The Project for Metaphysical, Spiritual and Religious Study

Home
Holistic Theology
Introduction
Metaphysics
Spirituality
Religions of the World
Historic Time Line of World Religion
A Dictionary of the Divine
Mind, Body and Spirit
New Age and the New Thought Movement
The Earth's Sacred Points of Energy
Prophets and Teachers
Patron Saints
Angels and other Spritual Beings
The Prayer Page
Creationism, Evolution and Intelligent Design
One World Religion
The New Thought Movement
New Religious Movements and Cults
Secret Societies
Religious Denominations, Spiritual Groups and Organizations
Religious Symbols
Religious Texts
The Gospels
Agnosticism
Gnostics, Gnostic Gospels, & Gnosticism
Zionism - Definition and Early History
A Brief History of Israel and Palestine and the Conflict
The Prophecy Page
The End Times
The After Life
Courses in Metaphysics, Sprituality and Religion (FREE)
Interesting Links
Patrick's Favorite Links
What I believe

Freemasonry

the Square and Compasses

Freemasonry is a worldwide fraternal organisation. Its members are reportedly joined together by shared ideals of both a moral and metaphysical nature, and, in most of its branches, by a common belief in a Supreme Being. Freemasonry is a secret or esoteric society, in that certain aspects of its internal work are not generally disclosed to the public. Masons give numerous reasons for this, one of which is that Freemasonry uses an initiatory system of degrees to explore ethical and philosophical issues, and that the system is less effective if the observer knows beforehand what will happen. It often calls itself "a beautiful system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." 

Organisational Structure

There are many different jurisdictions of governance of Freemasonry, each sovereign and independent of the others, and usually defined according to a geographic territory. Thus there is no central Masonic authority, although each jurisdiction maintains a list of other jurisdictions that it formally recognizes. If the other jurisdiction reciprocates the recognition, the two jurisdictions are said to be in amity, which permits the members of the one jurisdiction to attend closed meetings of the other jurisdiction's Lodges, and vice-versa. Generally speaking, to be recognized by another jurisdiction, one must (at least) meet that jurisdiction's requirements for regularity. This generally means that one must have in place, at least, the ancient landmarks of Freemasonry—the essential characteristics considered to be universal to Freemasonry in any culture. In keeping with the decentralized and non-dogmatic nature of Freemasonry, however, there is no universally accepted list of landmarks, and even jurisdictions in amity with each other often have completely different ideas as to what those landmarks are. Many jurisdictions take no official position at all as to what the landmarks are.

Freemasonry is often said to consist of two different branches: the Anglo and the Continental traditions. In reality, there is no tidy way to split jurisdictions into distinct camps like this. For instance, jurisdiction A might recognize B, which recognizes C, which does not recognize A. In addition, the geographical territory of one jurisdiction may overlap with another's, which may affect their relations, for purely territorial reasons. In other cases, one jurisdiction may overlook irregularities in another due simply to a desire to maintain friendly relations. Also, a jurisdiction may be formally affiliated with one tradition, while maintaining informal ties with the other. For all these reasons, labels like "Anglo" and "Continental" must be taken only as rough indicators, not as any kind of clear designation.

The Freemasons' Hall in Great Queen Street, London, England
Enlarge
The Freemasons' Hall in Great Queen Street, London, England

The ruling authority of a Masonic jurisdiction is usually called a , or sometimes a Grand Orient. These normally correspond to a single country, although their territory can be broader or narrower than that. (In North America, each state and province has its own Grand Lodge.) The oldest jurisdiction in the Anglo branch of Freemasonry is the Grand Lodge of England (GLE) (the Moderns), founded in 1717. This later became the >United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) when it joined with another English Grand Lodge (the Antients) in 1813. It is today the largest jurisdiction in England, and generally considered to be the oldest in the world. Its headquarters are at Freemasons Hall, Great Queen Street, London. The oldest in the Continental branch, and the largest jurisdiction in France, is the Grand Orient de France (GOdF), founded in 1728. At one time, the Anglo and Continental branches recognized each other, but most jurisdictions cut off formal relations with the GOdF around the time it started unreservedly admitting atheists, in 1877. In most Latin countries, and in Belgium, the French style of Freemasonry predominates. The rest of the world, accounting for the bulk of Freemasonry, tends to follow the English lead.

