Freemasonry is a fraternal organization. Members are joined together by shared ideals of both a moral and metaphysical nature and, in most of its branches, by a constitutional declaration of belief in a Supreme Being. Organizationally, Freemasonry is governed on a geographic basis by independent, Sovereign Grand Lodges and Grand Orients which may, or may not, be in a state of mutual recognition.
The nature of Freemasonry
Freemasonry is an esoteric society, in that certain aspects of its internal work are not generally disclosed to the public. In recent years, Freemasons have stated that Freemasonry has become less a secret society and more of a society with secrets. It also claims that most of the “secrets” of Freemasonry were revealed and have been known to the public since as early as the eighteenth century. For this and other reasons, most modern Freemasons regard the traditional concern over secrecy as a demonstration of their ability to keep a promise and as a surrogate for the organization’s concern over the privacy of their own affairs. The private aspects of modern Freemasonry deal with elements of ritual and the modes of recognition amongst members within the ritual. 
There are many jurisdictions within Freemasonry, each sovereign and independent of the others, and usually defined according to a national or geographic territory. There is no central Masonic organizational structure or authority, and in any event many practices are determined by Lodge custom, so any general description will inevitably be inaccurate in respect of some places.
The authority in any Masonic jurisdiction is vested in a Grand Lodge, or sometimes a Grand Orient.
Subject to the size of the Grand Lodge the geographic area of coverage may be sub-divided into Provinces, each governed by a Provincial, District or Metropolitan Grand Lodge.
Freemasonry’s transition from an operative craft of working stonemasons to a fraternity of speculative accepted gentleman Freemasons began in Scottish lodges during the early 1600’s. The earliest record of a lodge accepting a non-operative member occurs in the records of the Lodge of Edinburgh, 8 June 1600, where it is shown that John Boswell, Laird of Aucheinleck, was present at a meeting. The first record of the initiation of a non-operative mason in a lodge is contained in the minutes of the Lodge of Edinburgh for 3 July 1634, when the Right Honourable Lord Alexander was admitted a Fellowcraft.
The first Grand Lodge in Freemasonry was founded in 1717 when four existing Lodges met at the Goose & Gridiron Alehouse in London to form the governing body. Throughout the early half of the eighteenth century, a number of lodges operating in London and in other parts of England chose to remain independent from this new Grand Lodge. These lodges were often called “St. John lodges,” and their members were called “old Masons,” “Ancients” or “St. John Masons.” Five of these independent lodges joined in forming a competing Grand Lodge at the Turk’s Head Tavern, in Greek Street, Soho, in 1751.
Claiming that the earlier Grand Lodge had broken with a number of traditions and was divergent from the principles of Freemasonry, members of the second Grand Lodge derisively referred to the older Grand Lodge as the “Moderns” Grand Lodge. The second, rival Grand Lodge became known as the Ancients Grand Lodge. The two finally merged in 1813, to become the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE). It is today the only regular Craft jurisdiction in England, and generally considered to be the oldest Grand Lodge jurisdiction in the world.
The oldest jurisdiction on the continent of Europe, and also the largest jurisdiction in France, the Grand Orient de France (GOdF), was founded in 1728. At one time, the United Grand Lodge of England and the Grand Orient of France mutually recognized one other, but most English-speaking jurisdictions cut off formal relations with the GOdF around 1877. The Grande Loge Nationale Francaise (GLNF)  is currently the only French Grand Lodge that is in regular amity with the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) and its many concordant jurisdictions worldwide.
In most Latin countries, the GOdF style of European Continental Freemasonry predominates, although in most of these Latin countries there are also Grand Lodges that are in “regular amity” with the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) and the worldwide community of Grand Lodges that share “fraternal relations” with the UGLE. The rest of the world, which accounts for the bulk of Freemasonry, tends to follow more closely to the UGLE style, although many minor variations exist.
In short, Freemasonry is often said to consist of two different branches:
- the UGLE and concordant tradition of jurisdictions (termed Grand Lodges) in amity, and
- the GOdF tradition of jurisdictions (often termed Grand Orients) in amity.
Regularity is a constitutional mechanism whereby Grand Lodges afford one another mutual recognition, in turn allowing formal interaction at the Grand Lodge level and members the opportunity to attend meetings at Lodges in recognized jurisdictions. Conversely, it also proscribes interaction with Lodges that are not recognized.
Regularity is based around a number of Landmarks which are those items set down in the UGLE Constitution and the constitutions of the Grand Lodges it is in amity with. There is some variance within the quantity and content of the Landmarks from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but there are a few Landmarks which do not vary (list forthcoming).
Grand Lodges which afford mutual recognition and allow intervisitation are said to be in amity. However, even without formal recognition of regularity, many Grand Lodges continue informal relations and a number of vehicles for this exist.
The Masonic Lodge
A Lodge, often termed a Private Lodge or Constituent Lodge in Constitutions, is the basic organisation of Freemasonry. Every new Lodge must be warranted by a Grand Lodge, but is subject to its direction only in enforcing the published Constitution of the jurisdiction. A Master Freemason is generally entitled to visit any Lodge in any jurisdiction in amity with his own. He is first usually required to check, and certify, the regularity of the relationship of the Lodge – and be able to satisfy that Lodge of his regularity of membership.
