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What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is one of the world's oldest fraternal societies
Men become Freemasons for many and varied reasons and from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds. It is fair to say that many take some time after joining before they actually know why they have joined and indeed what they get personally from the experience. Initially the attraction is often the valuable work carried out in raising money for charity. Some of which is used to assist Freemasons and their dependents in times of need, but the vast majority goes to non Masonic charities of all sizes, all over the world. No organisation is too small to be helped and much time generously given to assist the community with voluntary work. Others become Freemasons because of the unique fellowship it provides. You can visit a Masonic Lodge anywhere in the country or worldwide and you will be greeted as an old friend. Freemasonry is the ultimate leveller, a community where friendship and goodwill are paramount.
Personal gain from being involved is derived from being part of an organisation that works hard to help the less fortunate of the world. Freemasonry asks its members to give as freely as they can to charity, but insists that prudence is always observed when it comes to how much! We are bombarded with requests in the media to send money to help with some famine or global disaster, but the rush of everyday life gets in the way before we get around to it. Freemasonry provides a structure whereby its members can assist in fundraising and reacts quickly when help is needed.
Masonic Symbolism - The purpose!
So what about the so-called 'funny handshakes' and the peculiar dress styles? Freemasonry has been in existence for over 300 years and over this time has developed a pattern of rituals. These have developed and are over the centuries and are no more outlandish than civic ceremonies performed around the country, but they perform a valuable function in reminding members of the heritage and standards they are expected to maintain and uphold. After becoming involved the context and content of the rituals and symbolism seem quite natural.
Do the Handshakes give an unfair advantage?
Despite what many people claim; Freemasonry is not in any way a secret society. Freemasonry's so-called secrets are solely used as a ceremonial way of demonstrating that one is a Freemason when in Lodge meetings. They have been exposed in the media for almost as long as Freemasonry has existed and in any case are not very important information anyway. The real point of a Freemason promising not to reveal them is basically a dramatic way of commiting to keep one's promises in general.
These handshakes are signs used during Masonic ceremonies. They can be used in everyday life, but to expect preferential treatment or other advantage from fellow Freemasons identified in this way is both misguided and contrary to the basic principles of the organisation. Rather than spend your money on Masonic membership fees, you’d be better off buying a lottery ticket.
It would be wrong to suggest that bring a Freemason has never been used to try to gain personal benefit - of course there have been cases, but that is true of just about every group, society or body where men get together. How many business deals are decided on the golf course? The difference is that unlike the golf club, Freemasonry has a system of morality that says no to this.
So why the mystery?
If Freemasonry has nothing to hide, why the mystery? The ‘mysteries’ revealed to members during their progress are nothing more sinister than sound advice that helps them lead a balanced life e.g. thinking about things like the welfare of others. Similarly, Masonic passwords are simply keys to the doors of the different levels within Freemasonry. To learn these principles on a step-by-step basis makes them easier to absorb and understand. Masonic ceremonies are like short morality plays in which members play different parts and like any form of theatre demands the learning of words and movements. By taking part in these ceremonies, Freemasons come to understand the teachings they contain.
Other reasons why Freemasonry cannot be called a secret society are that Freemasons do not promise to keep their membership secret (in fact they are encouraged to tell anyone they wish). Where and when Freemasons meet are matters of public record (you can look up masonic centres in telephone directories), and our rule book - the Book of Constitutions is readily available to anyone.
It is ironic that because Freemasons used to be reticent about their membership (mainly because they were and still are taught never to use it to advance their own interests), critics have misconstrued the message and think that something secretive and nasty is going on. Nothing could be further from the truth!
So what is involved?
So do you need the acting skills of a West End star to become a Freemason? Absolutely not, the convivial atmosphere of a Masonic meeting allows members to learn to relax and enjoy taking part in something rather special. Everyone can be themselves and contribute in a way that best suits their personality. Many members find learning and performing these rituals is a useful programme of self development. Freemasonry also provides a platform and the opportunity to practise after-dinner speaking with a fully supportive audience - something that many people are frightened of!
How much time does it take?
So doesn’t all this take up a great deal of one’s time? The vast majority of Lodges in London meet four times a year. The formal part of the proceedings (the ceremonies) usually start towards the end of the afternoon and are followed by a dinner and a few (hopefully short) speeches. In addition there are weekly instruction meetings where members learn more about the principles of Freemasonry and to master the ritual performed in the ceremonies. Freemasons also gain much pleasure from visiting Lodges other than their own, making new friends and seeing different traditions followed. While there are numerous opportunities to engage in Masonic pursuits, Freemasonry encourages its members to live well rounded lives and always stresses that one’s family and personal affairs must always come first.
Furthermore, English Freemasonry does nit allow any religious discussion at meetings. It is also strictly non-political and the discussion of politics at masonic meetings is expressly forbidden.
Wives and partners matter to Freemasonry
In the interests of domestic harmony, men interested in becoming Freemasons are strongly recommended to discuss it with their wife/partner at the earliest possible stage. Most Masonic Centres (and Freemasons' Hall) are happy to give guided tours to the general public. Visitors can see inside the Masonic temples where the ceremonies take place and ask about any issues they may have. There are also entertaining lectures, held inside a Lodge or Chapter room, for anyone interested in learning more about Freemasonry. These are usually followed by an informal dinner.
Is it affordable?
So what about the cost? Membership subscriptions compare favourably with those of general sports and social clubs. Freemasonry is not a rich man’s hobby but is an affordable and rewarding pastime for the many.
What else is involved in becoming a Freemason? You have to be male, aged 21 or over and be of good character (which means not having any criminal convictions). You must also believe in a Supreme Being The ceremonies include prayers but Freemasonry is not a religion (or in any way a substitute); it offers no sacraments and does not claim to lead to salvation. By the inclusion of prayers at meetings, Freemasonry is no more in competition with religion than say having a meal at which grace is said. Men from a variety of faiths belong of which in Londesborough we have several.
There are approximately 7,600 Middlesex Freemasons in some 1500 Lodges and 125 Chapters meeting under the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London, at many Centres and approved venues throughout the capital.
Under the English Constitution, basic Freemasonry is divided into two parts - the Craft and the Royal Arch. For those Freemasons who want to explore the subject in greater depth there are many others, which for historical purposes are not administered by the United Grand Lodge of England.