Freemasonry is the world’s largest, oldest, and best-known fraternal organization. Mythically descended from the builders of King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, Freemasonry is believed to have developed from the craft guilds of European stonemasons who built castles and cathedrals during the Middle Ages. Temporary buildings called lodges were built next to the cathedrals, and the Masons used them to meet, receive their pay, plan their work, train new apprentices, and socialize.
The first Grand Lodge was established in England in 1717, transforming the craft from “operative” masons who constructed buildings, into a “speculative” fraternity that used the symbolism, tools, and terminology of the medieval masons as illustrations of character building. Masonic ceremonies use legendary tales of the construction of the biblical King Solomon’s Temple as symbols for building an inner temple in the hearts of men.
By the 1730s, Freemasonry had spread to the American colonies. Freemasonry circled the globe on the colonizing ships of the British, the French and the Dutch. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and many other Founding Fathers were among the first Masons in the United States. After the American Revolution, grand lodges were established in each state.
Freemasonry is based on the belief that each man can make a difference in the world by improving himself, and taking an active role in his community. It is a charitable, benevolent, educational fraternity. Yet, Freemasonry forbids the discussion in Masonic meetings of religion, creeds, politics or other topics likely to excite personal animosities.
Membership in the Masons is open to men who believe in a Supreme Being and meet its qualifications and standards of character and reputation. One of Freemasonry’s customs is not to solicit members, but any man is welcome to request information about joining the fraternity.
Freemasonry initiates its members using three ceremonial rituals, referred to as degrees: the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason. Regardless of any other Masonic organization a Freemason may join in his lifetime, and no matter how any other organization may describe or number their degrees, there is no degree of higher rank or importance in Freemasonry than the 3rd degree, the Master Mason.