WHAT IS FREEMASONRY?
What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry, sometimes just called Masonry, is the world’s oldest and largest Fraternity. It aims to promote Friendship, Morality, and Brotherly Love among its members — men from every race, religion, opinion, and background — who are brought together as Brothers to develop and strengthen the bonds of friendship. There are more than 3 million members meeting in nearly every free country in the world. Freemasonry proposes to “make good men better” by teaching — with metaphors taken from geometry and architecture — about building values based on great universal truths. And of course, charity and community service is fundamental to Freemasonry and something we actively take part in.
Where can I get more information about the Freemasons?
The best way to get information is to talk to a Mason — either online or in person. You can ask questions of real Freemasons by meeting us, or you can use the “Lodge Locator” feature on the Grand Lodge of New Jersey website , or of the Grand Lodge in your state. Most of these sites have Lodge Locators where you can find contact information for a Mason at a Lodge near you. That person, usually the Secretary of the Lodge, will answer your questions and provide you with additional information. If you would like, he can usually arrange a convenient time to meet, introduce you to some other members, give you a tour their building, and answer your questions. You may have some of the same questions as those below — so take a look at the rest of the FAQ’s.
What are the requirements to become a Mason?
Although exact membership requirements may vary slightly from country to country and state to state, generally anyone meeting the following primary requirements may petition a Lodge for membership:
You are an adult male (usually 18-21, based on the individual jurisdiction) of good character and recommended by a Mason.
You believe in a Supreme Being — no atheist can become a Mason — but we are not concerned with theological distinctions or your particular religious beliefs.
You are interested in becoming a Mason because you hold a favorable opinion of our institution; and, your decision to apply is based on your own “free will and accord.” No one will compel you to join.
How do I become a Freemason?
Because Masons have not traditionally recruited members, and do not hold public meetings, there has long been confusion about how to join the Fraternity. Does someone ask you? Do you ask?
If you meet the requirements above, it is really quite simple. Most men can become a Mason by simply asking. Each Lodge manages the membership process for its candidates. In general, men seek out a Lodge near their home or work (the “Lodge Locator” will help you find the nearest Lodge in New Jersey), or they ask a Mason to recommend a Lodge to them. Once you’ve found a Lodge you would like to join, let them know of your interest and they will provide you with a petition.
If you are unanimously elected by the members of a Lodge, joining the Fraternity involves going through three “degrees”: Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason. Every man accepted into the Fraternity goes through the degrees, thereby making each an equal to the others in the Lodge. Typically they are conferred during a Lodges’s monthly meeting over the course of three months. Once you are a Master Mason, however, you are free to join the many appendant organizations. You should know though, that the 3rd Degree, or Master Mason degree, is the highest degree in Freemasonry — any others are supplemental, and though they may add to your Masonic experience, the degrees are no higher, regardless of their number.
What if I don’t know a Mason who can recommend me?
It is quite possible you know a Mason but you just don’t realize it. If your father, uncles, or grandfathers aren’t Masons, they probably know someone who is. You might also want to ask around your workplace or school, church, or gym — anywhere that you find a group of men, you might find a Mason. Masons tend to be very proud of their association with the Fraternity, but though many love to talk about Masonry, others are uncomfortable talking about it. Some find it difficult to speak with their friends or family members because they don’t want to push Masonry on them. They might very well be looking forward to the opportunity to speak with you if you show interest, however. More importantly, they would probably be honored to sponsor you for membership.
If you don’t know anyone who is a Mason and you are a complete stranger to all of the members of the Lodge, you are going to want to take some time getting to know them. They are going to want to take some time getting to know you too. Once you are ready to Ask, a member of the Lodge will sign your petition.
How do I find a Lodge?
The best resource for the information you need is the Grand Lodge that presides over your jurisdiction (your state or province in North America, your country most everywhere else in the world). Use the “Lodge Locator” on the Grand Lodge of New Jersey to find the closest one to you in New Jersey. Do not hesitate to contact them. They will welcome your inquiry.
