Q What is Freemasonry?
A Freemasonry is the U.K.’s largest secular, fraternal and charitable organisation. It teaches moral lessons and self-knowledge through participation in a progression of allegorical two-part plays.
Q How many Freemasons are there?
A Under the United Grand Lodge of England, there are 330,000 Freemasons, meeting in 8,644 lodges. There are separate Grand Lodges for Ireland (which covers north and south) and Scotland, with a combined membership of 150,000. Worldwide, there are probably 5 million members.
Q How and when did Freemasonry start?
A It is not known. The earliest recorded ‘making’ of a Freemason in England is that of Elias Ashmole in 1646. Organised Freemasonry began with the founding of the Grand Lodge of England on 24 June 1717, the first Grand Lodge in the world. Ireland followed in 1725 and Scotland in 1736. All the regular Grand Lodges in the world trace themselves back to one or more of the Grand Lodges in the British Isles. There are two main theories of origin. According to one, the operative stonemasons who built the great cathedrals and castles had lodges in which they discussed trade affairs. They had simple initiation ceremonies and, as there were no City and Guilds certificates, dues cards or trade union membership cards, they adopted secret signs and words to demonstrate that they were trained masons when they moved from site to site. In the 1600s, these operative Lodges began to accept non-operatives as “gentlemen masons”. Gradually these non-operative took over the lodges and turned them from operative to ‘free and accepted’ or ‘speculative’ Lodges. The other theory is that in the late 1500s and early 1600s, there was a group which was interested in the promotion of religious and political tolerance in an age of great intolerance when differences of opinion on matters of religion and politics were to lead to bloody civil war. In forming Freemasonry, they were trying to make better men and build a better world. As the means of teaching in those days was by allegory and symbolism, they took the idea of building as the central allegory on which to form their system. The main source of allegory was the Bible, the contents of which were known to everyone even if they could not read, and the only building described in detail in the Bible was King Solomon’s Temple, which became the basis of the ritual. The old trade guilds provided them with their basis administration of a Master, Wardens, Treasurer and Secretary, and the operative mason’s tools provided them with a wealth of symbols with which to illustrate the moral teachings of Freemasonry.
Q How many degrees are there in Freemasonry ?
A Basic Freemasonry consists of the three ‘Craft’ degrees (Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason) completed by the Royal Arch degree (Chapter). There are many other Masonic degrees and Orders which are called ‘additional’ because they add to the basis of the Craft and Royal Arch. They are not basic to Freemasonry but add to it by further expounding and illustrating the principles stated in the Craft and Royal Arch. Some of these additional degrees are numerically superior to the third degree but this does not affect the fact that they are additional to and not in anyway superior to or higher than the Craft. The ranks that these additional degrees carry have no standing with the Craft or Royal Arch.
Freemasonry is the oldest and largest world wide fraternity. Its members come from all walks of life and its only requirement for entry is the belief in a supreme being. Freemasonry is not a religion, it urges its members, however, to be faithful and devoted to their own religious beliefs. Indeed most lodges have brethren that are Roman Catholics, Methodists, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Anglicans and Protestants.
Masons, when asked “what is a freemason”, will give different answers, in their own words, based on their own experience and education. The most common answer is “a peculiar system of morality, based on allegory and illustrated with symbols”. The lessons Freemasonry teaches through its ceremonies are to do with moral values (governing relations between people) and its acknowledgement, without in any way crossing the boundaries of religion.
All Freemasons are taught that any duties which they have as a Freemason come only after their duties to family, work, and faith. In no circumstances should their membership interfere with these aspects of their lives. Freemasons feel that these lessons apply just as much today as they did when it took its modern form at the turn of the 17th century.