Freemasons meet as a Lodge not in a Lodge, although Masonic premises may be called Lodges, as well as Temples (“of Philosophy and the Arts”). In many countries Masonic Centre or Hall has now replaced these terms to avoid arousing prejudice and suspicion. Several different Lodges, or other Masonic organisations, often use the same premises at different times.
According to Masonic tradition operative lodges, of medieval stonemasons engaged in the construction of ecclesiastical buildings, constructed a lodge building adjacent to the work site to allow meetings for shelter, instruction and social contact. Normally this was on the southern side of the site, with the sun warming the stones during the day in Europe. The social gathering, Festive or Social Board, of the lodge is sometimes called the South.
Early Speculative Lodges, whose membership included those who were not actually stonemasons, would meet in a tavern or other convenient meeting place with a private annex.
Many Lodges are formed by Masons living within a given town or neighbourhood. Other Lodges, particularly in urban areas where there are many Lodges close together, are formed by persons who share a particular interest, profession or background; schools, universities, military units or hobbies such as motorcycling or SCUBA diving. In some lodges of this latter type the interest may be of historic interest only as over time the membership has expanded into other areas. There are also specialists Lodges of Research, membership being open to interested Master Masons of other lodges with an interest in Masonic research such as history, philosophy or collections. Whilst research lodges are fully warranted lodges they generally do not initiate candidates.
A Lodge of Instruction allows Masons to rehearse and learn ritual in support of their office within a working lodge, enabling preparation for participation in the initiation, passing and raising of candidates. Such a Lodge requires a warrant but is not a separately constituted Lodge, instead being closely associated with a warranted Lodge.
Other degrees, orders and bodies
Whilst there is no degree in Freemasonry higher than that of Master Mason a number of organisations exist which require one to be a Master Mason as a prerequisite for membership, none of which are considered to have any authority over the Craft. These organisations are considered as additional or appendant, membership being discretionary in order to provide a different perspective on some of the allegorical, moral and philosophical content within Freemasonry.
Appendant bodies are administered separately from craft Grand Lodges and within each there is a system of offices which confer rank within that order alone, these bodies are frequently styled Masonic due to the membership requirement that one hold the Master Mason degree, or even be a Past (Installed) Master in the craft.
Freemasonic jurisdictions vary in their relationships with such bodies, if at all. Some offer formal recognition, while others consider them wholly outside of pure Craft Freemasonry. As such, some such bodies are not universally considered as appendant bodies, being simply as separate organizations that happen to require prior Masonic affiliation for membership. Some of these organizations have additional religious requirements (e.g. requiring members to profess Trinitarian Christian beliefs).
A number of youth organizations exist, mainly North American, open to the family of Masons, which are associated with Freemasonry, but are not Masonic in their content. These offer an extended social network around the lodge.
There are some organisations which are commonly perceived as being related to Freemasonry, but which are in fact not part of Freemasonry, such as the Orange Order. Styled along Masonic lines, using similar regalia and ritual, they are not however accorded recognition as being regularly Masonic.
A candidate for Freemasonry must apply to a Private (or Constituent) Lodge in his community, obtaining an introduction by asking an existing member. After enquiries are made, he must be freely elected by secret ballot in open Lodge. Members approving his candidacy will vote with “white balls” in the voting box. Adverse votes by “black balls” will exclude a candidate. The number of adverse votes necessary to reject a candidate, which in some jurisdictions is as few as one, is set out in the governing Constitution. Lodges conduct these elections in a number of different ways; a wholly secret ballot where every member is given the means to vote either way, or semi public where members who choose to vote go to the ballot box and cast a secret vote.
Generally to be a regular Freemason, one must:
- Be a man who comes of his own free will. Traditionally Freemasons do not actively recruit new members.
- Believe in a Supreme Being.
- Be at least the minimum age (18–25 years depending on the jurisdiction, but commonly 21).
- Be of sound mind, body and of good morals, and of good repute.
- Be free (or “born free”, i.e. not born a slave or bondsman).
- Have one or two references from current Masons (depending on jurisdiction).
A candidate is asked ‘Do you believe in a Supreme Being?’. Since an initiate is obligated on that sacred volume which is applicable to his faith, a sponsor will enquire as to an appropriate volume once a decision has been made on the applicants suitability for initiation.
A number of Grand Lodges allow a Lewis, the son of a Mason, to be initiated earlier than the normal minimum age for that jurisdiction.
Being of “sound body” is thought to be derived from the operative origins of Freemasonry, an apprentice would be able to meet the demands of their profession. In modern times Grand Lodges tend to encourage the use of the ritual in ways to mitigate for difficulty.
The “free born” requirement remains for purely historical reasons. Some jurisdictions have done away with it entirely.
Some Grand Lodges in the United States have a residence requirement, candidates being expected to have lived within the jurisdiction for certain period of time, typically six months.
It is notable that the requirement for the candidate to have a belief in a Supreme Being is present in some, but not all, Co-Masonic bodies, leading to a significant divergence in organisational direction and philosophy.
