Who / What are Freemasons?

 

(1) What is Freemasonry?

(2) What is the Scottish Rite?

(3) What is the York Rite?

(4) What is the Shrine?

(5) What is the Eastern Star?

(6) What is DeMolay?

(7) What is Rainbow?

(8) What are some other Masonic organizations?


(1) What is Freemasonry?


Freemasonry (or simply, Masonry) is a fraternal order whose basic tenets are brotherly love, relief (philanthropy), and truth. We strive to enjoy the company of our brother Masons, assist them in times of personal trouble, and reinforce essential moral values. There is an old adage that Masonry "takes good men and makes them better", which is our goal.

It has often been observed that men are the products of everything they come into contact with during their lifetime. Masonry offers a man an opportunity to come into regular, enjoyable contact with men of good character, thus reinforcing his own personal moral development. Of course, Masonry is also meant to be enjoyed by its membership, so the order should not be viewed simply as a philosophical club, but rather a vibrant fellowship of men who seek to enjoy each other's company, a fraternity.

To maintain this atmosphere of fraternity, discussion of religion and politics within the Lodge is forbidden, as these subjects are those that have most often divided men in the past. The membership of Masonry encompasses the full spectrum of both religious and political beliefs and encourages a man to be religious without advocating a particular religion, and to be active in his community without advocating a particular medium of political expression.

While there probably are some actual stone-workers who are Masons, Masonry does not teach its membership the literal techniques of stonework. Rather, it takes the actual "operative" work of Medieval Masons and uses it as an allegory for moral development. Thus, the symbols of Masonry are the common tools that were used by medieval stonemasons: the gavel, the rule, the compass, the square, the level, etc. Each of these has a symbolic meaning in Masonry. For example, Masons are said to meet "on the level", meaning that all Masons are brothers, regardless of social status, personal wealth, or office within the Lodge or in the world at large. Similar symbolism exists for other tools.

Masonry is distinguished from other fraternal orders by its emphasis on moral character, its ornate rituals, and its long tradition and history, which dates back to at least the 17th century in modern form, the 14th century (c. 1350-1390) in the written evidence of its precursors, and back to the mists of antiquity in its origin. Masonry has a continuously documented paper history (i.e., Lodge to Lodge) since 1717, though historical analysis shows Masonry to be much older.

There are also a great many things that Masonry is NOT: a religion, a secret society, etc., and these will be covered later in this FAQ.

There are three degrees in Masonry. Other appendant bodies confer additional degrees, up to the 32nd (or the honorary 33rd) of the Scottish Rite, but in symbolic Masonry (or "Blue Lodge" Masonry) proper, there are only three. At the Blue Lodge, Masons receive the degrees of Entered Apprentice (first degree), Fellowcraft (second degree), and Master Mason (third degree). Promotion generally requires the mastery of a body of memorized material, the contents of which varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, only the signs, tokens, and grips of each degree must be learned; in others, a longer amount of material is required.

Of course, no Mason would ever look down upon a Brother simply because he was of a lower degree -- the degrees do not exist to create a pecking order or to confer rank. Rather, they are a system of initiation that allows men to become familiar with the august and ancient history and principles of Masonry at a comfortable pace. Proceeding from Entered Apprentice to Master Mason in the US can take as little as three months, while in England, the degrees are spaced apart by a year's interval.

Most Lodges have regular communications (meetings) once a month, that are also referred to as business meetings or "stated" meetings. In some parts the US, these are typically only open to Master Masons. Elsewhere, and in England, these meetings are often opened in the first degree, so Entered Apprentices and Fellowcrafts may attend. Conferring of degrees is usually done at other meetings during the month.

While conferral of degrees and mundane business do take up a lot of a Lodge's time, there are a host of other activities that Masons engage in within the fraternity. Charitable work is often done, in the form of fundraisers, community volunteer work, etc. There are also a great many things done for the simple pleasure of company: monthly breakfasts or dinners, dances, picnics, card/chess matches, lectures on Masonic history, you name it. Masonry is a fraternity, and its membership seeks to have fun.

Local Masonic Lodges are organized under Grand Lodges. In the United States, each state has its own Grand Lodge, which is a peer with every other Grand Lodge. There is not "Grandest Lodge"-- each Grand Lodge is supreme in its jurisdiction (e.g., in the US, in its state) but has no authority elsewhere. Of course, this does not mean that Masonry in New York is radically different than Masonry in Scotland or New Mexico. Masons are very traditional and the differences between Grand Lodges are usually minor. In most cases, there is an understanding of "mutual recognition" between jurisdictions, and members may, in fact are encouraged, to visit their brethren in other jurisdictions.

