Free Masonary Feb 23, 2007 22:02:23 GMT -5
Post by Senbecc on Feb 23, 2007 22:02:23 GMT -5
Freemasonry is a worldwide fraternal organization. Its members are joined together by shared ideals of both a moral and metaphysical nature, and, in most of its branches, by a common belief in a Supreme Being. Freemasonry is an esoteric art, in that certain aspects of its internal work are not generally revealed to the public. Masons give numerous reasons for this, one of which is that Freemasonry uses an initiatory system of degrees to explore ethical and philosophical issues, and this system is less effective if the observer knows beforehand what will happen. It often calls itself "a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols."
History of Freemasonary
Freemasonry has been said to be an institutional outgrowth of the medieval guilds of stonemasons (1), a direct descendant of the "Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem" (the Knights Templar) (2), an offshoot of the ancient Mystery schools (1), an administrative arm of the Priory of Sion (3), the Roman Collegia (1), the Comacine masters (1), intellectual descendants of Noah (1), and to have many other various and sundry origins. Others will claim that it dates back only to the late 17th century, and has no real connections at all to earlier organizations.
Much of this is highly speculative, and the precise origins of Freemasonry may be lost in history. It is thought by many that Freemasonry cannot be a straightforward outgrowth of medieval guilds of stonemasons. Amongst the reasons given for this conclusion, well documented in Born in Blood, are the fact that stonemasons' guilds do not appear to predate reasonable estimates for the time of Freemasonry's origin, that stonemasons lived near their worksite and thus had no need for secret signs to identify themselves, and that the "Ancient Charges" of Freemasonry are nonsensical when thought of as being rules for a stonemasons' guild.
Freemasonry is said by some, especially amongst Masons practising the York Rite, to have existed even at the time of King Athelstan of England, in the 10th century C.E. Athelstan is said by some to have been converted to Christianity in York, and to have issued the first Charter to the Masonic Lodges there. This story is not currently substantiated (the dynasty had already been Christian for centuries).
Some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints note similarities between the church's sacred "Endowments" performed in LDS temples, and masonic rituals. Some Mormons have said this similarity may be because the Masonic rituals are descended from those given by God at the Temple of Solomon, and still contain many of the original truths. It may also be that early Mormon leaders (including Smith) were members of Freemasonry and incorporated its liturgy into the new religion.
A more historically reliable (although still not unassailable) source asserting the antiquity of Freemasonry is the Halliwell Manuscript, or Regius Poem, which is believed to date from ca. 1390, and which makes reference to several concepts and phrases similar to those found in Freemasonry. The manuscript itself refers to an earlier document, of which it seems to be an elaboration.
It seems reasonable to suppose that, whatever its precise origins, Freemasonry provided a haven for the unorthodox and their sympathizers during a time when such activity could result in one's death, and that this has something to do with the tradition of secret meetings and handshakes. As the Middle Ages gave way to the Modern Age, the need for secrecy subsided, and Freemasons began to openly declare their association with the fraternity, which began to organize itself more formally.
In 1717, four Lodges which met at the "Apple-Tree Tavern, the Crown Ale-House near Drury Lane, the Goose and Gridiron in St. Paul's Churchyard, and the Rummer and Grapes Tavern in Westminster" in London, Englandcombined together and formed the first public Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of England (GLE). The years following saw Grand Lodges open throughout Europe, as the new Freemasonry spread rapidly. How much of this was the spreading of Freemasonry itself, and how much was the public organization of pre-existing secret Lodges, is not possible to say with certainty. The GLE in the beginning did not have the current three degrees, but only the first two. The third degree appeared, so far as we know, around 1725.
Opinions about the origins, objectives and future of Freemasonry remain controversial from the times of its inception to our times. For example, Shoko Asahara, founder of the controversial Japanese religious group Aum Shinrikyo, has prophesied in some of his sermons that "in the future, Freemasonry will merge into united stream" with Aum Shinrikyo.
