What is Freemasonry?
In many of our varied rituals, this very question is not only posed, but answered – in a way that leaves much open: 'Freemasonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols'.
It is also described as a progressive science: 'science' in its etymologically correct sense of 'knowledge'; and 'progressive' in part referring to the movement through several degrees through which the candidate improves. Being progressive, it strives towards a goal, at times referred to as Aletheia: Truth, unveiled by the light of Logos (reason).
The moral or ethical dimension of Freemasonry, and its seeking to assist not only the development of the individual, but of the individual within society, results in numerous social philanthropic improvements being undertaken.
With regard to this ethical and, inevitably, practical dimension of Freemasonry, Rudolf Steiner's description of Freemasonry seems apt:
If you should ask me what is the essence of Freemasonry I should have to answer in abstract terms: it is a body whose members think of things that are going to be of benefit to the world several centuries before they become actuality.
R. Steiner, 2nd Jan. 1906 (quoted in Freemasonry and Ritual Work, p133)
Forms of Freemasonry and a brief historical sketch
There are various forms of Freemasonry, yet also something more ephemeral that unites the various Masonic constitutions — even when these do not mutually give each other formal recognition.
Let me also state unequivocally that Freemasonry is not exclusive to men, even if many constitutions exclude women simply on grounds of gender (an aspect that reflects no more than 19th century mores). It should be explicitly noted that a significant number of constitutions are co-masonic (with ever more becoming so especially on the continent of Europe), allowing amongst its members men and women on an equal footing; whilst others are restricted to women (in large part, it seems, out of a historical response to their exclusion in other constitutions). On the exclusion of women as a claimed 'Landmark' of the Order, Cf Bro Philip Carter's "Albert Through the Looking Glass".
Freemasonry provides the foundations and continuation of much that is both occidental and esoteric.
Though it has its solid established foundation in mediaeval craft guilds, it has, on the one hand, antecedents in Roman mystery traditions, and from there to both Greek and Egyptian influences, and on the other to Mediæval Christian Orders of the Roman Catholic Church.
Having said this, it has also, in many ways, shed some of these overt influences in its emergence as independent organisations around the end of the 17th century C.E., with major influence from liberal thinkers of the times and the establishment of scientific societies in especially England and France. The watershed of modern Freemasonry occurs with the establishment, in 1717, of the Grand Lodge in London by four existing Lodges. With Anderson's constitutions in the ensuing decades, we have the basis for much that Freemasonry has become (though of course earlier texts, such as the Regius Manuscript, are also considered by Andersonians as important documents). In some way, the external structure of modern Freemasonry can be viewed as established at this point in time, a lens in time that re-focusses the occidental initiatic impulse.
Relationship between Freemasonry and religion
As mentioned above, Freemasonry arises as an institution both within a context that is at once permeated by Christianity, whilst at the same time formalised in a milieu that sees Christian factions at war with each other. In addition, the first western seedlings of atheism (at the time 'veiled' as deism) arises in philosophical writings and in the formation of the Royal Society. If nothing else, Freemasonry was, in the early parts of the 18th century, one of the few places where people with divergent denominational views would be able to meet as equals or 'on the level'.
Between the struggles that resulted with the second Grand Lodge in England (that of the 'Antients', established with the support of the Irish and Scottish GLs), the premier GL in England re-introduced a more religious orientation to its rules and rituals. By this stage, on the Continent of Europe, and especially in France, the more liberal orientation of the first GL in England had already established its influence and proceeded, un-marred by a return to a more religious mindframe that was taking place in England.
To be sure, some constitutions have retained a Christian requirement for membership (especially in Scandinavia), others (most) have adopted a broader Andersonian perspective (belief in a supreme being — whatever this is and however viewed), and yet others have adopted a more secular liberalist (or 'laïc') approach that one's belief is solely a matter for one's conscience – something that seems more in line with the impulse working itself in the 1717 London GL.
My personal preference certainly sides with the liberalist view, irrespective of my own personal religious views. Freemasonry itself espouses no religion, even if much of its ritual in most (but not all) constitutions reflects its inheritence through the Old Testament and the symbolic building of King Solomon's Temple.
If asked if one can be a Christian and a Freemason, I would proclaim without any reservations that this is indeed the case. Can one be of another religion and be a Freemason? Again, yes, though one needs to remember that it is likely that the rituals used will reflect aspects of the Biblical account of the first Temple in Jerusalem as understood and read within Christian lands. The occidental esoteric tradition, as western society generally, has long been syncretised with the living impulse of the Judeo-Christian view — even if this has at times been only an undercurrent within a more overtly secular society.
Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth vs Freedom, Equality, and Fraternity (Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité)
These triplets are used to characterise Freemasonry. Whereas in English speaking countries the first set is more common, the second set (also forming part of the French post-revolution era's call) is used in most European Lodges.
There is, to my reflections at any rate, a very close connection between these. Liberty (Freedom, Freheit, etc.) closely connects to Truth, and in turn to a dimension of the Social Order that Rudolf Steiner terms the Spiritual realm (which includes the arts and education). Brotherly Love and Fraternity have such a close rapport even in name that here what is being called forth is the Agape and Philos found in the realm of work whereby each of our individual engagements in the production of goods and its distribution leads to mutual support. Relief and Egalité (Equality) reflect the judicial-political spectrum, whereby a well-structured society includes measures which ensure balances and equitability within the social fabric.
Why become a Freemason?
Why did I even create this heading!?
If one wants to work within an occidental initiatic path, be actively involved in esoteric pursuits and participate in society, Freemasonry remains a foundation stone.
It is also fair to state that what draws others to Freemasonry is as diverse as there are members. For each Freemason what tends to develop as a consequence of participation is a sense of brotherhood, a deepening of one's personal religious views, a broader tolerance towards one's fellow human being and an increased care for the betterment of the world.
How does one join Freemasonry?
Ask. If you do not know any Freemason, check the resources and links page.
I have also prepared a page on what can generally be expected in most places: Becoming a Freemason
For other pages on Freemasonry within this site:
> go to home page: freemasonry tab