Frequently Asked Questions About Freemasonry and the International Order of Freemasonry, for Men and Women, Le Droit Humain
1. What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is a special way of living expressed through symbols and dramatic stories. It points the way to self-improvement through service to others, as well as leadership skills.
2. What is the order of Freemasonary?
The Order of Freemasonry is an association of people who try to practice the Masonic ideals and who meet together regularly for dramatic ceremonies that express the ideals of the Order, for shared study, and for social contact.
3. What is Co-Freemasonry?
Co-Freemasonry is an international Masonic order that admits men and women on equal footing and is open to all earnest persons, of whatever race, religion, and ethnic or social group.
4. What is the difference between Co-Freemasonry and other varieties of Freemasonry?
The basic difference is that Co-Freemasonry is available to men and women alike and does not discriminate on the basis of sex, nationality, religion, or ethnicity. Most Masonic groups admit only men; some admit only women; some admit both. But in addition, the Co-Masonic Order called “Le Droit Humain” is international, with its governing body in Paris and groups in some sixty countries of the world. Le Droit Humain also combines in one organization several varieties of Masonry: Craft Masonry (the basic sort), Scottish Rite Masonry, and York Rite Masonry. In 2012, the Supreme Council Le Droit Humane voted to update the English translation of the French language of “Mixte Freemasonry”. The early 1900 translation was “Co-Freemasonry”, which has been changed to “Freemasonry for Men and Women”.
5. What does “Le Droit Humain” mean?
The French expression “Le Droit Humain” is difficult to translate into English. It refers to Natural Law and Justice in human life, as distinct from laws that human beings make. It denotes the rights and responsibilities that every person is born with, those “unalienable Rights” cited in the American Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
6. What are the Masonic ideals that Freemasons try to practice?
They are expressed in several ways, one of which is “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.” Liberty is the freedom of individuals to follow their own conscience and to develop their intellectual capacities. Equality is the recognition that all human beings are basically alike in their physical, mental, and spiritual natures and are deserving of respect. Fraternity is the mutual commitment we all have to support and assist one another.
7. Is Freemasonry a religion?
It is not. It is concerned with the ultimate values of human life, and so might be called “religious” in a broad sense of that term. Some branches of Freemasonry do their work “to the glory of the Great Architect of the Universe (a poetic expression for the cosmic guiding intelligence) and to the perfection of humanity.” Some work only “to the perfection of humanity.” But in either case, Freemasonry is not a religion, and Freemasons belong to all of the great religions of the world (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and so on) or to none at all.
8. Is belief in God a requirement to be a Freemason?
The Order professes no dogma and rejects dogmatism. Our members are men and women fraternally united without distinction on grounds of race, ethnic origin, philosophical opinion or religion. Freemasons owe obedience to the International Order of Freemasonry for Men and Women, Le Droit Humain, and to the laws of their country; they must live honorably, practice justice, and love their neighbors. In addition, they respect members’ independence from religious institutions and organizations, and are respectful of the right to absolute freedom of conscience of all.
9. Why is Freemasonry so named?
The origin of the “free” in “Freemasonry” is now unknown. It suggests, however, that Freemasons are not bound to any particular set of beliefs or to any narrow way of life, but are open to learning and growing, and that they respect the natural right of others to be so also. The “masonry” in the name reflects the fact that modern Freemasonry developed among groups of persons who either practiced the craft of stonemasonry or were interested in the theory and symbolism of the building trades. The central symbol of Freemasonry is the building of King Solomon’s Temple, and various tools and activities of stonemasonry are given symbolic meanings in Freemasonic use.
10. What goes on in a Masonic meeting?
A Masonic meeting may include three kinds of activity. First and most important, it is a set pattern of symbolic action, a sort of drama, dealing with various events related to King Solomon’s Temple, which have an allegorical or symbolic meaning. These dramatic actions are particularly typical of meetings at which new members enter the Order, or existing members advance to higher Degrees. Second, it usually includes some business of the kind that any organization has to be concerned with. Third, it may include some investigation or study of subjects related to the symbolism and practice of Freemasonry.
11. What is expected of a Freemason?
Freemasons are expected to try to live humanely-that is, to work at improving themselves, to look for ways they can help others, to respect differing views, and to keep their promises. They also promise to attend all meetings of their Lodge (in America usually once a month) unless there is some urgent reason that prevents them from doing so.
12. What is the origin of Freemasonry?
The exact origins of Freemasonry are now lost in history. It seems, however, as though a craft organization of stone workers in the Renaissance attracted the participation of some gentle folk who were interested in building, both as a practical craft and for its symbolic associations. Over time, the symbolic aspects became more pronounced and the “speculative” members interested in the symbols became more numerous than the “operative” members who were actual stonemasons. This may have happened first in Scotland, but it was in London in 1717 that a number of such “speculative” Lodges banded together to form a Grand Lodge and the beginning of organized Freemasonry as we know it.
