Freemasonry has many aspects and facets and to a large extent Masonry is whatever you put into it. At its very simplest, it is a fraternity of Brothers who meet to forge and share a common bond. This social aspect of Freemasonry is practised through our regular Lodge meetings (called ‘Communications’) and other events such as casual social BBQ and charity work.
The difference is that Freemasonry has other higher purposes in addition to simple socializing. Freemasonry is a moral and ethical system of education which aims to take good men and make them better. Most men who become interested in Freemasonry do so because they sense that there ought to be more to life than simply earning a wage and pursuing material gain. They feel that modern life lacks a certain spiritual satisfaction and wish to improve themselves and the world around them. Freemasonry is one of the few remaining institutions that can help one achieve that goal, based on time-honoured principles which have been handed down from one generation of Freemasons to the next.
Freemasonry is also perhaps the most misunderstood, yet popular, “secret society” the world has ever known, as well as being the most visible. Every state in Australia just as in almost every country of the world has a Grand Lodge of Freemasons, with each having its own Web site freely accessible to the public via the internet. Freemasons themselves proudly wear rings and jackets with the square and compass clearly displayed. Their cars often have Masonic bumper stickers identifying them e.g. 2B1ASK1. Masonic buildings are clearly marked usually with a large blue square and compass on displayed to the public and their addresses and phone numbers are in the Yellow Pages. If the Freemasons are a secret, they need a refresher course on camouflage, because we make no attempt to hide who we are. Almost immediately after forming the first Grand Lodge in England in 1717, books trumpeting the secrets of the fraternity began to arrive on shelves of local book sellers.
Masonry does have ceremonies it wants to keep private, not secret but private; along with certain methods of identification such as passwords and handshakes. But these are no more insidious than a salute or challenge/reply used in the scouts or military; they represent a simple manner by which we can determine an affiliation with the order.
No simple, one-line definition satisfactorily describes what Freemasonry represents and even amongst Freemasons you will often have disagreements as to how to adequately define the fraternity. It is certainly described in our ritual as a philosophy, based on a system of morality and ethics; which is veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols, but this simple description does not adequately define for the layman what he can expect from an affiliation with the order. To simplify matters here are some of the main points that make Freemasonry different from other organization:
- Freemasonry is a fraternity of men, bound together by oaths, based on the medieval stonemason craft guilds.
- Masonic laws, rules, legends, and customs are based on the Ancient Charges, the rules of those craft guilds.
- Freemasonry teaches lessons of social and moral virtues based on symbolism of the tools and language of the ancient building trade, using the building of a structure as a symbol for the building of character in men.
- Masons are obliged to practice brotherly love, mutual assistance, equality, secrecy, and trust between each other.
- Masons have secret methods of recognizing each other, such as handshakes, signs, and passwords.
- Masons meet in lodges that are governed by a Master and assisted by Wardens, where petitioners who are found to be morally and mentally qualified are admitted using secret ritual ceremonies based on the legends of the ancient guilds.
- Freemasonry is not a religion, and it has no religious dogma that it forces its members to accept. Masons must simply believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, whatever they conceive that deity to be. Their personal beliefs are just that: personal.
- Freemasonry is not a science, but it does teach its members to value learning and experience. It encourages Masons to think but does not tell them what to think.
- Freemasonry teaches Masons to be tolerant of the beliefs of others and to regard each man as their equal, deserving both their respect and their assistance.
Masonry is certainly not for everybody. But those who know in their hearts that there is a better life to be lived, and are prepared to work to achieve it, will find Freemasonry to be an incredibly rich and rewarding experience.