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GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT FREEMASONRY

Freemasonry is the premier fraternal organization in the world, with lodges in almost every country in the free world. It is open to men of adult age of any color, any religion, nationality or social standing. The only requirement of its members is a belief in a Supreme Being. The goal of Freemasonry is to enhance and strengthen the character of the individual man by providing opportunities for fellowship, charity, education, and leadership based on the three ancient Masonic tenets, Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth.


Freemasonry has a long and praiseworthy tradition, dating back centuries. The first lodge in North America was the Provincial Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, organized under the Henry Price, who met at the Bunch of Grapes Tavern in Boston. North American Freemasons have been helping to build better communities ever since. Many of America's early Patriots were Masons. General Joseph Warren, who gave his life at Bunker Hill and Paul Revere were both Grand Masters of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. Others are listed below in the "famous Freemasons section".


Quick History of Freemasonry

Although the actual origins of Freemasonry are clouded in the mists of antiquity, it is widely agreed that Masonry dates back to the late fourteenth century and flourished during the middle ages when guilds of Masons traveled throughout Europe building the great gothic cathedrals. Apprentices were taken in and taught the craft by Master Masons who passed on the secrets of the trade. As building declined, the guilds began to accept members who were not actually stone Masons. From these roots evolved Masonry, as we know it today.






[ Quote source: Information is from: Freemasonry from Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 19,2005, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freemasonry.] The following is a deriviation from and is used with permission and in accordance with Wikipedia's copyright policy and licensing requirements under the GFDL.  Text in Wikipedia has been released under the GNU Free Documentation License (or is in the public domain), and can therefore be reused only if you release any derived work under the GFDL. This requires that, among other things, you attribute the authors and allow others to freely copy your work.

Ritual and symbols

The Freemasons rely heavily on the architectural symbolism of the medieval operative Masons who actually worked in stone. One of their principal symbols is the square and Compasses, tools of the trade, so arranged as to form a quadrilateral. The square is sometimes said to represent matter, and the compasses spirit or mind. Alternatively, the square might be said to represent the world of the concrete, or the measure of objective reality, while the compasses represent abstraction, or subjective judgment, and so forth (Freemasonry being non-dogmatic, there is no written-in-stone interpretation for any of these symbols). Often the compasses straddle the square, representing the interdependence between the two. In the space between the two, there is optionally placed a symbol of metaphysical significance. Sometimes, this is a blazing star or other symbol of Light, representing Truth or knowledge. Alternatively, there is often a letter G placed there, usually said to represent God and/or Geometry.
The square and compasses are displayed at all Masonic meetings, along with the open Volume of the Sacred Law (or Lore) (VSL). In English-speaking countries, this is usually a Holy Bible, but it can be whatever book(s) of inspiration or scripture that the members of a particular Lodge or jurisdiction feel they draw on—whether the Bible, the Qur'an, or other Volumes. A candidate for a degree will normally be given his choice of VSL, regardless of the Lodge's usual VSL. In many French Lodges, the Masonic Constitutions are used. In a few cases, a blank book has been used, where the religious makeup of a Lodge was too diverse to permit an easy choice of VSL. In addition to its role as a symbol of written wisdom, inspiration, and spiritual revelation, the VSL is what Masonic obligations are taken upon.
Much of Masonic symbolism is mathematical in nature, and in particular geometrical, which is probably a reason Freemasonry has attracted so many rationalists (such as Voltaire, Fichte, Goethe, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and many others). No particular metaphysical theory is advanced by Freemasonry, however, although there seems to be some influence from the Pythagoreans, from Neo-Platonism, and from early modern Rationalism.
In keeping with the geometrical and architectural theme of Freemasonry, the Supreme Being (or God, or Creative Principle) is sometimes also referred to in Masonic ritual as the Grand Geometer, or the Great Architect of the Universe (GAOTU). Freemasons use a variety of labels for this concept in order to avoid the idea that they are talking about any one religion's particular God or God-like concept.

Degrees

There are three initial degrees of Freemasonry:

Entered Apprentice
Fellow Craft
Master Mason

As one works through the degrees, one studies the lessons and interprets them for oneself. There are as many ways to interpret the rituals as there are Masons, and no Mason may dictate to any other Mason how he is to interpret them. No particular truths are espoused, but a common structure speaking symbolically to universal human archetypes provides for each Mason a means to come to his own answers to life's important questions. Especially in Europe, Freemasons working through the degrees are asked to prepare papers on related philosophical topics, and present these papers in an open Lodge, where others may judge the suitability of the candidates' ascension through the higher degrees.

History of Freemasonry

Main article: History of Freemasonry
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 many other various and sundry origins. Others claim that it dates back only to the late 17th century in England, and has no real connections at all to earlier organizations. These theories are noted in numerous different texts, and the following are but examples pulled from a sea of books:

Much of the content of these books is highly speculative, and the precise origins of Freemasonry may very well be lost in either an unwritten or a created 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 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).

