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    I. Group Profile

    1. Name: Freemasons
    2. Founder: No specific founder
    3. Date of Birth: Not applicable
    4. Birth Place: Not Applicable
    5. Year Founded:
    The first Grand Lodge of England was founded in 1717, marking the founding of the modern era of Freemasonry.
    1. History:
    Freemasons can be traced back to medieval times when stonemasons formed guilds and unions, but some sources trace them back even further. Freemason legend dates their fraternity back to the building of King Solomon's temple in the Bible. The project, so legend has it, was so large that it required the stonemasons to organize themselves into groups and classes with distinct responsibilities. There is no concrete evidence of Masonry in ancient times, however. (Darrah, 63-4).
    Scholars also speculate that Freemasonry has connections with the Greek and Roman mysteries, which were rites of entering their religions and kept secret upon penalty of death. It is suggested that the founders of the Masons had knowledge of the secrets of the Mysteries and used them to help form Freemasonry (Casavis, 53).
    There is written evidence of the Masons dating back to the fourteenth century. In the Middle Ages stonemasons and architects were an elite class who could travel between countries, unlike serfs who had restrictions on their travel. They called themselves "free" because of this. The Masons were responsible for building beautiful structures across Europe, especially the cathedrals. Until the sixteenth century, Masons were simply craftsmen learning the operative art of masonry in guilds and unions (Mackey and McClennachan, 744-750).
    In the beginning of the seventeenth century, union membership began to decline, and elite and prominent members of society were allowed in as "patrons of the Fraternity" and later as "accepted masons." (This is where the term "Free and Accepted Masons" comes from.) By the end of the seventeenth century a great change had occurred; the accepted masons outnumbered the actual stonemasons in the unions, and their discussion had turned from aspects of the actual trade to moral philosophy (Durrah, 90-92).
    Masonry also borrowed a mystical aspect from the many mystical societies of medieval Europe, Many people were involved in these groups in Europe in the Middle Ages. When political freedom came to Europe, many of these groups were disbanded, but the esoteric interest in mysticism continued. Many people joined Freemasonry because of their interest in mysticism (Spence, 174-175).
    In 1717, modern Masonry was founded with the first Grand Lodge in England. Early in its history this lodge was challenged by lodges that formed in other parts of the British Isles. They are called the Ancient Masons (Pick and Knight, 88). Although the two groups were fused together in the United Grand Lodge of England by 1813, the initial split caused the diversity of Lodges in the United States and beyond.
    The first American Lodges were chartered by British Lodges, but as time went on American Lodges also began chartering new Lodges. The predominant form of Masonry in America today is Blue Lodge Masonry or the Craft (Dumenil, 9). There are discrepancies in the rituals and regulations of the different Lodges of the U. S. and around the world, but this report will focus on Blue Lodge Masonry, unless otherwise specified, since it is the most common in the U. S.
    1. Sacred or Revered Texts:
    The Bible is the "Volume of Sacred Law" of most Western Lodges. It is one of the three objects comprising "The Three Great Lights," the most common and important Masonic symbol, which must be displayed while Lodges meet. The other objects are the compass and the square, and the sacred volume, which does not have to be the Bible. It may be whatever scripture is revered by the members of the Lodge (Hamil, 151).
    1. Cult or Sect:
    Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.
    1. Size of Group:
    The Freemasons are the worlds largest fraternal organization. They reached their highest membership in the 1950's. Today there are approximately five million masons worldwide, with half of their population in Lodges in the United States.

    II. Beliefs of the Group

      Freemasonry is not a religion. It is a fraternal order, although many Christian ideas and ideals are important to the Masons and are incorporated in their rituals. To become a Mason one must ask a friend in the Lodge to recommend him, sign a petition stating name, age, occupation, and place of residence, and all the members must vote unanimously on the acceptance. The requirement for membership is a belief in one non-specific Supreme Being.

