The Old Chelmsfordian Lodge 5499

What is Freemasonry



Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest and largest non-religious, non-political fraternal and charitable organisations. It teaches self-knowledge through participation in a progression of ceremonies.


It provides an opportunity to make friends with people who you may not otherwise have met. It’s a gateway to areas of historical and philosophical research. Some members enjoy it for the element of amateur dramatics in our ceremonies, some for the fellowship. And we’re all of us proud that Freemasonry is one of the largest contributors to charity in the UK.


Our charity is not restricted to helping fellow Masons. The Grand Charity, one of a number of Masonic charities, gives grants for medical research, support for vulnerable people, air ambulances, hospices, emergency disaster relief and much else.


No-one is sure how or when Freemasonry originated. Some say it developed from the old craft guilds, when the Reformation and the development of the cannon meant that there were no longer cathedrals and fortified castles being built, and stonemasons found themselves with little to do save socialise. Others claim it can be traced back to the Knights Templar who, they say, fleeing from persecution, landed in Scotland, where the Papal Bull did not run, and evolved into the order we now know as Freemasonry.


We can say with some certainty that modern Freemasonry started on this island, though whether in England or Scotland is not clear. The first record we have of Freemasonry in England was Elias Ashmole’s account of his initiation into a lodge in Warrington in 1646. The world’s first Grand Lodge (the umbrella, or ruling body) was founded in London in 1717. It spread, first to France, with the Stuart refugees, then around the globe. Wherever the British army went, there were travelling lodges. Local people were initiated into these travelling lodges, and when the regiment moved on, continued meeting. Today Freemasonry is spread around the globe.



Our signs and words of recognition.


The only secrets in Freemasonry are our signs and words of recognition, and these can easily be found on the Net. We don’t say too much about our initiation ceremony because we don’t want to spoil the anticipation of the candidate, but it’s not a secret as such.


In the 1940s and 50s Masons stopped talking about their membership, but that was because of the political climate in Europe. A significant number of Freemasons disappeared into Nazi labour and concentration camps, and Masons were persecuted in Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain and in Stalinist Russia. But in the 1980s, after the publication of a couple of sensationalist books we came to realise the damage that our low profile was doing, and have become more open again.



Is Freemasonry a Religion?


Freemasonry teaches a moral and spiritual code, and is supportive of religion, but not of any particular faith. It requires its members to believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, but does not dictate how that Being should be approached. Catholics and Jews were admitted in the 18th century, despite the religious intolerance of the day, and in England today there are Brethren of all races and religion.


A candidate takes an Oath at each step on his journey to becoming a Master Mason. These Oaths are sworn on a Book recognised by him as holy. I have read, but cannot say if it is true, that in Turkish lodges the Oath is taken on a book of blank pages, and each initiate clothes those pages with the words of his own faith.


The Oaths are to keep our signs and words of recognition secret, although they can easily be found by a simple Google search. Our detractors claim that they also bind us to conceal a Brother’s crimes, and help him evade justice. Not so. We vow to keep a Brother’s just and lawful secrets, “murder, treason, felony and all other offences contrary to the Laws of God and the ordinances of this realm being at all times most especially excepted”. We are also told that our families and our jobs must come before our Freemasonry.


Freemasonry is open to men of all faiths, though some churches and some religions discourage their followers from joining.


Our meetings are open only to those who have been initiated into Freemasonry, although what we do in those meetings is not secret. We initiate candidates and receive talks on matters of Masonic interest. The meetings are usually followed by a meal, after which we have a succession of brief toasts.


If you want to find out more about what goes on in a meeting, talk to a Mason. Or better still, come and join us.