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Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Canada in the Province of Ontario
WHAT IS FREEMASONRY?
Freemasonry is the oldest and largest world wide fraternity dedicated to the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of a Supreme Being. Although of a religious nature, Freemasonry is not a religion. It urges its members, however, to be faithful and devoted to their own religious beliefs.
The organization of Freemasonry is based on a system of Grand Lodges, each sovereign within its own territory. There is no central authority governing all Grand Lodges. However, to be acknowledged by others, acceptable traditions, standards and practices must be maintained.
In our Province the governing body is called the Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of Ontario. It is under the leadership of a Grand Master. He presides over the 75,000 Masons who belong to one or more of the 647 lodges in our jurisdiction. Each of these lodges is under the direction of a Master.
WHAT IT DOES
As a fraternity, Freemasonry provides an opportunity for men to meet and enjoy friendly companionship. In the spirit of helpfulness and brotherly love and guided by strict moral principles it encourages goodwill toward all mankind. Freemasonry is of a personal nature in its private ceremonies. Its ritual dramatizes a philosophy of life based on morality. It promotes self improvement. The tools of operative masons are used to symbolize and teach the basic principles of brotherly love, charity, and truth which Masons are encouraged to practice in their daily lives. Charity is a tangible way in which Masons help those whose circumstances in life fairly warrant it.
Our traditions can be traced directly to the associations of operative masons. They were men of outstanding character and high ideals, who built the cathedrals, abbeys, and castles of the Middle Ages.
With the decline of cathedral building in the 17th Century, many guilds of stonemasons, called "Operative" masons, started to accept into their membership those who were not members of the masons' craft and called them "Speculative" or "Accepted" masons.
It was in these groups, called lodges, comprised mainly of "Accepted" masons that Freemasonry, as we know it today, had its beginning.
In 1717, four such lodges, which had been meeting regularly in London, united to form the first Grand Lodge of England under the direction of a Grand Master. From that first Grand Lodge, Freemasonry has spread throughout the world. Today, some 150 Grand Lodges have a total membership of approximately four million Masons.
One of Freemasonry's customs is not to solicit members. However, anyone should feel free to approach any Mason to seek further information about the Craft.
Membership is for men, 21 years of age or older, who meet the qualifications and standards of character and reputation, who are of good moral character, and who believe in the existence of a supreme being.
A man who wants to join a lodge must be recommended for by two members of that lodge. He must understand that his character will be investigated. After approval by the members of that lodge, he will be accepted as an applicant for membership in Freemasonry.
The doors of Freemasonry are open to men who seek harmony with their fellow man, feel the need for self-improvement and wish to participate in making this world a better place to live.
Any man who becomes a Mason is taught a pattern for living - reverence, morality, kindness, honesty, dependability and compassion. He must be prepared to honour his country, uphold its laws and respect those in authority. He must be prepared to maintain honourable relations with others and be willing to share in Masonic activities.
If you wish to delve further into this subject, Public Libraries have many fine books (especially those written by Baigent and Leigh, such as "The Temple and the Lodge") and here is a suggested starting point (no waiting, already loaded):
Origins of the Society ~ or ~ Page Up
~ ORIGINS OF THE SOCIETY ~
~ The Old Charges of Freemasonry ~
"There exists a collection of documents which has been called up as evidence both for the operative and non-operative origins of Freemasonry. Described by Anderson as the Gothic Constitutions, and now known collectively as the Old Charges, some 127 versions have been traced of which 113 are still in existence....All have a common form:
"Historically, the Old Charges fall into three groups. The first comprises the two earliest versions, the Regius MS of c.1390 and the Cook MS of c.1420...The second, and largest, group begins with the Grand Lodge No. 1 MS, dated 25 December 1583, and covers all the versions datable before the formation of the premier Grand Lodge in 1717. The third group comprises manuscript and printed versions produced after 1717, the majority of which appear to have been produced as antiquarian curiosities."
