The Provincial Grand Lodge of East Lancashire
The Provincial Grand Lodge of East Lancashire

History, Truths and Myths

Imagine, several centuries ago you worked as a stonemason. As a skilled Mason, able to build complex structures, like churches and cathedrals, you were able to travel and find work at well. With your colleagues and families you were lodged in a temporary structure attached to or near the main building. In this Lodge you ate, slept and received your work assignment from the master of the work. The apprentices were trained and moral values were attached to the tools of the trade. The moral code they learned helped to maintain the reputation and stability of the little community in which they lived and worked. In those days there were many guilds – textile workers, carpenters, carvers, glassworkers etc each of whom kept close their traditionally imparted technology, the arts and mysteries of their crafts.

During the 17th Century the Guilds began to admit non-operative (speculative) masons to their ranks. This was a time when, as a membership organisation, the stonemasons were suffering due to the new fabrics being used to make buildings – bricks, wood etc.

Freemasonry’s transition from a craft guild of operative, working stonemasons into a fraternity of what we call speculative or accepted (gentleman) Freemasons began in Scottish lodges during the early 17th century. The first record of the Initiation of a non-operative on English soil, was in 1641, when Elias Ashmole (left) was Initiated into a Lodge in Warrington. The obvious response to this is that speculative Lodges must then have been in existence before this time.

Throughout the Middle Ages and thereafter until well into the eighteenth century, travel in Britain was greatly restricted and very hazardous. Although the more affluent residents could make journeys on horseback or by horse and coach, ordinary persons were usually confined to travelling on foot. Robbery under arms was commonplace, so that the general population avoided travel whenever possible, but because of their vocation, the operative masons frequently had to travel long distances in search of new work. A unique custom in the craft was that an itinerant mason, when seeking work in an operative lodge, had either to be given employment for an appropriate minimum period or to be provided with sufficient sustenance to reach the next nearest place of work. To facilitate their travel in safety, the operative masons in those days had unobtrusive distinguishing signs enabling them to seek out members of the craft at roadside hostelries, as well as modes of recognition with which to establish their credentials with a prospective employer. Some masonic researchers hold the view that the possession of masonic credentials for safe travel was a primary objective of those who were “made” masons in the seventeenth century.

The above is one, and the most favoured, of several theories that lead to Lodges of speculative Masons forming.

In 1717, four or possibly six among the oldest Lodges assembled in London and established the first Grand Lodge, claiming jurisdiction over all lodges meeting in London and Westminster. In 1752 the Grand Lodge of Antients was formed in protest against the apathy and neglect being displayed by the Grand Lodge of England which they dubbed “the Moderns”, as well as through dissatisfaction with the rituals being used and the ceremonials being practised. The Antients and the Moderns finally settled their differences and their two Grand Masters signed and sealed twenty-one Articles of Union in 1813. Thus the United Grand Lodge of England was formed, initially looking after 647 Lodges. It is still in existence today when there are approaching 250,000 Masons in 46 Provinces throughout the Realm.

The Arms of the United Grand Lodge of England are a combination of the coats of the ‘Modern’ and ‘Ancient’ Grand Lodges.

The two coats of arms were combined, by impalement, at the union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, with the addition of the Crest (the Ark) and the Supporters (two Cherubs) which were adopted from the Armorial Bearings of the ‘Ancients’.

His late Majesty, King George V, was graciously pleased to grant the Arms, which up to that time had been used by Grand Lodge without authority, and permission was given to add the bordure of lions, indicative of the Arms of England, to mark the long and close association of the Royal House with our Institution.

The Motto – ‘AVDI VIDE TACE’ translated means ‘HEAR SEE BE SILENT’ may be shown in gold lettering on a blue ribbon.

When you become a Freemason you become a member of your Lodge, the Province and the United Grand Lodge of England. Freemasonry has survived through centuries of change, conflict and technological advancements, therefore the strength of its constitution, teachings and raison d’etre must be obvious.

You can find out much more about the origins and history of Freemasonry as you wish, remembering that many Masons get so enthralled with our History that they really do devote their lives to it. We even have a Lodge of Research that meets at Freemasons’ Hall in Manchester.

