1. INFORMATION FOR INQUIRERS
What Is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry as we know it today, has been in existence since the early eighteenth century, when four Masonic lodges in London united to form a Grand Lodge to charter new groups and coordinate their activities.
The system practiced by those lodges is called Speculative Masonry as opposed to Operative Masonry, the craft of stonemasons. Freemasonry combines concepts from the building trade with a myth based on King Solomon's building of the holy temple in Jerusalem. It is thus a “system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” Freemasonry is not a religion but includes persons of all religious traditions, as well as those who have no religious affiliation.
Freemasonry looks farther back, however, through the Rosicrucians of the Renaissance, the guilds of cathedral builders in the Middle Ages, along with the Troubadours, Albigensians, and Templars, to the ancient Mysteries of Orpheus, Isis, and Eleusis. It has symbolic links with other similar initiatory orders throughout human history, being the chief modern form of the ancient Mysteries.
In its outer form, Freemasonry is an organization of persons for study, for charitable and social cooperation and betterment, and for mutual support. In its inner form, however, it seeks, through the working of ancient rituals, to develop and integrate the individual Freemason in a balanced way, to bring about an inner realization of the link we each have with the Life force of the universe, to form a working unit for the evolution of humanity as a whole, and generally to serve the wellbeing of the planet and our fellows.
Freemasonry has no doctrine. It is a system of symbols with implications for a way of living that leads to self-improvement through service to the world. As such, it is compatible with a variety of worldviews and religious or philosophical traditions, without being itself limited to any one of them.
What Is Co-Freemasonry?
Co-Freemasonry started in France in the late nineteenth century to correct a flaw in the interpretation of the traditional “landmarks,” which are the fundamental principles, of Freemasonry. That flaw was the exclusion of women from the order. Although women have long been admitted to Masonic practices in various ways, Co-Freemasonry is dedicated to complete equality between the sexes, as well as among all races and religions.
In the early 1880s a French lodge of masculine Freemasons determined to carry out Masonic principles of equality with consistency, and therefore initiated a woman. As a result of that act of conscience, a few years later a new lodge was formed in Paris, from which eventually developed several Orders of Freemasonry that admit men and women equally as well as several all-women Orders.
The Eastern Order of International Co-Freemasonry is
a twenty-first-century reform that practices traditional Masonry, but
with a conscious realization of its inner, esoteric, psychological and
spiritual significance as a contemporary expression of the Mysteries. It
admits into its fellowship all properly prepared persons on equal
footing, without distinction of race, religion, or sex.
2. THE NATURE OF FREEMASONRY
Freemasonry is a design for living which, when followed, leads its initiates to a knowledge of their own inner divine nature and of their harmonious linkage with all life on the planet. It gives Freemasons a training that can eventually bring them to a gateway opening upon the Path that all human beings can walk to self-knowledge and to mutual support and cooperation.
To achieve spiritual unfoldment on any path, the aspirant must earnestly seek after truth. All of us have the ability of realizing our inner potential, but like a seed planted in the soil, our potential has to be cared for and fostered before it can grow and bloom. Freemasonry provides a regimen of self-cultivation in the company of other aspirants to the Path.
Freemasonry has its spiritual roots in the ancient Mysteries and is today the modern form of those mysteries. It is said to have been established on this planet by Great Ones, representatives of the universal and eternal Grand Lodge, who came to guide their younger brothers and sisters. Throughout the ages, Freemasonry has preserved the Ancient Wisdom of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth, which might otherwise have been lost to humanity during periods of darkness. The symbols by which that Ancient Wisdom is expressed have varied with time and place, as civilizations have come and gone, but the fundamental design of the work and its great truths have remained unchanged. Modern Freemasonry is a treasury of spiritual values drawn from the Great Lodge above and following the Plan of the Great Architect.
Some Freemasons are unaware of the depth of their heritage and of the spiritual power inherent in their ceremonies. They are satisfied with the ideal of brotherhood and the ethics and charitable work of Freemasonry. However, Bro. W. L. Wilmshurst, a noted authority in the masculine Order, has this to say about the nature of Freemasonry and its inner meaning:
“It proclaims the fact that there exists a higher and more secret path of life than that which we normally tread. When the outer world and its pursuits and rewards lose their attractiveness for us, as sooner or later they will, we are compelled to turn back upon ourselves, to seek and knock at the door of a world within. It is upon this inner world, and the path to and through it, that Freemasonry promises light, charts the way, and indicates the qualifications and conditions of progress.”
Co‑Freemasonry adds two salient strengths to those shared by all Freemasonry. First, it is international, linking together people of various cultures in the shared task of building the spiritual temple of human unity. Second, it restores full Masonic privileges to women, and has thus taken an important step to restoring the spiritual splendor of the ancient Mysteries, in which the participation of both men and women was an essential factor. The term “Co-Freemasonry” or “Co-Masonry” was adopted to distinguish the Order from exclusively masculine or feminine groups and to indicate that both men and women are admitted to membership on equal footing. These strengths of universality and equality are essential elements for all Masonic work.
In the Eastern Order of International Co‑Freemasonry,
the three Craft Degrees are worked, as well as Degrees of the Ancient and
Accepted Scottish Rite and several Degrees of the York Rite. The Order is
headquartered in India, but the term “Eastern” in its name refers to the
symbolic East, the rising place of Light, rather than to a geographical
direction. That spiritual orientation is expressed in a motto of the
Eastern Order: Ex Oriente Lux (Light from the East).
