Freemasonry is a fraternal order of men, originally deriving from the medieval fraternity of operative stonemasons. It is believed that the society arose out of the fraternity and lodges of the English and Scottish Freemasons and cathedral builders of the middle ages. However, there are no known records as to when or where this fraternal order originated.
A group of Masons duly assembled with a charter or dispensation authorizing them to meet is called a lodge. The collective assemblage of a group of Lodges working under one jurisdictional constitution is called a Grand Lodge. Grand Lodges are established throughout the world and each is led by a Grand Master.
In 1716, four Lodges met in London to form a temporary organization. On June 24, 1717, they elected a Grand Master and established a Grand Lodge. By 1723, the English craft may be said to have become entirely speculative. The organization grew rapidly in numbers and esteem. Thus, Masonry became the subject of widespread curiosity and comment, and was both imitated and opposed.
The second quarter of the 18th century witnessed the spread of Freemasonry over the world in what was believed to have been the most rapid and extensive migration of any society, philosophy, or creed in history; and that too, entirely without any missionary zeal or proselyting.
By the end of the 18th century, independent Grand Lodges had been established in most of the countries of Europe and, concurrently or later, in most other countries of the Eastern and Western hemispheres.
Freemasonry is cosmopolitan. It admits men of every nationality, religion, creed, and political persuasion; the qualifications for membership are few, such as a belief in a Supreme Being, good moral character, a fair degree of intelligence, and absence of injury or defect in body which would prevent the candidate from performing his duties as a Mason. Masonry insists that men must come to its doors of their own freewill, not as a result of solicitation. Their approach should be prompted by a favorable opinion conceived of the Institution, a desire for knowledge, and a sincere wish to be of greater service to their fellow men. Masonry is not to be metered in the hope of personal gain or advancement or from mercenary or other unworthy motives. The institution of Masonry interferes with neither religion nor politics. It has for its foundation the basic principles of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, has in it nothing inconsistent with one's civil, moral, or religious duties. No atheist can become a Mason. Loyalty to one's country is an essential qualification in Masonry and only those are acceptable who render a cheerful obedience to constituted authority. Masonry is not in any way an insurance society, nor does it pay benefits in case of unemployment, sickness, accident or death.
Many of the uninitiated have said that Freemasonry is a secret society. A secret organization is one that would conceal its existence; hide its membership to themselves. Freemasonry does not conceal its existence; it builds its temples on conspicuous corners; the names of its members and officers are published; it prints its Constitution, laws and purposes; its members walk in public processions; Lodges publish bulletins and Grand Lodges publish Proceedings. The rituals used in initiations ect. and the signs and grips by which its members recognize each other are secret. Its secret rites are not in order to hide the truth, but the better to teach it more impressive; to train men in its pure service and to promote union and amity upon Earth. Its signs and grips serve as a kind of universal language and still more as a gracious cover for the practice of sweet charity, making it easier to help a fellowman in plight without hurting his self respect. It can thus be said that Freemasonry is a society with secrets; not a secret society.
The objective of Masonry is to teach. It teaches good men to be better men. It teaches Fatherhood in God and in the Brotherhood of Man. It teaches the need of knowledge and the need of virtue. It teaches men to circumscribe their passions. It teaches toleration and uprightness and character. A Mason is taught to live a true, honorable, upright, affectionate life from the motive of a good man.
Many people have the impression that the Masonic order is founded and conducted entirely for charity, for relief and assistance. Masonry is not an organization conducted for charitable purposes. It is not a mutual benefit association, but Masonry is devoted to teaching, not to helping with material aid.
The true Mason must be, and must have a right to be content with himself; and he can be so, only when he lives, not for himself alone, but for others, who need his assistance and have a claim upon his sympathy. Masonry expects everyman to do something, within and according to his means; and if not alone, then by combination and association.
Masonry is not a religion, not a church, but a worship in which men of all religions may unite. It is not the rival of any religion, but the friend of all, laying emphasis upon those truths which underlie all religions and are the basis and consecration of each. Masonry is not a religion, but it is religious.
Its great end is to make all men better men and thus the world a better place in which to live.