What's a Lodge?
The word "lodge" means both a group of Masons meeting in some place and
the room or building in which they meet. Masonic buildings are also
sometimes called "temples" because much of the symbolism Masonry uses to
teach its lessons comes from the building of King Solomon's Temple in the
Holy Land. The term "lodge" itself comes from the structures which the
stonemasons built against the sides of the cathedrals during construction.
In winter, when building had to stop, they lived in these lodges and worked
at carving stone.
While there is some variation in detail from
state to state and country to country.
If you've ever watched C-SPAN's coverage of the House of
Commons in London, you'll notice that the layout is about the same. Since
Masonry came to America from England, we still use the English floor plan
and English titles for the officers. The Worshipful Master of the Lodge sits
in the East. "Worshipful" is an English term of respect which means the same
thing as "Honorable." He is called the Master of the lodge for the same
reason that the leader of an orchestra is called the "Concert Master." It's
simply an older term for "Leader." In other organizations, he would be
called "President." The Senior and Junior Wardens are the First and Second
Vice-Presidents. The Deacons are messengers, and the Stewards have charge of
Every lodge has an altar holding a "Volume of
the Sacred Law." In the United States and Canada, that is almost always a
What Goes on in a Lodge?
This is a good place to repeat what we said
earlier about why men become Masons:
There are things they want to do in
There are things they want to do
"inside their own minds."
They enjoy being together with men
they like and respect.
The Lodge is the center of these activities.
Masonry Does Things in the World
Masonry teaches that each person has a responsibility to make things
better in the world. Most individuals won't be the ones to find a cure for
cancer, or eliminate poverty, or help create world peace, but every man and
woman and child can do something to help others and to make things a little
better. Masonry is deeply involved with helping people -- it spends more
than $1.4 million dollars every day in the United States, just to make life
a little easier. And the great majority of that help goes to people who are
not Masons. Some of these charities are vast projects, like the Crippled
Children's Hospitals and Burns Institutes built by the Shriners. Also,
Scottish Rite Masons maintain a nationwide network of over 100 Childhood
Language Disorders Clinics, Centers, and Programs. Each helps children
afflicted by such conditions as aphasia, dyslexia, stuttering, and related
learning or speech disorders.
Some services are less noticeable, like helping
a widow pay her electric bill or buying coats and shoes for disadvantaged
children. And there's just about anything you can think of in-between. But
with projects large or small, the Masons of a lodge try to help make the
world a better place. The lodge gives them a way to combine with others to
do even more good.
Masonry Does Things "Inside" the Individual
"Grow or die" is a great law of all nature. Most people feel a
need for continued growth as individuals. They feel they are not as honest
or as charitable or as compassionate or as loving or as trusting or as
well-informed as they ought to be. Masonry reminds its members over and over
again of the importance of these qualities and education. It lets men
associate with other men of honor and integrity who believe that things like
honesty, compassion, love, trust, and knowledge are important. In some ways,
Masonry is a support group for men who are trying to make the right
decisions. It's easier to practice these virtues when you know that those
around you think they are important, too, and won't laugh at you. That's a
major reason that Masons enjoy being together.
Enjoy Each Others Company
It's good to spend time with people you can trust completely, and most
Masons find that in their lodge. While much of lodge activity is spent in
works of charity or in lessons in self-development, much is also spent in
fellowship. Lodges have picnics, camping trips, and many events for the
whole family. Simply put, a lodge is a place to spend time with friends.
For members only, two basic kinds of meetings
take place in a lodge. The most common is a simple business meeting. To open
and close the meeting, there is a ceremony whose purpose is to remind us of
the virtues by which we are supposed to live. Then there is a reading of the
minutes; voting on petitions (applications of men who want to join the
fraternity); planning for charitable functions, family events, and other
lodge activities; and sharing information about members (called "Brothers,"
as in most fraternities) who are ill or have some sort of need. The other
kind of meeting is one in which people join the fraternity -- one at which
the "degrees" are performed.