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.

There is also the Cooke Manuscript, which is said to be dated 1430 and contained the Constitution of German stonemasons(4), but the first appearance of the word 'Freemason' occurs in the Statutes of the Realm enacted in 1495 by Henry VII, however, most other documentary evidence prior to the 1500s appears to relate entirely to operative Masons rather than speculative ones.

1583 is the date of the Grand Lodge manuscript(4), and more frequent mention of lodges is made in documents from this time onwards. The Schaw Statues of 1598-9(4) are the source used to declare the precedence of Kilwinning Lodge in Edinburgh, Scotland over St. Mary's (or Principal) Lodge. As a side note, Kilwinning is called Kilwinning #0 because of this very conundrum. Quite soon thereafter, a charter was granted to Sir William St. Clair (later Sinclair) of Roslin (Rosslyn), allowing him to purchase jurisdiction over a number of lodges in Edinburgh and environs (4), which is the basis of the Templar myth surrounding Rosslyn Chapel.

Another key figure in Masonic history was Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), who was made a Mason in 1646, although Speculative Masons were being admitteed into Lodges as early as 1634. There appears to be a general spread of the Craft during this time, but the next key date is 1717.

In 1717, four Lodges which met, respectively, 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, England (as recounted in (2)) joined together and formed the first Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of England (GLE). The years following saw new Grand Lodges open throughout England and 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.

Concordant and Appendant Bodies

Freemasonry is associated with several appendant bodies, such as the: Scottish Rite -  The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite is a worldwide Masonic fraternity. The Scottish Rite is one of the two main branches of Freemasonry in which a Master Mason may decide to join for further exposure to Masonic knowledge. The other main branch is the York Rite. The Scottish Rite claims to build upon the ethical teachings and philosophy of Blue Lodge Masonry through dramatic presentation. To this end, the Rite confers twenty-nine degrees, from the fourth through the thirty-second. Notable members of this order include Albert Pike, Buzz Aldrin, Bob Dole, John Wayne, and Michael Richards.

The Degrees

Difficult for non-Masons to comprehend, completion of the first three Masonic degrees represents the attainment of the highest rank in all of Masonry. Any third degree Master Mason stands as an equal before every other Master Mason, regardless of position, class, or degree. For this reason, the higher degrees are sometimes referred to as appendent degrees. Appendent degrees represent a lateral movement in Masonic Education rather than an upward movement.

The core of the Scottish Rite is a series of 29 degrees, numbered from 4 to 32, which expand upon the morals, teachings, and philosophy of the first three degrees. These are not degrees of rank, but rather degrees of instruction.

The 33rd degree is an honorary degree in recognition of outstanding service. It is conferred on brethren who have made major contributions to society or to Masonry in general.

The titles of the degrees are as follows:

Blue Lodge or Craft Lodge



1° Entered Apprentice
2° FellowCraft
3° Master Mason

Lodge of Perfection



4° Secret Master
5° Perfect Master
6° Intimate Secretary
7° Provost and Judge
8° Intendant of the Building
9° Elu of the Nine
10° Elu of the Fifteen
11° Elu of the Twelve
12° Grand Master Architect
13° Royal Arch of Solomon (Knight of the Ninth Arch)
14 Perfect Elu (Grand Elect, Perfect and Sublime Mason)

Rose Croix



15° Knight of the East, of the Sword or the Eagle
16° Prince of Jerusalem
17° Knight of the East and West
18° Knight of the Rose Croix

Council of Kadosh


  

19° Grand Pontiff
20° Master of the Symbolic Lodge
21° Noachite, or Prussian Knight
22° Knight of the Royal Axe (Prince of Libanus)
23° Chief of the Tabernacle
24° Prince of the Tabernacle
25° Knight of the Brazen Serpent
26° Prince of Mercy
27° Knight Commander of the Temple
28° Knight of the Sun (Prince Adept)
29° Scottish Knight of Saint Andrew
30° Knight Kadosh

Consistory

  

31° Inspector Inquisitor 32° Master of the Royal Secret

Supreme Council

   

33° Inspector General

Charitable Work

The Scottish Rite fully operates, and pays for all patient care, for the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and the Scottish Rite Children's Medical Center in Atlanta, Georgia

York Rite


The York Rite is one of the two main branches of Freemasonry in the United States which a Master Mason may decide to join for further exposure to Masonic knowledge, the other branch being the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. Some obediences of the Scottish Rite may confer some of these degrees in countries where the York Rite is not active. The divisions within the York Rite and the requirements for membership differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but the essentials are the same. In all the workings the one requirement is that all applicants be in possession of the third degree, that of Master Mason.

As in other Masonic bodies, the York Rite uses drama to demonstrate the lessons and special qualities of the degrees and has several various means of identification, such as grips or tokens (handshakes), signs and words.

