From time immemorial men and societies have found value in and made use of the process of initiation to educate those worthy as they arrive at the age of manhood and apply for initiation into the Rite. Within many ancient societies in all ages this method of experiential education has been used as a manner of passing of both knowledge and its associated duties and responsibilities to future generations for their use and safe keeping. This knowledge often took a peculiar form being communicated by the use of veiled symbols, allegories, and dramatic reenactments to elected candidates. In some civilizations this has been reserved for the select few, in other times, the right of passage was a general expectation.
While almost impossible to pinpoint the specific origin in time and space of our ancient institution, our forms and usages have been adapted and implemented on most every contentment and within diverse cultures, religions, and languages. The core landmarks of our fraternity, however, have always remained the same where ever our traveling Brothers have journeyed, taking our craft with them. A Masonic Brotherhood teaches and inculcates within its members that spirit of universal Brotherhood, seeking to unite men of every heritage, country, religious sect, and opinion. We promote liberty of thought, freedom of expression, and autonomy of personal belief. The foundational requirements universal to our fraternity in each of its sovereign jurisdictions is belief in Deity and the uprightness in character and moral conduct of its members.
The common inheritance of all mankind is the mystery of our own nature. Today society teaches us the aspect of who we are as individuals that distinguishes us from others: our first and our last names, our physical uniqueness, our mental creativity, and even spiritual and religious identity. But what of that which we all share? What is the nature of the primitive human condition? How did we come to be? What is the purpose of humanity and of each of us as individuals? These questions and others are invoked in the minds of candidates as they progress through the experiential learning process known as initiation. The answers we may discover within ourselves upon strict search and due inquiry as each of us applies the working tools of masonry, its symbols and lessons.
Each symbolic lesson presents to a newly made Mason a tool with which he can go to work molding his primitive nature, which he now learns to observe, into the more wise and refined creature he desires to become. Prepared with the tools he is then joined, at the most essential time in every man's maturity and development, by experienced and skilled mentors in the Circle of the Brothers of the Lodge.
Through the turmoil and temptations of life we take our tools, making the best of our challenges and working to improve our own circumstances and that of those around us through personal development and charity. This task is set out in service to each Mason's own purpose directed by the will of his own Deity. Thus as disciplined and faithful Brothers of our Lodge we may affect good works in the world and the general improvement of mankind through the betterment of the each man who chooses the path of light through initiation.
While the subject of the nature and content of our historical landmarks is still under debate with varied conclusions in different jurisdictions, here is a popular example though not one officially adopted in the Colorado Jurisdiction.
Freemasonry came to North America long before there were countries called the United States or Canada. The earliest settlers, mainly of Irish, Scottish or English stock, were eager to embrace Freemasonry in the New World as a part of their heritage from the old county Military units, from the British Isles, were also posted in the New World. They carried their Lodges warrants issued in Dublin, Edinburgh and London and their Masonic regalia from camp to camp. When the Colonists joined them as militia volunteers they were welcomed into the social life of the unit which included meetings of the military, or traveling Masonic Lodge. This was the case in the Colonies, which became the United States.
No one knows for sure but many scholars think Freemasonry had its beginning among skilled but illiterate stone masons in medieval Europe, probably in the 15th century. These operative craftsmen built mighty fortresses and magnificent cathedrals. Since they were strangers in the villages where they worked, they lived apart and had their own compound. They took meals together and slept under the same roof. These craftsmen would assemble in their Lodges to discuss problems and plan the next days work.
It was natural that a social order would arise under these circumstances, and order similar to an Officers mess, combining camaraderie and the recognition of rank.
In medieval days, long term projects required craftsmen to establish more permanent Lodges referred to simply as the Lodge. Even today Freemasons use the term Lodge to describe both their meeting place and the group itself. Castles took decades to build. As the landlords grew wealthier, their strongholds grow larger. Armies and regiments of Knights increased. Cathedrals took centuries to complete. Like modern homes, both required additions and the older sections needed maintenance. This kept some stone masons employed, but not all. So, after the work was finished, like the engineers and construction workers of today, they traveled in search of new projects. The demand for stone masons was high. As skilled artisans they could negotiate a good contract, somewhat like professional athletes do today. They carried their skills in their head and their tools in a bag.
How could an employer know he was getting a workman who was truly skilled? There were no Government sponsored apprenticeship programs, certificates of graduation or letters of recommendations because only the clerics and scribes could read or write. With all these traveling workers there had to be some system of recognition. Enter the Craft Guilds. Those were the precursors of to day' s trade unions and professional associations. And enter the Masonic Lodge. The traveling brothers passed through many settlements on their way to the next cathedral or castle site. They faced the usual perils of the road, which included robbery and murder, because those were lawless days and many people were desperate. They, usually, arrived hungry and in need of shelter. What could be more natural than seeking out a fellow craftsman and asking for help? Tradition tells us that this was the origin of Masonic hospitality and the hand of friendship to a fellow craftsman.
How did the stone masons recognize each other as skilled members? Back as far as the Old Testament passwords were used to get people through military lines. And if someone suggests the concept is archaic or quaint, just remind them they get into computer programs with a password and into their bank account with a pin number. Our ancient Brethren carried a password to gain access to a work site, the same way modern Masons memorize a password to gain access to a Lodge. Like your pin number it's a secret. Not lightely shared. In a tough world those Masons held together. They had to. As traveling men they were far removed from their families and their home villages.
If a man were injured or killed on the job, his fellow Masons would offer assistance and helped care for his family, or his widow and children. It was a type of social insurance, before government programs were available. Masons looked out for each other, on and off the job.
And when the divine right of kings was used as an excuse for tyranny the masons held a belief that all men were created equal. As civilization gave way to nations and states, villages no longer needed defenses. Construction moved to the cities where factories were needed because of increased trade. To accommodate this growth, new buildings were needed. The stone masons settled down, established roots, and their lodges became permanent fixtures in nearly every city.
As skilled craftsmen they were paid high wages and became part of the emerging middle class. Their neighbors couldn't help but notice that they had a pretty good time and a good way of life. And the question arose, "Can we join too?" And the answer was "Yes". This started the evolution of the Masonic Lodges from the shapers of stone to the shapers of men. Today many organizations accept associate members, applicants who agree with the clubs ideals and activities. In Masonry those who did the stone work were called Operative Masons and those who associated with them were called Speculative Masons or Freemasons. From its inception it accepted only men of high morals who believed in brotherhood.
By the late 1600s the demand for stone masons had decreased and by the early 1700s most of the Lodge's members were Speculative Masons and the Lodges had made the transition from being Craft Guilds to being a fraternity for gentlemen. That is just a brief explanation of who we were then and who we are today. If someone wants to know something about Freemasonry, we tell them, it's no secret. Some things in Freemasonry have changed through the ages, others remain firm, and we call them landmarks. These never change.