that he meets the criteria for membership, and find out a little about him. This is not a "grilling session," but rather a friendly and casual chat to make certain that the candidate has been properly informed about Masonry and was not improperly solicited. The committee also contacts the character references listed on the petition (typically asking if they know any reason why the candidate should not be accepted, etc.) The committee reports back to the lodge during the next business meeting and the candidate is voted on. The lodge will hold a secret ballot on the candidate's petition. A white ball elects, and a black ball (cube) rejects. For a candidate to be accepted, all present members of the lodge should ballot favorably and unanimously with white balls. One black ball is enough to deny a candidate's petition and admission into Masonry. If accepted, someone from the lodge (often the Secretary) contacts the candidate and informs him that he has been accepted and schedules a date for the Entered Apprentice Degree.