Much has been said about the Freemasons:
. Freemasonry dates from before the Flood.
. It is a mere creation of yesterday.
. It is only an excuse for conviviality.
. It is a soul-destroying, atheistic organisation.
. It is a charitable organisation, doing good under pretence of secrecy.
. It is a political engine of extraordinary potency.
. It has no secrets.
. Its disciples possess in secret the grandest knowledge given to humanity.
. They celebrate their mysterious rites under the auspices and the invocations of Mephistopheles.
. Their proceedings are perfectly innocent, not to say supremely stupid.
. They commit all the murders that are not traced to somebody else.
. They exist only for the purpose of promoting universal brotherhood and benevolence.
These are only a few of the allegations made for and against the Freemasons especially by people who know very little about them. It is a general rule that the less a person knows about Freemasons, the more he, or she, fears them or distorts the truth. Although Masonry encourages high standard of morality among its members, it is also suspected of bad, rather than good, influence. Its secret handshakes, signs and language used for recognition between the Brothers are thought to be hiding something mysterious and probably bad. If there is nothing to hide, why all this secrecy? In addition their strange way of dressing up, their reciting esoteric texts and performing strange and silly rituals, make the people believe that something more sinister is hidden behind.
Freemasonry has been a subject of speculation from the start and still is today. The general public’s attitude to it is still as confused as ever because people do not trust what they do not understand. It is also true that Freemasonry has always been open to every one of sound mind and body, who can demonstrate good character, and is a believer in God. In Great Britain, their leaders came from aristocracy, at least up to a few years ago, with the rank and file recruited in the upper middle class. In the nineteenth century it was more or less mandatory for every professional man to be a Freemason. The nouveau riches were attracted by the social status brought to them by being part of an exclusive society that included most of the aristocracy up to the royal family. Members of the working class were accepted but few applied as the lodges were seen as “clubs” for the well-to-do. From outside, they could only speculate on what was being done inside. Most only knew that members wore aprons and large collars and exchange strange handshakes while whispering passwords to each other.
Now Freemasonry is less elitist and men from all social levels have gained membership even if the leaders, at least in Great Britain, are still from the aristocracy. The people outside Freemasonry still wonder what these secrets are, but many members too are also wondering, as they do not understand them nor the meaning of the ceremonies. For most members, Freemasonry is not much more than a social club in which to indulge in theatrical games followed by a good meal with plenty to drink. The rituals are memorised rather than understood. At the same time the outsiders try to destroy the Craft because they fear it causes corruption and is at the base of many crimes and other misdeeds. Very few know of the Craft’s social work and of the fact that it promotes high levels of moral rectitude and social responsibility among its members. Colour, race, creed or politics are irrelevant for membership; the only absolute requirement is to believe in God, any god. On the other hand Freemasonry does not know where it came from, where it is going, what it is suppose to achieve and the “true secrets” of the Order have been lost with “substantial secrets” being used in their place in the rituals “until such time as they are recovered”. This could restrict its future in our modern world. (8)
Freemasonry is based on three principles: brotherly love, relief and truth. In the last years brotherly love and relief have become more important than truth and, as a result, the Craft is in the process of becoming primarily a social and charitable organisation as truth has been neglected. Moreover the repetition of the ritual and the safeguarding of secret have had priority over the regeneration of the Brethen and this too is not correct.
Freemasonry should be something more than a system based on elementary morality, performing strange rites and becoming more and more like a social club. As a result of this narrow view of the Craft many members, very often, do not know its meaning anymore. A need to explain and to teach the Masonic science is needed. The reception into the Order does not imply automatically that the new members are able to understand fully all that there is in it. The opposite is nearer to the truth since Masonry is a veiled, cryptical and secretive organisation. In order to understand it fully, guidance is required in addition to a real and deep personal quest for knowledge that only those with a big capacity for spiritual perception can assimilate. Members who lack these requisites soon leave the Craft because they find that Masonry does not mean anything to them independently of the amount of guidance and explanation they receive. However all members, gifted or not, need guidance if they want to reach full integration and, at the same time, to reduce the number of rejections. True members of the Craft should have the spiritual qualifications, and the ability to understand the Masonic system, in order to translate the doctrine they have been taught into personal experience. To be able to perform the rites without understanding their profound meaning is useless.
