Freemasonry is practiced in most countries of the world and can be defined as a “peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated with symbols.” Within Freemasonry, members advance through symbolic degrees, or ranks, in their intellectual and philosophical development.
In studying Freemasonry every person discovers that there are many aspects to the organization. They can be divided into three main categories philosophical, historical, and organizational. The philosophical aspect of Freemasonry introduces the student to the profound subjects of initiation, symbolism and tradition, and their potential to impact his life for the better. The historical aspect teaches the student how the traditions and teachings that make up Masonry came to be, their central role in the spiritual search of mankind and the way Masonry has affected the world since its emergence. The organizational aspect helps the student understand how the organization is governed and perpetuated, and provides many opportunities for the development of leadership skills and an improved sense of personal responsibility.
While studying Masonic symbolism, history and organization can be interesting and exciting, the goal is to be able to translate the lessons and experiences that one gains from Masonry into one’s daily actions. Freemasonry, if approached with humility, an open heart and an open mind will make one a gentleman, a better family man, and a better citizen. It should also be understood that while Freemasonry is not a religion, it does encourage its members to be active in their own religious traditions.
Freemasonry is a traditional initiatic order. It is not a secret society, but rather, a society with secrets. While it has taken its modern form during the Enlightenment, its traditions, symbols and lessons reach back to pre-modern times.
The general work associated with the initiatic tradition and the purpose of Freemasonry, put simply, is to provide an environment where good men can come together to pursue meaningful intellectual and spiritual growth. It is often said that Freemasonry “makes good men better.” One of the underlying tenets of the initiatic tradition is the belief that with each individual that becomes a better person the entire world profits thereby.
Being part of the initiatic tradition is what distinguishes Freemasonry from purely social or philanthropic organizations. While there are many different organizations that contribute large sums of money to charity, offer fellowship with like-minded men or provide education, Freemasonry is unique in that it embodies all these things, but is actually focused on offering men a traditional initiation into the mysteries of life and death. The initiatic tradition is the core, defining characteristic of Freemasonry, without which there would be nothing to differentiate Masonry from other social or philanthropic organizations.
Initiation is a slow and sensitive process and requires great effort on behalf of both the candidate and the existing members of the lodge. For the initiatic experience to be meaningful and enriching, great care and attention must be afforded to each individual candidate. If the new Freemason is to become worthy of the title, he must spend time and energy learning about the history, symbolism and philosophy of the Craft. There is no way around it.
The process of experiencing the initiatic tradition, becoming a part of it and improving oneself through its lessons, is known as Masonic Formation. This is an ever continuing process of spiritual and intellectual formation that all Freemasons must undergo. It is the work of fitting the rough ashlar of our imperfect being into the perfect ashlar fit for the divine temple. It is a constant transformation through the use of Masonic symbols, rituals, and teachings on a journey of return to the centre of our being. W. L. Wilmshurst, in his book Meaning of Masonry, writes that “the very essence of the Masonic doctrine is that all men in this world are in search of something in their own nature which they have lost, but that with proper instruction and by their own patience and industry they may hope to find.”
If the purpose of Freemasonry is “to make good men better,” men should only become Freemasons if they are good and consider themselves capable of becoming better. Determining the qualifications of men seeking admission is an essential aspect of upholding the integrity of our ancient institution. The investigative procedures of lodges are designed to ensure that the brethren of the lodge have sufficient information about the candidates they vote on.