Just about everything concerning Freemasonry is shrouded in mystery or in the even more impenetrable Nacht und Nebel of Masonic pietism. “Operative” (stoneworking) masons banded together in the 14th century or earlier, while “Accepted” Masonry began in about 1600 and became important about a century later. Today, there are probably 10 million adherents worldwide. Freemasonry is unquestionably the largest, oldest, and most influential of all secret societies. As such, it warrants the longest single entry in this work, as well as a number of subsidiary entries.
Precisely because it is so large, so old, and so influential, Freemasonry is also the best documented of all secret societies. In many libraries, there are more books dedicated to “the Graft” (as Masons call it) than there are on all other secret societies put together. Accordingly, the difficulty in compiling a brief outline of Freemasonry lies more in deciding what to omit than in trying to discover more about the Brotherhood. “Brotherhood,” like “John’s Brothers” and “Brethren of the Mystic Tie,” is one of several names under which Freemasonry may go.
Sources of Information
There are said to be more than 50,000 books on the Graft, and not one of them tells the whole story. The vast majority of accounts, verbal or written, can be divided into two effectively opposing camps. On the one hand, there are the Masons themselves, whose enthusiasm for their organization is understandable and often praiseworthy. On the other hand, there are those who, for various reasons, want to do Masonry down: the apostates, the sensationalists, the conspiracy theorists, those with tender religious sensibilities, and others. Even when an author purports to be impartial, it is rare for him to remain entirely dispassionate through his account. In light of this, the following caveats should be entered:
1. Any generalization about the Craft, based upon the experience of individual Masons or groups of Masons, is necessarily imperfect. Freemasonry changes to suit the times, but its individual members and lodges may change or deviate from the mainstream still more —and they cannot know what other Masons are doing.
2. One gets from the Craft what one brings to it. For self-seekers, it is an excellent tool for advancement. For the clubbable, it is a first-class club. For the mystic, there is a fine range of mysticism. And for the little boy who loves dressing up and pretending to be important, it is the ultimate little boys’ club.
3. The Craft in Britain is very different from the Craft in the United States, and both are different from the Craft in Europe or in South America. This argument is enlarged below.
4. In order to be initiated, one must take oaths and make affirmations, which may offend the religious sensibilities of many. Again, this point is enlarged below.
The Origins of Freemasonry
The masons who worked on the great medieval cathedrals (and to a lesser extent, on palaces, bridges, and other public works) were necessarily itinerant; they typically ranged all over Europe. Neither noble nor serf, they were not bound to any one place; they were truly free masons.
Wherever they gathered to work, they established lodges. At first, they probably rented rooms at an inn, or rented a house, though in the larger cities where there was plenty of work, they might eventually buy property or presumably even build a lodge. These original lodges served two purposes. One literally was to provide somewhere to stay, a lodging place. The other was to provide a meeting place and headquarters for masons, where a Master Mason (who had served his apprenticeship and was almost as much architect as stone-cutter) might be recognized and distinguished from impostors. In this sense, they functioned as a combination trade union and Better Business Bureau. The easiest way to distinguish Master Masons in an age that was commonly both lawless and illiterate was by secret grips and passwords.
The Secrets of Freemasonry
The original secrets of the Freemasons were almost certainly trade secrets, probably combined with mutual assistance in the form 6’f names of contacts and so forth, though a panoply of ritual and ornament had grown up as early as the 14th century and was consolidated in the 15th. A text of 1425 that names Euclid as the founder of Masonry and traces the Graft back to the Tower of Babel and the Temple of Solomon must owe at least part of its content to wishful thinking. This text is a part of the “Old Charges,” a collection of over 100 documents that are regarded by modem Masons as the main guide to the precepts of Masonry. The history of the Old Charges is by no means clear, and there is not even any firm agreement on how many there are, but a popular figure is 115.
The modem secrets are either very secret indeed or substantially nonexistent. According to Masonic pietists, the innermost secrets were conveyed to Adam by God; were concealed and preserved during the Flood in a cave dug by Enoch; and were codified in the Temple of Solomon. The tradition of the transmission of these secrets is of course Masonic; there seem to be no non-Masonic corroborations of their nature of existence.