      Freemasonry's basic tenets are:

      1. brotherly love (tolerance, respect, kindness and understanding of others, especially to their Masonic Brothers)
      2. relief (caring for the whole community through philanthropy)
      3. truth (morals)

      These basic tenets, when followed, should achieve a higher standard of life for the Masons. Masons build character by contact with the company and shared morals of their "Brothers" (fellow members). Masonry is said to take good men and make them better. It has religious undertones because of this stress on morality. Since Freemasonry is a fraternity, it also stresses the fellowship and enjoyable company of its brothers in social activities such as dinners, picnics, card/chess matches, lectures on Masonic history, etc.

      Masons are restricted from talking about religion or politics in the Lodges because these are controversial topics known to divide men (Dumenil, 22). Having a religion is encouraged, although there is no specific one recommended. Christianity, however, seems to prevail in the US.

      There is a set hierarchy of Lodges. In the United States there is a Grand Lodge in every state that has jurisdiction over all of the Lodges in the state. The jurisdiction of a Lodge determines its exact beliefs and rules. There is no higher authority than the Grand Lodge of a state. Lodges have monthly meetings called "Business Meetings" for the Master Masons.

      There are three levels that joining Masons must advance through by memorizing a small amount of material that varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The levels are called degrees. The first degree is Entered Apprentice, the second, Fellow Craft, and the third is Master Mason. The head of the Lodge is called the Worshipful Master. Becoming a Master Mason usually takes a few months in the United States, but a mandatory three years in England.

      Medieval tools of Masons are still used today to symbolize important ideas of the Masons and as important parts of Masonic Ritual. An example is the level. All Brothers meet on the same level, and are equals. Other symbols can be traced to pagan and Christian religons.

      There is also much symbolism in the degrees of masonry. The three degrees represent a three story temple. When initiating a member, the Lodge is supposed to represent the ground floor of King Solomon's temple. The ground floor symbolizes the initiate's psychological connection with the material world. He is told that there are upper floors of the temple that symbolize his unconscious and as he advances in degrees he will advance psychologically in the understanding of his unconscious. The second Degree ceremony is held, figuratively in the middle chamber of the temple, symbolizing the soul. The third degree ceremony meets in the entrance of the Holy of Holies which has connection with the Spirit.

      Freemasonry is known for its ornate rituals. One of the most interesting is the ceremony in which an initiate becomes a Master Mason. In the first phase of the ceremony the initiate must swear to many things including allegiance to God and his fellow Masons. When he thinks he has completed the ceremony and become a Master Mason, his real initiation begins. He is blindfolded and has to act out the part of Hiram Abiff, the murdered master in a legend of the building of King Solomon's temple. There is much action wherein the initiate must refuse to divulge the secrets of the Masons (as Hiram did) and is murdered (hit down) and wrapped in a sheet. At the end, the five points of fellowship are explained to him, along with many Masonic symbols.

      The Masons are said to have secrets and are even called a secret society by many sources. Much controversy from anti-Masonic groups circles around these secrets. In the Middle Ages stonemasons had secrets about their trade that they jealously guarded. These, however, do not seem to be the secrets of Masons today. Freemasons themselves claim not to be a secret society, because membership is not a secret and their constitution, rules, aims, and principles are not secret. The secrets seem to be the mysticism that Freemasonry includes in its tradition. These include upholding the debunked sciences such as alchemy and astrology that were important to the fraternity in medieval times. Although they are understood as false today, they are very significant parts of history, and Masons realize this and keep the mysticism alive. Much of the mystical secrets of Masonry are not understood by its members today; they have not joined for partaking in these secrets, but for fraternity (Spence, 175). The secrets are supposed to be revealed to an individual Mason as he starts to probe his unconscious and understand it.

      There are many off-shoots of and groups associated with Blue Lodge Masonry. Some are very similar to Masonry, and some are groups for family members of Masons, including women. The Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR) is actually accepted as a Masonic group, enabling members to go extra degrees, four through thirty-two, to become a Master Mason. A man must be a Master Mason (gone through the third degree) before joining the Scottish Rite. A thirty-third degree also exists and is bestowed on outstanding Masons. (Pick and Knight, 286).

