The Masonic Square and Compasses. Found with or without the ‘G’
The Masonic Square and Compasses. Found with or without the ‘G’

Freemasonry is a fraternal organization whose membership is held together by shared moral and metaphysical ideals and—in most of its branches—by a constitutional declaration of belief in a Supreme Being.[1]

The fraternity of Freemasonry uses the allegorical metaphors of operative stonemasons' tools and implements, to convey what is most generally defined as: A peculiar (some say particular or beautiful) system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.[2] This is illustrated in the 1991 English Emulation Ritual.[3]

The Freemasons refer to those who are not Freemasons as "cowans" because in architecture a cowan is someone apprenticed to bricklaying but not licenced to the trade of masonry.

It is an esoteric society only in that certain aspects are private;[4] Freemasons have stated that Freemasonry has, in the 21st century, become less a secret society and more of a "society with secrets."[5][6][7] Dr. Dieter Anton Binder,[8] a historian (and not a Freemason) who is a professor at the University of Graz (Austria) describes Freemasonry as a "confidential" society in contrast to a secret society in his book Die diskrete Gesellschaft.[9] Most modern Freemasons regard the traditional concern over secrecy as a demonstration of their ability to keep a promise[10] and a concern over the privacy of their own affairs.[11] "Lodge meetings, like meetings of many other social and professional associations, are private occasions open only to members."[12][13] The private aspects of modern Freemasonry deal with the modes of recognition amongst members and elements within the ritual.[3][7]

While there have been many disclosures and exposés dating as far back as the eighteenth century, Freemasons caution that they often lack the proper context for true understanding, may be outdated for various reasons,[14] or could be outright hoaxes on the part of the author.[12] In reality, Freemasons are proud of their true heritage and happy to share it, offering spokesmen, briefings for the media, and providing talks to interested groups upon request.[12]


Organizational structure

Grand Lodges and Grand Orients are independent and sovereign bodies that rule over the fraternity in a given country, state, or geographical area. There is no single general governing body that presides over world-wide Freemasonry. Fraternal connections depend solely on the mutual recognition. There are two major branches of Freemasonry: "Regular"[4] Grand Lodges that are recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England and "liberal" Grand Orients that are recognized by the Grand Orient de France. While in very general terms, one can tell which branch of Freemasonry a Masonic Lodge conforms to by determining whether it was chartered by a Grand Lodge or a Grand Orient, there are exceptions. A few Grand Orients are recognized by UGLE and a few Grand Lodges are recognized by Grand Orient de France. To confuse matters more, many Masonic practices are determined by custom at the individual Lodge level, and so any general description will not be, and cannot be, universally true.


London home of the United Grand Lodge of England.
London home of the United Grand Lodge of England.

Regularity is a constitutional mechanism by which Grand Lodges or Grand Orients give one another mutual recognition. This recognition allows formal interaction at the Grand Lodge level, and gives individual Freemasons the opportunity to attend meetings at Lodges in other recognized jurisdictions. Conversely, regularity proscribes interaction with Lodges that are irregular.

Grand Lodges that afford mutual recognition and allow intervisitation are said to be in amity. Regularity as far as the UGLE Constitution is concerned, is based around a number of Landmarks, set down in their constitution and the constitutions of those Grand Lodges with which they are in amity. Even within this definition there are some variations with the quantity and content of the Landmarks from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Other Masonic groups organise differently.

However, even without formal recognition of regularity, some Grand Lodges continue informal relations.

The Masonic Lodge

A Lodge, often termed a Private Lodge or Constituent Lodge in Constitutions, is the basic organisation of Freemasonry. Every new Lodge must be warranted by a Grand Lodge, but is subject to its direction only in enforcing the published Constitution of the jurisdiction. A Lodge must hold full meetings regularly at published dates and places. It will elect, initiate and promote its own members and officers; and it will own, occupy or share premises, and will normally build up a collection of minutes, records and equipment. Like any other club it will also have its formal business, annual general meetings (AGMs), accounts and charity funds, committees, reports, bank accounts and tax returns, etc.

A man can only be initiated, or made a Mason, in a Lodge, of which he may well remain a subscribing member for life. A Master Mason is generally entitled to visit any Lodge meeting under any jurisdiction in amity with his own; and a Lodge may well offer hospitality to such a visitor after the formal meeting. He is first usually required to check the regularity of that Lodge, and must be able to satisfy that Lodge of his own regularity; and he may be refused admission if adjudged likely to disrupt the harmony of the Lodge. If he wishes to visit the same Lodge repeatedly, he may be expected to join it, and pay a membership subscription.

