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WHO / WHAT ARE MASONS?
THE FAQS

(1) What is Freemasonry?

(2) What is the Scottish Rite?

(3) What is the York Rite?

(4) What is the Shrine?

(5) What is the Eastern Star?

(6) What is DeMolay?

(7) What is Rainbow?

(8) What are some other Masonic organizations?

(9) What is Co-Masonry?

(10) What is Prince Hall Masonry?

(11) What is a 33rd degree Mason?

(12) Are there any Masonic functions that I can attend
as a non-Mason?

(13) Who is the head of the Masons?

(14) Are there dues, fees, etc. associated with being a Mason?

15) I hear Masons refer to an "apron". What is that?

(16) What is a "Masonic Funeral"?

(1) What is Freemasonry?

Freemasonry (or simply, Masonry) is a fraternal order whose basic tenets are brotherly love, relief (philanthropy), and truth. We strive to enjoy the company of our brother Masons, assist them in times of personal trouble, and reinforce essential moral values. There is an old adage that Masonry "takes good men and makes them better", which is our goal.

It has often been observed that men are the products of everything they come into contact with during their lifetime. Masonry offers a man an opportunity to come into regular, enjoyable contact with men of good character, thus reinforcing his own personal moral development. Of course, Masonry is also meant to be enjoyed by its membership, so the order should not be viewed simply as a philosophical club, but rather a vibrant fellowship of men who seek to enjoy each other's company, a fraternity.

To maintain this fraternity, discussion of religion and politics within the Lodge is forbidden, as these subjects are those that have often divided men in the past. Masons cover the spectrum of both religious and political beliefs and encourages a man to be religious without advocating a particular religion, and to be active in his community without advocating a particular medium of political expression.

While there probably are some actual stone-workers who are Masons, Masonry does not teach is membership the literal techniques of stonework. Rather, it takes the actual "operative" work of Medieval Masons and uses it as an allegory for moral development. Thus, the symbols of Masonry are the common tools that were used by medieval stonemasons: the gavel, the rule, the compass, the square, the level, etc. Each of these has a symbolic meaning in Masonry. For example, Masons are said to meet "on the level", meaning that all Masons are brothers, regardless of social status, personal wealth, or office within the Lodge or in the world at large. Similar symbolism exists for other tools.

Masonry is distinguished from other fraternal orders by its emphasis on moral character, its ornate rituals, and its long tradition and history, which dates back to at least the 17th century in modern form, the 14th century (c. 1350-1390) in the written evidence of its precursors, and back to the mists of antiquity in its origin. Masonry has a continuously documented paper history (i.e., Lodge to Lodge) since 1717, though historical analysis shows Masonry to be much older.

There are also a great many things that Masonry is NOT: a religion, a secret society, etc., and these will be covered later in this FAQ.

There are three degrees in Masonry. Other appendant bodies confer additional degrees, up to the 32nd (or the honorary 33rd) of the Scottish Rite, but in symbolic Masonry (or Blue Lodge Masonry) proper, there are only three. At the Blue Lodge, Masons receive the degrees of Entered Apprentice (first degree), Fellowcraft (second degree), and Master Mason (third degree). Promotion generally requires the mastery of a small body of memorized material, the contents of which varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, only the signs, tokens, and grips of each degree must be learned; in others, a longer amount of material.

Of course, no Mason would ever look down upon a Brother simply because he was of a lower degree-- the degrees do not exist to create a pecking order or to confer rank. Rather, they are a system of initiation that allows men to become familiar with the august and ancient history and principles of Masonry at a comfortable pace. Proceeding from Entered Apprentice to Master Mason in the US can take as little as three months, while in England, the degrees are spaced apart by a year's interval.

Most Lodges have regular communications (meetings) once a month, that are also referred to as "business meetings". In the US, these are typically only open to Master Masons. In England, these meetings are usually opened in the first degree, and EAs may attend). Conferring of degrees is usually done at other meetings during the month.

While conferral of degrees and mundane business do take up a lot of a Lodge's time, there are a host of other activities that Masons engage in within the fraternity. Charitable work is often done, in the form of fundraisers, community volunteer work, etc. And there are also a great many things done for the simple pleasure of company: monthly breakfasts or dinners, picnics, card/chess matches, lecturers on Masonic history, you name it. Masonry is a fraternity, and its membership seeks to have fun.