Freemasonry – the Myths and the Truths

In recent years Freemasonry has become far more prominent and noticeable in our local communities, on the internet and in the local press, partly as a consequence of openness and also because of the regular publicity we receive, particularly in relation to our charitable activities (which demonstrate Freemasonry in action). Most Masonic Halls have regular open days and most members of the public either know a Freemason or have attended Masonic functions. Despite this increasing exposure and prominence there are still websites which try to convey false information about Freemasonry and people who have a poor understanding of what Freemasonry is and may have developed a negative view.

Here we hope to dispel some of the myths and give you a greater understanding of the truth about Freemasonry. Firstly, some common myths debunked:

Do Freemasons worship the devil?

Most certainly not. Neither do they worship money or power. In fact they do not worship at all at Lodge meetings. They respect ethical values when found in each other and in society and strive to inculcate all things good in themselves and each other. The philosophy of Freemasonry, its ‘programme for life’ if you like, encourages the individual to develop towards the fulfilment of his own destiny using his potential and abilities in the best possible way.

Are you totally open?

The answer to this question is simple, yes. There are certain aspects of its affairs which are private to its members just as they would be in any other private membership organisation. Members are free to discuss what Freemasonry is about in any answer to any genuine enquiry. Whilst every Freemason promises not to reveal certain signs and passwords, they are not secret. Masonic rituals have been published and are readily available in book form and on the internet. Many Masonic halls now have open days, when the public are invited to meet local Masons and tour their lodge rooms. The vast majority of Freemasons openly acknowledge their membership because they are proud of it. Others, regrettably, have reason to fear discrimination in business or employment if their membership becomes known. This is regrettable and something we work very hard to combat, partly by dispelling the myths that have built up over time.

It has been said that you can gain business advantage by being a Freemason. Is that true?

No it is not true. Any Freemason found to be using his membership for personal or for business advantage, would be subject to Masonic discipline and could be expelled from the Order. It is severely frowned upon. In fact Masons are not even allowed to display membership certificates in their office or place of work and the use of Masonic signs is restricted to the Lodge Room. All good Freemasons will abide by these rules. There are about 250,000 Freemasons belonging to 8000 Lodges througout England and Wales, and districts overseas. Worldwide the figure rises to six million. Amongst these there will be doubtless be some who try to bend the rules or use their membership for the wrong purpose. They are usually soon found out and then either suspended or expelled, particularly if they have broken the law of the land or engaged in any other activity that has the potential to bring Freemasonry into disrepute.

It is said that Freemasons get away with criminal offences by giving secret signs to Magistrates and Judges. What do you have to say about that?

There is no evidence whatsoever to support this suggestion except in the minds of conspiracy theorists. It has been suggested numerous times by certain authors, but not one of them has produced any evidence to support their statements. If a Freemason tried to do something of that nature before a Magistrate or a Judge who was a Freemason, it would more than likely have the opposite effect as we are expected to uphold the law of the land. A Freemason convicted of a criminal offence would probably be expelled from the Order and in fact you may not join the Order if your reputation is suspect.

Why do you only look after your own?

We don’t. Freemasonry does have strong charitable interests, although that is not its main purpose. There are Masonic charities which look after members and their family interests, but Freemasonry raises millions of pounds annually which it donates to non-Masonic causes. Examples are the Hospice movement, Air Ambulances, the RNLI and the British Red Cross. It is always one of the first to donate to the latter whenever and wherever disaster strikes anywhere in the world. It is one of the largest donators to charity after the National Lottery, Sport Relief and Children in Need.

It has been said that Freemasonry is an elitist organisation that only accepts certain types of people and it is a Christian only organisation?

Nonsense. Contrary to popular belief, Freemasonry is not a closed organisation available only to those who are invited to join. Membership is open to all men of good character who might have a variety of religious beliefs, so that Jew can be in harmony with Arab, Protestant with Roman Catholic and Hindu with Muslim. As in many clubs, an applicant has to be formally proposed and seconded. Following a successful interview by a small Lodge committee there is next a ballot of members before one can join. Freemasons come from all walks of life and they do not have to be rich; it costs less to be Freemason than a member of many golf clubs for example, but you must clearly be able to afford your membership dues without causing any detriment to your family. The only requirement for entry is that you believe in a Supreme Being. Whether your Prophet is Moses, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, the Báb or Bahá’u’lláh matters not. As long as you have that belief you will be eligible to join. In fact, Freemasonry may be under-represented by minority groups and religions and this is something we would really like to address. We are increasingly attracting younger Masons from varying religions through Universities because we have a scheme set up for this but would really like to hear from any young men of different religions who may be attracted towards Freemasonry.