What is a Mason?
Freemasonry is not a religion, nor is it a substitute
for religion. It requires of its members a belief in God as part of the
obligation of every responsible adult, but advocates no sectarian faith or
practice. Masonic ceremonies include prayers, both traditional and extempore, to
reaffirm each individual's dependence on God and to seek divine guidance.
Freemasonry is open to men of any faith, but religion may not be discussed at
The Supreme Being
Masons believe that there is one God and that people
employ many different ways to seek, and to express what they know of God.
Masonry primarily uses the appellation, "Grand Architect of the Universe," and
other non-sectarian titles, to address the Deity. In this way, persons of
different faiths may join together in prayer, concentrating on God, rather than
differences among themselves. Masonry believes in religious freedom and that the
relationship between the individual and God is personal, private, and
Volume of the Sacred Law
An open volume of the Sacred Law, "the rule and guide of
life," is an essential part of every Masonic meeting. The Volume of the Sacred
Law in the Judeo/Christian tradition is the Bible; to Freemasons of other
faiths, it is the book held holy by them.
The Oath of Freemasonry
The obligations taken by Freemasons are sworn on the
Volume of the Sacred Law. They are undertakings to follow the principles of
Freemasonry and to keep confidential a Freemason's means of recognition. The
much discussed "penalties," judicial remnants from an earlier era, are symbolic,
not literal. They refer only to the pain any honest man should feel at the
thought of violating his word.
Freemasonry Compared with Religion
Freemasonry lacks the basic elements of religion: (a) It
has no dogma or theology, no wish or means to enforce religious orthodoxy. (b)
It offers no sacraments. (c) It does not claim to lead to salvation by works, by
secret knowledge, or by any other means. The secrets of Freemasonry are
concerned with modes of recognition, not with the means of salvation.
Freemasonry Supports Religion
Freemasonry is far from indifferent toward religion.
Without interfering in religious practice, it expects each member to follow his
own faith and to place his Duty to God above all other duties. Its moral
teachings are acceptable to all religions.
Freemasonry and Secrecy
People sometimes refer to Freemasonry as being a "Secret
Society." In one sense the statement is true. Any social group or private
business is "secret" in the sense that its business meetings may be open only to
its members. In Freemasonry, the process of joining is also a private matter,
and its members are pledged not to discuss with non-members certain parts of the
ceremonies associated with the organization.
Freemasonry does have certain handshakes and passwords,
customs incorporated into later fraternities, which are kept private. They are
means of recognizing each other--necessary in an organization which spans the
entire world and which encompasses many languages.
The tradition of using handshakes and passwords was very
common in the Middle Ages, when the ability to identify oneself as belonging to
a building or trade guild often made the difference in getting a job or in
obtaining help for yourself and family. Today, Freemasons make the same pledge
to every member that he will be offered assistance if he, or his family, ever
Freemasonry can’t be called a "secret society" in a
literal sense. A truly secret society forbids its members to disclose that they
belong to the organization, or that it even exists. Much of the Masonic ritual
is in books called "Monitors" that are widely available, even in public
libraries. Most Freemasons wear rings and lapel pins which clearly identify them
as members of the fraternity. Masonic lodges are listed in public phone books,
Masonic buildings are clearly marked, and in many areas of the country Masonic
lodges place signs on the roads leading into town, along with civic
organizations, showing the time and place of meetings.
In terms of what it does, what it teaches, who belongs,
where it meets, there are no secrets in Freemasonry! It is a private fraternal
association of men who contribute much toward the public good, while enjoying
the benefits of the brotherhood of a fraternity.
Freemasonry and Women
In Freemasonry, as in all other areas of life, women
play an important role. The opportunities for women to participate in
Freemasonry are widespread and meet a variety of needs, from social interaction
in the Orders for both men and women, to the unique needs met in the "women
only" Masonic-related organizations. The moral and ethical values that
Freemasonry encourages are universal and not gender-based.
Masonic Lodges maintain today a long-standing tradition
of restricting membership in Freemasonry to men. This tradition is based on the
historical all male membership of stonemasons guilds. During the Middle Ages,
men traveled far from home and lived in lodges while constructing great
cathedrals throughout Europe.
However, in the middle 1800s the fraternity took the
progressive step, for that time, of creating organizations that included women,
so that men and women could share Masonic fraternalism. The Order of the Eastern
Star (the largest of these Masonic-related groups) was established in 1855, the
Order of the Amaranth in 1873, and the White Shrine of Jerusalem in 1894.
Two national Masonic-related youth organizations are for
young women: the International Order of Job’s Daughters, founded in 1920, and
the International Order of Rainbow for Girls, founded in 1922. Rainbow and Job’s
Daughters are involved with local charities, community services, and educational
Other Masonic-related organizations limit their
membership to women only, such as the Ladies Oriental Shrine of North America,
Daughters of the Nile, the Daughters of Mokanna, and the Social Order of
Beauceant. These Masonic-related organizations, like many organizations in North
America, both social and professional, base their membership on gender. Junior
League, P.E.O., National Association of Female Executives, and Girl Scouts, for
instance, are organizations created exclusively for women, established to
fulfill their unique interests and specific needs.