What is Freemasonry?
One of the most frequent questions asked about Freemasonry is “What’s it all about?”
There are many ways to answer this question. The first, and most formal, answer is that
Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest and largest non-religious, non-political, fraternal and
charitable organisations. It does not discriminate on grounds of race, colour, religion, political
views or socio-economic standing, and is based on the principles of kindness, honesty, fairness,tolerance and integrity.
A more personal answer to the question is that, as with all membership organisations,
Freemasonry means something different to each individual. For some it’s the opportunity to
meet new people and make new friends. For others it’s the chance to get involved in an
organisation that makes a considerable contribution to society, whether through charitable
donations or voluntary work, and that offers an opportunity to give something back to the local community. The final, most succinct and universal response is that for all its members Freemasonry is, quite simply, an enjoyable hobby.
Here are some key facts about the organisation:
There are around 250,000 Freemasons belonging to 8,000 Lodges throughout England, Wales
and districts overseas, which come under the auspices of the United Grand Lodge of England.
Worldwide, the figure rises to six million Freemasons, all with their own special reasons why
they enjoy Freemasonry. Any man over the age 21 can apply to join Freemasons, and at our 55 University Lodges throughout the UK prospective members can apply from the age of 18. There have been equivalent Grand Lodges for women for over 100 years.
The headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England, Freemasons’ Hall, is in London’s
Covent Garden and is one of the finest Art Deco buildings in the UK covering a surprising 12
acres. Conscious of living its values of openness and transparency, and not to keep this
architectural treasure purely for Masonic engagements, Freemasons’ Hall is always open to
members of the public and is one of the Unique Venues of London used for TV and film
production teams. In the last year alone, a staggering 50,000 have been through the building.
And it is not just our headquarters that opens its doors – Lodges up and down the country do so too.
What is important for us is letting the public know that it’s fine to ask questions about
Freemasonry and providing answers; there are no secrets in Freemasonry and every member is not only free to talk about the organisation but encouraged to do so.
Membership of Freemasonry is growing (especially among young people) and research shows
that nearly half of UK adults want to know more about the organisation, while over a quarter of males would consider becoming a Mason.
For new, younger members one of the main attractions to the organisation is the sense of
camaraderie that it offers and the chance to develop key personal skills, such as increased
confidence through public speaking.
There are 55 University Lodges and the Connaught Club, a social club for young Freemasons
set up in London, is now inspiring similar groups to set up around the UK.
For anyone wishing to join, there is a Lodge to suit all locations and interests. On average,
Lodges meet five to six times a year and meetings usually last no longer than an hour-and-a half, followed by a dinner. It’s these meetings and the dinner that provide an opportunity for
members to grow as people, relax and enjoy the company of likeminded others.
Any topic can be addressed as long as it does not enter the realms of business, politics or
There are three levels through which Masons may progress and these can be likened to
progressing through one’s career, or through other membership organisations – with each
promotion comes greater understanding and commitment. New members join Freemasonry as
an Entered Apprentice, progressing to Fellow craft and finally Master Mason. The latter usually takes around two years to achieve.
There is often a lot of public interest in the rituals and symbols Freemasonry encompasses.
Many non-Masons look upon such elements of the organisation as alien and seek to find
reasons for their existence. Others help to perpetuate myths about the organisation, such as the infamous – but mythical – ‘secret handshake’.
In reality, the rituals, regalia and symbols included in Freemasonry are simply there as a result of the organisation’s long history and heritage, dating back to its roots in stonemasonry. New members are introduced to the values of Freemasonry through one-act plays which are learnt off by heart, and are full of references to stonemasons’ customs and tools. In addition, historic regalia is worn to symbolise rank within the organisation.
Any organisation that has a history dating back several centuries will have built up a particular way of doing things, including ceremonies that may appear strange to non-members. For example, the ceremony and rituals surrounding the state opening – and operation – of Parliament are likely to appear odd to those not familiar with its history and heritage. In addition, the meetings of other well known organisations such as Rotary and Scouting, for example, follow set patterns and involve uniforms or chains of office.
The rituals and regalia of Freemasonry can be seen as a celebration of its impressive past.
A little known aspect of Freemasonry, and one if its main drivers, is its charitable giving and
involvement in charities. Since the establishment of organised Freemasonry, nearly 300 years
ago, members have been deeply involved in charity and the organisation has always been
connected with caring for orphans, the sick and the elderly. Today, Freemasonry is one the
biggest charitable givers in the UK after the National Lottery. In addition to making considerable donations to non-Masonic UK charities and disaster relief funds, the organisation itself runs four charities partially dedicated to providing financial assistance to Masons and their dependents in need of support.
The Grand Charity provides relief grants to Masons and families in financial need, as well as
donating millions of pounds to national charities. Since the charity was established in 1980,
grants have been given totalling over £100 million. The Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys aims to relieve poverty and advance education for children and young people. It also works to support young people with exceptional talents who need financial assistance to make the most of life-changing opportunities. The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution has been caring for older Freemasons and their dependents for over 60 years. Finally, the Masonic Samaritan Fund bestows grants to beneficiaries with an identified health or care need and, faced with long term treatment, are unable to afford private care costs.
Almost all money donated to charity is raised by the members and no external fundraising takes place. In addition, Masons themselves are encouraged to play an active role in society through voluntary work and community engagement.
Freemasonry is extremely relevant to modern society, as it encompasses and embraces the
fundamental principles of good citizenship. To be a Freemason is to be the best person you can be; to demonstrate respect and understanding of everyone, regardless of race, colour, religion or socio-economic standing; to give back to the local community and to contribute to society on a national, and indeed an international, level through charitable giving.
By joining Freemasonry, one not only embarks upon an individual journey of discovery, but
becomes part of a wider journey – that of an organisation which, as its tercentenary
approaches, is more dedicated to making a positive impact on the lives of others than ever