Membership and religion
Freemasonry explicitly and openly states that it is not a religion, nor a substitute for religion. There is no separate “Masonic God,” and there is no separate or proper name for a deity in any branch of Freemasonry.
Freemasonry requires that its candidates believe in a Supreme Being, the nature of that being subject to the conscience of the candidate. As the interpretation of the term Supreme Being is left up to the individual members can be drawn from a wide range of faiths; the Abrahamic religions and other monotheistic religions. Some members of non-monotheistic religions are accepted subject to answering Yes to the question asked, these include, for example, Buddhists and Hindus.
In the irregular Continental European tradition, since the early 19th Century, a very broad interpretation has been given to a (non-dogmatic) Supreme Being — usually allowing Deism and naturalistic views in the tradition of Spinoza and Goethe (himself a Freemason), or views of The Ultimate or Cosmic Oneness, along with Western atheistic idealism and agnosticism.
The Freemasonry that predominates in Scandinavia, known as the Swedish Rite accepts only Christians..
Women and Freemasonry
The position of women and Freemasonry is complex, although traditionally, only men can be made Freemasons, in Regular Freemasonry.
A supposed exceptional, (very irregular and perhaps unique), account of a woman being admitted to Freemasonry in, 18th century, is the case of Elizabeth Aldworth (born St. Leger), who is reported to have viewed the proceedings of a lodge meeting held at Doneraile House – the private house of her father, first Viscount Doneraile – a resident of Cork, Ireland. In the early part of the 18th century, it was quite customary for lodges to be held in private houses. This lodge was duly warranted for use by Lodge number 150 on the register of the Grand Lodge of Ireland.
Apparently, she removed a brick and saw the ceremony in the room beyond. After being discovered, Elizabeth’s situation was discussed by the lodge. It was decided that she should be initiated into Freemasonry. The story is supported by other accounts of her being a subscriber to the Irish Book of Constitutions of 1744. She frequently attended, wearing her Masonic regalia, and gave entertainments, under Masonic auspices, for the benefit of the poor and distressed. She married Mr. Richard Aldworth of Newmarket, and it is reported that when she died she was accorded Masonic honours at her burial.
The systematic admission of women into International Co-Freemasonry began in France in 1882 with the initiation of Maria Deraismes into the Loge Libre Penseurs (Freethinkers Lodge), under the Grande Loge Symbolique de France. In 1893, along with activist Georges Martin, Maria Deraismes oversaw the initiation of sixteen women into the first lodge in the world to have both men and women as members, from inception, creating the jurisdiction Le Droit Humain (LDH). Again these are regarded as irregular bodies, by Regular Freemasonry.
Principles and activities
Both 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica and 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia agree that Freemasonry, according to the official English, Scottish, American, etc., Craft rituals, is most generally defined: A peculiar (some say particular or beautiful) system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. The continued use of this definition is illustrated in the example of the 1991 printing of the English Emulation Ritual 
As such Freemasonry uses ritual to convey the principles of “Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth” – otherwise related, as in France: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”..
Moral lessons are communicated in a ritualised manner, the candidate progressing through degrees gaining in knowledge and understanding of himself, his relationship with others and his relationship with that Supreme Being to which he adheres.
Outside the ritual context the fraternity is widely involved in charity and community service activities, as well as providing a social outlet for the members.
The balance between ritual, philosophical and spiritual, charitable service and social interchange aspects varies subject to the cultures of the various Grand Lodges which govern Freemasonry around the world. Nevertheless, philosophy and esoteric knowledge remains a deep interest to many individuals. The philosophical aspects of the Craft tend to be discussed in Lodges of Instruction or Research, and sometimes informal groups. Freemasons themselves frequently reprint the scholarly studies that are available to the public.
Freemasons collect money internally which is attributed to charitable purposes. A number of structures exist within Freemasonry to disburse this money, a proportion of which goes to non-Masonic charities either locally or on a provincial or national basis.
Masonic charities include
- Homes  which provide sheltered housing or nursing care.
- Education with both educational grants or residential education which are open to all and not limited to the families of Freemasons.
- Medical assistance
Ritual and symbolism
Freemasonic Ritual uses the architectural symbolism of the medieval operative Masons who actually worked in stone. Tools from operative masonry are used by Freemasons to teach moral and ethical lessons and to encourage the development of a relationship with the Supreme Being. Two of the principal symbols always found in a lodge are the square and compasses. However, as Freemasonry is non-dogmatic, there is no general interpretation for any of these symbols. 
The square and compasses are displayed at all Masonic meetings, along with the open Volume of the Sacred Law (VSL). In English-speaking countries, this is frequently the King James Version of the Bible or another standard translation (there is no such thing as an exclusive “Masonic Bible”).  It is otherwise whatever book a particular jurisdiction authorizes. In many French Lodges, the Masonic Constitutions are used.
