What is Freemasonry?

Freemasonry – a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.

 

We don’t say too much about our initiation ceremony because we don’t want to spoil the experience of the candidate, but it’s not secret.

 In the 1940s and 50s Masons stopped talking about their membership, but that was because of the political climate in Europe. A significant number of Freemasons disappeared into Nazi labour and concentration camps, and Masons were persecuted in Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain and in Stalinist Russia. But in the 1980s, after the publication of a couple of sensationalist books we came to realise the damage that this was doing, and have become more open again.

 No-one is sure how or when Freemasonry originated. Some say it developed from the old craft guilds, when the Reformation and the development of the cannon meant that there were no longer cathedrals and fortified castles being built, and the stonemasons found themselves with little to do save socialise. Others have tried to trace it back to the Knights Templar, and there are many other theories.

 We can say with some certainty that modern Freemasonry started on this island, though whether in England or Scotland is not clear. The first record we have of Freemasonry in England was Elias Ashmole’s account of his initiation into a lodge in Warrington in 1646. The world’s first Grand Lodge (the umbrella, or ruling body) was founded in London in 1717. It spread, first to France, with the Stuart refugees, then around the globe. Wherever the British army went, there were travelling lodges. Local people were initiated into these travelling lodges, and when the regiment moved on, continued meeting. Kipling’s “The Mother Lodge” is a wonderful illustration of Freemasonry in the days of the Raj. There are now Grand Lodges in most countries, and a friend frequently regales us with his tales of being welcomed into lodges in France, Sweden, Japan and the USA.

 Freemasonry is not a religion. It admitted Catholics and Jews in the days of religious intolerance in the 18th century. In England today there are brethren of all races and religions. All that is required is a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being.

 Over the centuries many famous men have become Freemasons. Names that spring to mind include Winston Churchill, Mozart, Peter Sellers, George Washington, Duke Ellington and Len Hutton. But the majority of us are neither famous nor wealthy.  And while lodges meeting under the banner of the United Grand Lodge of England do not admit women, not all Masons are men. There are all-women and mixed lodges meeting in England under different Grand Lodges.

 What is Freemasonry? It’s an opportunity to socialise with people whom you would not otherwise have met. It’s a gateway to areas of historical and philosophical research. Some members enjoy it for the element of amateur dramatics in our ceremonies. And we’re all of us proud that Freemasonry is one of the largest contributors to charity in the UK.


If you would like to know more, might we suggest the following pages from the United Grand Lodge of England:

What is Freemasonry?

Becoming a Mason.

 

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