The head of a Lodge is given the title Worshipful Master. This, of course, does not imply that Masons worship him; it is merely a stylistic title. The word worship comes from the Anglo Saxon weorth-scipe, meaning roughly "worthy shape" or "honorable." It is only in the last couple of centuries that it has become used mostly as an appropriate attitude toward deity.


(2) What is the Scottish Rite?


The Scottish Rite is an appendant body of Masonry, meaning that it is not part of the Blue Lodge per se, but closely associated with Masonry. In legal terms, it is a completely seperate corporation. A man must be a Master Mason before joining the Scottish Rite, which confers the 4th through 32nd degrees. The degree work may be, but is not necessarily, completed at one time, over the period of a long weekend. Any Master Mason is eligible to join the Scottish Rite. The degrees of the Scottish Rite continue the symbolism of the first three Masonic degrees in greater depth. For a discussion of the 33rd degree, see question 9 of this section.

The above refers to the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR), not the Rectified Scottish Rite , which exists both in UGLE-recognized (United Grand Lodge of England) and non-UGLE-recognized Masonic bodies in the Europe.


(3) What is the York Rite?


The York Rite, like the Scottish Rite, is an appendant body of Masonry, and confers degrees beyond the Blue Lodge's three degrees. It consists of nine additional degrees.

The Temple degrees, which comprise the top degrees of the York Rite are specifically Christian. Or at least, it can be stated that the oath is: in some Grand Lodges in the US and abroad, one need not be a Christian, but rather only be willing to take a Christian oath. The difference being that there are some who would willingly swear to defend the Christian faith on the grounds that they would defend any man's faith. The Chapter (or Royal Arch) and Council Of Royal And Select Masters (Cryptic Rite), which comprise the first two sections of the York Rite, are not specifically Christian.

As with most things Masonic, discuss any concerns with your local York Rite, who can advise you regarding your eligibility.


(4) What is the Shrine?


The Shrine is not an appendant body of Masonry, though the distinction would escape many. The Shrine confers no additional Masonic degrees. It was founded in 1872 (the Mecca Temple in New York City) and an Arabic theme was chosen. Hence, the distinctive red fez that Shriners wear at official functions.

Until recently, members of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles the Mystic Shrine for North America (AASONM is an anagram for "A MASON") were required to be members of the Scottish Rite's 32nd degree, and/or Knights Templar of the York Rite. In 2000, the Shrine opened its doors to all men who are Master Masons. The Shrine is most noted for its emphasis on philanthropy and its jolly outlook on life-- it has been called "the playground of Masonry". This is expressed as "Pleasure without intemperance, hospitality without rudeness, and jollity without coarseness."

The Royal Order of Jesters is a group drawn from Shrine membership, by invitation only.


(5) What is the Eastern Star?


The Order of the Eastern Star is an adoptive rite of Freemasonry with teachings based on the Bible and objectives that are charitable and benevolent. The founder of OES was Dr. Robert Morris, a lawyer and educator from Boston, Massachusetts, who was a Master Mason and Past Grand Master of Kentucky. Dr. Morris intended his creation to become a female branch of Freemasonry, but he failed to overcome the great opposition this idea engendered. After his first published ritual in 1849-50, he became associated with Robert Macoy who wrote and published a ritual based on Morris' in 1867. The first Grand Chapter was organized in Michigan in the same year. (There is evidence for an organization of the same name founded variously in 1788 or 1793, but this group was defunct by 1867.) Subordinate (local) chapters operate under charter from state level grand chapters which are responsible to the General Grand Chapter at the International Eastern Star temple in Washington, D.C.

Members must be eighteen years or older and either Master Masons in good standing or properly related to a Master Mason in good standing. The latter category includes wives; widows; sisters; daughters; mothers; granddaughters; stepmothers; step daughters; stepsisters; and half-sisters. In 1994 this was expanded to include nieces, daughters-in- law, and grandmothers.

Interestingly enough, OES requires only the belief in a Supreme Being even though the degrees are based in both the Old and New Testaments. While non-Christians are not specifically barred from membership, it would seem to be difficult to be other than Christian and belong to the Order.

(Thanks to Joy Leavy)


(6) What is DeMolay?


The International Order of DeMolay is the world's largest fraternal organization for young men between the ages of 13 and 21. The Order was founded in Kansas City, Missouri on March 24, 1919 by Frank Sherman Land. DeMolay Chapters are sponsored by Masonic Lodges, and some members of the sponsoring body also serve as Advisors on the Chapter's Advisory Council. Structurally, it is similar to Masonry. The officers of a Chapter are the Master Councilor, Senior Councilor, Junior Councilor, Senior Deacon, Junior Deacon, Senior Steward, Junior Steward, Orator, Scribe, Marshal, Chaplain, Standard Bearer, Sentinel, Almoner, and seven Preceptors.

