Freemasonry



Freemasonry is a fraternal organization whose membership has shared moral and metaphysical ideals and in most of its branches requires a constitutional declaration of belief in a Supreme Being.

The fraternity uses the metaphor of operative stonemasons' tools and implements, against the allegorical backdrop of the building of King Solomon's Temple, to convey what is most generally defined as "a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols."

While it has often been called a "secret society", it is more correct to say that it is an esoteric society, in that certain aspects are private. From many quarters, Freemasons have stated that Freemasonry has, in the 21st century, become less a secret society and more of a "society with secrets." Most modern Freemasons regard the traditional concern over secrecy as a demonstration of their ability to keep a promise and a concern over the privacy of their own affairs. "Lodge meetings, like meetings of many other social and professional associations, are private occasions open only to members." The private aspects of modern Freemasonry are the modes of recognition amongst members and particular elements within the ritual.

While there have been many disclosures and exposés dating as far back as the eighteenth century, Freemasons caution that these often lack the proper context for true understanding, may be outdated for various reasons, or could be outright hoaxes on the part of the author. Moreover, many Masonic groups offer spokesmen, briefings for the media, and provide talks to interested groups upon request.

Grand Lodges and Grand Orients are independent and sovereign bodies that govern Masonry in a given country, state, or geographical area (termed a jurisdiction). There is no single overarching governing body that presides over world-wide Freemasonry; connections between different jurisdictions depend solely on mutual recognition.

There are two major branches of Freemasonry: "regular" Grand Lodges that are recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) and "liberal" or irregular Grand Orients that are recognized by the Grand Orient de France. However, the usage of "Lodge" versus "Orient" alone is not a indicator of regularity.

Regularity is a constitutional mechanism by which Grand Lodges or Grand Orients give one another mutual recognition. This recognition allows formal interaction at the Grand Lodge level, and gives individual Freemasons the opportunity to attend meetings at Lodges in other recognized jurisdictions. Conversely, regularity proscribes interaction with Lodges that are irregular. A Mason who visits an irregular Lodge may have his membership suspended for a time, or he may be expelled. for this reason, all Grand Lodges maintain lists of other jurisdictions and lodges they consider regular.

Grand Lodges that afford mutual recognition and allow intervisitation are said to be in amity. As far as the UGLE is concerned, regularity is predicated upon a number of Landmarks, set down in the UGLE Constitution and the Constitutions of those Grand Lodges with which they are in amity. Even within this definition there are some variations with the quantity and content of the Landmarks from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Other Masonic groups organise differently.

A Lodge (often termed a Private Lodge or Constituent Lodge in Masonic constitutions) is the basic organizational unit of Freemasonry. Every new Lodge must be warranted by a Grand Lodge, but is subject to its direction only in enforcing the published Constitution of the jurisdiction. A Lodge must hold full meetings regularly at published dates and places. It will elect, initiate and promote its own members and officers; it will own, occupy or share premises; and will normally build up a collection of minutes, records and equipment. Like any other organization it will have formal business, annual general meetings (AGMs), charity funds, committees, reports, bank accounts and tax returns, and so forth.

A man can only be initiated, or made a Mason, in a Lodge, of which he may well remain a subscribing member for life. A Master Mason is generally entitled to visit any Lodge meeting under any jurisdiction in amity with his own, and a Lodge may well offer hospitality to such a visitor after the formal meeting. He is first usually required to check the regularity of that Lodge, and must be able to satisfy that Lodge of his own regularity; and he may be refused admission if adjudged likely to disrupt the harmony of the Lodge. If he wishes to visit the same Lodge repeatedly, he may be expected to join it, and pay a membership subscription.

Freemasons correctly meet as a Lodge, not in a Lodge, although Masonic premises may be called Lodges or Temples ("of Philosophy and the Arts"). In many countries, Masonic Centre or Hall has replaced Temple to avoid arousing prejudice and suspicion. Several different Lodges, as well as other Masonic organisations, often use the same premises at different times.

