The Freemasons attract a lot of attention for a secret society and they have since their inception. People are constantly wondering who's in the Freemasons, how much we already know, and how much is simply conjecture. What we do know about the Freemasons is up for debate, since they're a secret society and probably have no issue putting fake information out there so their real rituals and customs stay secret. That being said, over the last few hundred years, there are a few things that we do know. We can't have a conversation about the Freemasons and their impact on the world without figuring out what's real, what's fake, and what's just ridiculous.
The Freemasons have a culture that's a rich as any country's, which isn't a surprise given how old the society is. There are famous people who have been discovered to be a part of the Freemasons, and the United States was founded by more than a few of them. Contrary to popular belief, it's not hard to get into the Freemasons. As long as you have one specific, surprising quality, you're a fair candidate to join their brotherhood. The Freemasons aren't just a regular brotherhood, these are people who will go to the grave and defy the laws of their country to protect their fellow mason, and they know when people are trying to find their secrets. Here are a few things you need to know about the Freemasons.
15 The Freemasons Aren't A Secret
As you can probably guess, the Freemasons aren't a total secret. After all, we're sitting here writing about them and you're sitting here reading about them. There are constant exposes about what "really" goes on with the Freemasons, and some people have even written tell-alls about the experience. Freemasonry even has a Wikipedia page, and we know enough about them to have a ton of information already at our fingertips. The Freemasons in pop culture are pretty prominent, from movies like National Treasure to documentaries on the subject. You might even know a little about them yourself, either from pop culture sources or just because you were curious. Either way, Freemasons don't have quite the secret society they think they do.
14 Famous Freemasons
There are a ton of famous Freemasons, and they lived at different times through the millennia. Wikipedia has a pretty comprehensive list, and from there, we can learn quite a lot. Some famous Freemasons are Richard Pryor, fifteen American presidents (which we'll be talking about later), Clark Gable, Benjamin Franklin, Jesse Jackson, Oscar Wilde and more. Famous athletes that are known to be a part of the Brotherhood are Shaquille O'Neill, Scottie Pippin, John Elway, Arnold Palmer, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jack Dempsey, and Ty Cobb. Some people have argued that the Freemasons created Hollywood as we know it today, so we know that a lot of them are Freemasons. Included among their number are Carl Laemmle (the founder of Universal Studios), Cecil B. DeMille, Tom Hanks, Big Sean, and more. Some of these names are shrouded in speculation and they might not actually be Freemasons, but a few Freemason theorists have made these connections.
13 Freemasons Today
Freemasonry is still very much alive and well, and not a lot has changed. One major thing that hasn't changed is that the freemasons are most emphatically still a brotherhood. There are a few women involved in Freemasonry, but the overwhelming majority of Freemasons are men. The Freemasons lost a lot of members over the last few generations, primarily because they like to remain under the radar. While membership is still falling these days, it's not falling quite as fast as it was a few years ago. This is because America is dealing with times of economic uncertainty, and that's when a lifelong brotherhood does best as recruiting people. In times of uncertainty, people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and that will take care of them in a way that going through life alone never will. The Freemasons have offered that and will continue to offer that as time goes on.
12 American VS. European Freemasonry
We're going to be spending a lot of time talking about American freemasonry, so this is a good time to talk about European freemasons. There are two different kinds of Freemasons, "regular" and "continental." They used to be one whole organization, but there was a schism that happened sometime in the 1800s. A lot of it had to do with racism: after the Civil War, the Freemasons opened up their memberships to people regardless of race or religion, and some people in the organization really didn't like that. There was also the fact that the Freemasons were debating whether having a religion should be a requirement for becoming a Freemason at all the way it still is. We're going to get into that aspect of things later on, but for now, what you need to know is that Continental Freemasonry tends to be concentrated among Catholics, and Continental Freemasonry is the general tradition for the organization when you move outside of the United States.
