We'll start this week with Freemasonry, simply for the reason that yours truly happens to be a Freemason, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. I am a 25th-degree Knight of the Brazen Serpent.
Sounds pretty fucking badass and metal, doesn't it? Especially that "Knight of the Brazen Serpent" part, right?
It really isn't.
Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation that arose from obscure origins in the late 16th to early 17th century. Freemasonry now exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around six million, including approximately 150,000 in Scotland and Ireland, over a quarter of a million under the Jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodge of England and just under two million in the United States.
The fraternity is administratively organised into independent Grand Lodges or sometimes Orients, each of which governs its own jurisdiction, which consists of subordinate (or constituent) Lodges. The various Grand Lodges recognise each other, or not, based upon adherence to landmarks (a Grand Lodge will usually deem other Grand Lodges who share common landmarks to be regular, and those that do not to be "irregular" or "clandestine"). There are also appendant bodies, which are organisations related to the main branch of Freemasonry, but with their own independent administration.
Freemasonry uses the metaphors of operative stonemasons' tools and implements, against the allegorical backdrop of the building of King Solomon's Temple, to convey what has been described by both Masons and critics as "a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols."
The origins and early development of Freemasonry are a matter of some debate and conjecture. A poem known as the "Regius Manuscript" has been dated to approximately 1390 and is the oldest known Masonic text.There is evidence to suggest that there were Masonic lodges in existence in Scotland as early as the late 16th century.
The first Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of England (GLE), was founded on 24 June 1717, when four existing London Lodges met for a joint dinner. This rapidly expanded into a regulatory body, which most English Lodges joined. However, a few lodges resented some of the modernisations that GLE endorsed, such as the creation of the Third Degree, and formed a rival Grand Lodge on 17 July 1751, which they called the "Antient Grand Lodge of England". The two competing Grand Lodges vied for supremacy – the "Moderns" (GLE) and the "Antients" (or "Ancients") – until they united on 25 November 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).
The Grand Lodge of Ireland and The Grand Lodge of Scotland were formed in 1725 and 1736 respectively. Freemasonry was exported to the British Colonies in North America by the 1730s – with both the "Antients" and the "Moderns" (as well as the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland) chartering offspring, or "daughter", Lodges, and organising various Provincial Grand Lodges. After the American Revolution, independent U.S. Grand Lodges formed themselves within each State. Some thought was briefly given to organising an over-arching "Grand Lodge of the United States", with George Washington (who was a member of a Virginian lodge) as the first Grand Master, but the idea was short-lived. The various State Grand Lodges did not wish to diminish their own authority by agreeing to such a body.
Although there are no real differences in the Freemasonry practiced by lodges chartered by the Antients or the Moderns, the remnants of this division can still be seen in the names of most Lodges, F.& A.M. being Free and Accepted Masons and A.F.& A.M. being Antient Free and Accepted Masons.
A Lodge (often termed a Private Lodge or Constituent Lodge in Masonic constitutions) is the basic organisational unit of Freemasonry. Every new Lodge must have a Warrant or Charter issued by a Grand Lodge, authorising it to meet and work. Except for the very few "time immemorial" Lodges pre-dating the formation of a Grand Lodge, masons who meet as a Lodge without displaying this document (for example, in prisoner-of-war camps) are deemed "Clandestine" and irregular.
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A Lodge must hold regular meetings at a fixed place and published dates. It will elect, initiate and promote its members and officers; it will build up and manage its property and assets, including its minutes and records; and it may own, occupy or share its premises. Like any organisation, it will have formal business to manage its meetings and proceedings, annual general meetings and committees, charity funds, correspondence and reports, membership and subscriptions, accounts and tax returns, special events and catering, and so forth. The balance of activities is individual to each Lodge, and under their common constitutions and forms of procedure, Lodges evolve very distinctive traditions.
A man can only be initiated, or made a Mason, in a Lodge, of which he may often remain a subscribing member for life. A Master Mason can generally visit any Lodge meeting under any jurisdiction in amity with his own, and as well as the formal meeting, a Lodge may well offer hospitality. A visitor should first check the regularity of that Lodge, and must be able to satisfy that Lodge of his own regularity; and he may be refused admission if adjudged likely to disrupt the harmony of the Lodge. If he wishes to visit the same Lodge repeatedly, he may be expected to join it and pay a subscription.
Most Lodges consist of Freemasons living or working within a given town or neighborhood. Other Lodges are composed of Masons with a particular shared interest, profession or background. Shared schools, universities, military units, Masonic appointments or degrees, arts, professions and hobbies have all been the qualifications for such Lodges. In some Lodges, the foundation and name may now be only of historic interest, as over time the membership evolves beyond that envisaged by its "founding brethren"; in others, the membership remains exclusive.
There are also specialist Lodges of Research, with membership drawn from Master Masons only, with interests in Masonic Research (of history, philosophy, etc.). Lodges of Research are fully warranted but, generally, do not initiate new candidates. Lodges of Instruction in UGLE may be warranted by any ordinary Lodge for the learning and rehearsal of Masonic Ritual.
Prince Hall Freemasonry
Prince Hall Freemasonry derives from historical events in the early United States that led to a tradition of separate, predominantly African-American Freemasonry in North America.
