Fraternal Unity: An Opening Thought
In my mind, it just seems practical for there to be a United Grand Lodge of America formed here in the United States. From a practicality standpoint, I imagine a national grand lodge, such as others throughout the world, would make it significantly easier to formally mend fraternal relations with Prince Hall lodges all around the country, among other things. There is a long history between Blue Lodge and Prince Hall lodges in terms of recognition and visitation, available here. Someday soon, I hope co-visitation and co-membership become a reality, where Blue Lodge and Prince Hall Masons are able to meet together as one unified masonic fraternal alliance designed to further the Craft in the Americas. Let all men work together in unity.
To me, this unity has always been strength, in most (if not all) circumstances. I imagine that both state and provincial grand lodges, wherever they are, could stand to learn something from their federal and state counterparts, in the sense that they could maintain a certain amount of sovereign autonomy over certain local affairs, but in the interest of American masonry, a national bond of fraternal unity and governance would be formed for matters directly addressing the American craft. Think of the endless possibilities!
But that is another thought for another post. Let’s talk about why we’re here today. Let’s talk about shedding some light on the world’s largest and oldest fraternity—Freemasonry.
What is Freemasonry?
Personally, I have always viewed freemasonry as an honorable and ancient fraternity that has consistently withstood the tests of time, persecution, and misinformation by maintaining a brotherhood rooted in the quest for enlightenment, brotherly love, and a disciplined approach to life, conduct, personal faith, and charity. It’s a fraternity rife with history, tradition, discipline, the sort of brotherhood (i.e. fraternity) that I have always personally been drawn to throughout my adult life.
Before we continue with this analysis, let me be clear—while I admire the good and charitable work that these god-fearing men have done and continue to do, I am not a Freemason at the time of this writing. I gain nothing from publishing this piece. Nevertheless, as an admirer-student of history and a crusader against oppression, misinformation, and ignorance, I always find myself thinking about ways to make things better, however little I know. After all, we all stand to learn more about all things in life.
My initial exposure to Freemasonry was, unfortunately, during a barrage of conspiracy theories surrounding entertainers like Jay-Z, Nas, and some other artists during the earlier part of this decade. I was in undergrad at the time, and the conspiracy theory was essentially that Freemasonry was a cult. Those rumors were everywhere during those days; it really was a shame how this was pushed through obscure blogs, as if to suggest that an African American entertainer could not succeed without the occult.
There’s nothing that frustrates me more than when otherwise intelligent and reasonable people seem to become servants to conspiracy and preconceived bias, with today’s example being whenever the matter of Freemasonry comes up. There are those that know nothing about the fraternity beyond rumors. There are many that have never met or spoken to an actual Freemason, yet allow unreasonable theories to justify their initial bias against it. We often preach against unfair biases against people we’ve never met, so why do we defy reason and do the same with Freemasons? Are we not better than this? Are we not better than prejudice of any kind?
Freemasonry: A Family Legacy
Thankfully, I refused to allow unfounded conspiracy theories, themselves riddled with holes upon simply asking informed questions, to take root in my mind. My curiosity continued, especially once I discovered that my late grandfather was, at one time, a Freemason, as well as various others in my family on both sides. Freemasonry was apparently in my blood, dating back countless generations and hundreds of years on both my mother’s and father’s side. But let’s focus on a particular individual my mother happens to be descended from—a sovereign emperor of his people.
In fact, as it turned out, my ancestor, Emperor Faustin I of Haïti, happened to be a Freemason as well, all the way back in the 1800s. You can imagine my surprise at this information upon uncovering it, among other things. As I continued to mature and time wore on, my first organic, truly inquisitive exposure to Freemasonry was when, near the end of my time in Washington, D.C., I actually visited the Grand Lodge of the District of Colombia, where I was able to sit down with a gentleman and pick his brain about the fraternity. From that point on, a seed of intrigue was planted.