Freemasons correctly meet as a Lodge, not in a Lodge, although Masonic premises may be called Lodges or Temples ("of Philosophy and the Arts"). In many countries Masonic Centre or Hall has now replaced these terms to avoid arousing prejudice and suspicion. Several different Lodges, as well as other Masonic organisations, often use the same premises at different times.

Early Lodges often met in a tavern or any other convenient fixed place with a private room. According to Masonic tradition, the Lodge of medieval stonemasons was on the southern side of the building site, with the sun warming the stones during the day. The social Festive Board or Social Board, part of the meeting is thus sometimes called the South.

Most Lodges consist of Freemasons living or working within a given town or neighbourhood. Other Lodges are composed of Masons with a particular shared interest, profession or background. Shared schools, universities, military units, Masonic appointments or degrees, arts, professions and hobbies have all been the qualifications for such Lodges. In some Lodges, the foundation and name may now be only of historic interest, as over time the membership evolves beyond that envisaged by its "founding brethren"; in others, the membership remains exclusive. Every Lodge may always exclude any candidate for membership, whether or not already a Mason.

There are also specialist Lodges of Research, with membership drawn from Master Masons only, with interests in Masonic Research (of history, philosophy, etc.) Lodges of Research are fully warranted but, generally, do not initiate new candidates. Lodges of Instruction in UGLE may be warranted by any ordinary Lodge, for the learning and rehearsal of Masonic Ritual.

Prince Hall Freemasonry

Prince Hall Freemasonry derives from historically unique events which led to a tradition of separate, predominantly African American, Freemasonry in North America. Prince Hall Masonry has always been regular in all respects except constitutional separation.

In 1775, an African American named Prince Hall[15] was initiated into an Irish Constitution Military Lodge then in Boston, Massachusetts, along with fourteen other African-Americans, all of whom were free-born. When the Military Lodge left North America, the African-Americans were given the authority to meet as a Lodge, form Processions on the days of the Saints John, and conduct Masonic funerals, but not to confer degrees, nor to do other Masonic Work. In 1784 these individuals applied for, and obtained, a Lodge Warrant from the Premier Grand Lodge of England and formed African Lodge, Number 459 (Premier Grand Lodge of England). When the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) was formed in 1813, all U.S. based Lodges were stricken from their rolls – due largely to the U.S. and British War, 1812 to 1815. Thus, separated from both UGLE and any concordantly recognised U.S. Grand Lodge, African Lodge re-titled itself as the African Lodge, Number 1—and became a de facto "Grand Lodge". (This Lodge is not to be confused with the various Grand Lodges on the Continent of Africa). As with the rest of U.S. Freemasonry, Prince Hall Freemasonry soon grew, and organised on a Grand Lodge system for each state.

Widespread segregation, in the 19th and early 20th century North America, made it difficult for African Americans to join Lodges outside of Prince Hall jurisdictions—and impossible for inter-jurisdiction recognition between the parallel U.S. Masonic authorities.

At present, Prince Hall Grand Lodges are recognized by some UGLE Concordant Grand Lodges and not by others, but appear to be working toward full recognition, with UGLE and the majority of US Grand Lodges granting at least some degree of recognition.[16] There are a growing number of both Prince Hall Lodges and non-Prince Hall Lodges that have ethnically diverse membership.

Other degrees, orders and bodies

There is no degree in Freemasonry higher than that of Master Mason.[17] There are however a number of organisations which require being a Master Mason of Freemasonry as a prerequisite for membership, and which have similar aims and methods to the Craft.[18] These bodies have no authority over the Craft, [17] and in fact their senior Grand Officers are likely to be more junior Officers in the Craft. These orders or degrees are considered to be additional or appendant, and provide a further perspective on some of the allegorical, moral and philosophical content of Freemasonry.

Appendant bodies are administered separately from craft Grand Lodges but are styled Masonic since every member, including the Rulers, must be a Mason. Within both there is a system of offices, both active and honorary, which confer rank within that order alone, but inevitably many individuals are Grand Officers of both.

