Our Masonic Fraternity
Freemasonry is an organization that is special to its members and all those affected by its teachings and charities. This chapter delves into the historical origins and purposes of the Craft, its underlying tenets and ancient landmarks, and its use of symbolism to teach lessons important to mankind. Finally, the chapter includes a Vision of Freemasonry in Maine. This information provides a foundation for Masonic knowledge based on the historic sources of strength and support to the Fraternity and, as such, to the basis for preserving and building the Craft for future generations.
Freemasonry has many definitions. Our English brethren define it as “a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” Certainly, it is a course of moral instruction that employs both allegories and symbols to impart the truth of its rich lessons. The word allegory is generally understood to mean that it “represents by suggestive resemblance.” A symbol is “a visible sign of representation of an idea.”
Perhaps the best modern definition of Freemasonry is found in the writings of Brother C. C. Hunt of Iowa and is expressed in these words: “Freemasonry is an organized society of men symbolically applying the principles of operative masonry and architecture to the science and art of character building.” This definition, emphasizing the Masonic teaching of a system of morality, serves to set our Fraternity apart from other organizations.
The Ancient Origins of the Craft
It is not possible to point to a single era in human history and say that Freemasonry was born at that particular time and in that specific place. The principles of Masonry may be as old as man himself, for the roots of this ancient fraternity spread through many ages and among people of most races. Certainly the Craft goes back far beyond historical record though it has not always been designated by the name Freemasonry. Even in prehistoric times, there were certain ritualistic ceremonies for the young man as he sought to take his rightful place among the tribal leaders. Initiation was a ceremony prevalent among the ancients. The mysteries of Egypt, Greece and the East may be seen as influencing our own rites. These ceremonies were designed to test men and to admit into fellowship only those who were worthy. Men who won the right to be initiated were promised the key that would unlock the secrets of the universe.
Operative Masonry can be traced back through the centuries to the Middle Ages and beyond. Man has long been a builder, both by necessity and by inspiration. In the world around him, he saw evidence of a Supreme Builder and he sought to imitate Him. In the course of time, operative masons bound themselves together in companies or guilds. Other men were admitted into the guild only after they had served a number of years of apprenticeship, had learned some of the secrets of the builders’ art and had demonstrated their ability as craftsmen.
The transition of Freemasonry from an operative art to a speculative science came about so gradually that it is not possible to point when in history it occurred. Patrons, who were not operative artisans, were taken into the Craft and taught about the builder’s tools and implements, which had long been used to symbolize moral precepts. During this period of change, Freemasonry came to regard these tools and implements almost entirely as spiritual symbols. Thus, their use became exclusively philosophical and figurative, teaching men the universal principles of morality and brotherly love, thereby changing Freemasonry from an operative to a speculative fraternity.
Freemasonry: Its Purposes For Masons And Mankind
The basic purpose of Freemasonry is the improvement of man. As our institution places emphasis on the individual man, its mission is accomplished by strengthening his character, improving his moral and spiritual outlook and broadening his mental horizons. By its teachings, Freemasonry seeks to impress upon the minds of its members the principles of personal responsibility and righteousness; to have each Mason understand and feel its works of relief and charity; and to encourage each member to put these lessons into practice in his daily life. Masonry thereby seeks to build a better world by first building better men who will work to improve their own communities. Freemasonry believes in universal peace made possible by the acceptance of its great doctrine of the Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God.
Masonry also seeks to enlighten men by placing within their grasp a reasonable understanding of the immorality of the soul. Within Masonic teachings each Brother seeks to find a philosophy which fits his own needs.
In ancient times the Brethren met in General Assembly for the ordering of the affairs of the Craft. With growth in numbers, however, in 1717 it became necessary to adopt a representative form of government, since which time the Brethren have met in Lodges and each Lodge has sent its delegates to a legislative body known as the Grand Lodge.
Freemasonry is a charitable, benevolent, educational, and religious society with secrets, adhering to its own peculiar ancient Landmarks. Its methods of recognition and of symbolic instruction are secret and thereby a test of membership is provided, even though a Brother may be traveling in foreign countries and among those who would otherwise be strangers.
Our Masonic Tenets
The principal tenets of Freemasonry are Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. A tenet is a teaching so obviously true, so universally accepted, that we believe it without question and always take it for granted. Examples of such teachings lie everywhere about us. “Good health is better than illness; a truthful man is more dependable than a liar.” These are teachings that no intelligent man can possibly call into question. Everybody takes them for granted. Accordingly, they are tenets.
What then is Brotherly Love? Manifestly, it means that we place on another man the highest possible value as a friend, a companion, an associate and a neighbor. Merely to be with him, to spend time in his company, to have the privilege of working at his side, is all we ask.
Relief is a form of charity. As we learn from Masonic ritual, by offering relief to a distressed Brother, his widow and orphans, Masons strive to soothe the unhappy, sympathize with their misfortunes, express compassion for their miseries and restore peace to their troubled minds. Thus Masons give freely from within to meet the Bother’s heartfelt needs as well as his bodily needs.
Truth is more than being accurate or factually correct in the intellectual sense, through that is part of the meaning behind Freemasonry’s motto, “Let there be light.” Masonry takes Truth to mean that, if we are to have a permanent brotherhood, members must be truthful in character and habit, dependable, men of honor as well as of honesty, men upon whom we can rely to be loyal friends. Surely no argument is needed to prove that Truth, as thus understood, is required if a brotherhood is to exist, and is therefore something we should all agree as being beyond question.
The Universal Masonic Landmarks
Masonic Landmarks are certain universal, unalterable and unrepealable boundaries of the Craft. Grand Lodges around the world recognize many Landmarks, but the following seven are commonly recognized by all Grand Lodges; Monotheism, Belief in Immortality, the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Legend of the Third Degree, the Symbolism of the Operative Art, Secrecy and that a Mason must be a freeborn, male adult.
