Frequently Asked Questions about Freemasonry.
Shrouded in mystery, many of the questions about Freemasonry are easily answerable and offer a glimpse into the fraternity. This list of answers to frequently asked questions will put into context some of the most often, least explained, aspects of the fraternity. You can download a free ebook exploring these topics here: What is Freemasonry? You can read more on the subtext of Freemasonry under Masonic Symbols.
1. What is Freemasonry?
2. How old is Freemasonry?
3. Why are Freemasons so secretive?
4. Is Freemasonry a patriotic body?
5. Why does Freemasonry not admit women?
6. Why does Freemasonry say it is a “ritual” practice?
7. Why is “Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth” so important in Freemasonry?
8. Why does Freemasonry have such odd symbolism like the skull?
9. Is Masonry Practical?
10. Does Freemasonry promote drinking?
11. Why do so many Masonic Lodges look old?
12. What are the first steps to petitioning?
13. How do I find the most suitable lodge?
14. Is every Lodge different?
15. What are Masonic Lodge Hours?
16. What are their requirements of becoming a Mason?
17. How long does it take to become a Freemason?
18. How much does it cost?
19. Does Freemasonry offer family activities?
20. Are lodges diverse?
21. What is the lodge experience like?
22. Are meetings mandatory?
23. What is expected/hoped for new members?
24. What does “making good men better” mean?
25. How does it make you better?
26. Are their any subjects not discussed in a lodge?
27. Is there a racial divide in Freemasonry?
28. Are their other functions or clubs?
29. My Father, Grandfather, etc, was a Freemason, how do I find out information about him?
30. What is Esoteric Masonry?
31. Why is their a decrease in membership?
32. Can you leave the Masons once you become one?
Freemasonry is a post collegiate male fraternity dedicated to the spiritual development of the initiate into a broader sense of the self, and the initiates as he relates to the divine and their relative place in the world. It conveys this message through a series of progressive degrees initiating the candidate into a deeper level of membership. Ultimately, the raised Master Mason is given the metaphorical tools to further work on and develop their Masonic intuition.
The history of modern freemasonry is fairly understood, but once you get beyond the 1700’s things get lost to the sands of time.
One of the beauties of Freemasonry is that it allows the member to stretch his mind to think about a variety of topics not typically explored in mainstream history. Some Masonic historians attempt to explain and look at the connections or possibilities in history that are often overlooked, especially to the recent past and into the not so recent historical world. Freemasonry today has been fairly unchanged in the last 300 years, and is modeled in a system that was likely little changed for the 150 years prior to that. It is believed that the working aspects of Freemasonry, the form and function of the lodge, comes from guilds of the Renaissance and middle ages, and over time attracted a wider audience of non practicing “masons”.
This is the period that the present day fraternity shifted from an “operative” guild to a “speculative” one. These changes have evolved to shape the look and feel of modern lodge operation today.
More on the History of Freemasonry.
Many masons will not answer questions about the fraternity as they believe it is supposed to be a “secret”. In the end that is a loss for the fraternity as any time someone asks a question about Masonry it’s a great opportunity to talk openly about it. An often retort to this idea is that it is a Society with Secrets, rather than a secret society, but this is equally confusing. There are aspects to Freemasonry that are kept and taught to only those who go through the initiations and ceremonies so as to keep them in a proper perspective and context of meaning. These aspects are not “secrets” but instead knowledge that is best communicated in a specific and concise manner.
Yes and no. The aims of Freemasonry are not specifically to embolden patriotism. It does however; promote a strong affinity towards a passionate interest in the nation in which the Freemason resides. It encourages more than a passive interest in the development of civil society and our roles as citizens in it. The patriotism that is displayed is the result of that interest in the well being of society itself. The fraternity does strongly encourage the adherence and following of the principals and laws of the country in which the man lives.
The fraternity has, with an unwritten rule, remained a principally all male fraternity. At times, women have been admitted, for a variety of reasons.
There are bodies comprised of mixed gender, and singular gender that have varying degrees of recognition to one another. Through most of the world, the predominate body of masonry is referred to as “Regular” which is essentially a collective of Grand Lodges who have reached a mutual agreement of recognition between one another. Within in this agreement, there is a stipulation that “Regular Freemasonry” is a masculine only body.