Craft Masonic jurisdictions vary in their relationships with such bodies, if a relationship exists at all. The Articles of Union of the "Modern" and "Antient" craft Grand Lodges into UGLE limited recognition to certain degrees, such as the Royal Arch and the "Chivalric degrees", but there were and are many other degrees which have been worked since before the Union. Some such bodies are not universally considered as appendant bodies, being simply separate organizations that happen to require prior Masonic affiliation for membership. Some of these organizations have additional requirements such as religious adherence (e.g. requiring members to profess Trinitarian Christian beliefs) or membership of other appendant bodies.

Quite apart from these, there are organisations which are often thought of as related to Freemasonry, but which are in fact not related at all, and are not accorded recognition as Masonic, such as the Orange Order which originated in Ireland, may have been founded by Freemasons, apparently style themselves along Masonic lines and use similar regalia and ritual. Equally, some Friendly Societies simply have in common with Masonry, which was itself a Friendly Society in the original sense, the forms and ceremonies common in the eighteenth century, but without any other connection at all.

Principles and activities

Freemasonry is described as: A peculiar (some say particular or beautiful) system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols., for example, articulated in the 1991 English Emulation Ritual,[3][19] and as such the activities centre around this.

Ritual, symbolism, and morality

Freemasonic ritual makes use of the architectural symbolism of the medieval operative Masons, who actually worked in stone. Freemasons, as Speculative Masons, use this symbolism to teach moral and ethical lessons of the principles of "Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth" — or as related in France: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity".[20]

Two of the principal symbols always found in a Lodge are the square and compasses. Some Lodges and rituals explain these symbols as lesson in conduct: that one should "square their actions by the square of virtue" for example. However, as Freemasonry is non-dogmatic, there is no general interpretation for these symbols (or any Masonic symbol) that is used by Freemasonry as a whole.[21]

These moral lessons are communicated in performance of allegorical ritual, based on solid foundations of Biblical sources. A candidate progresses through degrees[17] gaining knowledge and understanding of himself, his relationship with others and his relationship with the Supreme Being, (as he interprets this for himself). After taking each degree, he will attend the same ritual many times, taking part in it from the different points of view of each office, until he knows it by heart — and so is in the best possible position to moralize about it, within the bounds of his own competence.

The balance between ritual, philosophical and spiritual, charitable service and social interchange varies between the Grand Lodges governing Freemasonry worldwide. History, philosophy and esoteric knowledge are of deep interest to many individuals. The philosophical aspects of the Craft tend to be discussed in Lodges of Instruction or Research, and sometimes informal groups. Freemasons, and others, frequently publish — to a variable degree of competence — studies that are available to the public. It is well noted, however, that no one person "speaks" for the whole of Freemasonry.

The square and compasses are symbols always displayed in an open Lodge with the open Volume of the Sacred Law. In English-speaking countries, this is frequently the King James Version of the Bible or another standard translation (there is no such thing as an exclusive "Masonic Bible").[22] Otherwise it is whatever book a particular jurisdiction authorizes: in many French Lodges, the Masonic Constitutions are used.

A degree candidate will normally be given his choice of religious text for his Obligation, according to his beliefs. UGLE alludes to similarities to legal practice in the UK, and to a common source with other oath taking.[23][24][25][26] Christian candidates will typically use the Lodge's Bible while those of other religions may choose another book that is holy to them, to be displayed alongside the Lodges' usual VSL. In Lodges with a membership of mixed religions it is common to find more than one sacred text displayed representing the beliefs of the individuals present.

In keeping with the geometrical and architectural theme of Freemasonry, the Supreme Being is referred to in Masonic ritual by the titles of the Great Architect of the Universe, Grand Geometer or similar forms of words to make clear that their reference is generic, not about any one religion's particular concept of God.


The three degrees of Craft or Blue Lodge Freemasonry are those of:

  1. Entered Apprentice (EA) - the degree of an Initiate, which makes a Mason
  2. Fellow Craft (FC)- a fellow of a Lodge, comparable to a fellow of a college
  3. Master Mason (MM)- the "third degree", a necessary qualification for election as the Worshipful Master (or in Scotland Right Worshipful Master) of his Lodge, which is an office not a degree.

A Past Master is a Master Mason who has served as Master of his Lodge; this is a rank, not a degree.