But every lodge serves more than its own
members. Frequently, there are meetings open to the public. Examples are
Ladies' Nights, "Brother Bring a Friend Nights," public installations of
officers, cornerstone laying ceremonies, and other special meetings
supporting community events and dealing with topics of local interest.
What's a Degree?
A degree is a stage or level of membership. It's
also the ceremony by which a man attains that level of membership. There are
three, called Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. As you can
see, the names are taken from the craft guilds. In the Middle Ages, when a
person wanted to join a craft, such as the gold smiths or the carpenters or
the stonemasons, he was first apprenticed. As an apprentice, he learned the
tools and skills of the trade. When he had proved his skills, he became a
"Fellow of the Craft" (today we would say "Journeyman"), and when he had
exceptional ability, he was known as a Master of the Craft.
The degrees are plays in which the candidate
participates. Each degree uses symbols to teach, just as plays did in the
Middle Ages and as many theatrical productions do today. (We'll talk about
symbols a little later.)
The Masonic degrees teach the great lessons of
life -- the importance of honor and integrity, of being a person on whom
others can rely, of being both trusting and trustworthy, of realizing that
you have a spiritual nature as well as a physical or animal nature, of the
importance of self-control, of knowing how to love and be loved, of knowing
how to keep confidential what others tell you so that they can "open up"
Masonry so "Secretive"?
really isn't "secretive," although it sometimes has that reputation. Masons
certainly don't make a secret of the fact that they are members of the
fraternity. We wear rings, lapel pins, and tie clasps with Masonic emblems
like the Square and Compasses, the best known of Masonic signs which,
logically, recall the fraternity's early symbolic roots in stonemasonry.
Masonic buildings are clearly marked, and are usually listed in the phone
book. Lodge activities are not secret -- picnics and other events are even
listed in the newspapers, especially in smaller towns. Many lodges have
answering machines which give the upcoming lodge activities. But there are
some Masonic secrets, and they fall into two categories.
The first are the ways in which a man can
identify himself as a Mason -- grips and passwords. We keep those private
for obvious reasons. It is not at all unknown for unscrupulous people to try
to pass themselves off as Masons in order to get assistance under false
The second group is harder to describe, but they are the ones
Masons usually mean if we talk about "Masonic secrets." They are secrets
because they literally can't be talked about, can't be put into words. They
are the changes that happen to a man when he really accepts responsibility
for his own life and, at the same time, truly decides that his real
happiness is in helping others.
a wonderful feeling, but it's something you
simply can't explain to another person. That's why we sometimes say that
Masonic secrets cannot (rather than "may not") be told. Try telling someone
exactly what you feel when you see a beautiful sunset, or when you hear
music, like the national anthem, which suddenly stirs old memories, when
your son becomes a Mason and you'll understand what we mean.
"Secret societies" became very popular in
America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There were literally hundreds of
them, and most people belonged to two or three. Many of them were modeled on
Masonry, and made a great point of having many "secrets." Freemasonry got
ranked with them. But if Masonry is a secret society, it's the worst-kept
secret in the world.
Is Masonry a Religion?
We do use ritual in meetings, and because there
is always an altar or table with the Volume of the Sacred Law open if a
lodge is meeting, some people have confused Masonry with a religion, but it
is not. That does not mean that religion plays no part in Masonry -- it
plays a very important part. A person who wants to become a Mason must have
a belief in God. No atheist can ever become a Mason. Meetings open with
prayer, and a Mason is taught, as one of the first lessons of Masonry, that
one should pray for divine counsel and guidance before starting an important
undertaking. But that does not make Masonry a "religion."
Sometimes people confuse Masonry with a religion
because we call some Masonic buildings "temples." But we use the word in the
same sense that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called the Supreme Court a
"Temple of Justice" and because a Masonic lodge is a symbol of the Temple of
Solomon. Neither Masonry nor the Supreme Court is a religion just because
its members meet in a "temple."