      Similarly, the York Rite, is made up of four Masonic groups, the Craft, Royal Arch, Royal and Select Master, and the Knights Templar and consists of nine more possible degrees than Craft Masonry. The top degrees of the York Rite are the Temple degrees which require the member to swear a specifically Christian oath. In some Lodges, this does not mean that the member must be a Christian, he must just be willing to swear a Christian oath (defending the right to any religion in general, although people of other religions may understandably not want to do this) (Pick and Knight, 282-285).

      The Shrine is not a real Masonic body, although their complete title, the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles the Mystic Shrine for North America, is an anagram for "A MASON." It was founded in 1872 and has an Arabic theme. They are known to be pleasure seekers but are still moral, and also emphasize philanthropy (Pick and Knight, 287-288).

      The Eastern Star was founded in 1850 and is a group for Master Masons or people properly related to Master Masons, including women. The relation can be wife, widow, sister, daughter, mother, granddaughter, step-mother, step-daughter, step-sister, half sister, and recently, nieces, daughters-in-law, and grandmothers. There are eighteen offices in each chapter, some filled by men, but mostly by women. The presiding officer is the Worthy Matron. The requirement for membership is a belief in a Supreme Being, although the New and Old Testaments are both part of the five degrees. This makes the Eastern Star a particularly Christian group (Pick and Knight, 288-289).

      DeMolay is a group for young men ages thirteen to twenty-one and is sponsored by Masonic Lodges. They are similar to Masons and teach seven cardinal virtues of filial love, reverence for sacred things, courtesy, comradeship, fidelity, cleanliness, and patriotism. DeMolay's are supposed to apply these virtues to their everyday lives (Pick and Knight, 289).

      Rainbow is a group for girls eleven to twenty, similar to DeMolay. Unlike Job's Daughters, Rainbow girls are not required to have relative who is a member in order to join ( There are two levels to pass through (Pick and Knight, 289).

      Job's Daughters is a group founded in 1920 comprising descendants of Master Masons ages eleven to twenty 1. Their lessons concentrate on the book of Job with particular attention to the forty-second chapter, fifteenth verse (Pick and Knight, 289).

      Prince Hall Masonry was founded by a free black man, Prince Hall, during the American Revolution. A few black men were originally part of Army Lodge #441, and later applied to the Grand Lodge of England for a charter. They received it and were called African Lodge #459. They were not invited to join with other Massachusetts lodges when they combined, so in 1827 they renamed themselves African Grand Lodge #1. Many Lodges today trace their origin to this Lodge. Their beliefs are similar to that of the Freemasons (Pick and Knight, 291-292).

      Some other groups that are off-shoots of the Freemasons are Acacia, Order of Amaranth, Daughters of Mokanna, Daughters of the Nile, Desoms, Grotto, High Twelve International, The Ladies' Oriental Shrine of North America, National Sojourners, Inc., Philalethes, Royal Order of Scotland, Tall Cedars of Lebanon, and White Shrine of Jerusalem. There are also two Grand Lodges of Co-Masonry in the United States. These Lodges admit women as well as men and function similarly to regular Masonic Lodges with some extra degrees.

    III. Contemporary Issues/Controversies

      There are many controversies surrounding the history of the Freemasons. Much of this controversy stems from the secretive nature of the Masons. Many prominent figures including founding fathers and presidents have been Masons, and in some cases Freemasons have been accused of giving other Masons unfair advantages in job promotion, and also controlling decisions in government by being a sort of underground government themselves. And people today sometimes join the Freemasons in order to advance in their jobs (Dumenil, 23).

