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I. Group Profile
- Name: Freemasons
- Founder: No specific founder
- Date of Birth: Not applicable
- Birth Place: Not Applicable
- Year Founded:
- The first Grand Lodge of England was founded in 1717, marking
the founding of the modern era of Freemasonry.
- Freemasons can be traced back to medieval times when stonemasons
formed guilds and unions, but some sources trace them back even
further. Freemason legend dates their fraternity back to the
building of King Solomon's temple in the Bible. The project,
so legend has it, was so large that it required the stonemasons
to organize themselves into groups and classes with distinct
responsibilities. There is no concrete evidence of Masonry in
ancient times, however. (Darrah, 63-4).
- Scholars also speculate that Freemasonry has connections
with the Greek and Roman mysteries, which were rites of entering
their religions and kept secret upon penalty of death. It is
suggested that the founders of the Masons had knowledge of the
secrets of the Mysteries and used them to help form Freemasonry
- There is written evidence of the Masons dating back to the
fourteenth century. In the Middle Ages stonemasons and architects
were an elite class who could travel between countries, unlike
serfs who had restrictions on their travel. They called themselves
"free" because of this. The Masons were responsible
for building beautiful structures across Europe, especially the
cathedrals. Until the sixteenth century, Masons were simply craftsmen
learning the operative art of masonry in guilds and unions (Mackey
and McClennachan, 744-750).
- In the beginning of the seventeenth century, union membership
began to decline, and elite and prominent members of society
were allowed in as "patrons of the Fraternity" and
later as "accepted masons." (This is where the term
"Free and Accepted Masons" comes from.) By the end
of the seventeenth century a great change had occurred; the accepted
masons outnumbered the actual stonemasons in the unions, and
their discussion had turned from aspects of the actual trade
to moral philosophy (Durrah, 90-92).
- Masonry also borrowed a mystical aspect from the many mystical
societies of medieval Europe, Many people were involved in these
groups in Europe in the Middle Ages. When political freedom came
to Europe, many of these groups were disbanded, but the esoteric
interest in mysticism continued. Many people joined Freemasonry
because of their interest in mysticism (Spence, 174-175).
- In 1717, modern Masonry was founded with the first Grand
Lodge in England. Early in its history this lodge was challenged
by lodges that formed in other parts of the British Isles. They
are called the Ancient Masons (Pick and Knight, 88). Although
the two groups were fused together in the United Grand Lodge
of England by 1813, the initial split caused the diversity of
Lodges in the United States and beyond.
- The first American Lodges were chartered by British Lodges,
but as time went on American Lodges also began chartering new
Lodges. The predominant form of Masonry in America today is Blue
Lodge Masonry or the Craft (Dumenil, 9). There are discrepancies
in the rituals and regulations of the different Lodges of the
U. S. and around the world, but this report will focus on Blue
Lodge Masonry, unless otherwise specified, since it is the most
common in the U. S.
- Sacred or Revered Texts:
- The Bible is the "Volume of Sacred Law" of most
Western Lodges. It is one of the three objects comprising "The
Three Great Lights," the most common and important Masonic
symbol, which must be displayed while Lodges meet. The other
objects are the compass and the square, and the sacred volume,
which does not have to be the Bible. It may be whatever scripture
is revered by the members of the Lodge (Hamil, 151).
- Cult or Sect:
- Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts
"cult" and "sect" are employed in popular
discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote
religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits
of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage
the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative
stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly
and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect,"
please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult"
and "Sect" page, where you will find additional
links to related issues.
- Size of Group:
- The Freemasons are the worlds largest fraternal organization.
They reached their highest membership in the 1950's. Today there
are approximately five million masons worldwide, with half of
their population in Lodges in the United States.
II. Beliefs of the Group
Freemasonry is not a religion. It is a fraternal order, although
many Christian ideas and ideals are important to the Masons and
are incorporated in their rituals. To become a Mason one must
ask a friend in the Lodge to recommend him, sign a petition stating
name, age, occupation, and place of residence, and all the members
must vote unanimously on the acceptance. The requirement for
membership is a belief in one non-specific Supreme Being.
