Good FAQ links

Chuck’s answers to various questions relevant to his work in Freemasonry

Freemasonry is an initiatic fraternal tradition that uses the tools and practices of stonemasonry, architecture, and temple building as symbols and allegories. Through these methods, it teaches principles of virtue ethics and encourages its members to practice self-awareness and self-development into wiser and more loving human beings. Each member has the right, and even a responsibility, to develop personal insight and understanding about the symbols and allegories and how they can be applied in one’s life.

Freemasonry’s rituals directly reference contemplation because it has long been known to aid learning and growth. Furthermore, the regulations of the stonemasonry trade in Scotland of the late 16thcentury required members to practice the Art of Memory, which is a contemplative method involving much more than rote memorization of words. It uses imagery and mental association to lead practitioners into deeper philosophical insight and more complex practical understanding of things. The Scottish trade was very influential on the early development of the fraternal movement. Today, some members of the Fraternity also practice the Art of Memory among other contemplative methods.

Most Masonic meetings begin and end with prescribed ceremonies of opening and closing that include prayer. Some meetings are for the purpose of ritually initiating candidates into the Fraternity or advancing them to higher degrees of instruction. All these rituals involve symbols and allegories for improving oneself, one’s relationships, and the world, and those for advancement in the degrees are somewhat like plays in which officers and other members have different roles communicating the various lessons of the degree.

No. Cults typically have a leader or hierarchy of leaders who hold autocratic power over their followers, but in Freemasonry leaders are elected by the members. Cults also typically have rigid doctrines of religious and/or political beliefs that members must adhere to. Freemasonry’s most relevant rules on this issue are that (a) good people of all religions and political views are welcome to be members, and (b) no religious or political contention is allowed in meetings.

The word occult means different things to different people. For some it references things like Satanism, devil worship, and demonism. Freemasonry is definitely not about any of those things. For others the occult is about things like telepathy, clairvoyance, mediumship, fortune telling, and paranormal phenomena. The teachings, rituals, and symbolism of Freemasonry do not include anything of that nature, but Masons are free to pursue such interests if they wish. Finally, there are people who use the word occult (literally “hidden”) as equivalent in meaning to esoteric, and thus it can be appropriately used with Freemasonry. See the next question and answer for more information.

These terms literally refer to that which is concealed within. In Freemasonry, they refer to information that is privileged to members, which are the means of recognition and the exact wording of most parts of their rituals. In philosophy, esoteric more specifically refers to ideas and practices that are not commonly known and are often concerned with the inner or hidden metaphysical nature of human beings and reality. These ideas and practices have historically gone beyond common religious and scientific teachings and have sometimes been regarded as unorthodox and even heretical. Many Masons, but not all, find allusions in their ritual and symbolism to such philosophically esoteric views.

It is important to clarify what is meant by mystical. The origin of the word is within the Ancient Mystery traditions of Greece, in which people were initiated into esoteric rites with philosophical teachings communicated through symbolism and allegory. In that sense, Masonry continues the mystic way of teaching but without the religious doctrines of its predecessors. In modern academia, mystical refers to beliefs and practices concerned with the experience of union with God or the Ultimate Reality. Some Masons find inspiration for mystical views in the symbolism of Freemasonry, but this is according to their own inclinations.

A: The term gnosticalso warrants careful examination. It derives from the Greek gnosis, which means “knowledge”. In a religious context, it refers to the belief in or experience of directly apprehending divine knowledge or wisdom within the human heart and mind. Some Masons regard themselves as gnostic in this sense and perceive allusions to gnosis in Masonic symbolism, while other Masons do not. Gnostic may also denote particular beliefs about the nature of the Divine and creation, which some Masons may hold but which are not intentionally encouraged or expected by the Fraternity.

No. It is religious in that it acknowledges things common to many religions, such as the existence of a Supreme Being, a spiritual dimension to human life, the possibility of life beyond death, and the value of prayer. However, it has no doctrines about individual members’ specific beliefs or ideas with respect to such things.

Great Architect of the Universe is a symbolic title Freemasons apply to God, Deity, the Divine, the Supreme Being, or the Ultimate Reality, to which much of Masonry’s ritual language pays homage. Even so, there is no single way of understanding this symbolism that is required of members.

Freemasonry is far too public to be a secret society. Many Masons wear jewelry or clothing bearing Masonic emblems and carry membership cards. Most Masonic organizations have websites with their officers’ names and contact information publicly posted, and many host advertised events that are open to anyone. Like other organizations, Freemasonry does have rules that allow only members into some meetings, and it also has rituals and means of recognition such as handshakes, signs, and passwords that are limited to members. Still, even these can be found in books and online.

Humanity has a long history of tyrants, bigots, and fanatics persecuting people who exercise their inherent rights to freedom of thought and association. In fact, Freemasons were among those groups targeted by the Nazis in the 1940s, and there are places in the world today where people are imprisoned, tortured, and killed merely because they are suspected to be Freemasons. The tradition of maintaining secret means of recognition reminds Masons that these rights can never be taken for granted, and that the trust of one’s closest associates deserves to be respected and protected. The secrecy of Masonic rituals serves at least two purposes: (1) It ensures that only people who share Freemasonry’s ideals and commitments are involved in their most important practices. (2) It reinforces that the work of becoming a more virtuous person is sacred, that it therefore deserves the special support of like-minded companions, should not be casually paraded before others, and is best demonstrated by one’s attitudes and actions in ordinary life.

When advancing in the degrees of instruction, Freemasons take solemn obligations to abide by the rules and customs of the Fraternity and to conduct themselves as virtuous human beings. These obligations do not interfere with a Mason’s faith, family commitments, occupational duties, or legal responsibilities. Some of these obligations include wording about severe punishments if they are broken, but this language is symbolic of the suffering of conscience one should feel for violating the trust of others and their own espoused values.

No. Freemasonry primarily makes its impact on the world by encouraging its members to lead more virtuous lives, and secondarily by collectively contributing to well-known philanthropic causes and doing community service. But it is true that there have occasionally been corrupt individuals and errant groups within Freemasonry who have used their fraternal connections for nefarious purposes. In the process, they have violated the obligations they took as Freemasons.

There are many different jurisdictions and organizations in Freemasonry, some of which are only for men, some for people of all genders, and some only for women. It has never been part of Masonic regulations to deny membership based on race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, and the Fraternity has long had branches around the globe in many different cultures. Unfortunately, the populations of its various groups have often reflected the biases of their local dominant cultures. In recent years, considerable progress has been made with diversity, equity, and inclusion.