FAQ For the Public

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
About Freemasonry:


What is Freemasonry?

Freemasonry (also called “Masonry”) is the world’s first and largest fraternity, based on the belief that each man can make a difference in the world.  Freemasonry enhances and strengthens the character of the individual man by providing opportunities for fellowship, charity, and education.

Part of the mystery and mystique of Freemasonry can be attributed to speculation about its roots.  Historians have never been able to conclusively determine exactly when, where, how and why Freemasonry was formed, but multiple theories abound.  Some historians argue that certain Masonic documents trace the sciences of geometry and masonry to the time of ancient Egypt and that Freemasonry has its roots in antiquity.  Others point to the English and Scottish guilds of practicing stonemasons and cathedral builders in the Middle Ages.  And others still trace Masonry to lodges that existed in Scotland in the 1600’s and the formation of the very first Grand Lodge in London in 1717, which is commonly accepted as the beginning of the modern (or “speculative”) era of Masonry.


Where do the names Freemasonry, Masonry, and Free and Accepted Masons come from?

Masons’ name comes from the occupation of their original members – stonemasons who built castles and cathedrals in England and Scotland.  The word “free” was added during the Middle Ages. Because stonemasons possessed knowledge and skills not found everywhere, these men had the privilege of traveling between countries.

Over time, many men who were not builders were drawn to the practices of Freemasonry.  To encourage intellectual diversity, stonemasons began accepting men from other professions into the fraternity.  These men were known as “accepted Masons,” who adopted more enlightened philosophies.  This trend continued, and accepted members eventually outnumbered operative members, turning what was a tradesmen’s organization into a fraternity for moral edification.  Today, the names “Freemasonry,” “Masonry,” and “Free and Accepted Masons” are used interchangeably to refer to the fraternity.


What is a Lodge?

Freemasonry began when stonemasons formed local organizations, called lodges, to take care of sick and injured members, as well as the families of those who were killed on the job.  The masons also used the lodges as places to meet, receive their pay, plan their work, train new apprentices, and socialize.  Today, this term refers both to a unit of Masons and the room or building in which they meet.  There are more than 320 lodges in California and approximately 13,000 in the United States.


What is a Grand Lodge?

A grand lodge is an administrative body that oversees Freemasonry in a specific geographic area, called a jurisdiction.  The United States has grand lodges in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.


Is Freemasonry an international organization?

There are about five million Masons worldwide, including almost two million in the U.S. and more than 60,000 in California.  All lodges follow the same principles of Freemasonry, but their activities may vary.  Each grand lodge is sovereign and independent; there is no U.S. or international governing body for Freemasonry.


What happens at a Lodge meeting?

There are two kinds of meetings for members.  The most common is a business meeting, called a stated meeting, devoted to administrative procedures:  minutes of the last meeting, discussing financial matters, voting on applications, and planning for lodge activities.  The second kind of meeting is ceremonial, used for admitting new Masons and conferring degrees.


What are degrees?

There are three stages of Masonic membership:  Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason.  These stages are referred to as “degrees,” and correspond with members’ self-development and increased knowledge of Freemasonry.  As a man completes each phase of learning, the lodge holds a ceremony to confer his degree.

Degree names are taken from craft guilds:  In the Middle Ages, to become a stonemason, a man would first be apprenticed.  As an apprentice, he learned the tools and skills of the trade.  When he had proved his skills, he became a “fellow of the craft,” and when he gained exceptional ability, he was known as a “master of the craft.”


What is the significance of officers’ titles?

Masonry came to America from England and many of the original English titles are still in use.  These titles may sound archaic in today’s society, but their meanings are simple.  The master is the leader of the lodge, similar to the term president in other organizations.  He is called “master” for the same reason that the leader of first violins in an orchestra is called the concertmaster.  It’s simply an older term for leader.  The senior and junior wardens represent the first and second vice presidents.


Why does Masonry use symbols?

