All Masonic groups use the architectural symbolism of the tools of the medieval operative stonemason, which is the square and compass. They use this symbolism to teach moral and ethical lessons of the principles of 'Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. In France, it means: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity'. The square represents 'square your actions by the square of virtue' and the compass represents 'circumscribe their desires and keep their passions within due bounds toward all mankind'. These interpretations are non-dogmatic and not necessarily used by all Freemasons.
Freemasonry has been called a 'Secret Society' but they will argue that they are an esoteric society, as some aspects are private. Masons conduct their meetings in a ritualistic fashion. There are no set rituals but they do use a degree program to move up in the brotherhood. There are 3 degrees, the highest being the Master Mason (Third Degree). The private aspects of modern Freemasonry are the modes of recognition amongst members and particular elements within the ritual. Their main preoccupation is charity work within the community, moral uprightness, and the development and maintenance of fraternal friendship.
The three degrees are: Entered Apprentice (initiate); Fellow Craft (in the learning process) and Master Mason (necessary to participate in most aspects of masonry).
Candidates for Freemasonry are required to declare a belief in a supreme being, whatever that may mean to them. They are not asked to explain their interpretation of a supreme being. Politics and religion are never discussed in a Masonic Lodge. This is so they are not put in a situation of having to justify their interpretation of a supreme being.
Each degree represents the stages of personal development. They are not told that there is only one meaning, but rather are to make their own interpretation of the allegories. 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.
There is the 'Scottish Rite' body that supplements the degree program. They are numbered degrees ranging from 4-33 and you must be a Master Mason in order to qualify for these further degrees.
Freemasons use gestures, grips, words, and handshakes to gain admission to meetings and identify legitimate visitors. Each jurisdiction creates its own rituals and their own gestures and signs as well. Each Freemason is obliged to keep the secret of Freemasonry rituals and well as perform certain duties and to avoid doing those things which are prohibited by his obligation. Only men are allowed in Freemasonry however, there is a Co-Freemasonry lodge that allows men and women.
Conspiracy theorists believe that the Freemasons are a cult society associated with the New World Order and other agents, such as the Pope, the Illuminati and Jews who are bent on world domination, or are already secretly in control of world politics. Many political figures in the past 300 years have been Masons which gives credence to the idea.
Freemasonry is also criticized for the practice of 'cronyism', which is the practice of giving favors to its members. Some believe that membership helps with employment opportunities or more unscrupulous favors like getting out of a driving ticket.
Freemasons have also been criticized as being a new religion due to the similarities to other religions, such as the fact that they have their own version of the Bible known as the VSL. They have their own way of saying 'amen' (so mote it be); more developed rituals than most Protestant denominations, and some groups of Masons like the Scottish Rite, call their lodges 'Temples' which also have a large amount of iconography and symbolism.
The United States Presidents that were or are Freemasons: George Washington, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, Warren Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Gerald Ford.
Dan Brown's book 'The Da Vinci Code' spurred conspiracy theorists into action by theorizing that the fall of the Knights Templar spawned the birth of the Freemasons. Dan Brown's book entitled 'The Solomon Key', addresses Freemasonry.
Conspiracy theorists claim that Freemasons played a powerful role in the founding of our country for devious and evil purposes. Many high officials of society are Freemasons and Masonic references found in Washington DC may have been subconsciously implemented because Freemason tenets are so ingrained upon members of the brotherhood.
History indicates that the many of the Knights Templars escaped to Scotland to find refuge under King Robert Bruce upon hearing that King Philip IV of France was pressuring the Pope to dissolve the group. Many were tortured and executed by King Philip.
Although documentation of the Freemasons did not begin until 1717, it is believed that the history of the operative masons can be traced back to Solomon's Temple. King Baldwin II of Jerusalem set up the headquarters for the Knights Templar in his castle which is believed to be the ruins of Solomon's Temple.
There are two theories of how Freemasonry rose from the Knights Templar. One is that many of the Knights fled to Scotland because they owned land there and fought in the Battle of Bannockburn for King Robert Bruce. Soon after the battle the Royal Order of Scotland was established at Kilwinning with King Bruce as the Grand Master. King Bruce admitted the Knights into this society that had the similar ceremonies and symbolism as the masons. The Royal Order of Scotland had two degrees: The Heredom of Kilwinning and the Knight of the Rosy Cross.