In 1775, an African-American named Prince Hall was initiated into an Irish Constitution military Lodge then in Boston, Massachusetts, along with fourteen other African-Americans, all of whom were free-born.
When the military Lodge left North America, those fifteen men were given the authority to meet as a Lodge, form Processions on the days of the Saints John, and conduct Masonic funerals, but not to confer degrees, nor to do other Masonic work. In 1784, these individuals applied for, and obtained, a Lodge Warrant from the Premier Grand Lodge of England (GLE) and formed African Lodge, Number 459.
When the UGLE was formed in 1813, all U.S.-based Lodges were stricken from their rolls – due largely to the War of 1812. Thus, separated from both UGLE and any concordantly recognised U.S. Grand Lodge, African Lodge re-titled itself as the African Lodge, Number 1 – and became a de facto "Grand Lodge" (this Lodge is not to be confused with the various Grand Lodges on the Continent of Africa). As with the rest of U.S. Freemasonry, Prince Hall Freemasonry soon grew and organised on a Grand Lodge system for each state.
Widespread segregation in 19th- and early 20th-century North America made it difficult for African-Americans to join Lodges outside of Prince Hall jurisdictions – and impossible for inter-jurisdiction recognition between the parallel U.S. Masonic authorities.
Prince Hall Masonry has always been regular in all respects except constitutional separation, and this separation has diminished in recent years. At present, Prince Hall Grand Lodges are recognised by some UGLE Concordant Grand Lodges and not by others, but they appear to be working toward full recognition, with UGLE granting at least some degree of recognition. There are a growing number of both Prince Hall Lodges and non-Prince Hall Lodges that have ethnically diverse membership.
While Freemasonry has often been called a "secret society", Freemasons themselves argue that it is more correct to say that it is an esoteric society, in that certain aspects are private. The most common phrasing being that Freemasonry has, in the 21st century, become less a secret society and more of a "society with secrets".
Candidates for regular Freemasonry are required to declare a belief in a Supreme Being. However, the candidate is not asked to expand on, or explain, his interpretation of Supreme Being. The discussion of politics and religion is forbidden within a Masonic Lodge, in part so a Mason will not be placed in the situation of having to justify his personal interpretation.
Thus, reference to the Supreme Being will mean the Christian Trinity to a Christian Mason, Allah to a Muslim Mason, Para Brahman to a Hindu Mason, etc. And while most Freemasons would take the view that the term Supreme Being equates to God, others may hold a more complex or philosophical interpretation of the term.
In the ritual, the Supreme Being is referred to as the Great Architect of the Universe, which alludes to the use of architectural symbolism within Freemasonry.
A Volume of the Sacred Law is always displayed in an open Lodge in those jurisdictions which require a belief in the Supreme Being. In English-speaking countries, this is frequently the King James Version of the Bible or another standard translation; there is no such thing as an exclusive "Masonic Bible". Furthermore, a candidate is given his choice of religious text for his Obligation, according to his beliefs. UGLE alludes to similarities to legal practice in the UK, and to a common source with other oath taking processes.
In Lodges with a membership of mixed religions it is common to find more than one sacred text displayed.
Contrary to common misconception, joining Freemasonry is not by invitation only. In fact, in many jurisdictions, the brothers of the lodge are not allowed to ask potential candidates to join (in these jurisdictions, the brethren must wait for the potential candidate to inquire). Other jurisdictions allow for varying degrees of solicitation. In other words, if any of you want to become a Freemason, just ask one.
However the initial introduction is made, the official process of becoming a Mason begins when a candidate for Freemasonry formally petitions a lodge. The brethren will then investigate the candidate, to assure themselves of his good character, and hold a secret ballot election (often using an old fashioned ballot box). The number of adverse votes needed to reject a candidate varries from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (in some, one "black ball" is enough to reject, in others up to three are required).
Generally, to be accepted for initiation as a regular Freemason, a candidate must:
Be a man who comes of his own free will.
Believe in a Supreme Being (the form of which is left to open interpretation by the candidate).
Be at least the minimum age (from 18–25 years old depending on the jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions the son of a Mason, known as a "Lewis", may join at an earlier age than others).
Be of good morals, and of good reputation.
Be of sound mind and body (Lodges had in the past denied membership to a man because of a physical disability; however, now, if a potential candidate says a disability will not cause problems, it will not be held against him).
Be free-born (or "born free", i.e., not born a slave or bondsman).(!)
Be capable of furnishing character references, as well as one or two references from current Masons, depending on jurisdiction.
Freemasonry explicitly and openly states that it is neither a religion nor a substitute for one. "There is no separate Masonic God", nor a separate proper name for a deity in any branch of Freemasonry.
Regular Freemasonry requires that its candidates believe in a Supreme Being, but the interpretation of the term is subject to the conscience of the candidate. This means that Freemasonry accepts men from a wide range of faiths, including (but not limited to) Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism etc. As a result, Freemasonry uses Volume of the Sacred Law (VSL) as a generic term for a religious book. As UGLE-based Freemasonry also requires that a VSL be present on the Altar, many Lodges have multiple VSLs available, and a candidate can be obligated on his book of choice.