Masonic calendars are an excellent example of Masonic thinking. Master Masons traditionally date their calendar from the creation of the world (Anno Lucis), calculated by the simple expedient of adding 4,000 to the common Christian calendar, which is probably a convenient rounding from Bishop Usher’s traditional calculation of the creation at 4004 b.C.
Royal Arch Masons are slightly more intrepid mathematicians, and add 530 years to the common Christian calendar. This Anno Inventionis is said to commemorate the date of the commencement of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, by Zerubbabel.
Other choices include adding 1,913 to the common calendar to get Anno Benefacio, dating from the blessing of Abraham by the High Priest Melchisedek, who is presumably to be confused with King Melchizedek; this is the Calendar of the Order of High Priesthood. Then the Cryptic Masons add a straight 1,000 years, ostensibly dating their Anno Depositionis from the foundation of the Temple of Solomon. Knights Templar (the Masonic variety, not the originals) use the year of the foundation of the Templars as their starting point, choosing 1118 as being as good a year as any. And Scottish Rite Masons, the most intrepid mathematicians of all, add 3,760 to the common era up to September in each year, and 3,761 from September to December inclusive: this is the Anno Mundi, or “Year of the World.”
Although the original Freemasons were actual workers in stone, honorary membership is recorded as early as 1600 in the Edinburgh Lodge. The 17th century saw a considerable growth in “speculative” Masonry, the Masonic term for the admission of members who were not stone workers or “operative” masons. In 1619, the London Masons’ Company founded the “Acception” in about 1619 for speculative Masons; “Accepted” or “Gentlemen” Masons were not a part of the company, but they were admitted to the lodge on payment of twice an operative mason’s dues. Elias Ashmole (1617—92, of Ashmolean Museum fame) became a Mason in 1646; Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) was also said to have joined, though conclusive evidence is impossible to find.
The reasons for the development of speculative Masonry are unclear, but four causes seem like:
The first is a genuine interest in the world at large, and especially in building and architecture. This was the time when the Grand Tour began to gain in popularity among young gentlemen wishing to broaden their education.
The second is mystical. John Bunyans Solomon’s Temple Spiritualized was an allegory that drew parallels between the builder’s craft and the process of spiritual development. The same process of allegory can be seen in the “conceits” of the Metaphysical poets of the previous (16th) century. The study of these allegories was not, however, dogmatic; it was more in the nature of free-thinking inquiry, for this was the dawn of the Age of Reason.
The third is that by the beginning of the 17th century, operative Freemasonry was dead on its feet. The last great Gothic building in England was arguably the Chapel of King’s College in Cambridge, which was completed in about 1512. No doubt Freemasons worked on baroque buildings, but the age of the architect was arriving. It is interesting to speculate upon the extent to which Freemasonry was responsible for the appearance of architects. Regardless of that, the Acception enabled traditionally minded operative Masons to keep their lodges alive, which might otherwise have lapsed entirely.
The fourth and final reason is that in all probability, Masonic lodges functioned as agreeable clubs where one could meet like-minded people in interesting and convivial surroundings. The gentleman of the Acception might feel that operative masons were below him socially, but he no doubt regarded them (with or without being patronizing) as the “salt of the earth.” And if he did not care for their conversation, why, there were always the other gentlemen to talk to.
Throughout the 17th century, and even into the early 18th century, the individual lodge was very much the basis of the Craft—a logical consequence of the original purpose of Freemasonry. As the number of speculative Masons grew, though, so did the pressures for a more formal organization.
Masonry in the 18th Century
In 1717, four London lodges united to form the United Grand Lodge, and their authority rapidly spread throughout England and into the colonies. Scotland and Ireland retained their own Grand Lodges, however. In 1722—23, the Book of Constitutions was drawn up by Dr. James Anderson, a minister of the Church of Scotland, at the request of the United Grand Lodge.
The Book of Constitutions formalized Masonic ritual and (in all probability) added a few new ideas of its own. The legend of Hiram Abif (King Solomon’s Master Mason) dates from this period, as does the representation of the Craft as a pyramid, with the Grand Master at the apex: this symbol is still seen on U.S. currency.
