Freemasonry, demystified.

We understand and appreciate that people are curious about our organization. So, if you’ve ever wanted to know what a Masonic temple is or why we wear Aprons (yes, we wear Aprons!), this is the place to find out.

What is Freemasonry?

Freemasonry, or Masonry, is the world’s first and largest fraternity. Based on the belief that each man can make a difference in the world, Freemasonry enhances and strengthens the character of the individual man by providing opportunities for fellowship, charity, and education.

Where do the terms Freemasonry, Masonry, and Free and Accepted Mason come from?

The term Masons comes from the occupation of original stonemasons’ guilds who built castles and cathedrals in England and Scotland. During the Middle Ages, the word “Free” was added because stonemasons often allowed to travel the world to share new knowledge and skills with others where their guild was operating.

Over time, men who were not builders were drawn to the practices of Freemasonry. To encourage intellectual diversity, the first stonemasons began accepting men from other professions into the fraternity. To differentiate themselves, those who were actually stonemasons were known as Operative Masons, and new members from different professions were known as Accepted Masons.

Today, the terms Freemasonry, Masonry, and Free and Accepted Masons are used interchangeably.

What does the term Brother refer to?

Any good-standing member of the Freemasonry fraternity is known as a Brother, a title given to him at his initiation into Freemasonry.

What is a Lodge?

In the earliest era of Freemasonry, stonemasons guilds formed local organizations called lodges, which were used to take care of sick and injured Brothers or the families of stonemasons who died on the job. Freemasons also used lodges as places to meet, receive their pay, plan their work, train new apprentices, and socialize.

Today, this term refers both to a unit of Brother Masons and the room or building in which they meet and perform many of the same activities of the ancient stonemasons’ guilds. There are more than 400 lodges in New York State and approximately 13,000 in the United States.

Is Freemasonry an international organization?

While there are approximately five million Freemasons worldwide—including nearly two million in the U.S. alone—each Grand Lodge is sovereign and independent. All lodges, regardless of location, follow the same principles of Freemasonry but there is no U.S. or international governing body of Freemasonry.

Is Freemasonry a secret organization or secret society?

No, Masonry is not a secret organization. Our mission, goals, principles, constitutions, rules, and meeting locations are all public. Additionally, our members are free to acknowledge their membership. However, like many similar organizations, some of Masonry’s internal affairs and documents are for members only.

What happens at a Lodge meeting?

A Lodge meeting can consist of one of two meetings: a business meeting or a ceremonial meeting.

A business meeting, or stated meeting, is devoted to administrative procedures. Activities may include reviewing minutes from previous meetings, discussing financial matters, voting on applications, and planning lodge activities. Generally, the lodge will host a portion of the meeting for Masonic education known as a “program” for its members and guests. These can take on many forms. From formal discourse and
debate to the less formal presentation of a topic relative to Freemasonry its philosophy, symbols, and history, it’s up to the sole discretion of the lodge and its Worshipful Master.

A ceremonial meeting takes place to confer the Three Degrees of Freemasonry – 1st Degree or Entered Apprentice, 2nd Degree or Fellowcraft, and the 3rd Degree or Master Mason.

What are Degrees?

There are three stages, or Degrees, of Masonic membership: Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. Each degree refers to a member’s self-development and increased knowledge of Freemasonry. As a man completes each phase of learning, the Lodge holds a ceremony to confer his Degree.

Degree names are taken from Craft guilds, or groups of Freemasons who practice similar skills. In the Middle Ages, to become a stonemason, a man would first be apprenticed. As an Entered Apprentice, he learned the tools and skills of the trade. When he had proved his skills, he became a Fellow of the Craft. When he gained exceptional ability, he became a Master of the Craft.

What is the significance of officers’ titles?

Since Masonry came to the American colonies from England, many of the original English titles are still in use. These titles may sound archaic in today’s society, but their meanings are simple: 

Most Worshipful–This title is bestowed only upon the elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York. He is the head of the Craft in New York and the highest-ranking member of the Grand Lodge.

Right Worshipful–This title is given in one of two ways:

  1. The Grand Master appoints a Right Worshipful to service of the Grand Lodge.
  2. Grand Lodge members elect a Right Worshipful to office as a senior officer, such as Junior Grand Warden, Senior Grand Warden, Grand Secretary, Grand Treasurer, or Deputy Grand Master.

Very Worshipful–This title is given to those Brothers appointed to service under the direction of the Grand Lecturer. Their role is to oversee the standard work and lecturers of our Ritual, act as teachers and coaches, and to improve the work of an entire jurisdiction.

Worshipful–This title can only be given to one who has accomplished all three rites of passage:

  1. Served as an elected Warden of a lodge
  2. Elected again to serve as its Master
  3. Invested with the secrets of the Chair

A lodge can only give this title to a Brother with a vote from members of the lodge. Not even a Grand Master can grant this title to a member. While a Master operates in a lodge, his power is absolute and managed with much responsibility. He is generally the voting member at the annual Grand Lodge Session and makes up the body of our Grand Lodge when called into session.

Brother–The highest title that can be given in any Masonic organization, Brother is given to the gentleman who is made a Mason at his First Degree—but only after a lodge has thoroughly investigated his character, considered his intentions, and voted him in to be a member. 

Masonry is unique in that we grant the highest honor and grandest title upon one who has just joined. While there are others who may have higher authority, there are no titles with more distinction or honor than Brother.

Why does Masonry use symbols?

Symbols transcend language barriers and allow people to communicate quickly. Masons use metaphors from geometry and the architecture of stonemasonry to inform their continuing pursuit of knowledge, ethics, and leadership skills. The symbol of a square and compass is the most widely known symbol of Masonry—when you see the symbol on a building, you know that Masons meet there.