In some ways, the relationship between Masonry
and religion is like the relationship between the Parent-Teacher Association
(the P.T.A.) and education. Members of the P.T.A. believe in the importance
of education. They support it. They assert that no man or woman can be a
complete and whole individual or live up to his or her full potential
without education. They encourage students to stay in school and parents to
be involved with the education of their children. They may give
scholarships. They encourage their members to get involved with and to
support their individual schools.
But there are some things P.T.A.'s do not do.
They don't teach. They don't tell people which school to attend. They don't
try to tell people what they should study or what their major should be.
In much the same way, Masons believe in the
importance of religion. Masonry encourages every Mason to be active in the
religion and church of his own choice. Masonry teaches that without religion
a man is alone and lost, and that without religion, he can never reach his
But Freemasonry does not tell a person which
religion he should practice or how he should practice it. That is between
the individual and God. That is the function of his house of worship, not
his fraternity. And Masonry is a fraternity, not a religion.
Bibles are popular gifts among Masons, frequently given to a man when he
joins the lodge or at other special events. A Masonic Bible is the same book
anyone thinks of as a Bible (it's usually the King James translation) with a
special page in the front on which to write the name of the person who is
receiving it and the occasion on which it is given. Sometimes there is a
special index or information section which shows the person where in the
Bible to find the passages which are quoted in the Masonic ritual.
If Masonry isn't a religion, why does it
Many of us may think of religion when we think of ritual, but ritual is
used in every aspect of life. It's so much a part of us that we just don't
notice it. Ritual simply means that some things are done more or less the
same way each time.
Almost all school assemblies, for example, start
with the principal or some other official calling for the attention of the
group. Then the group is led in the Pledge of Allegiance. A school choir or
the entire group may sing the school song. That's a ritual.
Almost all business meetings of every sort call
the group to order, have a reading of the minutes of the last meeting, deal
with old business, then with new business. That's a ritual. Most groups use
Robert's Rules of Order to conduct a meeting. That's probably the best-known
book of ritual in the world.
There are social rituals which tell us how to
meet people (we shake hands), how to join a conversation (we wait for a
pause, and then speak), how to buy tickets to a concert (we wait in line and
don't push in ahead of those who were there first). There are literally
hundreds of examples, and they are all rituals.
Masonry uses a ritual because it's an effective way to teach
important ideas -- the values we've talked about earlier. And it reminds us
where we are, just as the ritual of a business meeting reminds people where
they are and what they are supposed to be doing.
Masonry's ritual is very rich because it is so
old. It has developed over centuries to contain some beautiful language and
ideas expressed in symbols. But there's nothing unusual in using ritual. All
of us do it every day.
Why does Masonry use symbols?
Everyone uses symbols every day, just as we do
ritual. We use them because they communicate quickly. When you see a stop
sign , you know what it means, even if you can't read the word "stop." The
circle and line mean "don't" or "not allowed." In fact, using symbols is
probably the oldest way of communication and the oldest way of teaching.
Masonry uses symbols for the same reason. Some
form of the "Square and Compasses" is the most widely used and known symbol
of Masonry. In one way, this symbol is a kind of trademark for the
fraternity, as the "golden arches" are for McDonald's. When you see the
Square and Compasses on a building, you know that Masons meet there. And
like all symbols, they have a meaning.
The Square symbolizes things of the earth, and
it also symbolizes honor, integrity, truthfulness, and the other ways we
should relate to this world and the people in it. The Compasses symbolize
things of the spirit, and the importance of a well-developed spiritual life,
and also the importance of self-control -- of keeping ourselves within
bounds. The G stands for Geometry, the science which the ancients believed
most revealed the glory of God and His works in the heavens, and it also
stands for God, Who must be at the center of all our thoughts and of all our
The meanings of most of the other Masonic
symbols are obvious. For example, the gavel teaches the importance of
self-control and self-discipline. The hour-glass teaches us that time is
always passing, and we should not put off important decisions.
Is Masonry Education?
