Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is Freemasonry ?
A. Freemasonry is the UK’s largest secular, fraternal and charitable organisation. It teaches moral lessons and self knowledge through participation of allegorical two part plays.
Q. Why are you a secret society ?
A. We are not, but lodge meetings, like those of many other groups, are private and open only to members. The rules and aims of Freemasonry are openly available to the public. Our meeting places are commonly known and in many areas they are used by the local community for activities other than Freemasonry. Members are encouraged to speak openly about Freemasonry.
Q. What are the secrets of Freemasonry ?
A. The secrets in Freemasonry are the traditional modes of recognition which are not used to be used indiscriminately, but solely as a test of membership, such an occasion would be visiting a lodge where you are not known.
Q. What happens at a lodge meeting ?
A. The meeting is in two parts, as in any association there is a certain amount of administrative procedure - minutes of previous meeting, proposing and balloting for new members, discussing and voting on financial matters, election of officers, news and correspondence. Then there are the ceremonies for admitting new Masons and the annual installation of the Master along with the appointment of his officers. The three ceremonies for admitting new Mason are in two parts, a slightly dramatic instruction in the principles and lessons taught in the Craft followed by a lecture in which the candidate’s various duties are explained
Q. Isn’t ritual out of place in modern society ?
A. No. The ritual is a shared experience which binds the members together. Its use of drama, allegory and symbolism impresses the principles and teachings more firmly in the mind of each candidate than if they were simply passed on to him in a matter of fact modern language.
Q. Why do Freemasons take oaths ?
A. New members make solemn promises concerning their conduct in lodge and in society. Each member also promises to keep confidential the traditional methods of proving that he is a Freemason which he would use when visiting a Lodge where he is not known. Freemasons do not swear allegiances to one another or to Freemasonry. Freemasons promise to support others in times of need, but only if that support does not conflict with their duties to God, the Law, their family or with their responsibilities as a Citizen.
Q. Why do your “obligations” contain hideous penalties ?
A. They no longer do. When Masonic ritual was developing in the late 1600’s and 1700’s it was quite common for legal and civil oaths to include physical penalties and Freemasonry simply followed the practice of the times. In Freemasonry, however the physical penalties were always symbolic and were never carried out. After long discussion, they were removed from the promises in 1986.
Q. Are Freemasons expected to prefer fellow Masons at the expense of others in giving jobs, promotions, contracts and the like ?
A. Absolutely not. That would be a misuse of membership and subject to Masonic discipline. On his entry into Freemasonry each candidate states unequivocally that he expects no material gain from his membership. At various stages during the three ceremonies of his admission and when presented with a certificate from Grand Lodge that the admission ceremonies have been completed, he is forcefully reminded that attempts to gain preferment or material gain for himself or others is a misuse of membership which will not be tolerated. The Book of Constitutions, which every candidate receives, contains strict rules governing abuse of membership which can result in penalties varying from temporary suspension to expulsion.
Q. Aren’t you a religion or rival to religion ?
A. No. Freemasonry requires a belief in God and its principles are common to many great religions. Freemasonry does not try to replace religion or substitute for it. Every candidate is exhorted to practice his religion and to regard its holy book as the unerring standard of truth. Freemasonry does not instruct its members in what their religious beliefs should be, nor does it offer sacraments. Freemasonry deals in relations among men; religion deals in mans relationship with his God.
Q. Why do you call it the Volume of the Sacred Law and not the Bible ?
A. To most Freemasons the Volume of the Sacred Law is the Bible. There are many Freemasons however, who are not Christian and to them the Bible is not their sacred book and they will make their promises on the book which is about being sacred to their own religion. The Bible will always be present in a English lodge but as the organisation welcomes men of different faiths, it is called the Volume of the Sacred Law. Thus, when the Volume of the Sacred Law is referred to in ceremonies it will be the holy book of his religion and to a Christian it will be a Bible
Q. Why do you call God the Great Architect ?
A. Freemasonry embraces all men who believe in God. Its membership includes Christians, Jews, Hindu, Sikhs, Muslims, Parsees and others. The use of descriptions such as the Great Architect prevents disharmony. The Great Architect is not a specific Masonic god or an attempt to combine all gods into one. Thus, men of differing religions pray together without offence being given to any of them.