A candidate for a degree will normally be given his choice of religious text for his Obligation, according to his beliefs. UGLE alludes to similarities to legal practice in the UK, and to a common source with other oath taking.     Christian candidates will typically use the Lodge’s Bible while those of other religions may choose another book that is holy to them, to be displayed alongside the Lodges’ usual VSL. In lodges with a mixed religious membership it is common to find more than one sacred text displayed representing the beliefs of the individuals present.
In keeping with the geometrical and architectural theme of Freemasonry, the Supreme Being is referred to in Masonic ritual by the attributes of Great Architect of the Universe (G.A.O.T.U.), Grand Geometer or similar. Freemasons use a variety of forms of words in make clear that their reference is generic, not about any one religion’s particular God or God-like concept.
The degrees of Craft or Blue Lodge Freemasonry are those of:
1. Entered Apprentice (EA)
2. Fellow Craft (FC)
3. Master Mason (MM)
As a Freemason works through the degrees, and studies the lessons they contain, he interprets them for himself. No Mason is dictated to as to the interpretation he personally gives, bounded only by the Constitution within which he works.  A common structure of speaking symbolically, and universal human archetypes, provides for each Freemason a means to come to his own answers to life’s important philosophical questions. Especially in Europe, Freemasons working through the degrees are asked to prepare papers on related philosophical topics, and present these papers in an open Lodge.
There is no degree of Freemasonry higher than that of Master Mason. Although some Masonic bodies and orders have degrees named with higher numbers, these degrees are considered to be supplements to the Master Mason degree rather than promotions from it . Nevertheless, it is essential for one to be a Master Mason in order to qualify for these further degree bodies, each of which is organized and administered more or less similarly to Freemasonry itself. In each organization there is a system of offices which confer rank within that degree or order alone.
Signs, grips and words
Freemasons use signs (hand gestures), grips (hand shakes) and passwords to gain admission to their meetings and identify that a visitor is legitimate. However, there is no conclusive evidence that these modes of recognition were in use prior to the mid-1600s after non-operative members had been admitted to lodges. The “Mason Word” is the first mode of recognition to appear in early lodge records of the mid-1600s. The Grips and signs followed, and were probably never used by the operative Freemasons, the easiest way to determine an operative Mason’s qualifications being the quality of his work. The preponderance of evidence supports the development of these modes of recognition by non-operative 17th-century Freemasons.
Beginning in the early 18th century, many exposés have been written claiming to reveal these signs, grips and passwords for the uninitiated. However, as each Grand Lodge is free to create its own rituals, the signs, grips and passwords can and do differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, as noted clearly by Christopher Hodapp.Furthermore, according to historian John J. Robinson, Grand Lodges can and do change their rituals frequently, updating the language used, adding or omitting sections.The logical conclusion of Hodapp’s and Robinson’s assertions is that any exposé is only valid for a particular jurisdiction at a particular time, and therefore may or may not be accurate with respect to modern ritual.
The Landmarks are the ancient and unchangeable precepts of Masonry, the standards by which the regularity of a Freemasonic Lodge and Grand Lodges are judged. Each Grand Lodge is self-governing and no single authority exists over the whole of Freemasonry. The interpretation of these principles can and do vary, leading to controversies of recognition.
The concept of Masonic Landmarks appears in Masonic regulations as early as 1723, and seems to have been adopted from the regulations of operative masonic guilds. Nowadays the term Landmark is generally understood by the definition of Dr. Albert Gallatin Mackey, who laid down three requisite characteristics, namely: (1) immemorial antiquity (2) universality (3) absolute irrevocability.
In 1856, Mackey attempted to set down the actual Landmarks as he saw them. He determined there were 25 in all. Seven years later, in 1863, George Oliver published Freemason’s Treasury in which he listed 40 Landmarks. In the last century, a number of American Grand Lodges attempted the daunting task of enumerating the Landmarks, ranging from West Virginia (7) and New Jersey (10) to Nevada (39) and Kentucky (54). 
History of Freemasonry
Freemasonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbol and in the ritual context employs an allegorical foundation myth of foundation of the fraternity by the builders of King Solomon’s Temple.
Beyond myth, there is a distinct absence of documentation as to Freemasonry’s origins, which has led to a great deal of speculation among historians and psuedo-historians, both from within and from outside the fraternity. Hundreds of books have been written on the subject. Much of the content of these books is highly speculative, and the precise origins of Freemasonry may very well be permanently lost to history. The little evidence that is currently available, seems to point to the origins of Freemasonry as a fraternity that simply transitioned out of the operative lodges of the middle ages.
The origin of Freemasonry has variously been attributed to  :
- King Solomon, and the construction of the Temple at Jerusalem,
- Euclid, or Pythagoras,
- The Patriarchal Religion, Moses, the Pagan Mysteries, The Essenes, The Culdees, The Druids, The Gypsies, or the Rosicrucians,
- the intellectual descendants of Noah or Enoch,
- an institutional outgrowth of the medieval guilds of stonemasons, 
- a direct descendant of the “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem” (the Knights Templar)
- an offshoot of the ancient Mystery schools, 
- an administrative arm of the Priory of Sion,
- the intellectual descendants of the Roman Collegia,
- the intellectual descendants of the Comacine masters,
- the German Steinmetzen, or the French Compagnonage,
- Oliver Cromwell, or the Stuart Pretender to the British Crown; Lord Francis Bacon, Viscount St. Alban, Baron Verulam;
- Sir Christopher Wren and the rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral,
- survivor of late 17th Century, enlightenment period, fashion for fraternal bodies with no real connections at all to earlier organizations (although various documents pre-dating the 17th Century tend to disprove this theory).