Freemasonry's basic tenets are:
- brotherly love (tolerance, respect, kindness and
understanding of others, especially to their Masonic Brothers)
- relief (caring for the whole community through philanthropy)
- truth (morals)
These basic tenets, when followed, should achieve a higher
standard of life for the Masons. Masons build character by contact
with the company and shared morals of their "Brothers"
(fellow members). Masonry is said to take good men and make them
better. It has religious undertones because of this stress on
morality. Since Freemasonry is a fraternity, it also stresses
the fellowship and enjoyable company of its brothers in social
activities such as dinners, picnics, card/chess matches, lectures
on Masonic history, etc.
Masons are restricted from talking about religion or politics
in the Lodges because these are controversial topics known to
divide men (Dumenil, 22). Having a religion is encouraged, although
there is no specific one recommended. Christianity, however,
seems to prevail in the US.
There is a set hierarchy of Lodges. In the United States there
is a Grand Lodge in every state that has jurisdiction over all
of the Lodges in the state. The jurisdiction of a Lodge determines
its exact beliefs and rules. There is no higher authority than
the Grand Lodge of a state. Lodges have monthly meetings called
"Business Meetings" for the Master Masons.
There are three levels that joining Masons must advance through
by memorizing a small amount of material that varies from jurisdiction
to jurisdiction. The levels are called degrees. The first degree
is Entered Apprentice, the second, Fellow Craft, and the third
is Master Mason. The head of the Lodge is called the Worshipful
Master. Becoming a Master Mason usually takes a few months in
the United States, but a mandatory three years in England.
Medieval tools of Masons are still used today to symbolize
important ideas of the Masons and as important parts of Masonic
Ritual. An example is the level. All Brothers meet on the same
level, and are equals. Other symbols can be traced to pagan and
There is also much symbolism in the degrees of masonry. The
three degrees represent a three story temple. When initiating
a member, the Lodge is supposed to represent the ground floor
of King Solomon's temple. The ground floor symbolizes the initiate's
psychological connection with the material world. He is told
that there are upper floors of the temple that symbolize his
unconscious and as he advances in degrees he will advance psychologically
in the understanding of his unconscious. The second Degree ceremony
is held, figuratively in the middle chamber of the temple, symbolizing
the soul. The third degree ceremony meets in the entrance of
the Holy of Holies which has connection with the Spirit.
Freemasonry is known for its ornate rituals. One of the most
interesting is the ceremony in which an initiate becomes a Master
Mason. In the first phase of the ceremony the initiate must swear
to many things including allegiance to God and his fellow Masons.
When he thinks he has completed the ceremony and become a Master
Mason, his real initiation begins. He is blindfolded and has
to act out the part of Hiram Abiff, the murdered master in a
legend of the building of King Solomon's temple. There is much
action wherein the initiate must refuse to divulge the secrets
of the Masons (as Hiram did) and is murdered (hit down) and wrapped
in a sheet. At the end, the five points of fellowship are explained
to him, along with many Masonic symbols.
The Masons are said to have secrets and are even called a
secret society by many sources. Much controversy from anti-Masonic
groups circles around these secrets. In the Middle Ages stonemasons
had secrets about their trade that they jealously guarded. These,
however, do not seem to be the secrets of Masons today. Freemasons
themselves claim not to be a secret society, because membership
is not a secret and their constitution, rules, aims, and principles
are not secret. The secrets seem to be the mysticism that Freemasonry
includes in its tradition. These include upholding the debunked
sciences such as alchemy and astrology that were important to
the fraternity in medieval times. Although they are understood
as false today, they are very significant parts of history, and
Masons realize this and keep the mysticism alive. Much of the
mystical secrets of Masonry are not understood by its members
today; they have not joined for partaking in these secrets, but
for fraternity (Spence, 175). The secrets are supposed to be
revealed to an individual Mason as he starts to probe his unconscious
and understand it.
