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Freemasons For Dummies

Freemasons For Dummies

4.8 15
by Christopher Hodapp

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Take the mystery out of the Freemasons

Fascinated by Freemasons? Freemasons For Dummies is the internationally bestselling introduction to the Masons, the oldest and largest "secret society" in the world. This balanced, eye-opening guide demystifies Freemasonry, explaining everything from its elaborate rituals and cryptic rites, to its curious


Take the mystery out of the Freemasons

Fascinated by Freemasons? Freemasons For Dummies is the internationally bestselling introduction to the Masons, the oldest and largest "secret society" in the world. This balanced, eye-opening guide demystifies Freemasonry, explaining everything from its elaborate rituals and cryptic rites, to its curious symbols and their meanings.

With new and improved content, including updated examples and references throughout, this new edition of Freemasons For Dummies provides the most straightforward, non-intimidating guide to the subject on the market.

  • Updated expert coverage of the basic beliefs and philosophy behind Freemasonry
  • Revised information on the history of the society, including updates concerning its founding, famous historical members, and pivotal events
  • New coverage devoted to the recent influx of younger membership
  • The latest and ongoing controversies and myths surrounding Freemasonry
  • The role of women in a Masonic organization, including opportunities for women to participate in Freemasonry
  • The effects cultural and political changes and worldwide events are having on the organization

If you're intrigued by the mystery that surrounds the Masons, get ready to learn the facts about this ancient order in Freemasons For Dummies.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...a delight; no masonic prudery here, no academic dry ... simple readable style that encourages one to read on...great value..." (The Square, March 2006)

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For Dummies Series
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Read an Excerpt

Freemasons For Dummies

By Christopher Hodapp

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7645-9796-5

Chapter One

Lodges, Aprons, and Funny Handshakes: Freemasonry 101

In This Chapter

* Defining Freemasonry

* Knowing where it came from

* Discovering what Freemasons do

* Getting the scoop on all those secrets

"Mystery creates wonder, and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand." -Neil Armstrong

Drive through just about any town in America, and keep your eyes open. Sooner or later, you'll pass a building or a sign sporting a square and compass, like the one shown in Figure 1-1. It may be a large, impressive building, or a small humble one. It may be marked with a huge sign in the yard, or a simple cornerstone. But it will be there. It is a sign universally recognized throughout the world for centuries, as a symbol of truth, morality, and brotherly love. It is the square and compass of Freemasonry.

The greatest lure of Freemasonry is the mystique of a locked door. On the other side of that door are rituals, symbols, and ceremonies known only to its members and Masters, and unwritten secrets that have been passed from mouth to ear for centuries.

Masonic libraries are filled with books of antiquity. Science, philosophy, history, religion, and symbolism all collide in the collected works of Masonic scholars. The literature of the fraternity is strewn with legends and myths and ancient mysteries.

Voltaire, Mozart, George Washington, and Winston Churchill have all been members, along with nine signers of the Declaration of Independence and 14 U.S. presidents. The Founding Fathers of the United States embraced Masonic principles and wrote them into the foundations of U.S. government. But dictators like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Saddam Hussein all outlawed their gatherings. Many religions forbid their members to join the Masons, and terrible accusations have been made against members of the fraternity, charging them with assassinations, conspiracies, attempts at world domination, and other evil crimes. Millions of men the world over have joined the Freemasons, yet even today, some countries threaten Masons with fines, imprisonment, or even death.

Yet, in almost every country of the world, every week, hundreds of thousands of men slip on jackets and ties; reverently fasten small, white aprons around their waists; and enter the confines of windowless lodge rooms. There they escape the outside world for a few hours and replace it with the comfort of friendship combined with ritual ceremonies from centuries ago.

What is it about this self-described fraternal and benevolent organization that evokes such opposite reactions? Is Freemasonry a mythic mass of mind-expanding, magical, mystical manifestations? An evil organization for socioeconomic pirates? Or just a hot hand of euchre and a fish fry? In this chapter, I give you a brief overview of what Freemasonry really is, where it came from, and what Masons do.

What Is Freemasonry?

Freemasons don't always do such a good job of defining just what they are or what they do, but that's often because the answers non-Masons are looking for are really too complicated. Freemasonry (or just plain Masonry, for short) is a society of gentlemen concerned with moral and spiritual values, and one of the world's oldest and most popular fraternal organizations.

