Friday, November 19, 2010

The World's Oldest Fraternity

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   Ask five different people the origin of the Freemasons, and you're likely to get five different answers.  Some will tell you that they descended from the ancient druids.  Others link them to the Isis-Osiris cult in ancient Egypt.  Still others claim they were an order of Jewish monks called the Essenes, who formed in the 2nd century B.C.

According to some Masonic scholars, the Freemasons trace their roots to the building of King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem in 967 B.C., an event which was described in the biblical Book of Kings. In the story, the builders of the temple were the original stonemasons, and the forefathers of today’s Freemasons. The legend centers on the master builder—a man named Hiram Abiff—who claimed to know the secret of the temple. One day, three men kidnapped Abiff and threatened to kill him if he didn’t reveal that secret. When he refused to talk, Abiff was murdered. After learning of the killing, King Solomon ordered a group of Masons to search for Abiff’s body and bring back the secret of the temple. The men were unsuccessful, so the King established a new Masonic secret. His secret is believed to be the word “Mahabone,” meaning “the Grand Lodge door opened,” which is now the password used to enter the third degree of Masonry.

The Freemasons also have been connected with a mysterious order called the Knights Templar. These knights were monks who took up arms in 1118 A.D. in order to protect Christian pilgrims traveling from Jaffa (a port city in Israel), to Jerusalem. According to legend, the Knights Templar discovered the greatest treasure in history buried in the ruins of King Solomon’s temple. The Knights became rich—so rich, in fact, that they were the targets of envy and suspicion. In 1307, King Philip IV of France had all of the Knights Templar arrested so that he could take possession of their great wealth.  What happened to the knights after their imprisonment still remains a bit of a mystery, but some say they went into hiding and continued their work in secret, only to reemerge in Europe during the 1700s as the modern Freemasons.   (There is even a theory that the Knights, in their desire to seek vengeance on King Philip IV, had a hand in starting the French Revolution).

These stories lend a dramatic flair to the Freemasons’ history, but a more credible explanation for the brotherhood’s birth can be found in the Middle Ages. At that time, Masons were stone workers hired by kings and churches in England, Scotland and France to build great castles and cathedrals. Two kinds of Masons existed at the time—those who worked with ordinary stone were called “rough masons.” Those who carved more intricate designs into softer stone, called “freestone,” were named “freestone masons” or “free masons” (the two words were later combined to form the title, “Freemason”). The Freemasons enjoyed a monopoly of sorts because of their special skill, and wanted to keep it that way. They established trade guilds to discuss their craft and fair wages. They founded lodges where they would eat and keep their tools. And they developed secret handshakes, code words and other signs to distinguish one another from the rough masons.

By the 1700s, the Freemasons had evolved from a trade guild into an organization of men with a very distinct philosophy.  By this time Freemasonry was becoming highly fashionable, and its membership was changing.
While at first only “operative,” or working Masons could join the organization, aristocrats and artists, called “speculative” Freemasons, were starting to gain entry. They were turning the Freemasons into something of a gentleman’s club.

The Freemasons refer to themselves as a "brotherhood," and for good reason -- women are not allowed to join. Women were excluded from the group in the 1700s, in part because the Freemasons were afraid the fairer sex would distract them from the tasks at hand and would reveal their secrets. There are a few incidences in which women were admitted, such as Elizabeth Aldworth, who in the early 1700s was inducted into a lodge in England after she was caught eavesdropping on a meeting. Today, there are a few women's groups that are connected to the Freemasons, such as the Order of the Eastern Star.

With all of the controversy surrounding the Freemasons in Europe, it was no surprise that they would want to seek out friendlier shores.  In the 1700s, the Freemasons came to America.  They set up lodges in Boston and Philadelphia (although they remained under the control of an English Provincial Grand Master).   In 1731, Benjamin Franklin joined the Philadelphia lodge, and he became its Master three years later. George Washington was initiated as a Freemason in 1752.


New Freemasons start out as Entered Apprentices. During the initiation ceremony, the Freemasons recount the building of King Solomon's Temple and the murder of Hiram Abiff. The new member is blindfolded and confronted by three men, who order him to reveal the Freemasons' secrets. He swears he will not tell, and then pretends to die and be resurrected into Masonry.
Freemasons must then rise through two more degrees, Freecraft Mason and Master Mason, after they have become proficient in the lessons of the previous degree. As a member rises through the degrees, he becomes privy to more and more of the Freemasons' secrets.
Although most Freemasons never progress past level three, most sources agree that there are 33 degrees in total. The York Rite includes only the first 13 of these levels, and they differ from the Scottish Rite.


Hart Massey - Massey-Ferguson farm Equipment

John B. Maclean - Founder of Maclean's Magazine 

John Molson - Founder Molson Breweries

Joseph Seagram - Founder of Seagram Distillery

James Naismith - Inventor of basketball

Sam Steele - Northwest Mounted Police

John A. MacDonald

John Abbott - Canadian Prime Minister

MacKenzie Bowell - Canadian Prime Minister

Robert Borden - Canadian Prime Minister

Richard B Bennett - Canadian Prime Minister

John G Diefenbaker - Canadian Prime Minister

Harold Ballard - Owner of Toronto Maple Leafs

Tim Horton - Hockey Player

Winston Churchill - British Prime Minister

Steve Wozniak - Co-founder of Apple Computers

Edward VII - King of England

George VI - King of England

Benjamin Franklin - American President

George Washington - American President

John Glenn - Astronaut 

There are many more, but this post is long enough already.  Bare in mind, at least 15 presidents of the United States are known to be Freemasons.


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