There are many off-shoots of and groups associated with Blue
Lodge Masonry. Some are very similar to Masonry, and some are
groups for family members of Masons, including women. The Ancient
Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR) is actually accepted as a Masonic
group, enabling members to go extra degrees, four through thirty-two,
to become a Master Mason. A man must be a Master Mason (gone
through the third degree) before joining the Scottish Rite. A
thirty-third degree also exists and is bestowed on outstanding
Masons. (Pick and Knight, 286).
Similarly, the York Rite, is made up of four Masonic groups,
the Craft, Royal Arch, Royal and Select Master, and the Knights
Templar and consists of nine more possible degrees than Craft
Masonry. The top degrees of the York Rite are the Temple degrees
which require the member to swear a specifically Christian oath.
In some Lodges, this does not mean that the member must be a
Christian, he must just be willing to swear a Christian oath
(defending the right to any religion in general, although people
of other religions may understandably not want to do this) (Pick
and Knight, 282-285).
The Shrine is not a real Masonic body, although their complete
title, the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles the Mystic Shrine
for North America, is an anagram for "A MASON." It
was founded in 1872 and has an Arabic theme. They are known to
be pleasure seekers but are still moral, and also emphasize philanthropy
(Pick and Knight, 287-288).
The Eastern Star was founded in 1850 and is a group for Master
Masons or people properly related to Master Masons, including
women. The relation can be wife, widow, sister, daughter, mother,
granddaughter, step-mother, step-daughter, step-sister, half
sister, and recently, nieces, daughters-in-law, and grandmothers.
There are eighteen offices in each chapter, some filled by men,
but mostly by women. The presiding officer is the Worthy Matron.
The requirement for membership is a belief in a Supreme Being,
although the New and Old Testaments are both part of the five
degrees. This makes the Eastern Star a particularly Christian
group (Pick and Knight, 288-289).
DeMolay is a group for young men ages thirteen to twenty-one
and is sponsored by Masonic Lodges. They are similar to Masons
and teach seven cardinal virtues of filial love, reverence for
sacred things, courtesy, comradeship, fidelity, cleanliness,
and patriotism. DeMolay's are supposed to apply these virtues
to their everyday lives (Pick and Knight, 289).
Rainbow is a group for girls eleven to twenty, similar to
DeMolay. Unlike Job's Daughters, Rainbow girls are not required
to have relative who is a member in order to join (http://www.iorg.org).
There are two levels to pass through (Pick and Knight, 289).
Job's Daughters is a group founded in 1920 comprising descendants
of Master Masons ages eleven to twenty 1. Their
lessons concentrate on the book of Job with particular attention
to the forty-second chapter, fifteenth verse (Pick and Knight,
Prince Hall Masonry was founded by a free black man, Prince
Hall, during the American Revolution. A few black men were originally
part of Army Lodge #441, and later applied to the Grand Lodge
of England for a charter. They received it and were called African
Lodge #459. They were not invited to join with other Massachusetts
lodges when they combined, so in 1827 they renamed themselves
African Grand Lodge #1. Many Lodges today trace their origin
to this Lodge. Their beliefs are similar to that of the Freemasons
(Pick and Knight, 291-292).
Some other groups that are off-shoots of the Freemasons are
Acacia, Order of Amaranth, Daughters of Mokanna, Daughters of
the Nile, Desoms, Grotto, High Twelve International, The Ladies'
Oriental Shrine of North America, National Sojourners, Inc.,
Philalethes, Royal Order of Scotland, Tall Cedars of Lebanon,
and White Shrine of Jerusalem. There are also two Grand Lodges
of Co-Masonry in the United States. These Lodges admit women
as well as men and function similarly to regular Masonic Lodges
with some extra degrees.
III. Contemporary Issues/Controversies
There are many controversies surrounding the history of the
Freemasons. Much of this controversy stems from the secretive
nature of the Masons. Many prominent figures including founding
fathers and presidents have been Masons, and in some cases Freemasons
have been accused of giving other Masons unfair advantages in
job promotion, and also controlling decisions in government by
being a sort of underground government themselves. And people
today sometimes join the Freemasons in order to advance in their
jobs (Dumenil, 23).
