Acacia Lodge #1
Ancient, Accepted and Esoteric Freemasons
A.·. A.·. & E.·. F.·.

Interesting Facts About Freemasonry

The Grand Lodge of Freemasons in the State of Michigan

 

Acknowledgment of our grateful appreciation to The Grand Lodge of Iowa and its Committee on Masonic Education for permission to use their material in the preparation of this booklet is hereby sincerely expressed.

Freemasonry has its lodges in every city in the United States, and in almost every town and village. It has them on the desert, through the mountains, in the wilderness, and among what Isaiah described as "the isles of the sea." It has them in Canada, Mexico, Central America, south America, Great Britain, Europe, Africa, the Near east, India, Burma, Indo-China, Malaya, the Philippines, east Indies, New Zealand, and Australia; it had them in many other countries of the Old World until certain religious and political ideologies forbade their existence.

Not one of them was ever organized as the result of any Masonic missionary enterprise, because Freemasonry has no such enterprise; or for the purpose of making money, or as the result of a bargain with the political and ecclesiastical ruling powers. Each lodge came into existence of itself, and because a few Masons desired to have it so.

Freemasonry has spread over the earth as gradually, as silently, and as naturally as the light of dawn. So also has it moved down the long roads of time. There were lodges a thousand years ago. Long before that date, and as far back as the Ancient World, there had been other organizations, called gilds and collegia, so similar to Masonic lodges that historians are unable to tell where one left off and the other began. Few things still existing in the world are as old as Freemasonry.

During the long period from the time of Charlemagne [about 800] until the Reformation any man engaged in the building crafts was called a mason, and of these were many kinds including quarrymen, dike builders, wallers, paviors, tilers, and all who could build cottages or barns. Among them all there was a special class of builders who could both design and construct monumental and public buildings such as cathedrals, chapels, churches, mansions, borough halls, etc. These latter were called Freemasons. The name had much the same meaning then that architect has now.

When one of the great public buildings was undertaken, Freemasons were called in from all parts of the kingdom and often from foreign countries. As soon as a sufficient number had signed the rolls, their first step was to erect a building of their own, called the lodge; their next step was to construct cottages for themselves and their families. Each day, all the workmen received instructions in their lodge room. 

Because these Freemasons came from so many different places, and even from other countries, they could not have a permanent local organization of their own, as other craftsmen did; instead, they had what we should now call a society, or a fraternity. There was no single ruler of it; it had no one capital; the members were held together by their general observance of a few rules, regulations, and customs. Modern Freemasonry, such as is practiced in lodges across America, is the direct descendant of that early fraternity.

In those days almost every man admitted to a lodge was a craftsman who made Freemasonry his means of livelihood; such men nowadays are called Operative Masons. As time passed, however, lodges here and there began to admit into membership a few men who did not follow Freemasonry as a means of livelihood, but were attracted to it for other reasons, and largely because of its antiquity and its fellowship; such were called "Accepted" Masons; and also were called "Speculative" Masons, a name which always had meant an understanding of the ideas and principles of Freemasonry. It is for such historical reasons that members of the Fraternity today are called Free & Accepted Masons.

By 1700 the number of Speculative [or Accepted] members had become so preponderant in most of the lodges in Britain that when the first Grand Lodge of the world was set up in London, England, in 1717, the whole Fraternity ceased to draw any distinction between Operatives and Speculatives; any man, otherwise qualified, and regardless of his means of livelihood, could become a Mason. That has been true ever since.

The history of Freemasonry therefore falls into three periods. In the first period all Freemasons, with very few exceptions, were Operatives, by which is meant that they made architecture their means of livelihood. In the second period the membership of the lodges was a mixture of Operatives and Speculatives. In the third period, beginning in 1717, it has been wholly Speculative. The one principle which unites the three periods is the fact that throughout its history Freemasonry has always been a fraternity- a fraternity, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing other.

The form of Freemasonry which thus descended directly from the Operative lodges of a thousand or so years ago is known as Ancient Craft Freemasonry; it is organized in Grand Lodges and local lodges. During the last quarter of the eighteenth century a number of branches grew out of that parent trunk, and in the course of time each one developed an independent form of organization of its own. Each of these appendant bodies is called a Rite. In the United States there are four such appendant Rites in addition to Ancient Craft Freemasonry.

The Cryptic Rite is organized in the form of a General Grand Council, a Grand Council for each of the larger number of states, and local councils. The Capitular Rite, which is better known as the Royal Arch, is organized in the form of a General Grand Chapter, a Grand Chapter for each of the larger number of states, and local chapters. Knight Templarism is organized in the form of a Grand Encampment for the nation, a Grand Commandery for each of the larger number of states, and local commanderies. The Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite has a system of four local bodies which are under the general government of two Supreme Councils. One of these, called the southern jurisdiction, has in it the states west of the Mississippi River and south of the Ohio River. The other, called the northern jurisdiction, has in it the states east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio.

Thus, that which is sometimes called the American System of Freemasonry consists of five Rites, each of which is separately organized, enacts its own laws, has its own officers, and its own treasuries. A man may join one of these other four Rites, or all of them together, but to do so he must be, and continue to be, a member in good standing of an Ancient Craft lodge, and in each instance must pay the fees and dues of another Rite after he has been elected to its membership, in addition to his lodge dues. Alongside the five Rites which comprise Freemasonry are a number of  Side Orders, each of which also is independently organized. Among them are such as the Order of the eastern Star, the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, the Grotto, etc.