Early operative Freemasons, unlike virtually all Europeans except the clergy, were not bound to the land on which they were born, and were, thus, “free”. The various skills required in building ever more complex stone structures, especially churches and cathedrals, allowed skilled masons to travel and find work at will. They were “lodged” in a more temporary structure either attached to, or near, the main building. In this lodge, they ate, slept and received their work assignments from the master of the work. The freedom they enjoyed was beyond price. To maintain such freedom required exclusivity of skills, and thus, as the apprentice was trained, his instructors attached moral values to the tools of the trade, binding the young man to his fellows.
The development of Freemasonry had two distinct growth periods:
- Stage 1: Operative Freemasonry being associated with the craft guilds. Ritual elements are simple and there is no evidence of a sophisticated philosophical outlook.
- Stage 2: Freemasonry during the very late 16th century and into the 17th Century Scottish lodges underwent a gentrification process which is evidenced by an increasing non-operative membership notable for their social position in society. Scottish lodge records from this time period have survived and there are many examples in Scotland to demonstrate this transition from operative to speculative Freemasonry. Unfortunately, virtually no records of English lodges survive prior to the purely speculative Grand Lodge period commencing in 1717. The purely speculative ritual and lectures of William Preston (1742-1818) demonstrate an infusion of enlightenment philosophy and increasing use of ritual as a vehicle for the communication and exploration of that philosophy.
The medieval stonemasons were called “freemasons.” Historians have suggested at least three origins of the term: 1) from the French term “franc-maçon,” meaning a mason working in a lodge that has been granted a “franchise” by the church to work on church property and therefore “free” from taxation or regulation by the King or the local municipality; 2) from the fact that they were free men, and not serfs or indentured, and “free” to travel from one work location to another, so that they were “freemen masons”; and 3) from the fact that they worked in “freestone,” a type of quarry stone, and were therefore “freestone masons.”The working lodges of Scotland began accepting non-operative, gentleman members as early as the 1630’s. After the admission of these “speculative” Masons, the ritualistic, philosophical and fraternal aspects of the lodges became much more elaborate.
From foundation to 1717
A more historical source asserting the antiquity of Freemasonry is the Halliwell Manuscript, or Regius Poem – believed to date from ca. 1390. This makes reference to several concepts and phrases similar to those found in Freemasonry. The manuscript itself seems to be an elaboration on an earlier document, to which it refers.
There is also the Cooke Manuscript, dated 1430 – the Constitution of German stonemasons. The first appearance of the word ‘Freemason’ occurs in the Statutes of the Realm enacted in 1495 by Henry VII of England, however, most other documentary evidence prior to the 1500s appears to relate entirely to operative Masons.
By 1583, the date of the Grand Lodge manuscript, the documentary evidence begins to grow. The Schaw Statues of 1598-9(4) are the source used to declare the precedence of Lodge Mother Kilwinning in Kilwinning, Ayrshire, Scotland over Lodge Mary’s Chapel in Edinburgh. These are described as Head and Principal respectively. As a side note, following a dispute over numbering at the formation of the Grand Lodge of Scotland (GLS) – Kilwinning is numbered as Lodge Mother Kilwinning Number 0 (pronounced ‘Nothing’), GLS. Quite soon thereafter, a charter was granted to Sir William St. Clair (later Sinclair) of Roslin (Rosslyn), allowing him to purchase jurisdiction over a number of lodges in Edinburgh and environs. This may be the basis of the Templar myth surrounding Rosslyn Chapel.
From the early 1600s references are found to Freemasonry in personal diaries and journals. Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), was made a Mason in 1646, and notes attending several Masonic meetings. There appears to be a general spread of the Craft, between Ashmole’s account and 1717, when four English Lodges meeting in London Taverns joined together and founded the Grand Lodge of England (GLE). They had held meetings, respectively, at the Apple-Tree Tavern, the Crown Ale-House near Drury Lane, the Goose and Gridiron in St. Paul’s Churchyard, and the Rummer and Grapes Tavern in Westminster.
With the foundation of this first Grand Lodge, Freemasonry shifted from being an obscure, relatively private, institution into the public eye. The years following saw new Grand Lodges open throughout Europe. How much of this growth was the spreading of Freemasonry itself, and how much was due to the public organization of pre-existing private Lodges, is uncertain.
The introduction of the Third Degree
In 1723, James Anderson wrote and published The Constitutions of the Free-Masons, For the Use of the Lodges in London and Westminster. This work was reprinted in Philadelphia in 1734 by Benjamin Franklin, who was that year elected Grand Master of the Masons of Pennsylvania.
