While a common question, it can be a complicated answer. Here are answers from a source we trust:What is Freemasonry? Freemasonry is a system of morality and ethics that transcends political, racial, financial and secular boundaries. It is a belief that all men are created equal, and all deserve respect, love, relief and charity. It is a voluntary association of men who have adopted its teachings as a way of life, and seek to improve themselves in their daily existence. It is a pursuit of excellence in a world where excellence seems unattainable. Teaching morality through symbolism and allegory, its rites and ceremonies instruct its members to cherish the tenets of the `Brotherhood of Man, under the Fatherhood of God´.
It is sometimes easier to tell non-Masons what Freemasonry is not. It is not an organization which solicits membership - all men must come to Freemasonry of their own free will and accord. It is not an insurance organization or a benefit society. It is not a religion, a creed, or a religious order. It is not a charity, but recognizes that the tenet of Charity as a foundation of love for humanity is a duty for all Masons. It is not organized for profit, and no member may profit from his association with the Fraternity, upon penalty of expulsion. It does not dictate to any man as to his religious or secular beliefs and is not a substitute for the connection any man has to his God. It is never a forum for discussion of religion, politics, or other partisan affairs. Finally, it is not a secret society as it does not conceal its existence, or its purpose.
Freemasonry seeks to improve all men who would believe that there is a fundamental good in everyone who is not unwilling to live to its precepts.
How old is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is the oldest, largest, best known, and most widespread Fraternity in the world. Its origins have been the subject of much research and discussion among scholars, who generally agree that it predates any written records which are available today. Most Masonic scholars also agree that it has its origins in the operative stonemason lodges which existed in Europe during the Middle Ages. These lodges were created to ensure that people who claimed to be stonemasons were in fact qualified through a deep practical understanding of the craft. They enforced codes of conduct on their members, established means of recognition, and dictated training and testing of apprentices. A lodge had jurisdiction over any stone work in its locale, and therefore also ensured that its stonemasons would have a means to perform their work and earn a livelihood.
During the 1600´s, as the number of great cathedrals under construction began to decline, lodges adopted the practice of admitting men who were not stonemasons into their membership. These members were termed `Speculative´ or `Accepted´ Masons. It was from these groups that modern day Freemasonry had its beginning, and from which the earliest recorded historical artifacts can be identified.
In 1717, a famous meeting was held in London, England, where the four Lodges present agreed to work under a common constitution, and by this act, the first Grand Lodge was created. From this Grand Lodge, many Symbolic and Provincial Grand Lodges were chartered, and today there are over 150 Grand Lodges with a membership of over 6 million members. There are very few places in the world where you cannot find a Masonic Lodge, or locate a Brother.
What is the purpose of Freemasonry?
A common expression used to describe Freemasonry is that it exists to "make good men better." To this end, the purpose of Freemasonry is to teach those universal ethical principles that guide all good men. It teaches kindness in the home, honesty in business, courtesy in society, fairness in work, pity and concern for the unfortunate, resistance toward evil, help for the weak, forgiveness for the penitant, love for one another, and above all, reverence and love for God. These principles are so universal to the basis of a working society that they are an essential way of life for each of its members.
What are the qualifications to become a Freemason?
Freemasonry accepts applications from men who are of good character, recommended by those within the fraternity, and who believe in one God. With the exception that one must be monotheistic, Freemasonry makes no distinction among the various religions when considering a man for membership, nor does it care about his political beliefs, wealth, or station in life. Religion and politics are never discussed in Lodge, and to violate this ancient custom would mean expulsion from the Lodge. In all things, it is the interior character of the man and not the external trappings and wealth which would recommend him to become a Mason.
To become a Mason, an applicant must ask a Mason for a petition, and be recommended by two members. The petition is then presented to the Lodge and must be unanimously approved by ballot. If successful, the applicant then is qualified to take the Entered Apprentice degree at a special communication of the Lodge.
Is Freemasonry a religion?
Categorically, not. Freemasonry is not a religion, although there is a religious aspect of every Freemason. Those who claim that it is a religion either do not understand our tenets, are confused as to what constitutes a religion, or have simply made an error of judgement without basis of fact. Freemasonry does require that a man profess a sincere belief in God, but not as to how he practices it, or what else he might believe spiritually. It does not take the place of religion, nor does it supplant the teachings of any religion. If anything, it reinforces those moral teachings of religions that form the basis of all good societies.
Finally, it is one of the ancient landmarks of Freemasonry that there is never any secular or political discussion in any legally constituted Lodge. So seriously do all regular Lodges take this principle, that the penalty for such discussion is severe and could result in expulsion.
Isn't Freemasonry a `secret´ society?
Contrary to the claims of some, Freemasonry is not a secret society, any more than a publicly held company or most civic organizations. Freemasonry neither hides its existence, or its membership. There are some very public demonstrations of Masonry through parades, the East-West Shrine Football Game, the many Scottish Rite Learning Centers, the Shriners Burns and Orthopedic Hospitals, many biomedical research programs into schizophrenia, vision, diabetes, and dyslexia, as well as cornerstone laying ceremonies, scholarship funds, boys and girls programs, and many charitable events.
There has never been any attempt to conceal the purpose, aims, and principles of Freemasonry. Its constitutions are published for the world to read, and its rules and regulations are open for inspection by anyone.
It is true that we have modes of recognition, rites, and ceremonies with which the world is not acquainted. But in the same light, so do most families, groups, and business organizations have private affairs internal to their membership. In fact, Masonry has been so studied and published, that there are virtually countless sources for reputable information in bookstores, on the internet, and in libraries. There simply are no secrets to be had which cannot be obtained elsewhere.
Where can I get a petition?
You may obtain a petition for membership by one of three ways.
Once you have filled it out, you may give it to a Freemason or the Secretary of a Lodge and they will guide you through the rest of the application process.
CopyrightŠ2003, The Grand Lodge Of New Hampshire
1Information on this page has been extracted from several sources, including the pamphlet "Freemasonry - A Way of Life", and "Historical highlights of Freemasonry in New Hampshire", both published by the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire.