You may have heard of “the world’s oldest profession.” But the world’s oldest organized profession was stone masonry. Ancient civilizations realized you had better know what you are doing if you are going to build with stone. This gave rise to ancient stone masons’ guilds, which required mandatory education, training, and rankings. Stone masons became known for their high levels of morality and ethics in building.
A novice was entered into the craft as an apprentice. Although only an apprentice, he was still entered into, or associated with, the craft. After years of training, he could be passed to the level of a fellow of the craft, or Fellowcraft. With more years, he could become a Master Mason.
Over the centuries, men joined the craft, not necessarily to be operative stone masons, but for the education in ethics, morality, and the arts and sciences. In time, more men joined for this academic and moral education and social interaction than to be actual operative stone masons. By the late 1600’s, most were not operative masons, but what were call Speculative or Accepted Masons.
In the year 1717, Masons joined together to form the Grand Lodge of England in London. This is considered the birth of Modern Freemasonry as we know it today, although our history and traditions go back much farther.
Fast forward to 1776, and the questions on American’s lips were, “Who is going to be our new king? What will be our system of royalty and nobility? What will be our class structure? What will be our official religion? After all, every country has these things (and many still do, even today).
Masons like Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and George Washington said to the other Founding Fathers, “Many members of royalty and nobility around the world are Masons. But in our lodges, we all meet on the level, as equals. What if we have a country without royalty or nobility, where all are equal under the law? And what if we elect our leaders, as we do in our lodges, for specific times, then they return to the ranks? We Masons require a belief in God, but each man’s religious opinions are his own. What if this new country had no official religion? Masons have long advocated education for everyone. What if we have free public education?”
These things were radical ideas at the time. There had never been a country like that in the history of the world. At a time when everyone recognized and accepted class, caste, and social divisions, Masonry taught Equality (represented by the level). While many taught that one should be satisfied with his lot in life, Masonry encouraged self-improvement.
While some institutions promote differences between men, Masonry promoted Brotherly Love, Relief (charity) and Truth (honest and moral behavior towards all, represented by the square). We advocate harmony in society. We stand for the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God.
Masonic tools and ideals permeate our society: A “square” deal. Are you on the “level?” The police gave him the “third degree.” Our modern educational system is based upon the Masonic education system of ancient times. The Three Degrees of Masonry are Entered Apprentice (Associate of the craft), Fellow (Bachelor) of the Craft, and Master Mason. Masons use the geometric term, raised by “degrees.” What are the three college degrees? Associate, Bachelor, and Master’s Degree. Did you ever wonder why they call it a college “degree”? From Masonry! And what do they call that flat square hat you wear when you graduate? A mortar board, yet another mason’s tool. Speaking of mason’s tools, almost all presiding officers and judges use a mason’s gavel.
Now-a-days we have diplomas to prove our educational achievements. In ancient times, a mason’s apron, made of lamb or sheepskin, was his diploma. Did you ever hear of a diploma called a “sheepskin”? A mason was free to travel, hence a Freemason, or “journeyman.” He could prove membership by certain secret signs, words, and modes of recognition, universally recognized by masons around the world, and still used today. These are the “secrets” you hear about. We are not a “secret society.” We are a society with secrets. Fifteen U.S. presidents have been Masons.
Masonry takes good men and makes them better. We practice self-control, act ethically, practice charity, speak the truth, and help each other and ourselves to improve. We practice age-old ceremonies-the same ceremonies experienced by George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Clark Gable, John Wayne, and many, many, famous and historic men through the ages.
As a Mason, your reputation and conduct will reflect upon the entire fraternity. If you would like to join like-thinking men of good character to improve yourself, all you have to do is ask.