3. WOMEN IN FREEMASONRY
“The entry of women into Masonry, hand in hand with men, is full of the fairest augury for the future, for it will reknit the ancient tie between Masonry and the inner worlds, will reopen the ancient channels in which the water of life can flow, and shed once more the pure white light on all who pray for its bestowal. Masonry, thus restored and revived, will play a great part in preparing the world for the future, in proclaiming and popularizing the ideals necessary for its molding, in shaping the new order in which wisdom as authority shall wed with liberty, and ensure cooperation and progress. To this high end is Co‑Masonry ordained.”
So stated the Very Ills. Bro. Annie Besant 33°, former Grand Commander of the Eastern Federation of the Co‑Freemasonic Order, in reference to the full readmission of women to the Masonic Craft. The participation of women in Freemasonic work is not an innovation; it is simply the restoration of an ancient landmark or essential of Freemasonry. In the Mysteries of Egypt and Greece, women and men worked together on an equal footing. Only in comparatively recent centuries were women excluded from the mysteries and privileges of the ancient rites that have been reincarnated in modern times as Freemasonry.
When the first Grand Lodge of modern Freemasonry was organized in London in 1717 and subsequently adopted its constitution in 1723, it decided that women should not be admitted to membership, in keeping with the social customs and mores of that time. However, the position of women in the social, economic, educational, and governmental life of all nations has radically changed during the past several centuries. In almost every country, women have made substantial progress toward equal rights. The doors of institutions and professions previously closed to women have been opened wide, and nearly everywhere women are recognized as full citizens. It was only a matter of time before women would be admitted into full participation in Freemasonry, as in modern Co-Masonry. In time, the last vestiges of unjust discrimination will doubtless disappear and all Freemasonic activity, even that in now exclusively masculine Orders, will come to be shared equally by women. Of this prospect, Bro. J. S. M. Ward, a member of an exclusively masculine Order, says:
“If in Freemasonry we possess valuable secrets and profound spiritual teaching, are we justified in excluding from our temples large sections of the human race? . . . The question today, then, is not ‘Can women be trusted with Masonic secrets?’ for they have them. The question is whether it is just and wise to acknowledge their claims, as is being done in every walk of life, or whether we should continue to brand them as clandestine . . . whether we are acting justly in refusing our mothers, sisters, and wives . . . the spiritual and social help we ourselves derive from Freemasonry.”
The answer given by the Eastern Order of
International Co-Freemasonry to Bro. Ward’s question is clear and
unambiguous. Justice, fairness, and the progress of Freemasonry require
that women must have the same rights and privileges as men. Furthermore,
Freemasonic work at its optimum strength and power requires that men and
women should work together in complete equality within Freemasonry as they
now do elsewhere in civilized societies.
During the latter half of the nineteenth century, several French Freemasons urged the admission of women into Masonry. They claimed that the rules adopted in earlier centuries were obsolete and that rules governing the physical qualifications of candidates, based only upon the customs of a particular time and place, could and should be changed. They emphasized the educational advantages and the splendid preparation for citizenship to be derived from Masonic teaching.
In 1882 the concern for equality of the sexes resulted in the application of Marie Deraismes—a writer and lecturer on behalf of women’s rights—for membership in the Lodge Les Libres Penseurs (The Free Thinkers) at Le Pecq, near Paris. That lodge, working under the recently formed Symbolic Grand Lodge of France, asked for authorization to enter Mme. Deraismes. Being refused, the lodge withdrew from the French Grand Lodge and proceeded to carry out the initiation. Marie Deraismes was made a Mason in the presence of a large number of visitors. But French Freemasonry was not yet ready for such a forward step. Les Libres Penseurs lost its standing and became dormant.
In 1893, however, Dr. Georges Martin, a French Senator and strong feminist supporter, began again. He had been present at the initiation of Marie Deraismes, and he knew Bro. Houbron, who had been Wor. Master of Les Libres Penseurs at the time of Mme. Deraismes’s initiation. He persuaded these two, together with several other French Freemasons, to start a new organization open to men and women equally. The result was the formation of a new Grand Lodge devoted to the equality of the sexes, and that same year Worshipful Lodge Human Rights, Co‑Masonry (La Respectable Loge Le Droit Humain, Maçonnerie Mixte) was opened in Paris. Sixteen other prominent French women were entered, passed, and raised.
Annie Besant, an English woman who was a prominent champion of women’s rights, especially for the poor and underprivileged, a leading figure in the Theosophical Society, and the first woman and only non-Indian to become President of the Indian National Congress, was initiated into the Co-Masonic Order in Paris. She returned to London and founded there the first Co-Masonic Lodge in the English-speaking world, consecrated on September 26, 1902. Soon, many other Lodges were started in Britain and, as Annie Besant traveled around the globe, her enthusiasm for and understanding of the inner side of Freemasonry spread to India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Americas, and other parts of the world, making Co-Masonry into an international body.
