When people find out that I’m a Freemason, I mostly get the question “What is that?” Although sometimes I get jokes about world domination and a couple times, fear. There are a lot of misconceptions about Freemasonry, so before I get into why I’m a Freemason, let me define it a little and talk a bit about what Freemasonry is.
Freemasonry is the world’s oldest Fraternity. Wikipedia sums it up pretty well:
“Freemasonry is a Beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. The symbolism of freemasonry is found throughout the Masonic Lodge, and contains many of the working tools of a medieval or renaissance stonemason. The whole system is transmitted to initiates through the medium of Masonic ritual, which consists of lectures and allegorical plays.”
The ritual, despite what some may believe, is nothing evil or scandalous, and does not involve any sacrifices or goats.
How to become one? Simply ask. If you know a Mason, or even just happen to meet somebody who is one, ask him to become a Mason. You then fill out an application. The one you ask can probably describe the process to you.
What are the requirements? Be over 18 (a man), belief in a higher power (there is no specific higher power that you have to believe in), be recommended by two Master Masons (have a coffee with a couple of them and get to know them), and be a good person.
Masonry is a worldwide brotherhood. If two Masons meet each other, there is an automatic connection. You are both in the same club and have a lot to talk about. Sometimes people who are already your friends join and sometimes you make new friends. You can chat and hang out before, during, and after the meetings. All Masons are considered equals. In the 19th Century, English Princes (including a few future kings) sat side-by-side in Lodge with every day Joes. John farmer from down the street might have been sitting in lodge with George Washington or John Marshall.
A part of this brotherhood is trust. I would trust doing business with a fellow Mason before a non-Mason. For example: I had a Realtor try to rush me into purchasing a duplex that would have been a terrible investment. She didn’t care about that, as long as she got her commission. Luckily I ended up not buying. Then I joined a Lodge and met JJ Ballard of Ballard Company, my current Realtor whose company also manages the property for me. You know what? No pressure and honest opinions on properties and viability as an investment. This wasn’t simply because I am his brother, it is because men can’t become Masons if they are of ill repute. I know I can trust a fellow Mason because if he is not trustworthy, he wouldn’t be a Mason.
The brotherhood of Freemasonry is also a rich source of mentors. Freemasons are of all ages. From men in their twilight years to men in college. One of the things that anybody who has had success will tell you is that they have had mentors. (Check out this Art of Manliness Article on the topic).
A part of the process of becoming a Master Mason is memorization of a ritual that is passed down by word of mouth. You learn this ritual from an older more experienced Mason. Its not just the ritual that is discussed, however. You also get to know your mentors and become good friends. The amount of knowledge from a life of experiences is invaluable. I had two different teachers for my 3 degrees and both had different lives. You can get a perspective on things that you might not otherwise get from simply hanging out with your peers. This is especially true for me as I lost my father when I was 21 as I was just getting old enough to appreciate the wisdom that he could provide.
Moving To A New Place
In the summer of 2012, on a whim, I took a position as an Americorps VISTA in Amelia County, Virginia. Amelia is about 2600 miles from my then home Reno, NV. I knew nobody. I had no friends. Making friends in a new place is one of the hardest things to do. I found the local Lodge and started going to meetings there (you can be a member of multiple lodges, or simply switch affiliations). Between monthly pancake breakfast fundraisers, selling food out of our truck at community events, family days, ladies nights (where Masons and their significant others get together), visits to other Lodges, work days on the Lodge, meetings, and degree work; I had a group of people to hang out with. Until I met my current girlfriend, Masonry was my primary, if not only form of social interaction at the time. And all I had to do was show up.
Now, in my new home of Henrico, I’ve joined a new lodge, Westhampton 302.
Traveling As A Mason
The other aspect of the brotherhood of Freemasonry that I have enjoyed is that of travel.