Local Masonic Lodges are organized under Grand Lodges. In the United States, each state has its own Grand Lodge, which is a peer with every other Grand Lodge. There is not "Grandest Lodge"-- each Grand Lodge is supreme in its jurisdiction (e.g., in the US, in its state) but has no authority elsewhere. Of course, this does not mean that Masonry in New York is radically different than Masonry in Scotland or New Mexico. Masons are very traditional and the differences between Grand Lodges are usually minor.

The head of a Lodge is given the title Worshipful Master. This, of course, does not imply that Masons worship him; it is merely a stylish title. Masonic Lodges can be found in many cities, of all sizes, around the world. There are presently approximately 5 million Masons, half of which are in the United States.

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(2) What is the Scottish Rite?

The Scottish Rite is an appendant body of Masonry, meaning that it is not part of the Blue Lodge per se, but closely associated with Masonry. It requires that a man be a Master Mason before joining the Scottish Rite. The Scottish Rite confers the 4th through 32nd degrees. The degree work may be, but is not necessarily, completed at one time. Any Master Mason is eligible to join the Scottish Rite. The degrees of the Scottish Rite continue the symbolism of the first three Masonic degrees. For a discussion of the 33rd degree, see question 9 of this section.

The above refers to the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR), not the Rectified Scottish Rite , which exists both in UGLE-recognised and non-recognised Masonic bodies in the Europe.

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(3) What is the York Rite?

The York Rite, like the Scottish Rite, is an appendant body of Masonry, and confers degrees beyond the Blue Lodge's three degrees. It consists of nine degrees additional degrees: Mark Master, Past Master, Most Excellent Master, and Royal Arch Mason; the Cryptic Degrees of the Royal Master, Select Master, and Super Excellent Master; and the Chivalric Orders of the Order of the Red Cross, Order of the Knights of Malta and the Order of Knights Templar.

The Temple degrees, which comprise the top degrees of the York Rite are specifically Christian. Or at least, it can be stated that the oath is: in some Grand Lodges in the US and abroad, one need not be a Christian, but rather only be willing to take a Christian OATH. The difference here is that there are some who would willingly swear to defend the Christian faith on the grounds that they would defend any man's faith. The Chapter (or Royal Arch) and Council Of Royal And Select Masters (Cryptic Rite), which comprise the first two sections of the York Rite, are not specifically Christian.

As with most things Masonic, discuss any concerns with your local York Rite, who can advise you regarding your eligibility.

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(4) What is the Shrine?

The Shrine is not an appendant body of Masonry, though the distinction would escape many. The Shrine confers no additional degrees. It was founded in 1872 (the Mecca Temple in New York City) and an Arabic theme was chosen. Hence, the distinctive red fez that Shriners wear at official functions.

Members of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles the Mystic Shrine for North America (AASONM is an anagram for "A MASON") are members of the Scottish Rite's 32nd degree, and/or Knights Templer of the York Rite. The Shrine is most noted for its emphasis on philanthropy and its jolly outlook on life-- it has been called "the playground of Masonry". This is expressed as "Pleasure without intemperance, hospitality without rudeness, and jollity without coarseness."

The Royal Order of Jesters is a group drawn from Shrine membership, by invitation only.

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(5) What is the Eastern Star?

The Order of the Eastern Star is an adoptive rite of Freemasonry with teachings based on the Bible and objectives that are charitable and benevolent. The founder of OES was Dr. Robert Morris, a lawyer and educator from Boston, Massachusetts, who was a Master Mason and Past Grand Master of Kentucky. Dr. Morris intended his creation to become a female branch of Freemasonry, but he failed to overcome the great opposition this idea engendered. After his first published ritual in 1849-50, he became associated with Robert Macoy who wrote and published a ritual based on Morris' in 1867. The first Grand Chapter was organized in Michigan in the same year. (There is evidence for an organization of the same name founded variously in 1788 or 1793, but this group was defunct by 1867.) Subordinate (local) chapters operate under charter from state level grand chapters which are responsible to the General Grand Chapter at the International Eastern Star temple in Washington, D.C.

Members must be eighteen years or older and either Master Masons in good standing or properly related to a Master Mason in good standing. The latter category includes wives; widows; sisters; daughters; mothers; granddaughters; step-mothers; step daughters; step-sisters; and half-sisters. In 1994 this was expanded to include nieces, daughters-in- law, and grandmothers.

