Freemasonry is the world's oldest form of Social Networking, but unlike the many modern digital equivalents available, we still prefer to meet each other face-to-face, discuss matters of mutual interest, meet old friends, make new friends, broaden our horizons, and learn new things. And when we have finished doing that, we love to sit down together and enjoy a good meal and a glass of wine.
Freemasonry is also acknowledged as being the oldest fraternal society in the world and whilst our true origins are subject to much speculation, is known to have existed long before the first officially recorded initiation (of Elias Ashmole) in 1646.
The first official Grand Lodge, the United Grand Lodge of England, was formed in London in June 1717, and amongst other things, serves to issue 'Warrants' to Lodges that conform to the original rules and regulations of the order, and this makes them 'Regular' Lodges.
This Warrant ensures that our members can be welcomed as visitors to other Lodges in the UK or abroad, that are 'recognised' as conforming to the same high standards. Likewise, we also welcome visitors from other Lodges from around the world, who are officially recognised by the UGLE.
Freemasonry and Religion.
Freemasonry itself is not a religion in any way, but we do expect our members to follow a recognised faith themselves, whatever that might be.
The reason for this is quite simple; when a member is admitted into Freemasonry, he is required to make a sincere promise that he will be a good and honest citizen, treat others equally, justly and fairly, obey the laws of the land, support those in genuine need wherever possible, and to keep certain secrets that serve only to keep our meetings private.
This is done in a similar way to giving evidence in a Court of Law, using the Book of Sacred Writings that govern your individual faith as proof that you understand the difference between good and evil, truth and lies, etc.
Our meetings are strictly private and restricted to members only, and this is the only reason that there are secrets in Freemasonry.
There is no separate or composite Masonic god, and on any occasion that a 'Supreme Being' or 'Deity' may be referred to, you are expected to associate the term with the God of your own chosen faith - and that matter is personal to yourself at all times.
Freemasonry offers no path to salvation, forgiveness of sins, or any other 'heavenly rewards' - those matters also belong to your chosen faith - whatever that might be.
There is absolutely nothing in freemasonry that is incompatible with any of the world's recognised religions, and in this special way, Masons of every race, colour or creed can assemble together to enjoy everything that Masonry, and indeed humanity itself offers in equal measure.
Freemasonry and Politics.
Apart from promising not to take part in any political conspiracy or plot against Government, Freemasonry does not concern or align itself with any political party or political agenda.
In order to maintain complete harmony amongst our members, it is expressly forbidden to openly discuss politics or religion at our meetings.
Freemasonry and women.
Despite popular belief, women can become freemasons too - but a bit like the changing rooms at the local Gym, men have their own Lodges, and women have theirs. Whilst we often meet on social occasions, men don't visit womens' Lodges, and women don't visit mens' Lodges.
It is not unusual for a woman and her husband to both be freemasons - just not members of the same Lodge - but in every other respect, the structure of the organisation and the meetings are similar.
Freemasonry and Secret Societies.
Apart from a couple of dark periods in history when Freemasons were persecuted by despotic dictatorships, we have never been a 'secret society' as such. Members are encouraged to discuss Freemasonry outside the Lodge, and you will often see us wearing Masonic rings, neckties or lapel pins as we go about our everyday business.
Most Lodges now have their own websites, and the places where we meet are often open to the public for parties, wedding receptions, conference and meeting facilities, etc.
Many of our buildings and Lodge Rooms are open to the public on National Heritage Open Day which is usually in September each year. If you wish, we will happily show you around the Lodge room on these occasions, and talk openly about all aspects of our meetings and membership.
Our regular meetings used to be listed in local newspapers, but can still be found on the Internet.
Apart from the secrets that serve only to keep our meetings private, Freemasons are not restricted in discussing all aspects of our order to anyone who is interested.
A few ignorant people accuse us of being a 'secret society' but we really aren't (otherwise, you wouldn't be reading this!).
We are open and inclusive, and our members are encouraged to talk openly about their membership if they wish to.
We don't recruit members by invitation, nor do we ever try to persuade someone to join us - if you want to become a member, you need to make the decision entirely of your own free will, and ask to become a member. We will, of course, furnish you with every piece of information you may need to make up your own mind, and you are also recommended to do your own research before making a decision.
If you don't know anyone who is already a Freemason, please feel free to contact us and we will happily tell you everything you need to know. You can use the form at the bottom of this page.
Freemasonry and Charity.
Apart from the National Lottery, Freemasonry is the largest contributor to recognised and registered charitable organisations that support those less fortunate than ourselves.
We support national and international causes, and are often found amongst the first to respond to major disasters such as earthquakes, floods and famine.
We also support the causes closest to our hearts, like the County Air Ambulance organisations, Cancer Research, Hospices, and children's charities, as well as a small number of 'Masonic' charities that support our members and dependents in time of need.
Any member is free to petition the Lodge in the name of a charitable cause, and the opportunity to give whatever relief and support possible, will be cheerfully embraced by all.
A portion of our membership fees are also given to our Provincial Grand Lodge and to the United Grand Lodge of England to support local, national and international charities.
So what goes on at a typical Masonic Meeting?
Our meetings usually start off by making sure that everyone present is entitled to be there, and that all the Lodge Officers are in their correct places and know their respective duties.
The minutes of the last meeting are usually circulated beforehand, and are officially approved and signed by the Master of the Lodge.
At certain times, we might be admitting a new member, or an existing member may have reached a point that entitles him to be 'promoted' to a higher degree, and if so, this is done according to an ancient ritual.
Certain Officers (such as the Treasurer or Charity Steward) will give a brief report of their activities between Lodge meetings, in order to keep the members informed of their specialist areas of interest - and at least for one meeting every year, new Officers are elected to carry out these duties for the following year.
At least one other meeting in every year is dedicated to placing those elected Officers into their new positions, and again, this is done during a special 'Installation' ceremony, according to ancient tradition.
Before the meeting is formally closed, any official communications are read, in order to keep all members and visitors informed - and with the official business concluded, we normally retire to the dining room, where we enjoy a hearty meal in a more relaxed atmosphere.
Occasionally, the meal after the meeting will be open to member's wives and families, as well as invited guests who are not Masons. This presents an opportunity for anyone who might be interested in becoming a Freemason, to meet with members and their families, and find out more about who we are and what we do.