What is Freemasonry?

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 build the great cathedrals and castle had lodges in which they discussed trade affairs.  They had simple initiation ceremonies and, as there were no City and Guild 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 “gentleman masons”.   Gradually these non-operative took over the lodges and turned them from operative to ‘free and accepted’  or ‘speculative’ lodges. 

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 Order 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 any way superior to or higher than the Craft.  The ranks that these additional degrees carry have no standing with the Craft or Royal Arch.

Q   What happens at a lodge meeting?

A   The meeting is in two parts.  As in any association there is a certain amount of administrative procedure – minutes of last meeting, proposing and balloting for new members, discussing and voting on financial matters, election of officers, news and correspondence.  There are the ceremonies for admitting new Masons and the annual installation of the Master and appointment of officers.  The three ceremonies for admitting  a new Mason are in two parts – a slight dramatic instruction in the principles and lessons taught in the Craft followed by a lecture in which the candidate’s various duties are spelled out.

Q  Isn’t ritual out of place in modern society?

A   No. Ritual  is a shared experience which binds the members together.  Its use of drama, allegory and symbolism impressed the principles and teachings more firmly in the mind of each candidates that if they were simply passed on to him in matter-of-fact language.

Q  Why do you wear regalia?

A  Wearing regalia is historical and symbolic and, like a uniform, serves to indicate to members where they rank in the organisation.

Q   How much does it cost to be a Freemason?

A   It varies from lodge to lodge but anyone wishing to join can find a lodge to suit his pocket. On entry, there is an initiation fee and an apron to buy.  A member pays an annual subscription to his lodge which covers his membership and the administrative cost of running the lodge.  It is usual to have a meal after the meeting: the cost of this can be included either in the annual subscription or paid for at the time.  It is entirely up to the individual member what he gives to Charity, but it should always be without detriment to his other responsibilities.  Similarly, he may join as many lodges as his time and pocket can allow as long as it does not adversely affect his family life and responsibilities.

Q   Can anyone attend a lodge meeting.

A   No.  Lodge meetings, like those of many other groups, are private and open only to members.  The rules and aims of Freemasonry are available to the public.  Meeting places are known and in many areas are used by the local community for activities other than Freemasonry.  Members are encouraged to speak openly about Freemasonry. 

Q   What are the secrets of Freemasonry?

A   The secrets in Freemasonry are the traditional modes of recognition which are not used indiscriminately, but solely as a test of membership, e.g. when visiting a Lodge where you are not know

Q   Why do Freemasons take oaths?

A   New members make solemn promises concerning their conduct in Lodge and in society.  Each member also promises to keep confidential the traditional methods of proving that he is a Freemason which he would use when visiting a lodge where he is not known.  Freemasons do not swear allegiances to each other or to Freemasonry.   Freemasons promise to support others in times of need, but only if that support does not conflict with their duties to God, the law, their family or with their responsibilities as a Citizen. 

Q   Why do your ‘obligations’ contain hideous penalties?

A   They no longer do.  When Masonic ritual was developing in the late 1600s and 1700s it was quite common for legal and civil oaths to include physical penalties in Freemasonry, however, the physical penalties were always symbolic and were never carried out.  After long discussion, they were  removed from the promises in 1986.

Q   How do I become a Freemason?

A   If you are interested in becoming a Freemason, we advise that you first talk to a family member, friend or colleague who you already know to be a member.  They will be able to explain to you what they can about the fraternity.

One of the most common misconceptions about Freemasonry is that you have to be invited to join. In fact, the opposite is true – you have to ask to join.  The problem is – who to ask?  Often members keep their membership private.  However, there are avenues open to prospective members. Further information can be found on the Durham Freemasons website here – http://www.durhamfreemasons.org/what-its-all-about/

If you don’t know anyone at all who is a member, then get in touch with us via the Contact Us page. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your reasons for wishing to join. Arrangements will be made to meet you socially to find out more about you, and to give you a chance to find out more about us. You would then in due course be invited to meet a committee of members from the Lodge, prior to being balloted for membership of the Lodge.

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