While no one person, organization, District or Grand Lodge can speak for Freemasonry as a whole, the following questions and answers are taken from the Masonic Service Association of North America's Booklet One Hundred and One Questions About Freemasonry©, Twenty-fifth printing, December, 1996, and are used with permission. In some places, the language is archaic and in others, some of the information is written from the perspective of Masonry in the United States, but generally, most relate to Masonry world wide. They are not presented in their original order. Questions one through four relate to history; numbers five and six are principles upheld by most U.S. Grand Lodges and other non U.S. Grand Bodies; questions seven through nine deal with two common misconceptions about Masonry.
We hope you find the questions and answers both thought provoking and informative.
Table of Contents
How Old is Freemasonry ?
The question is not answerable unless Masonry be defined. Some form of organization of builders, according to the oldest Masonic document, The Regius Poem, existed as early as A.D. 926. Freemasonry, as distinguished from any other organization of practical builders, probably began among the Cathedral builders of the Middle Ages - tenth and eleventh century. The first Grand Lodge came into existence in 1717 [England]. Freemasonry in the United States dates definitively from 1730 and probably earlier.
Who Discovered, Designed or Invented Freemasonry ?
No one man, any more than any one man discovered, designed or invented democracy, or philosophy, or science or any one government. Freemasonry is the result of growth. Many Masons had a part in it; it has taken to itself teachings from many religions, philosophies, systems of knowledge, symbols.
The most generally accepted orthodox belief as to those who "began" Freemasonry is that the Craft is a descendant of Operative Masons [see "How Old is Freemasonry].. These Operatives inherited from unknown beginnings, of which there have been several and were probably many, practices and some form of ritual. Speculative Masonry, reaching back through Operative Masonry, touches hands with those who followed unknown religions in which, however, many of the Speculative [moral] principles must have been taught by the use of symbols as old as mankind and therefore universal, and not the product of any one people or time.
Why are We Called Freemasons ?
There are many theories: a man was a Freemason because...he was free within his Guild, or free of the Guild's laws and could thus "travel in foreign countries" and work where he would; he was a Freemason because he worked in free stone, which is any stone which can be cut, smoothed, carved in any direction; he was a free when he had passed his apprenticeship and became a Fellow of the Craft; he was free when he had left the status of serf or villein [tied to his village] and legally became free. Probably at one time or another masons were called Freemasons for any of these reasons or for all of them. The consensus leans to the theory that the Freemason was such because of his skill, knowledge and abilities which set him free of those conditions, laws, rules and customs which circumscribed masons of lesser abilities in the Cathedral building age.
Why is the Masonry of Today Called Speculative ?
The word is used in the sense that the Masonry of today is theoretical, not practical, building; that it is a pursuit of knowledge, not of the construction of edifices.
Speculative Masonry began with the practice of admitting to membership in operative lodges men who were not practical builders, stonecutters, architects, etc., but who were interested in the moral, ethical and philosophical teachings of the Fraternity.
Why are Discussions of Religion and Politics Forbidden in Lodge ?
The prohibition goes back to the early history of the Fraternity. It is written in the second paragraph of the sixth "Old Charge":
(Behavior after the Lodge is over and the Brethren not gone); "No private Piques or Quarrels must be brought within the Door of the Lodge, far less any Quarrels about Religion, or Nations, or State policy, we being only, as Masons, of the Catholick [universal] Religion above mentioned; we are also of all Nations, Tongues, Kindreds and Languages, and are resolved against all Politicks as what never yet conduc'd to the Welfare of the Lodge, nor ever will. This Charge has been always strictly enjoin'd and observ'd, but especially since the Reformation in Britain, or the Dissent and Secession of these Nations from the Communion of Rome."
Freemasons today hold that the Old Charge prohibits lodge discussions of politics in the sense of partisan politics and religion in the sense of sectarian religion.
Why Does Masonry Forbid Brethren to Ask Their Friends to Become Masons ?
One of the fundamental concepts of Freemasonry is that the application for membership must be wholly a voluntary act. A man must seek for himself and join "of my own free will and accord." Under no other formula can men unite brethren of a thousand religious and political beliefs. Under no more constricting act could Freemasonry accomplish her only end, the building of character among men. Men who become members of a Masonic lodge for any other reason than their own desires can neither receive nor give to others the advantages of a wholly voluntary association. Freemasonry is bigger than any man; the man must seek its blessings; it never seeks the man.
Is Masonry a Religion, or Has it a Religion ?
No, to both questions. "A" religion connotes some particular religion. Freemasonry is nonsectarian. Before its Altar, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Gentile, Confucian, may kneel together. If the question be phrased "Is Freemasonry religious" then the obvious answer is that an institution "erected to God" which begins its ceremonies and ends its meetings with prayer; which has a Holy Book upon its Altar; which preaches the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, of course has a religious character, although, let it be emphasized again, wholly nonsectarian.
All Grand Lodges [those recognized by U.S. Grand Lodges] require their initiates to express a belief and trust in God. No Atheist can be made a Mason.
Masonry is a Secret Society. What Can Be Told and What Cannot ?
Masonry is not "a secret society" but a "society with secrets." A secret society is one of which the membership, aims and ideals are unknown. There is no secret about who is, and who is not, Freemason. Lodges publish their rosters. Many Grand Lodges publish the names of their members in annual Proceedings. The world at large knows that the aims and ideals of Freemasonry are charitable, friendly, fraternal.
What is secret in Freemasonry is well phrased in the Ninth Landmark as adopted by the Grand Lodge of New Jersey:
"the legend of the third degree; the means of recognition; the methods of conferring degrees; the obligations of those degrees and the ballot of every brother are, and must continue to be, inviolably secret."
Is is Expected That I only Do Business With a Mason ?
One problem which confronts a newly made mason is his supposed obligation to give his business to fellow Masons rather than the profane.
Masonry is most emphatically not a back scratching organization, a Board of Trade, a Chamber of Commerce or a mutual admiration society. There is no obligation, actual or implied, which demands that, because you have become a Mason, you must forsake all those with whom you have been doing business who are not, and give your orders to brethren who may or may not, be equally satisfactory as tradesmen.
Other things being equal, it is brotherly to give your business where it will help a fellow Mason. But other things must BE equal. If the twin born with you sold poor shoes at fancy prices, while your neighbor's son sold good shoes at reasonable prices, you would not buy of your own blood brother. To do so would be to injure yourself and your family, since you would be wasting your money. Exactly the same idea applies to your fraternal brother.
The man who says: "Buy of me because I am a Mason" is not anxious to serve you, but to serve himself. If he is a good business man, he does not need to depend on mutual membership in any organization, whether lodge, church or club, for his business. If he is not a good business man - that is, he sells poor goods - he has no moral right to attempt to offset poor quality by whining that you belong to the same lodge. Similarly, he who comes to you and says: "I have come to you because I know you are a Mason; now I expect a discount because we both belong" is also using his Masonry to promote selfish interests and should be discouraged.
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