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Q. What is Freemasonry?

A. Freemasonry is the UK's largest secular, fraternal and charitable organisation. It teaches moral lessons and self-knowledge through participation in a progression of allegorical two-part plays.

Q Why are you a secret society?

A. We are not, but Lodge meetings, like those of many other groups, are private and open only to members. The rules and aims of Freemasonry are available to the public. Meeting places are known and in many areas are used by the local community for activities other than Freemasonry. Members are encouraged to speak openly about Freemasonry.

Q What happens at a Lodge meeting?

A The meeting is in two parts. As in any association there are administrative matters to be dealt with - reading the minutes of the previous meeting, proposing and balloting for new members, discussing and voting on financial matters, etc. There are ceremonies for admitting new Freemasons and the annual Installation of the Master and the Appointment of Officers. There are three ceremonies for the admission of a new Mason each one comprising a demonstration of the principles and lessons taught in the Craft followed by a presentation which spells out the new Freemason's duties.

Q Isn't ritual out of place in modern society?

A. No. The ritual is a shared experience which binds the members together. Its use of demonstration, allegory and symbolism is designed to impress the principles and teachings more firmly in the mind of each new Freemason.

Q Why do Freemasons take oaths?

A New members make solemn promises concerning their conduct in the Lodge and in Society at large. Each member also promises to keep the traditional methods of proving himself as a Freemason confidential. Freemasons do not swear allegiance to each other or to Freemasonry. Freemasons promise to support others in times of need, but only if that support does not conflict with their duties to God, the Law, their family or with their responsibilities as a citizen.

Q Why do your 'obligations' contain hideous penalties?

A They no longer do. When Masonic ritual was established in the late 1600s and 1700s it was common for legal and civil oaths to include physical penalties. Freemasonry simply followed the practice of the times. In Freemasonry, however, the physical penalties were always symbolic and were never carried out. They were removed from the promises in 1986.

Q Are Freemasons expected to prefer fellow Masons at the expense of others in business or social life?

A Absolutely not. It would be a misuse of membership and subject to Masonic discipline. Each Freemason states unequivocally that he expects no material gain from his membership. At various stages during his admission and on receiving his Membership certificate from Grand Lodge, the new Freemason is reminded that attempts to gain preferment or material gain for himself will not be tolerated. Each incoming Freemason receives a Book of Constitutions which contains strict rules governing abuse of membership, with penalties varying from temporary suspension to expulsion.

Q Aren't you a religion or a rival to religion?

A No. Freemasonry requires a belief in God and its principles are common to the world's great religions. Freemasonry is not a substitute or a replacement for religion. Every Freemason is exhorted to practise his religion and to regard its Holy Book as the standard of truth. Freemasonry does not instruct its members in what their religious beliefs should be, nor does it offer sacraments. Freemasonry deals in relations between men, whereas religion deals in man's relationship with his God.