Sometime after 1725, a third degree, the Master Mason’s degree, began to be worked in London lodges. Its origins are unknown, and it may be older than its recorded appearance indicates. But it does not appear in the records of any lodge until April 1727, and its actual conferral does not appear in the records of any lodge until March 1729. Exposures of Masonic ritual, which began to appear in 1723, refer to only two degrees until the publication of Samuel Pritchard’s “Masonry Dissected” in 1730, which contained the work for all three degrees. The Master Mason’s degree was not official until the Grand Lodge adopted Anderson’s revised Constitutions of 1738.
The Ancients’ Grand Lodge—1751
Throughout the early years of the new Grand Lodge there were any number of Masons and lodges that never affiliated with the new Grand Lodge. These unaffiliated Masons and their lodges were commonly referred to as “Old Masons,” or “St. John Masons, and “St. John Lodges”.
During the 1730’s and 1740’s hard feelings increased between the London Grand Lodge and the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland. Irish and Scottish Masons visiting and living in London felt that the London Grand Lodge had deviated considerably from the ancient practices of the craft that they were familiar with. As a result, Irish and Scottish Masons living in London felt a stronger kinship with the unaffiliated lodges of London. The aristocratic nature of the London Grand Lodge and its members further encouraged the working class Masons of the city to identify with the unaffiliated lodges.
On 17 July 1751, representatives of five lodges gathered at the Turk’s Head Tavern, in Greek Street, Soho, and formed a second, rival, Grand Lodge. They termed it “The Most Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons.” As they believed that they practiced a more ancient and therefore purer form of Masonry, they called their Grand Lodge “The Ancients’ Grand Lodge.” And at the same time they called those affiliated to the Premier Grand Lodge, “the Moderns.” These two epithets stuck.
An illustration of how deep the division was between the two factions is the case of Benjamin Franklin who was a member of a Moderns’ lodge in Philadelphia early in the eighteenth century. By the time he returned from France and died, his lodge had gone over to (and received a warrant from) the Ancients Grand Lodge, and would no longer recognize him as one of their own — declining to give him Masonic honours at his funeral.
The great schism that wasn’t
For many years, “The Great Masonic Schism” was a name applied to the sixty-two year division of English Freemasonry into two separate Grand Lodges. Some even attempted to attribute the division to the changes in passwords made in 1738-39 by the Premier Grand Lodge. Even the great Masonic historian Robert F. Gould in his “History of Freemasonry (1885) referred to the Ancients Grand Lodge as “schismatics.” However, Henry Sadler, Librarian of the U.G.L.E., demonstrated in his book “Masonic Facts and Fictions” (1887) that the Ancients Grand Lodge was formed in 1751 primarily by Irish Masons living and working in London, who had never affiliated with the older Grand Lodge. 72 of the first 100 names on the roll of the new Ancients’ Grand Lodge were Irish. In 1776, the Grand Secretary of the Moderns’ Grand Lodge referred to them as “the Irish Faction (Ye Ancient Masons, as they call themselves).” And so the myth of a “Great Masonic Schism” in English Masonry was laid to rest.
The Union of 1813
The two competing Grand Lodges were amalgamated into the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) in 1813, by virtue of an agreement known as “The Articles of Union.” These twenty-one articles specified the agreements made between the two factions regarding the various points of contention. A special lodge, the Lodge of Promulgation, was established and was given the task of promulgating the ancient landmarks of the Order, as well as instructing and negotiating with the members of the two factions to include the discontinuation of any innovations or changes introduced by the Moderns. As a result, the Union largely confirmed the Ancients’ forms and ceremonies, and therefore considerably revised the Moderns’ rituals. One of the most important changes to effect the Moderns was the inclusion in Article Two of the Royal Arch Degree as a part, and therefore the completion of, the Master Masons’ Degree, a practice that had always been peculiar to the Ancients lodges.
Both the Antients and the Moderns had daughter lodges throughout the world, and because many of those lodges still exist, there is a great deal of variability in the ritual used today, even between UGLE-recognized jurisdictions in amity. Most private lodges conduct themselves in accordance with an agreed-upon single Rite.
The great schism of 1877
A great schism in Freemasonry did occur, however, in the years following 1877, when the Grand Orient de France (GOdF) started accepting atheists unreservedly. While the issue of atheism is probably the greatest single factor in the split with the GOdF, the English also point to the French recognition of women’s Masonry and co-Masonry, as well as the tendency of French Masons to be more willing to discuss religion and politics in Lodge. While the French curtail such discussion, they do not ban it as outright as do the English. The schism between the two branches has occasionally been breached for short periods of time, especially during the First World War when American Masons overseas wanted to be able to visit French Lodges.
Concerning religious requirements, the oldest constitution found in Freemasonry — that of Anderson, 1723 — says that a Mason “will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine” if he “rightly understands the Art”. The only religious requirement was “that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves”. Masons debate as to whether “stupid” and “irreligious” are meant as necessary, or as accidental, modifiers of “atheist” and “libertine”. It is possible the ambiguity is intentional.
In 1815, the newly amalgamated UGLE modified Anderson’s constitutions to include: “Let a man’s religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order, provided he believes in the glorious Architect of Heaven and Earth, and practices the sacred duties of morality.”