The Wood manuscript, written, in 1610 "traces the history of the Order from two pillars that were found after Noah's Flood, one made of a marble that would not burn with fire, the other made of a substance known in Masonic legends as Laterus, which would not dissolve, sink or drown in any water. One of these pillars was found and upon it were inscribed the secrets of the sciences from which the Sumerians developed a moral code that passed to the Egyptians through the Sumerian Abraham and his wife Sarah. The script goes on to describe Euclid teaching geometry to the Egyptians, from whom the Israelites took it to Jerusalem, which resulted in the building of King Solomon's Temple."
"A record of the society written in the reign of Edward IV, said to have been in the possession of the famous Elias Ashmole, founder of the Museum at Oxford, and which was unfortunately destroyed, with other papers on the subject of Masonry, at the Revolution, gives the following account of the state of Masonry at this period:
"That though the ancient records of the brotherhood in England were many of them destroyed, or lost, in the wars of the Saxons and Danes, yet king Athelitane, (the grandson of King Alfred the Great, a mighty architect,) the first anointed king of England, and who translated the Holy Bible into the Saxon tongue, (AD 930) when he had brought the land into rest and peace, built many great works, and encouraged many Mason from France, who were appointed overseers thereof, and brought with them the charges and regulations of the lodges, preserved since the Roman times; who also prevailed with the king to improve the constitution of the English lodges according to the foreign model, and to increase the wages of working Masons."
Preston's accounts of the history of Masonry in England, beginning with the Druids and Romans, are based on the mythical history included in Anderson's Constitutions (1773) and his own 1776 Appendix.
"In the west of England there is a magnificent chain of cathedrals without parallel elsewhere: Exeter, Wells, Gloucester, Worcestershire and Hereford, as well asmany abbeys and castles, on which building was carried out almost continuously during the five centuries before A.D. 1500."
"During the reign of Henry II, the Grand Master of the Knights Templars superintended the Masons, and employed them in building their Temple in Fleet-street, A.D. 1155. Masonry continued under the patronage of this Order till the year 1199, when John succeeded his brother Richard in the crown of England."
"The term freemason appears as early as 1375 in the records of the city of London. It referred to working masons who were permitted to travel the country at a time when the feudal system shackled most peasants closely to the land. Unlike the members of other crafts of the time - smiths or tanners for example - the masons gathered in large groups to work on majestic, glorious projects, moving from one finished castle or cathedral to the planning and building of the next. For mutual protection, education, and training, the masons bound themselves together into a local lodge - the building, put up at a construction site, where workmen could eat and rest. Eventually, a lodge came to signify a group of masons based in a particular locality."
"At the beginning of the reign of Henry VI, in 1425, a ban was placed on holding them [annual assemblies of masons] on the ground that they contravened the Statutes of Labourers. The masons protested that they were as loyal and law-abiding as other trades and objected to being singled out for attack. Condor (The Hole Craft and Fellowship of Masons, p.77) observes that 'we do not hear of this Act being put into force' and he gives high legal opinion that it was repealed in 1562. It may be a coincidence but it was about this time that the earliest extant post-reformation versions of the Old Charges appeared."
"A record in the reign of Edward IV runs thus:
"The company of Masons, being otherwise termed Free-Masons, of auntient staunding and good reckonings, by means of affable and kind meetyngs dyverse tymes, and as a lovinge brotherhode use to doe, did frequent this mutual assembly in the tyme of Henry VI in the twelfth yeare of his most gracious reign, A.D. 1434'."
"It has been demonstrated that freemason - in an operative context - is a contraction of 'freestone mason'....The earliest printed use so far traced comes in The Pilgrimage of Perfection - usually attributed to William Bonde - printed in 1536 by Wynkyn de Worde."
"The freemason setteth his pretyss first long tyme to learn to hewe stones and whan he can do that perfectly he admytteth him to be a freemason and choseth hym as a conynge man to be master of the Craft."
"Guilds of mason were common, and can be found emerging in Scotland (where guilds were generally known as incorporations) in the late Middle Ages."
