What is Freemasonry?

WB Rodney Dawson

I’ve been asked this many times and realize the need for a good answer, so here is an attempt to answer the question, “What is Freemasonry?” and shed some light upon common misconceptions. There are many aspects to Freemasonry. It has significant meaning that varies for every individual. Prior to becoming a Freemason, I had a very limited and blurred picture of what it meant. The following are my interpretations, experience and beliefs which, it should be noted, do not necessarily represent other Freemasons.

In a nutshell, Freemasonry is a charitable and social fraternity practicing ritual ceremonies designed to cultivate strong moral virtues and positive character traits among its members. The ceremonies are based on the story of building of King Solomon’s Temple and infused with symbolism based upon the tools of European operative stone masons. Freemasonry, the world’s oldest and largest fraternity, is committed to the search for truth, promoting the personal growth of its members and unity among all mankind.

Becoming a Freemason is one of the greatest decisions I have made in my life. I’ve long felt a calling to search for spiritual truth and better myself as a human being. Freemasonry gives me greater opportunities to do this:

  • Providing a moral and spiritual education which enables me to have a greater understanding about the nature of God, ourselves, and the universe
  • Developing my positive qualities, the most important of which is the embodiment of unconditional brotherly love
  • Using my skills and abilities for greater benefit to the world
  • Forming friendships and establishing connections which nurture the best aspects of myself
  • Overcoming fears through knowledge, enabling me to be more open to even greater light and understanding
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The Secrets of Freemasonry

WB Rodney Dawson

This is one of the most-misunderstood areas of Freemasonry and, hence, where many of its detractors tend to focus their efforts on discrediting the Fraternity. Masonry is not a “Secret Society” but a “Society with Secrets”. These secrets can best be classified into two categories with the possibility of one other:

1. The Signs, Words and Grips

The first group of secrets includes the signs, words and grips (handshakes) which represent certain aspects of the degrees. These enable Masons to more easily retain lessons taught in the ritual and to identify each other. Although many of these can now be easily found on the internet, they would serve little use, unless one was interested in Freemasonry. They serve a significant symbolic purpose, but not so much a practical one, to modern Masons. These modes of identification did, however, serve a very significant purpose to the European Operative Stonemasons and other forbearers of Freemasonry. It allowed them to recognize one another when traveling abroad and maintain trade secrets. This secrecy also provided for the freedom of thought, speech and religious beliefs within their ranks at a time when these basic freedoms were not widely tolerated.

2. Spiritual Mysteries

The second group consists of the mysteries to be found within the lessons of Freemasonry by those who study its meaning and meditate on the deeper significance. Like The Bible and other great works of revelation, there are multiple layers of understanding to Masonic Ritual. There are many opportunities to study these individually or through related Masonic bodies like The Philalethes Society, The Ohio Lodge of Research, The Lodge of Arts and Sciences, The Allied Masonic Degrees, and others.

3. The Great Guardian

The third possibility has received much attention in books and movies for its entertainment value, i.e., that the fraternity serves as a repository or guardian of some arcane knowledge or artifacts, or the home of a hidden power-wielding group. Personally, it would not surprise me to learn that there is some truth here. It could be logically argued that the opportunity and means are there, and I can think of no others better suited for such tasks. But this topic remains nothing more than conjecture and speculation.

Freemasonry as a Fraternity

WB Rodney Dawson

The Grand Lodge of Ontario, Canada states it well.

“Freemasonry is the oldest and largest worldwide fraternity dedicated to the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of a Supreme Being. Although of a religious nature, Freemasonry is not a religion. It urges its members, however, to be faithful and devoted to their own religious beliefs.

The organization of Freemasonry is based on a system of Grand Lodges, each sovereign within its own territory. There is no central authority governing all Grand Lodges. However, to be acknowledged by others, acceptable traditions, standards and practices must be maintained.”

In Ohio, the governing body is called The Grand Lodge of Ohio, Free and Accepted Masons. It is under the leadership of the Grand Master, who serves a one-year term. He is supported by the Grand Lodge officers and presides over about 100,000 Masons who belong to one or more of the approximately 500 lodges in Ohio. Each of these lodges is under the direction of a Worshipful Master.