Annie Besant also restored to Co-Masonic practice certain traditional elements that had been omitted from the French workings, such as belief in a Supreme Divine Intelligence (God, by whatever name and under whatever image conceived), the presence of a Volume of Sacred Lore on which Obligations are taken, and the shared great principles of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. A version of the traditional Masonic ritual developed in India and known as the “Dharma Ritual” was adopted and became the basis for the rituals used around the world by Lodges that descend from her work.
The Eastern Order of International Co-Freemasonry is
directly descended from the Masonic Lodges founded as a result of Annie
Besant’s pioneering work for Co-Masonry. It has fraternal relations with
other independent Orders also derived from Annie Besant’s work, such as
the Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for Men and Women in Great Britain. The
term “Eastern” in its name, as noted elsewhere, refers not to geography
but to the symbolic East, the dawning place of Light. It became an
independent Co-Masonic Order dedicated to preserving the traditional
ideals of Masonry restored by Annie Besant and to carrying on the work of
Masonry as a spiritual discipline or form of Yoga: the Way of the
5. MASONIC SECRECY
The ancient Mysteries all observed a strict secrecy about their activities. For example, although the Mysteries of Eleusis were practiced for more than a thousand years and had vast numbers of initiates, no historical record has been preserved of exactly what happened in those Mysteries. Several reasons have been proposed for the secrecy that surrounds the Mysteries and Freemasonry.
At various times in the history of the Mysteries, which are far older than recorded history, those in the Mystery Schools were persecuted by powerful, dogmatic, and often corrupt interests. For this reason, the neophytes of the Mysteries were forced underground so that they could safely practice their craft and pursue their goals of self‑synthesis and the attainment of wisdom. Because they usually met in groups for mutual support, they needed secrecy to avoid discovery and persecution. Although Freemasonry is still often persecuted under totalitarian regimes, today secrecy is not needed for protection in free countries.
In medieval Europe, the operative stonemasons wanted to shield their craft from exploitation by incompetent workers, and they also invested the craft and tools of their trade with private symbolic, moral, and esoteric significance. They adopted secrecy to reinforce the symbolism of their craft and to assure that intruders did not learn the skills of their trade. Eventually the operative or practicing Masons admitted to their Lodges some gentlemen with an interest in architecture and symbolism. The art and craft of Masonry thus came to have a speculative form, using symbolic tools and Masonic terminology as guidelines for the development of the inner life. And the Masonic secrets became a way of talking about inner spiritual development.
Today, the secrecy of Freemasonry is primarily symbolic. Many experiences of life cannot be put into words that will communicate them to others. That is true of quite simple and trivial experiences, such a biting into a lemon. If you have never had that experience, no one can tell you what it is really like. If you have had it, you know at first hand the taste of a lemon, which no words can express.
The ineffableness of experience is even truer of the
great and moving experiences of life. No one can describe love so well as
to put its essence into words. Love can be experienced; it cannot be told.
Similarly, the experience of spiritual discovery, of awakening to the
Reality within each of us, cannot be put into words. Both love and
spiritual discovery can be symbolized, but not expressed in ordinary
words. So too, the experiences that Freemasonry is designed to evoke are
beyond language. Those experiences are symbolized by the objects, actions,
and legends of Freemasonry, but they cannot be expressed adequately and
directly in words. Masonic secrets are symbols of what cannot be
expressed—the Masonic spiritual experience. Masonic secrets are symbolic
substitutes for the real experiences that await the Freemason in the
course of the inner initiations that are the real content of Masonry.
6. REASONS FOR ENTERING MASONRY
Individuals become Freemasons for many different reasons. Each Mason, no doubt, has a different reason or set of reasons for entering the Order. But, whatever their initial motivations, all Freemasons share certain ideals and aspirations of fraternity, charity, and truth. In addition, all Co-Freemasons share a conviction about the equality of the sexes. And members of the Eastern Order of International Co-Freemasons place a particular emphasis on the inner, spiritual life of Freemasonry and on its application to living.
What, then, are the most telling reasons for entering modern speculative Masonry? Essentially, they are two. As Bro. F. de P. Castells expresses one of them:
“And what is the aim of our Fraternity but to promote the world’s progress and to guide men . . . to the Throne of God, the highest source of light, so aptly symbolized by the Fire in the Burning Bush that was ever ablaze but never consumed?”
The first reason for entering Masonry, and Co‑Freemasonry more specifically, is to promote the world’s progress. It is a means for service to humanity. The energies generated by a meeting of a Co-Masonic lodge, when released at the end of the meeting, add a pure and powerful spiritual force to the inner planes for the benefit of any who are in need of it.
A second important reason for entering Freemasonry is that it offers a method for the mastery of one’s emotional, mental, and spiritual nature. It puts the Freemason in touch with himself or herself. It is a form of Yoga, to use that popular Sanskrit term. In the words of the Very Ills. Bro. Louis Goaziou 33°:
“The development of moral character is an individual undertaking, the most important in this existence. Each individual must take the same path, overcome the same obstacles, and learn the same lessons that each and every other man has been obliged to do in his quest for Light and Truth.”
The Co‑Masonic system of self‑discovery deals with the application of order, knowledge, strength, and symmetry to those aspects of one’s nature that are in a state of disharmony or confusion. It is a systematic, scientific approach to wholeness, indicated by the Masonic axiom "Ordo ab Chao"—order out of chaos.
