Where can I get more information about the Freemasons? The best way to get information is to talk to a Mason - either in person or online. You may have some of the same questions as those below - so take a look at the FAQ's. If you want more historical information, Mark Tabbert's book, American Freemasons, is a good place to start. More lighthearted, yet accurate and thorough, is Freemasons for Dummies by Christopher Hodapp. Still another excellent resource is the Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry by S. Brent Morris. All three of these books are available in your local library or bookstore, or you may find them at online stores like Amazon and Borders.
What is Freemasonry? Freemasonry aims to promote Friendship, Morality, and Brotherly Love among its members. It is, by definition, a fraternity; comprised of men from every race, religion, opinion, and background who are brought together as Brothers to develop and strengthen the bonds of friendship.
With over 3 million members, Freemasons belong to the largest and oldest fraternal organization 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.
Where did Freemasonry come from? Part of the mystique of Freemasonry can be attributed to speculation about its roots. Despite many theories, researchers have been unable to conclusively determine exactly when, where, how, and why Freemasonry originated. The order is thought to have arisen from the English and Scottish guilds of practicing stonemasons and cathedral builders in the Middle Ages, but 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, even before great civilizations arose.
The formation of the first Grand Lodge in London in 1717 marks the beginning of the Modern (or "Speculative") era of Freemasonry, when membership was no longer limited to actual working stonemasons. These "Accepted" Masons eventually 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.
Is there a difference between Masons and Freemasons? The names are interchangeable. The term Freemason is often used today in public to differentiate the fraternity from actual operative stonemasons, and is said to more accurately describe the enlightened "freethinking" of the membership.
Why is there so much interest in Masonry today? 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 - where a new generation believed it could develop methods to foster personal improvement, bring order to society, and understand the whole universe. This sentiment 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 heightened interest in intangible things we don't yet fully understand - especially topics based upon tradition or having a more mystical nature.
Also, books like The Da Vinci Code and movies like "National Treasure" have inspired 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 historical fact, the real history of Masonry is perhaps the best story of all, one learned only by asking - and becoming - a Freemason.
Can Freemasonry actually make me a better person? No organization can guarantee to make anyone better, but the timeless values and important truths that are taught as part of the Masonic tradition have proven to inspire, challenge, and develop moral, social and leadership qualities in men. The best known American Mason, George Washington, personifies the application of the Fraternity's character-building principles in one's life. Perhaps one of the things that has kept Masonry a strong and vital organization for so long is the fact that the Fraternity proposed only to "make good men better," not to make bad men good. This distinction is critical in that from its earliest days the Craft wisely refrained from involving itself in rehabilitation programs, which more appropriately gave remained the purview of both religion and the criminal justice system.
Today, good men from every walk of life are striving to improve themselves in Masonic Lodges the world over. If you would like to become part of this honorable tradition, we welcome your interest.
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."
What about secret handshakes, ritual, and passwords? Freemasonry, often called the "Craft" by its members, is founded on metaphors of architecture. Following the practice of the ancient stonemason guilds, Freemasons use special handshakes, words, and symbols to not only identify each other, but to help, as Masonic author William Preston said in 1772, "imprint upon the memory wise and serious truths." Although every new Freemason takes an oath - and vows to keep secret the metaphors of Masonry - the metaphors are only used to help Masons become better men. And there's certainly no secrecy surrounding the character traits required to be good and true.
How do I become a Freemason? Ask! Because Masons have not traditionally recruited members and do not hold public meetings, there has long been confusion about how to join the Fraternity. Should I wait to be asked? Does someone ask me, or do I need to ask them? Today, because of widespread interest in the Fraternity - along with the breadth of both information and misinformation found on the Internet - the content on this site was assembled to help men understand the membership process. Most men still begin the process of becoming a Mason by simply asking-just as Washington, Franklin, Hancock, Revere and most every Mason from the past to the present day has done.
Membership is open to men of every race, religion, culture, and income level. The basic requirements for membership are listed here. Men usually seek out a Lodge near their home or workplace or ask a Mason they know to recommend a Lodge to them. Masonry is not for everyone, however. It does not purport to reform bad men, only to provide a lifelong opportunity for good men to improve themselves and the world around them.
The Masonic Fraternity seeks only men of good character as members. In fact, Masonic Lodges are required to review every applicant's moral and social character, and members must be unanimously balloted upon in a Lodge by all members present (and yes, the centuries-old "blackball" voting system is still in use).
Alternately, an Illinois Mason can inform a good man that he knows that should he wish to join, he is welcome to do so under a program called Invitation to Petition. So, if a Master Mason who knows you believes you have the character traits to be a good Mason, he may propose you for membership in a Lodge and have your name balloted upon, and then inform you of this action.
Or you may proactively seek out membership on your own by asking a Mason for a petition or completing a Petition Request Form here and submitting it via this website. In either case, the choice is still yours.