All lodges share their organizational structure, common ceremonies and other codes/bylaws which are established by the collective Grand Lodge. Most lodges are geographically-based, but there are specialized lodges dedicated to education, research and related topics. Lodges vary significantly in their character, style and activities, since they are given significant freedom to act according to the dictates of their membership.

Freemasonry as a Charitable Organization

WB Rodney Dawson

Freemasonry teaches the belief that charity for all mankind is the most important step in our development as human beings. Each lodge and its members endeavor to act on this principle and perform charitable acts as they deem appropriate, both collectively and individually. It is reported that Masons in North America, alone, contribute between $1.5 and $2 million to charity every day.

At the state level, Masons support the Ohio Masonic Home which consists of three distinct living communities which provide home-based support, hospice, research and related services. These are made available not just to Masons and families but to anyone in the community. Masons are the single largest donor to Ohio Special Olympics with approximately $5 million contributed since 1990. The Shriners Hospitals for Children are well-known Masonic charities. There are many other charities supported by Freemasons.

A few examples of charity at the lodge level: Our lodge, Golden Gate #245, gives four 2-year scholarships to local deserving high school seniors. We have financially supported a softball league for the disadvantaged and the Chagrin Falls Little Theatre, performed highway cleanups, sponsored dinners for widows and wives, and performed other charitable acts like creating and delivering holiday baskets for the elderly.

The Craft of Freemasonry

WB Rodney Dawson

Masonry consists of ceremonies of initiation called degrees that teach moral and spiritual lessons. Symbolic lodge consists of three degrees: Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason. These rituals have a traditional basis in some Judaic beliefs and bear resemblance to rites of initiation which have appeared throughout recorded history (ancient Egypt, for example). Our craft utilizes symbols from the operative stonemasons of Europe.

The lessons of each degree build upon those that preceded it. New candidates are required to show certain proficiencies before progressing. The ceremony of each degree consists of a preparatory stage, obligation or oath, a lecture which expounds upon the ceremony, a charge which suggests actions or behaviors, and follow-up educational resources. Some degrees include an allegorical play in which the candidate participates, to further expound upon the lessons. The ceremonies are almost exclusively conducted from memory. Members participating in a degree have undertaken the responsibility to commit some specific role to memory. This enables them to have a greater understanding and appreciation for the lessons they share.

There are many degrees beyond the first three which provide more light. All Masons who have received the first three degrees have the option to continue their Masonic education through participation in related Masonic bodies, such as the York Rite, Scottish Rite, Grotto and Shriners.

It should be noted that Freemasonry is open to all men who believe in a supreme being. It doesn’t matter what religion you practice or your specific beliefs. My childhood roots were in Christianity, but I now adhere more to the tenets of Buddhism than any other practice and received my initiation with the Dhammapada, a Buddhist scripture.

Organizational Structure of Freemasonry

WB Rodney Dawson

Each lodge is under the direction of a Worshipful Master, assisted by the help of several other elected officers, additional appointed officers and other members. Five of the seven principle officers serve a one-year term, in a progressive line that often culminates in a brother serving as Worshipful Master. The Treasurer, Secretary and Lodge Education Officer generally provide continuity by serving longer terms. There are many other offices and duties available for those who wish to serve. Each officer has specific duties within the lodge that supports the organization and helps him cultivate particular character-building traits.

The Grand Lodge consists of more-experienced and highly-qualified officers who choose to serve the craft beyond the lodge level. The Grand Master of Ohio oversees a progressive line similar to that of the subordinate lodges. He appoints District Deputies and Educational Officers to serve as representatives who support the individual lodges. These district representatives are responsible for sharing the common vision, providing educational and supporting services. They also help motivate and ensure good business practices, ethical behavior, and consistency in the craft.