Early Lodges often met in a tavern or any other convenient fixed place with a private room. According to Masonic tradition, the Lodge of medieval stonemasons was on the southern side of the building site, with the sun warming the stones during the day. The social Festive Board (or Social Board), part of the meeting is thus sometimes called the South.

Most Lodges consist of Freemasons living or working within a given town or neighbourhood. Other Lodges are composed of Masons with a particular shared interest, profession or background. Shared schools, universities, military units, Masonic appointments or degrees, arts, professions and hobbies have all been the qualifications for such Lodges. In some Lodges, the foundation and name may now be only of historic interest, as over time the membership evolves beyond that envisaged by its "founding brethren"; in others, the membership remains exclusive.

There are also specialist Lodges of Research, with membership drawn from Master Masons only, with interests in Masonic Research (of history, philosophy, etc.). Lodges of Research are fully warranted but, generally, do not initiate new candidates. Lodges of Instruction in UGLE may be warranted by any ordinary Lodge for the learning and rehearsal of Masonic Ritual.

Every Masonic Lodge appoints officers to execute the necessary functions of the lodge's work. Specific offices vary between jurisdictions although certain offices are common to all Masonic jurisdictions. These include the Worshipful Master (essentially the lodge President), The Senior and Junior Wardens (Vice Presidents), Secretary and Treasurer. Such offices are replicated at Provincial and Grand Lodge levels, but with the addition of the word 'Grand' somewhere in the title. For example, every lodge has a 'Junior Warden', while the Grand Lodge has a 'Grand' Junior Warden. A number of offices may exist only at the Grand Lodge level. There are also several subordinate officers who are appointed directly by the Master of each lodge. Although the exact titles vary with the jurisdiction (and there is usually a Grand Officer equivalent for each), the most common subordinate officers are the Junior and Senior Deacon and the Junior and Senior Stewards. There is also usually a Chaplain appointed to lead a non-denominational prayer at the convocation of meetings or activities.

Prince Hall Freemasonry derives from historical events in the early United States that led to a tradition of separate, predominantly African-American Freemasonry in North America.

In 1775, an African American named Prince Hall was initiated into an Irish Constitution Military Lodge then in Boston, Massachusetts, along with fourteen other African-Americans, all of whom were free-born. When the Military Lodge left North America, those fifteen men were given the authority to meet as a Lodge, form Processions on the days of the Saints John, and conduct Masonic funerals, but not to confer degrees, nor to do other Masonic work. In 1784 these individuals applied for, and obtained, a Lodge Warrant from the Premier Grand Lodge of England and formed African Lodge, Number 459 (Premier Grand Lodge of England). When the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) was formed in 1813, all U.S. based Lodges were stricken from their rolls – due largely to the U.S. and British War, 1812 to 1815. Thus, separated from both UGLE and any concordantly recognised U.S. Grand Lodge, African Lodge re-titled itself as the African Lodge, Number 1—and became a de facto "Grand Lodge" (this Lodge is not to be confused with the various Grand Lodges on the Continent of Africa). As with the rest of U.S. Freemasonry, Prince Hall Freemasonry soon grew and organised on a Grand Lodge system for each state.

Widespread segregation, in the 19th and early 20th century North America, made it difficult for African Americans to join Lodges outside of Prince Hall jurisdictions—and impossible for inter-jurisdiction recognition between the parallel U.S. Masonic authorities.

Prince Hall Masonry has always been regular in all respects except constitutional separation, and this separation has diminished in recent years. At present, Prince Hall Grand Lodges are recognized by some UGLE Concordant Grand Lodges and not by others, but appear to be working toward full recognition, with UGLE granting at least some degree of recognition. There are a growing number of both Prince Hall Lodges and non-Prince Hall Lodges that have ethnically diverse membership.

There is no degree in Freemasonry higher than that of Master Mason. There are, however, a number of organizations that require being a Master Mason as a prerequisite for membership. These bodies have no authority over the Craft. These orders or degrees may be described as additional or appendant, and often provide a further perspective on some of the allegorical, moral and philosophical content of Freemasonry.