Symbols allow people to communicate quickly, and to transcend language barriers.  When you see a green light or a circle with a line through it, you know what it means.  Likewise, Masons use metaphors from geometry and the architecture of stonemasonry to inform their continuing pursuit of knowledge, ethics, and leadership skills.

To reflect their heritage, Masons wear aprons while in lodge, at certain public events, and at funerals to demonstrate their pride in the fraternity, and their lineage from stonemasons, who historically carried their tools in leather aprons.  The square and compass is the most widely known symbol of Masonry:  When you see the symbol on a building, you know that Masons meet there.


Do Masons engage in politics?

Masonry does not endorse political candidates or legislation, and the discussion of politics at Masonic meetings is not allowed.  However, individual Masons are permitted to engage in politics as they see fit.


Is Masonry a religion?

Masonry is not a religion, nor is it a substitute for religion.  The fraternity requires its members to have a belief in a Supreme Being, but the fraternity itself is not affiliated with any religion.  Although Lodges and many Masonic events open and close with a prayer and Masonry teaches morality, religion is not discussed at lodge meetings.  Masonry is a platform where men representing all faiths — Christians (including Catholics), Jews, Muslims and others — can come together in fellowship.  There is no theology nor dogma, no sacraments, and no promise of salvation.


Why are some Masonic buildings called temples?

We sometimes call a building a “temple” in the same sense that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called the Supreme Court a “Temple of Justice.”  Most California lodges now refer to their buildings as Masonic centers.


What are the other Masonic organizations?

A man first becomes a Mason at his local lodge.  After he has been awarded the three degrees of Masonry, he may join any of the other allied Masonic organizations, each of which has a special social, educational, or philanthropic focus.  The best known in the United States are the Shrine, Scottish Rite, and York Rite.


Why can’t women join Masonry?

Masonry is a fraternity, a brotherhood.  The essence of a fraternity is that it is for men, just as the essence of a sorority is that it is for women.  Freemasonry is a worldwide organization that draws together men and helps cultivate and promote better relationships and the bonds of friendship 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 women and relationships with women.  We sponsor and participate in Masonic-related organizations that include women, including the Order of Eastern Star, Order of the Amaranth, and Daughters of the Nile.


Are there Masonic organizations for youth?

In the years following World War I, Masons in the United States helped establish a trio of youth orders dedicated to teaching young men and women the principles and values of Masonry.  Today, DeMolay International, Job’s Daughters International, and the International Order of Rainbow for Girls offer young men and women ages 10 to 21 opportunities for personal growth and community service.  More information is available at masons4youth.org.


Are there financial commitments for Masons?

There is an application fee for membership, which includes a charitable contribution to help fulfill our philanthropic mission and our obligation to aid brothers and their families in times of need.  Continued giving supports important charitable programs, which rely on member contributions.  Annual dues begin when the Entered Apprentice degree is received; each lodge determines the dues amount.

 

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.  Also, books like The Da Vinci Code and movies like National Treasure have brought up both new interest and renewed speculation about the nature of the Fraternity.  Though these books and movies are a product more of a vivid imagination than fact, the real history of Masonry is perhaps the best story of all — one learned only by Asking — and becoming a Freemason.

 

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.

 

Can Freemasonry actually prepare me for greatness?

No organization can guarantee to make anyone great — the capacity and motivation must come from the individual.  But the powerful values and important truths that are taught as part of the Masonic tradition have proven to inspire, challenge, and develop leadership in men throughout the centuries.  Benjamin Franklin may have said it best, describing the Fraternity as a place to “prepare himself.”

Today, men are preparing themselves for greatness in Lodges the world over.  If you think there’s greatness in you, we invite your interest.

 

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.

Membership in Masonry is not a secret; all members are free to acknowledge their membership.  There is no secret about any of Masonry’s aims or principles (but conspiracy theories abound!).  Our constitutions and rules are available to the public, and meeting locations are clearly identifiable.  Like many similar organizations, some of Masonry’s internal affairs, such as ceremonies, grips, and passwords, are regarded as private matters for members only.

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.

 

Finally…

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.