      One of the most controversial times in Masonic history in the United States was the 1820's. In 1826 Captain William Morgan, a Mason, was going to publish a book of Masonic secrets. The printers shop was set on fire by local Masons and Morgan disappeared, allegedly captured by them and put to death. Many different versions of this story are circulating. The Masons say that it is untrue that Morgan was murdered, and that he fled to Canada. Anti-Masonic groups say that his body was found a year later in a harbor and identified by his wife and dentist. Other accounts say that his body was never found. Whatever the truth, this scene caused a lot of anti-Masonic sentiment. There was even an anti-Masonic presidential candidate in the 1820's (Mackey and McClenachen, 508).

      Masons are blamed for scores of things. President John Quincy Adams blamed the Masons when he was not re-elected and Mason Andrew Jackson was. There are writings linking the Freemasons to President Lincoln's assassination, beliefs of Nazi Germany, the murder of Pope John Paul I, establishing the Ku Klux Klan, the Jack the Ripper Murders in England, the JFK assassination conspiracy, and many others. Most of these accounts do not seem to have much well supported evidence.

      There has also been much controversy surrounding the bloody language of Masonic oaths. The penalties for telling Masonic secrets include tearing one's tongue out by the roots, plucking one's heart from its breast, and having one's body cut in two with the entrails burned to ashes. This language has spawned much anti-Masonic sentiment.

      Some Christian groups, especially Catholics and Methodists, are historically opposed to Masonry. The bloody oaths and secrets caused the Roman Catholics to ban membership to Freemasonry and the Methodists to denounce it. Christians have also been very disturbed by Masonry's mixing of pagan and Christian beliefs. The compass and square which, along with the Christian Bible, form the Three Great Lights of Masonry, represent pagan solar gods. There are many other possible examples of mixing religions, which disturbs some members of Evangelical Christian churches (Cambell, 75-76).

      A recent controversy involves the history of the Freemasons. A few sources say that Freemasons did not develop out of Medieval stonemason unions, but emerged from the Knights of the Templar, a privileged class of soldier monks in Medieval Europe. The Knights were attacked by many authorities for their knowledge of the Muslim and Jewish religions, and in 1307, King Philippe IV of France ordered their arrest and a raid of their preceptories. They supposedly escaped to Scotland with all of their treasures and these scholars say that Freemasonry evolved from the Knights Templar traditions. These ideas are offered instead of the stonemason history that the Freemasons claim (Baigent).

    IV. Links to Freemason Web Sites

      A Page About Freemasonry
      This is the most comprehensive site about Freemasonry I have found. It includes almost anything you would want to know about the Masons: history, facts, and links to other sites.

      What is Freemasonry?
      This is a good basic site for people who do not know much about the Masons. It includes short blurbs of information on membership qualification, religion, the three great principles, charity, and Freemasonry and society, politics and Masonic bodies.

      This site is designed by Masons "to serve the needs of 21st century Freemasonry," and includes services to host Masonic Lodge sites, information about the Philalethes Society (a research society for Masonic knowledge), a list of Masonic books and articles from Philalethes magazine, and links to many Masonic sites.

      Masonic Civilization
      This is an introductory article to a thematic issue of Gnosis written by editor Richard Smoley. This article discusses the two theories of Masonic origin and argues for the Templar version. It also discusses the influence of Freemasonry on society today, and addresses Masonic spirituality and secrets. You can also view the table of contents of this issue. Back issue of this periodical are available from the publisher.

      Famous Freemasons
      A long alphabetical list of names of famous Freemasons and what they are famous for.

      How to Become a Mason
      This site even has a form to complete to send to your local Lodge for information on joining the Masons.

      Page of Reason
      This page is sponsored by the Freemasons as a place for Masons to put up well researched and documented essays. There is a very good one on the history of Freemasonry.

      The Relationship to Other Religons
      Information on Freemasonry's connection to other religions.

      Books on Freemasonry
      Information on Freemasonry's connection to other religions.

      Answering Chompsky's Challenge
      A page dedicated to the Freemason's alleged part of the JFK conspiracy.

      The Question of Freemasonry
      This is a good example of an "anti-cult" page. On this very extensive page, Harmon R. Taylor develops his argument for the proposition that Freemasonry is contrary to Christian doctrine. and Purpose of the Freemasons and other Secret Societies

      International Order of Rainbow
      Official home page of the international organization.