It is suggested that this is the case, based on ancient documents held sacred by this collective of Grand Lodges. This does not mean that Masonry is something women cannot understand, nor does it mean that women should be excluded from it. In a modern perspective, the exclusion of women is a vestige from a bygone era that has not yet been fully addressed in the future, and like the issues from past generations will undoubtedly be addressed. Today, the exclusion is predicated on issues such as a distraction, the need for unfettered brotherhood, and the belief in purism of ritual.
More on Mixed and Feminine Freemasonry.
The use of the word ritual is in describing the rhythmic practice of the same ceremony at each occasion. Often there is a connotation of something sinister or counter to popular practice, but to the contrary, it is meant to imply that the degrees are an established or prescribed procedure to convey the knowledge of the Fraternity in a in a repetition.
What this means is that the same ceremony is practiced with each aspirant into the fraternal fold so that each man undergoes the same experience creating a unifying shared experience.
These three virtues are the foundations upon which Freemasonry is built. Brotherly love, as directed towards all mankind, especially to other Masons. Relief, in that every Mason is obligated to relieve the suffering of any Master Mason they encounter who is in dire need and if in their power to do so, to the best of their ability, also to act charitably towards society, giving of ourselves economically, physically, and mentally. And truth, which is represented by the divine, in its multiplicity and diversity as understood by all men. These three ideas represent the core of what Freemasonry represents in its ultimate distillation.
The skull and bones, or specifically the skull (or deaths head) is actually a symbol to remind us of death, as it is the ultimate equalizer of man as none can avoid its eventuality. This is more a means to remind us that no matter our station in life, rich or poor, we are all subject to the same fate, and that our goal should be to make this world better for everyone. The course of that meaning is that all Masons should always strive for our noble endeavors, namely brotherly love, relief, and truth.
The question of practicality is entirely a self answer question. Only if something is applied can it be practical so it definitely becomes something the initiated has to answer. It is a self achieving process whereby the individual definitely gets what they put into it.
Temperance is virtue promoted within Freemasonry. When, why, or who made that its social mandate is lost to the sand of time. Masonry does not frown on the consumption of alcohol, but many lodges are essentially dry. It is an odd paradox that a Fraternity founded in taverns is dry today but for now it is predominantly a temperate society. But, like all men, Masons still meet for drinks and imbibe together and at certain special occasions serve beverages in lodge. It may be more of a past social stigma playing out rather than a symbolic one. Also, lodges in Europe and elsewhere do not seem so stringently afflicted.
The issue of the older Masonic buildings is a paradox from the 1950’s when Freemasonry was in a boom era of incredible growth. At its height, Freemasonry had upwards of 4 million members and consequently lots of member money. With its growth of membership so to did its infrastructure expand. One of the consequences of having these expensive buildings that were built in the 1950’s and 60’s is that they eventually ultimately fell under needed to be updated to modern building codes which became very expensive. The consequence of this is that the buildings became less and less available for public and commercial use as they fell out of code. This with a declination in membership led to fewer and fewer funds to refurbish them. Today, there is an abundance of inventory of lodges, with a decreasing volume of membership.
The process begins first by getting to know the lodge you wish to join. This is really the first step in becoming a member, and starts with introducing yourself to a lodge at a dinner and getting to know the membership before the lodge opens.
In most major cities their may be several lodges near you. The local White Pages or Yellow Pages will have a listing for those in your community.
With several lodges near you (relatively speaking) the best thing to do is contact all of the ones close to you for your comfort, and set up a time to go down and meet with them. Lodges “typically” meet on the first Thursday of the month and serve a dinner prior to the regular meeting. This would probably be the best time to go in and meet the membership, even if informally. The way to go about this would be to contact the lodges (via email or phone) and let them know you are interested and would like to come in and meet them. Additionally, check the state Grand Lodge Website for a complete listing of lodges in your state.
Lodges do have personalities and should be evaluated as such. The dynamic, however, can change so what may seem one way may be something else another time, but you can often get a general feel for the lodge on a visit. The best things to look for are a vibrant membership with diverse age groups, and members.