Freemason lodges are everywhere, to the point that you can find them on Google if you're so inclined. It's a private lodge that is the heart of the organization, and it's where masons gather together. The lodge isn't always a building: sometimes it's just a unit of masons who happen to gather together. Masonic lodges have existed all over the world, and sometimes they're even referred to as temples. However, most of the time they're referred to as "masonic halls" to avoid the stigma of the buildings being called temples. They're governed by different authorities at the national, state and provincial levels, and different lodges have different relationships with each other. They also have different offices in the lodge, giving different members different responsibilities. The Masons in the lodges are also the people who allow new members into the Freemason brotherhood.
Freemason symbols are all pretty well known at this point in time. These are people who genuinely value their iconography, and it's not hard to see why when you realize how enduring the organization is. Every symbol, from the compass to the squares to the trowel, has a purpose, and that purpose is to teach some sort of moral. That moral might be different depending on who you talk to, but that lesson will always be there. Some lodges use tracing boards for all of this, emphasizing their focus on a Supreme Being being the architect of the universe, no matter who that Supreme Being is to the individual. They're used as teaching aides in the lectures Masons have to listen to in order to learn more about their culture. This isn't even getting into the handshakes and greetings used to identify other Masons in the outside world and distinguish genuine brothers from curious outsiders.
We touched a bit on allegory before, but seriously, Freemasons love themselves a good allegory. They consider their higher power the Architect of the universe, which is why there's such an emphasis on religion in the traditional Freemason mindset. Every symbol is a lesson, and those lessons are generally taught in allegories. An allegory is a story that's being used to tell another story, where everything is a symbol for something more profound, even the people in the stories. Allegories are often used to make learning about complex subjects easier by entertaining people. Every parable told by Jesus was an allegory of some kind: if you read the Bible you might find that a good majority of the people teaching Scripture to others did it with an allegory. The sequence of degrees Masons go through is in itself allegorical, and the sequence represents human existence. Allegories are also great ways to hide the principles of your secret organization from the uninitiated, so there’s that too.
For a secret organization, getting into the Freemasons, or at least meeting the requirements to be one isn't all that hard. There are eight basic things that a person needs to do or be in order to be considered to become a Freemason. Those things are to have a good reputation, to be a man over the age of 18, and to believe in a Supreme being of some kind. You don't have to be a Christian, but you need to believe in something. Basically, if you’re an adult man who isn't an atheist, you're a shoo-in. This kind of leaves women out in the cold, but the odd and end woman has been known to be a part of a secret society. The other major thing is that you need to be coming to Freemasonry of your own free will. Freemasons will only take people in who actually want to be a part of their society, so there's no one who’s there against their will. That means that for a long time, a major requirement was that you weren't born a slave, but that's more of a historical thing now that slavery isn't the issue it was in the U.S.
7 Freemasons And The Presidency
There are fifteen presidents that are confirmed Freemasons, believe it or not. This isn't even considering Founding Fathers like Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere, who are confirmed Freemasons. Of the 45 presidents we've had so far, a confirmed third of them are part of a centuries-old secret society. The 14 confirmed Presidents who are Freemasons are, in order: George Washington, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Gerald Ford. The 15th is David Rice Atchison, who technically served as President for one day, March 4th, 1849. Historians are still debating his place in the presidential order (he's not counted among people who served as president), but we know for a fact that he was a Freemason.
6 Conspiracy Theories
Freemasonry has been at the center of a lot of conspiracy theories, but to be honest, they can all be boiled down to three major misconceptions. The first is that Freemasonry is its own religion, which it isn't. Actually, all Freemasons are adherents to different religions: being part of a secret brotherhood doesn't actually mean you've converted to the religion of that brotherhood. The second is that a rite known as the 33rd degree of the Scottish rite is a degree with more than just an honorary value, which it isn't. The third is that Freemasons are all part of the same order and answer to the same authorities, which they don't. They're basically a bunch of different organizations that carry the same name, making them brothers in name, but their traditions might not actually be the same. There's also the faulty idea that Freemasons are controlling everything and that Freemasons themselves are unaware of how deep the rabbit hole goes.