13. Are there any deeper roots of Freemasonry?
The early “speculative” Freemasons seem to have been interested in a variety of yet earlier forms of thought, especially the symbolic interpretation of pictures and of geometry and what is sometimes called the “perennial philosophy.” Such interests connect Freemasonry thematically with a number of movements from antiquity through the Middle Ages and later: the Greek and Near Eastern Mysteries, the Pythagorean School, Neo-Platonism, Gnosticism, Hermeticism, the Knights Templar, the Kabbalah, and the Rosicrucians, to name only some.
14.Is Freemasonry a secret sect?
Freemasonry is not a sect at all. A sect is a religious group, especially one that has split off from some other group. Freemasonry is not a religious group of any kind. Nor is it secret. Freemasons have never sought to keep the existence of Freemasonry a secret. They have not generally advertised themselves, but neither have they sought to hide. Freemasonry is an organization that has certain secrets – certain signs, words, actions, and symbols used only among members of the group.
15. What is the purpose of the Masonic “secrets”?
On the most mundane level, to share a secret is to bond together. Families have “secrets”— known only to members of the family that help to unite them. In that way also, Masonic secrets are a bonding device. But also and more importantly, they are symbols of the fact that the most important things in life cannot be spoken or communicated directly. The really great and moving experiences of life are ones we cannot put into words or tell another about. But if two persons have had similar deeply moving experiences, they can communicate about them indirectly by symbols, which are secrets to anyone who has not shared the experience. Masonic secrets are like that – of the deeply moving experience that Masonry provides. They are the outer visible signs of an inner invisible reality.
16.Is Freemasonry occult or esoteric?
Freemasonry is certainly not “occult” in the recent popular meaning of that term referring to fortune telling, diabolism, the supernatural, and the like. But the original meaning of the word was “hidden” or “secret,” just as the literal meaning of “esoteric” is “inner” or “for the initiated.” As already said, Freemasonry has its secrets, which are for those initiated into it.
17.Does Freemasonry engage in political activity?
No. Although individual Freemasons have the right to belong to whatever political party they like or to none, just as to whatever religion they like or to none, the Freemasonic Order has no political aims or interests. Freemasons are expected to obey the laws of the country in which they live, to give allegiance to its government, and to work in a lawful manner for any social changes they espouse. There is a longstanding tradition that, when Freemasons meet, they do not discuss religion or politics, in order that the diversity of opinion among them on those subjects may not become a source of dissension.
18.How many forms of Freemasonry are there?
A good many. Throughout the world, there are many different Masonic organizations or “Obediences.” Even in the United States within masculine Freemasonry, each of the states has its own Grand Lodge, which governs the local Lodges in that state. These Grand Lodges recognize one another and agree not to intrude on each other’s territory, but are autonomous. Then there is a form of Freemasonry called “Prince Hall Masonry,” which is especially for African-Americans, who were at one time excluded from many masculine Lodges. There are also groups that admit only women. And there are some that admit both men and women and people of all races, most notably International Co-Freemasonry, Le Droit Humain.
19. Is Co-Masonry like the Eastern Star, which admits both men and women?
No. The Eastern Star is an adjunct organization to exclusively masculine Masonry, intended primarily for the wives and daughters of Freemasons, but also including some men. It has its own ceremonies, but they are completely different from those of traditional Freemasonry. Co-Freemasonry follows the traditional Masonic rites and practices. Any masculine Mason who attends a Co-Masonic meeting will recognize it as essentially similar to his own practice.
20. Can a person be a member of both the masculine Freemasons and the Co-Freemasons?
The Order of Co-Freemasonry respects the masculine Orders and will admit as a visitor any of their members who can prove (by a dues receipt or the like) that they are in good standing in a regular masculine Lodge. It will also admit as an affiliated member a masculine Freemason who applies and meets its requirements. Masculine Grand Lodges, however, in general do not permit their members to join or participate in a Masonic body that admits women.
21. When and how did Co-Freemasonry begin?
In 1882 a woman named Marie Deraismes was initiated into a French masculine Lodge called appropriately “Les Libres Penseurs” (The Free Thinkers). In 1893, Dr. Georges Martin, a French Senator and advocate of equal rights for women, joined Marie Deraismes and other male Masons in founding in Paris La Respectable Loge, Le Droit Humain, Maconnerie Mixte (Worshipful Lodge, Le Droit Humain, Co-Masonry). They initiated, passed, and raised sixteen prominent French women. The International Order of Co-Freemasonry traces its origin from this foundation.