Among Anderson’s innovations were attempts to formalize the Landmarks and Charges of Masonry. There is still dispute about these, and even about their precise number— there was a further revision of Masonic doctrine as early as 1738— but the Landmarks are aspects of Masonry that may not be changed, and the Charges are guidelines to Masonic behavior.
Twenty-five major Landmarks, widely though not universally agreed upon, are summarized below. Those in quotation marks are taken directly from Mackey’s Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry; they are quoted verbatim because understanding their full meaning requires Masonic exegesis. Masons are highly enthusiastic, though not always highly competent, symbolists, interpreters, and exegetes.
- Recognition of a Brother Mason
2. Division of Symbolic Masonry into three Degrees
3. The Legend of the Third Degree [Hiram Abif]
4. The election by the Craft of the Grand Master
5. The prerogative of the Grand Master to preside over any assemblage of the Craft in his jurisdiction
6. The prerogative of the Grand Master to grant dispensations for conferring degrees other than at regular initiations
7. The prerogative of the Grand Master to give dispensations for opening and holding lodges
8. The prerogative of the Grand Master to make Masons at sight
9. The necessity for Masons to congregate in lodges
10 The government of a lodge by a Master and two Wardens
11. The necessity that a lodge, when congregate, shall be guarded (“tiled,” in Masonic parlance)
12. The right of every Mason to be represented in all meetings of the Craft
13. The right of appeal to the Grand Lodge against any decision made in a local lodge
14. The right to visit and sit in every convened lodge
15. Exclusion of unknown visitors without “strict trial and due examination”
16. Autonomy of local lodges and lack of mutual jurisdiction
17. “Masons are amenable to the laws and regulations of the Masonic jurisdiction in which they reside”
18. Masons must be male, free-born, unmutilated, and legally adult
19. Belief in the existence of a Supreme Being
20. Belief in the existence of a life after death
21. Displaying the Book of Law within the lodge [the Bible in Christian countries, the “book of faith” in other countries]
22. Equality within the lodge
24. “The foundation of a speculative science using an operative art is used in Masonry for the purpose of religious or moral teaching”
25. The immutability of Landmarks
In practice, Masons can accept or reject any of these Landmarks, but if they do, they may be shunned or declared “clandestine” (see below) by other Masons. The Charges are more widely agreed on. The wording of each Charge varies greatly, but the following heads are standard:
- Of God and Religion
2. Of the Civil Magistrate supreme and subordinate
3. Of Lodges
4. Of Masters, Wardens, Fellows, and Apprentices
5. Of the management of the Craft in working
6. Of behavior:
In the Lodge while constituted
After the Lodge is over and the Brethren not gone
When Brethren meet without strangers, but not in Lodge
In the presence of strangers not Masons
At home and in the neighborhood
Toward a strange Brother
Schism and Reunification
The authority of the United Grand Lodge and the Book of Constitutions was not universally recognized in the early 18th century, and in 1751 there came a schism.
Understandably, as befitted a body of medieval worthies who found much of their work in building cathedrals, operative Masons had mostly been strongly Christian, and their ritual reflected this; prayers were said in the name of Jesus Christ, and Christianity was taken for granted.
The more radically minded gentlemen of the Acception, though, were imbued with the modem ideas of Deism. They wanted the Christian part of the Craft downplayed considerably and were uncomfortable with the old order. The Reverend Anderson himself, in the Constitutions, said,” ‘Tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that religion to which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves.” To be charitable, this may be interpreted as an exhortation for Catholics and Protestants to work together, though in the light of subsequent developments it is impossible to guess the intentions of anyone.
Another faction of the Acception, composed mostly of lodges that had not joined the 1717 Grand Lodge, was keen on expanding the degrees to include the Holy Royal Arch, to which a Master Mason (formerly the highest degree) might be “exalted.” Given that Masonry was Originally a craft guild, and that the vast majority of guilds have by tradition recognized only Apprentice (Entered Apprentice), Journeyman (Fellow Mason), and Master, many Masons saw the Royal Arch as an unnecessary complication.
In 1751, because of these differences of opinion, the “Antients” formed their own Grand Lodge: They were pro-Christian and worked the Royal Arch, while the 1717 Grand Lodge leaned toward deism and refused to recognize the new degree.