It is now possible to explain Freemasonry in general terms, as this does not mean divulging its secrets that only the members should know. On the opposite such general information reveal to the general public that Masonry is, in many way, comparable with many other non-secret doctrinal systems sharing the same principles. Truth, as expressed by the Masons or other organisations, is an open secret. However, used by initiated people, it is a source of light to those receiving it who, moreover, can profit from it whereas those who are not initiated generally do not understand the profound meaning of this otherwise clear message. The Masonic secret aims only to avoid intrusion by unauthorised persons and to prevent profanation. It is also true that many secrets of life can be divulged openly since the general public will not understand them anyway.
Masonry is so popular these days (there are, for instance, more than two thousand lodges in Great Britain alone) that its leaders have decided to give some clear information about it to the general public in order to avoid any wrong perception. There is no doubt that Masonry is a semi-secret (or semi-public) organisation. It is secret in relation to its own activity only; otherwise it does not hide itself from the public. Everybody who is of good character and repute can apply to become a member. Most candidates do not know what they will find in it; they generally want to join because they have some friends in it or because they already know that Masonry is an organisation devoted to high ideals and benevolence to which they think that it is socially desirable to be connected. Many candidates will not like or profit from what is disclosed to them; many candidates do not see anything being the symbols that are presented to them and will not hear anything behind the words they are hearing. To these candidates the initiation remains a formality, not an awakening into an order and quality of life that they did not know before. If this awakening does not take place later as the result from some serious studies, or from the teaching they receive, these candidates will only have the impression that they have joined a social club. For some other candidates, initiation means a new beginning, a breakaway from an old method and order of life and the entrance in a new life of much higher quality. For these candidates initiation leads to a transition towards regeneration and a higher state and standard of life. It means a departure from the pursuit of the popular and shallow ideals of their previous life for the quest of the eternal “Reality” that lies behind these false ideals in order to discover the real secrets of our being that are hidden at “the centre” or inner part of our souls. It also means the awakening of the dormant faculties of our soul that allow us to see the light through new consciousness and enlarged perception. These successful candidates will from then on dedicate and devote their life to the Divine rather than to their own or any other service, displaying such godliness, which previously they did not show.
To benefit fully from the Initiation and reach the level mentioned before, the successful candidates must have some very special qualifications of mind and intention. These candidates are very special people that are bound to be very useful to the Craft later on after they have abandoned their past preconceptions and their way of thinking in favour of novel and unexpected truths that only Initiation can provide. “Know Yourself” was written over the portals of some ancient temples of Initiation in the knowledge of all the old secrets and mysteries. Masonry teaches self-knowledge that is deeper, vaster and more difficult to master that is generally thought. This knowledge is not acquired by the formal passage through a few degrees in a short period of time. It is, on the opposite, a knowledge that is reached after a long period of research and study that requires putting aside any other previous knowledge. Those who reach that level of knowledge are the real and full Master-Masons, the just men made perfect who have actually travelled the entire path, endured all the tests and ordeals, and reached conscious union with the Author and Giver of Life and able to mediate and impart that life to others.
This aim could be said to be beyond our reach as we are ordinary men already quite busy with our civic, social and family obligations. However even if it is impossible for most of us to reach that aim, at least we should go as far as we can in the right direction. Speculative Masonry was created to help people on this difficult path; it proclaims that there is a higher and more secret path of life than that which most people follow. When people are tired of their ordinary day-to-day existence they turn back on themselves to look for a world within. It is this inner world, and the path to reach it, for which Masonry provides the light, charts the way, and indicates the qualifications and conditions required to progress towards it. This is the only aim and intention of Masonry. Behind its symbolism, behind its insistence on virtue and morality, behind the silly phraseology dating from the eighteenth century, there is the framework of a scheme of Initiation into the higher path of life leading to where the mysteries and secrets of our being can be learned. The old symbolism and phraseology are probably outdated, they should perhaps be revised to be more in line with our present way of thinking; however they have proved their efficiency to help the serious candidate to reach knowledge of one’s innerself as well as of the Ancient Mysteries.
