What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is a fraternal organization whose membership shares moral and metaphysical ideals and, in most of its branches, requires a constitutional declaration of belief in a Supreme Being.
The fraternity uses the metaphor of operative stonemasons’ tools and implements, against the allegorical backdrop of the building of the Temple of King Solomon, to convey what is generally defined as “a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.”
While it has often been called a “Secret Society”, it is more correct to say that it is an esoteric society, in that certain aspects are private.
From many quarters, Freemasons stated that Freemasonry in the 21st century became less a secret society and more of a “society with secrets.” Most modern Freemasons regard secrecy as a demonstration of their ability to keep a promise and to keep the privacy of their own affairs. Lodge meetings, like meetings of many other social and professional associations, are private occasions open only to members. The private aspects of modern Freemasonry deal with the modes of recognition amongst members and elements within the ritual.
While there have been many disclosures and exposés dating as far back as the eighteenth century, Freemasons caution these often lack the proper context for true understanding, may be outdated for various reasons, or could be outright hoaxes on the part of the author. Freemasons are proud of their heritage and are happy to share it, offering spokesmen, briefings for the media, and providing talks to interested groups upon request.
Ritual, Symbolism, and Morality
Masonic ritual makes use of the architectural symbolism of medieval operative Masons, who actually worked in stone. Freemasons, as Speculative Masons, use this symbolism to teach moral and ethical lessons of the principles of “Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth” — or as related in France: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”.
Two of the principal symbols always found in a Lodge are the square and compasses; symbols always displayed in an open Lodge. Some Lodges and rituals explain these symbols as lessons in conduct: for example, that one should “square their actions by the square of virtue” and to learn to “circumscribe their desires and keep their passions within due bounds toward all mankind”.
These moral lessons are communicated in performance of allegorical ritual. A candidate progresses through degrees gaining knowledge and understanding of himself, his relationship with others and his relationship with the Supreme Being (as he interprets this for himself). While the philosophical aspects of the Craft tend to be discussed in Lodges of Instruction or Research, and sometimes informal groups, Freemasons, and others, frequently publish — to a variable degree of competence — studies that are available to the public. It is well noted, however, that no one person “speaks” for the whole of Freemasonry.
The Volume of the Sacred Law is always displayed in an open Lodge. In English-speaking countries, this is frequently the King James Version of the Bible or another standard translation (there is no such thing as an exclusive “Masonic Bible”). In Lodges with a membership of mixed religions it is common to find more than one sacred text displayed representing the beliefs of the individuals present.
In keeping with the geometrical and architectural theme of Freemasonry, the Supreme Being is referred to in Masonic ritual by the titles of the Great Architect of the Universe, Grand Geometer or similar forms of words to make clear that their reference is generic, not about any one religion’s particular concept of God.