Each chapter has eighteen officers, some elected and others appointed. Two offices are specifically male (Patron and Associate Patron) while nine offices are specifically female (including Matron and Associate Matron). While the Worthy Matron is considered to be the presiding officer of the chapter, the degrees cannot be conferred without a presiding brother in good standing (hence the Patron and Associate Patron).

Each chapter retains the right to decide who shall be a member of the organization. Election to the degrees must be unanimous, without debate, and secret. The successful candidate must profess a belief in a Supreme Being and is initiated in five degrees, which are conferred in one ceremony. (When Eastern Star was created, it was intended to be the first of a three degree series. The second and third degrees were Queen of the South and the Order of the Amaranth, respectively.)

Interestingly enough, OES requires only the belief in a Supreme Being even though the degrees are based in both the Old and New Testaments. While non-Christians are not specifically barred from membership, it would seem to be difficult to be other than Christian and belong to the Order. (Thanks to Joy Leavy for this section)

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(6) What is DeMolay?

The International Order of DeMolay is the world's largest fraternal organization for young men between the ages of 13 and 21. The Order was founded in Kansas City, Missouri on March 24, 1919 by Frank Sherman Land. DeMolay Chapters are sponsored by Masonic Lodges, and some members of the sponsoring body also serve as Advisors on the Chapter's Advisory Council. Structurally, it is similar to Masonry. The officers of a Chapter are the Master Councilor, Senior Councilor, Junior Councilor, Senior Deacon, Junior Deacon, Senior Steward, Junior Steward, Orator, Scribe, Marshal, Chaplain, Standard Bearer, Sentinel, Almoner, and seven Preceptors.

DeMolay Chapters hold monthly or bi-weekly meetings with Masonic-like Ritual. Other activities include athletic tournaments and events, social functions (joint activities with Rainbow are encouraged), fund-raising activities, Masonic service activities, and civic and philanthropic activities.

DeMolays are taught the seven cardinal virtues of the Order-- filial love, reverence for sacred things, courtesy, comradeship, fidelity, cleanness, and patriotism-- and the importance of practicing them in their daily lives.

The Order's namesake is Jacques DeMolay, who was the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar and who was executed by the Inquisition on March 18, 1314. Louis Lower, the first DeMolay, and his group of friends, when asked by Dad Land to choose a name for their group, believed that his heroic fidelity and loyalty to his fellow Templars were qualities with which they wanted their group to be identified. Mind you, Dad Land explained this to them before they chose their name.

A fascinating book about the history of the Order and the life of Frank S. Land (1890-1959), titled "Hi! Dad," is available from the DeMolay and More Store or practically any member of the Order. The phone number of the DeMolay and More Store is 1-800-DEMOLAY. (thanks to Tom Schnorrenberg)

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(7) What is Rainbow?

"The International Order of the Rainbow for Girls is an organization for girls from 11 to 20 years of age. Masonic relationship is not required. Rainbow for Girls stands for belief in the Supreme Being, dignity of character, the higher things in life, effective leadership, church membership, patriotism, cooperation with equals, love of home and services to others.

At meetings, Rainbow Girls wear dresses varying pastel colors and shades while Grand Officers wear white."--"The International Order of Rainbow for Girls was founded by Rev. W. Mark Sexson in 1922 for girls from 11 to 20, membership requirements are to be sponsored by a Master Mason or Eastern Star and two members of the Order, Origins of Lessons taught are from the Bible using the Humanities, the Presiding Officer is the Worthy Advisor, the Subordinate Line Officers are the Worthy Associate Advisor - the station of Charity - the station of Hope - the station of Faith, the Presiding Advisor is the Mother Advisor, and the Adult Leadership is the Advisory Board."

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(8) What are some other Masonic organizations?

Acacia: A college fraternity for Master Masons, the sons of Masons, and young men recommended by two Masons one of whom is an Acacian himself. The national governing board is composed exclusively of 32nd and 33rd degree Masons.

Order of Amaranth: Open to Masons and their wives, mothers, daughters, widows, and sisters. At least one Master Mason must be present at every initiation. It confers only one degree.

Daughters of Mokanna: An auxiliary organization of the Grotto comprised of the wives, mothers, daughters, widows, and sisters of the Master Masons in the Grotto.

