Freemasonry is the oldest and largest fraternal organization in the world. Put at its simplest, it is a universal society of friends who seek to become better people through their association with each other.
Freemasonry is not a religion, though many Christian ideals are important to Masons. It is what Masons term a fraternal order whose basic tenants are brotherly love and relief. Brotherly love requires that masons be tolerant, respectful, kind and understanding. Relief refers to the practice of charity and commitment to other forms of philanthropy and to Truth.
Being a Freemason means possessing a belief that there is a divine intelligence that governs the working of the universe. Freemasonry has no doctrines or dogmas as such or any political or religious affiliations. Rather it is a system of morality which is veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols with implications for a way of living that leads to self improvement through service to the world. These are the ways by which moral and ethical truths are taught.
The majority of masons believe that the modern story of the movement began with the stonemasons, builders of Europe’s greatest cathedrals. Member masons were craftsmen who banded together to practice what masons today call “the operative art” of masonry. They were an elite class that could travel freely between countries; hence the term freemason.
There was a profound change in the nature of Freemasonry that came about in the eighteenth century; during the period of history known as the Enlightenment, when lodges began to accept members who were not stonemasons. As a consequence of this many lodges now dub themselves “speculative” rather than “operative”, dealing in ideas and the formation of ideals rather than stone. It is those ideals which govern masonry today.
The most important symbols of Masonry are the Bible, the Square and the Compasses. The Volume of Sacred Law sheds light on the Masons duty to the Supreme Being, the Square illustrates the duty to his fellow Masons and to society, and the Compasses provide the light necessary to understand the duties he owes to himself; to circumscribe his passions and keep desires within bounds.
One of the most visible signs of Masonic membership is the white leather apron. It is the perpetual symbol of Masonic affiliation. Whatever a Mason does and wherever he goes, the Apron serves to remind him of his duties and obligations. It is also a symbolic reminder to him to do his duty to God, his Country, his Neighbors and his Family.