What is Freemasonry

Alan Thorn on the Popular Misconceptions Regarding the Masons.

Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest and largest non-religious, non-political fraternal and charitable organisations. It teaches self-knowledge through participation in a progression of ceremonies.
It provides an opportunity to make friends with people who you would not otherwise have met. It’s a gateway to areas of historical and philosophical research. Some members enjoy it for the element of amateur dramatics in our ceremonies. And we’re all of us proud that Freemasonry is one of the largest contributors  to charity in the UK.
No-one is sure how or when Freemasonry originated. Some say it developed from the old craft guilds, when the Reformation and the development of the cannon meant that there were no longer cathedrals and fortified castles being built, and stonemasons found themselves with little to do save meet up to talk and drink.
Others claim it can be traced back to the Knights Templar who, they say, fleeing from persecution landed in Scotland, where the Papal Bull did not run, and evolved into the order we now know as Freemasonry.
We can say with some certainty that modern Freemasonry started on this island, though whether in England or Scotland is not clear. The first record we have of Freemasonry in England was Elias Ashmole’s account of his initiation into a lodge in Warrington in 1646. The world’s first Grand Lodge (the umbrella, or ruling body) was founded in London in 1717. Freemasonry spread, first to France, with the Stuart refugees, then around the globe. Wherever the British army went, there were travelling lodges. Local people were initiated into these travelling lodges, and when the regiment moved on, continued to hold meetings. Kipling’s “The Mother Lodge” is a wonderful illustration of Freemasonry in the days of the Raj. There are now Grand Lodges in most countries, and a friend frequently regales us with his tales of being welcomed into lodges in France, Sweden, Japan and the USA.
Freemasonry admitted Catholics and Jews in the days of religious intolerance in the 18th century. In England today there are brethren of all races and religions. All that is required is a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being.
Over the centuries many famous men have become Freemasons. Names that spring to mind include Winston Churchill, Mozart, Peter Sellers, George Washington, Duke Ellington and locally, Len Hutton and Arthur Clues. But the majority of us are neither famous nor wealthy.  And while lodges meeting under the banner of the United Grand Lodge of England do not admit women, not all Masons are men. There are all-women  and mixed lodges meeting in England under different Grand Lodges.
Some say that Freemasonry is a secret society…
No, it isn’t. The only secrets are our signs and words of recognition, and these can easily be found on the Net. We don’t say too much about our initiation ceremony because we don’t want to spoil the anticipation of the candidate, but it’s    not a secret as such.
In the 1940s and 50s Masons stopped talking about their membership, but that was because of the political climate in Europe. A significant number of Freemasons disappeared into Nazi labour and concentration camps, and Masons were persecuted in Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain and  in Stalinist Russia. But in the 1980s, after the publication of a couple of sensationalist books about what we call “the Craft” we came to realise the damage that this reticence was doing, and have become more open again.
Our charity is not restricted to helping fellow Masons. The Grand Charity, one of a number of Masonic charities, gives grants to support medical research, support for vulnerable people, youth   opportunities, air ambulances, hospices,  emergency disaster relief and much else.
My own Lodge, Liberty, meets in the outbuilding in the car park of the Leeds 17 restaurant, on Nursery Lane, Leeds 17, and will be holding an Open Day there on Saturday 15 June, between 11am and 2pm. If you are interested in finding out more about Freemasonry, whether you’re a man or a woman, and even if you are sceptical about the organisation, come along and chat with us and have a look round our Temple. Phone me for more information on   0796 9948 924. Alan Thorn

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