The two Grand Lodges reunited in 1813 when two brothers, the Duke of Sussex and the Duke of Kent, were the two Grand Masters. The Antients dropped their objection to the watering down of Christianity, while in a remarkable form of words the 1717 Grand Lodge declared that the Royal Arch did not constitute a new degree, but was merely a culmination of the other three degrees and completed the making of a Master Mason.
The Royal Arch was not, however, ruled by the Grand Lodge but rather by a Grand Chapter (with subordinate chapters), and to a large extent there remained two overlapping organizations. Today, perhaps one Master Mason in five in Britain is also a member of the Royal Arch.
Despite these and other doctrinal quarrels, speculative Freemasonry was exported from Britain almost from its inception. Throughout the 18th century it boomed, especially in Protestant lands. Lodges sprang up like mushrooms: Frederick the Great of Prussian (1740—86) is credited with introducing the Craft into his country, and was Grand Master. Many other pre-Unification German princes and princelings were Masons, too, including Frances I of Austria (1708—65).
A lodge was formed in Paris in 1725 by expatriate Englishmen, and although it was officially discouraged by Louis XV in 1737, it was often tolerated, at least unofficially. The rival lodges of the Grand Orient and the Grand Lodge were united in 1773. A similar “blind eye” treatment existed in Spain and the various Italian states, though the Swiss and some other Protestant states actually imposed bans: the Netherlands in 1735, Sweden and Geneva in 1738, Zurich in 1740, and Berne in 1745.
The credentials of some of these lodges were dubious. Liberal admixtures of Rosicrucians and their attendant Egyptian (or pseudo-Egyptian) rites made their way into the Craft, and the famous and influential Count Cagliostro (1743—93) was to a large extent a charlatan, despite the influence he wielded among German and Russian Masons; among his innovations were women’s lodges under a “Queen of Sheba.” He finally lost considerable credibility by attaining a life span some 5,505 years shorter than the 5,557 years he claimed to be possible.
During the 18th century, there were heavy political overtones in many lodges. Scottish Freemasons, seeking a Jacobite restoration, used the Craft as a political tool.
There was a temporary alliance between them and Rome (especially the Jesuits) to try to secure the return of a Catholic monarch. This was the era of Michael Ramsay (“the Chevalier Ramsey”) and the Kilwinning Lodge. By 1738, though, the Pope had had enough, and Clement XII issued a bull forbidding Catholics to join or support Freemasonry on pain of excommunication.
This was in itself probably a political move, designed to reinforce the temporal authority of the papacy, and it was widely ignored, though Freemasons were, in fact, imprisoned and tortured in Spain and Portugal, and it was unwise to profess Freemasonry in Poland. Papal hostility was reiterated frequently; Benedict XIV issues a reaffirming bull in 1751, and between 1821 and 1902 there were no fewer than 10 more encyclicals denouncing the Craft and reaffirming the bull of Clement XII. The encyclical of Leo XVIII (promulgated in 1884) is particularly strongly worded.
In Britain’s American colonies, prominent Freemasons included Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette, Paul Revere, and John Paul Jones. The first American lodge was founded as early as April 13, 1733, and many more followed. No less than treason was plotted in the lodges. It was from the Green Dragon, the meeting place of St. Andrew Lodge in Boston, that the instigators of the Boston Tea Party set out. Both the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution are prime examples of the kind of rationalism (with mystical/deist overtones) that characterized the Craft in the Age of Reason, and American paper currency is to this day fairly awash with Masonic symbolism.
According to Ferguson (Fifty Million Brothers), who described Washington’s Continental Army as “a Masonic convention,” both sides maintained and scrupulously respected one another’s “field lodges.” The Patriots even went so far as to return under guard of honor Masonic emblems and other materials abandoned during a hasty retreat. The same source alleges that after the recapture of Philadelphia in 1778, Washington donned full Masonic regalia and marched in the company of 300 fellow Masons to a Masonic service.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Freemasons initially supported the French Revolution as a reaction against the oppression of the ancien régime; but during the Terror, when the Jacobins came to the fore, the voice of reason— or of the middle and aristocratic classes — was no longer welcome. Freemasonry was banned in France in 1792, and the former Grand Master, the Duc d’Orléans, went to the guillotine in 1793. The Craft was legalized again in 1798.