In the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting various masonic lodges in South Florida after reaching out to them via e-mail. The impression given to me, upon thorough investigation and examination of said lodges, and spending time with Freemasons themselves at dinner, is that for the most part, Freemasons are good men trying to be better. In every sense of the word, Freemasonry is a fraternal organization of men calling one another “brother,” duty-bound to help each other out in a time of need.
Here’s the thing: I know all about the many rumors and conspiracy theories surrounding masonry, but as someone that has personally taken it upon himself to seek out answers not blinded by bias, I’ve reached the conclusion that these so-called theories, linking the fraternity to the occult, devil-worship, or some secret society bent on managing world events in the shadow of international affairs, are absolute nonsense. Freemasonry is no more a threat to society than universal health care.
In fact, Freemasonry is one of the world’s most charitable organizations. Growing up, do you ever remember seeing commercials (or even parades) featuring older gentlemen wearing red fezzes? Those individuals are known as Shriners, an appendant body to Freemasonry, and they are responsible for the many Shriners Hospitals for Children scattered around North America. Speaking of health care, Masonic charitable contributions have made it possible for these hospitals to treat uninsured children dealing with various illnesses and other adverse conditions—completely free of charge.
The Craft: Core Principles
Freemasonry, for as long as the fraternity has been around, encourages a moral way of life from its members, meaning all Masons are duty-bound to be upstanding citizens, fair workers and/or businessmen, charitable, opponents of evil, advocates for the weak and unfortunate, good and kind neighbors, seekers of wisdom and enlightenment, and lovers and servants of God. Think of what other fraternities require. Freemasonry encourages men to think for themselves and not to force their beliefs upon others.
This, to me, is a beautiful thing. However, it should be stated that Freemasonry, for all of the good it’s brought to the world in terms of augmenting faith, hope, and charity, is not for everyone. This, perhaps, is what makes certain people view it as an exclusive, elitist organization. It is not, especially the latter. Indeed, though, there are membership requirements—to be a Mason, a man must believe in a Supreme Being, have a sound reputation (no criminal record), and be over the age of eighteen.
In addition to this, don’t be surprised if the following questions are also asked:
- Do you believe that there is such a thing as honor, and that a man has a responsibility to act with honor in everything he does?
- Are you willing to allow others the same right to their own beliefs that you insist upon yourself?
- Do you believe that you have a responsibility to leave the world a better place than you found it?
- Do you believe that it is not only more blessed to give than to receive, it’s also more fun?
- Are you willing to give help to your Brothers when they need it, and to accept their help when you need it?
- Do you feel that there’s something more to life than financial success?
- Do you believe that a person should strive to be a good citizen and that we have a moral duty to be true to the country in which we live?
- Do you agree that man should show compassion for others, that goodness of heart is among the most important of human values?
- Do you believe that men should strive to live a brotherly life?
If you’ve answered each of these questions in the affirmative (meaning “yes”), there’s a chance Freemasonry might be a good fit for you. All Freemasons, if asked these questions on top of the initial three requirements, have answered “yes,” and done so with all sincerity and honesty. No Freemason will ever solicit you to join the fraternity—joining must be something you want to do on your own accord.
Note: Freemasonry, as it is most commonly known and practiced, is only open to men. While that may be the case, there are, in fact, related Masonic bodies open to women, such as Job’s Daughters, International Order of the Rainbow for Girls, the Order of the Eastern Star, and the Order of the Amaranth. Other bodies that welcome women among their ranks exist within what is called Co-Freemasonry, but most major male Masonic lodges (excepting the Grand Orient of France), do not recognize this practice.
This means that if you are an atheist, Blue Lodge Freemasonry as we know it in the United States is not for you. The rules are different, for example, within the Grand Orient of France, where belief in a Supreme Being is not mandatory. This is one of the reasons why recognition between the two obediences are at question. As this explanation extends beyond my understanding, more information can be learned about that particular situation here. In the meantime, let’s move on.
