Freemasonry is a fraternal society of men dating back at least to 1717 AD. The members of this organization are referred to as Masons. It is rooted in the historic fraternal orders of stonemasons, dating back to the 14th century.
Organization and objectives of modern Masonic lodges
Freemasonry is a non-religious and non-political organization, and discussing religion and politics is prohibited in the Lodges. However, many lodges require that members believe in some form of a greater being or divinity, which is referred to as the “Great Architect of the Universe”. The original goal of joining a Lodge was to have a sense of community, brother and friendship outside the constraints of the Catholic Church.
Freemasonry is organized locally around the Lodge. The local Lodge is managed regionally by the Grand Lodge (also known as Grand Orient), which does not necessarily cooperate with other Grand Lodges around the world. If two or more Grand Lodges are officially recognized, they are considered to have friendship, in the sense that members can visit and interact with each other like Masons.
The largest association in the world is at the United Grand Lodge of England, with about 250,000 members. Masons are divided into degrees of belonging, including: Apprentice, Journeyman (also known as Fellow or Fellowcraft) and Master Mason.
- Medieval Craft Guilds and Birth of Masonry –
Some of the first known Masonic written works date back to 1390 AD and refer to the origin of the masonry profession, tracing it back to the biblical era. These were the works of medieval craft corporations, which began as groups of united artisans gathered to protect their common interests. To become members of a guild, artisans had to swear to support each other, eliminate some enemies and help each other during conflicts or new business ventures. This oath was looked down upon by the Catholic Church. Members gathered and kept their tools in the lodges and developed secret rituals and customs to identify themselves. These guilds have grown strongly influencing the local economy by controlling production and prices.
Freemasonry evolved from these craft corporations to a fraternal organization of religious tolerance and intellectual debate. It had its official beginning with the foundation of the Premier Grand Lodge of England in 1717, when James Anderson was commissioned to consolidate the historic Masonic texts into a modern constitution. Belonging was rooted in the age of Enlightenment and the scientific revolution of the time. Furthermore, the Masons preserved ancient ritualistic traditions of medieval craft guilds, including progress through the previously mentioned degrees.
- Role of Freemasonry in European and North American history –
After its foundation in London, Freemasonry spread throughout Europe. The government and the Catholic Church have continued to be critical of this fraternity, in particular of secrecy and religious beliefs. The organization was banned from France, Portugal and the Catholic Church.
Under such scrupulous control, the Masons sought to shift their beliefs and their foundation elsewhere. The settlers moved to North America and founded Lodges in Boston and Philadelphia (maintaining their relationship with the Grand Master in England). Many historians suggest that Masons were the driving force behind the growing desire for independence from the English crown. Some people suggest that they are responsible for the Boston Tea Party and the beginning of the revolutionary war. Both Benjamin Franklin and George Washington were Masons.
After independence, the American Masons separated further from the Grand Master in England and founded the Grand Lodges in the new country. This movement is divided between those of the Scottish rite and those of the York rite.
- Conspiracies, criticisms and controversies –
Freemasonry has been criticized by various organizations and individuals, including governments, religious institutions and conspiracy theorists. One of the most common conspiracies surrounding the Masons is that they are involved in a group known as the Illuminati. It is believed that the Illuminati are against governments and religions and want to establish a New World Order. Other critics believe that Masons worship Satan, who want to control global financial institutions and have been involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It is because of their strict secret that these conspiracies, criticisms and controversies have emerged.
- Relevance and cultural and geopolitical heritage –
The Masonic brotherhood will always have a cultural significance as an organization that has helped shape history. His legacy will continue through his rituals and practices of information transmission and knowledge sharing among members. Furthermore, Freemasonry will always be remembered for some of its most famous members, including: Winston Churchill, Harry Houdini, Paul Revere, Henry Ford, John Glenn and Charles Lindbergh.