My first experience of this was visiting a Lodge in St. Louis, MO. I arrived and upon proving that I was a Mason (and even before) I was readily accepted in the group. I ate dinner with them, sat in Lodge, and then got a couple of drinks afterwards. These guys had never met me before but we ended up hanging out like we had been friends for years.
The next instance of this occurred in Memphis. On my move to Virginia, I made a nice road trip out of it. I arrived in the city and hopped on the rail to go to Beal Street (yeah its stereotypical, but there’s a reason its popular). I was asking people on the train how to get there and a random gentleman offered to show me and walked me there. We ended up talking and it turns out that he was a Freemason. After exchanging the words and grips of Masons, there was an automatic comfort level. We ended up hanging out most of the time I was there as he showed me around the city. We were two different people and, odds are, would have never otherwise hung out.
Then there is international travel. Freemasons are in most countries. I was in the small town of Tamazula, Jalisco, Mexico for my friend’s wedding in 2012. I came in from the pool to buy a beer at the bar and the bartender recognized the square and compass (the main symbol of Freemasonry) that is tattooed on my arm (tattoo’s aren’t a requirement, by the way) and we started talking. My Spanish wasn’t so great at the time, so it was very superficial, but it was great experiencing that connection..
In Granada, Spain, I ended up attending a lodge there. It was completely different and I couldn’t really understand what was going on, but it was fun hanging out and joking around with this random group of guys who I had never met before in my life. I learned all about Spanish Freemasonry.
I also visited the Grand Lodge of Scotland and the Grand Lodge of England. Both had impressive buildings, cool museums, and I got a tours of the lodges. Lodges there don’t meet in July or August, so I sadly did not get to attend lodge. I did end up having lunch with two of the Scottish Masons who were visiting on that particular day as well.
Moral and Psychological
The other aspect of Freemasonry is personal development. I mentioned earlier that Freemasonry is a system of morals (mostly based on Christian morality). Most of it’s pretty straightforward stuff. Help out a brother in need. Be charitable. Be an upright man in society. Don’t screw over other people, especially a fellow Mason. Have fun, but don’t overindulge in things such as alcohol (Ie: You can drink, but don’t get p*** drunk). Don’t be consumed by riches and greed. Continue to improve yourself by reading and learning new information and skills. This is all stuff that most people know, but by committing them to memory and making an obligation to hold true to these teachings, there is a constant reminder to act in such a way. Every meeting is a reminder to live this way, as these tenets are often repeated.
Aside from the moral improvement aspect, there is an intellectual improvement to be attained from Freemasonry. Freemasonry was founded in a age when knowledge was both precious and feared by the people in power. Freemasonry encouraged free thought and its lessons were very much a product of Enlightenment ideas. Men like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington were influenced by these enlightened principles. We still study these today and there are often philosophical discussions among Freemasons regarding Masonic tradition and the ideas that we were founded upon.
A more practical aspect is that the consistent memorization of rituals exercises the mind and keeps it sharp. There are 90 year old men who can remember word-for-word every aspect of every ritual in Freemasonry. It’s darned impressive.
Masons also learn rhetoric and public speaking. When you hold position in the lodge and you have a certain part of the ritual to recite. This is also the case when you are proving your degrees (proving is reciting from memory the process of initiation that one went through before officially being moved to the next higher degree). It is important to be able to have at least some speaking acumen in front of a crowd and this ritual work helps a lot with that.
Masons know how to work as a team. Because a Lodge is also a functioning entity, it requires teamwork to perform the ritual, run the lodge finances, organize events, and raise money for various charitable causes. I organized an event for the first time as a part of my lodge. Surely enough, that task fell to me at a job that I had some time later.
It’s Darn Cool
Honestly, the main reason that I initially joined the Freemasons was because so many important men in history that I admired were Freemason’s. These include: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, John Marshall, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle among countless others. The links to the American Revolution intrigued me. The rights of Initiation, Passing, and Raising that I went through were almost exactly the same experience that people like Ben Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson went through.
Now that’s good company to be in!