What are the time and/or financial commitments of being a Mason?
Time: Becoming a Mason takes several months from the time you complete your petition until you have finished your degrees. Until you begin taking your degrees though, very little is asked of you. Once the degree work begins you will need to attend your Lodge’s monthly meeting. Different states may have additional requirements, such as attending a “Lodge of Instruction,” where you receive further explanation about the degree you just experienced. There is also some side work that you will need to complete that amounts to a little bit of homework. Every member of the Fraternity has gone through this process and your lodge will assign a Brother to help you.
Once you have completed your three degrees, we expect our members to attend their lodge’s “Stated Communication,” or monthly meeting, although it is not required. Sometimes there will be a special meeting on a second night in a month, and rarely, you may find some Lodges that have stated meetings twice a month. Beyond that, there are other activities going on: community service, family and social outings, etc. that take place throughout the year. We hope our members will participate in the events that their time and interest allows. Like many things, you get out of Freemasonry what you put into it; although we also recognize and understand the need for balance between family, work or school, and other interests and commitments.
Cost: Considering the cost to join many organizations these days, Freemasonry could be thought of as a bargain. But there are some costs involved, like initiation fees and dues. A one-time initiation fee is usually set by each lodge.
The amount varies, again, from country to country and state to state. As an example only, in the State of New Jersey, initiation generally runs between $100 and $250, with the average around $150. There are also annual dues, which again differ from lodge-to-lodge, that run between $50 and $150, with $75 being the average. Some lodges will charge more than these amounts and some charge less. Finally, there are Grand Lodge dues in most states.
Again, these costs are just one example. You will want to check with your local Lodge and/or your state’s Grand Lodge to get exact amounts.
Where did Freemasonry come from?
Part of the mystique of Freemasonry can be attributed to speculation about its roots. Over the years, historians have never been able to conclusively determine exactly when, where, how, and why Freemasonry was formed.
The order is thought to have arisen from the English and Scottish guilds of practicing stonemasons and cathedral builders in the Middle Ages. Certain Masonic documents actually trace the sciences of geometry and masonry to the time of ancient Egypt, and some historians say that Masonry has its real roots in antiquity.
The formation of the first Grand Lodge in London in 1717 marks the beginning of the Modern (or “Speculative”) era of Freemasonry, when members were no longer limited to actual working stonemasons. These “Accepted” Masons adopted more enlightened philosophies, and turned what was a tradesmen’s organization into a fraternity for moral edification, intellectual recitation, benevolent service, and gentlemanly socialization.
Why is there so much interest in Masonry today?
Over the last four centuries, Freemasonry seems to have flourished during times of great enlightenment and change. It is no coincidence that Freemasonry rose to prominence during the Age of Enlightenment in both Europe and America. That was the time when a new generation believed it could discover ways to gain personal improvement, bring order to society, and understand the whole universe. This statement is perhaps even stronger today than it was in the 18th century.
Today, men seek out Masonry for the same reasons — to better themselves and improve society in the company of like-minded brothers. As we learn more about how our physical world works, there’s also new interest in those things we don’t understand — especially things bound around tradition or that have a more mystical nature.
What are the benefits of becoming a Mason?
There are numerous benefits to being a Mason, but they tend to be personal, and quite varied. The benefits can only be truly discovered by becoming a member. But we can try and give you an idea. Without question you will have the opportunity to experience camaraderie and fellowship with a group of men across the boundaries of age, race, religion, culture, and opinion. This is a fundamental concept to the Fraternity. Many find great value and knowledge in our ritual ceremony — it uses symbolism and metaphors to encourage and remind us to appreciate principles, ethics, and morality, and to live our lives accordingly. Others find great satisfaction in our charitable efforts, community service, and the support we provide our members and their families. Finally, for those who take on leadership positions within their lodge, they have the chance to develop or further very practical management skills.