Masonry in the 19th Century
The tradition of political activism behind lodge doors continued unbroken from the 18th century to the 19th. At the very end of the 18th century, in 1796, there were strong Masonic components in the United Irishmen and in the “Conspiracy of Equals,” a French movement of 1796 holding that the original ideals of the Revolution had been compromised. The Philhellenic Movement, dedicated to Greek freedom, culminated in the establishment of a semi-independent Greece in the 1820s, while the Decembrists were less lucky in their uprising against the Tsar in 1825. In Italy, there were the Carbonari.
Unsurprisingly, such political activity made the Freemasons unpopular in many quarters, and populist anti-Masonic movements were often violent. This was true for the first third or even the first half of the nineteenth century, and was world wide.
Despite such setbacks, the Craft recovered and steadily increased in both numbers and complexity throughout the latter part of the 19th century. Some offshoots went on to a separate existence of their own, such as the Carbonari and the (modern) Illuminati, while others remained within Masonry.
It is also worth noting that while American Freemasonry remained for the most part relentlessly committed to excluding African Americans (see Black Freemasonry, below), the Grand Lodge of England continued to show itself willing to induct non-whites. In India, Parsees were admitted as early as about 1860, followed by both Hindus and Moslems.
20th-Century Masonry (General)
In the 20th century, the relationship among church, state, and the Craft remained uneasy. Masons in many continental European countries have traditionally been strongly anti-Catholic — this is especially true in Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Spain — and Latin America suffers the same sort of strain. In Scandinavia, by contrast, the nobility and even the monarchy are traditionally Masonic and may hold the highest officers. The same is true to a very large extent in England.
Freemasonry did not do very well under either communism or fascism, though. In Soviet Russia, it was banned in 1922; Franco closed all Masonic lodges in Spain after the Civil War (the Masons were avowedly Loyalist); and by 1935, German Freemasons were about as well regarded by Hitler as were Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals. Lodges were closed, paraphernalia destroyed, and members sent to concentration camps.
The proliferation of degrees of initiation, which had begun in the early 18th century and continued apace, was so complex by the late 20th century as to defy analysis even by a Freemason. Different lodges recognize different authorities and are on varying terms with one another, while different individual Masons follow different paths within the Craft.
Furthermore, the origins of many degrees is pure fantasy, such as the supposed links between the Kilwinning Lodge and the Knights Hospitalers, or the Templar connections. Because each State Grand Lodge is independent, variety is inevitable; and it seems that ever since the Book of Constitutions was written in 1722—23 and then revised in 1738, there has been a constant tendency to “improve” the rituals. The description of the ritual that follows is, therefore, a guide to general practice only; individual lodges may have ceremonies that are very different. Even so, the general form of modern initiations is so well reported in so many books that a brief description of the ceremony of the first degree (that of “Entered Apprentice”) will suffice here.
Admission and Ritual
To begin with, the candidate must request admission. Traditionally, Masons never recruit anyone, though they have been known to inform people that if they were to apply, they would likely be well received.
The minimum age for admission varies, typically from 18 to 25, but it is 21 in most jurisdictions. It may be reduced if the candidate’s father is a Mason.
The candidate must profess belief in a supreme being (though not necessarily in a Christian God) and must be ‘sound in mind and body, theoretically, anyone who is maimed in any way is excluded. After scrutiny by an admissions committee, the candidate is put up for admission by general ballot by blackball. This must be unanimous, but the candidate gets two chances; one black ball in the first ballot is said to “cloud” the vote, which is then retaken.
The lodge room of the blue lodge is traditionally on the second or third floor, to discourage eavesdroppers. There is an altar in the center of the room. On it rests a Bible, and the square and compasses. Around this burn three tapers. Over the Master’s chair is a large “G”: some ‘say for God, some say for Geometry.
The candidate is divested of his coat and trousers, and goes barefoot; he slips off the left sleeve of his shirt to expose his left breast. One theory holds that this is to demonstrate that he is not a woman in disguise.
