HISTORY OF MASONRY
Origins of Freemasonry
The true origins of Freemasonry are lost in the mists of time. A lack of accurate records, Masonic mythology, and a proliferation of legends are the causes.
No doubt there is something to the link to the old operative lodges of stone masons who built all stone buildings from the Middle Ages forward. They used temporary lean-to buildings built against the walls of their construction projects to meet, store tools, and perform small tasks during the winter months. They called these temporary structures “lodges.”
As stone masonry declined in the 16th century, some Scottish lodges began to admit non-operatives, known as “accepted,” or “speculative” masons, into their lodges. This development never occurred on the European continent. When Speculative Freemasonry came to France, Germany, and other continental countries, it came as an import from the British Isles. In 1717, four lodges in London came together to form a Grand Lodge. The concept of a Grand Lodge would provide a standard for ritual, organization, and behavior among Masons over the years.
As the Renaissance brought a new age of thinking outside church strictures, the Age of Reformation turned more directly away from the authority of the Catholic Church. This was followed by the Enlightenment, which encouraged still more freedom of thought. It was during these evolutionary periods when Freemasonry began to take hold. The non-operatives, or speculative Masons, now found a place – the lodge – where they could openly discuss their views without fear of repercussion.
It was the English, however, who first created lodges composed entirely of speculative Masons. Over the decades and centuries, a number of influences found a home within the ranks of Freemasons. These varied from alchemy to scientific study to social reform. It has been said that, within the Masonic structure of equality among men, the basis of modern democracy and religious freedom were formed.
Much has been made of America’s Founding Fathers’ membership in the Masonic Craft. And although many Masonic principles were incorporated into the Constitution of the United States, the country was not founded as a Masonic experiment.
Masonry spread across America as part and parcel of the westward expansion of the 18th century. In many pioneer communities, Masonry was the first organization present. Masons founded towns, schools, and civic institutions across America. American Masons were active in their communities, and practiced philanthropy outside the brotherhood.
These practices continue to this day, and Freemasonry in America, after a decline in the 1960s-1990s, is experiencing resurgence.