Thus Freemasonry is service: spiritual
service to humanity and spiritual service to oneself so that one may
better serve others.
7. CEREMONIAL AND INNER ENERGIES
Freemasonry is magic—in one sense. What we call magic is, in fact, science we do not yet understand. Television transmission or the World Wide Web would have been the most profound magic to people three hundred years ago because they would not have understood the principles involved. Similarly, many people today do not understand the principles involved in certain natural forces, whose effects they call “magic.”
Masonic ritual is magic in that sense. It is the control and use, through ceremonial procedures, of higher energies for the benefit of humanity through the alleviation of the world’s suffering and illusion (thus bringing order out of chaos). The Very Ills. Bro. Edith F. Armour 33° has said:
“Freemasonry is ceremonial magic—a mystical system established in the dim ages of the past by those spiritual teachers who were the guides of our infant humanity, which remains today the chalice of the wisdom, unchanged in its inner potency, ever available to all who seek. The neophyte entering a Masonic lodge has this wonderful opportunity to find the ancient path, but that ‘door which gives upon the Infinite’ will open only for the candidate whose deepest longing is for spiritual understanding.”
Freemasonry is also a flowering of group consciousness and group interaction, which are the solutions for today’s problems of humankind. Our human problems of selfishness, greed, prejudice, and violence can be cured only by a realization that we are all related to one another and are a single life energy in many different forms. That realization will come from new spiritual energies guiding the evolution of humanity. Group consciousness and interaction are now exercised in every sphere of human endeavor, from education to politics, as our focus shifts from one individual to all of us sharing equally—a fundamental principle of Freemasonry.
Nowhere is the future of humanity more evident than
in a Co‑Masonic lodge. In a well functioning Lodge, harmony of purpose and
devotion combine to form a perfect synthesis of cooperation. A new order
of the ages (“novus ordo seclorum,” as the Great Seal of the
United States calls it) is available to us, and Co‑Masonry, a seedling in
the spring of this new cycle, is an example of the way in which men and
women can share their efforts to bring the new order to fruition through
the “mysteries and privileges of ancient Freemasonry.”
8. FREEMASONRY AND RELIGION
Modern Freemasonry began in the West, specifically in England, and therefore is Judeo-Christian in its background, and particularly Jewish in the symbolism of its Craft Degrees. Despite that background, Freemasonry is neither restricted to nor identified with any one religion, but has historically and assertively been free of both political and religious alignments of any kind. People of any faith (or none specifically) are welcomed in a Masonic Lodge.”
However, Freemasonry is certainly not irreligious. Manly P. Hall (1901-1990), a Freemason and prolific author, has commented on this in his book The Lost Keys of Freemasonry, in which he writes:
“Freemasonry, though not a religion, is essentially religious. Most of its legends and allegories are of a sacred nature . . . . [In one of those legends, twelve] Fellow Craftsmen are exploring the four points of the compass. Are not these twelve the twelve great world religions, each seeking its own way for that which was lost in the ages past, and the quest of which is the birthright of man? . . . All who are attempting to gain mastery through constructive efforts are Masons at heart, regardless of religious sect or belief. . . . Freemasonry is a philosophy that is essentially creedless. . . . The true Mason is not creed-bound. He realizes with the divine illumination of his lodge that as Mason his religion must be universal . . . . He worships at every shrine, bows before every altar, whether in temple, mosque, or cathedral, realizing with his truer understanding the oneness of all spiritual truth.”
The Eastern Order, in particular, has recognized the mutual relevance and respect between Freemasonry and all of the world’s great religions.
9. FREQUENTLY ASKED
1. What is Freemasonry?
called simply “Masonry,” is a modern version of the ancient Mysteries that
offers a way by which we can contact the highest within ourselves. The way
of Freemasonry is a particular pattern of living expressed by symbols,
dramatic action, and allegorical stories. It emphasizes self-improvement
by service to others through recognition of the spiritual reality called
“God” and by many other names in various cultures around the world.
2. What do Freemasons do?
Freemasons meet together regularly for dramatic
ceremonies that express the ideals of Freemasonry, for shared study of
Freemasonic symbols and their inner or esoteric meaning, and for social
contact. They also do their best to practice the Masonic ideals in their
3. What are the Masonic ideals?
The Masonic ideals are summed up in three
expressions: brotherly love, relief, and truth. Brotherly love is
the ideal of how we should treat all other human beings—as members of one
family. And in this context, “brotherly” does not mean “pertaining to
males” but rather “pertaining to human beings as equal members of the same
family—the human species.” Relief is the obligation we have, as
members of the same human family, to help one another to the best of our
ability and within the limits of our most immediate responsibilities.
Truth is the ultimate value and reality of life, which we are all
searching for and which is expressed in many different ways in various
cultures, but is not limited to any single culture, philosophy, or system
4. Is there more than one Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is divided into many varieties. Some of
those varieties differ from one another in their particular Masonic
practices, such as “Scottish Rite” and “York Rite” Masonry. Some are
associated with particular geographical regions. But all genuine
Freemasonic groups share the Freemasonic ideals and the basic symbols and
dramatic ceremonies, though the latter may be expressed in varying forms.