According to Sir Richard Burton, "Sufi-ism [was] the Eastern parent of Freemasonry." (See, F. Hitchman, Burton, Volume 1, p. 286) The possibility that Burton was correct is examined in detail by Idries Shah in his book entitled The Sufis, beginning on page 205.
Main article: Grand LodgeThere are many different jurisdictions of governance of Freemasonry, each sovereign and independent of the others, and usually defined according to a geographic territory. There is thus no central Masonic authority, although each jurisdiction maintains a list of other jurisdictions that it formally recognizes. If the other jurisdiction reciprocates the recognition, the two jurisdictions are said to be in amity, which permits the members of the one jurisdiction to attend closed meetings of the other jurisdiction's Lodges, and vice-versa.
Generally speaking, to be recognized by another jurisdiction, one must (at least) meet that jurisdiction's requirements for regularity. This generally means that one must have in place, at least, the ancient landmarks of Freemasonry - the essential characteristics considered to be universal to Freemasonry in any culture. In keeping with the decentralized and non-dogmatic nature of Freemasonry, however, there is no universally accepted list of landmarks, and even jurisdictions in amity with each other often have completely different ideas as to what those landmarks are. Many jurisdictions take no official position at all as to what the landmarks are.
Freemasonry is often said to consist of two different branches: the Anglo and the Continental traditions. In reality, there is no tidy way to split jurisdictions into distinct camps like this. For instance, jurisdiction A might recognize B, which recognizes C, which does not recognize A. In addition, the geographical territory of one jurisdiction may overlap with another's, which may affect their relations, for purely territorial reasons. In other cases, one jurisdiction may overlook irregularities in another due simply to a desire to maintain friendly relations. Also, a jurisdiction may be formally affiliated with one tradition, while maintaining informal ties with the other. For all these reasons, labels like "Anglo" and "Continental" must be taken only as rough indicators, not as any kind of clear designation.
The ruling authority of a Masonic jurisdiction is usually called a Grand Lodge, or sometimes a Grand Orient. These normally correspond to a single country, although their territory can be broader or narrower than that. (In North America, each state and province has its own Grand Lodge.)
The oldest jurisdiction in the Anglo branch of Freemasonry is the Grand Lodge of England (GLE),(the Moderns)founded in 1717. This later became the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) when it joined with another English Grand Lodge (the Antients) in 1813. It is today the largest jurisdiction in England, and generally considered to be the oldest in the world. Its headquarters are at Freemasons Hall, Great Queen Street, London.
The oldest in the Continental branch, and the largest jurisdiction in France, is the Grand Orient de France (GOdF), founded in 1728. At one time, the Anglo and Continental branches recognized each other, but most jurisdictions cut off formal relations with the GOdF around the time it started unreservedly admitting atheists, in 1877.
In most Latin countries, and in Belgium, the French style of Freemasonry predominates. The rest of the world, accounting for the bulk of Freemasonry, tends to follow the English lead.
Most jurisdictions allow their members to visit Lodges in recognized jurisdictions without reservation, leaving it to the foreign Lodge to confirm that the two jurisdictions are in amity. The UGLE, on the other hand, requires its members to check with them before visiting lodges abroad to confirm amity - for example visiting American lodges is discouraged.
Contrary to popular belief, Freemasons meet as a Lodge and not in a lodge. (This is similar to the distinction made by Christians who meet as a church, with the actual building officially considered no more than a meeting place.)
According to Masonic legend (see below), the operative lodges (the Medieval lodges of actual stonemasons) constructed a lodge building adjacent to their work site where the masons could meet for instruction and social contact. Normally this was on the southern side of the site (in Europe, the side with the sun warming the stones during the day.) The social part of the building was on the southern side, hence the social gathering of the lodge is still called the South.
Early speculative lodges (which included members who were not actual stonemasons) met in taverns and other convenient public meeting places, and employed a Tyler to guard the door from both malicious and simply curious people.
Lodge buildings have for many years been known as Temples. In many countries this term has now been replaced by Masonic Centre. (Shriners and their Temples.)