"...The Masons were countenanced and protected in Scotland by King James I. After his return from captivity, he became the patron of the learned, and a zealous encourager of Masonry. The Scottish records relate, that he honored the lodges with his royal presence; that he settled a yearly revenue of four pounds Scots, (an English noble,) to be paid by every Master-Mason in Scotland, to a Grand Master, chosen by the Grand Lodge, and approved by the crown, one nobly born, or an eminent clergyman, who had his deputies in cities and counties, and every new brother at entrance paid him also a fee. His office empowered him to regulate in the fraternity what should not come under the cognizance of law-courts."
"In Scotland such lodges [established for long-term site building activity], under burgh control, can be traced in Aberdeen and Dundee in the late fifteenth and early sixteen centuries. But they appear to have declined or disappeared entirely shortly before or after the Reformation of 1560 brought a new protestant church to Scotland."
(2) A Brother to Pirates and Corsairs
Concerning stonemasons in the Middle Ages, "their vocabulary and most likely their ability for abstract thought must have been very limited indeed. Travel for all but the most highly skilled master masons was a rare event so secret signs, grips and passwords would not be of much value; end even if they did travel from one building construction to another why would they need secret means of recognition?"
"A final check at Oxford's Bodleian, one of the great libraries of the world, and I finally felt absolutely secure in stating that Freemasonry did not evolve from the medieval guilds of stonemasons in Britain because it would appear that there were no medieval guilds of stonemasons in Britain."
Masonic expressions that Robinson said were derived from French language roots include:
Tyler: tailleur, "one who cuts"
The surviving members of the Knights Templars in England would have had to flee or hide to escape persecution and death.
"...We can find no fourteenth century precedent for any organization that consistently referred to fellow members as brothers [frere Macon], except for the various religious orders, which, of course, included the Knights of the Temple."
"To all poor and distressed Masons, wherever dispersed over the face of Earth and Water, wishing them a speedy relief from all their sufferings, and a safe return to their native country; should they so desire it."
"All through the oaths and the Old Charges we see emerging a mutual aid and protection society, protecting men who could die if caught."
"You have come to us bound, half-naked, and defenseless. You have no money with which to feed and lodge yourself, no armor to ward off the blows of your enemies, no weapons with which to defend yourself.
Another Old Charge "says that a visitor brother is not to go 'into the town' unless accompanied by a local brother who can 'witness' for him (i.e., vouch for him to the local authorities, who had the right to arrest strangers of unknown business in the town)."
"There is no record of the seizure of eighteen Templar ships from their naval base at La Rochelle
on the French coast, or of any Templar ships anchored in the Thames or at other seaports in Britain....Since many of the Templar ships were galleys, they were ideally suited for piracy, because becalmed ships were always easy prey for those that did not depend upon the wind."
"We can now be certain, without any shadow of doubt, that the starting place for Freemasonry was the construction of Rosslyn Chapel in the mid-fifteenth century; later historical developments confirm this view because the St Clair family of Rosslyn became the hereditary Grand Masters of the Crafts and Guilds and Orders of Scotland, and later held the post of the Master of Masons of Scotland until the late 1700s."
William St Clair designed and built Rosslyn Chapel using the plans of Solomon's Temple, and incorporating many Templar and Masonic motifs. Knight and Lomas speculate that the Chapel also contained a copy of the vaults at Solomon's Temple and its hidden treasure.
"William St Clair had an obvious problem with security; the masons building his scroll shrine had to know the layout of the underground vault network and they knew that this strange building was to house something of great value.
Origins of Modern Freemasonry
"King James VI of Scotland (also later James I of England) was the only child of Mary Queen of Scots and the first king to rule both England and Scotland. He was also the first king known to be a Freemason, being initiated into the Lodge of Scots and Perth in 1601 at the age of thirty five."
"The man who more than anyone else deserves the title of creator of modern Feemasonry was William Schaw. The younger son of a laird (landowner) with close connections with the court, Schaw developed a strong interest in architecture and in 1583 was appointed master of works by King James VI of Scotland."