Membership Requirements

Freemasonry accepts members from almost any religion, including ChristianityJudaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and so forth. While atheists and agnostics are unreservedly accepted in Lodges working in the Continental tradition, most Masonic Lodges have required, since the early 19th century, that a candidate must profess a belief in a Supreme Being. But even there, one finds a high degree of non-dogmatism, and the phrase Supreme Being is often given a very broad interpretation, usually allowing Deism and often even allowing naturalistic views of "God/Nature" in the tradition of Spinoza and Goethe (himself a Freemason), or views of The Ultimate or Cosmic Oneness, such as found in some Eastern religions and in Western (or for that matter, in modern cosmology). This leads some to suggest that even Anglo Freemasonry will, in practice, end up accepting certain kinds of atheists—those willing to adopt a certain brand of spiritual language. Such claims are difficult to evaluate, since many Anglo jurisdictions consider any further enquiry into a prospective member's religion, beyond the "Supreme Being" question, to be off limits. However, in some Anglo jurisdictions (mostly English-speaking), Freemasonry is actually less tolerant of naturalism than it was in the 18th century, and specific religious requirements with more theistic and orthodox overtones have been added since the early 19th century, including (mostly in North America) belief in the immortality of the soul. The Freemasonry that predominates in Scandinavia, known as the Swedish Rite, accepts only Christians.

Generally, to be a Freemason, one must:

  1. be a man who comes of his own free will
  2. believe in a Supreme Being, or, in some jurisdictions, a Creative Principle (unless joining a jurisdiction with no religious requirement, as in the Continental tradition),
  3. be at least the minimum age (18–25 years depending on the jurisdiction, but commonly 21),
  4. be of sound mind, body and of good morals, and
  5. be free (or "born free", i.e. not born a slave).

The "free born" requirement is moot in modern Lodges; it remains for purely historical reasons. The "sound body" requirement, originally perhaps meant to ensure that operative masons would be able to meet the demands of their profession, is today generally taken to mean "physically capable of taking part in Lodge rituals", and most Lodges today are quite flexible when it comes to accommodating disabled candidates.

Principles and activities

Freemasonry upholds the principles of "Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth" (or in France: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"). It teaches moral lessons through rituals. Members working through the rituals are taught by "degrees". Freemasonry is also widely involved in charity and community service, as well as providing a social outlet for their members. There is considerable variance in the emphasis on these different aspects of Masonry around the world. In Continental Europe, the philosophical side of Freemasonry is more emphasized, while in Britain, North America, and the English-speaking parts of the world, the charity, service and social club aspects are more emphasized.

While Freemasonry as an organisation does not directly involve itself in politics, its members have tended over the years to support certain kinds of political causes with which they have become associated: the separation of Church and State, the replacement of religiously-affiliated schools with secular public schools, and democratic revolutions (such as the United States and France, as well as revolutions in Mexico, Brazil, Greece, Poland and repeatedly in Italy). In some places, especially Continental Europe and Mexico, Freemasonry has at times taken on an anti-Catholic and anti-clerical overtone.

Many organisations with various religious and political purposes have been inspired by Freemasonry, and are sometimes confused with it, such as the Protestant Loyal Orange Association and the 19th century Italian Carbonari, which pursued Liberalism and Italian Unity. Many other purely fraternal organisations, too numerous to mention, have also been inspired by Masonry to a greater or lesser extent.

