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Freemasonry is one of the world's oldest and largest fraternal organizations
but where did it come from? Its history is most interesting and romantic.
Speculation that Freemasonry originated with the very beginning of civilization is interesting, but there is no basis for such a belief. The word "Mason" means "Builder", and Freemasonry, as we know it today came into being some 800 years ago. In its operative form it lasted nearly 400 years while Masons built the hundreds of Gothic structures in western Europe. Many of these structures still stand today as a memorial to the past.
During the Cathedral Age the Masons formed themselves in workmen's Guilds; each Guild forming a Lodge with regular officers and with three degrees of Membership. The first group were apprentices or bearers of burdens, the second were craftsmen or skilled workmen on the Temples and the third were Masters or superintendents of the structures being built.
Each Guild member had to develop certain proficiencies in his work to advance to a higher status, and during this advancement each member was also taught certain attributes of moral conduct. It was these Guild Lodges which actually gave birth to the modern Masonic Lodges and present-day Freemasonry.
During this operative era a worker was a Freemason because he was not born a slave, he was free to travel in foreign countries and work where he would, he worked in freestone or he was free of certain restrictions when he had advanced to be a Master of the Craft. In some instances he was free from paying taxes - but he was probably known as a Freemason because of his skill, ability and knowledge, all attributes which set him apart from those of lesser abilities in the Cathedral Building Age.
Guild Masons were "Operative Masons" because they actually built the Gothic Cathedrals. Then during the 16th Century when these Gothic structures were completed, the demand for their talents declined. Without a place to work these Guild Lodges struggled for their very existence for 200 years, and to preserve their organization some Lodges began accepting other members. To maintain their membership they accepted men of high moral Character even though these men were not members of the builder's trade.
These were referred to as "Accepted Masons" and later as "Speculative Masons". Thus the Guild Lodges came to be known as "Speculative Lodges".
Today each Craft Lodge belongs to, and is governed by, a Grand Lodge which is also constrained to a certain geographical area. For example, in Canada, there are 10 Grand Lodges, one in each province. In the continental United States there is a Grand Lodge in each State and one in the District of Columbia, making a total of 51 Grand Lodges. Each Grand Lodge is the supreme authority in its own jurisdiction, Province or State, and owes no allegiance to any higher authority. Each Grand Lodge complies to the Ancient Masonic usages and Landmarks which have come from past ages, it adopts it's own laws and ritual, sets it's own standards of operation, and governs the Lodges and Masons within its own jurisdiction.
It being a world-wide Fraternity, some wonder how it maintains a desired standard without a Supreme world authority. While the ritual and regulations may vary slightly from one jurisdiction to another, the doctrines and principles are the same through out the world, with every Mason receiving the same basic teachings.
Because of its very nature, there is no way to change Freemasonry to suit the tastes, opinions, or prejudices of each candidate or member; if such were possible there would soon be no basic Masonic principles or doctrines, and Freemasonry would become just another organization. Since it is a proven system of self-improvement, each candidate must accept its doctrines and principles, and comply with its laws and regulations.
How well he can conform and how much he improves himself, is for each to learn for himself.
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Last updated September 19, 2021