Freemasonry is generally accepted as having begun with the traditions of the
stonemason's guilds in England and Europe in the Middle Ages. In 1717, a "union"
of four "guilds" (or Lodges) took place in London, which formed the start of
modern day Freemasonry.
As time went on, Freemasonry spread over the face of the earth - in early American
history, some noted Freemasons were George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Warren,
Paul Revere, Lafayette, John Paul Jones, John Hancock, and others.
Masons have been leaders in public education, being amongst the first supporters of a
public school system in America as well as in Europe, and Masonic support of education
continues today. As a fraternity, Freemasonry emphasizes self-improvement, personal study
and the betterment of society through both self-enrichment and philanthropy. Freemasons
today contribute about two million dollars per day (yes, per DAY!) to charitable
causes ranging from funding medical research to operating children's hospitals.
Freemasonry is not a religion nor a substitute for a religion - yet it requires that its
members affirm a belief in a Supreme Being. Freemasonry forbids sectarian discussion in
its Lodge rooms, yet it has an open "Volume of the Sacred Law" on its altar - to
provide a "rule and guide for life". Freemasons take an oath of obligation - to
follow the principles of the organization, and to protect and keep secret its methods of
recognition. Freemasonry encourages each member to practice his own faith and to observe
his duty to his own Supreme Being in his own ways. The moral teachings of Freemasonry are
acceptable to all faiths.
Freemasonry is not a "Secret Society", but a "Society with Secrets" -
in that our buildings are publicly recognizable, our members display emblems of
membership, our Lodges are listed in the public telephone directories, our meetings are
publicized . . . it is only our "methods of recognition" and the content of our
meetings are not public. We are no more of a "Secret Society" than someone who
will not publicly post the contents of their check register is a "Secret
Society". In terms of what it does, what it teaches, who belongs, or where it meets,
there are NO secrets in Freemasonry. Freemasonry is a private, fraternal organization of
men who contribute much toward the public good, while enjoying the benefits of the
brotherhood found in a fraternal organization.
(Some of the above content was derived from a series of papers on Freemasonry, published
by the Masonic Services Association of North America, available at http://www.msana.com.)