It is a fact that, for many Masons, the Craft means much less that this path to Light and Knowledge. This means that Masonry has not reached its original purpose of being the efficient initiating tools that it was supposed to be. Many Masons’ energy has been diverted towards social and philanthropic aims that, although good as such, are however different of the primary purpose of the Craft. Charity is the duty of all Masons but this material action must not divert the members from their spiritual aims that are the most important. If Masonry has not succeeded to reach its primary spiritual aim, being too busy with social activities, then the Craft has not fulfilled its purpose and its efficiency, as an initiating instrument is very low. To improve it requires an enlarged understanding of its designs. The Craft has changed quite a lot during the last two centuries, growing from its small and crude beginnings into the present large and very sophisticated organisation. Some members wonder where this large increase in the numbers of lodges will lead. This growth in Masonry occurs at the same time when the orthodox religion and the public worship are declining. It is not obvious if there is a correlation between the two phenomena, that is, if the simple principles of faith and the humanitarian ideals of Masonry are replacing the theology offered by the various churches to which the modern man has difficulty to relate these days. It is a fact that the ideals of the Craft appeal to an ever-increasing number of men. As a result Freemasonry could become one of the greatest social institutions of the present time. Its principles of faith and ethics are simple to understand and are widely accepted. Moreover by not being linked to any specific religion, or to any political party, it leaves room for divergence of private belief and view upon which unity is impossible and perhaps undesirable. It is however an important factor of political stability within most nation while promoting international collaboration at the same time. This has been made possible by its elaborate, but efficient, internal organisation required by its ever-increasing size, undreamed of even a few decades ago.
The next steps required from the Craft is to educate its members in the deeper meaning and true purpose of its rites and its philosophy. If this can be done then the Craft will become one of the greatest spiritual forces of the world. This will perhaps lead the Craft to review its old rites, the meaning of which remains largely unperceived, and in which the participation is purely formal these days. These changes, if they occur, will depend on the view the members have of their organisation for the future. The choice is between a materialistic or spiritualist organisation. A materialistic Order will soon forget its underlining philosophy and will fail to translate its symbols into actions; the members will soon be mistaking shadow for substance and will be secularising what was designed as a mean of spiritual instruction and grace. To day the Craft suffers more of a lack of instruction and not, as some members believe, of a desire to learn the meaning of Masonry.
Solomon built the first Jerusalem Temple using the best material available and the most qualified workmen. The result was a beautiful building that was then dedicated to God. The acceptance of this offering was signified by the Most High who descended upon it so that the Glory of the Lord filled the whole building. It should be the same with the temple of the Masonic Order. Since the beginning of Speculative Masonry three hundred years ago, the members of the Order have been building and expanding their own temple made of living stone. It is now more or less perfect in its temporal side and ready to be used to improve the Spirituality of its members who, in their turn, will spread the Lord’s Words to the world at large. (3)
More than 60,000 books have been written on Freemasonry but it still remains relatively unknown especially in the Latin countries. Modern Masonry came to life on 24 June 1717, the Feast of Saint John, when the Grand Lodge of London was created as the union of four lodges of operating masons. The Grand Lodge codified four ancient charters and produced the Anderson Constitutions that are still the base of Freemasonry even to day.
In 1985 it was estimated that they were more than 600,000 initiates in England and Wales, 100,000 in Scotland and between 50,000 and 70,000 in Ireland. All the members of the Brotherhood are male and aged over 21; but the son of Freemasons can apply to enter when eighteen years old. The headquarters of the Craft in England is in London at the corner of Great Queen Street and Wild Street. There sits the United Grand Lodge of England, the governing body of more than 8,000 lodges in England and Wales. There are 1,200 more under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Scotland and about 750 under the Grand Lodge of Ireland. The Brethren meet in purpose-built Temples or, if there is none, in hotel rooms, bars or private homes temporarily transformed for Masonic use. Many town halls lend rooms for these Masonic meetings as well as police buildings like New Scotland Yard in London.
Freemasonry is not a worldwide secret society. It is a secret society that originated in England but now has ramifications in most countries of the world. The British Grand Lodge recognises more than a hundred Grand Lodges (of which forty-nine in the USA) but has no control over them. These independent Grand Lodges reflect the conditions of the country in which they operate. British Freemasonry is not revolutionary but, on the opposite, reactionary and establishment oriented. They have, however, a large influence on the English political and social life.
Most Masonic rituals are of public knowledge. (11)