What's a Mason?
"I think my grandfather was one, but I'm not sure what it means."
"Yeah, my dad and uncle both used to go to Masonic meetings--I remember Uncle Fred coming by to pick him up. But I don't know where they went or what they did. "
"I think they wear those funny hats."
"I remember when I went away to college, my father showed me his ring and told me, if I ever needed help, I should look for a man with a ring like that and tell him I was the daughter of a Mason, but he never told me much about it."
What's a Mason?
That's not a surprising question. Even though Masons (Freemasons) are members of the largest and oldest fraternity in the world and even though almost everyone has a father or grandfather or uncle who was a Mason, many people aren't quite certain just who Masons are.
The answer is simple. A Mason (or Freemason) is a member of a fraternity known as Masonry (or Freemasonry). A fraternity is a group of men (just as a sorority is a group of women) who join together because:
* There are things they want to do in the world.
* There are things they want to do "inside their own minds."
* They enjoy being together with men they like and respect.
Masonry (or Freemasonry) is the oldest fraternity in the world. No one knows just how old it is because the actual origins have been lost in time. Probably, it arose from the guilds of stonemasons who built the castles and cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Possibly, they were influenced by the Knights Templar, a group of Christian warrior monks formed in 1118 to help protect pilgrims making trips to the Holy Land.
In 1717, Masonry created a formal organization in England when the first Grand Lodge was formed. A Grand Lodge is the administrative body in charge of Masonry in some geographical area. In the United States, there is a Grand Lodge in each state and the District of Columbia. In Canada, there is a Grand Lodge in each province. Local organizations of Masons are called lodges. There are lodges in most towns, and large cities usually have several. There are about 13,200 lodges in the United States.