You don’t hear much about them now, but for centuries, fraternal societies were as much a part of the fabric of daily life for many adults as driving kids to soccer practice and scheduling play dates are today. TV, and later the COVID-19 pandemic,
Greatly impacted the importance of societies such as the Oddfellows, the Elks and the Lion’s Club. Yet, for the longest time, one’s fraternal society was a source of friendship, social capital, and the basis for one’s charitable work. And probably the most famous – or infamous – of those orders is the
Mysterious group known as the Freemasons. But what do Freemasons actually believe? On the surface, the Freemasons appear to be a group of usually old men who meet at the lodge to play cards and enjoy a tall, cold one, but for centuries,
Both church officials and the general public were concerned about the Masons. That’s because the organization has always been shrouded in secrecy, with rumors of pagan rituals, quasi-polytheistic beliefs, and to hear some tell it, a tendency to secretly pull the strings of government, finance, and world domination. Even Sherlock Holmes thought so!
“The handshake and the ring, Watson, are archaic rituals preserved by the 33rd degree members of the secret order of Freemasons!” That, or they really are just a bunch of men enjoying each other’s company and doing good charitable work and riding in parades, which is the version of the story they tell.
So what’s the truth? According to The Straight Dope, the group that eventually came to be known as the Freemasons likely began as a trade guild. At the time, the secrecy that governed the society’s existence was likely at least partially due to the need to keep outsiders from learning
Valuable trade skills — masonry specifically. But there was also a religious aspect as well. The Freemasons allowed anyone to join as long as they believed in God, regardless of their specific religious beliefs. And that was way too inclusive for the Catholic Church.
This was centuries ago, of course. Around the 17th century, the focus of the group broadened from actual stone masonry into a society of wealthy, educated gentlemen discussing the latest trends in philosophy, like a book club for morality. It was also the time when the society became
Entwined with Deistic beliefs, an idea that the “Grand Architect of the Universe” was just that: a god-like being that created the world but has no further influence in its existence. The inclusivity and secularism of the Freemasons put them at odds
With all sorts of conservative establishments, especially the Catholic Church, and for a while, Freemasonry was outright banned. As a result, the Masons were traditionally anti-monarchy and pro-republic and constitutional government, which explains why Founding Fathers such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were part of the shadowy club.
These days, Masons are still required to profess belief in a higher power — either the “Grand Architect of the Universe,” or for the individual Mason, the god of their own religion — in order to join the group or stay in it. However,
The Straight Dope also notes that when a Mason achieves the highest rank, the tea is spilled about what the group secretly purports to believe: that “god” is actually a being they call Jahbulon, who is an amalgam of a the Hebrew God, a Canaanite god, and an Egyptian one.
Of course, few, if any, Masons actually believe all or any of that. But all the secrecy and initiation rituals of Freemasonry helped promote the “brotherhood of man.” That sounds good on paper, but the downside is made clear by the overwhelmingly male
Membership of the Masons — women were only allowed recently, through off-shoot chapters. That’s not the only way in which the Masons have struggled to adapt to the modern world. Many conventional lodges refuse to accept anyone who is not a white male,
A struggle that continues to this day. So women and minorities run their own Masonic lodges, completely separated from the traditional bands of old white men. It’s a strange, archaic, and unwritten rule that sours the Freemason’s modern reputation. Hopefully the organization will come around and return to it’s inclusive roots – Jahbulon willing.
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