Who are the Freemasons and what is Freemasonry?
The Freemasons are a world-wide fraternal organization (i.e.: group of men) that grew out of the stone masons' guilds. Freemasonry appears to have officially arisen as of the late 16th or early 17th century. Freemasons meet with the goal of bettering themselves and the world in which they live. You can learn more here.
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Freemasons like to say the way in which their members are taught is through "a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." Masons are instructed in the virtues of tolerance, honesty, fairness, charity, brotherly love and other philosophical doctrines through the use of symbolic teachings and rituals (called 'rites' by Masons.)
How do I join and/or get involved?
Are the Freemasons a religious or political organization?
No. While belief in a 'Supreme Being' (however the person defines it) is a requirement to be admitted to the fraternity, Freemasonry is NOT a religion. Nor is it involved in political action. In fact, both political and religious discussion is strictly prohibited in Masonic Lodge meetings.
Are you a secret society?
Not really; Masons refer to themselves as a 'society with secrets.' The distinction we make is that most of what we do is open for anyone to learn about. This includes who we are, where & when we meet, what we do outside of Lodge, what we believe in, the symbolism behind much of our teachings, etc. However, there are certain aspects of Masonry which are not disclosed to anyone except other Masons. (Okay, we know you're curious. Here's how you can join us.)
Are Freemasons trying to take over the world?
No way! Really?!
Okay, you got us; of course not! Freemasons are obligated to serve their country and obey its laws peacefully. Again, Freemasonry has no political aims as an organization. (Of course, the more talented, moral, and energetic men that ask to join us the better!)
But I heard XYZ about the Freemasons from a "reliable" source!
Masonry is a fraternity, which means that, by definition, membership is limited to men. The reason for this is largely historical, as today's Masons came from the all-male guilds of many years ago. That said, there are many other Masonic organizations that are either exclusively for women, or admit both men and women. Additionally, Masonic events outside the Lodge meetings themselves are generally open to women (dinners, social events, charity functions, etc.)
What events can women attend?
Many hoaxes and untruths about Freemasons abound. In part this is because the Freemasons typically do not dignify slander with a response.
Why aren't women allowed to join?
Many Lodges hold a public installation of officers during the year. Wives, family and friends can attend this event. While it doesn’t have any of the ceremonies of the Masonic rites, it does have the same flavor and explains some of the symbolism used in Masonry. This is one way the non-Mason can get an idea of the ritual of Masonry. Lodges may have special social events with wives and friends invited.