The 10 most asked questions about Freemasonry
1. What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is the oldest and the largest of the secular (that is, non-religious) fraternal societies. It exists to allow men with a social conscience to put something back into society by providing aid, support and hope to those in need. Freemasons support a wide range of charitable causes dealing with everything from major international emergencies such as earthquakes or flooding, to local community causes, and individual problems such as ageing, illness or poverty.
2. Where and when did Freemasonry start?
No one actually knows. No documented evidence has been found to support the existence of Freemasonry as we know it, prior to October 1646 when the diary of Elias Ashmole (the founder of the Ashmolean Library in Oxford) records his admission into a Lodge of Freemasons in Warrington, Lancashire. The United Grand Lodge of England was founded in London in 1717. Whatever its exact origin, Freemasonry has a long and rich historical tradition extending back almost 400 years.
3. Are you a “Secret Society”?
No, certainly not. All our meetings are publicised in advance, are closely minuted, and are run to a strict set of regulations. We publish an annual directory listing the senior officers of every Lodge, we hold open days and attend community events; and we maintain hundreds of Masonic websites which are completely open to the general public (just like this one…) Members are actively encouraged to discuss their membership openly with family, friends and colleagues. Does that sound very “secret” to you?
4. So what exactly is a “Masonic Secret”?
The traditional “Secrets” of Freemasonry were the means by which medieval Stonemasons are supposed to have made themselves known and proved their qualifications when arriving at a building site where they were not previously known. Professional knowledge was hard won and “Cowboy” builders were presumably as common then as they are today. Masonic tradition maintains that they were kept secret for exactly the same reasons that you keep your PIN number secret today…. to prevent identity theft and misrepresentation. Truth, Honesty and personal Integrity are among the basic tenets of Freemasonry so these days, it is more a test of character; you have promised to keep something private, and are proud to do so.
5. How do you do a “secret masonic handshake”?
Sorry to disappoint you, but there is actually no such thing as a “secret masonic handshake”, it’s a myth! Within our ritual dramas there is a grip exchanged at each level which is one of the traditional means of recognition (See 4. above). This is supposed to have allowed a qualified stonemason to make himself known even in the gloomy interior of a medieval building. The grips have no function or meaning outside of our ceremonies These days all Freemasons are encouraged to be open and enthusiastic about their membership, so if you want to know if someone’s a Freemason it’s very simple…. just ask him!
6. Why do you roll your trousers up?
The honest answer is that nobody really knows for sure. There are many opinions within (and outside) Freemasonry as to the reason, but all we do know that it is one of those traditions whose true origins have been lost over time. It is currently thought that it originated in the practice of Medieval Stonemasons who were required to show that they were healthy and fit for work and that they were “Free” men. The only time a Freemason is required to bare his knee is during his progression through each of the three Degree Ceremonies which introduce him to different aspects of Masonic philosophy.
7. Why can’t Women become Freemasons?
Actually they can! There are two women’s Freemasonry Grand Lodges in the UK that, (apart from the obvious difference) are acknowledged to be “regular” in their practice of Freemasonry. They are: The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons and The Order of Women Freemasons. The United Grand Lodge of England maintains a friendly informal relationship with these two organisations, liaises on matters of mutual concern, and regularly refers queries regarding women’s Freemasonry to them.
There are some parts of the world which have “co-Masonry”, admitting men and women to the same Lodges, but these are not recognised either by the United Grand Lodge of England or by the two organisations mentioned above.
In this day, single-sex organisations are very rare, but both Women and Men agree that their Freemasonry offers special and unique opportunities for socialising.
8. Is it expensive to be a Freemason?
There are some costs in the first year, such as joining and initiation fees, and the cost of regalia. Overall, this might total around £300 or so. You would also need a dark lounge suit. After that, the costs would be annual membership fees, which vary from Lodge to Lodge, the costs of dining, together with charity collections and so on. Overall the total might average out at between £5 and £10 per week.
9. Can anyone become a Freemason?
Freemasonry is a multi-faith, multi-cultural, multi-racial organisation. It is open to all men who are over 21, law abiding, of good character, and who believe in a Supreme Being. We will only accept men who fulfil all of those four essential requirements. Read more…
10. If I do join, what’s in it for me?
You will find it a worthwhile and fascinating way to invest some of your spare time. For most, it provides a sense of belonging to an organisation which provides a structured and formal part of life, which many feel is missing in today’s world. In addition the Lodge’s social programme offers numerous opportunities for socialising; allowing you to form new friendships that will last a lifetime.