One of the most controversial times in Masonic history in
the United States was the 1820's. In 1826 Captain William Morgan,
a Mason, was going to publish a book of Masonic secrets. The
printers shop was set on fire by local Masons and Morgan disappeared,
allegedly captured by them and put to death. Many different versions
of this story are circulating. The Masons say that it is untrue
that Morgan was murdered, and that he fled to Canada. Anti-Masonic
groups say that his body was found a year later in a harbor and
identified by his wife and dentist. Other accounts say that his
body was never found. Whatever the truth, this scene caused a
lot of anti-Masonic sentiment. There was even an anti-Masonic
presidential candidate in the 1820's (Mackey and McClenachen,
Masons are blamed for scores of things. President John Quincy
Adams blamed the Masons when he was not re-elected and Mason
Andrew Jackson was. There are writings linking the Freemasons
to President Lincoln's assassination, beliefs of Nazi Germany,
the murder of Pope John Paul I, establishing the Ku Klux Klan,
the Jack the Ripper Murders in England, the JFK assassination
conspiracy, and many others. Most of these accounts do not seem
to have much well supported evidence.
There has also been much controversy surrounding the bloody
language of Masonic oaths. The penalties for telling Masonic
secrets include tearing one's tongue out by the roots, plucking
one's heart from its breast, and having one's body cut in two
with the entrails burned to ashes. This language has spawned
much anti-Masonic sentiment.
Some Christian groups, especially Catholics and Methodists,
are historically opposed to Masonry. The bloody oaths and secrets
caused the Roman Catholics to ban membership to Freemasonry and
the Methodists to denounce it. Christians have also been very
disturbed by Masonry's mixing of pagan and Christian beliefs.
The compass and square which, along with the Christian Bible,
form the Three Great Lights of Masonry, represent pagan solar
gods. There are many other possible examples of mixing religions,
which disturbs some members of Evangelical Christian churches
A recent controversy involves the history of the Freemasons.
A few sources say that Freemasons did not develop out of Medieval
stonemason unions, but emerged from the Knights of the Templar,
a privileged class of soldier monks in Medieval Europe. The Knights
were attacked by many authorities for their knowledge of the
Muslim and Jewish religions, and in 1307, King Philippe IV of
France ordered their arrest and a raid of their preceptories.
They supposedly escaped to Scotland with all of their treasures
and these scholars say that Freemasonry evolved from the Knights
Templar traditions. These ideas are offered instead of the stonemason
history that the Freemasons claim (Baigent).
IV. Links to Freemason Web Sites
A Page About Freemasonry
This is the most comprehensive site about Freemasonry I have
found. It includes almost anything you would want to know about
the Masons: history, facts, and links to other sites.
This is a good basic site for people who do not know much about
the Masons. It includes short blurbs of information on membership
qualification, religion, the three great principles, charity,
and Freemasonry and society, politics and Masonic bodies.
This site is designed by Masons "to serve the needs of 21st
century Freemasonry," and includes services to host Masonic
Lodge sites, information about the Philalethes Society (a research
society for Masonic knowledge), a list of Masonic books and articles
from Philalethes magazine, and links to many Masonic sites.
This is an introductory article to a thematic issue of Gnosis
written by editor Richard Smoley. This article discusses the
two theories of Masonic origin and argues for the Templar version.
It also discusses the influence of Freemasonry on society today,
and addresses Masonic spirituality and secrets. You can also
view the table of contents of this issue. Back issue
of this periodical are available from the publisher.
A long alphabetical list of names of famous Freemasons and what
they are famous for.
to Become a Mason
This site even has a form to complete to send to your local Lodge
for information on joining the Masons.
This page is sponsored by the Freemasons as a place for Masons
to put up well researched and documented essays. There is a very
good one on the history of Freemasonry.
Relationship to Other Religons
Information on Freemasonry's connection to other religions.
Information on Freemasonry's connection to other religions.
A page dedicated to the Freemason's alleged part of the JFK conspiracy.