The degrees represent stages of personal development. No Freemason is told that there is only one meaning to the allegories; as a Freemason works through the degrees and studies their lessons, he interprets them for himself, his personal interpretation being bounded only by the Constitution within which he works.[22] A common symbolic structure and universal archetypes provide a means for each Freemason to come to his own answers to life's important philosophical questions. Especially in continental Europe, Freemasons working through the degrees may be asked to prepare papers on related philosophical topics, and present these papers in open Lodge.

For example, one Mason's interpretations of the three degrees is as follows: The Entered Apprentice is at the step of self-knowledge, the apprentice should recognize his own imperfection, which is symbolized by a rough stone, and should be able to discover and remove his own flaws. With these abilities, he is promoted into Fellow Craft with its symbol of the smooth worked stone. At the least, the Fellow should acquire the ability of self-control, a requirement to fit with the other Freemasons into the building of humanity, symbolized as a rectangular stone. The Master Mason is raised into the step of ennoblement, its symbol is the drawing board. The Master Mason should understand that all life is transient. It is his duty to help others with his drawings to complete the building of humanity.

There is no degree of Freemasonry higher than that of Master Mason.[17] Although some Masonic bodies and orders have degrees named with higher numbers, these degrees are considered to be supplements to the Master Mason degree rather than promotions from it.[18] An example is the Scottish Rite, conferring degrees numbered from 4° up to 33°. [27] It is, however, essential to be a Master Mason in order to qualify for these further degrees. They are administered on a parallel system to Craft or Blue Lodge Freemasonry; within each organization there is a system of offices, which confer rank within that degree or order alone.

Signs, grips and words

Freemasons use signs (hand gestures), grips or tokens (handshakes) and words to gain admission to their meetings and identify that a visitor is legitimate. However, there is no evidence that these modes of recognition were in use prior to the mid-1600s after non-operative members had been admitted to Lodges. The "Mason Word" is the first mode of recognition to appear in early Lodge records of the mid-1600s. The Grips and signs followed, and were probably never used by the operative Freemasons, the easiest way to determine an operative Mason's qualifications being the quality of his work. The preponderance of evidence supports the development of these modes of recognition by non-operative 17th-century Freemasons.[28]

From the early 18th century onwards, many exposés have been written claiming to reveal these signs, grips and passwords to the uninitiated. However, as each Grand Lodge is free to create its own rituals,[29] the signs, grips and passwords can and do differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.[20] Furthermore, according to historian John J. Robinson, Grand Lodges can and do change their rituals frequently, updating the language used, adding or omitting sections.[14] The logical conclusion of Hodapp's and Robinson's assertions is that any exposé is only valid for a particular jurisdiction at a particular time, and therefore may or may not be accurate with respect to modern ritual.


The Landmarks are the ancient and unchangeable precepts of Masonry, the standards by which the regularity of a Freemasonic Lodge and Grand Lodges are judged. Each Grand Lodge is self-governing and no single authority exists over the whole of Freemasonry. The interpretation of these principles can and does vary, leading to controversies of recognition.

The concept of Masonic Landmarks appears in Masonic regulations as early as 1723, and seems to have been adopted from the regulations of operative masonic guilds. Nowadays the term Landmark is generally understood by the definition of Dr. Albert Gallatin Mackey, who laid down three requisite characteristics, namely: (1) immemorial antiquity (2) universality (3) absolute irrevocability.

In 1856, Mackey attempted to set down the actual Landmarks as he saw them. He determined there were 25 in all. Seven years later, in 1863, George Oliver published Freemason's Treasury in which he listed 40 Landmarks. In the last century, a number of American Grand Lodges attempted the daunting task of enumerating the Landmarks, ranging from West Virginia (7) and New Jersey (10) to Nevada (39) and Kentucky (54).[30]

Charitable effort

Outside the ritual context the fraternity is widely involved in charity and community service activities, as well as providing a social outlet for the members.

Money is collected only within the membership, to be devoted to charitable purposes. Freemasonry worldwide disburses substantial charitable amounts to non-Masonic charities, locally, nationally or internationally. However in earlier centuries the charitable funds were collected more on the basis of a Provident or Friendly Society, and there were elaborate regulations to determine a petitioner's eligibility for consideration for charity, according to strictly Masonic criteria.

