A Simple Explanation to "What is a Mason?"
by Glenn K. Fannin
Amara Webmaster - http://www.amarashriners.org
Before answering what Free Masonry is I want to point out what it isn’t. It isn’t a religion. Although you will find writings from people or organizations who oppose masonry because they believe it is a religion. Therefore in competition or at odds with their teachings or beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of these nay sayers like to point out that the Masonic Order has an alter, prayers, a leader who is worshipped and a figure head who was resurrected from the dead.
However, masonry does have a couple of religious prerequisites. To meet the first requisite a candidate must have is a belief in a Supreme Being or creator. It does not matter which religion the candidate practices. It could be Christian, Jewish, Moslem, Shinto or Buddhist just to mention a few of the more common religions practiced in today’s world. An agnostic is someone who believes there is a supreme being but does not believe the being made itself manifest unto mankind. In effect the world was created, wound up and left to perpetually run by itself like a clock. Since the agnostic believes in a Supreme Being or creator they could qualify as a candidate. An atheist would not be eligible as a candidate. The next requisite is a mason should attend, practice and support the religion to which they belong. Masonry is not included because it is not a religion. Therefore there is nothing in the Masonic teachings which would contradict, diminish, interfere, discount or impair mason’s duty to their professed religion. Perhaps you read my New Years resolution on religious tolerance. There is only a dichotomy if you believe Masonry is a religion. Once again let me restate Masonry is not a religion. Masonry leaves the salvation, nourishment and guidance of one’s soul to the religion the religion a mason professes. When a Free Mason speaks of light he is not talking about spiritual light but of knowledge and appreciation of the arts and sciences.
“O.K., if it isn’t a religion… then what is it?” you may be asking. I promised you a simplistic explanation and I will do so using the following analogy, at the risk of perhaps insulting some masons, who will have to forgive me, strictly for illustration purposes. You may equate Free Masons with Boy Scouts. Adult Boy Scouts if you will. The Masonic Blue Lodge could be equated to the Cub Scouts, the York or Scottish Rite with the Boy Scouts and the Shriners as the Eagle Scouts. The Free Mason Order is simply a fraternity of men, from different walks of life, persuasions and religions beliefs who have come together to do good and improve their knowledge and culture. Just like the Scouts who endeavor to earn “Merit Badges” for skills they have learned the Free Masons strive to enhance personal skills. Just like the Scout fraternal organizations use Indian Lore and trappings to make meetings more adventuresome, let’s face it most meetings are boring, the Free Masons use themes, like you might have used a theme at a high school prom. The Masonic Blue Lodge (first level) uses the building of Solomon’s Temple as a theme. The York and Scottish Rites use Heraldry as a theme, the Shriners use the Far East as a theme. You could think of the Free Mason’s as the first “Support Group.” Free Masons believe in supporting each other when the other is in trouble.
“So why then,” you ask, “do Free Masons get such a bad rap from some organizations?” I believe this comes from a lack of knowledge about the Free Mason Order. The Free Masons hold their meetings in “Secret.” The purpose of this “secrecy” is not to conduct some sinister, clandestine agenda but to enhance the concept of one coming out of the Dark Ages (where knowledge and the arts were persecuted due to superstition) and into the Renaissance, if you will, on a personal basis. Remember the original masons of Solomon’s Temple were craftsmen. At that time a mason was any craftsman or artisan not just workers of stone. These artisans were considered treasures and were protected by putting them in a guarded cloister to live. Just like Home Owner and Condo Associations are people who come together to insure the quality of life in their cloister (the Condominium or Home Owner project) the masons of that time were able to accomplish the same thing. They had one bargaining chip. They had their skill and could choose whoever they wanted to train. By keeping their “Trade Secrets” they could control who lived in their cloister by making sure the apprentice candidate was of reputable character. Just like the Condo and Homeowners Assoc. do now. Only they had no control over anyone who was already an artisan. In order to keep as many undesirables out it was import to keep one’s trade secrets so undesirables did not learn a craft and therefore be allowed to live in the cloister. Life in the cloister was usually much better, and safer, than living among the general populace of common labors. They would have excluded slaves because a Master could command a Slave to teach others and the Slave would have to obey. Pagans (people who did not believe in a Creator or Supreme Being) weren’t acceptable either. If they made an oath there was no underlying moral belief compelling them to keep their promise. The candidate for apprentice had to have some history. Someone who had recently been brought from the provinces, and no one knew, would be wild card. There would be no way to know if they could keep a secret or not. Or if they had lived a life as someone who professed a religion. Also, since the artisans lived in the cloister with their families, it was important to know the candidate would respect the wives, daughters and families or the people who were to teach them who to use trade tools and accept them into their community. It is this concept that is passed down in Free Masonry. Just like the original masons who built King Solomon’s Temple did not want to socialize with the “riff-raff” the Free Mason controls his social environment, which is important to nurturing his enlightenment, by being selective in the candidates it chooses to be members. Since the original King Solomon Masonic builders lived in a cloister they became like brothers and would come to one another’s mutual aid. Today it isn’t that the Free Mason rituals or teachings are that important that revealing them would devastate the order. On the contrary a number of people, who believed they could destroy the Free Masons by revealing their ceremonies have done just that. One Free Mason Order in England now performs all of its ceremonies and rituals in the open by providing an antechamber where people may watch. The importance today is not the secret but the individuals promise to keep it as a reflection of an individual’s resolve to maintain the high standards of the Free Mason Order.
Unfortunately it is this “secrecy” some have used to try and impugn the Free Masons. Let us address those in closing. The Free Masons have an alter but it is to alter the person from living in ignorance and living in knowledge and culture. It speaks of light but this is not spiritual light but the light of knowledge over ignorance. It refers to a lodge’s leader as Worshipful but in the old English, in which Free Masonry is still conversed in, of Worchipful (as in the Old English King James version of the bible) meaning “Honorable.” Such as, “worchip thy fithir and mithir.” The figure head of the Free Mason theme or analogy was Hiram Abiff and can be found in the Holy Bible. The General Contractor, in today’s terms, who built King Solomon’s temple. Free Mason Masonic lore describe him as being beset upon by murderous villains who wanted him to give them the trade secrets so they could make higher wages and live in the craftsman’s cloister. He refused to do so and was murdered then buried in a shallow grave. Some days later the grave was found, dug up and raised (exhumed from the grave) from the dead and given a proper burial. He was not resurrected (brought back to life). The importance of this that upon the pain of death he kept his secret and took it to the grave in order to preserve the continuity of the way of life of the brotherhood in the cloister. The villains could have taken the secrets and taught them to anyone and thereby just anyone would be allowed to live in the cloister. There goes the neighborhood!
I want to dispel another myth. To those who publish Washington D.C. was designed by a Free Mason and the design contained a pentagraph and this is evidence the Free Masons were plotting the destruction of the United States. Be informed George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and many of the “founding fathers” were Free Masons. That the ideals in the United States Constitution are derived from Free Mason tenants. That the “Great Experiment” which is called “The United States of America” is in reality the “Great Masonic Experiment.” If you really want to understand Free Masonry, without joining and learning on your own, read the “Constitution of The United States of America.”
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