The Fraternity of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons is the oldest, largest, and most widely known fraternal organization in the world. Literally thousands of books have been published about Freemasonry, but its organization and philosophy are still misunderstood by many. These notes therefore have been prepared to present correct information for everyone and thereby dispel incorrect beliefs.
In a broad sense, the history of Freemasonry may be divided into three periods, namely: the ancient or legendary, the medieval or operative, and the modern or speculative. The ancient or legendary period has been traced by historians to the Tenth Century B.C. when masons, or stone workers, were employed in the building of King Solomon's Temple. During the medieval or operative period, guilds or associations of artisans were formed as operative masons. Their work was largely confined to the building of cathedrals. As artificers in stone, these masons traveled through Europe making use of their skill and secrets of their guilds. The modern or speculative period occurred during the 17th Century. It was then that ecclesiastical building declined. This caused many guilds of stonemasons, then known as "Operative Masons" to accept as members those who were not a part of the mason's craft. These members were then called "Speculative," and acquired the designation of "Accepted Masons." As a result of this significant development, Free~ masonry, as it is known today, had its historic beginning. In 1717 four Lodges of Freemasons meeting in London, England, formed the first Grand Lodge in the world. This Grand Lodge chartered Masonic Lodges and Provincial Grand Lodges in many countries, including the United States.
MASONRY IN MASSACHUSETTS
Regular and duly constituted Freemasonry in North America was born in Massachusetts in 1733. It was on July 30 of that year in Boston, that Henry Price organized the Provincial Grand Lodge of Massachusetts at the famous Bunch of Grapes Tavern. This followed the issuance of a deputation in April 1733 by the Mother Grand Lodge of England appointing Henry Price the "Provincial Grand Master of New England and Dominions and Territories thereunto belonging." The 'Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts is the administrative authority for the 333 Masonic Lodges within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as well as Lodges located in the Canal Zone, Chile, China, Japan, and Caribbean Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, and Cuba.
MASONRY AROUND THE WORLD
There are approximately 6,000,000 Masons who are members of about 150 Grand Lodges in the world today. Of these, there are 49 Grand Lodges in the United States with a membership of about 4,000,000 Masons.
A MASONIC LODGE
The basic unit of all Grand Lodges is the Masonic Lodge, commonly referred to by its members as the "Blue Lodge." This is where Masonry operates on a local level under the Jurisdiction of its Grand Lodge. It is here that the Masonic Lodge receives and acts on petitions for membership in Freemasonry, and confers the three Symbolic Degrees known as the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft. and Master Mason Degrees.
Membership in Freemasonry is limited to adult males without regard to race, color, or creed, who are of good character and reputation. Information concerning membership must be requested by a man of his own free will and accord. from one he believes to be a Mason. This is necessary because Freemasonry does not solicit members, nor can a Mason invite a friend to join. All inquiry is strictly voluntary on the part of the applicant. Then he must be recommended by a member of the Masonic Lodge to which he is seeking admission. When his application is favorably received by the Lodge, the applicant must be given a unanimous ballot before he can receive the Degrees.
A VIEW OF FREEMASONRY
Freemasonry is many things, but one brief description could be that it is a society for the joint effort of its members towards individual· self-improvement, a fraternity for learning and cultivating the art of living and the building of character. It is not a club, nor a mutual benefit or insurance society. It is not an organization or a forum for political or social reform, and profit is not one of its motives, although members of the Fraternity do share in the many services and charity that are afforded them. The principles of Freemasonry are steadfastly acclaimed as Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. In its teachings great emphasis is placed on the cardinal virtues of all ages: Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, Justice, Faith, Hope, and Charity. Its ethical principles can be accepted by all good men, and tolerance toward all mankind is embraced by the entire membership.
Freemasonry is secret only in the manner by which one member recognizes another, and its method of symbolic instruction. It is not a secret society, but a society with secrets. Freemasonry makes no attempt to conceal its existence, its principles, its purpose, or its aim. Its members proudly declare their affiliation. Masonic buildings are publicly located and clearly identified. Gatherings of its members are frequently public with announcements published in the press. Its Constitutions are printed for any to see, and its rules and regulations arc available for inspection.
IS MASONRY A RELIGION?
Though religious in character, Masonry is not a religion, nor a substitute for one. It fosters belief in a Supreme Being - this being a prerequisite for membership. Freemasonry accepts good men who are found to be worthy, regardless of their religious convictions, and strives to make better men of them by emphasizing a firm belief in the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, and the Immortality of the Soul. A good Mason is invariably a better church member, and a regular church attendant makes a better Mason. Religious men go to church, not to their Lodge, to worship God. They go to their Masonic Lodge to learn moral truths and how to apply them to their everyday home and business lives.
A WAY OF LIFE
Freemasonry is Charity for all mankind; practice of the Golden Rule; love of country; serving God with reverence; treating the home and family with tenderness and affection; being humble; helping the weak and lowly; adherence to the cardinal virtues; and greeting everyone on the same level of human understanding.