Upon the organization of the first Grand Lodge in London, 1717, Freemasonry, as already stated, became a fraternity wholly Speculative. In 1723 that Grand Lodge published a volume of laws, rules, and regulations called the Book of Constitutions which made it clear that a Mason must believe in the Divine but that he was also free to belong to any religion or church of his choice consistent with such a belief. The paragraph in which that provision was made is probably the most influential and famous single piece of writing in the whole literature and history of the Fraternity:

"A Mason is oblig'd, by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient times Masons were charg'd in every Country to be of the religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet 'tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves; that is, to be good men and true, or Men of Honor and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguished; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the means of conciliating true friendship among persons that must have remain'd at a perpetual Distance."

Since Freemasonry is a Fraternity, all matters of theology, creeds, doctrines, and ecclesiastical organizations lie outside its province, so that it never pronounces upon any of them or takes sides with one against the other. In its lodges around the world are men of many religions, and as Rudyard Kipling wrote in one of his most famous Masonic poems, men of many religions may sit down together in the same lodge. Freemasonry makes war on no church, nor does it champion any church, and if some church should chance to make war on it, it would let it pass by and would not retaliate.

In all the Landmarks, Constitutions, general laws, rules and regulations of all the regular and duly constituted Grand Lodges is no mention of any church. A member of any Ancient Craft Lodge who might seek to introduce religious controversy into his lodge would stand in danger of being immediately suspended or expelled. The people of the Middle Ages were confronted by a very difficult problem, as far as skilled work was concerned. On the one hand, there were no public schools, no printed books, no scientific manuals, no trade schools, and no factories in which things could be made by machinery. On the other hand, almost all of the trades and crafts called for highly specialized skill; many of them used raw materials dangerous to handle. In processing those materials they often employed chemicals, fire, etc., hazardous if not understood. Their tools oftentimes were tricky, dangerous, and only an expert could make them or keep them in condition. An untrained man might finally produce something but it was not safe to use because it might turn out to be poisonous, or go to pieces, or fall down.

A workman had to be educated and trained and yet there were no schools or books; how to do it? The people of the Middle Ages solved the problem by organizing all men of each craft, trade, art, or profession into gilds. Each gild had a complete monopoly of its own kind of work. It had local organizations but these observed general rules and practices common to them all. To enter any one of the crafts, to become a carpenter, weaver, leather worker, carver, pharmacist, etc., a youth had to enter a gild as an apprentice without pay, and thereafter prove himself willing to be trained and educated by his master and other master workmen; and he was not permitted to become free to work for himself until after that long apprenticeship, and the apprenticeship itself was not declared ended until he could successfully meet a test to prove his skill.

Freemasons had more reason for demanding a long and rigorous apprenticeship than other crafts because their work was especially hazardous. Stone itself was dangerous to manage not only because it was a large mass with much dead weight but also because when being worked, chips and splinters might go a long distance on all sides. If an arch or pillar was not perfectly constructed it might collapse. The workmen themselves oftentimes were on top of walls, or high up in a tower, or perched on an arch, or on wooden scaffoldings. Their tools were many, and frequently were complex, or difficult to use. And the erection of such a building as a cathedral required many kinds of arts and skills.

Because it was for these and many other similar reasons dangerous for an unskilled man to work, the crafts insisted that their own members should keep their own skills, arts, and processes strictly to themselves. These were called "trade secrets," and a gild member could be expelled for betraying them.

Freemasonry had its own "trade secrets." It also had in common with the other crafts another form of secrecy which grew out of trade secrets. This may be described as privacy. Since the trade secrets were confined to members only, none but members were permitted to belong to their organizations, to have a vote or a voice, or to hold office, or to sit in their meetings. What went on was necessarily private to the members if the trade secrets were to be preserved.

Modern society is full of private circles. A family is one. A club is one. The members of such a circle enjoy among themselves a form of social fellowship which has been knit together because the members of the circle are intimately acquainted and associated in some activity. The local members of a gild were similarly knit together. They and their families might live together in the same quarter of a town, and they were all associated closely, over long years, in their social affairs as much as in their work. A stranger who might intrude was not welcome because he could so easily disrupt the filaments which bound the members and their families together. This was social privacy.

The Freemasonic lodges of the present day have the same reasons for secrecy, although the form of it, and the details, may differ much from five hundred or a thousand years ago. Such lodges employ many rites, symbols, emblems, and signs, none of them intelligible to any man who has not been initiated, and educated and trained in their meanings. Nearly all non-Masons who undertake to interpret such things end up with notions wildly absurd. Freemasons have much which they must hold in privacy, and for obvious reasons; and they have much among themselves, much that can be described only as a private circle. 

By a secret society is meant an organization of men which seeks to keep its own existence dark, which refuses to divulge the names of its members, or its meeting places, or its purposes. It is an underground organization. If this be a correct definition of "secret society" Freemasonry is almost the exact opposite. It does not conceal its existence, but meets in rooms or buildings of its own, which are in the center of cities and towns. It makes no secret of its membership, because those members may walk openly along a public street to a church service, a funeral, or to some such public ceremony as the laying of a corner stone. Each year every Grand Lodge publishes a printed volume of its proceedings. As for the ideals and purposes of Freemasonry, they have been openly stated in more than 200,000 printed books during the past two centuries. There is nothing dark or malign in those secrets; on the contrary they are nearly all secrets of training and teaching, and therefore are secrets of light. 

One of the corollaries of that secrecy is that which Freemasons know as non-solicitation. During the long period of Operative Freemasonry it could never have occurred to any Master Mason to go about among parents with eligible sons to petition them to have those sons pray for admittance to the Masonic Craft. Such a youth had to come of his own free will and accord; he had to have his father or guardian behind him; and he had to have a certain number of qualifications.

[ Interesting  Facts about Freemasonry, Part Two ]

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