What’s a Freemason?
That’s not a surprising question. Even though Freemasons (Masons) are members of the largest and oldest fraternity in the world, and even though almost everyone has a father or grandfather or uncle who was a Mason, many people aren’t quite certain just who Freemasons are.
The answer is simple. A Freemason (or Mason) is a member of a fraternity known as Freemasonry (or Masonry). A fraternity is a group of men (just as a sorority is a group of women) who join together because:
(NOTE: Freemasonry and Masonry and Freemasons and Masons are interchangeable.)
Freemasonry is the oldest fraternity in the world. No one knows just how old it is because the actual origins have been lost in time. Probably, it arose from the guilds of stonemasons who built the castles and cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Possibly, they were influenced by the Knights Templar, a group of Christian warrior monks formed in 1118 to help protect pilgrims making trips to the Holy Land.
In 1717, Masonry created a formal organization in England when the first Grand Lodge was formed. A Grand Lodge is the administrative body in charge of Masonry in some geographical area. In Canada, there is a Grand Lodge in each province. Local organizations of Masons are called lodges. There are lodges in most towns, and large cities usually have several. There are about 1,300 lodges in Canada with over 80,000 members.
Freemasonry Does Things in the World.
Freemasonry teaches that each person has a responsibility to make things better in the world. Most individuals won’t be the ones to find a cure for cancer, or eliminate poverty, or help create world peace, but every man and woman and child can do something to help others and to make things a little better. Freemasonry is deeply involved with helping people — it spends millions of dollars every year in Canada, just to make life a little easier. And the great majority of that help goes to people who are not Freemasons. Some of these charities are vast projects, like the Shriners Hospital for Childrenbuilt by the Shriners.
Also, Scottish Rite Masons maintain Learning Centres. Each helps children afflicted by such conditions as aphasia, dyslexia, stuttering, and related learning or speech disorders. Some services are less noticeable, like helping a widow pay her electric bill or buying coats and shoes for disadvantaged children. And there’s just about anything you can think of in-between. But with projects large or small, the Freemasons of a lodge try to help make the world a better place. The lodge gives them a way to combine with others to do even more good.
Freemasonry does things “inside” the individual Mason.
“Grow or die” is a great law of all nature. Most people feel a need for continued growth and development as individuals. They feel they are not as honest or as charitable or as compassionate or as loving or as trusting as they ought to be. Freemasonry reminds its members over and over again of the importance of these qualities. It lets men associate with other men of honour and integrity who believe that things like honesty and compassion and love and trust are important. In some ways, Freemasonry is a support group for men who are trying to make the right decisions. It’s easier to practice these virtues when you know that those around you think they are important, too, and won’t laugh at you. That’s a major reason that Freemasons enjoy being together.
Freemasons enjoy each other’s company.
It’s good to spend time with people you can trust completely, and most Freemasons find that in their lodge. While much of lodge activity is spent in works of charity or in lessons in self-development, much is also spent in fellowship. Lodges have picnics, camping trips, and many events for the whole family. Simply put, a lodge is a place to spend time with friends.
For members only, two basic kinds of meetings take place in a lodge. The most common is a simple business meeting. To open and close the meeting, there is a ceremony whose purpose is to remind us of the virtues by which we are supposed to live. Then there is a reading of the minutes; voting on petitions (applications of men who want to join the fraternity); planning for charitable functions, family events, and other lodge activities; and sharing information about members (called “Brothers,” as in most fraternities) who are ill or have some sort of need. The other kind of meeting is one in which people join the fraternity — one at which the “degrees” are performed.
But every lodge serves more than its own members. Frequently, there are meetings open to the public. Examples are Ladies’ Nights, “Brother Bring a Friend Nights,” public installations of officers, Cornerstone Laying ceremonies, and other special meetings supporting community events and dealing with topics of local interest. Freemasons also sponsor Ladies groups such as The Order of Eastern Star and Youth Groups such as Job’s Daughters; for girls, and Order of DeMolay for boys.
What does Freemasonry teach?
Freemasonry teaches some important principles. There’s nothing very surprising in the list. Freemasonry teaches that:
Since Supreme Creator is the Creator, all men and women are the children of Supreme Creator. Because of that, all men and women are brothers and sisters, entitled to dignity, respect for their opinions, and consideration of their feelings.
Each person must take responsibility for his/her own life and actions. Neither wealth nor poverty, education nor ignorance, health nor sickness excuses any person from doing the best he or she can do or being the best person possible under the circumstances.