Appendant bodies are administered separately from Craft Grand Lodges but are styled Masonic since every member must be a Mason. However, Craft Masonic jurisdictions vary in their relationships with such bodies, if a relationship exists at all. The Articles of Union of the "Modern" and "Antient" craft Grand Lodges (into UGLE in 1813) limited recognition to certain degrees, such as the Royal Arch and the "chivalric degrees", but there were and are many other degrees that have been worked since before the Union. Some bodies are not universally considered to be appendant bodies, but rather separate organizations that happen to require prior Masonic affiliation for membership. Some of these organizations have additional requirements, such as religious adherence (e.g. requiring members to profess Trinitarian Christian beliefs) or membership of other bodies.

Quite apart from these, there are organisations that are often thought of as related to Freemasonry, but which are in fact not related at all, and are not accorded recognition as Masonic, such as the Orange Order, which originated in Ireland, or the International Order of Odd Fellows.

Masonic ritual makes use of the architectural symbolism of the tools of the medieval operative stonemason. Freemasons, as Speculative Masons (meaning philosophical building rather than actual building), use this symbolism to teach moral and ethical lessons of the principles of "Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth" — or as related in France: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity".

Two of the principal symbols always found in a Lodge are the square and compasses. Some Lodges and rituals explain these symbols as lessons in conduct: for example, that one should "square their actions by the square of virtue" and to learn to "circumscribe their desires and keep their passions within due bounds toward all mankind". However, as Freemasonry is non-dogmatic, there is no general interpretation for these symbols (or any Masonic symbol) that is used by Freemasonry as a whole.

These moral lessons are communicated in performance of allegorical ritual. A candidate progresses through degrees gaining knowledge and understanding of himself, his relationship with others and his relationship with the Supreme Being (as per his own interpretation). While the philosophical aspects of Freemasonry tend to be discussed in Lodges of Instruction or Research, and sometimes informal groups, Freemasons, and others, frequently publish — to a variable degree of competence — studies that are available to the public. It is well noted, however, that no one person "speaks" for the whole of Freemasonry.

The Volume of the Sacred Law is always displayed in an open Lodge. In English-speaking countries, this is frequently the King James Version of the Bible or another standard translation; there is no such thing as an exclusive "Masonic Bible". In many French Lodges, the Masonic Constitutions are used instead. Furthermore, a candidate is given his choice of religious text for his Obligation, according to his beliefs. UGLE alludes to similarities to legal practice in the UK, and to a common source with other oath taking processes. In Lodges with a membership of mixed religions it is common to find more than one sacred text displayed.

In keeping with the geometrical and architectural theme of Freemasonry, the Supreme Being is referred to in Masonic ritual by the titles of the Great Architect of the Universe, Grand Geometer or similar, to make clear that the reference is generic, and not tied to a particular religion's conception of God.

The three degrees of Craft or Blue Lodge Freemasonry are those of:

1. Entered Apprentice - the degree of an Initiate, which makes one a Mason;
2. Fellow Craft - an intermediate degree;
3. Master Mason - the "third degree", a necessary qualification for participation in almost any aspect of Masonry.

The degrees represent stages of personal development. No Freemason is told that there is only one meaning to the allegories; as a Freemason works through the degrees and studies their lessons, he interprets them for himself, his personal interpretation being bounded only by the Constitution within which he works. A common symbolic structure and universal archetypes provide a means for each Freemason to come to his own answers to life's important philosophical questions.

As previously stated, there is no degree of Craft Freemasonry higher than that of Master Mason. Although some Masonic bodies and orders have further degrees named with higher numbers, these degrees may be considered to be supplements to the Master Mason degree rather than promotions from it. An example is the Scottish Rite, conferring degrees numbered from 4° up to 33°. It is essential to be a Master Mason in order to qualify for these further degrees. They are administered on a parallel system to Craft or Blue Lodge Freemasonry; within each organization there is a system of offices, which confer rank within that degree or order alone.