Masonic charities include:

  • Homes[31][32] that provide sheltered housing or nursing care.
  • Education with both educational grants[33] or residential education[34] which are open to all and not limited to the families of Freemasons.
  • Medical assistance.[35]

Membership requirements

Freemasonry initiation. 18th century
Freemasonry initiation. 18th century

A candidate for Freemasonry must apply to a Private (or Constituent) Lodge in his community, obtaining an introduction by asking an existing member. In some jurisdictions, it is required that the petitioner ask three times, however this is becoming less prevalent.[36] After enquiries are made, he must be freely elected by secret ballot in open Lodge. Members approving his candidacy will vote with "white balls" in the voting box. Adverse votes by "black balls" will exclude a candidate. The number of adverse votes necessary to reject a candidate, which in some jurisdictions is as few as one, is set out in the governing Constitution. Lodges conduct these elections in a number of different ways; a wholly secret ballot where every member is given the means to vote either way, or semi public where members who choose to vote go to the ballot box and cast a secret vote.

General requirements

Generally to be a regular Freemason, one must:[17]

  • Be a man who comes of his own free will. Traditionally Freemasons do not actively recruit new members
  • Believe in a Supreme Being
  • Be at least the minimum age (18–25 years depending on the jurisdiction, but commonly 21)
  • Be of sound mind, body and of good morals, and of good repute
  • Be free (or "born free", i.e. not born a slave or bondsman)
  • Have one or two references from current Masons (depending on jurisdiction)

A candidate is asked 'Do you believe in a Supreme Being?'. Since an initiate is obligated on that sacred volume which is applicable to his faith, a sponsor will enquire as to an appropriate volume once a decision has been made on the applicant's suitability for initiation.

A number of Grand Lodges allow a Lewis, the son of a Mason, to be initiated earlier than the normal minimum age for that jurisdiction.

Being of "sound body" is thought to be derived from the operative origins of Freemasonry, an apprentice would be able to meet the demands of their profession. In modern times Grand Lodges tend to encourage the use of the ritual in ways to mitigate for difficulty.

The "free born" requirement remains for purely historical reasons. Some jurisdictions have done away with it entirely.

Some Grand Lodges in the United States have a residence requirement, candidates being expected to have lived within the jurisdiction for certain period of time, typically six months.[37]

It is notable that the requirement for the candidate to have a belief in a Supreme Being is present in some, but not all, Co-Masonic bodies, leading to a significant divergence in organisational direction and philosophy.

Masonic temple in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain
Masonic temple in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain

Membership and religion

Freemasonry explicitly and openly states that it is not a religion, nor a substitute for religion. "There is no separate Masonic God, and there is no separate or proper name for a deity in any branch of Freemasonry".[38][39]

Freemasonry requires that its candidates believe in a Supreme Being, the nature of that being subject to the conscience of the candidate. As the interpretation of the term Supreme Being is left up to the individual members can be drawn from a wide range of faiths; the Abrahamic religions and other monotheistic religions. Some members of non-monotheistic religions are accepted subject to answering Yes to the question asked, these include, for example, Buddhists and Hindus.

In the irregular Continental European tradition, since the early 19th Century, a very broad interpretation has been given to a (non-dogmatic) Supreme Being—usually allowing Deism and naturalistic views in the tradition of Spinoza and Goethe (himself a Freemason), or views of The Ultimate or Cosmic Oneness, along with Western atheistic idealism and agnosticism.

The Freemasonry that predominates in Scandinavia, known as the Swedish Rite accepts only Christians.[20]

Women and Freemasonry

The position of women and Freemasonry is complex and without an easy explanation. Traditionally, only men can be made Freemasons in Regular Freemasonry. Many Grand Lodges do not admit women because they believe it would break the ancient Masonic Landmarks. However, there are many non-mainstream Masonic bodies that do admit both men and women or exclusively women. Furthermore, there are many female orders associated with regular Freemasonry, such as the Order of the Eastern Star, the Order of the Amaranth, the White Shrine of Jerusalem, the Social Order of Beauceant and the Daughters of the Nile.


Co-Freemasonry is a form of Freemasonry admitting both men and women. Since women are not generally allowed in Freemasonry, it is not officially recognized by most Masonic Lodges & Grand Lodges, and is held by them to be 'irregular'. The systematic admission of women into International Co-Freemasonry began in France in 1882.


The first Grand Lodge formed in Freemasonry was The Grand Lodge of England (GLE), founded in 1717, when four existing London Lodges met. This rapidly expanded into a regulatory body, which almost all English Lodges joined. From the 1750s onwards, two competing English Grand Lodges vied for supremacy - the "Moderns" (GLE) and "Ancients" (or Athol) Grand Lodges. They finally united in 1813 to form the present United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).