On his right foot, the candidate is “slipshod,” or wears a slipper; in most lodges he is given a pair of trousers to wear, though in the days of long-tailed shirts, this was by no means always the case. All metal objects, such as coins, watch, or tie pin, are taken away from him. A noose, often of blue silk, is put about his neck. He is “hoodwinked,” or blindfolded.
The symbolism of all this is to remind him that he was accepted penniless, directionless, and partially clad, and that he should in the future help fellow Masons who may be so distressed.
After a formal request for admission, and a question-and-answer session regarding his intentions, he is admitted to the Lodge Chamber, where the point of a sword or dagger (or of a pair of compasses) is pressed against his left breast. This is the “Shock of Entrance” and is accompanied by the homily: Mr. [Name], on entering this Lodge for the first time, I receive you on the point of a sharp instrument pressing your naked left breast, which is to teach you, as this is an instrument of torture to your flesh, so should the recollection of it ever be to your mInd and conscience, should you attempt to reveal the secrets of Masonry unlawfully.
After the reading of biblical passages and the kissing of the Bible, the candidate swears the well-known oath, in which he pledges secrecy on peril of having my throat cut across, my tongue torn out by the root, and buried in the sand of the sea at low water mark, or a cable’s length from shore, where the tide regularly ebbs and flows twice in twenty-four hours.
There is no record of this penalty ever having been enforced, and some lodges weaken it greatly by continuing: … or the more effective punishment of being branded as a willfully perjured individual, void of all moral worth, and totally unfit to be received into this worshipful Lodge.
The noose (or “cable tow”) is removed, and when the Master asks the candidate what he desires most at this time, he gives the answer — as he has been advised to do —“Light,” whereupon the hoodwink is removed.
He is presented with a 24-inch gauge, representing the 24 hours of the day; a mallet, representing the forces of conscience; and a chisel, representing the sharpness of conscience. Explanations of these “Mysteries” are given, and at the end of the ceremony, he is said to have “worked the first degree.”
For the Fellow Craft degree, there are more sartorial indignities, this time with the slipper on the left foot and the right breast bared. The tools of this degree are the plumb, square, and level, and the oath involves “having my left breast torn open, my heart and vitals taken hence and given as prey to the beasts of the field and the vultures of the air.” There is no record of this penalty having been exacted, either.
To become a Master Mason, the initiate bares his breast on both sides, rolls up his trouser legs, and volunteers to keep his secrets “under no less penalty than that of having my body severed in two, my bowels taken from thence and burned to ashes, the ashes scattered before the four winds of heaven.”
Once again, there seem to be no reliable records of this ever being done. It is also unclear whether the oath concerning chastity that was quoted by Captain Morgan —“I do promise and swear that I will not violate the chastidy of a Master Mason’s wife, mother, sister or daughter, I knowing them to be such.”—is still administered— or indeed, whether it was ever widely administered.
On top of these three original degrees, there are innumerable others, including Cryptic Degrees, the Thirty-Three Degrees of the Scottish Rite, the innumerable degrees of the Oriental Rite or Memphis and Misraim, and more. Degrees were still being invented well into the 20th century, where the focus of inventiveness shifted from France to the United States in the mid to late 19th century.
In practice, modern Freemasonry is as far divorced from the revolutionaries of the 18th and early 19th centuries as it is from the mystics of the 17th century and the actual stonemasons of the 13th century. There are now effectively two branches, the United States and the rest of the world.
20th-Century Masonry: Outside the United States
England, the home of speculative Freemasonry, remains strongly Masonic. In his book The Brotherhood (London, 1984), Steven Knight paints a somewhat chilling picture of the power of the Craft, with special reference to the law and politics.
The royal family is heavily (though not necessarily enthusiastically) involved in Freemasonry. Queen Elizabeth is Grand Patroness, though Prince Philip is reputed to be an indifferent Mason, who has never troubled to rise above the rank of Entered Apprentice. He apparently joined at the insistence of King George VI, more or less as a condition of receiving his consent to marry the Princess Elizabeth. The Prince of Wales and Heir Apparent has expressed an aversion to joining.