5. What is Co-Freemasonry and how
does it differ
Co-Freemasonry is a
form of Masonry that admits men and women equally, as it also does persons
of all races, religions, and ethnic or social groups. That is its special
characteristic, but there are several varieties of Co-Freemasonry, just as
there are several varieties of exclusively masculine or feminine
Freemasonry. Some groups of Co-Freemasonry are found only in one country,
while others are international. Some are concerned primarily with social
matters. The Eastern Order of International Co-Freemasonry is especially
devoted to the inner or spiritual aspects of Masonry, in the tradition of
the ancient Mysteries. It is called “Eastern” because the East is the
source of light, and light symbolizes the divine wisdom, strength, and
beauty to which Freemasons aspire.
6. You have several times referred to the ancient Mysteries—what has Freemasonry got to do with them?
Aristotle said that the ancient Mysteries were not
about acquiring information, but about experiencing something and being
changed by the experience. He also said that the Mysteries involved
something shown, something told, and something done. Similarly,
Freemasonry has no body of teachings but instead offers the experience of
its ceremonies as a way of changing ourselves, in a process comparable to
what is called “analysis” or “individuation” in some varieties of
psychology, “transformation” in alchemy, and “enlightenment” or “metanoia”
in some religions. The way it offers that experience is through symbolic
objects that it shows, allegorical legends that it tells, and dramatic
ceremonies that it performs.
7. Is Freemasonry a religion?
Certainly not. It is, however, concerned with the
ultimate values of human life, and so might be called “religious” in a
broad sense of that term. Freemasonry works “to the glory of the Great
Architect of the Universe (a poetic expression for the cosmic intelligence
that guides the world and everything in it) and to the perfection (or
evolutionary development) of humanity.” But Freemasonry is not a religion,
and Freemasons belong to the many various religions of the world or to
none at all. Freemasons may be Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus,
Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Confucians, or various other religionists; or
they may have no specific religious affiliation. That is the choice of
each individual Freemason.
8. Do Freemasons have to believe in God?
Freemasons must profess a belief in an intelligence
that guides the world, called “God” in English. However, Freemasons are
not required to hold any particular beliefs about that guiding
intelligence or to conceive of it in any particular way. Some may think of
it as a personal deity, whereas others think of it as an impersonal
godhead, a divine power that orders all things. The language we use about
it is like most of our language, especially about the most important
things of life: it is poetical, metaphorical, or figurative. Freemasons
conceive of “God” in a variety of ways, according to their backgrounds.
The way all of us talk about “God,” the ultimate intelligence of the
universe, is necessarily symbolic. In Freemasonry, various metaphorical
expressions are used, such as “The Great Architect of the Universe.”
Freemasons believe that the cosmic intelligence is real, though we think
of it and name it variously.
9. What is the significance of the term “Freemasonry”?
Freemasonry developed among groups of persons who
either practiced the craft of stonemasonry or were interested in the
theory and symbolism of the building trades. The fundamental symbol of
Freemasonry is King Solomon’s Temple and the legends that have grown up
about its construction. So various tools and actions of stonemasonry are
interpreted symbolically in Freemasonry. That explains why it is called
“masonry.” We no longer know exactly why it is called “free.” One theory
is that Freemasons are not limited in their beliefs, but are free to learn
and grow through whatever good means they prefer and that they respect the
right of others to that same freedom. Another theory is that this symbolic
masonry is intended to free us from the limitations of our lower natures
and to make us spiritually free by connecting us to our higher Selves.
10. What goes on in a Masonic meeting?
Masonic meetings may include any or all of three
activities. The central event is a dramatic ceremony or ritual, dealing
with legendary events in the building of King Solomon’s Temple, which are
interpreted allegorically. Meetings usually also include business
activities of the sort any organization has to have. And they often
involve some study or discussion of the symbolism and practices of
Freemasonry. In addition, the Masonic meeting is often followed by a
social time that includes eating together and conversation.
11. What is expected of a Freemason?
Freemasons are expected to try to live humanely—that
is, to work at improving themselves, to look for ways they can help
others, to respect differing views, and to keep their promises. They also
promise to attend all meetings of their Lodge (in America usually once a
month) unless there is some urgent reason that prevents them from doing
12. What is the origin of Freemasonry?
The exact origins of Freemasonry are now lost in
history, and there are also legendary origins of the “Craft,” as
Freemasons often call it. It seems, however, from the historical records
as though a craft organization of stone workers in the Renaissance
attracted the participation of some gentle folk who were interested in
architecture or building, both as a practical craft and for its symbolic
associations. Over time, the symbolic aspects became more pronounced and
the “speculative” members interested in the symbols became more numerous
than the “operative” members, who were actual stonemasons. This may have
happened first in Scotland, but it was in London in 1717 that a number of
such “speculative” Lodges banded together to form a Grand Lodge, which was
the beginning of organized Freemasonry as we know it.
13. Are there any deeper roots of Freemasonry?
The early “speculative” Freemasons seem to have been
interested in a variety of yet earlier forms of thought, especially the
symbolic interpretation of pictures and of geometry and what is sometimes
called the “perennial philosophy.” Such interests connect Freemasonry
thematically with a number of movements from antiquity through the Middle
Ages and later: the Greek and Near Eastern Mysteries, the Pythagorean
School, Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, Hermeticism, the Knights Templar, the
Kabbalah, and the Rosicrucians, to name only some.
