Enter the secret world of the Freemasons
Enter the secret world of the Freemasons: The Freemasons are the world’s most well-known secret society, and are the subject of countless parodies and conspiracy theories. But who are they exactly? Mo Rocca ventures inside Masonic Lodges to find out.
Freemasonry consists of fraternal organisations that trace their origins to the local fraternities of stonemasons, which from the end of the fourteenth century regulated the qualifications of stonemasons and their interaction with authorities and clients. The degrees of freemasonry retain the three grades of medieval craft guilds, those of Apprentice, Journeyman or fellow (now called Fellowcraft), andMaster Mason. These are the degrees offered by Craft (or Blue Lodge) Freemasonry. Members of these organisations are known asFreemasons or Masons. There are additional degrees, which vary with locality and jurisdiction, and are usually administered by different bodies than the craft degrees.
The basic, local organisational unit of Freemasonry is the Lodge. The Lodges are usually supervised and governed at the regional level (usually coterminous with either a state, province, or national border) by a Grand Lodge or Grand Orient. There is no international, world-wide Grand Lodge that supervises all of Freemasonry; each Grand Lodge is independent, and they do not necessarily recognise each other as being legitimate.
Modern Freemasonry broadly consists of two main recognition groups. Regular Freemasonry insists that a volume of scripture is open in a working lodge, that every member profess belief in a Deity, that no women are admitted, and that the discussion of religion and politics is banned. Continental Freemasonry is now the general term for the “liberal” jurisdictions who have removed some, or all, of these restrictions.
Candidates for Freemasonry will have met most active members of the Lodge they are joining before they are initiated. The process varies between jurisdictions, but the candidate will typically have been introduced by a friend at a Lodge social function, or at some form of open evening in the Lodge. In modern times, interested people often track down a local Lodge through the Internet. The onus is on candidates to ask to join; while candidates may be encouraged to ask, they are never invited. Once the initial inquiry is made, an interview usually follows to determine the candidate’s suitability. If the candidate decides to proceed from here, the Lodge ballots on the application before he (or she, depending on the Masonic Jurisdiction) can be accepted.