Why do Masons wear Aprons?

Masons wear Aprons to symbolize their heritage, demonstrate pride in their fraternity, and represent their lineage from stonemasons who historically wore leather aprons to protect themselves on the job site. Masons typically wear Aprons when they are in a lodge, at certain public events, and at funerals.

Do Masons engage in politics?

Masonry does not endorse any political candidates or legislation. The discussion of politics at Masonic meetings is strictly prohibited.

Is Masonry a religion?

No, Masonry is neither a religion nor a substitute for religion. While the fraternity requires its members to have a belief in a Supreme Being, the fraternity itself is not affiliated with any religion. Furthermore, men of all faiths are represented in Freemasonry. Religion is not discussed at lodge meetings.

Why are some Masonic buildings called temples?

Masons may refer to a building as a temple in the same sense that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called the Supreme Court a “Temple of Justice.” Today, most lodges in New York refer to their buildings as Masonic centers.

What are the other Masonic organizations?

After a man has completed his Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Masons Degrees in a Craft Lodge, he may choose to explore other rites and bodies that make up the Masonic Family of organizations, hundreds of which are located in particular parts of the world or exclusive to only those invited to their ranks. 

There are three major offshoots of Freemasonry in the United States: The York or American Rite, The Scottish Rite, and The Shriners. All Master Masons are free to join any branch. 

The York Rite – In New York State, there are three bodies that make up the York Rite:

  1. Grand Chapter State of New York Royal Arch Masons
    The Fourth to Eighth Degrees found in the Chapter Degrees of Royal Arch continue the story of the Craftsmen and the legend of the construction, completion, destruction, and rebuilding of the Temple of Solomon used for the backdrop of Masonic teachings. Royal Arch Masonry has deep roots in New York Masonry and their charitable efforts have made lasting impacts in the communities that Masons serve.

  2. The Grand Council of Cryptic Masons of the State of New York
    The Cryptic Degrees found in the Council continue both the stories of the Craft Lodge Three Degrees and the Degrees of the Chapter. Only conferring two regular degrees and one special degree, Cryptic Masonry is the smallest body in New York State, but it offers one of the deepest and most impactful degrees offered anywhere in Freemasonry.

  3. Grand Commandery, Knights Templar of the State of New York
    The Commandery offers the chivalric orders in a four-order cycle. Very different from other Masonic organizations, Sir Knights of the Commandery must profess a preference for Christianity and complete their Royal Arch Degrees. The Knights Templar has foundational roots in New York State, and Sir Knights contribute liberally to charity and community support statewide.

The Scottish Rite in New York is governed over by the Council of Deliberation of New York and is part of the the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. Different from the Royal Arch system, Masons may receive the Fourth through 32nd Degrees in their local valley—an organization similar to a Masonic lodge. 

The degrees are operated by four separate sub-organizations found in each valley, comprised of Master Masons who are also Scottish Rite Masons. The Scottish Rite is often considered the “college” of Freemasonry as its Ritual offers a deeper dive into the core principles of Masonry: brotherly love, relief, and truth. The degrees offered in most valleys are highly choreographed stage plays, similar to those of local theaters. 

The charitable work of the Scottish Rite is legendary even among Masonic organizations. For example, the Grand Almoners offer no-strings-attached support to Masons and their families in their time of need, living up to the Scottish Rite mission to “strive to be a fraternity that fulfills our Masonic obligation to care for our members.” 

The Scottish Rite is also home to the legendary 33rd and Last Degree of Masonry. A Scottish Rite Freemason may attain the 33rd Degree, which honors outstanding service to the brotherhood and recognizes individual accomplishments in private life, business, government, and the arts—as well as leadership and service within the fraternity. 

Shriners International—formally known as the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine—is a Masonic society established in 1870 in New York City’s Mother Mecca Shrine

While its headquarters is in Tampa, Florida, Shriners are free to meet in the Grand Lodge building on 23rd Street in New York City. Less serious than a Masonic lodge, the Shrine started as a place for fun and fellowship, embracing and amplifying the fellowship aspects of the fraternity. As the Shrine evolved, it became one of the most philanthropic organizations to ever exist in the United States. 

The work of the Shriners Hospital and its care for children suffering from burns and orthoptic maladies is world-renowned. The work of the Shriners everywhere ensures that a child in need of care will not go wanting; in most cases, Shriners cover the cost of world-class care provided in their 22 hospitals.

Why can’t women join Masonry?

Freemasonry is a fraternity—a brotherhood. The essence of a fraternity is that it is for men, just as the essence of a sorority is that it is for women. There are several affiliated Masonic organizations for women, such the Order of the Eastern Star and the Order of the Amaranth. There are other women-only Masonic organizations but none of them are considered regular Masonic organizations in much of the United States.

Are there Masonic youth organizations?

In the years following World War I, Masons in the United States helped establish a trio of youth orders dedicated to teaching young men and women the principles and values of Masonry. Today in New York, DeMolay International, the Organization of Triangles (unique to New York), and the International Order of Rainbow for Girls offer young adults opportunities for personal growth through community service. For more information, please visit their linked sites above or check with the New York Masons Youth Committee.

Where can I take a tour?

Tours are available at various Masonic sites across New York State. For more information, please click here.

How do I nominate a Brother for a Community Service Award?

The New York Masons offer three distinct community service awards: the Dewitt Clinton Award, the Jacob Morton Award, and the Grand Lodge Certificate of Appreciation for Excellence Service to the Community.

Which lodge is closest to me?

There are more than 400 Masonic lodges in New York State. To find a lodge near you, see our our NY Lodges Page.

Where can I learn more about the Grand Lodge’s history?

The Grand Lodge of New York has a rich history. To scroll through our timeline and learn more about our lodge, click here.