14. Is Freemasonry a secret sect?
Freemasonry is not a sect at all. A sect is a
religious group, especially one that has split off from some other group.
Freemasonry is not a religious group of any kind. Nor is it secret.
Freemasons have never sought to keep the existence of Freemasonry a
secret. They have not generally advertised themselves, but neither have
they sought to hide. Freemasonry is an organization that has certain
secrets—particularly certain signs, words, actions, and symbols used only
among members of the group.
15. What is the purpose of the Masonic “secrets”?
On the most mundane level, to share a secret is to
bond together. Families have “secrets”—things known only to members of the
family that help to unite them. In that way also, Masonic secrets are a
bonding device. But also and more importantly, they are symbols of the
fact that the most important things in life cannot be spoken or
communicated directly. The really great and moving experiences of life are
ones we cannot put into words or tell another about. But if two persons
have had similar deeply moving experiences, they can communicate about
them indirectly by symbols, which are secrets to anyone who has not shared
the experience. Masonic secrets are like that—symbols of the deeply moving
experience that Masonry provides. They are the outer visible signs of an
inner invisible reality.
16. Is Freemasonry occult or esoteric?
Freemasonry is certainly not “occult” in the recent
popular meaning of that term referring to fortune telling, diabolism, the
supernatural, and the like. But the original meaning of the word “occult”
was “hidden” or “secret,” just as the literal meaning of “esoteric” is
“inner” or “for the initiated.” As already said, Freemasonry has its
secrets, which are for those initiated into it. Those secrets are, in a
sense, “open,” available to anyone who qualifies himself or herself to
17. Does Freemasonry engage in political activity?
No. Although individual Freemasons have the right to
belong to whatever political party they like or to none, just as they do
to whatever religion they like or to none, the Freemasonic Order has no
political aims or interests. Freemasons are expected to obey the laws of
the country in which they live, to give allegiance to its government, and
to work in a lawful manner for any social changes they espouse. There is a
longstanding tradition that, when Freemasons meet, they do not discuss
religion or politics, in order that the diversity of opinion among them on
those subjects may not become a source of dissension.
18. How many forms of Freemasonry are there?
A good many. Throughout the world, there are many
different Masonic organizations or “Obediences.” Even in the United States
within masculine Freemasonry, each of the states has its own Grand Lodge,
which governs the local Lodges in that state. These Grand Lodges recognize
one another and agree not to intrude on each other’s territory, but they
are autonomous. Then there is a form of Freemasonry called “Prince Hall
Masonry,” which is especially for African-Americans, who at one time were
excluded from many masculine Lodges. There are also some groups that admit
only women. And there are some that admit both men and women and people of
all races, most notably Co-Freemasonry.
19. Is Co-Masonry like the Eastern
No. The Eastern Star is an adjunct organization to
exclusively masculine Masonry, intended primarily for the wives and
daughters of Freemasons, but also including some men. It has its own
ceremonies, but they are completely different from those of traditional
Freemasonry. Co-Freemasonry follows the traditional Masonic rites and
practices. Any masculine Mason who attends a Co-Masonic meeting will
recognize it as essentially similar to his own practice.
20. Can a person be a member of
both the masculine
Co-Freemasonry respects the masculine Orders and will
admit as a visitor any of their members who can prove (by a dues receipt
or the like) that they are in good standing in a regular masculine Lodge.
It will also admit as an affiliated member a masculine Freemason who
applies and meets its requirements. Masculine Grand Lodges, however, in
general do not permit their members to join or participate in a Masonic
body that admits women.
21. When and how did Co-Freemasonry begin?
On January 14, 1882, a woman named Marie Deraismes
was initiated into a French masculine Lodge called appropriately “Les
Libres Penseurs” (The Free Thinkers), but because of opposition, that
Lodge ceased to function. On April 4, 1893, Dr. Georges Martin, a French
Senator and advocate of equal rights for women, joined Marie Deraismes and
other male Masons in founding in Paris La Grande Loge Symbolique
Écossaise de France, Le Droit Humain (Scottish Symbolic Grand Lodge,
Human Rights). They initiated, passed, and raised sixteen prominent French
women. In 1902 Annie Besant, a prominent English social activist and
Theosophist, entered Co-Masonry and quickly became the leader of
English-speaking Co-Masons. Though her guidance and inspiration,
Co-Masonry spread around the world and restored certain traditional
Masonic practices that had been omitted from the French usage.
22. What is a “rite” as in “Scottish Rite” and “York Rite” mentioned earlier (question 4)?
The basis of all Freemasonry is the Craft system of
three Degrees (Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason), and
anyone who has taken these three Degrees is a full-fledged Mason. However
in addition to the three Craft Degrees, there are several other series of
Degrees. The two most widely practiced of these systems of additional or
higher Degrees are those of the Scottish Rite and the York Rite. “Rite” in
this sense is a particular system consisting of set forms of ceremonial
words and actions. In addition to the three Craft Degrees, Co-Freemasonry
works such Scottish Rite Degrees as Rose-Croix and Knights Kadosh, and
other Degrees through the Thirty-Third, which is the highest and last
Degree of the Scottish Rite. It also works the Mark Degree, Royal Ark
Mariner, Holy Royal Arch, and Knights Templar.
