Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest secular fraternal societies.The following information is intended to explain Freemasonry as it is practised under the United Grand Lodge of South Australia and the Northern Territory. The explanation may correct some misconceptions.
Freemasonry is a society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values. Its members are taught its precepts by a series of ritual dramas, which follow ancient forms, and use stonemasons’ customs and tools as allegorical guides.
The origins of Freemasonry
These are obscure, but two theories give insight into the formation and historical practices still being used.
(1) According to one, the operative stonemasons who built the great cathedrals and castles, had lodges (or huts) in which they discussed trade affairs. They had simple initiation ceremonies and, as there were no City and Guilds certificates, dues cards or trade union membershipcards, they adopted secret signs and words to demonstrate that they were trained masons when they moved from site to site.
In the 1600s, after the seizing of church lands and the cessation of building cathedrals and castles, these ‘operative’ (actual) lodges began to accept non-operatives as “gentlemen masons”. Gradually these ‘non-operatives’(not actual stonemasons) took over the lodges and turned them from ‘operative’ to ‘free and accepted’ or ‘speculative’ lodges.
(2) Linked to this is another theory, that in the late 1500s and early 1600s, there was a group which was interested in the promotion of religious and political tolerance in an age of great intolerance, when differences of opinion on matters of religion and politics were to lead to bloody civil war. In forming Freemasonry, they were trying to make better men and build a better world.
As the means of teaching in those days was by allegory and symbolism, they took the idea of building as the central allegory on which to form their system. The main source of allegory was the Bible, the contents of which were known to everyone even if they could not read, and the only building described in detail in the Bible was King Solomon’s Temple, which became the basis of the ritual.
The old ‘trade guilds’ provided them with their basis of administration… a Master, Wardens, Treasurer and Secretary, and the operative mason’s tools provided them with a wealth of symbols with which to illustrate the moral teachings of Freemasonry.
The Essential Qualification for Membership
The essential qualification for admission and continuing membership, is a belief in a Supreme Being or Presence.
Membership is open to men of any race or religion who can fulfil this essential qualification and who are of good repute.
It does not allow religion or politics to be discussed at its meeting. It admits members of any faith and it expects them to continue to follow their own faith.
The great Victorian Age novelist, Rudyard Kipling,in passing through the 3 ‘degrees’ to become a Master Mason in his home Lodge of Lahore,
was ‘Initiated’ by a Hindu, ‘Passed’ by a Muslim and ‘Raised’ by a Christian using the Bible as the Volume of the Sacred Law, because Kipling was a Christian.
That Lodge would have needed the Bhagad Vita (for the Hindu), the Koran (for the Muslim) and the Bible for the Christian.
Incidentally, the Tyler at the door was an Indian Jew so the Old Testament would also have been needed.
The Three Great Principles
For many years Freemasons have followed three great principles:
Brotherly Love – Every true Freemason will show tolerance and respect for the opinions of others and behave with kindness and understanding to his fellow creatures.
Relief – Freemasons are taught to practice charity and to care, not only for their own, but also for the community as a whole, both by charitable giving, and by voluntary efforts and works as individuals.
Truth – Freemasons strive for truth, requiring high moral standards and aiming to achieve them in their own lives. Freemasons believe that these principles represent a way of achieving higher standards in life.
Freemasonry and Society
Freemasonry demands from its members a respect for the law of the country in which a man works and lives.
Its principles do not in any way conflict with its members’ duties as citizens, but should strengthen them in fulfilling their public and civic duties.
The use by a Freemason of his membership to promote his own or anyone else’s business, professional or personal interests is condemned, and is contrary to the conditions on which he sought admission to Freemasonry.
His duty as a citizen must always prevail over any obligation to other Freemasons, and any attempt to shield a Freemason who has acted dishonourably, or unlawfully is contrary to this prime duty.
Freemasonry and Religion
Freemasonry is not a religion, nor is it a substitute for religion. Its essential qualification opens it to men of all religions.
The secrets of Freemasonry are concerned with its traditional modes of recognition. All members are free to acknowledge their membership and will do so in response to enquiries for respectable reasons.
Its constitutions and rules are available to the public.
There is no secret about any of its aims and principles.
Like many other societies, it regards some of its internal affairs as private matters for its members.
Freemasonry and Politics
Freemasonry is non-political, and the discussion of politics at Masonic meetings is forbidden.
Other Masonic Bodies
Freemasonry is practiced under many independent Grand Lodges with standards similar to those set by the ‘principal’ Grand Lodges of England, Scotland, Ireland, South Australia and the Northern Territory.
There are some Grand Lodges in the world and other apparently Masonic bodies that do not meet these standards, e.g. that do not require a belief in a Supreme Being, or that allow or encourage their members as such to participate in political matters.
These Grand Lodges and bodies are not recognized by the ‘principal’ Grand Lodge,s as being Masonically regular, and Masonic contact with them is forbidden.
From its earliest days, Freemasonry has been concerned with the care of orphans, the sick and the aged.
This work continues today. In addition, large sums are given to national and local charities.
A Freemason is encouraged to do his duty first to his God (by whatever name he is known) through his faith and religious practice; and then, without detriment to his family and those dependent on him, to his neighbour through charity and service.
None of these ideas is exclusively Masonic, but all should be universally acceptable. Freemasons are expected to follow them.