In North America, Masonic Lodges are typically known as "Blue Lodges", and are the foundation of a collection of further "appended" Masonic groups or bodies: York Rite, Scottish Rite and The Shrine. To be a member of these other bodies, a man must pay dues to a Blue Lodge. The Blue Lodge and its ceremonies establish the fundamental bond which makes all Masons "brothers", and is the cement which binds all other appendant Masonic bodies together.
Some specific specialist lodges exist within many Masonic jurisdictions.The most obvious are the specially constituted Lodges of "Research and Instruction" (R&I). These are associated with a world-wide organization of Masonic research, typically specialising in discovering and interpreting historical records and the meanings of Masonic symbolism left unrecorded, and for preserving and developing Masonic ritual. Membership in these many Lodges is typically open to interested members of other, normally-constituted Lodges.There are also Lodges formed by groupings of persons with similar interests or background, such as "old boy" Lodges associated with certain schools, universities, military units, or businesses.
Concordant and appendant bodies
Freemasonry is associated with several appendant bodies, such as the Scottish Rite, which is actually a complete system of Freemasonry, developed on the Continent (particularly in France), and the York Rite, which includes three sovereign and distinct rites, including the Holy Royal Arch, Royal and Select Masters (aka Cryptic Masonry) and Knights Templar.
In regard to the (Masonic) Templars, this particular organization is limited to Royal Arch and Cryptic Masons of the Christian faith and does not in any way impose this requirement on the entire York Rite system, as is commonly and erroneously believed.
Other groups include the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (Shriners), the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm (Grotto), the Tall Cedars of Lebanon, the Society of Rosicrucians, and the Ancient and Heroic Order of the Gordian Knot, among numerous others, all of which tend to expand on the teachings of Craft or Blue Lodge Freemasonry - often with additional so-called higher degrees - while improving their members and society as a whole. The Shrine and Grotto tend to emphasise fun and philanthropy and are largely a North American phenomenon.
Different jurisdictions vary in how they define their relationship with such bodies. Some consider them wholly outside of Freemasonry proper. Others may give them some sort of formal recognition (or not). Some of these organizations may have additional religious requirements, compared to Freemasonry proper (or "Craft Masonry"), since they elaborate on Masonic teachings from a particular perspective.
There are also certain youth organizations (mainly North American) which are associated with Freemasonry, but are not necessarily Masonic in their content, such as the Order of DeMolay (for boys aged 1221 who have Masonic sponsorship), Job's Daughters (for girls aged 10-20 with proper Masonic relationship) and the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls (for girls 1120 who have Masonic sponsorship). The Boy Scouts of America is not a Masonic organization, but was first nationally commissioned by Freemason Daniel Carter Beard. Beard exemplified the Masonic ideals throughout the Scouting program.
Freemasonry accepts members from almost any religion, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and so forth. In Lodges following in the Continental tradition, atheists and agnostics are also accepted, without qualification. Most other branches currently require a belief in a Supreme Being. But even there, one finds a high degree of non-dogmatism, and the phrase Supreme Being is often given a very broad interpretation, usually allowing Deism and often even allowing naturalistic views of "God/Nature" in the tradition of Spinoza and Goethe (himself a Freemason), or views of The Ultimate or Cosmic Oneness, such as found in some Eastern religions and in Western idealism (or for that matter, in modern cosmology). This leads some to suggest that even Anglo Freemasonry will, in practice, end up accepting certain kinds of atheists‹those willing to adopt a certain brand of spiritual language. Such claims are difficult to evaluate, since many Anglo jurisdictions consider any further enquiry into a prospective member's religion, beyond the "Supreme Being" question, to be off limits. However, in some Anglo jurisdictions (mostly English-speaking), Freemasonry is actually less tolerant of naturalism than it was in the 18th century, and specific religious requirements with more theistic and orthodox overtones have been added since the early 19th century, including (mostly in North America) belief in the immortality of the soul. The Freemasonry that predominates in Scandinavia, known as the Swedish Rite, accepts only Christians.