The Question of
This is a good example of an "anti-cult" page. On this
very extensive page, Harmon R. Taylor develops his argument for
the proposition that Freemasonry is contrary to Christian doctrine.
http://www.biblebelievers.org.au/masindx.htm#History and Purpose
of the Freemasons and other Secret Societies
International Order of Rainbow
Official home page of the international organization.
- Ankerberg, John and John Weldon. 1990.
- The Secret Teachings of the Masonic Lodge. Chicago:
- Baigent, Michael and Richard Leigh. 1989.
- The Temple and the Lodge. New York: Arcade Publishing,
- Brown, Adrian Brown, 1980.
- History of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.
Alexandria, VA: The George Washington Masonic National Memorial
- Cambell, Ron. "Unearthing the Mysteries of Masonry."
- Charisma. November 1997.
- Casavis, J. N. 1955.
- The Greek Origin of Freemasonry. New York: The Square
- Darrah, Delmar Duane. 1954.
- History and Evolution of Freemasonry. Chicago: The
Charles T. Powner Co.
- Dumenil, Lynn. 1984.
- Freemasonry and American Culture 1880-1930. New Jersey:
Princeton University Press.
- Ferguson, John. 1977.
- An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mysticism and the Mystery
Religions. New York: The Seabury Press.
- Hamil, John. 1986.
- The Craft: A History of English Freemasonry. Great
Britain: Aquarian Press.
- Horne, Alex. 1988. (First published in 1972)
- King Solomon's Temple in the Masonic Tradition. England:
- Hutchinson, William. 1987. (First published in 1775)
- The Spirit of Masonry. England: The Aquarian Press.
- Knight, Stephen. 1976.
- Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution. London: Harrap.
- Knight, Stephen. 1984.
- The Brotherhood. New York: Stein and Day.
- Lennhoff, Eugen. 1978. (First published in English, translated
from German, in 1934)
- The Freemasons. London: A Lewis (Masonic Publishers)
- Mackey, Albert G. 1996.
- The History of Freemasonry: Its Legendary Origins.
New York: Gramercy Books (a Division of Random House).
- Mackey, Albert G., M.D. and Charles T. McClenachen. 1894.
- An Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry. Philadelphia: L.
H. Everts and Co.
- MacNulty, W. Kirk. 1991.
- Freemasonry. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
- Oliver, George. 1986. (First published in 1864)
- The Book of the Lodge. England: The Aquarian Press.
- Piatigorsky, Alexander. 2000.
- Freemasonry: A Study of a Phenomenon. London: Harvill.
- Pick, Fred L. and Norman Knight (revised by G. Norman Knight
and Frederick Smyth, 1977). 1953.
- The Pocket History of Freemasonry. London: Frederick
- Robinson, John J. 1989.
- Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry. New
York: M. Evans and Company, Inc.
- Smoley, Richard. 1997
Civilization. Gnosis, #44: 254-31. [This issue of
Gnosis is devoted exclusively to Freemasonary. Only the
above article in on line, but the full contents of the issue is available.]
- Spence, Lewis. 1988.
- The Encyclopedia of the Occult. London: Bracken Books.
- Waite, Arthur Edward. 1976.
- The New Encyclopedia of Freemasonary. New York: Weathervane
Books. New and Revised Edition, 2 Volumes.
- Whalen, William J. 1998.
- Christianity and American Freemasonry. San Francisco:
Ignatius Press. 3rd Edition.
- A Tour of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.
George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association, 101
Callahan Dr., Alexandria, VA 22301.
- International Order of Job's Daughters,
States: "Girls between the ages of 11 and 20 years of age
who are direct descendants of a Master Mason, adopted daughter
by law, step-daughters, step-granddaughters, sisters, half sisters,
step-sisters, sisters-in-law, nieces, grandnieces, or first or
second cousins of a Master Mason or so related to his wife or
widow, or who are daughters, step-daughters, granddaughters or
step-granddaughters of Majority Members, shall be eligible for
membership." Thanks to Bill LeVeque, Master Mason, and Webmaster
Order of Job's Daughters for this information.
Created by Gretchen Arndt
For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
Fall Term, 1997
University of Virginia
Last modified: 10/06/01