In 1849, France (GOdF) followed the English (UGLE) lead by adopting the “Supreme Being” requirement, but pressure from Latin countries produced by 1875, the alternative phrase “Creative Principle”. This was ultimately not enough for the GOdF, and in 1877 it re-adopted the original Anderson document of 1723. They also created an alternative ritual that made no direct reference to any deity, with the attribute of the Great Architect of the Universe. This new Rite did not replace the older ones, but was added as an alternative, as Continental European jurisdictions, generally, tend not to restrict themselves to a single Rite — offering a menu of Rites, from which their lodges may choose.
There is some controversy, originating in the Roman Catholic Church, over how divided the jurisdictions were, with some American Freemasons in the early twentieth century (before the partial reconciliation of Freemasonry in the First World War) stressing the unity of Freemasonry., which was viewed as evidence that the schism was only partial.
Criticism, persecution, and prosecution
Freemasonry has historically attracted criticism and suppression from the politically extreme right (i.e. Nazi Germany) and the extreme left (i.e. the former Communist states in Eastern Europe). The fraternity has encountered both applause for “founding”, and opposition for supposedly thwarting, liberal democracy (such as the United States of America). It has also attracted criticism and suppression from theocratic states and organised religions for supposed competition with religion, or heterodoxy within the Fraternity itself.
Perhaps influenced by the assertion of Masons that many political figures in the past 300 years have been Masons, Freemasonry has long been the target of conspiracy theories, which see it as an occult and evil power. Often associated with the New World Order and other “agents”, such as the Illuminati, the fraternity is seen, by conspiracy theorists, as either bent on world domination, or already secretly in control of world politics.
In 1799 English Freemasonry almost came to a halt. In the wake of the French Revolution the Unlawful Societies Act, 1799 banned any meetings of groups that required their members to take an oath or obligation.  The Grand Masters of the Premier Grand Lodge and the Antients Grand Lodge called on the Prime Minister William Pitt, (not a Freemason) and explained to him how Freemasonry was a supporter of the law and lawfully constituted authority and was much involved in charitable work. As a result Freemasonry was specifically exempted from the terms of the Act, provided that each Private Lodge’s Secretary placed with the local “Clerk of the Peace” a list of the members of his Lodge—once a year.  This continued until 1967 when the obligation of the provision was rescinded by Parliament. Regular Freemasonry inserted into its core ritual a formal obligation: to be quiet and peaceable citizens, true to the lawful government of the country in which they live, and not to countenance disloyalty or rebellion.  A Freemason makes a further obligation, before being made Master of his Lodge, to pay a proper respect to the civil Magistrates.  The words may be varied across Grand Lodges, but the sense in the obligation taken is always there in regular Freemasonry.
In 1826, William Morgan disappeared from Batavia, New York, after threatening to publish an exposé of Freemasonry’s rituals. His disappearance resulted in claims that he had been kidnapped and even killed by rogue Freemasons. Despite the fact that no evidence was ever brought forward to implicate Freemasonry, these accusations helped an Anti-Masonic movement grow throughout the United States. This movement culminated in an Anti-Masonic Party being formed, which fielded candidates for the Presidential elections of 1828 and 1832.
In modern democracies, Freemasonry is still sometimes accused of being a network, where individuals become Freemasons through patrimony; and where political influence and illegal business dealings take place. This is officially and explicitly deplored.  An individual must ask freely and without persuasion to become a Freemason in order to join the fraternity. 
In Italy, the illicit and irregular Propaganda Due lodge (aka P2) has been investigated. In the wake of financial scandals that nearly bankrupted the Vatican Bank in the late 1970s, there is suspicion of involvement in murders, including the head of Banco Ambrosiano, Roberto Calvi. He was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London, England.
The UK Labour Government , in the late 1990s and early 2000s, attempted to require all members of fraternal organisations who are public officials to make their affiliation public.   This was challenged under European Human Rights legislation, and the Government in enacting the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law,  had to curtail the scope of their requirements.  Arrangements for the declaration of freemasonry membership have been established for the current Lay Magistracy, Judiciary, and voluntary registration was introduced in 1999 for the Police Service. No central register of freemasonry membership is held, and it is not possible to estimate the number of members who failed to declare their interest. Decisions on whether information should be released are the responsibility of the public authority receiving the request, on a case-by-case basis, acting in accordance with the principles of the Freedom of Information Act, 2000. 
Christian religious opposition
Although sections of other faiths cite objections, in general, it is Christianity and Freemasonry that has had the highest profile relationship, with various Christian denominations banning or discouraging members from being Freemasons.
Those Grand Lodges in amity with UGLE explicitly and adhere to the principle that Freemasonry is not a religion, nor a substitute for religion; There is no separate “Masonic god”, and there is no separate proper name for a deity in Freemasonry. 
While regular Masonry has always tended as much to rationalism as it does to mysticism, the very existence of the possibility of hermetic interpretations within Freemasonry has led Anti-Masonic activists to quote works such as Albert Pike’s Morals and Dogma to try to show Freemasonry as Satanic.
