Freemasonry Today is read by many non-masons; some subscribe, some read a friend’s copy. But for the person who has no masonic friends – that he knows of – but has a growing interest in the Craft from what he reads, or what he hears – where does he turn? How does he find out what joining the Craft might entail? What might be required of him? And what aspects of membership might attract him?
Then again, he may ask himself, do I really want to join? After all, there are all those blood-curdling oaths to take aren’t there? And isn’t it a boring gentlemen’s club for older men? He feels he might not really fit in as he hasn’t been to university or to public school. He has heard it said that Freemasonry is against religion and that it has its own masonic god, so it may not be for him after all. And anyway, once he’s joined, he can’t leave, isn’t that so? He’s not so sure that would be a good thing. Since it’s a secret society, he won’t be able to talk to his wife about it. That can’t be a very good thing for his marriage. Even if he were interested in going ahead, where could he go for further information? He’s looked at a couple of books but they seemed very dull and went into things he didn’t really understand.
Experienced Freemasons of course will know all about this and will have ready answers but if they think back to their initiation, how well prepared were they actually? What was their reason for joining? Did they really know what membership would entail? Did they really know what benefits membership would bring?
In fact, Freemasons are only too happy to talk about what Freemasons do, without revealing the details of the initiation ceremony, which would dull the impact for the new candidate.
The United Grand Lodge of England describes Freemasonry as ‘an approach to life, a method of self-development and a path to self-knowledge.’ Freemasonry is definitely not a religion, nor is there a ‘masonic god’. The left leg does have to be made bare during initiation, as does the right arm, but there is nothing laughable about that – like everything else in the ceremony, there is a good symbolic reason for it.
It is quite difficult to write about what Freemasonry is. The ancient Craft is communicated by allegory and symbol, so direct definitions elude us.
The film producer Werner Herzog, when asked to explain a storyline in one of his films, said ‘Please don’t ask me to explain it. I can’t. I only know it.’ He knew it in his heart, a place that does not admit word-definition. And so it is with Freemasonry.
The nearest we can get to viewing it from the outside is by shifting our perspective. Archaeologists sometimes make use of aerial photographs of a site in order to uncover its hidden past. What to most of us appears a peaceful, even featureless landscape, is revealed as a former battleground, an encampment, or a village. In the same way, if we scratch the surface of masonic allegory, it begins to make sense.
The fraternity of Freemasonry and its practices form an integral part of the world in which it exists, a world which contributes to Freemasonry and its development, and a world which, in its turn, has been much influenced by the Craft. The three Grand Principles on which Freemasonry is founded are Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. The second of these, relief, points towards philanthropy, practical benevolence towards mankind. Because Freemasons are concerned with moral selfimprovement, it is quite natural that from this will flow feelings of concern for those less well-off than themselves.
While diverted by the enjoyable social pursuits outside the formal meetings, they will often be reminded, involuntarily, of that need for concern for others.
And underlying the social and philanthropic activities are the degrees themselves, which are not religious ceremonies, but rather a form of secular mystery play, in which allegories of moral development in life are played out, and the candidate is reminded of his duties to his fellow men, to society, but most importantly, his duties to his own person in terms of growth and development.
When all is said and done, there is quite simply nothing to compare with Freemasonry in any other walk of life.
Those who are interested, and have no Freemason friends whom they can ask, should make enquiries at their local Masonic Hall, or write to United Grand Lodge of England, 60 Great Queen Street, London, WC2B 5AZ.
- Freemasonry is not a secret society
- There is very little that can’t be discussed openly
- Freemasonry is not a religion
- You don’t have to be asked to become a Freemason
- Freemasonry accepts persons of all faiths who profess a belief in the Supreme Being
- There are no blood-curdling oaths to swear
- Freemasons do not claim to be better than other people
- Freemasons do not favour other Freemasons in job applications
- Masonic charitable giving also covers non-Masonic causes
- Freemasonry is not a political pressure group
- Freemasons are at liberty to leave the Order if they wish – there are no constraints
- You can find out more about Freemasonry at www.ugle.org.uk