Is it all about esoteric messages, ancient rituals, hidden handshakes, and colorful regalia? Freemasonry to many non-members is an enigma characterized by endless secrets. However, approximately six million members across the world cherish it as a serious engagement.
In the view of typical masons, conspiracy theories have no bearing. And despite popular speculation, the world’s governments and global banking system are not actually controlled by freemasons. Freemasonry is also not a secret society despite being labeled as such. Its iconic emblem of square and compass typical to McDonald’s arches, decorates their buildings, items, and highway welcome signs.
Thus, identification of what Freemasonry isn’t is easy though giving it an absolute definition is not. The ‘Craft doesn’t mean the same thing to all members. Thus, ten masons are likely to give ten different interpretations of it, including the go-to spiel: “Freemasonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.”
An Esoteric Culture
The date of Freemasonry’s creation is not specific. It is an esoteric culture of personal development that has passed the test of time. The current form of freemasonry dates back to the establishment of the first Grand Lodge in England in 1717, and Medieval Stonemason guilds before them. A further trace of the origins of masonic symbolism leads back to Roman Schools of Mysteries, the Kabbalah, the teachings of Cathars, Ancient Egypt’s Osirian and Sumerian mysteries, the Phoenicians and Ancient Greece’s Socratic mysteries.
The Regius Manuscript, considered as the oldest Freemasonry document, dates to around 1390. The manuscript’s content, however, indicates that Freemasonry had been in existence long before the time of its creation.
In the middle ages, all Freemasons participated in the construction of great European cathedrals, and historic structures of Gothic architecture.
From Conspicuous to Suspicious
The processes of building design, stone dressing, and bricklaying were all performed by operative Masons. They set up pillars, buttresses, and arches; built roofs and laid floors. They molded sculptures, carved out decorations, made and fixed stained glass windows. Their work required a high degree of skill, ingenuity, and mastery of geometry and mechanics. They were the pride of the middle ages.
Freemasons classified themselves by means of lodges. Buildings attached to uncompleted structures served as their improvised meeting venues. With the assistance of wardens, lodges were governed by masters. A secretary documented minutes while a treasurer released money for relief of injured, sick, or distressed Master Masons as well as their widows and orphans. Such lodges were the models of the modern Masonic lodge system.
In the sixteenth as well as the seventeenth century, social revolutions however led to a decline in operative Freemasonry. Masonic lodges began embracing non-operative members who merely joined not out of interest in building but out of curiosity to learn the Craft’s ancient customs and socialize with others.
On June 24, 1717, at least four of London’s and Westminster’s old lodges came together to form a grand lodge in London. Speculative Masonry is a more moral and symbolic sense that was born to form the basis for the three-degree instruction system in place today.
Modern Day Mind, Soul, and Body Builders
Medieval stonemasons hew rough stones from quarries and refined them to construct indelible buildings. Modern-day Masons refine their mind and spirit through personal development from symbolic rough ashlar (roughhew stone) to perfect ashlar (building stones with perfect shapes).
Lessons are organized into three separate categories or degrees:
- First Degree – Entered Apprentice
- Second Degree – Fellowcraft
- Third Degree – Master Mason.
Each degree signifies progress in spiritual and moral education as well as personal awareness. In the third degree, physical death as well as spiritual rebirth of man are taught with the story of Hiram Abiff, a central figured Masonic education who was the master builder if King Solomon’s temple.
Built in 970 B.C., King Solomon’s temple was regarded as the greatest manmade structure. It was a rare symbol of man’s creation from divine inspiration. In Freemasonry, the temple symbolizes how man should transform himself with God’s guidance into a superstructure comprising of perfected parts: mind, soul, and body.
Is Freemasonry a Religion?
As an organization, Freemasonry acknowledges the existence of a supreme being and requires it’s members to do the same. However, Freemasonry has no religious tenets and disciplines.
- Freemasons are required to believe in a supreme being but not the teachings of a particular religious system.
- Atheists cannot become Freemasons.
- To reaffirm each member’s dependence on their deity’s divine assistance, Masonic ceremonies include prayers (both traditional and improvised).
- Discussion of religious matters is not allowed at Masonic meetings.
Freemasonry does not have the fundamental attributes of religion:
- It does not impose religious dogma, theology, or orthodoxy.
- It does not offer any sacrament.
- It does not promise salvation by any means whatsoever.
- It’s secrets pertaining to modes of recognition, not salvation.
Freemasonry is a society of many secrets; however, it is not a secret society. Contrary to popular belief, it’s secrets do not include the location of the Holy Grail, designs of Egyptian pyramids, or a New World Order. Freemasons are not connected to things like the entrance to the hollow earth, obeying alien overlords, and the death of JFK.
Freemasons across the world have a variety of basic signs (physical and verbal) by which they recognize themselves. According to Masonic rituals, Mason’s peculiar handshake is ‘a certain passionate grip with which one Mason might know another, in the dark and in the light.’ Very simple. Through a variety of handshakes and passwords, Freemasons identify one another, their connection, and level of knowledge.
Masonic recognition modes (handshakes & passwords) can be found easily on the internet. However, don’t be misled into thinking that your simple Google search will unveil all about this prestigious organization in your face. Knowing the recognition signs (physical secrets) doesn’t necessarily mean you know Freemasonry; the same way reading an article about emergency treatment of leaking abdominal aortic aneurysm does not make you a qualified brain surgeon.
What’s The Essence Then?
Freemasonry has to do with experiences of the soul, the heart, and the mind; thus, no one can authoritatively claim to know that of another person. Though freemasonry’s scope is hard to define, owing to the Craft’s personal nature, the pages of Masonic ritual provide a simple answer.
Freemasons essence is established during a Lodge when two principal officers, namely the Worshipful Master and Senior Warden, have an exchange.
The Masonic lodges cardinal officers are as follows:
Worshipful Master (overseer), Senior Warden ( second-in-command) Senior Deacon, Treasurer, Junior Deacon, Chaplain, Tyler, Marshall.
Worshipful Master: “What came you here to do?”
Senior Warden: “To learn to subdue my passion and improve myself on masonry.”
This is a straightforward answer explaining what Freemasons are and do; they learn self-improvement and subdue their passions. Note that the use of ‘subdue’ rather than ‘suppress.’ According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, the word ‘subdue’ means to overcome something while ‘suppress’ is about holding back from normal growth. Freemasonry teaches that true mastery lies in the ability to control one’s passions, not abolishing them out altogether.
To Shaq From Pythagoras
The information Masonic teaching conveys are several centuries old; more than 2000 years and have been applied by great minds like Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, and Lao Tzu.
In contemporary times, renowned personalities like George Washington, Buzz Aldrin, Theodore Roosevelt, Yitzak Rabin, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jesse Jackson, Winston Churchill, and Billy Graham were all inspired by Masonic symbols. Walt Disney, Wolfgang Mozart, Captain James Cook, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Lewis and Clark, Pat ‘Mr. Miyagi’ Morita and Shaquille O’Neal all participated in Masonic education.
They were given symbols like square, pencil, level, beehive, skull and crossbones, a chisel, and a sword to discern their hidden meanings.
Something Very Personal
At the core, Freemasonry is a deeply personal pursuit that is understood differently by those who subscribe to it. It is an individual commitment to pursue a noble instruction system for improvement of mind, Soule, and body. Freemasonry is a form of philosophy, science, and art and a universal knowledge which gives its adherents an understanding of the relationship between individuals and the universe. Through this knowledge, an individual attains a sense of self-consciousness and purpose, which he harnesses for self-improvement.