However, since it is not a religion, Freemasonry is non-dogmatic and constitutionally governed. Pike’s opinions are his own personal (and now somewhat outdated) interpretations. Most tellingly, Pike himself admits that his book is more culled from other sources than his original work. Most importantly, Pike is but one commentator amongst many, and no one voice has ever spoken for the whole of Freemasonry.
The Catholic Church has often been seen to be opposed to Freemasonry. Despite Masonry’s own self-definition that it is not a religion, from the viewpoint of the Catholic Church it is – at least in the sense that the Church views Freemasonry as a ritualized form of deism. Catholic theologians hold that while Masons act from benevolent motives, the fraternity represents a humanistic, secularized form of moral philosophy which is not compatible with a uniquely Catholic motivation. The form of Freemasonry expounded by the Grand Orient of France has also represented a political force in countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal, for instance, that has tended toward anticlericalism, secularism and at times even Anti-Catholicism.
A number of Papal pronouncements have been issued against Freemasonry. The first was “In Eminenti” by Pope Clement XII and was issued on April 28, 1738. The last was “Ab Apostolici” by Pope Leo XIII and was issued on October 15, 1890.
More recently, the Church has reiterated its statement that it forbids Catholics from becoming Freemasons. The detail in Quaesitum est issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the advisory body to the Pope responsible for ruling on matters of Church doctrine) in 1983, and signed by the then-prefect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), states that “The faithful, who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.”
For its part, Freemasonry allows men of any faith, including Catholics, to become members. Interestingly, in 2005 the Grand Lodge of Italy announced that it had installed a Roman Catholic Priest as its Chaplain (an office which requires that the Priest in question be a Mason).
- Rudyard Kipling used Masonic symbols and characters in some of his writings, most notably The Man Who Would Be King, which was later made into a film. Two adventurers are taken to be Masonic representatives of Alexander the Great.
- One of the main characters in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado is a Freemason.
- One of the main characters in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace becomes a Freemason.
- The plot of the opera “Die Zauberflöte” (“The Magic Flute”) contains several references to Masonic ideals and ceremonies. Mozart and his librettist Emanuel Schikaneder were both members of the Masonic lodge Lodge of the Nine Muses.
- Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion, was a Freemason, as were the first five presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow. All became Masons at a regular Lodge in Nauvoo, Illinois. 
- The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was a society founded by at least one Mason who also was a member of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (a research and study group focusing on symbolic alchemy, the mystical kabbalah, tarot, and Christian Symbolism). The Golden Dawn was never a Masonic body, and was open to membership from non-Masons and women.
- The graphic novel From Hell by Alan Moore – and the movie based upon it – feature as their basic premise a conspiracy theory linking “certain Freemasons” to the Jack the Ripper murders. The story is that “Freemason” Sir William Gull, the then British Royal Household’s physician, covered up a child of Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence born to a Catholic shop girl – “by killing her, and all the women who knew about the baby”. The story depends on the assumption that such figures as the Marquess of Salisbury, Sir William Gull and Sir Robert Anderson were Freemasons – but there is no actual record of their initiation into Freemasonry in any Lodge.
- Freemasons feature heavily in Robert Shea’s and Robert Anton Wilson’s satire, The Illuminatus! Trilogy.
- John Cleese, and other cast members, portray spoof Freemasons in the How to recognise a Freemason sketch of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
- The Freemasons are spoofed in an episode of The Simpsons, titled “Homer the Great,” as The Ancient Society of Stonecutters, a secret organisation that controls everything from the British Crown to the Academy Awards (thereby securing Steve Guttenberg’s stardom).
- Another episode of The Simpsons, entitled “$pringfield (or, How I learned to stop worrying and love legalized gambling)”, has a scene where Mr. Burns, obsessed with germs and having become a “Howard Hughes”-like recluse, sees germs on Smithers’ face. The germs chant “Freemasons run the country.”
- Dan Brown’s novels, Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code and The Solomon Key draw heavily on supposed Masonic and Christian lore and symbolism.
- Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco also deals with Freemasonic themes.
- The Cremaster Cycle films by Matthew Barney use Masonic imagery.
- The plot of the 2004 movie National Treasure revolves heavily around the Freemasons and is somewhat unusual in that it depicts them in a benign light.
- In The Baron in the Trees Italian writer Italo Calvino includes Masonic lodges branching out into the lands of Ombrosa with the protagonist of the novel, Cosimo di Rondo, mysteriously and supposedly involved with them.
- Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris use Freemasonry in their series The Adept, most notably in The Adept Book Two: The Lodge of the Lynx, and in Kurtz’s American Revolution historical novel Two Crowns for America, which links Freemasonry and Jacobitism.
- In John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden Adam Trask, the main character, is mentioned as becoming a Freemason later in life.
- In Robert A. Heinlein’s short novel “If This Goes On—”, the lead character becomes a Freemason and Freemasonry figures largely in the plot.
- In Holy Wood, Marilyn Manson alludes to Freemasonry in song titles, lyrics, and sounds.
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- PS Review of Freemasonry Masonic Magazine written by and for Freemasons
- Web of Hiram
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- Illustrations of Masonry
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