Visiting A Masonic Lodge
Becoming a member of a Masonic lodge and seeking the degrees of Freemasonry are surprisingly much simpler than one would have you believe. Simply reach out to a Masonic lodge in your area, accept an invite to dinner (held twice monthly on a specified day, according to that particular lodge’s calendar), and sup with them before their lodge meetings convene. Once those meetings begin, you will be excused as such meetings are not open to non-Master Masons (and definitely not non-Masons).
But know this—there are ample opportunities to enter the lodge and even look around the room known as Solomon’s Temple itself, where the meetings themselves take place. Blue Lodge Masons are typically very open and will likely even invite you to take a look around the room. The hospitality that you will be shown is likely to surprise even the most biased of anti-Masonic thinkers. The work they do isn’t some clandestine, malevolent matter. Seeking this sort of confirmation will leave you disappointed.
Get to know the Masons at the lodge. Introduce yourself. Interact with the men there at dinner. Masons come from a variety of different walks of life, as did the Masons of old. As with society, the men you will meet and dine with will have many different careers, religions, and even political beliefs—but know this: as it is stated in terms of etiquette, religion and politics are the two things not discussed at the dinner table in polite company, and you will not hear such things discussed at lodge. Masons make this clear.
Freemasonry is a fraternal organization, not a religion. It uses religious texts as moral codes and its rituals are inspired by Old Testament Biblical history, such as Solomon’s Temple and other matters. The Supreme Being, or Grand Architect of the Universe, is whichever god the individual Mason prays to—Yahweh/Jehovah for the Judaeo-Christian Mason, Allah for the Muslim Mason, and so on. Freemasonry has no defined god, and is not a religious organization. This matter is stressed especially.
Freemasonry welcomes men of all beliefs, faiths, and creeds into its fraternity. Freemasonry, as a fraternity, is not in the business of establishing a plan for salvation or special access to the afterlife. How many fraternities even do this? Yes, the fraternity begins and ends all meetings with a meditative prayer, one that does not offend any believer in a Supreme Being. This moment allows Masons to center themselves by first seeking their god’s guidance prior to work. Freemasonry is rooted in the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God, and always has been.
Joining The Brotherhood
Over time, as you continue to get to know the Masons at the lodge, the opportunity will arise to request a petition for membership. With this petition will come an application and background check fee. In most Masonic jurisdictions, you will usually need two Masons to co-sign your petition, as well as [usually] three references. Once you complete this petition, your candidacy will begin. Be patient. During this time, keep visiting this lodge and getting to know the brothers there. Let the process work.
Ask as many questions of the brothers there as you can. For the most part, they will answer your questions to the best of their ability, as they were once in your shoes. The best advice you will likely receive regarding candidacy is to approach this process with an open mind. Remember that going into anything with an unfair/unfounded bias will ruin your experience of it. Think of a first-year law student assuming law school is an episode of How To Get Away With Murder. You can imagine reality’s surprise.
In the meantime, your petition will be reviewed by the lodge, and your background check will be processed. From what I understand, the lodge’s worshipful master (a title originating out of a more ancient English, used to address those deemed worthy of reverence or respect, such as judges) will assign a committee to oversee your petition. Next, you will have the opportunity to interview with a few of the Masons, and a house visit will be scheduled, the latter being an important one for a few reasons.
The house visit is important because your potential brothers will want to get to know you and your family better, whether that’s just you living as a bachelor, your family, or just your spouse. This will be an ideal opportunity for your family to get a better understanding of Freemasonry from Masons themselves. I’ve found that negative biases are often rooted out of ignorance, and there’s no better way for people to clear out any preconceived notions than by meeting the whom are the target of such theories.
Ultimately, Freemasonry has no interest in disrupting families, so if your spouse is not on board, Masonry will have to either wait until your spouse agrees, or this will not be the right path. But that usually isn’t the case once clear minds are had and thoughtful questions are answered. Once everything is completed (meaning the petition, interview, visit, and background check), the time will come for the lodge to vote on your petition for membership. This is what determines if you are accepted as a Mason.