In some jurisdictions, especially those in continental Europe, Freemasons working through the degrees may be asked to prepare papers on related philosophical topics, and present these papers in open Lodge. There is an enormous bibliography of Masonic papers, magazines and publications ranging from fanciful abstractions which construct spiritual and moral lessons of varying value, through practical handbooks on organisation, management and ritual performance, to serious historical and philosophical papers entitled to academic respect.

Freemasons use signs (gestures), grips or tokens (handshakes) and words to gain admission to meetings and identify legitimate visitors. There is no evidence that these modes of recognition were in use prior to the mid-1600s when speculative members were first admitted to Lodges. The easiest way to determine an operative Mason's qualification was the quality of his work.

From the early 18th century onwards, many exposés have been written claiming to reveal these signs, grips and passwords to the uninitiated. However, as Masonic scholar Christopher Hodapp states, since each Grand Lodge is free to create its own rituals, the signs, grips and passwords can and do differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Furthermore, historian John J. Robinson states that Grand Lodges can and do change their rituals frequently, updating the language used, adding or omitting sections. The logical conclusion of Hodapp's and Robinson's assertions is that any exposé is only valid for a particular jurisdiction at a particular time.

Obligations are those elements of ritual in which a candidate swears to protect the "secrets of Freemasonry", which are the various signs, tokens and words associated with recognition in each degree. In regular jurisdictions these obligations are sworn on the aforementioned Volume of the Sacred Law.

Details of the obligations vary; some versions are published while others are privately printed. Still other jurisdictions rely or oral transmission of ritual, and thus have no ritual books at all. Moreover, not all printed rituals are authentic - Leo Taxil's exposure was a proven hoax, and there are others.

The obligations are historically known amongst various sources critical of Freemasonry for their so-called "bloody penalties," an allusion to the apparent physical penalties associated with each degree. This leads to some descriptions of the Obligations as "Oaths". The corresponding text, with regard to the penalties, does not appear in authoritative, endorsed sources, following a decision "that all references to physical penalties be omitted from the obligations taken by Candidates in the three Degrees and by a Master Elect at his Installation but retained elsewhere in the respective ceremonies". The penalties are interpreted symbolically, and are not applied in actuality by a Lodge or by any other body of Masonry. The descriptive nature of the penalties alludes to how the candidate should feel about himself should he knowingly violate his obligation, being a wilfully perjured individual.

The Landmarks of Masonry are defined as ancient and unchangeable precepts; standards by which the regularity of Freemasonic Lodges and Grand Lodges are judged. Each Grand Lodge is self-governing and no single authority exists over the whole of Freemasonry. The interpretation of these principles therefore can and does vary, leading to controversies of recognition.

The concept of Masonic Landmarks appears in Masonic regulations as early as 1723, and seem to be adopted from the regulations of operative masonic guilds. The term Landmark is generally understood in America by the definition of Dr. Albert Gallatin Mackey. In 1856, Mackey attempted to set down 25 Landmarks, as he saw them. He laid down three requisite characteristics: (1) immemorial antiquity (2) universality (3) absolute irrevocability. In 1863, George Oliver published a Freemason's Treasury in which he listed 40 Landmarks. A number of American Grand Lodges have attempted the task of enumerating the Landmarks; numbers differing from West Virginia (7) and New Jersey (10) to Nevada (39) and Kentucky (54).

The fraternity is widely involved in charity and community service activities. In contemporary times, money is collected only from the membership, and is to be devoted to charitable purposes. Freemasonry worldwide disburses substantial charitable amounts to non-Masonic charities, locally, nationally and internationally. In earlier centuries, however, charitable funds were collected more on the basis of a Provident or Friendly Society, and there were elaborate regulations to determine a petitioner's eligibility for consideration for charity, according to strictly Masonic criteria.