Daughters of the Nile: An auxiliary organization for the wives, mothers, daughters, widows, and sisters of members of the Shrine.

Desoms: An organization for deaf Masons.

Grotto: A fun organization open to Master Masons. It imitates the Shrine to a large degree, but requires only that a member be a Master Mason rather than a 32nd degree Mason or Knight Templar. Officially known as The Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm (MOVPER).

High Twelve International: An organization of Master Masons that usually meet for lunch, enjoy fellowship, and support Masonic causes, with special emphasis on youth and patriotic endeavors.

Job's Daughters: Enrolls girls between the ages of 13 and 20 that have some Masonic relative. They must profess a belief in God, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's prayer.

L.O.S. of N.A.: The Ladies' Oriental Shrine of North America. Another auxiliary for the wives, mothers, daughters, widows, and sisters of Shrine members.

National Sojourners, Inc.: Open to Master Masons which are U.S. citizens and who have served or are serving as a commissioned or warrant officer in the United States military or in any armed service of a nation allied with the US in time of war.

Philalethes: A group for Masons interested in Masonic philosophy and history.

Royal Order of Scotland: An organization for Christian Masons who have been 32nd degree Masons or Knights Templar for five or more years.

Tall Cedars of Lebanon: A fun organization for Master Masons similar to the Grotto. It confers the two degrees of the Royal Court and the Sidonian.

White Shrine of Jerusalem: For Master Masons and their wives, mothers, daughters, widows, and sisters. Members must profess a belief in the defense of the Christian religion.

(thanks to Bill Menees for providing this section)

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(9) What is Co-Masonry?

Co-Masonry refers to Masonic Lodges that admit both men and women. Co-Masonry traces its heritage back to the 19th century.

There are two Grand Lodges of Co-Masonry with jurisdiction in America: Le Droit Humain, a GL based in Paris, France and the original Co-Masonic organization in the US, and the American Federation of Human Rights (aka American Co-Masonry), which is based in Larkspur, Colorado.

The degree structure differs slightly from standard Blue Lodge structure (i.e., the Scottish Rite is worked as part of the regular Lodge, not a separate organization), but in most things Co-Masonic lodges function as regular Masonic lodges.

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(10) What is Prince Hall Masonry?

NOTE: This section is excerpted from the Grand Lodge of New Brunswick's annual communication. I wish there were some Prince Hall Masons who could provide better information.

"There are some schools of thought that Prince Hall (his name not a title) was born in Barbados to a free black woman and a Scottish father. He emigrated to the Colony of Boston, Mass. and acquired real estate, making him eligible to vote. It was also documented that he was a devout Christian and a leather-worker by trade. On March 6, 1775, during the American War of Independence, Prince Hall along with fourteen men of color were made Masons in Army Lodge #441 of the Irish Constitution. When Army Lodge moved on, the aforesaid brethren were issued a permit authorizing them to appear publicly as a Masonic body for the purpose of celebrating the feast of St. John and to bury their dead.

On March 2, 1784, these same brethren applied to the Grand Lodge of England for a charter, which was subsequently issued to them on September 29, 1784. They were warranted under the name of African Lodge, No. 459 on the register of the Grand Lodge of England by authority of then Grand Master, the Duke of Cumberland. Prince Hall was the first Master. That charter, which is authenticated and in safekeeping, is believed to be the only original charter issued from the Grand Lodge of England still in the possession of any Lodge in the United States.

African Lodge allowed itself to slip into arrears in the late 1790's and was stricken from the rolls after the Union of 1813, although it had attempted correspondence in 1802 and 1806. In 1827, after other unreplied-to attempts at communication, it declared its independence of any external authority and began to call itself African Grand Lodge No. 1.

It is interesting to note that when the Massachusetts lodges which were acting as a Provincial Grand Lodge declared themselves an independent Grand Lodge, and even when the present Grand Lodge of Massachusetts was formed by the amalgamation of two separate Grand Lodges, African Lodge was not invited to take part, even though it held a warrant every bit as valid as those others. This may be explained in part by this 1795 quote from John Eliot, who later became Grand Chaplain of the Gr. Lodge of Mass. He wrote, "White Masons, who are not more skilled in geometry than their black brethren, will not acknowledge them... .the truth is they are ashamed of being on an equality with blacks."