Q. Why don’t some churches like Freemasonry ?
A. There are elements within certain churches who misunderstand Freemasonry and confuse secular rituals with religious liturgy. Although the Methodist Conference and the General Synod of the Anglican Church have occasionally criticised Freemasonry, in both churches there are many Masons and indeed others who are dismayed that the churches should attack Freemasonry, an organisation which has always encouraged its members to be active in their own religion.
Q. Isn’t Freemasonry just another political pressure group ?
A. Emphatically not. While individual Freemasons will have their own views on politics and state policy, Freemasonry as a body will never express a view on either. The discussion of politics at Masonic meetings has always been prohibited.
Q. What is the relationship between Freemasonry and groups like the Orange Order, Odd Fellows and Buffaloes ?
A. None. There are numerous fraternal orders and Friendly Societies whose ritual, regalia and organisation are similar in some respects to Freemasonry’s. They have no formal or informal connections with Freemasonry.
Q. Why don’t you have women members ?
A. Traditionally, Freemasonry under the United Grand Lodge of England has been restricted to men. The early stonemasons were all male, and when Freemasonry was organising, the position of women in society was different from today. If women wish to join Freemasonry, there are two separate Grand Lodges in England restricted to women only.
Q. Why do Freemasons wear regalia ?
A. Wearing regalia is historic and symbolic and like a uniform, serves to show to members where they rank in the organisation.
Q. How many Freemasons are there ?
A. Within the Province of Yorkshire West Riding, there are 207 lodges with over 7000 members. Nationally there are over 8000 lodges with a total membership of over 250,000 . It is thought that worldwide there are over 6,000,000 Freemasons.
Q. How and when did Freemasonry start ?
A. It is not known for certain. The earliest recorded “making” of a Freemason in England is that of Elias Ashmole in 1646. Organised Freemasonry began with the founding of the Grand Lodge of England on 24th June 1717, the first Grand Lodge in the world. Ireland followed in 1725 and Scotland in 1736.
All regular Grand Lodges in the world trace themselves back to one or more of the Grand Lodges in the British Isles.
There are two main theories of origin. According to one, the operative stonemasons who built the great cathedrals and castles had lodges in which they discussed trade affairs. They had simple initiation ceremonies and as there were no City & Guilds certificates, dues cards or trade union membership cards, they adopted secret signs and words to demonstrate that they were trained masons when they moved from site to site. In the 1600’s, these operative lodges began to accept non-operative as “gentleman masons”. Gradually these non operatives took over the lodges and turned them from operative to “free and accepted” or speculative” lodges.
The other theory is that in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s, 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 was King Solomon’s Temple, which became the basis of the ritual. The old trade guilds provided them with the basic administration of a Master, Wardens, Treasurer, and Secretary, and the operative masons tools provided them with a wealth of symbols with which to illustrate the moral teachings of Freemasonry.
Q. What kind of person can become a Freemason ?
A. The principle qualifications are that he is usually aged 21 years or older, of good character and believes in a supreme Being - his God. He is expected to have good morals, compassion and a kind and charitable disposition.
Q. What would be expected of me ?
Members do as much as they wish. The administration, ceremonial, accounting, fund raising and general running of the Lodge is carried out voluntarily by its own members.
Q. How much does it cost to be a Freemason ?
A.It varies from Lodge to Lodge but anyone wishing to join can find a Lodge to suit his pocket. On entry there is an initiation fee and you will require to buy an Apron
All members pay a yearly subscription to their lodge which covers, membership and administration cost of running the lodge. It is usual though not compulsory to have a meal after the main monthly meeting, this cost may be included in the subscription or paid for at the time of dining. It is entirely up to each member what he gives to charity, but it should always be without detriment to his other responsibilities.
Q. Is Freemasonry involved in the community ?
A. From its earliest days, Freemasonry has been involved in charitable activities, and since its inception it has provided support for many widows and orphans of Freemasons as well as others within the community. All monies raised for charity are drawn from amongst Freemasons, their families and friends, while grants and donations are made to Masonic and non Masonic charities alike.
Over the past five years alone Freemasonry has raised more than £75 million for a wide range of charitable purposes including those involved in medical research, community care, education and work with young people.
Freemasonry has an enviable record of providing regular and consistent financial support to individual charities over long periods while at the same time making thousands of grants to local charities, appeals and projects throughout England and Wales each year. For the future opportunities to obtain or provide matched funding are periodically examined with a view to enhancing the impact of the support Freemasonry can give to specific projects. The personal generosity of Freemasons and the collective fundraising efforts of almost 8000 lodges however, will continue to determine the contribution Freemasonry makes within the community.