Why aren’t there any famous women who are Masons?
Freemasonry is, by definition, a fraternity that aims to promote Brotherly Love and Friendship among its members. It is a worldwide organization that draws together men and helps cultivate and promote better relationships and the bonds of friendships between them. Freemasonry doesn’t focus on Friendship and Brotherly Love because it believes that only relations between men are important, or that relations between men and women are unimportant, but because hope for peace and harmony in the world is improved when men can put aside their differences and come together as friends.
Masons also appreciate and value relations with women. We sponsor and participate in Masonic related organizations that include women and/or girls, such as the Order of Eastern Star, the Order of Rainbow for Girls, and Job’s Daughters.
Is Masonry a Religion?
Masonry is not a religion. But because it is open to all men who believe in a Supreme Being, it is one of the few platforms where men of all faiths — Christians (including Catholics), Jews, Muslims, and men of every other faith, can come together. Religion, though, is not discussed at Masonic meetings. Although Lodges open and close with a prayer and Masonry teaches morality, it is not a church or a religion. Masonry does not have a theology or a dogma, it does not offer sacraments, and it does not offer the promise of salvation.
Is Freemasonry a charity?
No. Masonic principles teach the value of relief (charity), and Freemasons give more than $2 million A DAY to charitable causes, along with countless man hours. More than 70% of these donations support the general public. Among their works are the Shriners Hospitals for Children, with 22 sites throughout North America that include world renowned burn centers and orthopedic facilities; almost 225 Learning Centers that help children with dyslexia, speech and hearing disorders; the Masonic Youth Child Identification Program (MYCHIP), and the Masonic Angel Foundation, providing modest assistance to children and adults in local communities who do not fit the criteria for usual social-services. Throughout America and world, there are numerous other worthy causes and groups that local Lodges contribute to and help in their communities.
Is Masonry a secret society?
No. It is sometimes said that Freemasonry is a “Society with secrets, not a secret society.” In point of fact, however, any purported Masonic “secrets” were made public several centuries ago in London newspapers, and today can be found in the Library of Congress, on the Internet, and in many books on the subject. Benjamin Franklin once said, “The great secret of Freemasonry is that there is no secret at all.” But some say the one great secret of Freemasonry… is finding out who YOU really are.
What about secret handshakes, ritual, and passwords?
Freemasonry, often called the “Craft” by its members, employs metaphors of architecture. Following the practice of the ancient stonemason guilds, Freemasons use special handshakes, words, and symbols to not only to identify each other, but to help, as William Preston said in 1772, “imprint upon the memory wise and serious truths.”
Although every Freemason takes an obligation — and vows to keep the secrets of Masonry — it doesn’t matter to him that you can find the secrets in print; what matters is that he keeps his promise. And the secrets he is protecting are only used to help Masons become better men; and there’s certainly no secret surrounding what it takes to be good and true.
What is Masonic “ritual?”
The nature of Masonic ritual is both complex and beautiful. “Ritual” is a formal ceremony of initiation which recites certain tenets and truths that have been passed down for generations — mostly from mouth to ear. This “Ritual” takes the form of lectures and theater in the Lodge, and is used to teach new Masons the value of true friendship, the benefits of knowledge, and the necessity of helping those in need.
It speaks to the power and impact our ritual has on men’s hearts and minds because it has stood the test of time for more than 300 years. Although our world has changed dramatically during that time, our ritual is virtually the same.
Not everyone will want to learn the ancient ritual — as it takes great time and study — but those Masons who chose to learn it are rewarded with the satisfaction of upholding a great tradition and helping their fellow brothers further their Masonic understanding.
Just because the secrets have been made public doesn’t mean everyone knows the mystery of Masonry. In fact, much of the appeal of the Craft is that the great truths revealed in Masonic ritual can take years to understand. Like the building of any great structure, the powerful metaphors and symbols of Masonry build character — and sometimes greatness — one stone at a time.