About Freemasonry

lodge-crest
Old Dovorian Lodge

Freemasonry: What’s it all about?

A simple ‘mission statement’: “Making good men better”.

The true origins of Freemasonry are lost in time. However, today’s Freemasons are no longer active stonemasons as they once were, particularly during the Middle Ages when many of the great European Cathedrals were being built.  In the 17th century, stonemasons’ lodges began to admit men who were not involved with their trade but were attracted by their strict code of morality.  Many distinguished men of that time, such as Sir Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin and William Hogarth, became Freemasons.  This tradition continued into the 20th century and notable Freemasons include HM George VI, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Malcolm Campbell, Duke of Kent, Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher and Rudyard Kipling.

But what does this mean in practice?

Freemasonry means different things to each of those who join; our members come from all walks of life and meet as equals whatever their faith, ethnic group or position in society.   For many this spirit of fellowship is what they value most.  Making new friends, helping others, following a family tradition and participating in the ceremonial are also important.

WHO AND WHAT WE ARE

We are one of the world’s oldest and largest non-religious, non-political, fraternal and charitable organisations. Freemasonry teaches self-knowledge through participation in a progression of ceremonies. Members are expected to be of high moral standing and are encouraged to speak openly about Freemasonry. The following information is intended to explain Freemasonry as it is practised under the United Grand Lodge of England, which administers Lodges of Freemasons in England and Wales and in many places overseas.  (You may also find Grand Lodge’s leaflet What’s it all about” of interest.)

Our members are taught Freemasonry’s principles (self-knowledge and moral lessons) through a series of ritual ceremonies or dramas – a series of allegorical plays that are learned by heart and staged within each Lodge.  These ceremonies follow ancient forms and use stonemasons’ customs and tools as allegorical guides.

Freemasonry instils in its members a moral and ethical approach to life: our values are based on integrity, kindness, honesty and fairness.  Members are urged to regard the interests of their families as paramount but they are also taught concern for people, care for the less fortunate and help for those in need.   We contribute over £33 million a year as one of the UK’s largest charitable givers. Raising funds largely through voluntary donations we support individual members, local communities and global emergencies.

THE THREE GREAT PRINCIPLES

Our values are based on integrity, kindness, honesty and fairness. For centuries, Freemasons have undertaken to follow three great principles which represent a way of achieving higher standards in life: Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth.

  • Brotherly Love: Every true Freemason will show tolerance and respect for the opinions of others and behave with kindness and understanding to others.
  • Relief: From earliest times Freemasons have been taught to help those in distress to the best of their ability, but without detriment to their own dependents, and to give their support to outside Charities.
  • Truth: Freemasons strive for truth, both in their view of themselves and in their dealings with others. Masonry requires high moral standards and its members endeavour to uphold these principles in their public and private lives.

WHY ARE FREEMASONS NOT MORE FORTHCOMING ABOUT THEIR MEMBERSHIP?

Freemasons have gained a reputation for keeping private their membership and/or deliberately staying out of the public eye.  This has led to much wild speculation as to the objectives of the Order.  The truth is much more prosaic.  Before the Second World War, Freemasons in this country were considerably more open about their membership and indeed archive photographs available online show Freemasons parading through towns and cities in full regalia as part of, for example, annual Lord Mayor’s processions.  However with the feared Nazi invasion, and their persecution in Germany and other occupied territories of many organisations including masons, the lodges ceased being so open.

The governing body recognised some time ago that such reticence does not serve the modern organisation well.  While we will never press people to join – we believe very strongly that anyone interested in becoming a Freemason should approach us of their own volition and at their own pace – Freemasons are today much more open about our existence and purpose.  As part of our 2017 Tercentenary celebrations Freemasons from many regions have been seen across the country at (for example) county fairs, civic parades and other events.

More generally, Freemasons can be found very easily.  Many Lodges and Provinces (as well as United Grand Lodge itself) have websites, Twitter and Facebook accounts, and a local Freemasons’ Hall can usually be found in the phone book.  Many Masonic Halls, including the headquarters in London on Great Queen Street, welcome visitors.

WHAT DO NON-MASONS SAY ABOUT US?

You may have seen Sky TV’s 2017 five-part series “Inside the Freemasons” for which, with the co-operation of Grand Lodge, the makers had unparalleled access over several months to masons and their lodges.  The result was a balanced and informative look at the Order in its tercentenary year with which many masons (to judge by Twitter) were very pleased.

A 2012 report from the Social Issues Research Centre supports the information on this page.  Of particular note is that this report was written by non-masons.  It concludes:

“What attracts masons to Freemasonry varies greatly, as we have already touched on. Some are attracted by the friendships they form and the sense of belonging it instils, others by the ‘nudge’ that Freemasonry provides towards living a more altruistic life. Others still will be attracted by the rituals of Freemasonry. Much like the rituals themselves, however, Freemasonry may deserve a closer look in order to understand and appreciate it more fully, and its relevance and role today. If Freemasonry is able successfully to conclude its ‘quiet revolution’, while at the same time ensuring that its central features are retained to preserve the true ‘spirit’ of Freemasonry, then its future may well be assured – for the next century or two at least.” (report: The Future of Freemasonry)