True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Defining Freemasonry

The answer we hear most often these days: Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.

Well… ok. This answer has the sole virtue of being true.

So, that’s the “elevator answer.” Or one of them anyway. By elevator answer, I mean the short, quick, abbreviated answer we give someone when we only have a short period of time to provide an answer, like the duration of an elevator ride. If someone asks you what Freemasonry is, most of us give that answer, or a version of that answer, then quickly try to expand upon it, because, really, that answer sounds so… pompous and incomplete.

It’s a correct answer, of course, but it is somehow… unsatisfying, even to us. We know Masonry is so much more than that answer. It’s a fraternity, it’s association, its support, its learning, its morality, its ritual, its working together… it’s a way of life. How do you communicate that to someone who hasn’t experienced it?

We are confronted with this question all the time, but is still like someone asking you what yellow looks like. We can describe yellow as that part of the magnetic spectrum in the 570–590 terahertz range, and that answer, while absolutely correct, does not answer the question; it’s a lot like Microsoft Technical Support: the answer, while technically correct is functionally useless. So, how do we give a cogent, easily understood, correct answer to someone that has not experienced the glory and beauty of our ancient and honorable fraternity?

We all know what Freemasonry is… and isn’t, don’t we?

Freemasonry is a system of morality.

Freemasonry is a philosophical society.

Freemasonry is an esoteric society.

Freemasonry is mutual support society.

Freemasonry is a men’s club.

Freemasonry is a way of life.


Freemasonry isn’t a religion, though it is religious.

Freemasonry isn’t a job bank.

Freemasonry isn’t a political action committee.

Freemasonry isn’t a global conspiracy to rule the world.

Freemasonry isn’t the Illuminati.

So, what is Freemasonry?

Before I offer my version of this answer, I want to give you a few other answers I could find:

Grand Lodge of Canada, Province of Ontario:

Freemasonry is the oldest and largest worldwide fraternity dedicated to the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of a Supreme Being. Although of a religious nature, Freemasonry is not a religion. It urges its members, however, to be faithful and devoted to their own religious beliefs.

United Grand Lodge of England:

Freemasonry is one of the world's oldest secular fraternal societies…Freemasonry is a society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values. Its members are taught its precepts by a series of ritual dramas, which follow ancient forms, and use stonemasons' customs and tools as allegorical guides.

Old Epsomian Lodge No. 3561

Sussex Group, Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London

Freemasonry is one of the world's oldest secular fraternal societies. The essential qualification for admission is a belief in a Supreme Being and to be of good repute.

Freemasonry is open to men of many religions and it expects them to continue to follow their own faith. Freemasonry is a system of morality, not a system of faith or salvation and is complimentary to the belief of the individual. Indeed, lodge meetings, in order to ensure harmony, expressly forbid the discussion of either religion or politics.

Freemasonry asks that each of its members shows tolerance and respect for the opinions of others and behave with kindness and understanding to his fellow man. Its members, in varying degrees, are involved with numerous local, national and international charitable works, both by charitable giving and by voluntary efforts and works as individuals.

Freemasonry demands from its members a respect for the law of the country in which a man works and lives. Freemasonry does not override the individuals duty to one’s self, one’s family ones God or work.

Ed King,

Freemasonry is the world's oldest and largest Fraternity. While its traditions look back to earliest history, Masonry in its current form appeared when its public events were noticed by the residents of London, England in 1717. Although Masonry - particularly in its earliest days - had some elements of secrecy, the first 'exposure' of the supposedly highly-secret Masonic ritual actually appeared in 1696!

Since that time, there have been tens of thousands of books published about this 'secret organization'. And for over three hundred years, despite the good works done by its members, Freemasonry has continually suffered the slings and arrows of those who seek to use it's quiet nature against it.

Freemasonry's singular purpose is to make good men better and its bonds of friendship, compassion and brotherly love have survived even the most divisive political, military and religious conflicts through the centuries. Freemasonry is neither a forum nor a place of worship. It is not a religion nor does it teach a religious philosophy. For nearly three hundred years it has attracted men of high moral character who support the tenets of temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice.

Grand Lodge of Massachusetts

Freemasonry is the world's first and largest fraternal organization. Open to men of adult age of any color, any religion, nationality or social standing, the only requirement is a belief in a Supreme Being. Its body of knowledge and system of ethics is based on the belief that each man has a responsibility to improve himself while being devoted to his family, faith, country, and fraternity.

Freemasonry (often simplified to “Masonry”) enhances and strengthens the character of the individual man by providing opportunities for fellowship, charity, education, and leadership based on the three ancient Masonic tenets: Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. The Massachusetts Grand Lodge is a crowning legacy of this venerable heritage as we strive to “make good men better.”

These are good answers, and are often the “official” answer offered by a grand lodge, but these official answers are as stilted as the elevator answer. The truth is, the answer is as varied as the brethren who make up our ancient and honorable fraternity. And now, my answer to the question:

Freemasonry is a fraternity of honorable men, with a faith in g-d, however they define him, and a desire to improve themselves through service to each other and the community, with a focus on morality.

It may not be the best answer in the world, but it is mine. I look forward to reading yours.

May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us!


giovanni lombardo said...

I think Freemasonry is an initiatory society which gives its members the proper tools to try to answer three great questions of human life, that is:
1. who am I?
2. whence do I come?
3. whither shall I go?

David said...

There was a very good short Masonic education paper on this very topic called "What's Your Answer?" featured on The Digital Freemason podcast last year.

It has a great analysis of where the problem actually stems from (why most have difficulty explaining what our Fraternity is actually about) and some ideas for better ways to answer the question: "What is Masonry all about?"

The text of the paper is available here:

Or try the audio here (the podcaster has a great reading voice and usually provides some commentary on the papers):


Anonymous said...

Freemasonry: the Brotherhood of all mankind under the All-Seeing Eye of Deity.

BC 2006

Anonymous said...

Many things to many men...I think we all agree it is special to us in a special way.

Anonymous said...

While the man can claim multiplicity in interest for Freemasonry, he runs the risk of losing site of its singular purpose when he confuses interest for purpose and when he forgets that purpose of the Craft is to teach, no matter what form his interest takes.

Is it not an art? Is it not a Craft?

Then how can one claim it is many things or nothing at all?

Our traditions are quite specific as to what it is and what it is for. To remain ignorant of this is to rob oneself of its beauties. To teach that same ignorance is to defile its intricacies and oneself as a craftsman.

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