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According to reports, Freemason secrets underpin everything from the planning of our nation’s capital to murder. Among the enigmatic Masonic Brotherhood’s members are renowned statesmen, Founding Fathers, and business titans. Masons are well-known for their charitable contributions in modern times. However, who are the Freemasons and what values do they espouse? Is there a true Freemason secret handshake? Here are seven facts about Freemasons you may not be aware of.
Disclaim: As always, this writing is not an expression of the official views of the Freemasons Community, but simply the reflections of one Mason.
1. The Freemasons Are the Oldest Fraternal Organization in the World
Freemasons are members of the world’s oldest fraternal organization, which began in Europe during the Middle Ages as a guild of talented builders. With the decline of cathedral construction, society’s focus shifted. According to Margaret Jacob, professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe, “Freemasons are a social and philanthropic organization meant to make its members lead more virtuous and socially oriented lives.” According to Cécile Révauger, a freemason, historian of Freemasonry, and professor at the University of Bordeaux, the organization “still expresses [the era’s] essential ideals, religious tolerance, quest for knowledge, and sociability.”
While it is not a secret organization in the traditional sense, it does contain secret passwords and rituals that date back to the medieval guild, according to Jacob: “In the ancient guild, there were three stages: Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Masons who oversaw everyone working on a site.” These degrees are now more philosophical.”
Did you know that? Freemasons were first mentioned in the Regius Poem, also known as the Halliwell Manuscript, which was written in 1390.
Symbols of Freemasonry Aren’t What You Think They Are
Freemasons have long communicated using visual symbols derived from stonemasonry tools. While the “All-Seeing Eye,” or Eye of Providence, was not designed by Masons, it has been adopted by the organization to symbolise God’s omniscience. “The Square and Compasses,” the most well-known Freemason symbol, features a builder’s square connected by a compass. Some scholars at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, say the “G” at its core signifies geometry, a vital field to the earliest Freemasons, while others believe it depicts God, the “Grand Architect of the Universe.” The Square and Compasses is still a popular Masonic ring sign.
Another, lesser-known Masonic symbol derived from nature is the beehive. “Masons were traditionally industrious men who were meant to be as busy as bees,” Jacob explains. “And the beehive represents the lodge’s tenacity.”
3. There Is a Freemason Handshake. Several, Actually
Freemasons greet one another with a variety of handshakes, each based on one’s standing within the organization. “There is a handshake for each degree: Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master, i.e. the first three degrees as well as the higher degrees,” Révauger explains. “Each rite has its own handshake, so there is quite a diversity.” They are utilized in Masonic rites.”
4. Members of the Catholic Church are not permitted to be Freemasons
While Freemasonry is not a religion in and of itself, all of its members believe in a Supreme Being “”Universe’s Grand Architect.” Members come from a variety of faiths, although one denomination in particular prohibits any cross-pollination. Concerns about Masonic temples and the secret rites performed within them prompted the Catholic Church to condemn Freemasonry for the first time in 1738. The Masons were even dubbed “the Synagogue of Satan” by the Vatican in the nineteenth century.
In 1983, the Church went even further, proclaiming that “their beliefs have always been regarded inconsistent with Church doctrine, and hence membership in them remains illegal.” The faithful who join Masonic organizations are in grave sin and are not permitted to receive Holy Communion.”
5. The Freemasons were the Inspiration for America’s First Political Third Party
The Anti-Masonic Party, the first third party in the United States, was created in 1828 in reaction to concerns that the society was becoming too secretive and powerful. Many of its members promoted conspiracy theories about the Freemasons, with some leaders saying that one infamous murder of the time was committed by the Masons in order to keep the victim from revealing the organization’s secrets.
6. It’s Still a Boys’ Club…Mostly.
Historically, Freemasonry membership has been restricted to men. Women and atheists were banned from the group’s “1723 Constitutions,” a form of guideline to the organization written by James Anderson under the auspices of the Grand Lodge of England.
According to Révauger, “masons now come from all walks of life, as long as they can afford to pay the annual payment.” While women are permitted to join an allied organization known as The Order of the Eastern Star, and certain lodges admit female members, “freemasonry is not as widespread as it claims, because in many countries…women and atheists are still excluded.” It varies from city to city and lodge to lodge throughout the United States and Europe.
“Grand lodges in each state constitute a court of last resort,” explains Jacob, because there is no national organization in the United States. This has resulted in some contentious decisions: “Freemasonry remains divided, particularly in southern regions,” Jacob argues. “Several Grand Lodges in the United States continue to refuse to acknowledge Prince Hall Freemasonry, i.e., African American Masons,” Révauger says.
7. Famous Freemasons Are Everywhere.
Famous Freemasons can be found throughout history, including George Washington, who was a Master Mason, and Benjamin Franklin, who was a founding member of America’s first Masonic Lodge. Masons included Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Gerald Ford, as well as Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Freemasons included Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Davy Crockett, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Henry Ford, Paul Robeson, and astronaut Buzz Aldrin.