22. What is a “rite” as in the “Scottish Rite” and “York Rite” mentioned earlier (question 4)?
The basis of all Freemasonry is the Craft system of three Degrees (Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason), and anyone who has taken these three is a full-fledged Mason. However in addition to the three Craft Degrees, there are several other series of Degrees. The two most widely practiced of these systems of additional Degrees are those of the Scottish Rite and the York Rite. “Rite” in this sense is a particular set form of ceremonial words and actions. In the United States, in addition to the three Craft Degrees, the International Order of Co-Freemasonry works such Scottish Rite Degrees as Rose-Croix and Knights Kadosh and such York Rite Degrees as Mark, Royal Ark Mariner, and Holy Royal Arch. Elsewhere in the world, Le Droit Humain works other Degrees of those Rites.
23.Is special clothing worn at a Masonic meeting?
In America the custom is for everyone to dress in White top and black bottom. In some other countries, women dress in white and men in black (a tuxedo or business suit). Sometimes everyone dresses in black or all white. And in some countries there is no special dress. The clothing worn is a matter of local custom and is not part of Masonic essentials. However, in regular Craft Lodge meetings, each member of the Lodge wears an “apron,” which is an ornamental version of a garment worn by operative stonemasons in former days. It has symbolical meanings.
24. What happens at a Masonic initiation?
The initiation is a formal, ceremonial introduction of a new member into the Masonic Order, during which certain customs and “secrets” of Freemasonry are explained to the new member. It is something like a drama in which the person being initiated is the central character. To experience the full effect of an initiation, it is best not to try to find out about it in advance. The word “initiation” means literally “the process of going in.” It is best to enter Freemasonry without many preconceptions. Part of the effect of the initiation is the element of surprise in it.
25. Does a Freemason have to swear an oath of some kind?
During the initiation ceremony, the candidate solemnly promises to strive to lead a life according to Masonic ideals, to keep the secrets of Freemasonry, and to be faithful in all ways. This promise is made to the highest Reality in the universe or within oneself and is not in any way incompatible with one’s moral, social, or religious duties.
26. Why is Freemasonry so concerned with symbols?
Freemasonry is a special system of symbols, with a particular purpose (self-improvement and service to others). Although we often are not consciously aware of them, we are surrounded by symbols; our lives are structured by symbols in almost every way. The ways we stand, walk, eat, shake hands, smile, sit, dress, and so on, are all symbolic. Human beings are a species that might be called Homo symbolicus. Freemasonry uses a particular set of symbols to express its ideas and ideals.
27. What special symbols are there in Freemasonry?
The two most widely known Masonic symbols are the square and the compasses. Among their many meanings, the square (which has two immovable legs at a ninety-degree angle) represents matter, and the compasses (which have movable or adjustable legs) represent spirit or consciousness. The fact that the square and compasses are regularly shown in combination suggests that matter and consciousness are interdependent realities.
28. How is the International Order of Co-Freemasonry organized?
The Order is headquartered in Paris, where it was founded. Its highest governing body is the Supreme Council, consisting of representatives from around the world; the chairperson of that Council is the chief administrative and ritual officer of the Order. Any country with at least five Co-Masonic Lodges and a hundred members can become a Federation with its own administrative body, a Consistory responsible for ritual matters, and a Representative of the Supreme Council to oversee ritual matters in that country. Countries with fewer Lodges and members can be Jurisdictions, and where there is only a single group it is a Pioneer Lodge. Locally within a country, a Lodge consists of seven or more Master Masons. The Lodges are the basis of all Masonic work, and every Mason belongs to a local Lodge. At least three Master Masons can also form a Triangle to do some Masonic work.
29. How is a Lodge organized?
A Lodge has various officers, some of whom (such as the Secretary and Treasurer) have primarily business functions. Others (such as two Wardens and two Deacons) have primarily ritual functions. Yet others (such as the chair person of the Lodge, called the Master) have both business and ritual functions. The principal officers are elected and others are appointed each year for a one-year term.
30. Is the government of a Lodge democratic or autocratic?
It is democratic since officers are chosen and all business matters are decided by a majority vote of all full-status members (Master Masons) of the Lodge. It is also hierarchical in that the affairs of the Lodge are carried on by the various officers according to a clear system of responsibilities and obligations. Masonic hierarchy is basically one of function, rather than of inherent status and mirrors the hierarchy we see everywhere in the universe. Because officers are elected, the hierarchy is also democratically based.
31. Are there differences of rank in Masonry?
As mentioned earlier (question 22), in a Craft Lodge there are three Degrees of membership: Entered Apprentice, which is the initial and introductory stage during which the new Freemason is learning about the Craft; Fellow Craft, which is a more advanced stage of learning, when the member can participate in certain ways, especially by joining in discussions; and Master Mason, which is the full-membership stage, whose members can vote and participate fully in all affairs of the Lodge. The additional or higher degrees of the Scottish and York Rites are honored but convey no additional authority or privileges within a Craft Lodge.