Yes. In a very real sense, education is at the center of Masonry. We have
stressed its importance for a very long time. Back in the Middle Ages,
schools were held in the lodges of stonemasons. You have to know a lot to
build a cathedral -- geometry, and structural engineering, and mathematics,
just for a start. And that education was not very widely available. All the
formal schools and colleges trained people for careers in the church, or in
law or medicine. And you had to be a member of the social upper classes to
go to those schools. Stonemasons did not come from the aristocracy. And so
the lodges had to teach the necessary skills and information. Freemasonry's
dedication to education started there.
It has continued. Masons started some of the
first public schools in both Europe and America. We supported legislation to
make education universal. In the 1800s Masons as a group lobbied for the
establishment of state-supported education and federal land-grant colleges.
Today we give millions of dollars in scholarships each year. We encourage
our members to give volunteer time to their local schools, buy classroom
supplies for teachers, help with literacy programs, and do everything they
can to help assure that each person, adult or child, has the best
educational opportunities possible.
And Masonry supports continuing education and intellectual
growth for its members, insisting that learning more about many things is
important for anyone who wants to keep mentally alert and young.
Masonry teaches some important principles. There's nothing very surprising
in the list. Masonry teaches that:
Since God is the Creator, all men and women are
the children of God. Because of that, all men and women are brothers and
sisters, entitled to dignity, respect for their opinions, and
consideration of their feelings.
Each person must take responsibility for his/her
own life and actions. Neither wealth nor poverty, education nor ignorance,
health nor sickness excuses any person from doing the best he or she can
do or being the best person possible under the circumstances.
No one has the right to tell another person what
he or she must think or believe. Each man and woman has an absolute right
to intellectual, spiritual, economic, and political freedom. This is a
right given by God, not by man. All tyranny, in every form, is
Each person must learn and practice self-control. Each person
must make sure his spiritual nature triumphs over his animal nature.
Another way to say the same thing is that even when we are tempted to
anger, we must not be violent. Even when we are tempted to selfishness, we
must be charitable. Even when we want to "write someone off," we must
remember that he or she is a human and entitled to our respect. Even when
we want to give up, we must go on. Even when we are hated, we must return
love, or, at a minimum, we must not hate back. It isn't easy!
Faith must be in the center of our lives. We
find that faith in our houses of worship, not in Freemasonry, but Masonry
constantly teaches that a person's faith, whatever it may be, is central
to a good life.
Each person has a responsibly to be a good
citizen, obeying the law. That doesn't mean we can't try to change things,
but change must take place in legal ways.
It is important to work to make this world
better for all who live in it. Masonry teaches the importance of doing
good, not because it assures a person's entrance into heaven -- that's a
question for a religion, not a fraternity -- but because we have a duty to
all other men and women to make their lives as fulfilling as they can be.
Honor and integrity are essential to life. Life
without honor and integrity is without meaning.
What are the Requirements for Membership?
The person who wants to join Masonry must be a
man (it's a fraternity), sound in body and mind, who believes in God, is at
least the minimum age required by Masonry in his state, and has a good
reputation. (Incidentally, the "sound in body" requirement -- which comes
from the stonemasons of the Middle Ages -- doesn't mean that a physically
challenged man cannot be a Mason; many are).
Those are the only "formal" requirements. But
there are others, not so formal. He should believe in helping others. He
should believe there is more to life than pleasure and money. He should be
willing to respect the opinions of others. And he should want to grow and
develop as a human being.
How Does a Man Become a Mason?
Some men are surprised that no one has ever asked them to become
a Mason. They may even feel that the Masons in their town don't think they
are "good enough" to join. But it doesn't work that way. For hundreds of
years, Masons have been forbidden to ask others to join the fraternity. We
can talk to friends about Masonry. We can tell them about what Masonry does.
We can tell them why we enjoy it. But we can't ask, much less pressure,
anyone to join.
slowly changing in some Jurisdictions.
There's a good reason for that. It isn't that
we're trying to be exclusive. But becoming a Mason is a very serious thing.
