About Freemasonry

What is Freemasonry?

Freemasonry—or Masonry, as it is more commonly called—is a worldwide fraternity that unites good men seeking to become better men: better friends, better husbands, better fathers, better leaders, and better members of their community. Toward these ends, Masonry provides its members a three–part lesson plan for personal improvement. Each of the three lesson plans is called a “degree” and full membership in the fraternity is accorded when a man has learned all three degrees.

Who are Masons?

Masons are men who voluntarily asked to join a lodge. They were accepted because they were good men who believe in God and hold high ethical and moral ideals. They go to meetings which they call the lodge, in order to learn and to teach what “friendship, morality, and truth” really involve, and to practice on a small scale the reality of brotherhood. They also have meetings open to their wives, children, and friends where they promote an understanding of the serious nature of the Fraternity by entertainment and sociability. Practical programs for charity and relief are planned and executed. The special kinship they feel for each other as a brotherhood is their deepest satisfaction.

What do Freemasons do?

This is a very difficult question to answer. Freemasonry is many things to different people and each Lodge has its own personality. In all cases, Masons have regular meetings in which standard organizational needs are addressed such as communicating with members, announcing events, and paying the rent.

Beyond that, lodges offer members a variety of other activities. As a philosophical self–improvement society, members go through the degrees, absorb the lessons presented therein, then at subsequent meetings hear the lessons again and think further about their meanings and personal application. As a charitable and community support organization, members plan charity drives and come up with ways to help their community. As a historical debating society, Masons break the monotony of doing the same ritual over and over by making presentations on some topic relating to Masonry and the other members discuss it. As a social club, members gather for dinner, drinks, dances with their ladies, or for outings to someplace interesting.

Most of all, the fraternity is what a man makes of it.

Masonic History in Illinois

No one knows for sure who the first Freemason was to enter what is now the state of Illinois, or when he either arrived or passed through. We do, however, know that the first lodge was established in Kaskaskia, then in Indiana Territory, in 1805.

Seven Freemasons, from 5 Pennsylvania Lodges, 1 Canadian Lodge and 1 New York Lodge, petitioned the “R.W. Grand Master of Masons in and for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Masonic jurisdictions thereunto belonging” for a charter on March 9, 1805, and were rewarded for their actions by the granting of a dispensation on September 24, 1805 for what became Western Star Lodge. Interestingly it was referred to as “a Lodge of York Rite Masons”. The officers were installed and the lodge constituted on September 13, 1806.

Brother Shadrach Bond, of Temple Lodge No. 26 (MD) became a member by affiliation of this lodge on December 27, 1806, his son having already joined the lodge. Brother Bond went on to serve as its presiding officer in 1815 and again in 1818, the year in which Illinois achieved statehood and he became Illinois’ first governor (October 6, 1818 to December 5, 1822).

Worshipful Brother Bond became Most Worshipful Brother Bond when he became the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Masons of Illinois. The Grand Lodge was formed by a small group of Lodges in 1822 and flourished for several years under two Grand Masters, before ceasing operations in 1827, a period that coincided with the short-lived anti-Masonic national political movement.

Though the records are lost, Western Star Lodge was thought to have gone out of existence somewhere between 1829 and 1835. Interestingly it was still operating under the charter from Pennsylvania as late as 1827. How this allowed Most Worshipful Brother Bond to serve two years as Grand Master of Illinois is still a mystery.

However, by 1839, Freemasonry was on the rebound and Illinois’ current Grand Lodge was formed in Jacksonville on April 6, 1840.

Today, the Masonic Fraternity under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Illinois is comprised of more than 500 Lodges and some 70,000 Masons—men of character from every walk of life all working together to build a better world!

Masonic Origins

The origins of Freemasonry are veiled in mystery. Some feel it dates back to the Roman Empire. Others say it had its beginning in ancient Egypt. While another group takes the allegories literally and believe it began with the building of the First Temple by King Solomon. Others find that the Knights Templar were the backbone of Freemasonry after escaping from mainland Europe to Scotland and England.

There are almost as many theories as there are Freemasons, and we will probably never know the real origins of the world’s oldest and largest fraternity. We do know that the first Grand Lodge was formed in London in 1717. Its successor, the United Grand Lodge of England, survives today having sired other Grand Lodges throughout the world.

The name Freemason appeared as early as the thirteenth century when master builders traveled throughout Europe erecting the cathedrals which grace most cities. They were called Freemasons because they were not subject to servitude or taxes, and free to travel about when most Europeans were not allowed those privileges.

Freemasons organized lodges so their secrets might be taught and preserved. They were quite cautious in who they allowed into their lodges. An applicant had to be of good reputation, have no physical impairment, recommended by members of the craft, and be neither too old nor too young to learn and perform the tasks assigned.

The applicant was investigated and if found to be suitable for admission, he was elected as an apprentice. The new apprentice worked under the supervision of master masons for seven years which served to prove his worth. After his seven-year apprenticeship he submitted his “master’s piece” to the master and wardens of the lodge for their inspection and judgment. If the judgment was favorable, he became a fellow-of-the-craft learning more, theretofore unrevealed knowledge.

As Europe changed over the years, fewer cathedrals were built, and the lodges faced a drop in the number of applications for apprenticeship. Meanwhile, many men had become interested in the Freemasons, greatly admiring their moral rectitude and their steadiness of purpose. Eventually the lodges accepted others who were not operative Masons. It was this acceptance of non-operative Masons into the order that led to the present day title of Free and Accepted Masons, or Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons.

These new non-operative members were taught the same old rituals of conferring degrees and they were obligated in the same manner as were their operative brothers. The non operative members came to be known as speculative masons and their ranks grew steadily while those of the operative members continued to shrink. In time the membership of the Freemasons came to be almost totally speculative and remains so today.

Freemasonry continues to teach its members through the use of allegory and symbols. Freemasonry has changed over the centuries, yet it can be said that the more it changes, the more it remains the same.