The bodies of the York Rite are:
Royal Arch Masonry


Cryptic Masonry


Knights Templar


The York Rite Sovereign College
Knight of York
Order of the Red Cross of Constantine

Royal Arch Masonry

The Chapter works the following degrees:

Mark Master Mason: In some jurisdictions this degree is conferred in a Fellow Craft Lodge, that is, the second degree of the Blue Lodge.
Past Master (Virtual): this degree is conferred because of the traditional requirement that only Past Masters of a Blue Lodge may be admitted to Holy Royal Arch. Because there are so many applicants for this degree, Virtual Past Master is required to qualify them for it. Much of the secret work is the same given to the new Worshipful Master of a Blue Lodge.
Most Excellent Master: In this degree the building of King Solomon's Temple which figures so prominently in Craft Masonry, has been completed.
Holy Royal Arch: Possibly the most beautiful degree in all of Freemasonry. In the UK it is conferred in a 'chapter' attached to a Craft Lodge which is in keeping with an article in the Constitutions of the United Grand Lodge of England. The constitutions describe the Royal Arch being part of ‘pure and ancient Masonry’ this is defined as the three degrees of the Craft viz. Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason with the additon of the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch.

Cryptic Masonry
The Council of Royal and Select Masters is not required for membership in the Commandery that follows, so it is frequently skipped. It is called Cryptic Masonry because a crypt or underground room figures prominently in the degrees. This Body is also called the Cryptic Rite. The degrees are:

Royal Master
Select Master
Super Excellent Master:
Actually the legend of this degree has nothing to do with a crypt. It is an optional degree.

Knights Templar

(This body is called a Commandery in the United States and a Preceptory in Canada) It has three orders:

  • Illustrious Order of the Red Cross Knight of York
  • Order of Malta
  • Order of the Temple, consisting of three portions:
    • Novice
    • Installation
    • Consecration

      The York Rite Sovereign College

      An invitational Masonic body open to members who are members of all four York Rite Bodies and who have shown exceptional proficiency in them. The College confers only one degree:
       

      • Knight of York


        The following is outside the system of degrees of the York Rite, but is considered closely allied to it.

        Order of the Red Cross of Constantine
        The Conclave is an invitational Masonic body open to members of York Rite Masonry and by special dispensation to Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.

        • Knight of the Red Cross of Constantine
        • Knight of the Holy Sepulchre
        • Knight of Saint John the Evangelist
             

          Shriners



             The Shriners,  or Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, are an Order appendant to Freemasonry. Until 2000, one had to complete the Scottish Rite or York Rite degrees of Masonry to be eligible for Shrine membership, but now any Master Mason can join.

          The Shrine was established in New York City in the 1870s as the fun part of the Masonic movement. The group adopted a theme of the Middle East and soon established "Temples" meeting in "Mosques" across the continent. Another Masonic group, the Mysterious Order of the Veiled Prophet of the Enchanted Realm (known colloquially as the "Grotto") had adopted a similar theme in 1890. The theme was the rage at the time and alluded to the mystery and ceremony of the "Arabian Nights" with its elaborate parties and frolic. The basic idea was an organization of fun.

          The Shrine shares the basic requirement with the Freemasons that a petitioner must profess a belief in a supreme being. Therefore, men of countless creeds and nations have joined the fraternity throughout its history. However, the word "Temple" has now been replaced by "Shriners" when refering to the local Shrine Centers. (Example: Mahi Temple is now Mahi Shriners) This is to help the public understand that the Shrine is a men's fraternity rather than a religion or religious group. There are 500,000 Nobles belonging to 191 Shrine Centers in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Panama.
           

          The Shriners often participate in local parades riding comedy versions of cars and motorcycles. They are recognizable by their elaborate red fezzes. If one researches further, it will be discovered that the Shrinershave been instrumental in community projects throughout its domain. Countless public projects have been supported by the local Shriners who are committed to community service.

          Once a year, the fraternity meets for the Imperial Council Session in a major North American city. It is not uncommon for these conventions to have 20,000 participants or more, which generates a handsome revenue contribution to the local economy.

          The Shrine's charitable arm is the Shriners Hospitals for Children, a network of twenty-two hospitals in the United States, Mexico and Canada. They were formed to treat young victims of polio, but as that disease was controlled they broadened their scope. They now deal with all pediatric cases, most especially with orthopedic injuries and disease and the damage caused by burns. The Shrine has pioneered new treatments for these conditions.

          There is never any charge for treatment at a Shriners Hospital. There is no requirement for religion, race, or relationship to a Freemason. Patients must be under the age of eighteen and treatable. Local Shrine temples most often provide free transportation to the nearest hospital.

          Until 2003–4, the Oscars were held at the Shriners temple/auditorium in Hollywood / Los Angeles. Legendary silent film comedian Harold Lloyd was a Shriner and served as Imperial Potentate in 1949. He did much to promote the fraternity within the entertainment industry.



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