The second theory was proposed by Andrew Michael Ramsay, a native of Scotland and a mason of the Scottish Rite in France. In his initiation ceremony speech he claimed that the masonry arose from the Knights Templar. He theorizes that after the Knights fled to Scotland, Peter D'Amount and seven other Knights disguised themselves as masons and called themselves the 'Franc Masons'. The Knights wanted to maintain the tradition of the Templar and incorporate the tradition of the operative masons. This new order planned to use the idea of rebuilding the Temple of Jerusalem to symbolize building a temple of ‘virtue, truth, and light'.
One connection between the Knights and the Freemasons is the practice of alchemy. Several degrees in Freemasonry use symbols that are important to alchemy. The 9th and 10th degrees bear a rose which is the symbol of perfection, completion, and regeneration. A pentacle symbolizes the four elements (earth, air, fire and water), another symbol used by both the Knights and the Freemasons.
Another connection is their gothic style of architecture. This style of architecture first arose in France when the Knights were building castles and churches. Both societies clearly view their aesthetic tendencies in this similar pattern.
The St. Clair family is another connection between the two societies. The Sinclair's were a noble Scottish clan whose members are connected to the Rosslyn Chapel, the bloodline of Jesus, and the Holy Grail theories. Hugues de ayens (a key founder of the Knights Templar) was married to Catherine St. Clair and established a Templar headquarters in Scotland at the St. Clair estate. Sir William Sinclair was the designer of the Rosslyn Chapel and a very important member of the St. Clair family. The Sinclair family also has ties to the Freemasons since they are named ‘hereditary protectors of Freemasonry in Scotland.
The Rosslyn Chapel itself lends credence to the connection of the two societies. It fits into the time gap between the disbandment of the Knights Templar in 1312 and the appearance of Freemasons during the 1500's.
The Rosslyn Chapel's floor plan includes the shape of the Templar equal-armed cross, and carvings that show the main Templar seal of two men riding a single horse. Also, Masonic symbols include the abundance of squares, a series of carving that portray an initiation ceremony, and the apprentice pillar. Local tradition tells that an apprentice mason carved this pillar so beautifully that his master murdered him in a fit of jealousy. Close to the pillar are carvings of the apprentice's head, the master's head, and the head of his widowed mother. This is significant in that the resemblance it bears to the phrase 'Is there no help for the widow's son?' which is uttered by Freemasons as a call for help.
Geometry is a very important part of symbolism. The definition of geometry by the Grand Lodge of Michigan states: In the Fellow Craft Degree, geometry is a symbol not only of mathematics but of the divine and moral significance of abstract truth. Since measuring entails the act of proving, the progress of this art teaches how to establish the truth of a proposition by means of its tools, the set square and the compass.
Pillars are another important symbolism in masonry. Have you heard the term 'The Three Pillars of Freemasonry'? This symbolism refers to the trinity of Wisdom-Strength-Beauty.
Numbers are also very symbolic in masonry. The numbers three, five, and seven are of utmost importance to freemasons. The number three is another way of expressing the sacred idea of the triangle. Therefore, the number three is another symbol for the Deity.
The number five is representative of the five human senses, five points of fellowship and the five-pointed star, and geometry is called the fifth science. Pythagoreans consider the number five mystical because it is the union of the first even number and the first odd number, symbolizing 'mixed conditions of order and disorder, happiness and misfortune, life and death.
Masonic symbolism is abundant all over Washington D.C. If you look at the layout of Washington DC you will see many Masonic references. The following places are each at the point of a five point star: DuPont Circle, Logan Circle, Scott Circle, Mt. Vernon square, and the White House. All the points of the star, excluding the White House are circles or squares. Other Masonic symbols found on the map of Washington DC are the square that is formed with the Capitol as the top, two legs stretching down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, and along Maryland Avenue toward the Jefferson Monument. The three sides of a triangle are by the base running from the site of the George Washington monument east to the Capitol Building, the hypotenuse which runs from the Capitol up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and the Washington Monument site. The Freemasons straight edge can be clearly seen if a straight line is drawn south from the White House center to the base of the Washington Monument and then straight East to the Capitol.