Monotheism is the belief in one god that is required of every initiate. His concept of the Supreme Being is left to his own interpretation. Freemasonry is not concerned with any other theological distinctions. This is the basis of our universality.
Belief in Immortality of the Soul is a fundamental lesson of Masonic teaching.
The Volume of the Sacred Law is an indispensable part of the furniture of the Lodge. In our jurisdiction it is the Holy Bible but any candidate may be obligated on the Scriptures which he considers sacred.
The Legend of the Third Degree is that the human soul is immortal.
Symbolism of the Operative Art means that Masonic symbols are taken from architecture. Almost without exception, they relate to the art of building: the Square, Level, Plum, Ashlars, Pillars and Trestle-Board. The grand idea of Masonry is that the development of character is like the building of a temple, the same rules apply to both. There must first be a plan, then a foundation and framework, and finally, proportion and harmony of line. In the words of the ritual, there must be “wisdom to contrive, strength to support and beauty to adorn all great and important undertakings.” This is a practical truth of universal application to all forms of achievement. The symbols of Freemasonry are drawn from the experience of the ages.
Masonic Secrecy affects little relating to the institution. A secret society is one whose members are not publicly known. Masonic buildings are clearly identified and Masonic philosophy and symbols are discussed in thousands of books accessible to anyone. Masonic secrets are to the Fraternity with the private affairs of a family are to its members, i.e., their own concern.
A Mason must be a freeborn, male adult primarily because he must be the master of his time, his resources and himself. In operative masonry, women and young men could not work at the mason’s trade. Membership in the Craft has therefore been traditionally confined to male adults, and from long usage, this practice has become imbedded in the Fraternity as a Landmark.
The Maine Masonic Textbook, formerly known as Drummonds Monitor, lists the twenty-five Landmarks first enumerated by Albert G. Mackey in 1858. However, neither these Landmarks nor any others have ever been officially adopted by the Grand Lodge of Maine.
Teaching Through The Use Of Symbolism
The outstanding characteristic of Masonic ritual is it’s use of symbols. Everything that is said and done in the ceremonies is symbolic of ideas in Masonic philosophy. Literally, a symbol is a comparison. The word “symbol” is derived from two Greek words meaning to “throw together” or place “side by side”. We have no way to express ideas other than by use of symbols. Words themselves are only symbols. When we say a man is “lion-hearted”, we use symbolism.
In ordinary usage, however, a symbol is an object that suggests or stands for an idea. The Flag is a symbol of our Country, and the Cross is a symbol of Christianity. Ceremonies and actions may also be symbolic.
It may be asked why Masonic ritual should be composed so largely of objective and ceremonial symbols, and why it would not be simpler to give lectures. The answer is because it is not enough merely to state abstract ideas; they must be driven home and remembered.
Symbols are more vivid than words and can express more than words can say. Who can fully explain a flower or express what a melody means? Symbols are more impressive than words. The person seeing the symbol makes his own interpretation. The thought then is his own. He has done more than see the symbol; he has created an idea. A man holds to his own ideas and remembers them. Finally, a symbol can express in a flash a whole series of ideas; thus it does the work of many speeches. The explanations of the symbols given in lectures are but suggestions or starting points in understanding Freemasonry.
A Vision of Freemasonry in Maine
The mission of Masons, Masonic Lodges, and Masonry, is to enable men to associate freely and improve themselves in an environment characterized by equality, community, opportunity, charity and security.
To that end we share the vision of a Masonic Lodge which offers a Mason an opportunity to participate in an environment where every man is treated as an equal and with respect. Masonry regards no man for his worldly wealth or honors. He is judged only on the principles he lives by. Equality is the first principle of Masonry, and our Founding Fathers, many of whom were Masons, made this principle a cornerstone of the new Republic.
We share the vision of a Masonic Lodge characterized by community. Masons have long held that we bring together on common ground men from every country, sect and opinion, men who would otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance: older Masons, younger Masons, long time Masons, brand new Masons. A Lodge is s place where all mix freely with each other. Maine is the least ethnically diverse state in the Nation, but true to this principle, it should set an example of diversity in this state.
We share the vision of a Masonic Lodge which offers a Mason an opportunity to improve himself and to grow in wisdom. Indeed, the opportunity for self-improvement was the source and original purpose of speculative Masonry. We do this, perhaps most importantly, by making an effort to provide good examples to each other and by exemplifying for each new candidate and for each other, the great allegory of Free Masonry – the story of the stone mason as he progresses in life from youth, through manhood to old age. We learn by coming to know the explanatory lectures in our hearts because we know them by heart.
We share the vision of a Masonic Lodge which enables a Mason to join other good men in doing acts of charity. Charity, a term from our Ritual is taken from the King James version of the Bible which today is often translated as “love”, carrying the connotation of a generous-spirited and giving relationship. Lodges are not service clubs, but they do provide a structure where good men can join together and accomplish good things, and Masons do good works far out of proportion to their numbers and at every level, from the monumental achievements of the hospitals built by Shrine Masons over the years to small acts of caring and sensitivity shown to older Masons and their wives.
We share the vision of a Masonic Lodge that offers an environment where men can be safe from stress and petty contention. In the words of the closing charge a Lodge is a “Sacred retreat of friendship and virtue”. A Lodge is an environment where everyone knows that we will meet on the level, in equality, and where we will part on the square, having been dealt with fairly and where they are secure in the knowledge that we will be dealt with fairly the next time we meet. A lodge characterized by equality, community, opportunity, charity and security is the vision we share.