Freemasonry is a fraternal organization that contains a system of ethics and morals, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols while focussing on a balanced approach to fellowship, charity and education.
OK, OK. Thanks, Wikipedia. However, in all reality, that statement does a great job, albeit at a high-level, describing what Freemasonry is all about. You could take each part of that statement and create a weekend long seminar about it. Instead of something of that length, we will summarize what it all means.
Who We Are
We are an organization of men of similar personal standards who are joined together by an obligation. Our fraternity is publicly 300 years old. We first became a public fraternity in 1717 when the Grand Lodge of England announced their existence. Prior to that time, we were a secret society (gasp!). Many people believe we are still a secret society. However, if we were, I would not be writing this for public consumption.
System of Ethics and Morals
Yes. We built a fraternity around two of the most commonly misunderstood words and ideas. Masons have a certain code they must live and operate by, which is imposed upon themselves, and presented by the Jurisdiction of which they may be a member. For instance, the State of California is a Jurisdiction under the leadership of the Grand Lodge of California. In addition to our code (ethics), we also teach virtues and universal principles of right and wrong (morality). Part of our code is that we do not discuss religion or politics while lodge is in session. Some of the virtues we teach are temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice.
Veiled in Allegory
See! You are a secret society! It’s veiled and shrouded in secrecy! Well, not so much. There are certainly mysteries in Masonry — many that most masons are still trying to decipher. Veiled in Allegory simply means that we partially conceal our teachings within a story so that they can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral one. As an operative mason, you must use tools to build a temporal or physical building. As a speculative freemason, you must use those same tools, albeit symbolically, to build a symbolic or spiritual building. Our Allegory is broken up into 3 degrees.
Illustrated by Symbols
Tools of masonry, among others, are our symbols. They give us a physical object to help us remember the moral lesson we were all taught within our allegories.
What We Do
There are two things most masons become really good at – public speaking and eating. We use every opportunity we can to build the bonds of brotherly love. We are linked together by an indissoluble chain of sincere affection.
The bonds that join us together also promote us in assisting and relieving others. Relieving the distressed and charity is an eternal gift. By this principle, we form our friendships and establish our connections.
Truth is the foundation of every virtue. To take full advantage of the gifts of fellowship and charity, one must constantly look to improve one’s self.
Just like any Board of Directors or Council, we have standardized meetings where we conduct our business. Though our meetings are private, the business of a lodge is not so secret. We approve minutes, read application, vote on applicants, read communications, approved bills, decide which charities to support, and present research papers.
Degrees of Masonry
The allegories of Masonry are taught in Degrees. There are three degrees in Masonry. Master Mason (the third degree) is the highest degree that can be earned and conferred upon you. Many ask about the Illustrious 33rd degree (which is honorary) and the thousand other degrees of Masonry. The appendant bodies of freemasonry (Scottish Rite, York Rite, etc) have many additional degrees which are for education purposes. The Third Degree, or Master Mason Degree, is what unites Freemasons all over the globe.