If this vote—which must be unanimous—is such, congratulations! You have joined the oldest and largest brotherhood in the world! From there, you will undergo an initiation ceremony and begin preparing the first degree, which is the Earned Apprentice, followed by the second and third—each known as the Fellowcraft and Master Mason degrees, respectively. You’ve likely heard of the latter before. These degrees, as any Mason will tell you, will require time, discipline, and dedication to pass through.
Unlike the fraternities you may have likely heard about in college, Freemasonry involves absolutely no hazing. Every Mason I’ve spoken to regarding initiation and degrees has said the same thing—that each degree, each process, is a lot of fun for the petitioner-turned-Mason. These degrees are solemn rituals that instill the very moral lessons that all Masons hold near and dear to their hearts. Horseplay is for children, and Masons make it very clear that the petitioner-turned-Mason is surrounded by a fraternity of brothers and friends throughout his entire journey.
Upon becoming a Master Mason, you will be able to visit most lodges around the world and sit in on lodge meetings, provided your dues remain current and you are able to demonstrate your membership. This is where the reality of being a member of the world’s largest and oldest fraternal organization really starts to take root—no matter where you go in the world, the square and compasses will be as an embassy of friendship and brotherhood for you, the traveler. It’s an ode to the past in many ways.
But let me return to the voting process for a moment. If, for whatever reason, even one person submits a vote against you, you will not be escorted into the lodge as a member. This, I’m told, such no votes are rare, especially if you fit the criteria required to practice Freemasonry and get along well with the members of that particular lodge. In the event that this takes place, however, you will have to wait six months before petitioning again, at that lodge or any other within the Blue Lodge’s jurisdiction.
The Craft: Explained
Freemasonry is not a fraternal organization for those seeking certain perks or whatever conspiracy theory the organization continues to be burdened with. If this is what you seek when attempting to obtain membership, you will find yourself unsatisfied by this organization and what it offers to its members. Freemasonry is not for those seeking material wealth or improved sociopolitical standing. This will be stressed to you and any other candidate seeking membership.
It is obvious to me, that after visiting with Masons from both Blue and Prince Hall lodges, that Freemasonry isn’t some secret cult where shadowy figures assemble to change the course of world history or whatever the latest conspiracy theory will have you believe. After thorough investigation, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Freemasonry is not some secret society—it is the world’s largest and oldest fraternity, an organization where good men want to become better, and continue to seek that.
Of course, there is the question about Masonic secrets. What about the secrets of Freemasonry? Sure, there are certain passwords, handshakes, and signs that only Freemasons of varying levels know. If you’re not a member of the fraternity, certain matters or discussions are none of your business, nor will they concern you. In fact, not only will they concern you, you likely won’t even understand what it is you’re even hearing. This is to be expected.
Here’s one way to look at it: imagine that you’re opening an Algebra book for the first time back in high school and flipping all the way back to one of the later chapters. You’ll likely have no earthly idea what you’re reading, or what their purpose is. Those symbols there might as well be Mandarin as far as you’re concerned (assuming you, the reader, don’t already know Mandarin). You’d have to become one to understand.
When I worked at The White House under President Barack Obama, there were certain conversations taking place up there that were—indeed—none of my business. Such does not automatically make said conversations or topics evil by default. What this is is simply a mere matter of privacy among brothers, the same way I wasn’t allowed into The Situation Room during my time with the Obama Administration. Unfortunately, we have become a society where not being privy to something means there is a sinister reason behind it. We often fear that which we don’t know.
To tell you the truth, if you really searched long and hard online, you could probably figure out the different grips and meanings beyond certain symbols within Freemasonry, but as I said above, you probably won’t understand it, and expecting some sort of world-changing uncovering will more than likely leave you disappointed. I suppose this is for those of you that cannot resist finding out for whatever reason. Go for it, detectives, but for those of you seeking to join the fraternity, it’s best to learn degrees naturally and organically. It will mean more.
