Freemasonry has sometimes been described as an organization that “makes good men better,” as the “Handmaid of Religion”, or as “a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.” John Hamilton Graham, the first Grand Master of Quebec, goes on to describe it further:
Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols. It is beautiful, unique, singular, and sui generis. It instils and enforces the sacred duties of brotherly love, relief, and truth; of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice; of benevolence, beneficence, and charity; of forbearance and love; of gratitude and mercy; of patriotism, loyalty, peaceableness, and tolerance; of honor, honesty, and fidelity; of diligence, courtesy, and regard for others’ weal; of self-care and self-culture; to seek peace, and to assuage the rigors of conflict; and, in all things, to do not to others what one would they should not do to him. It inculcates all the mutual duties and obligations of man to man in all the relations of life; of the ruler and the ruled; of the master and the servant; the employer and the employed; the high and the lowly; the rich and the poor; the learned and the unlearned; the teacher and the taught; the strong and the weak; the parent and the child; the old and the young; the hale and the infirm; of the living to the dying and the dead; and, in short, it inculcates and enforces the practice of every moral virtue, and every duty which man owes to himself, to his neighbor, and to the Most High.
Thus, we can sum up Freemasonry by saying that it is a world-wide fraternity–or brotherhood–with high ideals. It focuses on self-betterment through the acquisition of knowledge. It encourages: patriotism, one’s duty towards God, one’s duty towards one’s neighbor, and one’s duty towards oneself to constantly strive to be a better man. In the United States many college fraternities have been inspired by our ideals and founded upon similar principles. Freemasonry is not a religion, but it does use the history and symbols of the Holy Bible, in particular the Old Testament , to encourage true religion and virtue and to condemn wickedness and vice. Freemasonry also looks back across the ages, toward the great architects and builders of ancient times, for inspiration. This is why one often sees Egyptian, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, Mediæval European, and Islamic symbols and architectural styles in our Temples. And, yes, we call them Temples because our fraternity is dedicated to God, whom, in keeping with the symbolism of stonemasonry, we refer to as the Great Architect of the Universe. As mentioned above Freemasonry is not a religion; however, it does have a spiritual component to it. The direct descendant of the “Ancient Mysteries” practiced in Chaldea, Assyria, Egypt, Greece, and among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, Freemasonry uses symbols to impart “certain truths of human life, certain instructions about divine things, about the things that belong to our peace, about human nature and human destiny.”
“The Craft”, as Freemasonry is sometimes called due to its descent from the English craft guilds of stonemasons, dates its modern origins to the late seventeenth-century British Isles when lodges of “Symbolic Masonry” (as opposed to “Operative Masonry” i.e., stonemasons) were formed. It is believed that the guilds of Operative Masons–whose origin in England, according to the Regius Poem, dates to the time of King Æthelstan–began to take in non-stonemasons to help keep up their membership, thus inaugurating Symbolic Masonry as a system that includes men from all walks of life. To learn more about the type of men that Freemasonry attracts and the friendships that can form in the Lodge, please watch this recent video produced by the Grand Lodge of Ohio.
After getting the Third Degree and becoming a Master Mason you may then add to your Masonic knowledge by joining one of the appendant bodies–the York Rite, culminating in the Knight Templar Degree, or the Scottish Rite, culminating in the honorary Thirty-third Degree. All Pennsylvania Freemasons are York Rite Masons due to the fact that the first three degrees are all conferred in the Ancient York Rite. Because of this all Pennsylvania Masons should seriously consider continuing on in the York Rite to the Royal Arch Degree, which is the completion of the Master Mason Degree and the culmination of Ancient York Rite Masonry. In addition to the two major appendant bodies there are allied organizations–such as The Shriners, Tall Cedars of Lebanon, and The Grotto–that meet on a more informal basis for socializing and for charity work.
If you are interested in becoming a Freemason, you need merely ask. However, there are a few requirements that you must meet in order to join; the most important one is that, whether you be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, &c., you believe in God and an afterlife. In addition to this there are other requirements. From our book of constitution, The Ahiman Rezon:
The requisite qualifications for initiation and membership in a Lodge are that the petitioner shall be a man, free born, of mature age [i.e., an adult; young men under the age of 18 who wish to join a Masonic organization can join DeMolay, which is modeled after the Knights Templar], sound in all his members, of good Masonic report [from a Committee of Inquiry that will visit you], able to earn a livelihood for himself and family [for those who are married], read and write the English language; except in Lodges which have been warranted to work in the German language, where the petitioner must be able to read and write the German language, and perform the work of a member in a Lodge. He shall have been a bona fide resident in this Jurisdiction for at least one year prior to the presentation of his petition , and must be unbiased by improper solicitation and uninfluenced by mercenary or other improper motives.