Some examples of Masonic charities include:

* Homes that provide sheltered housing or nursing care.
* Education with both educational grants or residential education which are open to all and not limited to the families of Freemasons.
* Medical assistance.

A candidate for Freemasonry must apply to a lodge in his community, obtaining an introduction by asking an existing member, who then becomes the candidate's sponsor. In some jurisdictions, it is required that the petitioner ask three times, however this is becoming less prevalent. In other jurisdictions, more open advertising is utilized to inform potential candidates where to go for more information. Regardless of how a potential candidate receives his introduction to a Lodge, he must be freely elected by secret ballot in open Lodge. Members approving his candidacy will vote with "white balls" in the voting box. Adverse votes by "black balls" will exclude a candidate. The number of adverse votes necessary to reject a candidate, which in some jurisdictions is as few as one, is set out in the governing Constitution of the presiding Grand Lodge.

Generally, to be a regular Freemason, a candidate must:

* Be a man who comes of his own free will.
* Believe in a Supreme Being.
* Be at least the minimum age (18–25 years old depending on the jurisdiction).
* Be of sound mind and body (Lodges do not deny membership to a man because of a physical disability; this is largely a historical holdover, and if a potential candidate says there will be no problem, he will be taken at his word), of good morals, and of good repute.
* Be free-born (or "born free", i.e. not born a slave or bondsman. As with the previous, this is entirely an historical anachronism, and can be interpreted in the same manner as it is in the context of writing a will. Some jurisdictions have removed this requirement).
* Have character references, as well as one or two references from current Masons, depending on jurisdiction.

Deviation from one or more of these requirements is generally the barometer of Masonic regularity or irregularity. However, an accepted deviation in some regular jurisdictions is to allow a Lewis (the son of a Mason), to be initiated earlier than the normal minimum age for that jurisdiction, although no earlier than the age of 18.

Some Grand Lodges in the United States have an additional residence requirement, candidates being expected to have lived within the jurisdiction for certain period of time, typically six months.

Freemasonry explicitly and openly states that it is neither a religion nor a substitute for one. "There is no separate Masonic God", nor a separate proper name for a deity in any branch of Freemasonry.

Regular Freemasonry requires that its candidates believe in a Supreme Being, the interpretation of the term being subject to the conscience of the candidate. This means that men from a wide range of faiths, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism can all become Masons.

Since the early 19th Century, in the irregular Continental European tradition (meaning irregular to those Grand Lodges in amity with UGLE), a very broad interpretation has been given to a (non-dogmatic) Supreme Being; in the tradition of Baruch Spinoza and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - or views of The Ultimate Cosmic Oneness - along with Western atheistic idealism and agnosticism.

Freemasonry in Scandinavia, known as the Swedish Rite, on the other hand, accepts only Christians. Some of the appendant bodies (or portions thereof) in some jurisdictions also have religious requirements, but have no restrictions at the lodge level.

Traditionally, in regular Freemasonry, only men can be made Masons. Many Grand Lodges do not admit women because they believe it would violate the ancient Landmarks. However, there are many female orders associated with regular Freemasonry and its appendant bodies, such as the Order of the Eastern Star, the Order of the Amaranth, the White Shrine of Jerusalem, the Social Order of Beauceant and the Daughters of the Nile. In addition, there are many non-mainstream Masonic bodies that do admit both men and women or exclusively women. Co-Freemasonry admits both men and women, but it is held to be irregular because it admits women. The systematic admission of women into International Co-Freemasonry began in France in 1882.

The first Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of England (GLE), was founded in 1717, when four existing London Lodges met for a joint dinner. This rapidly expanded into a regulatory body, which almost all English Lodges joined. From the 1750s onwards, two competing English Grand Lodges vied for supremacy - the "Moderns" (GLE) and the "Ancients" (or "Antients"). They finally united in 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE). The Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland were formed in 1725 and 1736 respectively. Freemasonry was exported to the British Colonies in North America by the 1730s - with both the "Ancients" and the "Moderns" (as well as the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland) chartering offspring ("daughter") Lodges, and organizing various Provincial Grand Lodges. After the American Revolution, independent US Grand Lodges formed themselves within the State boundaries. Some thought was briefly given to organizing an over-arching "Grand Lodge of the United States", with George Washington as the first Grand Master, but the idea was short-lived. The various State Grand Lodges did not wish to diminish their own authority by agreeing to such a body.

