Freemasonry uses allegorical symbols to teach a philosophy concerning the nature of the Creator, the origins of the universe, and humanity's universal destiny. The religious doctrines in which most people are raised are designed to satisfy the basic needs of the general population. To get a truer understanding of the nature of Deity requires a long-term commitment of study. The Freemasonic initiate is put on the path of this study by being initiated into the fraternity of Masonry, a Westernized religious Mystery school. If the initiate studies the ritual, he will receive, proportionate to his ability to understand, deep mystic revelations regarding the nature of the universe and our mystic journey through it. Freemasonry keeps alive this knowledge from generation to generation until such time as it is understood and accepted by all beings.
Though dealing exclusively with religious themes, Freemasonry is not a religion: no one dogma is professed as being particularly Masonic. Nor is the Masonic Lodge a place of worship; it would be better considered a classroom. Freemasonry "teaches" an occult philosophy to lead the initiate towards the essence of religious thought. All that is required of the initiate is an expressed belief in higher intelligence (God); therefore, no atheist can become a Mason. Religions in and of themselves are made by mankind to explain Deity. Freemasons come in all colors and nationalities and may worship Jehovah, Jesus, Mohammed, or Krishna, to name a few.
Masons themselves cannot agree on exactly when Freemasonry began. Some say it was when the Grand Lodge of England was established in 1717. Others who have studied the fraternity closely put the date nearer to 5000 BC — though it was not then necessarily called Freemasonry — with major modifications around the first century AD.
Blue Lodge Freemasonry and its "higher" bodies, the York and Scottish Rite, are a tool that teaches a view of life that for centuries has been on the cutting edge of religious and secular thought. Freemasonic ritual is secret because men throughout history have persecuted their fellows for having opinions different from accepted doctrine; secrecy protects life, limb, and the message. Most Freemasons, however, do not understand the allegorical, mystic significance in the ritual work. For them it is a fraternal club with a secret ritualistic initiation which meets once or twice a month for fellowship and to sponsor charities.
There are three degrees in Freemasonry. The first is the Entered Apprentice Degree, a purification or a birth into Freemasonry. The Fellow Craft Degree represents the learning years or, symbolically, manhood. The Master Mason Degree is a symbolic death as one man (H.A.) and resurrection and reincarnation into a more perfect life as a Master Mason, an adept in the art of life, a man with the secret knowledge, a Gnostic. Progressing through the three degrees of Masonry, the student increases in Masonic knowledge. When the student "knows" the next step, he is passed and then "raised" up as a Master Mason. He is then informed that one of the most important duties of a Master Mason is to "seek truth."
The major posts in a Lodge all have allegorical significance. For example, the Master of the Lodge symbolizes King Solomon or Deity, heaven, maleness, aggressiveness, or the sun which controls life. The Junior Warden symbolizes the space half way between the sun and moon, and controls the refreshment at High Twelve and, because of his position at meridian, can better control the time for the Worshipful Master and the Senior Warden. The Junior Warden is the fulcrum or the balancer of the day. The Senior Warden symbolizes the opposite part of the Divine Triad: the Moon, Mother Earth, mother, femaleness, and passiveness, and creates the balance needed to run the lodge by representing the other half of the daily and yearly cycle: night.
The Masonic signs and tools also have esoteric, allegorical meanings. Let's look at some of the Masonic symbols as they apply to harmony. The level symbolizes balance by reminding us to be level in our actions. The plumb symbolizes balance by informing us to walk upright as citizens and be straight and upright in our actions. The square symbolizes virtue or morality, the balance of good and evil in our lives. The compasses symbolize morality controlled by containing good and evil within the cycle of our outward bodily manifestation. The apron symbolizes innocence or morality by covering the passionate parts of man — again, keeping good and evil in due bounds. The 24-inch gauge or ruler symbolizes the balancing act Masons must achieve for a fruitful life by dividing the daily twenty-four hours into eight hours of work, eight hours of divine contemplation, and eight hours of rest from the other sixteen hours of human and divine toil.
The book of holy law symbolizes the Rule of the Masonic Order. And, as the Knights Templar of old, Masons also have a rule from which to work: the Sacred Book of Law, the Holy Bible, the Koran, the Upanishads, and so on. For, in fact, Freemasons are self-ordained holy men, and true holy men seek harmony and balance in the universe.
The four prime beliefs of Freemasonry are: the Fatherhood of God; the brotherhood of man; relief to others; and the search for truth. First and foremost, Freemasonry is a philosophy based on the position that there is a Supreme Being and that all human beings are of the same family. All men are created equal in the eyes of the Supreme Being. Whether white, black, Christian, Jew, Muslim, European, African, or Asian, we are all brothers. The duty of a Freemason is to practice brotherly love and friendship by transcending the differences in people to find their similarities. While in a Masonic Lodge anywhere in the world, a Brother Master Mason cannot discuss politics or religion, in order that first and foremost there is harmony among the Brethren while in the lodge.
Relief, the third prime belief, means that Freemasons are obligated to help others less fortunate than themselves when it is possible to do so. Charity work, whether of the group or individuals, is most important.
The search for truth, the last fundamental principle, is a Masonic mainstay. In all worldly endeavors Masons are reminded to be truthful to others, to follow the path of truth, and ever to look for the truth in their daily lives. As one's knowledge grows, the search becomes easier. Freemasonry leads toward truth by giving the student "working tools" to find true answers. As one grows in the study of Freemasonry, one also grows in the knowledge of all religions. Within all ancient religions the student will discover gnosis: knowledge or fundamental true principles. Truth is learned. From true knowledge, wisdom is born. To be wise is to be godly, and to be godly is to know ourselves, our universe, and our Creator.
Practicing the four Masonic beliefs outside the lodge instills harmony into everyday life. When enough Masons throughout the world practice the four fundamental beliefs toward their fellowmen, they will be passing along the true code of ethics for the earth. Hopefully, by this example others will move towards the ideal of practiced harmony and treat their fellowmen with peace, love, tolerance, and understanding, and this worldly peace will in turn improve the harmony of the universe.
Masonic ritual, if examined closely, transcends Christian and Jewish thought and is inclusive of all religions, past and present, that hold to the theory of a Living God and man's divine spirit having the ability to "bind back" to his Creator. If we look at Freemasonry in this light, we should be able, by careful study, to realize our divine mission while in human form.
If Freemasonry does nothing else, it will continue to shape world events by bringing together men of different races, creeds, and nationalities under the auspices of the Masonic teachings of brotherly love, friendship, relief, and truth. In this one act, it will have served mankind on a grand scale by promoting a dialogue among all members of the human race.
(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Theosophical University Press)