    V. Bibliography

      Ankerberg, John and John Weldon. 1990.
      The Secret Teachings of the Masonic Lodge. Chicago: Moody Press.
      Baigent, Michael and Richard Leigh. 1989.
      The Temple and the Lodge. New York: Arcade Publishing, Inc.
      Brown, Adrian Brown, 1980.
      History of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. Alexandria, VA: The George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association.
      Cambell, Ron. "Unearthing the Mysteries of Masonry."
      Charisma. November 1997.
      Casavis, J. N. 1955.
      The Greek Origin of Freemasonry. New York: The Square Press.
      Darrah, Delmar Duane. 1954.
      History and Evolution of Freemasonry. Chicago: The Charles T. Powner Co.
      Dumenil, Lynn. 1984.
      Freemasonry and American Culture 1880-1930. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
      Ferguson, John. 1977.
      An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mysticism and the Mystery Religions. New York: The Seabury Press.
      Hamil, John. 1986.
      The Craft: A History of English Freemasonry. Great Britain: Aquarian Press.
      Horne, Alex. 1988. (First published in 1972)
      King Solomon's Temple in the Masonic Tradition. England: Aquarian Press.
      Hutchinson, William. 1987. (First published in 1775)
      The Spirit of Masonry. England: The Aquarian Press.
      Knight, Stephen. 1976.
      Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution. London: Harrap.
      Knight, Stephen. 1984.
      The Brotherhood. New York: Stein and Day.
      Lennhoff, Eugen. 1978. (First published in English, translated from German, in 1934)
      The Freemasons. London: A Lewis (Masonic Publishers) LTD.
      Mackey, Albert G. 1996.
      The History of Freemasonry: Its Legendary Origins. New York: Gramercy Books (a Division of Random House).
      Mackey, Albert G., M.D. and Charles T. McClenachen. 1894.
      An Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts and Co.
      MacNulty, W. Kirk. 1991.
      Freemasonry. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
      Oliver, George. 1986. (First published in 1864)
      The Book of the Lodge. England: The Aquarian Press.
      Piatigorsky, Alexander. 2000.
      Freemasonry: A Study of a Phenomenon. London: Harvill.
      Pick, Fred L. and Norman Knight (revised by G. Norman Knight and Frederick Smyth, 1977). 1953.
      The Pocket History of Freemasonry. London: Frederick Muller Limited.
      Robinson, John J. 1989.
      Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry. New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc.
      Smoley, Richard. 1997
      Masonic Civilization. Gnosis, #44: 254-31. [This issue of Gnosis is devoted exclusively to Freemasonary. Only the above article in on line, but the full contents of the issue is available.]
      Spence, Lewis. 1988.
      The Encyclopedia of the Occult. London: Bracken Books.
      Waite, Arthur Edward. 1976.
      The New Encyclopedia of Freemasonary. New York: Weathervane Books. New and Revised Edition, 2 Volumes.
      Whalen, William J. 1998.
      Christianity and American Freemasonry. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 3rd Edition.
    1. Videotape:
      1. A Tour of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association, 101 Callahan Dr., Alexandria, VA 22301.

    Reference Notes

    1. International Order of Job's Daughters, States: "Girls between the ages of 11 and 20 years of age who are direct descendants of a Master Mason, adopted daughter by law, step-daughters, step-granddaughters, sisters, half sisters, step-sisters, sisters-in-law, nieces, grandnieces, or first or second cousins of a Master Mason or so related to his wife or widow, or who are daughters, step-daughters, granddaughters or step-granddaughters of Majority Members, shall be eligible for membership." Thanks to Bill LeVeque, Master Mason, and Webmaster of International Order of Job's Daughters for this information.


    Created by Gretchen Arndt
    For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
    Fall Term, 1997
    University of Virginia
    Last modified: 10/06/01