32. Who can become a member of the International Order of Co-Freemasonry?
Any person, man or woman, can apply for admission who is of mature age (at least twenty-one years old, with a somewhat lower age for children of Freemasons), who is “free” (in this context meaning that they have no personal obligations or limitations to prevent them from functioning as a Freemason), and who is of “good report” (that is, who sympathizes with and is willing to try to live according to the ideals of Co-Freemasonry).
33. How does one apply? Do you have to be invited?
No one is ever invited to become a Freemason. The principle is that you must yourself want to become a Mason and initiate the process by asking about membership. Ask any Co-Freemason, who will put you in touch with the proper person, who in turn will provide you with an application form and the other information you need to begin the process. You are given some written questions to be answered, and you are interviewed separately by three Master Masons, who answer any questions you have and ask questions of interest to the Lodge. Your application is read at three successive meetings of the Lodge, and when acted upon favorably is referred to the national Representative of the Supreme Council for authorization to initiate you.
34. How long does it take to become a Co-Mason?
The application process is a deliberate one, taking at least two full months and usually somewhat longer, depending on the time of year and other factors. After a person has been admitted as an Entered Apprentice, it usually takes two full years before they become a full-fledged Master Mason. Unlike some other Masonic Orders, which give all three Degrees in one weekend, Co-Freemasonry believes that normally it is best to take the Degrees at a more leisurely pace, so that the new Freemason has a chance to absorb the lessons and learn the principles of each Degree. Exceptions are occasionally made for special reasons, but that is the rule.
35. How much does it cost to become a member?
Costs can vary depending on the Lodge. There is an application (or initiation) fee, costs for regalia and rituals, official documents, and annual dues. You can ask your contact in the application process or inquiry email for particulars. Apart from whatever expense may be involved in getting the appropriate general clothing, there are no other entering expenses. Annual dues in a local Lodge are set by the members of that Lodge to cover their needs and so vary from group to group. At each meeting, two collections are usually taken, one for charity and one to help with Lodge expenses. All members are expected to contribute something, however much or little, to the collection for charity. The other collection is optional, according to individual means. Master Masons need to purchase their own “aprons” for wear in Lodge meetings, the cost of which varies according to the quality and elaborateness of the materials and workmanship. They are generally not considered expensive.
36. How often and where are meetings held?
The frequency of meetings varies from one Lodge to another. In America, most Lodges meet once a month. Some meet more often for special work, practice, or study. The meetings are held in a Lodge room or “Temple,” the latter term being used in allusion to the Temple of King Solomon, the building of which is a principal symbol in Freemasonry. Because most American Co-Masonic Lodges are small in membership, it is usual for them to rent meeting space and “set up” the space for a meeting.
37. What are the principles on which the Co-Masonic Order operates?
The International Constitution of the Order begins with a Declaration of Principles. The official version is in French, but the following is an unofficial paraphrase:
Article 1 – Foundation of the Order
The Order affirms the equality of men and women.
Through its title LE DROIT HUMAIN, the Order proclaims its desire that men and women throughout the world be entitled in equal measure to benefit from social justice within a humanity organised in free and fraternal societies.
Article 2 – Aim of the Order
Composed as it is of Freemasons, men and women fraternally united without distinction on grounds of social or ethnic origin, philosophical opinion or religion, and with this end in view, the Order prescribes a ceremonial and symbolic method of working by means of which its members build their temple to the progress and perfecting of humanity.
Article 3 – Principles of the Order
True to the principle of independence from all religious institutions and organisations (*) and respectful of the right to absolute freedom of conscience of all, the members of the Order seek to give concrete expression to the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and to realize on earth the greatest possible degree of moral, intellectual and spiritual development for all people, they believe this to be the prerequisite of happiness attainable by each individual in a fraternally organised humanity.
(*) Note from the Supreme Council: the word used in the French text is «laïcité».
Article 4 – Composition of the Order
The Order is organized into Federations, Jurisdictions and Pioneer Lodges within which Freemasons, who have taken an oath to abide by the International Constitution of LE DROIT HUMAIN, meet in lodges of all degrees that have been granted a charter by the Supreme Council of the Order.
Article 5 – Goals of the Order
The Order professes no dogma and rejects dogmatism. Its purpose is the search for truth. Thus, in lodges, discussions and debates on societal or religious questions cannot, under any circumstance, have any other purpose than that of enlightening members, making it possible for them, through a fuller understanding, to fulfil their duties as Freemasons.
Article 6 – Invocations
The Lodges of the Order work:
- To the Glory of the Great Architect of the Universe
- To the Progress of Humanity
- To the Progress of Humanity and to the Glory of the Great Architect of the Universe
- To the Glory of the Great Architect of the Universe and to the Progress of Humanity
All of the Lodges of the Order open in the name and under the auspices of the Supreme Council for the International Order of Freemasonry for Men and Women, Le Droit Humain.
38. Where can I get more information?