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What People Believe: Freemasons

31st July 2012

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Their famous members have included George Washington, but the Freemasons have often been associated with conspiracy and the Illuminati. As part of our "what people believe" series, we look at their beliefs...


Members of the Freemasons have allegedly included historic figures such as George Washington, Winston Churchill and various kings of England, yet this has not prevented the public from viewing the organisation with suspicion. 

Since its official founding with the Grand Lodge of England in 1717, the Freemasons have often been the scapegoat for revolutions and terrorism, including claims that they are masterminding a New World Order.

Yet contrary to popular opinion, many of these rumours  and allegations stem from Albert Pike's Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottic Rite of Freemasonry, a book denounced as nonsense by the order.  

Constituencies within the Freemasons meet regularly in groups named ‘lodges’ and membership now amounts to around six million worldwide, mostly living in the USA or UK.

Since the 18th Century, they have inhabited and created landmark architecture often marked by their trademark symbol of a square and compasses.


What do they believe?

Being speculative as opposed to operative stone masons, modern Freemasonry take the metaphor of building to underline the progression of knowledge and experience within and outside the organisation.

There are three degrees of craft to achieve – Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason, the third and highest degree.

The Freemasons do not prescribe to a particular religion but members must follow a ‘supreme being’ of their own interpretation. 

They state that there is ‘no separate Masonic God’ or a name for a specific universal deity of the Fraternity. Other conditions of initiation include a minimum age, often between 18 and 25, good reputation and morals, physical and mental fitness and the securing of the popular vote in a ballot upon the consideration of their entry.

They have often received opposition from religious organisations, most notably the Church of England, which deems Freemasonry incompatible with Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church which traditionally condemns membership as a grave sin.

Despite this, four Grand Masters have been Roman Catholic and several members hold Christian beliefs. Due to the exclusion of females, it has also been argued that the organisation is sexist. Despite this, in France there are mixed lodges and some all female groups with Masonic relations are scattered around Britain.

What do they do?

The Freemasons claim that their main occupation is charity. Annually, millions are raised for charities whilst foundations are also set up by the organisation primarily through private donation – so they aren’t quite planning world domination.

Although many myths have been dispensed of, there are indeed certain ‘obligations’ or oaths that must be kept; with the violation of these obligations come ‘bloody penalties’.

Modern Freemasonry denies the existence of physical penalty, claiming that punishments are merely symbolic and are not applied; more often a member is expelled or suspended.

The oaths are however in existence, they include promises to obey the law of their chosen supreme being, to aid or charity other human beings and to act as a member of a civilised society. Again, slightly incongruous with the wild, clandestine cult of Albert Pike’s famous exposé.

Weird Facts

  • Their initiation ritual does include the placing of a rope, a symbolic umbilical cord, around the neck of the initiate and then cutting it to symbolise new life.
  • The Covent Garden Freemasons Hall is the set for the MI5 base of BBC Drama Spooks.
  • The initiation ceremony, as admitted by the Grand Secretary, does actually involve the initiate rolling up a trouser leg.
  • The Flintstone’s Fred Flintstone was a member of the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes Lodge – a men’s only club with Masonic parallels.

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