Each lodge is a legal not-for-profit entity and operates according to a set of bylaws established by the Grand Lodge. Members pay a nominal annual fee determined by their lodge. There are many related Masonic bodies or specialized branches of Freemasonry which extend from the symbolic lodge (aka Blue Lodge). Among these include Eastern Star (men and women), Demolay, Job’s Daughters and Rainbow (youth), York Rite, Scottish Rite, Grotto and Shriners.

A personal note here: One of the truly wonderful aspects of Masonry I have noticed is that it is a service organization completely supported by the volunteerism of its members. Those who progress as officers at the district and state level are very deserving of the duty/honor bestowed upon them. It is an organization whose leadership is based absolutely in heart-centeredness, willingness and competency to serve, not just the fraternity, but the world at large. Seniority, political and personal motivations are not considerations. As a whole, Masons truly are really good men.

The Obligations of Freemasonry

WB Rodney Dawson

The obligations constitute an area of Masonry that commonly gets misunderstood.

New members make solemn promises concerning their conduct in Lodge and in society. Each member also promises to keep confidential the traditional methods of proving that he is a Freemason which he would use when visiting a lodge where he is not known. Freemasons do not swear allegiances to each other or to Freemasonry. Freemasons promise to support others in times of need, but only if that support does not conflict with their duties to God, the law, their family or with their responsibilities as a citizen.

Specifics of the Masonic Obligation

Each degree has an accompanying oath or obligation which the candidate is required to take. I admit to knowing little about the Masonic obligations prior to becoming a Freemason and believe this is an area where more should be explained to non-Masons. A good description is included at www.masonicdictionary.com.

“The Masonic obligation is that moral one which, although it cannot be enforced by the courts of law, is binding on the party who makes it, in conscience and according to moral justice…   Its various clauses, in which different duties are prescribed, are called its points, which are either affirmative or negative…   The affirmative points are those which require certain acts to be performed; the negative points are those which forbid certain other acts to be done. The whole of them is preceded by a general point of secrecy, common to all the Degrees, and this point is called the tie.”

To help explain further, each Mason promises to keep the secrets of each degree. This has a historical significance as well as demonstrating that lessons must build one upon the other. You don’t send a child directly to 4th grade, without first teaching him/her the alphabet and how to read. The same applies to a Masonic education. One must learn the preliminary lessons to establish a basis for further understanding. Thus, a Mason promises not to reveal certain aspects of a degree until a candidate professes a desire and willingness to accept the responsibilities of possessing this knowledge.

The penalty of the obligation offers a symbolical representation of what any good man could expect to feel if he doesn’t live by the moral lessons taught in the ceremonies. A deeper study in this area will also reward one with greater insights as to how choosing not to live according to good moral laws impedes personal growth.

Freemasonry as a Social Organization

WB Rodney Dawson

Our meetings provide an opportunity to enjoy the fellowship of like-minded friends, as nearly all our gatherings are followed by refreshments and socializing. Many lodges have meals before their meetings and use this as an opportunity to socialize, often with their wives and families.

Other social activities of the fraternity are extensive and varied, as each lodge plans events based upon members’ interests. For example, Golden Gate #245 holds potluck dinners, picnics and holiday gatherings. We attend community events, play games, dine, and sponsor charity fundraisers together. There are Masonic motorcycle-riding events, shooting clubs, exercise and fitness groups, and much more. Masons are welcome to attend meetings and events at other lodges, not just their own. Since there are Masonic activities going on almost every day of the year, the possibilities for meaningful interaction are immense.

Freemasonry as an Agent of Change

WB Rodney Dawson

The structure, hierarchy, codes and bylaws of Freemasonry represent a pure and enlightened form of democracy. It serves as an excellent resource to the student of government, leadership, law and/or corporate structure.

Freemasonry’s history demonstrates time and again that its members acted as agents of positive change supporting those seeking independence. In its early modern form, Masons are believed to have been integrally involved in Scottish independence from colonial England as well as the democratic movements in other countries. Many of the founding fathers of the United States were Freemasons and helped form the Constitution and Bill of Rights. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Paul Revere were Freemasons. Nearly half of the generals in the Continental Army and, at least, 14 U.S. Presidents have been Masons. Since the formation of the United States, Freemasonry subsequently spread into South America helping free the indigenous people from the rule of Conquistadors. An exploration of world history shows many examples where the craft has helped overcome oppression and been an agent of change.

