The principal idea of Freemasonry as a fraternal organization is to take a good man and make him a better man. A better man internally as well as externally, a better citizen of his community and country, a better husband and father to his children, a better friend and co-worker.
For the man who seeks out the fraternity, for Freemasonry does not seek out members, this quality should already be inherent in his person.
His first involvement with Freemasonry will be the degrees collectively known as Craft Masonry. This system of three degrees is sometimes called The Symbolic Degrees, The Lodge Degrees, and even the Blue Degrees. It should be pointed out that the term blue and Blue lodge are colloquialisms that would be better eradicated form the Mason’s vocabulary to be replaced by the term Craft or Symbolic Degrees.
Beyond the Craft Degrees are several bodies of Masonry that have been erroneously referred to as higher degrees. The third degree of Masonry, The Master Mason is the highest degree of Masonry, and while the interested Master Mason will greatly benefit from an association with the Scottish Rite and the York Rite, these degrees are additional degrees and not higher degrees.
While this point of view is no doubt at variance with many that will read it allow me to quote from a portion of the 1813 articles of union, which stated:
“It is declared and pronounced that pure Atient (sic) Masonry consists of three degrees, and no more viz: those of the entered apprentice, the Fellowcraft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy royal Arch.”
Article II from the 1813 Articles of Union, which formed the U.G.L.E.
This being said, in order for a man to join the York Rite, Scottish Rite or any other Masonic organization he must be a member of a recognized Craft lodge and have completed the three degrees therein.
The History Of The Degrees
While there is much speculation as to the origins of Freemasonry it is generally regarded that it is an extension of the operative guilds of stonemasons who worked to build the many cathedrals of Europe. Upon the completion of the gothic cathedrals, the guilds began to accept speculative masons – that is to say men who were not operative in the craft.
Certainly Freemasonry having evolved from an operative to a speculative science and philosophy still utilizes the tools of the operative craft to illustrate universal truths and moral concepts. The square, compasses, level and trowel all have symbolic significance and the Master Mason will never look at them henceforth in the same light as he did prior to receiving the degrees.
The degrees of the Craft Lodge center on the building of King Solomon’s Temple as outlined in the Book of Kings as found in the Old Testament, albeit with some poetic license in the person of Hiram Abiff.
Requirements For Membership
There are five basic requirements for Membership in a Masonic Lodge. They are as follows:
1. Being a man, freeborn, of good repute and well-recommended;
Being a man – as Freemasonry is a Fraternity or all male organization, this is a must as the lodge does not admit women. There are however Masonic organizations such as the Order of the Eastern Star, which do.
In the early days of Freemasonry, many citizens were involved in indentured service and thus could not make decisions for themselves. While this is not the case in modern society, the phrase is kept as a reminder of Masonry’s rich history.
A prospective member must be of good repute and sponsored by someone who knows his reputation in the community. It is important that a member not be admitted who would stain the reputation and principles of the craft.
2. A belief in a Supreme Being;
No man can be made a Mason if he is an atheist. All masons must profess a belief in a Supreme Being. This is an area where Freemasonry often comes under attack by religious opponents. Because Freemasonry accepts Christian, Moslem and Jew alike how that member chooses to worship God or by which name that member knows God is of no consequence to Freemasonry.
3. Ability to support one’s self and family;
While not clearly stated in all jurisdictions, this condition is placed so that a prospective member does not join the craft in the hopes of deriving financial benefit from the order. It also is in place to show the prospective Mason that the Lodge comes after his religious and family responsibilities.
4. Of lawful age;
The prospective Mason must have reached the age of 21 although some jurisdictions allow a member to join at an earlier age.
5. Come to Freemasonry of their “own free will and accord”.
Freemasonry, unlike many fraternal organizations, does not seek out members. Rather it requires that members seek out the order. You will not see posters promoting the craft.
The Three Degrees of Craft Masonry
Below is a brief examination of the three degrees and what the candidate for admission can expect to learn by partaking in them.
1st degree Entered Apprentice
The first degree of Craft Masonry, the Entered Apprentice Degree is symbolic of birth. The candidate in a state of darkness is brought into the lodge not knowing what will follow but trusting in his guide to lead him along the way in his quest for light (knowledge). While little of an historical sense is revealed to him, he is instructed about the inner workings and principles of the craft and during the Junior Warden’s lecture is taught the antiquity of the society as well as the symbolism of King Solomon’s Temple and its building, completion and dedication.
2nd degree Fellowcraft Degree
The second degree of Craft Masonry, the Fellowcraft Degree is symbolic of life. The candidate begins by proving that he is in possession of the lessons learned in the former degree. He is instructed in the advancement of the operative workmen of biblical and medieval times and how they were paid for their labors. The lecture presented by the Senior Warden furthers the Fellowcraft’s understanding of the completion of King Solomon’s Temple and the importance therein.
3rd degree Master Mason
The third degree of Craft Masonry, the Master Mason Degree is symbolic of death. Like the Fellowcraft degree the candidate begins by proving that he is in possession of the lessons learned in the former degree. He is taught the legend of Hiram Abiff the Grand Master of the Masons who built Solomon’s Temple and how he was slain for not betraying the secret of a Master Mason. The candidate is then made to represent the fallen Master Mason as a lesson in preparing for the life that lies beyond this one. The lecture presented by the Master furthers the newly raised Master Mason’s understanding of the legendary history, symbolism and inherent philosophies of Freemasonry.
Beyond The Craft Lodge As indicated at the beginning of this article, there is no higher degree than that of Master Mason. However, the Master Mason will greatly benefit from the further instruction and fellowship offered by the York Rite and Scottish Rite of Masonry.