Answers to Common Questions to Freemasonry
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, eliminate poverty, or help create world peace, but every man, woman and child can do something to help others and to make life a little better for others.
Freemasonry is deeply involved with helping people. The Fraternity spends millions of dollars every year in Canada, just to make life a little easier. The great majority of that help goes to people who are not Freemasons. Some of these charities are vast projects, like the Shriners Hospitals for Children. Scottish Rite Masons maintain Learning Centres. Each helps children afflicted by such conditions as aphasia, dyslexia, stuttering, and related learning or speech disorders. Assistance and support for post-secondary education is a significant aim.
Some services are less noticeable, like helping a widow pay her electric bill or buying coats and shoes for disadvantaged children. 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 leverage their efforts with others to contribute even more.
It really isn’t “secretive,” although it sometimes has that reputation. Freemasons certainly don’t make a secret of the fact that they are members of the fraternity. We wear rings, lapel pins, ball caps, golf shirts and tie tacks with Masonic emblems like the Square and Compasses, the best known Masonic symbols. Masonic buildings are clearly marked and are openly listed online and in the phone book. Lodge activities are not secret; picnics and other events are even listed in the newspapers, especially in smaller towns. Many lodges have answering machines which give the upcoming lodge activities.
However, there are some Masonic secrets, and they fall into two categories:
The first are the ways in which a man can identify himself as a Mason — grips and passwords. We keep these private for reasons of tradition and practicality. It is not at all unknown for unscrupulous people to try to pass themselves off as Masons in order to get assistance under false pretenses. They also serve to distinguish Masons that are progressing through their degrees and Masonic education.
The second group is harder to describe, but they are the ones Masons usually mean if they talk about “Masonic secrets.” They are secrets because they literally cannot be talked about and cannot be put into words. They are the changes that happen to a man when he really accepts responsibility for his own life and truly decides that his real happiness is in helping others.
It’s a wonderful feeling and it’s something you simply can’t explain to another person. That’s why we sometimes say that Masonic secrets cannot (rather than “may not”) be told. Try telling someone exactly what you feel when you see a beautiful sunset, or when you hear beautiful music. It suddenly stirs pleasant memories that represent significant times or events in your life.
“Secret societies” became very popular in North America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many of them were modeled on Freemasonry and made a great point of having many “secrets.” Freemasonry is not a secret society; rather, it is a society of men that maintains its privacy.
The answer to that question is simple. No.
There is an element of ritual in the meetings and because there is always an altar or table with the Volume of the Sacred Law open if a lodge is meeting, some have described Freemasonry as a religion. That does not mean that religion plays no part in Freemasonry; it plays a very important part. A person who wants to become a Freemason must have a belief in a Supreme Being. No atheist can ever become a Freemason. Meetings open with prayer, and a Freemason is taught, as one of the first lessons of Freemasonry, that one should pray for divine counsel and guidance before starting an important undertaking. But that does not make Freemasonry a “religion.”
Sometimes people confuse Freemasonry with a religion because we call some Masonic buildings “temples.” But we use the word in the same sense that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called the Supreme Court a “Temple of Justice” and because a Masonic lodge is a symbol of the Temple of Solomon. Neither Freemasonry nor the Supreme Court is a religion just because its members meet in a “temple.”
Bibles are popular gifts among Freemasons and are presented to a man when he joins the lodge or at other special events. A Masonic Bible is the same book anyone thinks of as a Bible with a special page in the front on which to write their name and the occasion on which it is given. Sometimes there is a special index or information section which shows the person where in the Bible to find the passages that are quoted in the Masonic ritual. Other sacred texts are presented to Freemasons that are not Christians, consistent with their own belief system.
Yes. In a very real sense, education is at the centre of Freemasonry. During the Middle Ages, schools were held in the lodges of stonemasons. You have to learn a lot to build a cathedral; geometry, structural engineering, and mathematics, just for a start. 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. You had to be a member of the social upper classes to go to those schools. Stonemasons generally did not come from the aristocracy, so the lodges had to teach the necessary skills and information. Freemasonry’s dedication to education started there.
Freemasonry supports continuing education and intellectual growth for its members, insisting that learning more about the world and themselves is important for anyone who wants to maintain mental alertness and youth.
Everyone uses symbols every day, just as we do in our ritual. We use symbols because they communicate ideas and concepts effectively. When you see a stop sign, you know what it means, even if you can’t read the word “stop.” The circle and line mean “don’t” or “not allowed.” In fact, using symbols is probably the oldest way of communication and the oldest way of teaching.
Freemasonry uses symbols for the same reason. Some style of the Square and Compasses represent the most widely used and best-known symbols of Freemasonry. When you see the Square and Compasses on a building, you know that Freemasons meet there.
And like all symbols, they have a meaning to members of the Craft.