No. It is sometimes said that Freemasonry is a “Society with secrets, not a secret society.” In point of fact, however, any purported Masonic “secrets” were made public several centuries ago in London newspapers, and today can be found in the Library of Congress, on the Internet, and in many books on the subject. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “The great secret of Freemasonry is that there is no secret at all.”
Freemasonry, often called the “Craft” by its members, is founded on metaphors of architecture. Following the practice of the ancient stonemason guilds, Freemasons use special handshakes, words, and symbols to not only to identify each other, but to help, as William Preston said in 1772, “imprint upon the memory wise and serious truths.”
Although every new Freemason takes an oath – and vows to keep secret the metaphors of Masonry – the metaphors are only used to help Masons become better men; and there’s certainly no secret surrounding what it takes to be good and true.
The nature of Masonic ritual is both complex and beautiful. “Ritual” is a formal ceremony of initiation which recites certain tenets and truths that have been passed down for generations – mostly from mouth to ear. This “Ritual” takes the form of lectures and theater in the Lodge, and is used to teach new Masons the value of true friendship, the benefits of knowledge, and the necessity of helping those in need.
It speaks to the power and impact our ritual has on men's hearts and minds because it has stood the test of time for more than 300 years. Although our world has changed dramatically during that time, our ritual is virtually the same.
Not everyone will want to learn the ancient ritual – as it takes great time and study – but those Masons who chose to learn it are rewarded with the satisfaction of upholding a powerful tradition and helping their fellow brothers further their Masonic understanding.
Masonry is not a religion. But it is one of the few platforms where men of all monotheistic faiths - Christians (including Catholics), Jews, and Muslims - can come together because it is open to all men who believe in a Supreme Being; but religion is not discussed at Masonic meetings. Although Lodges open and close with a prayer and Masonry teaches morality, it is not a church or a religion. Masonry does not have a theology or dogma, it does not offer sacraments, and it does not offer the promise of salvation.
Freemasonry is, by definition, a fraternity that aims to promote Brotherly Love and Friendship among its members. It is a worldwide organization that draws together men from every country, race, religion, ethnicity, opinion, and background, and helps cultivate and promote better relationships and bonds of friendships among them. Freemasonry doesn’t focus on Friendship and Brotherly Love because it believes that only relations between men are important, or that relations between men and women are unimportant, but because hope for peace and harmony in the world is improved when men can put aside their differences and come together as friends. Masons also appreciate and value relations with women. We sponsor and participate in Masonic related organizations such as the Order of Eastern Star and the Order of Rainbow for Girls, whose members include women and girls respectively.
Masonic principles teach the value of relief - or charity - and Freemasons give more than $2 million A DAY, of which more than 70% of these donations support the general public. Among their works are the Shriners Hospitals for Children with 22 sites throughout North America, including a burn center in Boston and an orthopedic facility in Springfield; almost 225 Learning Centers helping children with dyslexia and speech and hearing disorders; the Masonic Youth Child Identification Program (MYCHIP), and the Masonic Angel Foundation, providing modest assistance to children and adults in local communities who do not fit the criteria for usual social-services. There are numerous other worthy causes and groups that local Lodges contribute to and help in their communities.
Part of the mystique of Freemasonry can be attributed to speculation about its roots. Over the years, researchers have never been able to conclusively determine exactly when, where, how, and why Freemasonry was born.
The order is thought to have arisen from the English and Scottish guilds of practicing stonemasons and cathedral builders in the Middle Ages, but certain Masonic documents actually trace the sciences of geometry and Masonry to the time of ancient Egypt, and some historians say that Masonry has its real roots in antiquity.
The formation of the first Grand Lodge in London in 1717 could mark the beginning of the Modern (or “Speculative”) era of Freemasonry, when members were no longer limited to actual working stonemasons. These “Accepted” Masons eventually adopted more enlightened philosophies, and turned what was a tradesmen’s organization into a fraternity for moral edification, intellectual recitation, benevolent service, and gentlemanly socialization.