"Schaw started this major project on 28 December 1598 when he issued 'The statues and ordinances to be observed by all the master maissouns within this realme,' signing himself as 'the General Warden of the said craft'."
"As general warden and master of works Schaw issued two codes of statutes, in 1598 and 1599. In these he laid down regulations for the organization and practice of the mason craft through a system of 'lodges'."
"Scotland's early freemasons, it would appear, probably kept specific religious practices out of their lodges as to do otherwise would have been to confront the church with an attack on its monopoly of religion but as a later date the morality without religious worship of the lodges made freemasonry attractive to those developing tolerant or deistic attitudes."
Sir Francis Bacon, who became Solicitor-General under fellow Freemason James I of England, was a champion of inductive reasoning and has been described as "the father of modern science".
"It is highly likely that Brother Bacon was the driving force behind the styling of the new second degree introduced by his close colleague William Schaw."
"In Scotland there is a wealth of evidence for the existence of operative lodges organized on a geographical basis and backed up by statue law. From the early 1600s there are also many documented examples of the introduction of non-operatives into Scottish operative lodges. There is not, however, any evidence that these non-operative members in any way altered the nature or workings of Scottish operative lodges until very late in the seventeenth century, by which time accepted Masonry was well established in England. All the evidence suggests that accepted Masonry emerged in England and spread from there to Scotland."
"By the seventeenth century, as the number and stature of masons grew, some lodges had begun to admit honorary members who were not stoneworkers. The London Masons' Company founded the Acception, a parallel organization for that purpose, in 1619. It took in as 'accepted Masons' men who did not belong to the company but who were willing to pay double the initiation fee."
"...Elias Ashmole was one of the first recorded inductees into the Freemasons, but the actual first recorded induction was Dr. Robert Moray in Edinburgh in 1641. Both Ashmole and Moray were founding members of the British Royal Society."
Ashmole was an admirer of the Knights Templars. Even after their trial, the Templars were
" a noble Order, no less famous for martial achievements in the east, than their wealthy possessions in the west...Which gave occasion to many sober men to judge, that their wealth was their greatest crime."
"Masonry became so fashionable that as the seventeenth century progressed the 'acceptance' (the collective term for non-stonemasons) became the majority in the masonic Lodges. For example, in 1670, the Aberdeen Lodge had thirty-nine 'accepted' members while only ten remained 'operative' masons."
"A Mason's life's the life for me,
(2) The Invisible College
"We can be sure that the Royal society germinated from the hothouse of thinking that was released by Bacon's definition of the Second Degree of Freemasonry well before people such as Ashmole and Wilkins pierced it all back together after the traumas of the Civil War."
"We date the formation [of the British Royal Society] earlier than was previously thought. There was a series of meetings in England in 1640. This is an important year because it was the beginning of the Long Parliament. Comenius and Samuel Hartlib were involved. Comenius was originally from Bohemia, and was in the Palatinate during the fateful Rosecrucian years, along with the Englishman Samuel Hartlib, with whom he was in close contact. With the defeat of the Palatinate they both, through different routes, end up in England. When the Long Parliament started, there was another outburst of ecstatic literature [following the dissemination of Rosecrucian pamphlets]. One piece written by Hartlib in 1640, "A Description of the Famous Kingdom of Macaria," is a utopian work addressed to the attention of the Long Parliament. A year later, Comenius wrote 'The Way of Light'. They call for an 'Invisible College', which is a Rosicrucian code name."
"Now the plot thickens. In 1645, a meeting takes place for a discussion of the natural sciences. Present at the meeting are Mr. Theodore Haak from the Palatinate and Dr. John Wilkins, who at the time was the chaplain to the elector of Palatine. Wilkins was the man behind the Oxford meetings which become, in 1660, the British Royal Society. Another founder of the Royal Society was Robert Boyle, who in letters in 1646, refers to, again, an invisible college. John Wilkins writes a book in 1648 called Mathematical Magic, in which he explicitly mentions the Rosy Cross and pays homage to occultists Robert Fludd and John Dee.