The oldest jurisdiction on the continent of Europe, the Grand Orient de France (GOdF), was founded in 1728. Most English-speaking jurisdictions cut formal relations with the GOdF, however, around 1877. The Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF) is currently the only French Grand Lodge that is in regular amity with the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) and its many concordant jurisdictions worldwide.

Due to the above history, Freemasonry is often said to consist of two branches not in mutual regular amity:

* the UGLE and concordant tradition of jurisdictions (termed Grand Lodges) in amity, and
* the GOdF, European Continental, tradition of jurisdictions (often termed Grand Orients) in amity.

In most Latin countries, the GOdF style of European Continental Freemasonry predominates, although in most of these Latin countries there are also Grand Lodges that are in regular amity with the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) and the worldwide community of Grand Lodges that share regular "fraternal relations" with the UGLE. The rest of the world, accounting for the bulk of Freemasonry, tends to follow more closely to the UGLE style, although minor variations exist.

Anti-Masonry (alternatively called Anti-Freemasonry) is defined as "Avowed opposition to Freemasonry". However, there is no homogeneous anti-Masonic movement. Anti-Masonry consists of radically differing criticisms from sometimes incompatible groups who are hostile to Freemasonry in some form.

Freemasonry has attracted criticism and suppression from theocratic states and organised religions for supposed competition with religion, or supposed heterodoxy within the Fraternity itself, and has long been the target of conspiracy theories, which see it as an occult and evil power.

Although members of various faiths cite objections, certain Christian denominations have had the highest profile negative attitudes to Masonry, banning or discouraging their members from being Freemasons.

The objections raised by the Catholic Church are based on the allegation that Masonry teaches a naturalistic deistic religion which is in conflict with Church dogma. However, those Grand Lodges in amity with UGLE explicitly adhere to the principle that "Freemasonry is not a religion, nor a substitute for religion. There is no separate 'Masonic deity', and there is no separate proper name for a deity in Freemasonry". The Catholic Church is also troubled by Masonry's openness to members of other faiths, feeling that any organization which fails specifically to endorse their faith implicitly rejects it.

A number of Papal pronouncements have been issued against Freemasonry. The first was Pope Clement XII's In Eminenti, April 28 1738; the last was Pope Leo XIII's Ab Apostolici, October 15 1890. In 1983, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued Quaesitum est, which states that: "...the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion." Freemasonry has no prohibitions on accepting Roman Catholics as members. In 2005 the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy (RGLI), in amity with UGLE announced that it had installed a Roman Catholic priest as its Grand Chaplain. (This office requires that the holder be a Freemason, but not necessarily be in Holy Orders).

The negative reaction of "Grand Orient" Continental European Freemasonry to what was perceived as Catholicism's theocratic and authoritarian political influence has in countries such as Italy, Spain and Portugal historically tended towards anticlericalism, secularism and at times even total Anti-Catholicism.

In contrast to Catholic allegations of rationalism and naturalism, Protestant objections are more likely to be based on allegations of mysticism and occultism. Albert Pike is often cited as an authority for the position of Masonry on these issues. However, Pike is but one Masonic commentator amongst many. No one voice has ever spoken for the whole of Freemasonry.

Since the founding of Freemasonry, many Bishops of the Church of England have been Freemasons, such as Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher. In the past, few members of the Church of England would have seen any incongruity in concurrently adhering to Anglican Christianity and practicing Freemasonry. In recent decades, however, reservations about Freemasonry have increased within Anglicanism, perhaps due to the increasing prominence of the evangelical wing of the church. The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, appears to harbour some reservations about Masonic ritual, whilst being anxious to avoid causing offence to Freemasons inside and outside the Church of England. In 2003 he felt it necessary to apologise to British Freemasons after he said that their beliefs were incompatible with Christianity and that he had barred the appointment of Freemasons to senior posts in his diocese when he was Bishop of Monmouth.