Freemasonry is perhaps the most misunderstood, yet popular, "secret society" the world has ever known. And the most visible one. Every state in the United States and almost every country in the world has a Grand Lodge of Freemasons, and each has its own Web site. Freemasons wear rings, jackets, and hats emblazoned with the square and compass on them. Their cars often have Masonic license plates and bumper stickers identifying them. Masonic buildings are clearly marked, and their addresses and phone numbers are in the Yellow Pages. Some Grand Lodges have even started advertising on billboards. If the Freemasons are a secret, they need a refresher course on camouflage.


No simple, one-line definition satisfactorily describes what Freemasonry is. It is a philosophy and a system of morality and ethics - and a pretty basic one at that - but these are the main points that make Freemasonry different from any other organization:

  •   Freemasonry is a fraternity of men, bound together by oaths, based on the medieval stonemason craft guilds.
  •   Masonic laws, rules, legends, and customs are based on the Ancient Charges, the rules of those craft guilds (see Appendix B).
  •   Freemasonry teaches lessons of social and moral virtues based on symbolism of the tools and language of the ancient building trade, using the building of a structure as a symbol for the building of character in men.
  •   Masons are obliged to practice brotherly love, mutual assistance, equality, secrecy, and trust between each other.
  •   Masons have secret methods of recognizing each other, such as handshakes, signs, and passwords.
  •   Masons meet in lodges that are governed by a Master and assisted by Wardens, where petitioners who are found to be morally and mentally qualified are admitted using secret ritual ceremonies based on the legends of the ancient guilds.
  •   Freemasonry is not a religion, and it has no religious dogma that it forces its members to accept. Masons must simply believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, whatever they conceive that deity to be. Their personal beliefs are just that: personal.
  •   Freemasonry is not a science, but it does teach its members to value learning and experience. It encourages Masons to think but does not tell them what to think.
  •   Freemasonry teaches Masons to be tolerant of the beliefs of others and to regard each man as their equal, deserving both their respect and their assistance.

    What Masons Do

    Lodges have regular meetings throughout the year. Most meet once a month for a business meeting, where communications are read, bills are paid, new members are voted on, and the members catch up on each other's lives. Often, guest speakers are invited, or a member will give a presentation on the ritual, history, philosophy, or symbols of Freemasonry.

    Other special meetings are held to initiate new members and perform the various ceremonies to advance them to full membership. And because the primary goal of Freemasonry is fraternalism, a meal is usually served before or after the meeting, either in the lodge building or at a nearby restaurant.

    Modern Freemasonry started out by gathering in taverns over a nice dinner, and Masons have spent 300 years obsessing on the importance of the culinary arts. Their feasts are called Festive Boards (from the days when board meant "table"), and a tradition of many of these gatherings is a series of ceremonial toasts.

    Still, the mission of the Masonic lodge is to make new Masons, and that is done by conferring degrees.

    The three degrees


    The ceremonies a new member must go through are called degrees. There are three of them - Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason - and they are based upon the levels of membership in the old medieval craft guilds. The ceremonies are based upon rituals that are centuries old - rituals that were used by those guilds.

    Today, modern Freemasons have retained much of these degree ceremonies, including lots of fancy, old-fashioned language. They share these characteristics:

  •   The degrees are a progression and must take place in proper order. Each builds on the previous one, and the degrees are connected by the story of the construction of Solomon's Temple.
  •   Each candidate takes an obligation (oath) for each degree. He promises to keep the secrets he is told, to help other Masons and their families, and to obey the rules of the fraternity.
  •   Depending on the lodge, advancing from one degree to the next can take days, weeks, months, or even years.
  •   A member must prove his proficiency in his degree before moving up. Proving proficiency is usually accomplished by memorizing a portion of the ritual and reciting it in front of the other members. Some lodges require a research paper to be presented on a certain topic, in order to prove that the candidate has studied the fraternity.

    Lodges, blue lodges, craft lodges, and more

    The lodge is the most basic unit of Freemasonry. It is a term used for the individual chapter, for a collected group of Masons who meet together, for the room they meet in, and sometimes even for the building in which they gather. Several individual lodges can share facilities and meet at different times in the same lodge room. This is, in fact, the norm in larger cities. In smaller communities, or in the case of a very prosperous lodge, just one lodge may occupy the building.