What is a Grand Lodge Grand Lodges were formed - first in England and Ireland, and later in America - to help standardize ritual, traditions, and customs among various Lodges. The first Grand Lodge in America was formed in Massachusetts in 1733. Today there is a Grand Lodge in every state - and virtually every country in the world. There is no "central" Grand Lodge, though Grand Lodges also meet to help facilitate unity and uphold tradition within the Craft.
Interested? Here are some more FAQ's...
What is Masonic "ritual?" The nature of Masonic ritual is both complex and beautiful. "Ritual" is actually a recitation of certain tenets and truths that have been passed down for generations - mostly from mouth to ear. This "ritual" takes the form of lectures and theatrical performances in the Lodge, and is used to teach new Masons the value of truth and the necessity of helping those in need. Not everyone will want to learn the ancient ritual as it takes a great deal of time and study effort, but those Masons who chose to learn it are rewarded with the satisfaction of upholding a powerful tradition and helping their fellow Brothers further their Masonic understanding.
Can African Americans become Masons? Masonry accepts men from every race, color, creed, nationality, and culture, and there are many Freemasons of African-American decent. In addition, Prince Hall Masonry, formed by Prince Hall, an African-American Freemason who received a charter for a Lodge in 1775, has maintained active Lodges for the African-American community throughout America for over 200 years.
Are Shriners Masons? Yes, all Shriners are Masons. Before a man can join the Shrine, he must first receive three "degrees" in his "Blue Lodge," or Home Lodge. After that any Mason can move on to one or more of the appendant bodies, including the Scottish Rite, York Rite, and Shrine. Masons may also affiliate with other Lodges. It should be noted that although these other Masonic bodies allow members to pursue advanced degrees and get more Masonic education, there is no "higher" degree than the 3rd, which is received in the Blue Lodge.
I've seen secret Masonic "codebooks" -- what do they mean? The nature of Masonic teachings and initiation is deeply rooted in the oral tradition. In most Lodges around the world, these rituals are never written out - but are passed on "mouth to ear," from one Masonic generation to the next. What may be thought to be codebooks are actually Masonic "ciphers." These ciphers are not in "code" at all, but provide merely hints of the spoken word to refresh one's memory. A Masonic cipher cannot be "broken" as there is no code to break.
I heard Catholics cannot become Masons, is that true? Freemasonry has always welcomed members of any faith, including Catholics. Today, there are many, many Catholics - as well as Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and members of almost every other faith, who are proud to be Masons.
Were all our early presidents Masons? No, although many presidents have been Masons throughout history - from George Washington to Gerald Ford. Many of the early leaders of the Revolution were Masons, including Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and Paul Revere. The list of prominent men who became Masons before going on to greatness is extensive and underscores the strong civic commitment that many members of the Fraternity exemplify even today.
Why aren't there any famous women who are Masons? Freemasonry is, by definition, a fraternity that aims to promote Brotherly Love and Friendship among its members. It is a worldwide organization that draws together men from every country, race, religion, ethnicity, opinion, and background, and helps cultivate and promote better relationships and bonds of friendships among them. Freemasonry doesn't focus on Friendship and Brotherly Love because it believes that only relations between men are important, or that relations between men and women are unimportant, but because hope for peace and harmony in the world is improved when men can put aside their differences and come together as friends.
Masons also appreciate and value relations with women. We sponsor and participate in Masonic related organizations such as the Order of Eastern Star, whose members include women, as well as two youth organizations: the International Order of Job's Daughters and the International Order of the Rainbow For Girls.
Is Masonry a Religion? Masonry is definitely not a religion, and is one of the few forums where men of every religion can come together. And although Lodges open and close with a prayer, and Masonry teaches morality, it is neither a church nor a religious body, and a member's religious beliefs are his own affair. Masonry is open to all men who believe in a Supreme Being; because of the necessity to take oaths, no atheist can become a Mason.
Is Freemasonry a charity ? Not in the traditional sense. Masonic principles do however teach the value of relief or charity, and Freemasons donate thousands of hours of volunteer time and more than $2 million PER DAY, of which more than 70 percent goes to assist the general public. Among the Masons' good works are the Shriners Hospitals for Children with two dozen sites throughout North America; well over 200 Scottish Rite Learning Centers helping children with dyslexia, speech and hearing disorders; the Knights Templar Eye Foundation, which funds treatment and surgery for children and adults with vision disorders; and the Grottoes of North American Humanitarian Foundation, which provides dental care for special needs children.
There are numerous other worthy causes and groups that local Lodges contribute to and support in their communities, either independently or in conjunction with the Grand Lodge, such as the Illinois Child Identification Program (IL CHIP) which creates identification kits to help parents recover a lost or missing child. In addition, Masons are, collectively, one of the largest groups of blood donors in the State of Illinois.
Finally... 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 are used to build character - one principle at a time.