Most “should” have their hours posted for visitors on the outside of the building for when someone will be there.
Also, check their website.
There are some self study requirements to learn certain aspects of the fraternity, and then a degree of expectation that you will further your knowledge about the Freemasonry which will eventually become second nature. To join, it is expected that the individual be of good reputation, have a good moral disposition, and a personal desire to become a Freemason.
It can take 6 to 18 months, depending on your interest, ability, and time. It could, theoretically, be completed faster or take longer, depending on how one applies themselves.
In very rare circumstances, an individual may be made a mason at sight on the dispensation of a grand lodge grand master.
Costs are separated into two categories, joining fees and annual dues. The cost of Dues can vary, but are typically no more than one hundred dollars for an annual membership. Start up (initiation fees) can be several hundred, and vary lodge to lodge, but after that, it is fairly inexpensive.
When compared to other annual costs, the fee is very low, when compared to the annual costs of a family YMCA membership of $840 annually ($70 per month), or an annual shopping club store membership of $600 (at $50 per month).
As with any organized body, the dues go to the operation and management of the lodge to which they are paid, as it forms the basis of a fraternal home (or meeting space) to the membershipship.
Yes, frequently, there are dinners or other functions that invite family and friends to attend and share in the festivities of the lodge and fraternity. Specific lodge meetings are open only to Master Masons, as are only key events in the year. Most lodges encourage and welcome spouses to the pre-monthly meeting dinner offering some entertainment for the group, as this enhances the overall experience.
The diversity of each lodge varies.
This variance exists from state to state, city to city, even lodge to lodge. Undoubtedly, the fraternity was dominated by the social morays of the eras it has evolved through, which has misconstrued it as a prejudicial as a organization. Many inroads have been made to eradicate that sentiment and the fraternity is a reflection of society. In some places lodges are made up of a singular group, some are a blend of. Each lodge is unique to its community composition.
The unique individuality of Freemasonry in each state varies as does each lodge. Some places are very progressive, some are not so. The Fraternity of Freemasonry itself does not foster or promote any race, creed, political, religious, or color divide. Nowhere in its tenants or lessons does it espouse any sort of segregation or inequality between men. In fact, it professes the exact opposite, seeing everyman as equal.
The month to month experience varies from mason to mason. Depending on how active they choose to be will vary the degree to which they are engaged. As the old adage goes, you get out of it what you put into it.
So the more active you are, the broader the experience. Activities vary, as there is a wide range of things to do. It is not like a church service or board of directors meeting, in that those in attendance actively participate.
A typical month can have as few as one meeting a month or more than five or six.
No. None of the meetings are “mandatory.” Once a candidate has been raised to the 3rd degree, participation is completely voluntary and at the individuals will and pleasure. Further, a Mason is not obligated to go only to his lodge once all 3 degrees have been obtained and a certain degree of proficiency has been achieved.
Once full membership is achieved, the Mason can go to any lodge or Masonic function, following certain protocols when visiting distant lodges.
Ideally, once you go through the degrees it is hoped that the new member will desire to attend the regular meetings, pay dues and contribute to the organization as time permits.
Making good men better is a distillation of the purpose of the Masonic experience. The ritual and ceremony serve to convey these tenants and teach certain moral lessons and elevate the individual response to a position higher than themselves. The lessons are things you have likely already heard or have learned in church or moral society. What makes them unique to Freemasonry is that they are presented in a specific format and context.
The process to make individuals better is achieved by teaching and applying the Masonic lessons to ones life and existence. These lessons are not necessarily anything one has not ever learned before, as they are things you may have forgotten, or don’t do for a variety reasons.
The whole of Freemasonry is based on allegory and symbol, and it is in the study of this, that one starts to discover what its meanings and correlations are. The parts of Freemasonry lead to a whole and it is what that sum equates to that makes it truly applicable. In the end, it could make bad men better, but like participation, philosophically you get out of it what you put into it. Masonic philosophy is about making good men better, but it is still up to the man to apply it.
