What is Freemasonry?
A Unique Institution with Global Membership
People from all walks of life become Freemasons for a variety of reasons. Some are attracted by the valuable work that the movement performs in raising money for charity. A proportion of these funds is used to assist Freemasons and their dependents in times of need, particularly the sick and the elderly, but the greater part goes to non-Masonic charities – local, national and international. Others become Freemasons because of the unique fellowship it provides. Visit a Masonic lodge anywhere in the country – or indeed, the world – and you are greeted as an old friend. Freemasonry is the ultimate leveler, a society where friendship and goodwill are paramount.
Freemasonry is a fraternity of men bound together by oaths of allegiance to our three great principles; Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. In modern day language this means Friendship, Charity and Honesty. Our constitution, regulations and customs are based on the ancient charges of medieval stonemasons’ craft guilds. In our ceremonies we use the building of a structure as a symbolism for the building of character in man. The tools of the ancient building trade are also used as symbols to teach us lessons of social and moral virtues.
(There are also female lodges available, here is an example)
Personal Satisfaction Not Personal Gain
It has been said that some people become Freemasons for personal benefit. This statement is true, but for the wrong reasons. The personal gain is in experiencing the warmth of an honourable society and being part of an organisation that works hard to help the less fortunate of the world. Freemasonry does ask its members to give as freely as they can to charity. Freemasonry has central funds which allow it to react quickly when help is needed urgently at home and around the world.
Masonic Symbolism Has a Purpose
What about the so-called funny handshakes and the aprons? Freemasonry has been in existence for over 300 years and over this time has developed a pattern of rituals. They are no more eccentric and unconventional than ceremonies such as the State Opening of Parliament but, like this event, they perform a valuable function in reminding members of the heritage and standards they are expected to maintain. Once people have become Freemasons and understand the context of the rituals and symbolism, they no longer seem quirky.
Why the Secrecy?
Freemasonry has nothing to hide, so why the secrecy? The ‘secrets’ that are revealed to members as they progress are nothing more sinister than historical modes of recognition which are used only within the ceremonies in our meetings. Similarly, Masonic passwords are simply keys to the doors of the different levels within Freemasonry, just like the code to the changing room at a golf club. Masonic ceremonies are like short morality plays in which members play different parts. Through taking part in these ceremonies, Freemasons come to understand the messages they contain.