How and when did Freemasonry Start?
It is not known. The earliest recorded 'making' of a Freemason in England is that of Elias Ashmole in 1646. Organised Freemasonry began with the founding of the Grand Lodge on 24th June 1717; the first Grand lodge in the world. Ireland followed in 1725 and Scotland in 1736. All the regular Grand Lodges in the world trace themselves back to one or more of the Grand Lodges in the British Isles.
There are two main theories of origin.
- According to one, the operative stonemasons who built the great cathedrals and castles had lodges in which they discussed trade affairs. They had simple initiation ceremonies and, as there were no City and Guild certificates, due cards or trade union membership cards, they adopted secret signs and words to demonstrate that they were trained masons when they moved from site to site. In the 1600s, these operative lodges began to accept non-operatives as "gentlemen masons". Gradually these non-operatives took over the lodges and turned them from operative to "free and accepted" or speculative" lodges.
- The other theory is that in the late 1500s and early 1600s, there was a group, which was interested in the promotion of religious and political tolerance in an age of great intolerance when differences of opinion on matters of religion and politics were to lead to bloody civil war. In forming Freemasonry, they were trying to make better men and a better world. As the means of teaching in those days was by allegory and symbolism, they took the idea of building as the central allegory on which to form their system.
The main source of allegory was the Bible, the contents of which were known to everyone even if they could not read, and the only building described in detail in the Bible was King Solomon’s Temple, which became the basis of the ritual.
The old Trade Guilds provided them with their basis for administration of a Master, Wardens, Treasurer and Secretary, and the operative masons tools provided them with a wealth of symbols with which to illustrate the moral teachings of Freemasonry.
Is Freemasonry and International Order?
Freemasonry exists throughout the free world. Each Grand Lodge is sovereign and independent, and whilst following the same basic principles, may have differing ways of passing them on. There is no international governing body for Freemasonry.
There are believed to be over 6 million Freemasons worldwide
Some so-called "Masonic" organisations found overseas may not conform to the constitutions by which we operate and therefore we cannot and do not recognise them.
How many Freemasons are there?
Under the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), there are over 300,000 Freemasons meeting in over 8,000 Lodges. There are separate Grand Lodges for Ireland and Scotland.
What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is the UK's largest secular, fraternal and charitable organisation. It teaches moral lessons and self-knowledge through participation in a progression of allegorical two-part plays.
What else does Freemasonry help us to understand?
Although a voluntary and charitable organisation, Freemasonry is strongly structured and hierarchical. Whilst somewhat at variance with the modern preference for 'flat' relationship/management structures, its character helps us to appreciate the advantages of having "order" in society and in life in general.
Just like the ancient teams of working stonemasons, by having "order" great and enduring things can be achieved by those who plan, lead, teach and encourage people to learn, practice and perfect the things they do.