Today there are 45 Grand Lodges (the latest being the just formed "Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the Caribbean") that trace their origin back to African Lodge #459. There are more than 5000 Prince Hall Lodges and over 300,000 members. So far as it is known, their ritual, their secrets, their procedures, their requirements, their beliefs, their tenets or fundamental principles, are all either identical with ours, or recognizably similar." (by.. W Bro. Roy Cassidy)

To add to this:

The United Grand Lodge of England has now officially recognized Prince Hall Lodges. Many US Grand Lodges have recognized PH GLs within their jurisdictions, and it has been or is being discussed in other jurisdictions. Since every Grand Lodge is autonomous and the supreme authority in its jurisdiction, this issue must be approached on a state-by-state basis.

Some have criticized Masonry as "segregated" due to the Prince Hall Lodges, but this is a ridiculous claim, since there are many black Masons in non-PH Lodges and white members in PH Lodges, and displays a fundamental ignorance of Masonic history.

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(11) What is a 33rd degree Mason?

The Scottish Rite awards a special honorary degree, the 33rd, to those it feels has made an outstanding contribution to Masonry, the community as a whole, and to mankind. There is no way to "achieve" this degree or "take" it, in the sense that one takes the 4th through 32nd degrees in the Scottish Rite. It is a singular honor, rarely bestowed, and greatly admired.

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(12) Are there any Masonic functions that I can attend as a non-Mason?

Yes. Many Lodges open their installation of officers to the public. Once a year, a new Worshipful Master takes office. The ceremony performed during his inauguration is public. It is not the same ceremony as would be performed in a regular Masonic ritual or degree, but it does have the flavoring of Masonic symbolism and allows the public to "get a feel for Masonry" without being Masons. NOTE: Not all jurisdictions have public installations. Call or write your local lodge for details.

In addition, many Lodges sponsor public functions throughout the year, such as dinners or charity functions, designed to allow non-Masons who are interested in Masonry the chance to talk with Masons and ask questions. For information, call your local Lodge.

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(13) Who is the head of the Masons?

No one. Each Grand Lodge has its own jurisdiction and is the supreme authority within that jurisdiction. Obviously, many Grand Lodges have regular communication with each other, but official policy in one has no effect in another.

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(14) Are there dues, fees, etc. associated with being a Mason?

Yes. Like all organizations, Lodges must be able to pay their light bills. Typically, there is a one-time fee for the three degrees of Masonry, as well as regular annual dues. But these vary widely depending on the number of members, cost of living (rent in Manhattan is higher than it is in rural Oklahoma), the actual physical facilities of the Lodge, etc. The fees and dues, however, are not prohibitively expensive (the author is a college student and has no problem with them). Rather than give a single figure which may be very different than your local Lodge charges, or publishing an extended table of costs, it is easiest to simply refer the interested to their local Lodge.

Incidentally, many Grand Lodge jurisdictions provide for "life membership" after a Mason has paid dues for a long period. For example, in Michigan a Mason is no longer asked to pay dues after he has been a Mason for forty years. Other jurisdictions allow members to pay a lump sum for life membership. As with almost everything in Masonry, check with your local Grand Lodge or Lodge for more information.

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( (15) I hear Masons refer to an "apron". What is that?

"During the ceremonies of his initiation, each Mason is presented with a white apron. It is, to him, an emblem of innocence and the badge of a Mason. It has, in all ages, been cherished by the rich, the poor, the high and the low. It is his for life. He will never receive another one and has, therefore, been cautioned to take it home and instructed in its care. While perfectly satisfactory for him to do so if he desires, he need not bring it to Lodge, as linen aprons are provided for his use meetings." (From a pamphlet, "To the Lady and Family of a Mason")

The above applies to the US. In many other countries, the Master Mason owns his regalia and brings it to the Lodge.

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(16) What is a "Masonic Funeral"?

"Any member who was in good standing at the time of his death is entitled to a Masonic funeral if he or his family requests it. Such a request should be made to the Master of his Lodge who will make the necessary arrangements with the family, the mortuary, and the minister. A service is authorized by the jurisdiction in which you are located, and consists of participation at the mortuary, the beginning at the mortuary and the closing at the graveside, or graveside only. Pallbearers will be furnished at the request of the family. In general, the Lodge will do as much or as little as the nearest relative wishes it to do." (From a pamphlet, "To the Lady and Family of a Mason")

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