Goose and Gridiron, Home to a London Lodge forming GLE
Goose and Gridiron, Home to a London Lodge forming GLE

The Grand Lodges Scotland and Ireland were formed in the 1720s, and Freemasonry was exported to the British Colonies in North America by the 1730s - with the English "Ancients" and the "Moderns" Grand Lodges and the Grand Lodges of Scotland and Ireland chartering offspring ("daughter") Lodges, which in turn set up Provincial Grand Lodges. From the American Revolution, and again after the breach caused by "War of 1812", independent US Grand Lodges formed themselves within the State boundaries. Some thought was briefly given to organizing an over-arching "Grand Lodge of the United States", with George Washington as the first Grand Master, but the idea was short-lived. The various Grand Lodges did not wish to diminish their own authority by agreeing to such a body.[40]

The oldest jurisdiction on the continent of Europe, the Grand Orient de France (GOdF), was founded in 1728. Most English-speaking jurisdictions cut formal relations with the GOdF, however, around 1877.[20] The Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF)[41] is currently the only French Grand Lodge that is in regular amity with the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) and its many concordant jurisdictions worldwide.

Originally, there was mutual recognition between UGLE and the Grand Orient de France. However, this was changed when the Grand Orient de France removed the term of the Great Architect of the Universe at their convention in 1877, following the request of the protestant clergy Fréderic Desmons who stated that Freemasonry is based on unconditional freedom of conscience and human solidarity; nobody is excluded because of its belief. The United Grand Lodge of England removed their recognition of the Grand Orient de France, and soon afterwards the majority of Grand Lodges around the world followed suit. A Schism was formed. Additionally, while the Grand Orient de France has no female Freemasons itself, it has mutual recognition with Co-Freemasonry, which admits both women and men as Freemasons. Female Co-Masons are allowed to attend the rituals of the GOdF. These are the main reason, why "regular" Grand Lodges consider "liberal" lodges to be irregular. "Regular" Freemasons are not allowed to take part of the rituals of "liberal" Lodges, although they are recognized by "liberal" lodges and made welcome if they do.

Due to the above history, Freemasonry is often said to consist of two branches not in mutual regular amity:

  • the UGLE and concordant tradition of jurisdictions (termed Grand Lodges) in amity, and
  • the GOdF, European Continental, tradition of jurisdictions (often termed Grand Orients) in amity.

In most Latin countries, the GOdF style of European Continental Freemasonry predominates, although in most of these Latin countries there are also Grand Lodges that are in regular amity with the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) and the worldwide community of Grand Lodges that share regular "fraternal relations" with the UGLE. The rest of the world, accounting for the bulk of Freemasonry, tends to follow more closely to the UGLE style, although minority variations exist.

Contemporary challenges

As with other fraternal organisations in the 21st Century, Freemasonry in some districts of the United States, the UK and other jurisdictions has been losing members, faster than it can replenish them.[42] The Masonic Service Association of North America (MSANA)[43] attributes the loss to six possible causes:[44]

  • A downward cycle
  • Loss of the Vietnam generation
  • Busy lifestyles
  • Joining organizations is no longer fashionable
  • Loss of Masonic identity
  • Lack of energy invested in Masonry

Many Grand Lodges in the U.S. have tried a variety of, often-controversial, measures to address declining membership. These have included "one-day ceremonies" of all the three degrees for large groups of candidates, (as opposed to individual degree conferrals taking months or years to complete); advertising on billboards, and even active recruitment of new candidates by members, (as opposed to the tradition of considering only those who actively seek membership for themselves). Some Masons object to the traditions and principles of Freemasonry being diluted by these changes, feeling that the Fraternity has survived centuries of social change without changing itself; others cite a need for Freemasonry to modernize and make itself relevant to new generations.

Opposition to Freemasonry

Freemasonry has historically attracted criticism and suppression from the politically extreme right (i.e. Nazi Germany[45][46]) and the extreme left (i.e. the former Communist states in Eastern Europe). The fraternity has encountered both applause for “founding”, and opposition for supposedly thwarting, liberal democracy (such as the United States of America). It has also attracted criticism and suppression from theocratic states and organised religions for supposed competition with religion, or heterodoxy within the Fraternity itself.

