What is Freemasonry? 3
Benjamin M. Butt 32° K.C.C.H., P.G.M.
Our ancient brethren, who were operative masons, or builders, wore distinctive aprons to protect their clothing. Long ago, the free-Masons, so called because they were neither slaves nor bond servants, free to travel, began accepting worthy men of other callings into the Craft, hence the term, Free and Accepted Masons. The name and the apron have been retained. The basic apron color is white, embellished to denote present or past Masonic rank of the wearer.
With the admission of accepted Masons the Order gradually became speculative. The implements and paraphernalia of the builders became symbols which are used to illustrate the teachings. The manner of teaching and the means of identifying ourselves are our only secrets. We possess no other secrets of any kind and teach nothing that is not known elsewhere. "The great secret of Freemasonry," wrote Freemason Benjamin Franklin, "is that there is no secret," and we are not a secret organization. Our members, meeting times, and places are well-known.
Though we are essentially religious, admitting no atheists, we require no religious test other than a professed belief in a Supreme Being, by whatever name. Other qualifications are few, none religious. We are harmed by those who say Masonry is a religion.
Masonry has dozens of degrees in many Orders - all teach useful and impressive moral, patriotic, and social responsibilities. All of us are members of the so-called Blue Lodge in which we are taught the sublime truths we all recognize. The correct name is Symbolic Lodge, from our use of the implements of craft masonry as symbols. Some symbols are familiar to the public: the Square and Compasses, worn by members as insignia; the Level, and the Gavel. "On the Square" and "on the Level" are frequently heard in public and understood in a limited way. Our symbol of authority, the gavel, has been adopted universally, though the shape has changed since the original gavel was an implement used to prepare stones for the builder's use.
Our ancient brethren began buildings by laying a cornerstone. All angles, horizontals, and perpendiculars were measured from it. This laying, or leveling, came to be celebrated. Speculative Masons continued the practice by laying suitably inscribed symbolic cornerstones with a deposit of memorials of the occasion and times. This custom has been widely adopted.
Just as Freemasonry has contributed to our language and customs, it has added much to our moral, social, and governmental standards. We sponsor Morality, Brotherly Love, and Truth. We have and teach Faith in God, Hope of Immortality, and Charity to all Mankind — that Charity which overlooks the faults and weaknesses of one another and that Charity which is Benevolence.
Universal Benevolence is practiced individually as citizens and collectively as Masons. Some of it goes to our members, their widows and orphans, and we think this is creditable, even if confined to ourselves, which it is not.
Our interest in the collegiate Acacia Fraternity, named for one of our symbols, is due not only to the fact that the sponsors of that Fraternity are Masons, but it is also an indication of our continuing support of public education.
Speculative Lodges have ever been Democratic institutions in which equality and fraternity prevail. Each member has the vote and equal opportunity for advancement according to his Masonic ability. The first Grand Lodge was formed in 1717. It was Republican in form, being composed of the chosen representatives of the Lodges. The Government of this great Nation was modeled largely after the form of Masonic government: A Democracy within a Republic. The principles of Masonry were incorporated into the Constitution of the United States. The influence of Masonry on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is easily understood when one knows that the assemblies which formulated these documents contained Masons out of all proportion to those found in the general population.
To sum up, Builders we were, Builders we would remain. Many of us have a vision of a rebuilt America. We must once again become the strong, brave, just land with a will to act and the spirit to say and mean: "I have not yet begun to fight;" "Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead;" "Millons for defense, but not one cent for tribute." To do this we must build men. We must emulate the noble spirit expressed in the following verse:
An old man traveling in a lone highway
Came at evening cold and gray
To a chasm with banks so wide and deep,
That many a traveler feared to leap.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream held no fears for him.
But he turned on reaching the other side
And builded a bridge to span the tide.
"Old man," cried a fellow pilgrim near,
"You are wasting strength in building here,
You never again will pass this way
Your journey will end with the ending day.
This bridge you hane spent such labor on
Will serve not you, when the task is done,
You have crossed the chasm deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at eventide?"
But the builder raised his gray old head,
"Good friend, in the path I came," he said,
"There followeth after me today,
A youth whose feet must pass this wat.
This chasm, which was naught to me,
To the fair haired youth may, a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim,
My friend, I'm building this bridge for him."
— Will Allen Dromgoole