Freemasonry or Masonry is one of the world’s oldest and largest secular fraternal organizations. It is a society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values. Its members are taught its percepts (moral lessons and self-knowledge) by a series of ritual dramas – a progression of allegorical two-part plays which are learned by heart and performed within each Lodge – which follow ancient forms and use stonemasons’ customs and tools as allegorical guides. The essential qualification for admission into and continuing membership is a belief in a Supreme Being.
Membership is open to men of any race or religion who can fulfill this essential qualification and are of good repute.
Freemasonry has existed for hundreds of years and throughout the world there are millions of men who find the fraternity of Freemasonry conductive to a development of their responsibilities to the society in which they live. It instills in its members a moral and ethical approach to life: it seeks to reinforce thoughtfulness for others, kindness in the community, honesty in business, courtesy in society and fairness in all things. Members are urged to regard the interests of the family as paramount but importantly, Freemasonry also teaches and practices concern for people, care for the less fortunate and help for those in need. Members are also encouraged to speak openly about Freemasonry.
For many years Freemasons have followed three great principles/tenets: Brotherly Love – every true Freemason will show tolerance and respect for the opinions of others and behave with kindness and understanding to his fellow creatures. Relief – Freemasons are taught to practice charity and to care not only for their own but also for the community as a whole, not by charitable giving and by voluntary efforts and works as individuals. Truth – Freemasons strive for truth, requiring high moral standards and aiming to achieve them in their own lives. Freemasons believe that these principles represent a way of achieving higher standards in life.
Today, men seek out Freemasonry for the same reasons – to better themselves and improve society in the company of like-minded Brothers. As we learn more about how our physical world works, there is also new interest in those things we do not understand – especially things bound around tradition or what have more mystical nature. Also, books like the The Da Vinci Code,The Lost Symbol, etc. and movies like National Treasure have brought up both new interest and renewed speculation about the nature of the Fraternity. Though these books and movies are a product more of a vivid imagination than fact, the real history of Masonry is perhaps the best story of all – one learned only by asking and becoming a Freemason.
Freemasonry in the Philippines is controlled by the Grand Lodge of the Philippines. Under this are a number of lodges and Districts not only in the Philippines but also Japan, Korea, Guam and the Marianas Islands. Each Lodge is controlled by its member’s subject of course to the overriding controls laid down by the Grand Lodge. Freemasonry otherwise called Craft Masonry in England and other countries or Blue Lodges in the USA and the Philippines, is the basis of all Freemasonry. It comprises three degrees, the Entered Apprentice, the Fellowcraft and the Master Mason. It is the starting point for Freemasons, who may later decide to join various other degrees and orders under the Masonic banner. All forms of Freemasonry take as their basis the teaching of the relationship one has to his God, his neighbor and his family and an understanding of himself.
Under the United Grand Lodge of England, Craft Freemasonry consists of the three degrees mentioned earlier plus the Holy Royal Arch. All other degrees and orders are separately regulated. This differs from many other Grand Lodges, where some or most of those other orders are included under their jurisdiction. In fact the Mark degree is a prerequisite in some Grand Lodges before the Royal Arch can be considered just like in the Philippines and the USA.
It is believed that the origins of Freemasonry can be found in the Master Mason’s lodges formed for working stonemasons at the sites of cathedrals and other stately buildings in the 15th to 17th centuries. Such lodges subsequently accepted as members, those who were not operative stonemasons, later called Freemasons. The forms of recognition, about which there is so much discussion, were no more than “pin numbers” to allow the traveling Mason to prove that he was fully qualified when arriving at a new building site. Nowadays they have a symbolic meaning within the ceremonies but are not used elsewhere. The questions of when, how, why, and where Freemasonry originated however are still the subject of intense speculation. The first documented making of an English Freemason, Elias Ashmole, at Warrington was in 1646. From the 1660s more evidence exists of gentlemen being made Masons in non-operative Lodges.
On 24 June 1717 four London Lodges which had existed for some time came together at the loose and Gridiron Tavern in St. Paul’s Churchyard, declared themselves a Grand Lodge and elected Anthony Sayer as their Grand Master. This was the first Grand Lodge in the world. By 1723, the new Grand Lodge had published its first rule book – The Book of Constitutions of Masonry – and was meeting quarterly and recording its meetings. It had extended its authority outside London. In 1725, the Grand Lodge of Ireland was established followed by the Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1736. Then these three Home Grand Lodges began to take Freemasonry overseas and the development of freemasonry abroad mirrors the 18th and 19th century development of the British Empire.
In 1751, a rival Grand Lodge appeared in London. Its original members were Irish Masons who claimed that the original Grand Lodge had made innovations. They dubbed the first Grand Lodge the Moderns and called themselves the Antients. The two existed side by side – both at home and abroad – for nearly 63 years, neither recognizing each other as regular. After four years of negotiation, the two Grand Lodges in England united on 27 December 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England. This union led to a great deal of standardization of ritual, procedures and regalia.
The Grand Lodge of the Philippines is probably the oldest independent body in Asia. Three Lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of California established it in 1912. By the way, a Grand Lodge is the administrative body in charge of Freemasonry in some geographical area or jurisdiction. Local organizations of Masons are called Lodges.
A roster of Masonic membership during the early years of our country reads like a study in Philippine history, It is led by Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Graciano Lopez Jaena, Juan Luna, Antonio Luna, 10 of the 13 Martyrs of Cavite, Bishop Gregorio Aglipay, Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini and a host signers of the Malolos membership has continued to include famous Filipinos including Philippines Presidents (Emilio Aguinaldo, Manuel Quezon and Manuel Roxas), Senators, Congressmen, Governors, Justices, Generals, and other well known men in leadership positions. The famous World War II American general, Gen. Douglas McArthur, was made a Mason in the Philippines. The Masonic Fraernity however includes men from all walks of life.
No organizations can guarantee to make anyone great but the powerful values and important truths that are taught as part of the Masonic tradition has inspired challenged and developed leadership in men. Benjamin Franklin may have said it best, describing the Fraternity as a place to “prepare himself”. Perhaps one of the things that has kept Masonry a strong and vital organization for so long is the fact that the Fraternity proposed only to “make good men better”, not to make bad men good. This distinction is critical in that form its early days, the Fraternity took itself out of the “rehabilitation” game which became the purvey of both religion and the criminal justice system. Today, men are preparing themselves for greatness in Lodges the world over. If you think there is greatness in you, you can knock at the door of Freemasonry anytime.