Our Emblem!

A talk for people who are not Freemasons

by Brian K Wright, Freemason

Welcome! The main purpose of this is to convey to non-Masons a little of the history and aims of Freemasonry. We are interested in you becoming interested in us!

The dissemination of information about Freemasonry to the wider community has been, in the past, somewhat difficult.  It has only been of recent times that we have been permitted to enlighten the general public, albeit in general terms. Historically, Freemasonry has been regarded as a 'secret society' - let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. We are, however a 'society with secrets'. Those secrets are harmless, and pertinent only to us. They mainly refer to the different stages a member of the Fraternity progresses through in his advancement.

Secrets exist throughout our everyday lives. They are mostly trade-secrets such as patents and recipes - for instance, who among ordinary people knows the recipe for Coca-Cola, or the 'secret herbs and spices' of KFC? Our secrets are trade secrets. They only apply to us and are only used by us - they have no concern with and do not impinge upon the wider community.

A lot of comment has been made in the wider community about our 'funny handshake'. Yes, we have one! It is a sign of recognition used by us to recognize a Brother when we are strangers to one another. In this respect it is no different to an organization badge or any other sign which distinguishes a stranger from the masses as a fellow member. It allows us to travel throughout the world, and when recognized as Freemasons, to receive the acceptance and mutual support of people who five minutes ago were total strangers.

Let us turn to the issue of sex. We do not admit females to our ceremonies - that is a bald fact. There are, however, organizations operating along Masonic lines specifically for women. Two of these organizations are:

  • The Order of the Eastern Star, which caters for adult ladies, and
  • Job's Daughters, which caters for young ladies in their adolescent years.

Like their male Masonic counterparts, these organizations aim to convey the highest principals of moral and social virtue to their members.

That is not to say that that the female partners or relatives of Freemasons cannot be involved in the activities of Lodges, in fact, thinking Masons encourage it. Ladies can become involved in social committees, Master's Associations and Debutante Ball Committees to name but three activities. It is well recognized that behind every good Master of a Lodge is a good woman!

What is Freemasonry?  At the outset, let us be very clear - it is not a religion and it is non-sectarian. Our ceremonies, however, are religious in nature. Freemasonry contains elements common to all recognized world religions. It requires in every member a firm belief in a Supreme Being - however designated - and the appropriate volume of the sacred writings known to Freemasons as the 'Volume of the Sacred Law' lies open in the Lodge during every ceremony. Freemasonry admits to membership men of all faiths which recognize one God. The Volume of the Sacred Law may vary from country to country - that it, The Bible, The Torah, The Koran, or the main religious text for that country may be used. In some overseas Lodges, for example Singapore, it is not unusual to find two or more Volumes in use at the one time.

Freemasonry does not espouse or promote any particular dogma or creed, it encourages it's members to actively follow their own faith. No religious or political discussion is permitted in a Lodge.  Freemasonry expresses no opinion on any topic other than what is strictly Masonic. Freemasonry is one of the very few organizations which accepts members from all creeds, religions and ethnic groups if they wish to join.

While the precise origins of Freemasonry are lost in antiquity, we do know that groups of stone masons were actively involved in the building of churches, cathedrals and other stately buildings during the twelfth to fifteenth centuries.  The nature of their work was such that they 'lived on the job' and formed themselves into closeknit communities or 'lodges', and moved on as each structure was completed.  They were very priveledged in having this freedom of movement in those times when it was normal for men to be bound to the master of a particular location.

Besides concerning themselves with the practical aspects of their trade they also exercised control over the education and behavior of their members, placing emphasis on charity, loyalty, obedience and fraternity.  They used the tools of their trade as symbols to illustrate their teachings.  The very nature of their work in the building of these great religious edifices was such as to encourage them to have faith in God.

The coming of the reformation in the sixteenth century brought about a marked decline in this type of building activity, however there was a growing interest by educated men, who were not themselves tradesmen, in the manner in which masons carried out their teachings.  Eventually Lodges began to admit these 'non-operatives' to membership.  There followed a long period of transition until, by the seventeenth century, the non-operative or 'speculative' nature of the Lodges predominated, and formed the basis of Freemasonry as it is practised today.

It soon became apparent that some form of co-ordination and control of these Lodges was necessary and in 1717 the first Grand Lodge of England was established.  This did not meet with universal approval and a rival Grand Lodge was set up in 1751.  The differences were finally reconciled and the United Grand Lodge of England was founded in 1813.  It is still in existence today with HRH The Duke of Kent as Grand Master.  Separate Grand Lodges were formed in Scotland and Ireland.

The various English, Irish and Scottish military regiments took Freemasonry to the Colonies, as many of them had their own Lodges operating under the authority of the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland.  Later on civil Lodges were established, and having sought independence, set up their own governing bodies.

There are over 100 Grand Lodges in the states and nations of the world.  Each is a soveriegn body managing it's own affairs and is the governing body of all the private (or grass roots) Lodges in it's area.  There are more than six milliion members world-wide.  Each Grand Lodge has a list of Grand Lodges which it recognizes.

The aims of Freemasonry are:

  • To promote the brotherhood of man using the highest of religious principals;
  • To render practical aid and assistance to the less fortunate members of the community, and
  • By such behavior in daily life to demonstrate to others that the teachings of Freemasonry have a profounds and beneficial effect on all who sincerely embrace it's precepts.
Let me return to the question 'What is Freemasonry?'  The official line is that it is 'A system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols'.

Every adult-thinking person has a concept of 'morality', and you should be aware by now that Freemasons are expected to live by the highest standards of ethical conduct.  Simply put, 'allegory' means a story describing one subject in the guise of another, while 'symbols' are those things which mean something to us.  The most widely known symbol of Freemasonry is the square and compasses emblem.

In explanation, mention was made earlier that our ceremonies have been derived from the operative masons of antiquity.  We today are speculative masons, but we continue to use the working tools of those ancient craftsmen as symbols to illustrate our teachings.  The square and the compasses are actually working tools.  Just as the square was used to ensure that the task of the old mason was straight and true, we use it to remind ourselves that our conduct should be straight and true to the devine teachings.  Similarly the compasses prescribed the limits within which a particular task could proceed, and so, figuratively they prescribe the limits within which we should regulate our lives.

In Freemasonry loyalty to one's country is an essential qualification, and the only men acceptable are those who cheerfully render obedience to every lawful authority, strictly obey the laws of their country, and who make every endeavour to promote the interests and welfare of the nation.

Freemasonry is not a benefit society.  This is a fact that cannot be stressed too strongly.  No man should join the ranks of Freemasonry expecting to derive some financial benefit.  Contributions by Lodges and by individual members are used to alleviate distress and suffering in those who have met with misfortune - for them help is always forthcoming, and no deserving appeal is ever made in vain.  Our charitable works are well known, for instance Freemasons have more aged persons in their care than any other charitable organization.  We also assist and support many other worthy causes in the community on an individual Lodge basis - the point here is that we do not only help our own.

Freemasonry in all ages has insisted that men should come to it's doors entirely of their own free will, and not as a result of some form of solicitation, or from feelings of idle curiosity, but simply from a favourable opinion of the institution and a desire to be ranked among it's members.  This is to ensure that only men with the highest ideals of service to God and their fellow man are admitted into Freemasonry, and that they do so of their own free will. The essence of this is that you must be sufficiently motivated to ask to join us.

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