One of the largest and oldest fraternal orders in the world, the Freemasons have traditions that date back for centuries. Somewhat ironically, the order has the gained attention of the public due to their desire for secrecy and their mysterious tendencies. They were first noticed by the mainstream public in London in 1717, although some date their beginnings to the late 17th century. Others claim the order began in the late Middle Ages as an extended branch of the Knights Templar. However, just like everything about the Masons, their true origins are shrowded in mystery. It is this mysterious aura that makes the Freemasons such an intriguing organization. Combined with the fact that some of the most powerful men in recent history have been members, this makes for an irresistable mystery to the public. While their origins, their rites and their true purposes are still unknown, there are some very curious facts about Freemasonry that we do know. Here are just a few of the most intriguing and surprising of those facts.
Millions of Masons
Although the total membership of the Freemasons is unknown, it is estimated that there are currently over 6 million members worldwide. Nearly 500,000 of those are in the United Kingdom and over 2 million are in the United States.
While the order had already been in existance for years, the conventional establishment of Freemasonry was on June 24, 1717. This is when the first Grand Lodge was established in London, and the public was introduced to the Masons.
Symbols and Secrets
At its core, Freemasonry is a fraternal group that uses the concepts of masonry to teach moral lessons. This is why they make use of symbols such as the square and compass. Although their heavy use of symbols has been regarded as mysterious, some experts believe it began because many of their early members could not read. Others believe that there are more sinister meanings behind the masonic symbols.
Although Freemasonry itself is not a religion, it is required that every member believe in some form of higher power. The extent to the order guides and restricts these beliefs is disputed.
A Masonic lodge is more than just the buildings that house the meetings. The lodge also refers to individual chapters of the organization. Each lodge is technically an independent organization, although they must get their charter from a Grand Lodge.
Relations between Grand Lodges are determined by the concept of Recognition. Each Grand Lodge maintains a list of other Grand Lodges that it recognises When two Grand Lodges recognise and are in Masonic communication with each other, they are said to be in amity, and the brethren of each may visit each other's Lodges and interact Masonically.
Origins of Freemasonry
Freemasonry as a known institution was founded in England in the early 18th century, their founding documents trace back to a much earlier beginning. These documents, known as the Old Charges, date the institution of Freemasonry back to 1425. Although many have disputed this, there is some evidence of a ritualized form of masonry dating back to the 15th century.
Spread of Freemasonry
After the official beginnings of the organization in 1717, Freemasonry began to spread quickly throughout the British Empire. The Grand Lodge of Ireland and the Grand Lodge of Scotland were formed in 1725 and 1736 respectively, although neither acknowledged the other for decades. The order quickly moved across the Atlantic, and the Premier Grand Lodge of England appointed a Provincial Grand Master for North America in 1731, based in Pennsylvania.
Prince Hall Masonry
The earliest American lodges refused to accept African-American members. In response to this, a man named Prince Hall formed the formed his own lodge with 14 other men, made up exclusively of African-Americans. They originally received a warrant to enter the Grand Lodge of Ireland in 1775, but were officially granted their own charter from the Grand Lodge of England in 1784 and formed the African Lodge. General lodges in America did not begin to accept African-Americans openly until the mid 20th century. Prince Hall Masonry still exists today and is open to all races.
The order spread to France in the 1720's and continued to follow the English model under the Grand Lodge of London. As Freemasonry continued to spread throughout Europe, the Grand Loge de France was formed under the Duke of Clermont. His successor, the Duke of Orleans reconstituted the central body as the Grand Orient de France in 1773.
As the order grew, disputes were inevitable. The first major schism occurred in the late 19th century over the required religious belief by the United Grand Lodge of England. By 1894, Freemasonry had split into two main sects: Tradtional and Liberal. Liberal (also known as Continental) Freemasonry requires no belief in a supreme being and is more progressive in its principles. Traditional Freemasonry makes up the vast majority of the order, and they generally view the Liberal sect as illegitimate.
Independence and individualism is a key concept in Freemasonry. This is why the order has no single leader or spokesman, and each lodge is only subordinate to the Grand Lodge of their region. These Grand Lodges cooperate but do not officially make up one governing body.
Masons Make History
It is commonly known that some of the most powerful and influential people in recent history have been Freemasons. Just a few of the most meaningful members of the order include: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, J. Edgar Hoover and Winston Churchill.