    In this book, I sometimes refer to the blue lodge. (I explain why it's "blue" in Chapter 7.) Other terms you'll see are symbolic lodge, craft lodge, and Ancient Craft Masonry. These are all various terms to describe the first, most essential starting point in the world of Freemasonry: the local, neighborhood lodge that confers the first three degrees of Masonry - the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason degrees.

    Masons sometimes refer to Freemasonry as the Craft, because its origins are the medieval craft guilds. They most definitely are not referring to witchcraft.

    Freemasonry has many different branches of membership and study. These branches or groups are called appendant or concordant bodies, and I talk a lot more about them in Part III. You may have had a relative or a friend who said he was a 32nd-degree Mason or even a 33rd-degree Mason. Those additional degrees do exist, and they're confusing, so I explain them in Part IV as well. But the truth is that there is no degree in what is referred to as Ancient Craft Masonry higher or more important than the three degrees a man receives in a Masonic lodge. These other degrees may have higher numbers than the first three conferred in a lodge, but they're simply different, additional ceremonies, and are in no way meant to be construed as more important or superior to becoming a Master Mason.

    The public ceremonies of Freemasons

    Most of the ceremonies of the Masons go on inside the confines of the lodge, but there are two special Masonic events that you may have seen in public. These public ceremonies are symbolic of beginning and ending.

    Cornerstone ceremonies

    Because of their heritage as builders of cathedrals and other public structures, the Freemasons have historically performed a special ceremony at the laying of cornerstones for new buildings, upon request. In modern times, these events are barely noticed by the public, but in previous centuries, the laying of a cornerstone for a new building was a very big, festive celebration. In the case of a courthouse, city hall, or other major government building, parades were often held, speeches were given, and the Freemasons would symbolically lay the cornerstone.

    In the Masonic cornerstone ceremony, the stone is checked using ancient tools to be certain it is square, plumb (straight), and level, because a building constructed on a poor foundation will not be strong. Next, the cornerstone is consecrated with corn (or grain), wine, and oil - all of which are Masonic symbols of prosperity, health, and peace. Finally, the stone is symbolically tapped in place with a gavel.

    Funeral services

    The first way many people come into contact with Freemasonry these days is at the funeral of a friend or relative who was a Freemason. Masons perform a solemn memorial service for their members, when the family requests it. The words of the ceremony provide a brief glimpse into the beliefs of the fraternity; it's a moving and deeply meaningful service. Many men, myself included, have sought membership in a lodge after seeing the funeral service performed for a loved one.

    Real men wear aprons!

    Yes, it's true: Grown men wearing little rectangular aprons are de rigueur fashion for the properly dressed Freemason. The aprons are symbolic of those worn by ancient stonemasons to protect their clothing and to carry their tools. Although aprons worn by many Masons are made of simple white cloth, they're traditionally supposed to be made of white lambskin, as an emblem of innocence. Some Masonic aprons are very ornate. They may be decorated to denote an officer's position, a place of honor such as a former Master of a lodge, or just simply a cool design. The Mason's apron is the first gift given to him upon his initiation into the lodge, and it is to be kept clean and spotless throughout the Mason's life as a symbol of the purity of his thoughts and actions.


    Masons wear their aprons in a specific manner, according to the degree they have attained. Nobody - with the exception of an uninitiated candidate - gets into a lodge without an apron.

    A "secret society"

    Masons like to say that Freemasonry is not a secret society; rather, it is a society with secrets. A better way to put it is that what goes on in a lodge room during its ceremonies is private.

    For a lot of years, fathers, grandfathers, and neighbors baffled young men who were interested in joining the fraternity by refusing to discuss anything about it, out of a fundamental misunderstanding about Masonic "secrecy." They figured they weren't allowed to tell anything about it. "Join and you'll see," was their standard answer. Fortunately, that perception is changing, and Freemasons are not so squeamish these days about talking about Masonry.

    The secrets that a Mason may not discuss are the grips (handshakes), passwords, and signs (gestures) that are modes of recognition, and some details of the Masonic degree ritual ceremonies. Undoubtedly, there are still old-school Masons out there who will read something in this book and believe that I should be driven to the state line in a trunk for daring to talk about it, but they should chat with their Grand Lodge before calling to check my measurements.