Anti-Masonry is often related to Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism. Andrew Prescott writes: "Since at least the time of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, anti-semitism has gone hand in hand with anti-masonry, so it is not surprising that allegations that 11 September was a Zionist plot have been accompanied by suggestions that the attacks were inspired by a masonic world order."[47]

Political opposition

Perhaps influenced by the assertion of Masons that many political figures in the past 300 years have been Masons, Freemasonry has long been the target of conspiracy theories, which see it as an occult and evil power. Often associated with the New World Order and other "agents", such as the Illuminati, the fraternity is seen, by conspiracy theorists, as either bent on world domination, or already secretly in control of world politics.

In 1799 English Freemasonry almost came to a halt due to Parliamentary proclamation. In the wake of the French Revolution, the Unlawful Societies Act, 1799 banned any meetings of groups that required their members to take an oath or obligation.[48] The Grand Masters of both the Moderns and the Antients Grand Lodges called on the Prime Minister William Pitt, (who was not a Freemason) and explained to him that Freemasonry was a supporter of the law and lawfully constituted authority and was much involved in charitable work. As a result Freemasonry was specifically exempted from the terms of the Act, provided that each Private Lodge's Secretary placed with the local "Clerk of the Peace" a list of the members of his Lodge—once a year.[48] This continued until 1967 when the obligation of the provision was rescinded by Parliament.[48] Regular Freemasonry inserted into its core ritual a formal obligation: to be quiet and peaceable citizens, true to the lawful government of the country in which they live, and not to countenance disloyalty or rebellion.[22] A Freemason makes a further obligation, before being made Master of his Lodge, to pay a proper respect to the civil magistrates.[22] The words may be varied across Grand Lodges, but the sense in the obligation taken is always there in regular Freemasonry.

Freemasonry in America faced political pressure and almost died, following the disappearance of anti-Masonic agitator William Morgan in 1826. Claims were made that he had been kidnapped and killed by rogue Freemasons. No one was brought to trial over the murder claims, after Morgan's disappearance.[49] Reportage of the "Morgan Affair" helped fuel an Anti-Masonic movement, culminating in the formation of a political Anti-Masonic Party. This Party fielded candidates for the Presidential elections of 1828 and 1832. In the latter election, it managed to have Millard Fillmore elected to Congress, but their Presidential candidate received only seven votes in the Electoral College. He was defeated by a Freemason, Andrew Jackson.

In modern democracies, Freemasonry is still sometimes accused of being a network, where individuals become Freemasons through patrimony, engage in 'cronyism', and where political influence and illegal business dealings take place. This is officially and explicitly deplored.[22] An individual must ask freely and without persuasion to become a Freemason in order to join the fraternity.[22]

In Italy, Freemasonry has become linked to a scandal concerning the Propaganda Due Lodge (aka P2). This Lodge had been Chartered by the Grande Oriente d'Italia in 1877, as a Lodge for visiting Masons unable to attend their own lodges. In the mid 1960s the Lodge only had 14 permanent members, but when Licio Gelli took over as Master in the 1960s and 1970s, he rapidly expanded the membership. Under Gelli's leadership the P2 Lodge became involved in the financial scandals that nearly bankrupted the Vatican Bank in the late 1970s. However, by this time the lodge was operating independently and irregularly, as the Grand Lodge d'Italia had revoked its charter in 1974 (this revocation became effective in 1976). In 1981 the Lodge was investigated by Italian authorities. By 1982 the scandal became public knowledge and Gelli was formally expelled from Freemasonry. In addition to involvement in financial misdealings, there are some who suspect P2 of involvement in murders, including that of the head of Banco Ambrosiano, Roberto Calvi, who was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London, England.

The UK Labour government, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, attempted to require all members of fraternal organisations who are public officials to make their affiliation public.[50][51] This was challenged under European human rights legislation, and the government in enacting the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law,[52] had to curtail the scope of their requirements.[53] Arrangements for the declaration of freemasonry membership have been established for the current Lay Magistracy, Judiciary, and voluntary registration was introduced in 1999 for the Police Service.[54] No central register of freemasonry membership is held, and it is not possible to estimate the number of members who did not declare their interest.

Decisions on whether information should be released are the responsibility of the public authority receiving the request, on a case-by-case basis, acting in accordance with the principles of the Freedom of Information Act, 2000.[55]

Christian Anti-Masonry

Although sections of other faiths cite objections, in general, it is Christianity and Freemasonry that has had the highest profile relationship, with various Christian denominations banning or discouraging members from being Freemasons.