Freemasonry is often called a secret society, and in fact is considered by many to be the very prototype for such societies. Many Masons say that it is more accurately described as a "society with secrets". The degree of secrecy varies widely around the world. In English-speaking countries, most Masons are completely public with their affiliation, Masonic buildings are usually clearly marked, and meeting times are generally a matter of public record. In countries where Freemasonry has been more recently (or even currently) suppressed by the government, secrecy may be practised more earnestly. Even in the English-speaking world, the precise details of the rituals are not made public, and Freemasons have a system of secret modes of recognition, such as the Masonic secret grip (by which Masons can recognize each other "in the dark as well as in the light"); however, Masons acknowledge that these "secrets" have been widely available in printed exposÚs and anti-Masonic literature for, literally, centuries.

Ritual and symbols

The Freemasons rely heavily on the architectural symbolism of the medieval operative Masons who actually worked in stone. One of their principal symbols is the square and , tools of the trade, so arranged as to form a quadrilateral. The square is sometimes said to represent matter, and the compasses spirit or mind. Alternatively, the square might be said to represent the world of the concrete, or the measure of objective reality, while the compasses represent abstraction, or subjective judgment, and so forth (Freemasonry being non-dogmatic, there is no written-in-stone interpretation for any of these symbols). Often the compasses straddle the square, representing the interdependence between the two. In the space between the two, there is optionally placed a symbol of metaphysical significance. Sometimes, this is a blazing star or other symbol of Light, representing Truth or knowledge. Alternatively, there is often a letter G placed there, usually said to represent God and/or Geometry. Sometimes, more frequent in older images, the G will be entwined outside the Square and Compasses.

The square and compasses are displayed at all Masonic meetings, along with the open Volume of the Sacred Law (or Lore) (VSL). In English-speaking countries, this is usually a <>Holy Bible, but it can be whatever book(s) of inspiration or scripture that the members of a particular Lodge or jurisdiction feel they draw on—whether the Bible, the Qur'an, or other Volumes. A candidate for a degree will normally be given his choice of VSL, regardless of the Lodge's usual VSL. In many French Lodges, the Masonic Constitutions are used. In a few cases, a blank book has been used, where the religious makeup of a Lodge was too diverse to permit an easy choice of VSL. In addition to its role as a symbol of written wisdom, inspiration, and spiritual revelation, the VSL is what Masonic obligations are taken upon.

Much of Masonic symbolism is mathematical in nature, and in particular geometrical, which is probably a reason Freemasonry has attracted so many rationalists (such as Voltaire, Fichte, Goethe, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and many others). No particular metaphysical theory is advanced by Freemasonry, however, although there seems to be some influence from the Pythagoreans, from Neo-Platonism, and from early modern Rationalism.

In keeping with the geometrical and architectural theme of Freemasonry, the Supreme Being (or God, or Creative Principle) is sometimes also referred to in Masonic ritual as the Grand Geometer, or the Great Architect of the Universe (GAOTU). Freemasons use a variety of labels for this concept in order to avoid the idea that they are talking about any one religion's particular God or God-like concept.

Degrees

There are three initial degrees of Freemasonry:

  1. Entered Apprentice
  2. Fellow Craft
  3. Master Mason

As one works through the degrees, one studies the lessons and interprets them for oneself. There are as many ways to interpret the rituals as there are Masons, and no Mason may dictate to any other Mason how he is to interpret them. No particular truths are espoused, but a common structure—speaking symbolically to universal human archetypes—provides for each Mason a means to come to his own answers to life's important questions. Especially in Europe, Freemasons working through the degrees are asked to prepare papers on related philosophical topics, and present these papers in an open Lodge, where others may judge the suitability of the candidates' ascension through the higher degrees.

