What is Freemasonry?
Ask any of the 15,000 Freemasons in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory this question, and you’ll probably get 15,000 different answers!
Freemasonry means different things to each member.
Some would say it’s a personal development program which promotes family and community values. Others would describe Freemasonry as a chance for both social interaction and “philosophical brainstorming”. Freemasonry also provides an opportunity for public service, and hands-on involvement in charitable or community issues.
The short answer to the question, “What is Freemasonry” is that it’s one of the world’s oldest and largest fraternal organisations. Made up of 5 million Freemasons around the world, it has adopted the fundamental principles of integrity, goodwill, and charity as foundations for an individual’s life and character.
A Freemason strives to be:
A Brief History of Freemasonry
United Grand Lodge of England
The actual origins of Freemasonry have been lost in time, but it is known that it arose from the guilds of stonemasons which constructed Europe’s castles and cathedrals during the Middle Ages.
These craftsmen were in possession of highly prized skills in mathematics and architecture, which they in turn passed on to apprentices who had been accepted as being worthy of being taught the secrets of their trade. These trainees advanced, depending on their proficiency, to become Master Masons.
In England in 1717 four Lodges decided to create a formal organisation by forming the first Grand Lodge. Freemasonry then spread across Europe and to other countries with amazing speed.
In Australia, Freemasonry can be traced to the First Fleet’s arrival in 1788. The United Grand Lodge of New South Wales was officially formed in 1888, and later became responsible for Freemasonry in the Australian Capital Territory.
Freemasonry and Symbolism
Freemasonry makes symbolic use of various practices and implements of those guilds from the Middle Ages. The craftsmen of yesteryear adopted a series of exclusive signs and words to be able to demonstrate that they were trained masons, and to enable easy identification as they moved from site to site. In that same way, the Masons of today use a series of signs and words to indicate their progress through the various stages of Freemasonry.
Stonemasons from centuries ago wore leather aprons to carry their working implements and to protect themselves from flying chips of stone. Modern Masons wear an embroidered lambskin apron to distinguish rank. As the Mason’s proficiency increases, the design of his apron becomes more ornate.
Ancient Freemasons used the skirret to mark out the ground for the foundations of the intended building and the compasses were used to determine, with accuracy and precision the limits and proportions of its several parts.
Those skilled workers in times gone by used the square to test the accuracy of their stonework – to prove that it was square with the other sides and that angles were identical.
Freemasonry uses the square and compasses to remind members of basic guidelines for their dealings with other men.
Square and Compasses
The square symbolises integrity, truthfulness, and honour, while the compasses symbolise the importance of self-control, or keeping emotion and prejudice within bounds.
Typical Lodge Meetings
Before the Meeting
Masons usually gather once a month for a daytime or evening meeting lasting two to three hours. Prior to monthly meetings the doors are generally open one hour beforehand for social purposes.
During the Meeting
Like any organisation there’s a business element, with minutes, accounts, and plans for upcoming events to be read and discussed among the members. But a Lodge meeting is also ceremonial, involving a series of formalised and symbolic presentations which use drama to highlight the codes of conduct by which a Freemason strives to live.
During a Lodge meeting, instruction is also provided to assist in a Mason’s daily life and personal development. This may be on a range of topics, including public speaking, communication skills, leadership skills, or business management.
After the Meeting
The final part of the meeting involves all Lodge members dining together. With Masons coming from all age groups and from all walks of life, the opportunity to sit down and enjoy a meal with each other provides the perfect chance to “catch up”, and yet another forum for an exchange of ideas.