I wear a ring. It belonged to a mason who probably lived several generations ago, and since I bought it at a vintage jewelry store, I don’t know his identity. It is a simple ring, constructed of steel, bearing just the square and compass, an emblem commonly associated with our Brotherhood, and would cost around $40 to purchase an almost identical copy, online today. At least once a week a man will notice this ring and ask me about my Masonic affiliation. The purpose of this article is to answer some of those unasked questions men might have about Freemasonry.
What does it mean to be a mason
A few months ago, I was sitting at the counter of a restaurant having my breakfast. The server was lingering around me and I caught him taking a few glances at my ring. Finally, he had the courage to let go of his question. The man said sheepishly, “My father is a Mason but he will never tell me what it means to be one. I want to join the Lodge but I want to have a little idea of what it means. What does this mean to you?”
My answer was, “That’s a complex question, but the basic operational answer is that I am a member of an international Brotherhood that is primarily a social club, but also engages in community and charitable activities. There are also many opportunities to engage in self-improvement which is at the heart of Freemasonry. Your father is largely correct when he says you must join to discover the meaning of Masonry because the ultimate meaning is personal and varies from Mason to Mason.
Does it seem deliberately mysterious for the sole purpose of inciting intrigue? Given the nature of masonry, of course, this is suspect. But it’s the truth.
Qualifications to join the club
The most frequently asked question I get from my fellow man is about qualifications to join the Lodge. There is a lot of “misinformation” about this. Some men think they should treat even the issue of my membership as if we were talking about battle plans for invading a foreign country.
Once a stranger asked me to talk to me in the alley behind a bar because he was uncomfortable bringing up the subject because “someone might hear” if we were talking about it in an open room as if it could be a matter of life or death. (The man was sincere in this belief because someone had once told him that if two or more Freemasons heard someone bring up the subject of membership in the same room, that man’s name would then be placed on a blacklist).
To clear things up, here are the real qualifications. These regulations vary by Grand Lodge, which in America is state to state (rules that apply in California may not apply in Florida, for example). But, in general, you should:
- Be a man
- Be of legal age (18 in most jurisdictions these days, some are still 21)
- Belief in a divine entity (does not have to be the God of a mainstream religion)
- Be of good character (not a criminal, city drunk, etc.)
- Have your petition sponsored by at least two Freemasons in good standing
- Pay an initiation fee if your petition is approved
That’s it. If you are applying for membership with a lodge, they will let you know if there are any more specific minor requirements. Additionally, once you become a Mason, there are nominal annual dues that vary widely across the country, as they are set by local lodges, but the norm is between $100 and $200 per year.
All the absurdity of having to be directly related to a Mason or saving a Mason’s life may have been a membership requirement centuries ago. If ever true, these requirements are long dead. The way I started my membership process was simply to ask a man I knew to be a Mason about the organization.
If you don’t know a Mason, find the Grand Lodge in your state and contact them. The Grand Secretary will put you in touch with a local lodge who will help you start the membership process.
No women allowed
Yes, you read correctly. A woman cannot become a Freemason. It is an exclusively male Fraternity and has been since its creation.
If there is a woman in your life who is interested in the concepts generally taught by Freemasonry, she should petition a Masonic body such as the Order of the Eastern Stars which accepts women as members. .
Freemasonry in the United States is very different from that of the rest of the world
There are active Masonic lodges all over the world, in just about every country and continent. But Masonry in the United States is markedly different from that found in other countries, especially in Europe. Here in the United States, it is primarily a social club that promotes male self-improvement and conducts charitable activities. There is no political agenda. In fact, discussion of politics is actively discouraged. However, in Europe and other parts of the world, Masons have real political agendas and act like a political party. This is simply not true in America. The local Lodge on Main Street spends most of its energy planning the next pancake breakfast and does not run the town council.
For a recent example, there has been a Masonic backlash in France as it is rumored that Emmanuel Marcon, the new Prime Minister, is a puppet of one of the French Grand Lodges which is using him to further their agenda. I have even read reports of violence against motivated Freemasons due to their political activities.
I don’t know how far this animosity extends outside of the United States, but one of my brothers, who makes frequent international business trips, has a personal policy against bringing Masonic insignia. with him when traveling to certain countries, as this could make him a target. Fulminate? Who knows. The thing is, if you join a lodge in the United States, your experience will be very different from that of a foreign country, and it won’t involve political conspiracy.
There is still fraternity among Masons, national and international
I have traveled extensively around the world and have met Masons in almost every country and these interactions have been overwhelmingly positive. In some countries, especially those with former communist origins, Freemasonry is considered a red organization, not usually actively suppressed by the government these days, but certainly not encouraged. Even so, the members will reveal themselves to me and engage on a brotherly level.
Once I was in Russia and noticed that one of the business contacts at our meeting was a bricklayer. At dinner that night, most of our one-on-one conversation was about him giving me warnings about how the government would blacklist Masons, break up Lodge meetings, and would seek for political arrests. His lodge would not meet twice in the same place and I was warned not to disclose my affiliation. He paid the check anyway and insisted that I put another vodka on what was otherwise a good meal before we parted ways.
On the other hand, in many other countries the practice of Freemasonry is openly endorsed. In England I had a fellow Mason, on the recommendation of the master of a local lodge, who put me up for a few days when I had an emergency. Likewise, a local lodge in Germany provided me with cash assistance when my wallet was stolen.
Joining the Fellowship outside the United States may have different meanings that vary from country to country, but in most cases you are still part of an international Fellowship and your membership will be positively recognized wherever your journeys will take you by most Brethren.
Investment of time and opportunity
When I get this question, all I can say is you need to sign up to understand why this is worth your time. Personally, I am a busy man with limited time but find the experience rewarding enough to maintain an active membership. It’s a net benefit in my life. Largely, what you get as a Mason is what you put into it, and with the Brotherhood’s ranks dwindling, those opportunities just become more abundant with less competition as the years pass.
Many of these Grand Lodges and local Lodges have large endowments and bank accounts that will be used to subsidize members’ self-improvement opportunities. I have taken advantage of some of them at little or no cost. If I had paid out of pocket, attending certain courses or conferences would have cost me thousands of dollars.
The Secrets of Freemasonry
The biggest secret of Masonry is that there are not many secrets. There are certain signs, holds and ritual works that the Brethren swear to keep confidential, but all can be found on the internet today. In fact, you can find this information open to the public in the Masonic collections of local, regional and university libraries.
The way I learned most of what I know about Freemasonry before joining was by reading an excellent book called Freemasons for Dummies. I would highly recommend reading if you are interested in joining or in the process of doing so.
I highly doubt that Masonry in America is involved in anything corrupt. Maybe in Europe or other international Masonic bodies there is more to the whole “conspiracy theory” aspect, but here in America there is not. As a Brother of my Lodge likes to say, “I doubt we can assemble a woodshed in an afternoon, much less travel the world.” He is right. Getting everyone to the same place for dinner requires as much logistical work as invading France in World War II on D-Day. Simply put, Freemasons in the United States are not running a secret shadow government.
If you want to join an all-male community organization, doing charitable deeds and meeting in a dimly lit building that is only occupied a few times a month, then consider joining the Lodge. It will give you plenty of opportunities for self-improvement, and in this modern age it is one of the last places a man can engage in fellowship exclusively with his fellow man.
If you have any other masonry questions, feel free to place them in the comment section. I’ll try to answer to the best of my knowledge (without revealing any of our “secrets” of course).
Read more: Who are the Templars and the Freemasons?