What exactly is Freemasonry? Well one thing it is not is a religion. In our official introduction to candidates we state that Freemasonry recognises no distinction of religion but none should attempt to enter who have no religious belief. Freemasonry therefore brings together people of differing beliefs enabling them to follow a common path without being divided by their different faiths. You may wonder why the emphasis on having a religious belief? During our ceremonies we use prayers and references to God and a belief in a Supreme being is therefore essential and every mason knows in his or her own mind the name and nature of their God.
The actual form of the lodge may vary depending on the country concerned. Freemasonry literally extends to the four quarters of the globe and current estimates of membership exceed 5 million. But I shall describe for you a typical English Masonic lodge. Meetings take place in a building known as a Temple. If the building is only used for Masonic purposes then the Temple will have been consecrated in a special ceremony. A lodge room is usually rectangular in shape and there are 3 pedestals or tables where the 3 principles of the lodge known as the Worshipful Master and the Senior and Junior Wardens sit. They are situated East, West and South respectively. We are very keen on points of the compass locations in Freemasonry! Other officers are seated at different places in the Lodge. Two of the administrative officers the Treasurer and Secretary sit on the North side of the Lodge. Other officers include Senior and Junior Deacons and an Inner Guard and Stewards. Each lodge holds a set number of meetings per year and each lodge meeting has a corresponding lodge of instruction meeting which is a rehearsal for the main meeting.
So far so good but what happens at a Lodge meeting? Well obviously I can’t go into full details but the nature of our meetings may be best described in terms of a series of small plays based on allegory and symbolism. A candidate joining Freemasonry may expect to undergo a series of such ceremonies as she progresses through her Masonic career. These allegories are based around certain characters from the bible and the building of King Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. She will receive instruction using the stonemason’s working tools to illustrate the principles of morality. She will be enjoined to improve herself both mentally and spiritually. Once again I would emphasise that these are not religious ceremonies and freemasonry is not a religion. Each candidate has to take an obligation to Freemasonry which they will swear on the sacred book relevant to their own religion.
It is not known for certain how freemasonry began but it is generally accepted that it probably developed from the stonemasons’ medieval trade guilds. The stonemasons who built the great cathedrals and castles of the middle ages were skilled craftsmen and when men were apprenticed to the trade they had to undergo special admission procedures which later developed into ceremonies. They incorporated stories from the bible into these ceremonies the better to illustrate them. As time went on these ceremonies became more elaborate and the organisation of the guilds became more formal. Members paid their dues and provided help to those members in distressed circumstances. The ceremonies began to be used to teach lessons of morality as a means of self-improvement.
You may perhaps have imagined that only men could belong to a masonic lodge but our organisation is now celebrating its 100th year and we take our Freemasonry every bit as seriously as the men. Women’s Freemasonry pre-dates both the Women’s Institute founded in 1915 and the Townswoman’s Guild which started in 1929.
HFAF does have certain criteria for membership to our organisation such as a belief in a Supreme Being as we do say prayers at certain points in our ceremonies. But we do not stipulate which belief or religion a candidate should follow. It is important that you should be of good character and be a law abiding citizen. Freemasonry has a well-known saying, that it does not make bad people good but it does make good people better. We also require our candidates to be of the full age of 21 years although in certain circumstances someone who is 18 can join.
Freemasonry is based on three great principles, Brotherly love, Relief and Truth. To practice ‘Brotherly love’, we must maintain harmony and mutual respect between individuals, no matter what their situation in life. ‘Relief’ is about giving to those whom society has failed or who have been victims of disaster, not just financially but personally. ‘Truth’, the need to recognise the divine quality which underpins all life and which is to be found in the ‘centre’.
Freemasonry is about self-knowledge and when we are initiated we can all be empowered to begin the great spiritual journey towards the ‘centre’.
When someone makes an approach to us about membership, if they do not already know anyone in our lodges we usually arrange an informal meeting to have a chat with them about the HFAF and women’s Freemasonry. If they want to proceed further we then arrange a formal interview with the committee of the lodge which she shall join, where she will be given further information about the lodge’s admission fees, the frequency of meetings and other useful information.
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