History of Freemasonry

Freemasonry has been said to be an institutional outgrowth of the medieval guilds of stonemasons [4], a direct descendant of the "Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem" (the Knights Templar), an offshoot of the ancient Mystery schools, an administrative arm of the Priory of Sion, the Roman Collegia , the Comacine masters , intellectual descendants of Noah, and many other various and sundry origins. Others claim that it dates back only to the late 17th century in England, and has no real connections at all to earlier organisations. These theories are noted in numerous different texts, and the following are but examples pulled from a sea of books:

Much of the content of these books is highly speculative, and the precise origins of Freemasonry may very well be lost in either an unwritten or a created history. It is thought by many that Freemasonry cannot be a straightforward outgrowth of medieval guilds of stonemasons. Amongst the reasons given for this conclusion, well documented in Born in Blood, are the fact that stonemasons' guilds do not appear to predate reasonable estimates for the time of Freemasonry's origin, that stonemasons lived near their worksite and thus had no need for secret signs to identify themselves, and that the "Ancient Charges" of Freemasonry are nonsensical when thought of as being rules for a stonemasons' guild.

Freemasonry is said by some, especially amongst Masons practising the York Rite, to have existed at the time of King Athelstan of England, in the 10th century C.E. Athelstan is said by some to have been converted to Christianity in York, and to have issued the first Charter to the Masonic Lodges there. This story is not currently substantiated (the dynasty had already been Christian for centuries).

A more historically reliable (although still not unassailable) source asserting the antiquity of Freemasonry is the Halliwell Manuscript, or Regius Poem, which is believed to date from ca. 1390, and which makes reference to several concepts and phrases similar to those found in Freemasonry. The manuscript itself refers to an earlier document, of which it seems to be an elaboration.

There is also the Cooke Manuscript, which is said to be dated 1430 and contained the Constitution of German stonemasons, but the first appearance of the word 'Freemason' occurs in the Statutes of the Realm enacted in 1495 by Henry VII, however, most other documentary evidence prior to the 1500s appears to relate entirely to operative Masons rather than speculative ones.

1583 is the date of the Grand Lodge manuscript, and more frequent mention of lodges is made in documents from this time onwards. The Schaw Statues of 1598-9(4) are the source used to declare the precedence of Kilwinning Lodge in Kilwinning, Ayrshire, Scotland over St. Mary's (or Principal) Lodge. As a side note, Kilwinning is called Kilwinning #0 because of this very conundrum. Quite soon thereafter, a charter was granted to Sir William St. Clair (later Sinclair) of Roslin (Rosslyn), allowing him to purchase jurisdiction over a number of lodges in Edinburgh and environs, which is the basis of the Templar myth surrounding Rosslyn Chapel.

Another key figure in Masonic history was Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), who was made a Mason in 1646, although Speculative Masons were being admitteed into Lodges as early as 1634. There appears to be a general spread of the Craft during this time, but the next key date is 1717.

In 1717, four Lodges which met, respectively, at the "Apple-Tree Tavern, the Crown Ale-House near Drury Lane, the Goose and Gridiron in St. Paul's Churchyard, and the Rummer and Grapes Tavern in Westminster" in London, England[14] joined together and formed the first Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of England (GLE). The years following saw new Grand Lodges open throughout England and Europe, as the new Freemasonry spread rapidly. How much of this was the spreading of Freemasonry itself, and how much was the public organisation of pre-existing secret Lodges, is not possible to say with certainty. The GLE in the beginning did not have the current three degrees, but only the first two. The third degree appeared, so far as we know, around 1725.

See also

 

Notes

  1. ^ The Masonic Manual by Macoy, accessed November 11, 2005.
  2. ^  A History of Freemasonry by H.L. Haywood and James E. Craig, pub. ca 1927
  3. ^  "Masonic Chronology" A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry v. 2, by Waite, Arthur Edward, pp 40-89. Wings Books, 1996. Reprint of 1970 University Books Edition, two volumes in one.
  4. ^  A Pragmatic Masonic History, by Leo Zanelli, accessed November 14, 2005.

External links

Enter supporting content here

Fair Use Notice: This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of the subjects related to religion, spirituality and metaphysics . We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
 
If anyone wishes to comment on the material on this web page, please feel free to contact the site coordinator using the contact page.