Frequently Asked Questions
What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry has been around for over three hundred years, and has evolved as it spread around the globe. The basic principles are always the same, but the implementation might differ slightly from state to state, or from country to country.
Bearing that in mind, one short definition of Freemasonry (or Masonry) is that it’s a system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.
A longer definition would be that it’s a society of men concerned with spiritual values — a fraternity that teaches its precepts by a series of ritual dramas which follow ancient forms and uses stonemasons’ customs and tools as allegorical guides.
Is Masonry a religion?
No, it’s not. Masonry requires that its members believe in a Supreme Being, but leaves the definition of that Supreme Being to the individual. It welcomes Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and members of other religions. It has no dogma of its own, no religious teachings, and it doesn’t offer salvation or redemption. Such matters are left entirely to the individual Mason and the religion to which he belongs.
Is Masonry a charity?
Not as such. It’s an institution that promotes charity and charitable work. Many lodges contribute regularly to charitable organizations, or do voluntary work for local causes such as schools, hospitals, and so on.
Can anyone become a Mason?
There are a few basic requirements:
- You are an adult male (usually over 18-21) of good character and recommended by a Mason.
- You believe in a Supreme Being as defined by your particular religious beliefs.
- You are interested in becoming a Mason because you hold a favorable opinion of the institution, and your decision to apply is based on your own ‘free will and accord.’ No one will compel you to join. It’s your decision.
How do I become a Mason?
You become a Mason by joining a lodge. In large cities there can be dozens of lodges. In rural areas there may be only one or two. The first step is making contact. If you know a Mason, just ask him about his lodge, or about Masonry in general. He’ll be happy to help. If you don’t know a Mason, or don’t know the location of a nearby lodge, go online and search for the “Grand Lodge” of your state, province, or country. Drop them an email and they’ll tell you what lodges there are in your area and will put you in touch with a representative. The important thing to bear in mind is that you have to take the first step.
How do I join a lodge?
If you’ve made up your mind that you want to become a Mason, the next step is to find two Masons who are willing to sponsor you, and submit what’s called a “petition” to their lodge. Petition is just a fancy word for application form. What happens next can vary from place to place, but usually the lodge will want to find out more about you and your motivation for joining. This can take the form of a friendly chat, or it can be a formal interview. If the Masons who talk with you feel that you’d make a good fit for their lodge, your petition will be put to a secret ballot at a lodge meeting. If that ballot is favorable, you can then receive the first of three Masonic degrees.
What are degrees?
The old stonemasons, on whom Masonry is modelled, had various ranks depending on their skill as craftsmen. Modern Masonry has three such ranks or degrees: Entered Apprentice (EA), Fellow Craft (FC), and Master Mason (MM). Each degree consists of a ceremony in which the candidate is taught the significance of that degree and the symbols and moral precepts associated with it.
Are the degrees secret?
They’re secret in so far as the degree ceremonies are not open to the public. Only the members of the lodge can take part, or visiting Masons from other lodges. Anyone interested in the degrees can visit a library, or go online, and soon find out about them.
Are there secret handshakes?
Yes, they’re one of the traditions that Masonry has inherited from the old stonemasons who built cathedrals and palaces. In the same way that modern electricians or plumbers or other skilled tradesmen have IDs that prove they are qualified to do the job, the old stonemasons recognized one another by passwords and handshakes. Masons today continue this tradition by having passwords and handshakes that identify an Entered Apprentice (EA), Fellow Craft (FC), or Master Mason (MM).
Are there secret higher degrees?
No. Masonry has only three degrees: EA, FC, and MM. There are other institutions that have a similar system of degrees or grades. Some have 32 or 33, and some have as many as 96 or even more. Some Masons join these other institutions, but the degrees are in no way “higher”. They’re often called “appendant degrees”, meaning “attached to”, but this label can be misleading. The three degrees of Masonry are not “attached” to anything.
What will happen if I become a Mason and then decide to quit?
Absolutely nothing! In the same way that joining is up to you, so is leaving. You can make it short by just walking away, or you can take the recommended path, which is by telling the Secretary of your lodge that you’d like to quit. He won’t try to stop you. Instead he’ll offer to give you what’s sometimes called a “demit” or certificate of good standing. If you so choose, you can use that demit to return to Masonry at a later date.
I’m interested in Masonry, but I’m busy with work and family. What should I do?”
Talk it over with a Mason. He’ll understand your situation and will advise you. Masonry requires a certain level of commitment with regard to time and expense. Lodges usually meet once a month, though it can be less and it can be more. Some meet in the evenings, some in the daytime. All lodges charge a fee for initiation (a kind of enrolment fee) and then an annual fee (a kind of subscription). These fees are listed in the by-laws of each lodge, and have to be approved by Grand Lodge. Your Masonic contact will explain all these to you and will help you decide whether to go ahead with your application, or whether to wait until things settle down for you.
What’s a Grand Lodge?
It’s the governing body that supervises the Masonic activities of lodges in its area. Grand Lodges are usually defined geographically, with one for each state, province, district, or country. Every Masonic lodge belongs to a Grand Lodge, from which it derives its authority or “charter” to confer degrees.
Why are there two Grand Lodges in my state/country?
An unsatisfactory answer to this question would be, “Because of history.” In the USA there are two traditions going back to the earliest days of Masonry. One tradition doesn’t have a name, but is sometimes referred to as “mainstream”. The other tradition is called “Prince Hall”, after the Mason who founded a number of lodges with predominantly Afro-American memberships. In a few countries outside the USA, two or more Grand Lodges exist as a result of disagreements over protocol. If you live in a state or country with two or more Grand Lodges, you may wish to do a little research online, or chat with a knowledgeable Mason.
I’m a woman. Why can’t I become a Mason?
The short answer is that you can. Traditional Masonry dates back three hundred years and was created as a fraternity, meaning an association of men. Ever since then Masonry has accepted only male candidates. However, as Masonry has spread and evolved, many women have expressed an interest and there are now non-traditional lodges that accept only women, or accept both men and women. Some of these female or mixed lodges practise the same Masonry as traditional lodges, while some have slightly different degrees and rituals. The important thing to remember is that traditional Masonry doesn’t “recognize” the non-traditional lodges. It’s a little like one country not having diplomatic relations with another.
Are the men with funny hats Masons?
If by “men with funny hats” you mean Shriners, then yes, they’re Masons. Consider them a bunch of Masons who combine charity work (especially children’s hospitals) with good-natured fellowship and fun.