What happens at a lodge meeting?

Lodge meetings are held regularly (often semimonthly), consist of two main parts, and generally followed by refreshments.

1. General Lodge Business

As in any association there is a certain amount of administrative procedure – such as approving the meeting minutes, balloting for new members, discussing and voting on financial matters, electing officers, planning of charitable activities, discussing events, news and correspondence.

2. Ceremony and Education

Then there are the ceremonies for admitting new Masons and the annual installation of officers. The three ceremonies for admitting a new Mason involve a slight dramatic instruction that includes a symbolic oath and series of formalized presentations (similar to short plays) that use drama to highlight the codes of conduct by which a Freemason strives to live.

At many meetings there is an educational presentation and discussion often led by the Lodge Education Officer or special guest. The topics are wide and varied.

3. Refreshment

Nearly all meetings are followed by an informal gathering with members sharing refreshment and lively conversation.

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Why do men become Freemasons?

Men become Freemasons for a variety of reasons, some as the result of family tradition, others upon the introduction of a friend or out of a curiosity to know what it is all about. Those who become active members and who grow in Freemasonry do so principally because they enjoy it. They enjoy the challenges and fellowship that Freemasonry offers. There is more to it, however, than just enjoyment.

Freemasonry offers men an opportunity to develop insights into philosophical ideals, which espouse the core values of prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice. Prudence is to help us make the right decisions; temperance keeps us on the straight and narrow; fortitude promotes self-confidence and strong self-esteem; and justice provides us with guidance in life. Members are also provided with training in self-development, which includes public speaking, mentoring, tolerance, communication skills and self-confidence.

Participation in the dramatic presentation of moral lessons and in the working of a lodge provides a member with a unique opportunity to learn more about himself and encourages him to live in such a way that he will always be in search of becoming a better man, not better than someone else but better than he himself would otherwise be and therefore an exemplary member of society.

Each Freemason is required to learn and show humility through initiation. Then, by progression through a series of degrees he gains insight into increasingly complex moral and philosophical concepts, and accepts a variety of challenges and responsibilities which are both stimulating and rewarding.

The structure and working of the lodge and the sequence of ceremonial events, which are usually followed by social gatherings, offer members a framework for companionship, teamwork, character development and enjoyment of shared experiences.

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How can I become a Mason?

In order to join the fraternity of Freemasonry, you must ask a member how you may join. This is done to insure that you come into Freemasonry of your own free will; without expectation of material gain. You get out of Freemasonry only what you are willing to put into it. If you don’t know a Mason, contact the secretary of a lodge near you to arrange a meeting.

If the Mason you ask believes you will be a positive addition to the fraternity, he will give you a petition for membership in his Lodge. All men have to go through the same initiation procedure, regardless of their worldly wealth or position. In a Masonic Lodge, the President of the United States would be considered equal to the newest member. When Washington, Truman, or the Roosevelt’s sat in Lodge, they were addressed as Brother. Everyone is “on the level” and is judged by how he lives in the community and upholds the tenets of the Fraternity. As long as he is “on the square” with his brethren, he will be well regarded.

Your petition will be read in open Lodge and a committee of investigation formed. The investigation committee will visit you and talk with your family. The committee will also review your petition and perform additional research before giving a report in open Lodge. The membership votes by secret ballot. A successful ballot means you will have been elected to membership by initiation.

You will then receive the three degrees which teach serious time-honored moral and ethical lessons. When you complete your third or Master Mason Degree, you will be a full-fledged member. As a Master Mason, you have many rights and privileges, including visitation privileges to sit in Masonic Lodges throughout the world.

If YOU believe what you have just read is for you, then it is up to you to take the next step. Remember, you must ask for a Petition for Membership if you want to become a Freemason. If you would like more information on petitioning for membership to our lodge, please contact the Secretary.

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