Islamic anti-Masonry is closely tied with Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism though other criticisms are made. In 1980, the Iraqi legal and penal code was changed by Saddam Hussein's ruling Ba'ath Party, making it a felony to "promote or acclaim Zionist principles, including Freemasonry, or who associate [themselves] with Zionist organizations."

Regular Freemasonry has in its core ritual a formal obligation: to be quiet and peaceable citizens, true to the lawful government of the country in which they live, and not to countenance disloyalty or rebellion. A Freemason makes a further obligation, before being made Master of his Lodge, to pay a proper respect to the civil magistrates. The words may be varied across Grand Lodges, but the sense in the obligation taken is always there. Nevertheless, much of the political opposition to Freemasonry is based upon the idea that Masonry will foment (or osmetimes prevent) rebellion.

Conspiracy theorists have long associated Freemasonry with the New World Order and the Illuminati, and state that Freemasonry as an organization is either bent on world domination or already secretly in control of world politics. Historically, Freemasonry has attracted criticism - and suppression - from both the politically extreme right (e.g. Nazi Germany and the extreme left (e.g. the former Communist states in Eastern Europe). The Fraternity has encountered both applause for “founding”, and opposition for supposedly thwarting, liberal democracy (such as the United States of America).

In some countries anti-Masonry is often related to anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Professor Andrew Prescott, of the University of Sheffield, writes: "Since at least the time of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, anti-semitism has gone hand in hand with anti-masonry, so it is not surprising that allegations that 11 September was a Zionist plot have been accompanied by suggestions that the attacks were inspired by a masonic world order."

In 1799 English Freemasonry almost came to a halt due to Parliamentary proclamation. In the wake of the French Revolution, the Unlawful Societies Act, 1799 banned any meetings of groups that required their members to take an oath or obligation. The Grand Masters of both the Moderns and the Antients Grand Lodges called on the Prime Minister William Pitt, (who was not a Freemason) and explained to him that Freemasonry was a supporter of the law and lawfully constituted authority and was much involved in charitable work. As a result Freemasonry was specifically exempted from the terms of the Act, provided that each Private Lodge's Secretary placed with the local "Clerk of the Peace" a list of the members of his Lodge once a year. This continued until 1967 when the obligation of the provision was rescinded by Parliament.

Freemasonry in America faced political pressure following the disappearance of anti-Masonic agitator William Morgan in 1826. Reports of the "Morgan Affair" helped fuel an Anti-Masonic movement, culminating in the formation of a short lived Anti-Masonic Party which fielded candidates for the Presidential elections of 1828 and 1832.

Even in modern democracies, Freemasonry is still sometimes accused of being a network where individuals engage in cronyism, using their Masonic connections for political influence and shady business dealings. This is officially and explicitly deplored in Freemasonry. It is also charged that men become Freemasons through patronage or that they are offered incentives to join. This is not the case; no one lodge member may control membership in the lodge and in order to start the process of becoming a Freemason, an individual must ask to join the Fraternity "freely and without persuasion."

In Italy, Freemasonry has become linked to a scandal concerning the Propaganda Due Lodge (aka P2). This Lodge was Chartered by the Grande Oriente d'Italia in 1877, as a Lodge for visiting Masons unable to attend their own lodges. Under Licio Gelli’s leadership, in the late 1970s, the P2 Lodge became involved in the financial scandals that nearly bankrupted the Vatican Bank. However, by this time the lodge was operating independently and irregularly; as the Grand Lodge d'Italia had revoked its charter in 1976. By 1982 the scandal became public knowledge and Gelli was formally expelled from Freemasonry.