"Men of science in London, Oxford, and Cambridge met in secret in what has been termed an 'invisible college', which now appears to have existed in secret Masonic lodges in those areas. Their first secret meeting was held in 1645, just three years after the death of Galileo. By 1660, the group felt secure enough in the apparently Protestant reign of Charles II to petition the crown for a royal charter, which was granted in 1662. The name they chose was The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge..."
"While there are many stories about the ancient origins of the Freemasons, here is an announcement for one of their meetings in 1676: 'To give notice that the Modern Green-ribboned Cabal, together with the ancient brotherhood of the Rosy Cross: the Hermetic Adepti and the company of Accepted Masons....' It is interesting to note how clear the tradition is."
"When Freemasonry came public in 1717...it appeared that the Royal Society was virtually a Masonic subsidiary, with almost every member and every founding member of the Royal Society a Freemason."
"The new Grand Lodge system established at the Goose and Gridiron Alehouse in 1717 consisted at first of only one level (degree) of initiation. Within five years of the Lodge's founding, two additional degrees were added so that the system consisted of three steps: Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason. These steps are commonly called the 'Blue Degrees' because the color blue is symbolically important in them."
"We believe that the current content of the three degrees of Craft Freemasonry was already present in just two degrees prior to Schaw's reorganization that inserted an extra level of speculative masonry in between Entered Apprentice and Master Mason (which was originally known as the Master's Part). This new degree was introduced and designated the Fellow Craft, derived we think from the fact that these masons were not workers in stone but workers in the 'fellow craft' of speculative masonry. We are now sure that this degree was a development of the Mark Mason degree (and not the other way around as most Masons believe)."
The "Scottish operative lodges began in the seventeenth century to admit non-operative members as accepted or gentleman masons and that by the early eighteenth century in some lodges the accepted or gentleman masons had gained the ascendancy: those lodges became, in turn speculative lodges, whilst others continued their purely operative nature. The speculative lodges eventually combined to form the Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1736."
"The 'craft' of Freemasonry was one of the more extraordinary manifestations of the Age of Reason, typical of its time not only because it stood for rationalism, deism, and benevolence, but also because of the ambiguity which turned one side of its affairs from rationality to mystery. It was in one way an emanation of that most British of institutions, the club. It took shape during the first three decades of the eighteenth century, and reflected the tolerance and the confidence of Hanoverian England. Its ideology, founded on the metaphors of the architecture of the universe and the building of the Temple, was deist and non-confessional. The Freemason obliged himself to submit to the civil power, whose benevolent nature was assumed; this optimism was typical of British Whig self-assurance. The Mason asserted a non-clerical ethos, and a middlebrow and commonsensical attitude to life. He claimed to be instructed and enlightened, but he did not set up to be learned; this distinguished his society from those of the contemporary 'academies'."
"Toward the end of the 1730s, there were lodges in Belgium, Russia, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland. But it seemed to have a special appeal in France, partly because of the rage then current there for all things British. In 1735, there five Masonic lodges in Paris; by 1742, the number was twenty-two. Some forty-five years later, on the eve of the French Revolution, there were perhaps 100,000 Masons in France."
"By 1730 when the Roman Catholic Duke of Norfolk was installed (prior to the first papal condemnation of Freemasonry in 1738), there had been nine Grand Masters, six of them nobles. The first royal Grand Master was the Duke of Cumberland, younger son of George II, who was installed in 1782, with an Acting Grand Master, the Earl of Effingham as his proxy. In 1787 both the Prince of Wales (the future George IV) and his brother William (the future William IV) were initiated. The patronage by the Royal Family of the new secret society was thenceforth assured. Queen Elizabeth II is the present Grand Patroness."
~ Special thanks for much of content to author Richard Shand and many others acknowledged above ~