23. Is special clothing worn at a Masonic meeting?
In America the Co-Masonic custom is for everyone to
dress in pure white. In some other countries, women dress in white and men
in black (a tuxedo or business suit). Sometimes everyone dresses in black.
The clothing worn is a matter of local custom and is not part of Masonic
essentials. However, in regular Craft Lodge meetings, each member of the
Lodge wears an “apron,” which is an ornamental version of a garment worn
by operative stonemasons in former days. It has symbolical meanings.
24. What happens at a Masonic initiation?
The initiation is a formal, ceremonial introduction
of a new member into the Masonic Order, during which certain customs and
“secrets” of Freemasonry are explained to the new member. It is something
like a drama in which the person being initiated is the central character.
To experience the full effect of an initiation, it is best not to try to
find out about it in advance. The word “initiation” means literally “the
process of going in.” It is best to enter Freemasonry without many
preconceptions. Part of the effect of the initiation is the element of
newness or surprise in it.
25. Does a Freemason have to swear an oath of some kind?
During the initiation ceremony, the candidate
solemnly promises to strive to lead a life according to Masonic ideals, to
keep the secrets of Freemasonry, and to be faithful in all ways. This
promise is made to the highest Reality in the universe and within oneself
and is not in any way incompatible with one’s moral, social, or religious
26. Why is Freemasonry so concerned with symbols?
Freemasonry is a special system of symbols, with a
particular purpose (self-improvement and service to others). Although we
often are not consciously aware of them, we are surrounded by symbols; our
lives are structured by symbols in almost every way. The ways we stand,
walk, eat, shake hands, smile, sit, dress, and so on, are all symbolic.
Human beings are a species that might be called Homo symbolicus.
Freemasonry uses a particular set of symbols to express its ideas and
27. What special symbols are there in Freemasonry?
The two most widely known Masonic symbols are the
square and the compasses. Among their many meanings, the square (which has
two immovable legs at a ninety-degree angle) represents matter, and the
compasses (which have movable or adjustable legs) represent spirit or
consciousness. The fact that the square and compasses are regularly shown
in combination suggests that matter and consciousness are interdependent
realities. The trowel is also used as a symbol of the building Freemasons
do, which is not a physical structure, but a spiritual one—the Temple,
which is every individual soul and all of us together. One of the logos of
our Order (reproduced below) has other
symbols: the five-pointed star with a “G” inside it, which symbolizes the
presence of the divine life in each of us; and the wreath of leaves, which
symbolizes the victory of immortality over death.
28. What does the motto under the logo mean?
The motto is Latin and means “From the East, Light.”
But the “East” it speaks of is not a point on the compass or a part of the
globe, any more than the “Light” it speaks of is a physical phenomenon of
electromagnetic radiation. The “Light” of the motto refers to spiritual
perception and understanding. Because the Sun rises in the east and from
that direction casts its first radiance upon the earth, the east is
associated with the origin of light. Symbolically, “East” is the source of
the “Light” of spirit. It thus represents the place where we can expect to
find spiritual perception and understanding. That place is not any
location on the globe but is rather the source of all spiritual
knowledge—ultimately, our own inmost reality and Self.
29. How is Co-Freemasonry organized?
The organization of Co-Freemasonry depends partly on
the country in which it is located. In some places, the governing body is
a Supreme Council, which oversees the workings of the Scottish Rite. In
other places, the governing body is a Grand Lodge, which fills the same
function with regard to the Craft Degrees. A Lodge is a local body
consisting of seven or more Master Masons. The Lodges are the basis of all
Masonic work, and every Mason belongs to a Lodge. At least three Master
Masons can also form a Triangle to do some Masonic work.
30. How is a Lodge organized?
A Lodge has various officers, some of whom (such as
the Secretary and Treasurer) have primarily business functions. Others
(such as two Wardens and two Deacons) have primarily ritual functions. Yet
others (such as the chair person of the Lodge, called the Master) have
both business and ritual functions. The principal officers are elected and
others are appointed each year for a one-year term.
31. Is the government of a Lodge democratic or autocratic?
It is democratic since officers are chosen and all
business matters are decided by a majority vote of all full-status members
(Master Masons) of the Lodge. It is also hierarchical in that the affairs
of the Lodge are carried on by the various officers according to a clear
system of responsibilities and obligations. Masonic hierarchy is basically
one of function, rather than of inherent status, and mirrors the hierarchy
we see everywhere in the universe. Because officers are elected, the
hierarchy is also democratically based.
32. Are there differences of rank in Masonry?
As mentioned earlier (question 22), in a Craft Lodge
there are three Degrees of membership: Entered Apprentice, which is the
initial and introductory stage during which the new Freemason is learning
about the Craft; Fellowcraft, which is a more advanced stage of learning,
when the member can participate in certain ways, especially by joining in
discussions; and Master Mason, which is the full-membership stage, whose
members can vote and participate fully in all affairs of the Lodge. The
additional or higher degrees of the Scottish and York Rites are honored
but convey no additional authority or privileges within a Craft Lodge.
