the web-page of the Grand Lodge of Michigan)
IS A MASON?
not a surprising question. Even though Masons (Freemasons) 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 Masons are.
The answer is simple. A Mason (or Freemason) is a member of a fraternity
known as Masonry (or Freemasonry). A fraternity is a group of men (just as
a sorority is a group of women) who join together because: There are
things they want to do in the world. There are things they want to do
"inside their own minds." They enjoy being together with men
they like and respect. (we'll look at some of these things later)
(or 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 the United States, there is a
Grand Lodge in each state and the District of Columbia. 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 13,200 lodges in the United States.
BRITAIN TO AMERICA, HOW?
a time when travel was by horseback and sailing ship, Masonry spread with
amazing speed. By 1731, when Benjamin Franklin joined the fraternity,
there were already several lodges in the Colonies, and Masonry spread
rapidly as America expanded west. In addition to Franklin, many of the
Founding Fathers -- men such as George Washington, Paul Revere, Joseph
Warren, and John Hancock -- were Masons. Masons and Masonry played an
important part in the Revolutionary War and an even more important part in
the Constitutional Convention and the debates surrounding the ratification
of the Bill of Rights. Many of those debates were held in Masonic lodges.
IS A LODGE?
word "lodge" means both a group of Masons meeting in some place
and the room or building in which they meet. Masonic buildings are also
sometimes called "temples" because much of the symbolism Masonry
uses to teach its lessons comes from the building of King Solomon's Temple
in the Holy Land. The term "lodge" itself comes from the
structures which the stonemasons built against the sides of the cathedrals
during construction. In winter, when building had to stop, they lived in
these lodges and worked at carving stone.
If you've ever watched C-SPAN's coverage of the House of Commons in
London, you'll notice that the layout is about the same. Since Masonry
came to America from England, we still use the English floorplan and
English titles for the officers. The Worshipful Master of the Lodge sits
in the East. "Worshipful" is an English term of respect which
means the same thing as "Honorable." He is called the Master of
the lodge for the same reason that the leader of an orchestra is called
the "Concert Master." It's simply an older term for
"Leader." In other organizations, he would be called
"President." The Senior and Junior Wardens are the First and
Second Vice-Presidents. The Deacons are messengers, and the Stewards have
charge of refreshments.
Every lodge has an altar holding a "Volume of the Sacred Law."
In the United States and Canada, that is almost always a Bible.
IS MASONRY EDUCATION?
In a very real sense, education is at the center of Masonry. We have
stressed its importance for a very long time. Back in the Middle Ages,
schools were held in the lodges of stonemasons. You have to know a lot to
build a cathedral -- geometry, and structural engineering, and
mathematics, just for a start. And that education was not very widely
available. All the formal schools and colleges trained people for careers
in the church, or in law or medicine. And you had to be a member of the
social upper classes to go to those schools. Stonemasons did not come from
the aristocracy. And so the lodges had to teach the necessary skills and
information. Freemasonry's dedication to education started there.
It has continued. Masons started some of the first public schools in both
Europe and America. We supported legislation to make education universal.
In the 1800s Masons as a group lobbied for the establishment of
state-supported education and federal land-grant colleges. Today we give
millions of dollars in scholarships each year. We encourage our members to
give volunteer time to their local schools, buy classroom supplies for
teachers, help with literacy programs, and do everything they can to help
assure that each person, adult or child, has the best educational
And Masonry supports continuing education and intellectual growth for its
members, insisting that learning more about many things is important for
anyone who wants to keep mentally alert and young.
Masonry teaches some important principles. There's nothing very surprising
in the list. Masonry teaches that:
Since God is the Creator, all men and women are the children of God.
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 God,
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 center 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
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.
Honor and integrity are essential to life. Life without honor and
integrity is without meaning.
ARE THE REQUIREMENTS TO JOIN?
person who wants to join Masonry must be a man (it's a fraternity), sound
in body and mind, who believes in God, is at least the minimum age
required by Masonry in his state, 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.
DOES A MAN BECOME A MASON?
men are surprised that no one has ever asked them to become a Mason. They
may even feel that the Masons in their town don't think they are
"good enough" to join. But it doesn't work that way. For
hundreds of years, Masons have been forbidden to ask others to join the
fraternity. We can talk to friends about Masonry. We can tell them about
what Masonry 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 Mason is a very serious thing. Joining Masonry
is making a permanent life commitment to live in certain ways. We've
listed most of them above -- to live with honor and integrity, to be
willing to share with and care about others, to trust each other, and to
place ultimate trust in God. No one should be "talked into"
making such a decision.
So, when a man decides he wants to be a Mason, he asks a Mason for a
petition or application. He fills it out and gives it to the Mason, and
that Mason takes it to the local lodge. The Master of the lodge will
appoint a committee to visit with the man and his family, find out a
little about him and why he wants to be a Mason, tell him and his family
about Masonry, and answer their questions. The committee reports to the
lodge, and the lodge votes on the petition. If the vote is affirmative --
and it usually is -- the lodge will contact the man 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.
IS A MASON?
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 and Grand Chaplain, Grand Lodge of Iowa, 1911-1913.
IS A MAN A MASON?
he can look out over the rivers, the hills, and the far horizon with a
profound sense of his own littleness in the vast scheme of things, and yet
have faith, hope, and courage -- which is the root of every virtue.
When he knows that down in his heart every man is as noble, as vile, as
divine, as diabolic, and as lonely as himself, and seeks to know, to
forgive, and to love his fellowman.
When he knows how to sympathize with men in their sorrows, yea, even in
their sins -- knowing that each man fights a hard fight against many odds.
When he has learned how to make friends and to keep them, and above all
how to keep friends with himself.
When he loves flowers, can hunt birds without a gun, and feels the thrill
of an old forgotten joy when he hears the laugh of a little child.
When he can be happy and high-minded amid the meaner drudgeries of life.
When star-crowned trees and the glint of sunlight on flowing waters subdue
him like the thought of one much loved and long dead.
When no voice of distress reaches his ears in vain, and no hand seeks his
aid without response.
When he finds good in every faith that helps any man to lay hold of divine
things and sees majestic meanings in life, whatever the name of that faith
When he can look into a wayside puddle and see something beyond mud, and
into the face of the most forlorn fellow mortal and see something beyond
When he knows how to pray, how to love, how to hope.
When he has kept faith with himself, with his fellowman, and with his God;
in his hand a sword for evil, in his heart a bit of a song -- glad to
live, but not afraid to die!
Such a man has found the only real secret of Masonry, and the one which it
is trying to give to all the world.