The fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons is the oldest and largest fraternal organization in the world (approximately 1.8 million members in the United States and 3.2 million worldwide). Hundreds of volumes have been published and millions of words have been written about it, yet to many Freemasonry remains a mystery.
Freemasonry has been erroneously called a secret society. Its purposes, aims and principles are not concealed. Its constitutions, rules and regulations are open for public inspection. Its membership lists are published, its meeting places are well identified and advertised, and the public often participates in Masonic activities and functions.
It is true there are signs of recognition, rituals and ceremonies with which the world is not acquainted, but then all human groups and institutions have their private affairs.
The local Lodges are the keystone of Freemasonry in the United States. They are organized into state groups of Grand Lodges, the titular head of which is the Grand Master.
Freemasonry is available to any man of good character who believes in a Supreme Being and is closed only to avowed atheists and agnostics. There are no restrictions relating to race, creed, or color.
Masonry is not a religion in any sense of the word, yet it is religious. Church membership is not a requirement, yet membership in any church is no bar to admission. There is nothing in the requirements of Masonry to prevent a Catholic, a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Protestant, a Mormon, or a member of any religion from becoming a member.
For most Masons in the United States the Holy Bible is the rule and guide of their conduct and the source of all light and knowledge. The Square and Compasses is the oldest and most universal symbols of Masonry. The Square represents the Master of the Lodge and the Compasses the brethren. The letter "G" in the center symbolizes the Deity.
Lodge meetings always open and close with a prayer. The pledge of allegiance to the flag of our country is an integral part of the ceremonies.
Each Mason belongs to a local Lodge where the three degrees are conferred leading to the status of a Master Mason. The initial step taken by the candidate makes him an entered apprentice Mason. Completing the second degree, he becomes a Fellowcraft Mason, and after the third degree a Master Mason.
The object of the three degrees or learning process is to expose the candidate to the influence of the good things in life with the philosophy of making him a better man. A Mason believes in the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man and gives action to his beliefs by the practice of the virtues of temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice.
Since brotherly love, relief and truth, backed by a reliance on faith, hope and charity, are fundamental tenets of Freemasonry, the exercise of benevolence to promote human welfare is basic to its existence. Not only in America, but over the world, Masons care for their needy brothers, their widows and orphans, and maintain homes for their care. They support their mother country in just wars; aid in medical research; in gerontology; contribute to blood banks; maintain and support hospitals for crippled and burned children; grant scholarships; provide research, surgery, and hospitalization for diseases and injuries to the eye; support studies in childhood aphasia and deafness; and many others. It is estimated that the total value of Masonic charitable contributions exceed $1.7 million dollars a day (1994).
When, of his own volition, a man petitions a Lodge for admission and is accepted, he becomes an inclusive and active part of a group that believes in time-tested methods of intellectual progress. Within the Lodge is no discussion of partisan politics or religious dogma. Each successive step in his education brings the exhilaration that comes from a new experience. He finds an open door to new knowledge and new horizons.
In today's language, that is what Freemasonry is all about.