5 The Illuminati
Now that we've put some major conspiracy theories to bed, let's tackle the other elephant in the room: the Illuminati. Many people think that the Illuminati and the Freemasons are one and the same, which they aren't. It can be argued that the two organizations share a connection, but that connection is actually pretty hard to find. The Illuminati don't seem to exist anymore, at least not outside conspiracy theories. Freemasons, on the other hand, are very much real and exist as a brotherhood that performs charitable deeds. They're also an entity that values rationality above everything else. The only major similarity between the Freemasons, a real fraternity, and the Illuminati are that they’re at the center of conspiracy theories that cast them as organizations seeking to take over the world, or that have taken over the world already.
4 Freemasons Know Your Game
If you're looking to try and infiltrate your way into a Freemason meeting to find out all their secrets, think again. They know your game, and part of it is to create fake traditions that are meant to throw intruders off their game and protect their own secrets. If you found a secret handshake online and try to use it on a Freemason, they’ll see right through you, specifically because they know the real handshake, and will see yours as a cheap imitator. Considering that being a Freemason, or at least meeting the requirements to be one, isn't actually all that hard, you might do better actually trying to become a prospective member than pretending to be someone you’re not.
3 Freemasons Protect Their Own
Freemasons are known for protecting their own. They value the connections to their brotherhood above even obeying the laws of their country. Considering some Freemasons are former sitting American presidents, this is nothing that anyone should be sneezing at. There have been a few occasions where Freemasons have been made to testify against other freemasons, and they’ve lied on the stand rather than betray a brother. This is because Freemasons value loyalty to each other above everything else. All they want from their brothers is the ability to trust and love them, and the freedom to trust and love them in return. That reciprocity is a really big deal for them, and they're willing to show it at any point, even when they're under oath and swearing to tell the truth, so help them, God. For them the oaths they take as Freemasons simply mean more.
2 The Sun
Freemasons have a major fascination with the Sun. Their emphasis on the Sun is actually considered their biggest secret, which is blisteringly ironic considering that we’re talking about it now. That being said, different masonic tracing boards depict the Sun as a really big deal, and they have a lot of weird lessons about it. For Freemasons, the Sun and the Moon are representative (remember those allegories I mentioned before?) of all the pairs of opposites we’ll ever encounter in our lives. The Sun and Moon are also the same sizes in our sky. We know that they're not the same size, but to our perspective, we couldn't be blamed if we thought the Sun and the Moon were equal in size if we didn't know any better. They’re also out for exactly half the day, splitting it between them. For Freemasons, the Sun and Moon are perfect representatives of yin and yang, masculine and feminine, and the halves of ourselves appropriately called the Sun side and the Moon side. There's a lot to get into there, and you should totally look it up because it's really interesting.
1 Believe In God... Or Else
Remember how I said that Freemasons has a requirement to believe in God to join the order? That wasn't a guideline: for Freemasons, it's one of their basic rules. This leaves atheists and even agnostics wondering if there's a place for them in the brotherhood, and it even leaves members who lose their faith while in the Freemasons in the unenviable position of “coming out” as a non-believer. Some masonic lodges are okay with members not believing in a supreme being, but some decidedly are not, so people tend to handle that on a case by case basis. That being said, Freemasons are all about rationality and don't even discuss religion amongst themselves, so not believing in a supreme being might not even be that big of a deal. Freemasons tolerate all sorts of religions in their group even if it does tend to skew Judeo-Christian more often than not. A supreme being doesn't actually need to be a god if you're willing to split hairs. Your supreme being could be the Supreme from American Horror Story if you wanted, and I'm certain you wouldn't be the only one.
Freemasonry is a really interesting order, and there's a lot we can learn from them and their teachings. However, we need to know what's actually their teachings and what's fake stuff put out there to protect the real truths. Then again, do we?