    Just knowing the modes of recognition won't get you into a Masonic lodge. If you're interested in becoming a Mason, don't let some big mouth in a book or on the Internet ruin the ritual experience for you by blurting out all the surprises. If you aren't interested in joining and you just want to be able to gloat about knowing some secret information, there is no shortage of books and Web sites that tell them all. You can leap into a gathering of Masons screaming "A-ha!" and blurt out a password if you like, but the real secret of Freemasonry has to be experienced, not explained, which is why your little stunt will be ignored.

    So is it a charity? A church? A social club?

    Masonry is as diverse as its members, and so it can seem like something very different depending on whom you talk to or the lodge you visit or join.

    Some Masons concentrate on the many charities the fraternity participates in. Some are consumed by the history or the philosophy or the symbolism of the fraternity. Others consider it to be primarily a place to go to play cards or cook a monthly breakfast, in order to be with old friends and make new ones. Still others enjoy performing the ritual ceremonies and make a lifelong passion of taking dramatic parts in it.

    For men who become lodge officers or members of committees, Masonry is a personal development course, where they learn leadership skills, public speaking, and more. Men from every walk of life have the opportunity to do things in a lodge, often things that their job or their social or economic status would rarely have offered them. And then some men just like high-sounding titles, badges, ribbons, tuxedos, and spiffy accoutrements. The point is that there is something in Freemasonry for every man, whatever his interests may be.

    Are [Fill in the Blank] Freemasons, Too?

    Because Freemasons are an eclectic mix of men from all walks of life, other Masonic organizations have developed over the years to enlarge upon the lodge experience. They all require someone to be a member of a lodge as a third-degree Master Mason before that person can join them. They are collectively known as appendant bodies, and the list is almost endless.


    Excerpted from Freemasons For Dummies by Christopher Hodapp Excerpted by permission.
    All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
    Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

  • What People are Saying About This

    From the Publisher
    "...a delight; no masonic prudery here, no academic dry ... simple readable style that encourages one to read on...great value..." (The Square, March 2006)

    Meet the Author

    Christopher Hodapp has been an active Freemason and board member in his home state of Indiana for many years and holds memberships in several national Masonic organizations. He has written numerous articles and has contributed to several documentaries about Masonry. He is editor of the Journal of the Masonic Society and has authored and co-authored several books on the topic including The Templar Code For Dummies and Conspiracy Theories & Secret Societies For Dummies.

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    Freemasons for Dummies 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    After I was intitiated into my Blue Lodge and started working towards becoming a Master Mason, many of the brothers suggested this book would be a helpful resource. It has been a great help to understanding the lessons and ceremonies I've participated in. It has also been a great resource for me to explain the history of Freemasonry to my wife when she asks questions. The stories and explanations are written in a fun and easy to remember fashion.
    jrsedivy More than 1 year ago
    I found Freemasons for Dummies to be an excellent resource for both individuals familiar with Freemasonry and those who are not. The author passes along a great deal of knowledge in the book, while in keeping with a humorous tone which makes for an entertaining read. The only drawback I found is that the layout of the book is a bit dull, in keeping with the typical black and white ¿Dummies¿ book theme. Those interested in the subject should check out American Freemasonry by Mark Tabbert which is not meant to replace this book but rather serve as a companion - although that book sets the standard for the ideal mix of illustrative layout and text.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Whether you are interested in joining a Masonic Lodge, or just want to get the skinny of what being a Freemason is all about, I think that this book is a great resource. I bought this book right after I petitioned to join my local lodge, and it really gave me a good heads up on what kind of group I was joining. The format of the book goes from very basic to pretty in-depth, and is written by a very experienced and thoughtful member.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Good reference book.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I read this book shortly after I petitioned my local lodge for membership. This book helped me understand the structure of freemasonry without makeing me feel like I was 'cheating' my own initiation experience. The sections on freemason myths and conspiracy were also very entertaining to read!
    APM More than 1 year ago
    This is a great book for the Mason and non-Mason. Mainly, it clears up all the confusion with the controversies of the fraternity. APM
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    John_SmithDR More than 1 year ago
    I'm still reading this book but, I have learned quite a bit and find the Masons very interesting.