Freemasonry is a fraternity designed to teach morality and ethics, and train good men to make themselves of service to themselves, their families and their communities. Freemasonry is not a religion, but it teaches its members to be active in their chosen faith. Freemasonry has no politics, but it teaches its members to be active in civic concerns.
A freemason is a man who has taken an obligation to make of himself the best that he can, for himself, his family, and his community – a man who feels and adores the higher destiny of man; to whom faith, hope and charity are not mere words without any meaning.
What attracts a man to Freemasonry? Every man comes, of his own free will and accord, with his own individual needs and interests. One man may join so that he can associate with other men who believe that only by improving themselves can they hope to improve their world. Another man may join because he is looking for a focus for his charitable inclinations. And yet another may be attracted by a strong sense of history and tradition. Many join simply because they knew a friend or relative who was a freemason and they admired that man’s way of living his life. All who join and become active, discover a bond of brotherly affection and a community of mutual support; a practical extension of their own religious and philisophical beliefs.
The secret of Masonry, like the secret of life, can be known only by those who seek it, serve it, live it. It cannot be uttered; it can only be felt and acted. It is, in fact, an open secret, and each man knows it according to his quest and capacity. Like all things worth knowing, no one can know it for another and no man can know it alone.
William Howard Taft
Freemasonry is not a charity, although it promotes charity in its members – in North America alone, freemasons contribute some three million dollars a day to operate children’s hospitals, cancer clinics, burn wards, seniors’ homes and other such facilities. There are some 200 recognized masonic jurisdictions around the world and no central authority. They operate under a system of mutual recognition, working within a set of Landmarks of what qualifies as recognized Freemasonry.
Records strongly suggest a lineage to operative stonemasons’ lodges or guilds of fourteenth century Scotland and an inner fraternity of the London Company of Masons. Whether operative and non-operative lodges existed concurrently or if operative lodges slowly accepted non-operative members into their ranks is still debatable. By the end of the seventeenth century most lodges were speculative, composed of people not actively working as stonemasons, and the ritual which involved the tools of stonemasonry as symbols was all that remained.
Freemasonry is an ancient and respectable institution, embracing individuals of every nation, of every religion, and of every condition in life. Wealth, power and talents are not necessary to the person of a Freemason. An unblemished character and a virtuous conduct are the only qualifications for admission into the Order.
There are three degrees in regular Craft freemasonry involving ritual and ceremonies. Before an initiate receives a degree, and takes an obligation of secrecy, he is assured that the mysteries are founded on the purest principles of piety and virtue and that any vows are not inconsistent with his civil, moral or religious duties. Why are the rituals and ceremonies secret? Tradition, more than anything – there have been times and places where promoting equality, freedom of thought or liberty of conscience was dangerous. The lessons are not secret but the presentation is kept private to promote a clearer understanding in good time.
But the true secrets of a freemason are not contained in the ritual. A freemason who is true to his obligation will not reveal the modes of recognition but they are not truly secret; this is demonstrated by the number of exposures that have been published over the centuries. The secrets of a freemason are those personal, private, and lawful, aspects of a man’s life that he may choose to share with a brother, a brother who will keep those secrets. This is not secretiveness, this is discretion. There is also that secret which is not kept secret but is only revealed to those who realize the happiness that comes from living a good life. The history and philosophy of Freemasonry has been a topic of great study, and much information is available through the Grand Lodge of British Columbia & Yukon website at freemasonry.bcy.ca.