Every man comes to Masonry, of his own free will and accord, with his own individual needs and interests. One man may join so that he can associate with other men who believe that only by improving themselves can they hope to improve their world. Another man may join because he is looking for a focus for his charitable inclinations. Yet another man may be attracted by a strong desire for non-sectarian rituals and rites of passage. Many join simply because they know a friend or relative who is a Freemason and they admire that man's way of living his life. All who join and become active discover a bond of brotherly affection and a community of mutual support; a practical extension of their own religious and philosophical beliefs.
The Masonic Lodge is a place where one can feel completely welcome and free from the competitiveness of the outside world. Oh, masons can get a little competitive at times, of course, but it is a competition to do good and to improve oneself, not to "get ahead" of others, or accumulate honors and power. Masonic offices and degrees are indeed honors, but they are symbolic ones, not one's that bestow social status or power. Masons of all social and economic classes and all ages can meet "on the level" and act "on the plumb" in the lodge. Inside a Masonic lodge there should be no discussion of politics, religious differences, or class. The free exchange of ideas is encouraged so long as it does not inspire division among brothers.
Most North American Masonic lodges are composed of fewer than two hundred members of which perhaps thirty are active and will come out regularly to the one or two meetings a month. One meeting is a business meeting to keep the membership apprised of the workings of the lodge: paying of accounts, charitable works in progress, assistance to sick or distressed brethren, the reading of petitions for membership, and voting on those petitions. The second monthly meeting is used for the conferring of the three degrees - Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. Before an initiate receives a degree, and takes an obligation of secrecy, he is assured that the mysteries are founded on the purest principles of piety and virtue and that any vows are not inconsistent with his civil, moral, or religious duties.
Some lodges meet monthly, others only four times a year. Many lodges also organize socials, dances, outings, dinners and sporting events for their members and families. Some hold "table lodges" which are like formal banquets of Masons where sometime speeches are given and always a hearty round of seven traditional toasts are made in the unique style of Freemasonry called "firing the cannons." These table lodges are enormous fun but the fun is not an end in itself. It supports the good cheer that allows each Mason to reach out to others and offer help in time of trouble.
This kind of help or "relief" as we call it, does not take the form of behind the scenes influence to get a brother a plum job or to engage in political maneuvering. It takes the form of attending the funeral of a worthy brother who has passed on. It takes the form of helping that brother's widow and family if they need assistance from financial help to simply helping out with shoveling a sidewalk or painting a house. Masonic relief can take the form of stopping to help a brother whose has a flat tire, or helping in the community to raise money for a food shelf or for scholarships. Masons are volunteers and they know the personal rewards of volunteering their time and talents to help others in need.
Each lodge is chartered by a regional Grand Lodge. In the United States there is one grand lodge for each of the fifty states. There are some 200 recognized Masonic jurisdictions around the world and no central worldwide authority, although all lodges can trace their history from either the United Grand Lodge of England (or its precursor grand lodges, the Grand Lodge of Scotland or the Grand Lodge of Ireland.) Grand Lodges are simply lodges that can grant charters to regular lodges, and they operate under a system of mutual recognition, working within a set of Landmarks, or the customs of the fraternity. All of the lodges in a given jurisdiction send their chief officers to vote in an election each year for a new grand master. He and the other grand officers work on the big picture of Masonry in their jurisdiction, helping the constituent lodges to grow and continue their good work.
That worldwide presence means that one of the most compelling aspects of being a lodge member is the chance to associate regularly with men of all walks of life, many entrepreneurs and statesmen, but also working men, artists, writers, and professional men. It also means that the warm handshake of the lodge brother extends from you to your brothers and through them to all the great men of history who were Masons and other Masons all over the world. That "mystic tie" that binds brother to brother extends around the world and you have the comfort of knowing that no matter how far you travel in life, there will always be brothers who will welcome you with love and offer you a helping hand.
But what it means to be a Mason is far more than simply paying dues to a lodge or even attending regular meetings and doing volunteer work. Other social clubs offer those things too. Masonry's meaning lies in the initiation rituals we all share and the other rituals of the lodge that teach us symbolic lessons about our spiritual lives and the potential each of us has for being good men and true. A fellowship dedicated to the idea of being good may seem quaint in today's world where television and movies seem to emphasize action and adventure, and give crime and piracy a gloss of romance. But that is what makes Masonry more relevant today than ever before. When men like George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, Ben Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Winston Churchill, and so many others, joined the fraternity of Freemasons it was because they recognized in it an organized force for good. It is not a church, synagogue, temple, or mosque, all of which teach moral lessons and good conduct in their particular way. The Masonic lodge focuses on the virtues of good men and offers men a private sacred space in which they can learn to subdue anger, lust, envy, sloth, gluttony, and all the other vices to which we humans are prey. Masons subdue their passions by directing those energies towards the vision of becoming perfectly cut stones in an infinite spiritual temple planned by the Great Architect of the Universe to improve humankind.
That may sound like a weighty and serious mission. It is. It may sound even a little 'religion-ish', but it isn't. And the reason is this: Freemasonry lets every man decide what he wants to believe and leaves matters of faith outside the lodge. As a group of Masons, our joint (as opposed to individual) pursuit of the Divine Plan does not mean promoting a particular religion or converting others to one's own belief system. Freemasonry works through Reason as well as Faith and considers that the Divine Plan is to make human beings more loving, more caring, and more inclined to live in harmony with each other as good brothers. Focusing on those goals and virtues does not incorporate most of the higher theology and religious laws of the world religions - at least within the bounds of Masonry. It does not require priests or prophets - within Masonry. Just like a business doesn't teach theology or utilize priests within its day to day operations. We leave these higher things and spiritual decisions to the Sovereign Man - YOU! A core Masonic principle, a respect we have for each other, is that the individual determines what he or she believes, and how. Within Masonry, we only require a rational understanding of the spiritual realities of the human condition, the demands that nature, chance or God's Plan places upon us, and our power of free-will to do what is good instead of what is harmful. It isn't easy; having a lodge full of brothers who are trying to pursue the same work of self-transformation and virtue helps a lot.
Seem like something you would like to join? Here's how. Or, continue on to Faces of Masonry