Joining Masonry is making a permanent life commitment to live in certain
ways. We've listed most of them above -- to live with honor and integrity,
to be willing to share with and care about others, to trust each other, and
to place ultimate trust in God. No one should be "talked into" making such a
So, when a man decides he wants to be a Mason,
he asks a Mason for a petition or application. He fills it out and gives it
to the Mason, and that Mason takes it to the local lodge. The Master of the
lodge will appoint a committee to visit with the man and his family, find
out a little about him and why he wants to be a Mason, tell him and his
family about Masonry, and answer their questions. The committee reports to
the lodge, and the lodge votes on the petition. If the vote is affirmative
-- and it usually is -- the lodge will contact the man to set the date for
the Entered Apprentice Degree. When the person has completed all three
degrees, he is a Master Mason and a full member of the fraternity.
So, What's A Mason?
A Mason is a man who has decided that he likes to feel good about himself
and others. He cares about the future as well as the past, and does what he
can, both alone and with others, to make the future good for everyone.
Many men over many generations have answered the
question, "What is a Mason?" One of the most eloquent was written by the
Reverend Joseph Fort Newton, an internationally honored minister of the
first half of the 20th Century and Grand Chaplain, Grand Lodge of Iowa,
When is a man a Mason?
When he can look out over the rivers, the hills,
and the far horizon with a profound sense of his own littleness in the vast
scheme of things, and yet have faith, hope, and courage -- which is the root
of every virtue.
When he knows that down in his heart every man
is as noble, as vile, as divine, as diabolic, and as lonely as himself, and
seeks to know, to forgive, and to love his fellowman.
When he knows how to sympathize with men in
their sorrows, yea, even in their sins -- knowing that each man fights a
hard fight against many odds.
When he has learned how to make friends and to
keep them, and above all how to keep friends with himself.
When he loves flowers, can hunt birds without a
gun, and feels the thrill of an old forgotten joy when he hears the laugh of
a little child.
When he can be happy and high-minded amid the
meaner drudgeries of life.
When star-crowned trees and the glint of
sunlight on flowing waters subdue him like the thought of one much loved and
When no voice of distress reaches his ears in
vain, and no hand seeks his aid without response.
When he finds good in every faith that helps any
man to lay hold of divine things and sees majestic meanings in life,
whatever the name of that faith may be.
When he can look into a wayside puddle and see
something beyond mud, and into the face of the most forlorn fellow mortal
and see something beyond sin.
When he knows how to pray, how to love, how to
When he has kept faith with himself, with his
fellowman, and with his God; in his hand a sword for evil, in his heart a
bit of a song -- glad to live, but not afraid to die!
Such a man has found the only real secret of Masonry, and the one
which it is trying to give to all the world.
It can be said that Freemasonry is:**
A family oriented organization
A place to share thoughts and ideas
A place of like minded people
A place of high moral caliber
A place of strong patriotic beliefs
A place of knowledge
A place to share in charitable
A place to get involved in the
A place to find honorable men
A place where people support our youth
A place where we are reminded of our
obligations to God
A place where we are reminded of our
obligations to man
A place of rest
A place to visit the past
A place to talk about the future
A place to find out what our purpose
is in the universe
A place for a cheap meal
A place to just hang out and have a
Masonry is what you want it to be if
you are only willing to work for it.
by R:. W:. Robby Stokes, P.D.D.G.M., for the Junior Wardens Retreat August 10, 2001)
Thanks to R:.W:. Robby Stokes P.D.D.G.M., 32°
KCCH for his paper "What is Freemasonry" . Portions were used
in this presentation.
Part of this
document, in pamphlet form, is available from
the Masonic Information Center.
The Masonic Information Center is a division of The Masonic Service
Association. The Center was founded in 1993 by a grant from John J.
Robinson, well-known author, speaker, and Mason. Its purpose is to provide
information on Freemasonry to Masons and non-Masons alike and to respond to
critics of Freemasonry. The Center is directed by a Steer Committee of
distinguished Masons geographically representative of the Craft throughout
the United States and Canada.
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