No one has the right to tell another person what he or she must think or believe. Each man and woman has an absolute right to intellectual, spiritual, economic, and political freedom. This is a right given by Supreme Creator, not by man. All tyranny, in every form, is illegitimate.
Each person must learn and practice self-control. Each person must make sure his spiritual nature triumphs over his animal nature. Another way to say the same thing is that even when we are tempted to anger, we must not be violent. Even when we are tempted to selfishness, we must be charitable. Even when we want to “write someone off,” we must remember that he or she is a human and entitled to our respect. Even when we want to give up, we must go on. Even when we are hated, we must return love, or, at a minimum, we must not hate back. It isn’t easy!
Faith must be in the centre of our lives. We find that faith in our houses of worship, not in Freemasonry, but Masonry constantly teaches that a person’s faith, whatever it may be, is central to a good life.
Each person has a responsibly to be a good citizen, obeying the law. That doesn’t mean we can’t try to change things, but change must take place in legal ways.
It is important to work to make this world better for all who live in it. Masonry teaches the importance of doing good, not because it assures a person’s entrance into heaven — that’s a question for a religion, not a fraternity — but because we have a duty to all other men and women to make their lives as fulfilling as they can be.
Honour and integrity are essential to life. Life, without honour and integrity, is without meaning.
What are the requirements for membership?
The person who wants to join Freemasonry must be a man (it’s a fraternity), sound in body and mind, who believes in Supreme Creator, is at least the minimum age required by Masonry in his province, and has a good reputation. (Incidentally, the “sound in body” requirement — which comes from the stonemasons of the Middle Ages — doesn’t mean that a physically challenged man cannot be a Mason; many are).
Those are the only “formal” requirements. But there are others, not so formal. He should believe in helping others. He should believe there is more to life than pleasure and money. He should be willing to respect the opinions of others. And he should want to grow and develop as a human being.
How does a man become a Freemason?
Some men are surprised that no one has ever asked them to become a Mason. They may even feel that the Freemasons in their town don’t think they are “good enough” to join. But it doesn’t work that way. For hundreds of years, Freemasons have been forbidden to ask others to join the fraternity. We can talk to friends about Freemasonry, we can tell them about what Freemasonry does. We can tell them why we enjoy it. But we can’t ask, much less pressure anyone to join.
There’s a good reason for that. It isn’t that we’re trying to be exclusive. But becoming a Freemason is a very serious thing. Joining Freemasonry is making a permanent life commitment to live in certain ways. We’ve listed most of them above — to live with honour and integrity, to be willing to share and care about others, to trust each other, and to place ultimate trust in Supreme Creator. No one should be “talked into” making such a decision.
So, when a man decides he wants to be a Freemason, he asks a Freemason to join. The process can take 5-6 months. The Freemason will meet with him over coffee and may bring other Freemasons with him to better understand his character and reasons for joining. After several of such "meetings", the Freemason may offer the individual an application or petition to complete. The individual fills it out and gives it to the Freemason, and that Freemason takes it to the local lodge. The Master of the lodge will appoint a committee to visit with the man and his family to find out about him and why he wants to be a Mason, tell him and his family about Freemasonry, and answer their questions. The committee reports to the lodge and, if the committee believes him to be suitable, will recommend the lodge votes on his petition. If the vote is affirmative, the lodge will contact the individual to set the date for the Entered Apprentice Degree. When the person has completed all three degrees, he is a Master Mason and a full member of the fraternity.
So, what’s a Mason?
A Mason is a man who has decided that he likes to feel good about himself and others. He cares about the future as well as the past, and does what he can, both alone and with others, to make the future good for everyone.
Many men over many generations have answered the question, “What is a Mason?” One of the most eloquent was written by the Reverend Joseph Fort Newton, an internationally honored minister of the first half of the 20th Century.
Adapted from a booklet prepared by the Masonic Service Association, Silver Spring, Maryland
How do I get involved?
Exemplar is a duly constituted member of the World-Wide Masonic Brotherhood, meeting under the authority of the Grand Lodge of Alberta and is designated Lodge number one-hundred seventy-five therein.
We meet on the 1st (and often 3rd!) Thursday of each month (except in July and August) at Freemasons' Hall 10318 - 100th Avenue in Edmonton, Alberta starting at 7:30 PM. Visitors are always welcome and our reputation for hospitality is well known!
Our Mission: to take GOOD MEN and make them BETTER through an understanding of the Sacred Rites and Hidden Mysteries of Ancient Freemasonry.