While regular Masonry has always tended as much to rationalism as it does to mysticism, the very existence of the possibility of hermetic interpretations within Freemasonry has led Anti-Masonic activists to selectively quote works such as Albert Pike's Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry to try to show Freemasonry as naturalistic, a ritualized form of Deism or even worse defamations.[56]

However, those Grand Lodges in amity with UGLE explicitly adhere to the principle that "Freemasonry is not a religion, nor a substitute for religion. There is no separate 'Masonic god', and there is no separate proper name for a deity in Freemasonry."[57] Freemasonry is non-dogmatic and constitutionally governed. As for Pike, his opinions are his own personal (and now somewhat outdated[citation needed]) interpretations. Most tellingly, Pike himself admits that his book is more culled from other sources than his original work. Most importantly, Pike is but one commentator amongst many, and no one voice has ever spoken for the whole of Freemasonry.[58]

In the irregular Continental European tradition, a very broad interpretation is given, allowing Deist and naturalistic views in the tradition of Spinoza and Freemason Goethe, or views of The Ultimate or Cosmic Oneness, along with Western atheistic idealism and agnosticism.

A number of Papal pronouncements have been issued against Freemasonry. The first was Pope Clement XII's In Eminenti, April 28, 1738; the last was Pope Leo XIII's Ab Apostolici, October 15, 1890. In 1983, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005) as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued Quaesitum est. This states that "...the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful, who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion."

For its part, Freemasonry welcomes Roman Catholics as members.[59] The negative reaction of "Grand Orient" Continental European Freemasonry—to what was perceived as Catholicism's theocratic and authoritarian political influence[citation needed]—has in countries such as Italy, Spain and Portugal historically tended towards anticlericalism, secularism and at times even total Anti-Catholicism.[60] Interestingly, in 2005 the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy (RGLI), in amity with UGLE[61] announced that it had installed a Roman Catholic Priest as its Chaplain. (This office requires that the holder is a Freemason, but not necessarily be in Holy Orders).[62]

Muslim Anti-Masonry

Further information: Holocaust denial in the Muslim world, Iraqi Baathist Anti-Masonry and The Covenant of Hamas

Freemasonry welcomes Muslims as members.[1][59] In the Islamic world, Muslim Anti-Masonry is closely linked with Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism[63] though other objections are raised. In 1980, the Iraqi legal and penal code was changed by Saddam Hussein and the ruling Ba'ath Party, thereby making it a felony to "promote or acclaim Zionist principles, including freemasonry, or who associate [themselves] with Zionist organizations."[64]


The preserved records of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Main Office) show the persecution of the Freemasons.[65] While the number is not accurately known, it is estimated that between 80,000 and 200,000 Freemasons were exterminated under the Nazi regime.[20]

In 1926, the little blue forget-me-not flower was first used by the Grand Lodge Zur Sonne as a Masonic emblem at the annual convention in Bremen, Germany. Then in 1934, the Nazis introduced the Winterhilfswerk, a supposed charitable organization, which actually collected money used for rearmament. The contributors received a badge that changed each winter. In March 1938 the forget-me-not badge—made by the same factory as the Masonic badge—was chosen, enabling Freemasons to wear it as a secret sign of membership.[66][67][68]

After the Second World War, the forget-me-not[69] flower was used again as a Masonic emblem at the first Annual Convention in 1948 of the United Grand Lodges of Germany, Ancient Free & Accepted Masons. The badge is now worn in the coat lapel by Freemasons around the world to remember all those that have suffered in the name of Freemasonry, and specifically those during the Nazi era.[70][71]

Cultural references

  • The plot of Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte ("The Magic Flute") contains several references to Masonic ideals and ceremonies. Mozart and his librettist Emanuel Schikaneder were both members of Lodge of the Nine Muses, a Masonic Lodge.
  • The plot of the 2004 movie National Treasure revolves heavily around the Freemasons and is somewhat unusual in that it depicts them in a benign light.
  • In The Baron in the Trees Italian writer Italo Calvino includes Masonic Lodges branching out into the lands of Ombrosa with the protagonist of the novel, Cosimo di Rondo, mysteriously and supposedly involved with them.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's science fiction novel "If This Goes On—" depicts a futuristic revolutionary organization that uses masonic terminology, and may include Freemasons as part of its coalition. (Heinlein himself was not a mason.[73])