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So what is Freemasonry?

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What is Freemasonry all about?

In a way which can only really be described as unique, fundamentally interesting and thought provoking, it combines the working practices of medieval stonemasons together with words and rituals established much later, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Its purpose, as stated in our ritual, is 'to be happy and communicate happiness' and to encourage the practice of good moral values.

What are these values?

In the words of our ritual, the values are 'brotherly love, relief and truth'.

This is perhaps a little too succinct and unfamiliar for the non- Mason, although it does state in a nutshell the values of our organisation. To expand the elements in this phrase might help.

'Brotherly love' is a concern and care for our fellow men and women;

'Relief' is the obligation to help those who need help. (The scope of Masonic charitable work in the community is enormous. We give to charity at each meeting);

'Truth' refers to the desire of all of us to understand the meaning of life and our journey through it.

These values could perhaps be further extended into

Integrity: trying to follow a moral code and keeping promises

Kindness: being friendly and considerate towards others

Honesty: speaks for itself

Fairness: we believe that everyone should be treated equally and well

Tolerance: we strive to show consideration towards others

These are our ambitions, like those, we hope, of any fair-minded person. But please don't think we see ourselves as on a pedestal of perfection with everyone seeking to behave in a superior, 'holier-than-thou' manner. We don't preach! But undeniably Freemasonry's original intentions were to help men to improve themselves.

A Freemason should never lose sight of the fact that he is an individual and also a citizen of the world. He should aspire to improve himself particularly in his attitude to others.

Why would anyone want to join ? What's the point?

To make good friends and have a happy time as a member of something which is so much more than just another club; thus to meet like-minded and thoughtful people, enjoy their company and participate in something quite unique and of greatly valued antiquity. Some of the language in our ceremonies is of another era, and beautiful to listen to.

Who can join?

Ordinarily a man needs to be 21 or older, but with good reason it is possible at 18. There is a network of lodges at universities, for example. (Our branch of Freemasonry is restricted to men, as were our forebears, but there are other branches restricted to women and to men and women together. They have similar traditions and organisations).

Masonry, as explained above, still today makes use at all its meetings of traditional words, actions and symbols dating from most ancient origins

What do the symbols in Freemasonry stand for?

The symbols (drawn from the tools of the medieval stonemason) help demonstrate the moral values we seek to contemplate. For example

The chisel represents perseverance and learning (in the shaping of the stone),
The set-square represents morality (correctness)
The plumb-rule represents uprightness and truth.

There are many others and together, as they are 'used' in our ceremonies, they support a morality which is as relevant in today's world as when they were used by the first 'speculative' Masons of the eighteenth century.

What are the rituals and what do they mean?

They are based around the biblical records of the building of King Solomon's Temple together with the practical processes of a stonemason's work in constructing the great buildings of the medieval period. The element of so-called 'secrecy' in Freemasonry is a reflection of the medieval craftsmen's practice of separating the levels of seniority of their profession by a progressive use of 'secrets' by which a man could demonstrate, wherever he went to work, that he was qualified for particular aspects of that work.

The ceremonial passing on of these 'secrets' has evolved into three 'one act' plays which are known as the first, second and third degrees. The candidate is the focus of each ceremony. They are done for him and with him by the other members of his lodge. Very roughly explained, the degrees represent different stages in our understanding of life from birth to death.

Do you have to be a 'religious' person to be a Freemason?

Like any modern thinking person, a Mason can turn his mind to moral and spiritual matters, by whatever route he chooses. Fundamentally, Freemasons believe in and refer to what is described as the 'supreme being'; a power beyond ourselves. Given that belief, any religious background is perfectly acceptable, and we include without question members from different traditions and backgrounds, including Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Muslims and many others. A fine demonstration of this comes from the memoirs of the Victorian writer Rudyard Kipling:

He was initiated into Freemasonry in Lahore, India, in 1886. Many years later, he wrote:

I was secretary for some years of Hope and Perseverance Lodge No. 782, in Lahore, which included Brethren of at least four creeds.
Referring to his own three ceremonies, he said:
I was entered [the first degree] by a member of Brahmo Somaj, (a Hindu); passed [second degree] by a Mohammedan, (a muslim); and raised [third degree] by an Englishman. Our Tyler [who 'guards' the lodge] was an Indian Jew. We met, of course on the level, and the only difference anyone would notice was that at the banquets, some of the Brethren, who were debarred by caste from eating food not ceremonially prepared, sat over empty plates.
The use of the phrase 'on the level' is still used by us to suggest the equality of man to man.

Similarly, three Palestinian Arabs have served as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the State of Israel since its foundation in 1953.

Dr Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Sir Israel Brodie, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain & the Commonwealth, were both Freemasons who took part in the coronation of our present Queen.

And to help in eliminating argument or discord, Masons are forbidden to discuss either politics or religion at our meetings!

You can probably see from this brief snapshot that our organisation is not easy to explain although it is very easy to enjoy! And if your interest continues, you should seek to visit a lodge on one of the evenings when they invite non-Masons to be with them. While the full ceremonies are only for those who decide to join us, a visit will, we hope, demonstrate the particular, indeed unique, feel of a Masonic lodge as it goes about its age- old business, and the very modern warmth and enjoyment which is generated by the fraternal happiness of those of our modern world who are members.

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