As already mentioned, the Royal Arch is worked by perhaps 20 percent of all British Master Masons, and there are many who (like Prince Philip) never even feel the need to become Master Masons. The Thirty-Third Degree is not the everyday ambition in the U.K. that it appears to be in the United States. This is not to say that Freemasonry is less important in Britain than in the United States; rather, it is lower-key, a part of an Establishment that is vastly stronger (and more flexible and more permeable) than any in the United States.
As in the United States, being a Mason is only a part of joining this Establishment, membership in which is reinforced by having gone to the “right sort” of school and to the “right” university, as well as coming from the “right sort” of family. The more traditionally minded Briton’s chauvinism on this last point is impossible for many Americans to grasp.
As befits a traditionally minded organization, British Freemasonry has no truck with such innovations as the Shriners, and indeed had offered suspension or expulsion to any British Mason who becomes involved with such frivolites. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that the apparently unshakable self-confidence of the Grand Lodge of England (U.G.L.E.) has enabled it to admit individuals and even to charter whole lodges with an openhandedness that would never be acceptable to many American Masons.
In the rest of Europe, Freemasonry is, if anything, even more Establishment-minded than it is in Britain. Its power is extremely hard to gauge, but, as already indicated, it enjoys royal and noble patronage in many northern European countries. Even in Italy, the Propaganda Due lodge was the center of a major government scandal in the 1980s. Masons and non-Masons alike have alleged that one reason why the Catholic Church has been so anti-Masonic is that even princes of the Church have been attracted to it, and that, as a result, the Holy Father himself fears its power.
20th-Century Masonry: In the United States
In the United States, social class is largely defined first by what you earn, and then by what you do. This means that Freemasonry is both more, and less, homogenous than in Europe.
It is more homogeneous because the appeal of the Craft is mostly to the professions and would-be professions. It is less homogenous because success in a profession cuts across social classes to a far greater extent than it does in Europe.
In the United States, there is much more emphasis on money, not merely as a qualification for membership, but also for spending on initiations and charities. As already mentioned, many more Americans than Europeans go in for the Royal Arch and other higher and side degrees, and this costs money.
Another major difference is the prevalence in the United States of “fun” organizations such as the Tall Cedars of Lebanon of North America, the Shriners, and so forth. As already mentioned, these are beneath the dignity of the Grand Lodge of England, but the reason for their prevalence in the United States is not hard to see. Most or all American lodges prohibit the consumption of alcohol on lodge premises, and there are even some that take a dim view of brethren who are engaged in the sale of wines, beers, and spirits. By contrast, U.G.L.E. lodges are rarely if ever “dry.” This lingering nod to Prohibition could well explain why American Masons need “fun” organizations.
All in all, the influence of Freemasonry in the United States is probably a great deal patchier than it is in Europe. In some areas — especially in small towns, where the judge and the sheriff are elected and might well be part of a Masonic clique — there may well be more abuse of the Mystic Tie than in Europe. The same might also be true at the highest levels of government, given the number of presidents who have been claimed as Masons. But by and large, because there is no single, dominant American “Establishment” in the European sense, the overall impact of the Craft on the body politic is probably a good deal less than on the other side of the Atlantic. Strong evidence of this is that each American state operates its own Grand Lodge, which it takes to be at least equal in slanding with the original Grand Lodge of England.
In what was formerly the British Empire, Masonic lodges varied in their attitude toward admitting nonwhites, but by the dissolution of the Empire there were many mixed lodges, many of which survive to this day. As already mentioned, India led the way.
Until recently, few American Masonic lodges even made the pretence of being open to African Americans; though, ironically, black Freemasonry in the United States dates back to the time of the Revolution. Prince Hall and 14 other gentlemen of color were probably initiated as early as 1775 into Military Lodge No. 441 under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, and after obtaining a charter from the Grand Lodge of England in 1784, Prince Hall founded African Lodge No. 459 in 1787. This was the first of many thousand African-American lodges, generally known as Prince Hall lodges.