The UK Labour government, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, attempted to require all members of fraternal organisations who are public officials to make their affiliation public. This was challenged under European human rights legislation, and the government in enacting the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, had to curtail the scope of their requirements. Arrangements for the declaration of Freemasonry membership have been established for the current Lay Magistracy, Judiciary, and voluntary registration was introduced in 1999 for the Police Service. Decisions on whether information should be released are the responsibility of the public authority receiving the request, on a case-by-case basis, acting in accordance with the principles of the Freedom of Information Act, 2000.

The preserved records of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Main Office) show the persecution of Freemasons. RSHA Amt VII (Written Records) was overseen by Professor Franz Six and was responsible for "ideological" tasks, by which was meant the creation of anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic propaganda. While the number is not accurately known, it is estimated that between 80,000 and 200,000 Freemasons were exterminated under the Nazi regime. Masonic concentration camp inmates were graded as political prisoners and wore an inverted red triangle.

The small blue forget-me-not flower was first used by the Grand Lodge Zur Sonne, in 1926, as a Masonic emblem at the annual convention in Bremen, Germany. In 1938 the forget-me-not badge – made by the same factory as the Masonic badge – was chosen for the annual Nazi Party Winterhilfswerk; a supposed charitable organization, which actually collected money used for rearmament. This coincidence enabled Freemasons to wear the forget-me-not badge as a secret sign of membership.

After World War II, the forget-me-not flower was again used as a Masonic emblem at the first Annual Convention of the United Grand Lodges of Germany in 1948. The badge is now worn in the coat lapel by Freemasons around the world to remember all those that have suffered in the name of Freemasonry, and specifically those during the Nazi era.

There are many books, plays, movies, television shows, and other types of mass media and popular culture that include references to Freemasonry. Those listed below are those where Freemasonry figures prominently. There are many books and websites dedicated to giving a more complete list of cultural references to Freemasonry.

* Freemason J. Rudyard Kipling used Masonic symbols and characters in his works, most notably The Man Who Would Be King, in which two adventurers are taken to be Masonic representatives of Alexander the Great. This story was adapted and filmed by John Huston, in 1975.
* Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace contains many references to Freemasonry.
* The plot of Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte ("The Magic Flute") contains several references to Masonic ideals and ceremonies. Mozart and his librettist Emanuel Schikaneder were both members of Lodge of the Nine Muses.
* The graphic novel From Hell by Alan Moore and the movie based upon it feature as their basic premise a conspiracy theory linking "certain Freemasons" to the Jack the Ripper murders. The story is that "Freemason" Sir William Gull, the then British Royal Household's physician, covered up a child of Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence born to a Catholic shop girl "by killing her, and all the women who knew about the baby". The story depends on the assumption that such figures as the Marquess of Salisbury, Sir William Gull and Sir Robert Anderson were Freemasons, but there is no actual record of their initiation into Freemasonry in any Lodge.
* Freemasons feature heavily in The Illuminatus! Trilogy.
* Monty Python's Flying Circus satirized Freemasons in the "How to recognise a Freemason" and "Architect's Sketch" sketches.
* The Freemasons are satirized in an episode of The Simpsons, titled "Homer the Great", as The Ancient Society of Stonecutters.
* Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco deals with Masonic themes.
* The plot of the 2004 movie National Treasure revolves heavily around the Freemasons and is somewhat unusual in that it depicts them in a benign light.
* In The Baron in the Trees Italian writer Italo Calvino includes Masonic Lodges branching out into the lands of Ombrosa with the protagonist of the novel, Cosimo di Rondo, mysteriously and supposedly involved with them.
* Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris use Freemasonry in their series The Adept, most notably in The Adept Book Two: The Lodge of the Lynx, and in Kurtz's American Revolution historical novel Two Crowns for America, which links Freemasonry and Jacobitism.
* Brad Meltzer discusses Freemasonry in his 2006 novel, The Book of Fate.
* In the song Secret Handshakes on The Ataris' 2007 album Welcome The Night, Kris Roe talks of his father's involvement with the Freemasons.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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