Where did Freemasonry come from?
Part of the mystique of Freemasonry can be attributed to speculation about its roots. Over the years, historians have never been able to conclusively determine exactly when, where, how, and why Freemasonry was born.
The order is thought to have arisen from the English and Scottish guilds of practicing stonemasons and cathedral builders in the Middle Ages. Certain Masonic documents actually trace the sciences of geometry and masonry to the time of ancient Egypt, and some historians say that Masonry has its real roots in antiquity.
The formation of the first Grand Lodge in London in 1717 marks the beginning of the Modern (or "Speculative") era of Freemasonry, when members were no longer limited to actual working stonemasons. These "Accepted" Masons adopted more enlightened philosophies, and turned what was a tradesmen's organization into a fraternity for moral edification, intellectual recitation, benevolent service, and gentlemanly socialization.
Why is there so much interest in Masonry today?
What are the benefits of becoming a Mason?
There are numerous benefits to being a Mason, but they tend to be personal and they are also quite varied. And they can only be truly discovered by becoming a member. But to try and give you an idea: without question the opportunity to experience camaraderie and fellowship with a group of men across the boundaries of age, race, religion, culture, and opinion is a fundamental to the Fraternity; many find great value and knowledge in our ritual ceremony that uses symbolism and metaphors to encourage and remind us to appreciate principles, ethics, and morality, and to live our lives accordingly; others find great satisfaction in our charitable efforts, community service, and the support we provide our members and their families; finally, for those who take on leadership positions within their lodge, they develop or further very practical management skills.
Over the last four centuries, Freemasonry seems to have flourished during times of great enlightenment and change. It is no coincidence that Freemasonry rose to prominence during the Age of Enlightenment in both Europe and America - when a new generation believed it could discover ways to gain personal improvement, bring order to society, and understand the whole universe. This statement is perhaps even stronger today than it was in the 18th century.
Today, men seek out Masonry for the same reasons - to better themselves and improve society in the company of like-minded Brothers. As we learn more about how our physical world works, there's also new interest in those things we don't understand - especially things bound around tradition or that have a more mystical nature. Also, books like The Da Vinci Code and movies like "National Treasure" have brought up both new interest and renewed speculation about the nature of the Fraternity. Though these books and movies are a product more of a vivid imagination than fact, the real history of Masonry is perhaps the best story of all - one learned only by Asking - and becoming a Freemason.
Is Masonry a secret society?
No. It is sometimes said that Freemasonry is a "Society with secrets, not a secret society." In point of fact, however, any purported Masonic "secrets" were made public several centuries ago in London newspapers, and today can be found in the Library of Congress, on the Internet, and in many books on the subject. As Benjamin Franklin once said, "The great secret of Freemasonry is that there is no secret at all."
Is Masonry a religion?
Masonry is not a religion. But it is one of the few platforms where men of all faiths - Christians, including Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and men of every other faith - can come together because it is open to all men who believe in a Supreme Being; but religion is not discussed at Masonic meetings. Although Lodges open and close with a prayer and Masonry teaches morality, it is not a church or a religion. Masonry does not have a theology or dogma, it does not offer sacraments, and it does not offer the promise of salvation.
Just because the secrets have been made public doesn't mean everyone knows the mystery of Masonry. In fact, much of the appeal of the Craft is that the great truths revealed in Masonic ritual can take years to understand. Like the building of any great structure, the powerful metaphors and symbols of Masonry build character, and sometimes greatness, one stone at a time.
What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is the word's oldest and largest Fraternity. It aims to promote Friendship, Morality, and Brotherly Love among its members; men from every race, religion, opinion, and background who are brought together as Brothers to develop and strengthen the bonds of friendship. There are more than 3 million members meeting in nearly every free country in the world. Freemasonry proposes to "make good men better" by teaching - with metaphors from geometry and architecture - about building values based on great universal truths. Finally, charity and community service is fundamental to Freemasonry and something we actively take part in.
Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania
Mark G Mattern, P.M.