Masonry in many ways is what the individual makes of it. You can have a large role, or a small one, it is incumbent on you and your interest and time. If the philosophy resonates well with an individual, then it will be a great experience in which you are inspired to learn from it.
In its most simplest of personal reaction to it will cause the participant to reflect on something different than what they have experienced before. What it makes better is their dedication to family, duty to country, and an understanding of the divine and how to understand our relation to it.
The two cardinal rules not to talk about in lodge are religion and politics, as Freemasonry is concerned specifically with neither.
This is an odd paradox in that fundamentally it promotes the individual connection to the divine, but it admonishes us to not promote one belief system over another. Other topics such as work, family, business or other interests are openly talked about and should be amongst brothers as it builds our fraternal bonds. There “should be” no safer place to discuss these things, our triumphs and the tragedy as it is always amongst brothers with whom you build these bonds. You can, if you have specific leanings, find others of a like mind and engage in interesting discussions building friendships that will last lifetimes. Like any organization of people, you will find a wide variety of interests and ideas all within
It does seem like there is a paradox there, but in reality, that is the harmonious balance. The reason for not allowing politics or religion to be discussed is the ideal, does it happen? Absolutely. Should it? No. The practice of Freemasonry does promote and teach a sort of ecumenical philosophy of tolerance, which is the over arching idea. It does not imply one system of politics or religion is right or wrong.
The race question is divisive, depending on where you look. Just as with people on the street, some wear their bigotry on their sleeve, and some do not. It is impossible to say that a particular individual or lodge segregates itself based on race. By its very nature, Freemasonry is a tolerant society, without any racial or religious divide. A man of any race should be able to walk into any lodge and petition for membership.
Again, however, each lodge does things uniquely their own way. Segregating lodges based on race is immoral and illegal and against the principals of Masonic conduct and ethos.
Any division based on race is wrong.
Yes, Scottish or York Rite, or the Shrine as well as others. These clubs also have monthly meetings, some with several informal get-togethers.
For a longer list of subordinate bodies, please visit the Family of Freemasonry page.
My Father, Grandfather, Great Grandfather, was a Freemason, how do I find out more information about him?
The best place to start would be the Grand Lodge of the state in which he was a Mason. Some Grand Lodges keep records of past members and may be able to research back to determine what lodge they were a part of and any notable achievements or awards they may have had with the lodge, or ancillary bodies, they belonged to. Other than the Grand Lodge, the next step would be the local lodge to which they may of belonged. They “may” have some of their individual information that they can research.
Additionally, if they were a Scottish, York Rite, or Shrine Mason the National offices of these bodies of these groups may be able to supply some information or do some research into their history.
Unfortunately, no global list of all Masons exists on this site, or on any other.
Esoteric Masonry is the personal exploration to some of the less mainstream areas of the fraternal society. Some of these aspects include personal development, spiritualism, mysticism, and so on. It can include aspects of its history not commonly looked at by mainstream historians or participants. Also, it investigates lines of religious thought that exists on the fringes of mainstream doctrine. Investigation does not mean they work to prove (or disprove) one aspect or another, to the contrary, the esoteric side of masonry seeks find additional sources of wisdom and understanding.
Interest in Esoteric masonry is starting to make a come back. Not that its pursuits ever disappeared, certainly aspects have shifted in focus. It looks at aspects of personal resonance with the symbols of Freemasonry and helps develop our own faith. It can be very rewarding and fulfilling.
But this is not strictly what masonry is, but one aspect of it.
In the period of the 1960’s to 2000’s membership numbers have dropped as more and more activities compete for free time. Additionally, a generational gap ensued with an increase of disenfranchisement to establishment activities seen as secretive and exclusive. That, coupled with an organization swollen to over 4 million members became introverted and less involved with the daily goings on of society, largely because of the public perception indicated above. This grew into a spiral of further decline as other Masonic bodies took on the public persona of the Fraternity.
For more on the declining membership question, please read So What? The Dynamic of Masonic Membership.
Yes, however the knowledge gained will forever live on for the rest of the individual’s life. Nothing beyond the fraternal bond of Brotherhood makes any requirement to remaining a Freemason.