Freemasonry – Answers for yourself, your partner, family and friends
What is it all about?
In a few words, friendship, charity and fairness to others. Freemasons practice this by:
- Showing respect for each other and each individual’s opinions.
- Being understanding of all people and their beliefs.
- Embracing charity by recognising that there are many worse off than ourselves and by supporting our own communities.
- Working very hard to abide by a high moral standard of behaviour.
How is it organised?
Freemasons meet in a “Lodge”, of which there are a great many, spread around the globe. There are three levels of the organisation, locally at a building which may hold anywhere between one and several different Lodges, depending on the locality. At county level, which we call “Provincial” and nationally at the United Grand Lodge of England, which is based at Freemasons Hall, Great Queen Street in London. (This is a building open to the public and well worth a visit should you be in London).
The senior member of a Lodge is known as the Worshipful Master and usually holds that office for either 1 or 2 years. At Provincial level the head is the Provincial Grand Master and he holds office for up to 10 years. The head of our order, our Grand Master is currently HRH The Duke of Kent who holds office for so long as he feels able.
How often do they meet?
Most Lodges meet between 4 and 8 times a year, at regular fixed dates, for instance the 2nd Wednesday of the month, or similar.
What happens at the meetings?
There is always a certain amount of routine business, agreeing the minutes of the previous meeting, setting the level of fees, appointing people to the various jobs in the Lodge, correspondence and such like. Then there are ceremonies for new members and their progress through the Lodge, what we call degree ceremonies of which there are three. We use a form of words, which we call “our ritual” for these ceremonies, which date back hundreds of years. Think of it as a small play using ancient language. On occasions when there is no ceremony, then a visiting speaker may be arranged. After the official meeting is over there is usually a dinner, which we call our “Festive Board”, to encourage socialising and harmony. Very important in Freemasonry.
Why are they secret?
Freemasonry has its origins in ancient stone masonry. In those times the “operative” masons would travel the country seeking work. As they were mainly illiterate, a system of signs was developed by which means they could prove that they were qualified to certain levels. Of necessity those signs were secret and so it is today, freemasons use “secret” signs to show that they are qualified to attend.
That said, the vast majority of what we do is not secret. Our “rulebook”, (or Book of Constitutions) is freely available to buy or borrow from your local library, as is our “ritual book”. So, not that secret!
What about religion?
Freemasonry is categorically not a religion or a variation on one. We are open to anyone of any religion, we simply ask that they affirm that they have a belief in “A Supreme Being”, we do not ask who that is. The discussion of religious matters or politics is expressly forbidden in our meetings. These are the two subjects which cause great divide and as our aim is tolerance and friendship, they are certainly not compatible.
What advantages can you gain from being a Freemason?
We are expressly forbidden from using Freemasonry for personal gain or advantage. What we gain is friendship, respect for others and trust.
Why those funny aprons?
Well, as I said earlier, Freemasonry springs from the original stonemasons. They wore aprons to protect their clothes and themselves from the dirt and materials that were used and for carrying the tools of their trade. We use aprons to symbolically distinguish our ranks.
Why not include women?
Again, historically, stonemasons were men only and in honouring that tradition, freemasonry has remained men only. There are however numerous all-female Lodges throughout the country, but they are not affiliated to the Grand Lodge of England.
How do partners become involved?
Most Lodges now hold social functions to which partners and families are encouraged to attend. The social side of Freemasonry has grown enormously in recent years and is a trend to be encouraged.
What about charity?
Again, very important to a Freemason. We have specific Masonic charities which we support to help both Brethren and their dependants who have fallen on hard times or suffered illness or bereavement. We also raise enormous sums both locally and nationally, which are foremost in donating both nationally and internationally towards disaster relief, or, wherever needed throughout the world.
What makes a man ideal for Freemasonry?
A man who has a high ethical and moral standard, a respect for our law and our Monarch and a desire to further himself by helping others. It is often said that Freemasonry, “takes a good man and makes him better”.