DeMolay Chapters hold monthly or biweekly meetings with Masonic-style Ritual. Other activities include athletic tournaments and events, social functions (joint activities with Rainbow are encouraged), fundraising activities, Masonic service activities, and civic and philanthropic activities.

DeMolays are taught the seven cardinal virtues of the Order: filial love, reverence for sacred things, courtesy, comradeship, fidelity, cleanness, and patriotism -- and the importance of practicing them in their daily lives. The Order's namesake is Jacques DeMolay, who was the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar and who was executed by the Inquisition on March 18, 1314. Louis Lower, the first DeMolay, and his group of friends, when asked by Land to choose a name for their group, believed that his heroic fidelity and loyalty to his fellow Templars were qualities with which they wanted their group to be identified.

(Thanks to Tom Schnorrenberg)


(7) What is Rainbow?


The International Order of the Rainbow for Girls is a junior organization for girls BETWEEN the ages of 11 and 20, from Masonic, Eastern Star or Amaranth homes, and the friends of members of Rainbow for Girls. Rainbow¡s purpose is to promote effective community, leadership skills and, most importantly, service to humanity.

The International Order of the Rainbow for Girls was established in McAlester, Oklahoma in 1922.Ú The inception and writing of the first Ritual, and the laws governing the Order, was the work of W. Mark Sexson, a 33rd degree Scottish Rite Mason from McAlester, Oklahoma. Reverend Sexson was very active in several Masonic appendant organizations. Among his many offices, he held the titles of Most Worshipful Grand Master of a sovereign Masonic Grand Jurisdiction (1928) and Worthy Grand Patron for the Order of the Eastern Star (1925-1926), both in the state of Oklahoma. (Thanks to IORG Official website)


(8) What are some other Masonic organizations?


Job's Daughters: Similar to Rainbow. Enrolls girls between the ages of 13 and 20 that have some Masonic relative.

The International Order of Job's Daughters was founded in 1920 by Mrs. Ethel T. Wead Mick in Omaha, Nebraska. The group takes its name from the Book of Job, and in particular to a reference in the 42nd Chapter that says, "And in all the land were no women found so fair as the Daughters of Job."

Meetings follow a long tradition of order. The Officers wear traditional Grecian robes, symbols of democracy and equality, provided by the Bethel. Other members wear dresses to meetings. Meetings are held twice a month. Programs are planned and conducted by the members with the help of adult volunteers. Initiations are solemn, meaningful ceremonies presented by the Bethel Officers. Parents are welcome at initiations and all of the meetings. (Thanks to IOJD Official website)

Acacia: A college fraternity for Master Masons, the sons of Masons, and young men recommended by two Masons one of whom is an Acacian himself. The national governing board is composed exclusively of 32nd and 33rd degree Scottish Rite Masons.

Order of Amaranth: Similar to Eastern Star. Open to Masons and their wives, mothers, daughters, widows, and sisters. At least one Master Mason must be present at every initiation. It confers only one degree.

Daughters of the Nile: An auxiliary organization for the wives, mothers, daughters, widows, and sisters of members of the Shrine.

Desoms: An organization for deaf Masons.

Grotto: A fun organization open to Master Masons. It imitates the Shrine to a large degree, but has always required only that a member be a Master Mason rather than a 32nd degree Mason or Knight Templar, as was the case with the Shrine until the year 2000.

Officially known as The Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm (MOVPER).

Daughters of Mokanna: An auxiliary organization of the Grotto comprised of the wives, mothers, daughters, widows, and sisters of the Master Masons in the Grotto.

High Twelve International: An organization of Master Masons that usually meet for lunch, enjoy fellowship, and support Masonic causes, with special emphasis on youth and patriotic endeavors.

L.O.S. of N.A.: The Ladies' Oriental Shrine of North America. Another auxiliary for the wives, mothers, daughters, widows, and sisters of Shrine members.

National Sojourners, Inc.: Open to Master Masons which are U.S. citizens and who have served or are serving as a commissioned or warrant officer in the United States military or in any armed service of a nation allied with the US in time of war.

Philalethes: A reasearch group for Masons interested in Masonic philosophy and history.

Royal Order of Scotland: An organization for Masons who have been Masons for five or more years and hold the 32nd degree of the Scottish Rite or be a Knight Templar.

Tall Cedars of Lebanon: A fun organization for Master Masons similar to the Grotto. It confers the two degrees of the Royal Court and the Sidonian.

White Shrine of Jerusalem: For Master Masons and their wives, mothers, daughters, widows, and sisters. Members must profess a belief in the defense of the Christian religion.