I don’t know of any evil organizations or secret societies out there. The secrets hidden within Freemasonry are not evil, sinister, or satanic/demonic. Were that the case, there would have likely been a mass exodus of members, especially in the Western World, where most religious men are adherents of an Abrahamic faith, be it Christianity, Islam, or Judaism. Hopefully this soothes whatever fears you may have had about the Freemasons. It certainly did for me, especially upon learning more.
Long ago, there was a time when Masons, like many other groups, were persecuted for simply being a fraternity. Ignorance of something often turns into hostility towards that thing. Nazis persecuted Masons during World War II. Because of these storied episodes of persecution, Masons had to identify one another under cover of secrecy in order to protect one another’s lives. These methods of identification were certain phrases, handshakes, and questions that only Masons would know. If I were to put it simply—family matters are for family ears only. We can all relate.
The Craft: Moving Forward
To conclude, let’s recap—
- Freemasonry is the world’s oldest and largest fraternity.
- In fact, Freemasonry can trace itself as far back as the Regius Poem of 1390, and is based on legends arising out of Solomon’s Temple millenia ago and a man named Hiram Abiff, King Solomon’s chief architect; the fraternity has maintained itself throughout the ages by holding to the same traditions carried forth by like-minded, though progressive, individuals, all seeking the same thing—enlightenment through the Brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God, and to do as much good in the world by making good men better through daily growth and self-improvement.
- Freemasonry is among the world’s most charitable organizations.
- In fact, Freemasonry has donated billions to many different charities worldwide, both publicly and privately (Freemasons don’t brag about this).
- Freemasonry’s had, within its ranks, many famous historical figures.
- In fact, Freemasonry has up to 14 U.S. Presidents, multiple founding fathers (of multiple nations), and many other historical figures and leaders throughout world history; the brotherhood is home to great men, and Freemasonry’s teachings have helped.
- Freemasonry has six million members scattered throughout the world.
- In fact, Freemasonry does not actively recruit individuals to join; men must desire membership on their own accord prior to seeking the degrees, and there are lodges/jurisdictions located all around the world that recognize one another.
- Freemasonry’s not a religion, nor does it conflict with an individual’s faith.
- In fact, all men seeking the degrees of Freemasonry must profess belief in a supreme being, whomever that supreme being happens to be, not have a criminal record (or negative reputation), among certain other philosophical interests (such as personal responsibility, righteousness, and the means by which one can actively apply these things to one’s life); it has been said that, for example: to be a better Freemason, one must be a better Christian (if Christianity is the Mason’s professed religious belief)—the two go hand-in-hand, the fraternity encouraging better faith.
- Freemasonry’s been targeted by rumors and conspiracy theories for centuries.
- In fact, these rumors and conspiracy theories have cast a dark light on the fraternity, so much so that it has been the target of persecution at hands of the Catholic Church, Nazis, and authoritarian leaders throughout history, and negative public perceptions relating to nonsensical occult myths, each of them debunked on multiple occasions; Freemasonry’s secrets have more to do with the manner in which many of the same philosophies on good, honest, honorable, fair, and clean living that you can easily find in the world’s other religions are taught or shared.
Are you curious about or interested in Freemasonry like I was? If so, find a Mason and simply ask. Express interest. Reach out to a nearby lodge, many of whom are easily available online via a very simple Google search. Send them an e-mail. Give the lodge a phone call. Write them a letter. This is what I was able to do, and I am happy to have many of the answers I did not have before. This was what helped me cure my ignorance. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and has been throughout the ages.
You never know—you might even find yourself drawn to the Masonic order. It’s interesting that no one I know really talks much about Freemasonry, which could explain the decline in Blue Lodge membership over the last few years. I imagine the National Treasure films didn’t help much to dispel whatever rumors and conspiracy theories may still be out there. Freemasonry is the world’s largest and oldest fraternity, wrought with rich history and many famous members. Hopefully, this helped clear up some of the ignorance spreading around the internet.
For more information, here are some frequently asked questions.
Knowledge is power.