Freemasonry is the oldest and largest world wide fraternity dedicated to the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of a Supreme Being. Although of a religious nature, Freemasonry is not a religion. It urges its members, however, to be faithful and devoted to their own religious beliefs. In fact religion and politics are expressly exluded from our meetings to ensure harmony is preserved.
The exact origin of Freemasonry is unclear however many of our symbols and ceremonies are based on the practices of the ancient stonemasons’ guilds.
Our traditions can be traced directly to the associations of operative masons. They were men of outstanding character and high ideals, who built the cathedrals, abbeys, and castles of the Middle Ages.
With the decline of cathedral building in the 17th Century, many guilds of stonemasons, called "Operative" masons, started to accept into their membership those who were not members of the masons' craft and called them "Speculative" or "Accepted" masons.
It was in these groups, called lodges, comprised mainly of "Accepted" masons that Freemasonry, as we know it today, had its beginning.
In 1717, four such lodges, which had been meeting regularly in London, united to form the first Grand Lodge of England under the direction of a Grand Master. From that first Grand Lodge, Freemasonry has spread throughout the world.
And so today, the organization of Freemasonry is still based on a system of Grand Lodges, each sovereign within its own territory. There is no central authority governing all Grand Lodges. However, to be acknowledged by others, acceptable traditions, standards and practices must be maintained.
In the UK lodges are governed by a Provincial Grand Lodge and each Provincial Grand Lodge is governed by the United Grand Lodge of England, which administers Lodges of Freemasons in England and Wales and in many places overseas.
Membership is open to men of any race or religion who can have a belief in a Supreme Being and who are of good repute and are of the minimum age of twenty one years.
Freemasonry does not override the individuals duty to one’s self, one’s family, ones God or work but offers its members an approach to life that reinforces thoughtfulness for others, kindness in the community, honesty in business, courtesy in society and fairness in all things.
Members are urged to regard the interests of the family as paramount, but Freemasonry also teaches and practises concern for others, and to help peole less fortunate than themselves.
Its ritual dramatizes a philosophy of life based on morality. It promotes self improvement. The tools of operative masons are used to symbolize and teach the basic principles of brotherly love, charity, and truth which Masons are encouraged to practice in their daily lives. Charity is a tangible way in which Masons help those whose circumstances in life fairly warrant it.
Freemasons will also enjoy the formal customs and theatrics within the lodge room which, in an appropriate context, are used to explain symbolic meaning. There is also good humour, spirit of friendship and a dinner afterwards (which is known as the Festive Board) and the potential to visit other lodges in the UK as well as abroad which all adds to the enjoyment.
The Three Great Principles
For many years Freemasons have followed three great principles:
Every true Freemason will show tolerance and respect for the opinions of others and behave with kindness and understanding to his fellow creatures.
Freemasons are taught to practise charity and to care - not only for their own - but also for the community as a whole, both by charitable giving and by voluntary efforts and works as individuals.
Freemasons strive for truth, requiring high moral standards and aiming to achieve them in their own lives. Freemasons believe that these principles represent a way of achieving higher standards in life.
From its earliest days, Freemasonry has been concerned with the care of orphans, the sick and the aged. This work continues today.
In addition, large sums are given to national and local charities.