For many years, American Masons refused to acknowledge the existence of these lodges; or worse, they condemned them as “clandestine” (see False Freemasonry, below). The Grand Lodge of New York went so far in 1851 as to declare that African and Native Americans were unfit” for the Craft. Other white Grand Lodges have had an on-again, off-again relationship with Prince Hall Masonry, beginning with the Grand Lodge of Washington in 1897. The usual pattern was that a white state lodge agreed to recognize Prince Hall Masonry, other lodges served their connection with the white lodge, and finally recanted its heresy.
Although Prince Hall lodges freely admit whites, and although Prince Hall Masons are admitted to white lodges outside the United States, the venom of some white lodges has in the past been extraordinary. There are tales of white Masons being suspended or expelled for acting as pall bearers at the funeral of a black brother.
The attractions of Freemasonry have always been such that many people, denied admission for one reason or another to the orthodox lodges, have either set up “clandestine” lodges or have been gulled by lodges that are entirely fraudulent. Of course, the authority to set up a lodge has never been clearly defined or universally agreed upon, so lodges that are “clandestine” in that they do not operate with the approval of one Grand Lodge may be quite legitimate in the eyes of another. A lodge may also be declared clandestine, even if it has hitherto been legitimate, if it offends against the Landmarks (see above).
A fraudulent lodge, on the other hand, normally sets up in business with an impressive sounding name and then proceeds to part as many fools as possible from as much money as may be extracted in as short a time as possible; the money comes from the sale of initiations into a wide range of degrees. Some are of genuine origins, or pirated, and others are cut from the whole cloth. Ferguson, in Fifty Million Brothers, quotes the National Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Freemasons of the United States of America, Inc., which parted many would-be Masons from their money “until the courts intervened” in about 1935 or 1936.
Freemasonry and Mormonism
A number of writers have seen so many points of resemblance between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and Freemasonry that it has been alleged that Mormonism was lifted wholesale from the earlier organization. Others have been less able to see the connection, except insofar as both have rituals, passwords, and patriarchal temples.
Freemasonry in the Netherlands
By far the largest masonic order in the Netherlands is the Orde van Vrijmetselaren onder het Grootoosten der Nederlanden (Order of Freemasons under the Grand Orient of the Netherlands). This order is rocignized by the U.G.L.E. Besides this order there are some smaller orders active in the Netherlands: the Internationale Orde der Gemengde Vrijmetselarij Le Droit Humain (International Order of Co-Masonry Le Droit Humain); the Nederlands Verbond van Vrijmetselaren (Dutch Association of Freemasons) and the Nederlandse Grootloge der Gemengde Vrijmetselarij (Dutch Grand Lodge of Mixed Freemasonry), al three mixed orders.
There are also two feminine orders: the Orde Vita Feminea Textura, and the Orde van Vrije Weefsters Vinculum Veram.
Furthermore there are some lodges from foreign constitutions.
In Delft works a lodge of the Grand Orient of Belgium (not recognised by the Dutch Grand Orient); in Maastricht work two lodges of the National French Grand Lodge (Grand Loge Nationale Française). These are: John J. Kestly/George Washington no. 60/69 and General John J. Pershing no. 166. This last lodge meets twice a month in the lodgebuilding in the Heggenstraat in Maastricht.
A couple of lodges of this constitution is ‘asleep’: Benjamin Franklin no. 52, Arthur T. Weed no. 59, Liberty no. 70 en Pyrenees no. 77.
Until recently there were two American military lodges under the Prince Hall Grand Lodges of respectively Maryland (Mano Santos Lodge no. 127, in Brunssum) and Massachusetts (Blazing Star Lodge no. 26, Amersfoort) at work in the Netherlands. Most members of these lodges were withdrawn from the Netherlands. The Dutch Grand Orient does not recognise these orders, but in 2003 a joint meeting took place between the Blazing Star Lodge and a Dutch lodge of the Grand Orient.
One of the other lodges that works in the Netherlands is the Excelsior Lodge 15 in The Hague. This lodge works under the (not recognized) King Solomon Grand Lodge in Newark, New Jersey (U.S.).
Since fall 2007 a new lodge is active in the Netherlands, the lodge Benelux in Amsterdam. This lodge works under the ‘Masonic High Council of the Benelux’, which is part of the Masonic High Council the Mother High Council of the World, of the Most Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of England, founded in 2005. This is a split-off of the major british masonic order, the UGLE.