33. Who can become a Co-Freemason?
Any person, man or woman, can apply for admission who
is of mature age (at least twenty-one years old, with a somewhat lower age
for children of Freemasons), who is “free” (in this context meaning that
they have no personal obligations or limitations to prevent them from
functioning as a Freemason), and who is of “good report” (that is, who
sympathizes with and is willing to try to live according to the ideals of
34. How does one apply? Do you have to be invited?
No one is ever invited to become a Freemason. The
principle is that you must yourself want to become a Mason and initiate
the process by asking about membership. Ask any Co-Freemason, who will put
you in touch with the proper person, who in turn will provide you with an
application form and the other information you need to begin the process.
You are given some written questions to be answered, and you are
interviewed separately by several Master Masons, who answer any questions
you have and ask questions of interest to the Lodge. Your application is
read at a meeting of the Lodge; and when it is acted upon favorably, you
become a candidate for initiation.
35. How long does it take to become a Co-Mason?
The application process is a deliberate one, taking
at least two full months and usually somewhat longer, depending on the
time of year and other factors. After a person has been admitted as an
Entered Apprentice, it usually takes a full year before they become a
full-fledged Master Mason. Unlike some other Masonic Orders, which give
all three Degrees in one weekend, Co-Freemasonry believes that normally it
is best to take the Degrees at a more leisurely pace, so that the new
Freemason has a chance to absorb the lessons and learn the principles of
each Degree. Exceptions are made for special reasons, but that is the
36. How much does it cost to become a member?
The initiation fee may vary from one Lodge to
another, but in America $60.00 is typical. Apart from whatever expense may
be involved in getting the appropriate general white clothing, there are
no other entering expenses. Annual dues in a local Lodge are set by the
members of that Lodge to cover their needs and so vary from group to
group. At each meeting, two collections are usually taken, one for charity
and one to help with Lodge expenses. All members are expected to
contribute something, however much or little, to the collection for
charity. The other collection is optional, according to individual means.
Master Masons need to purchase their own “aprons” for wear in Lodge
meetings, the cost of which varies according to the quality and
elaborateness of the materials and workmanship. They are not expensive.
37. How often and where are meetings held?
The Eastern Order of
International Co-Freemasonry currently has lodges in Argentina, Brazil,
Costa Rica, India, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Spain, and the United States.
Others are in the process of forming. The frequency of meetings varies
from one Lodge to another. In America, most Lodges meet once a month. Some
meet more often for special work, practice, or study. The meetings are
held in a Lodge room or “Temple,” the latter term being used in allusion
to the Temple of King Solomon, the building of which is a principal symbol
in Freemasonry. Because most American Co-Masonic Lodges are small in
membership, it is usual for them to rent meeting space and “set up” the
space for a meeting.
38. Where can I read or see more about Freemasonry?
An enormous number of books have been published about Freemasonry—of very variable quality and reliability. For anyone considering entering Freemasonry, it is best not to read much material ahead of time about Masonic symbolism or the rituals of the Order. Those things are better investigated after they have been experienced at first hand. The following books, however, provide some good and reliable information for those who want it:
Bullock, Steven C. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730–1840. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1996. Pp. xx + 421. A detailed, academic, but highly readable history of Freemasonry in Colonial, Revolutionary, and early Republic days showing the deep influence of Freemasonry on American culture.
Hodson, Geoffrey. At the Sign of the Square and Compasses. Adyar, Madras: Eastern Order of International Co-Freemasonry, 1976. Pp. xxii + 300. An examination of the symbolic meanings of Masonic ritual, objects, and actions from the standpoint of mystical Masonry.
Leadbeater, C. W. Ancient Mystic Rites. Originally titled Glimpses of Masonic History. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1986. Pp. xiv + 241. A history of the inner and legendary side of Freemasonry from ancient Egypt to modern Co-Masonry.
———. The Hidden Life in Freemasonry. Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1926. Pp. xvi + 376. A clairvoyant’s view of the inner side of Masonic objects, signs, and rituals of various Degrees.
MacNulty, W. Kirk. Freemasonry: A Journey through Ritual and Symbol. London: Thames and Hudson, 1991. Pp. 96. A handsomely illustrated coffee-table book about Masonry, with an informative text.
———. The Way of the Craftsman: A Search for the Spiritual Essence of Craft Freemasonry. London: Arkana, 1988. Pp. x + 158. A treatment of Masonry as a spiritual path by a masculine Mason acquainted with both American and British workings of Masonic ritual.
Roberts, Allen E. The Craft and Its Symbols: Opening the Door to Masonic Symbolism. Richmond, VA: Macoy, 1974. An overview of each of the three degrees with comments on their symbolic meanings.
Stevenson, David. The Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland’s Century, 1590–1710. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Pp. xvii + 246. A presentation of evidence that modern Freemasonry began in early Renaissance Scotland.
A useful and informative quarterly periodical is The Square: The Independent Magazine for Freemasons. Published by Lewis Masonic, Riverdene Business Park, Molesey Road, Hersham, Surrey KT12 4RG, United Kingdom. Annual subscriptions $25.00.
There are also some informative videos, such as the following:
The Freemasons. The Secret World Series, vol. 1. Toth and Parsons Productions, 1995. 56 minutes. A video introduction to Freemasonry including an interview with John J. Robinson, author of Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry.
Grand Lodge: The Ultimate Tour. First Degree Productions, 1996. 2 cassettes. A video tour of the building of the Grand Lodge of England in London, including preparations for a meeting in the Grand Temple.
10. OTHER WEBSITES AND CONTACTS
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