Freemasonry is a fraternity that has been around for centuries, believed to have originally been formed as an evolution to the stonemason and cathedral builder guilds of the time. Shrouded in mystery, with all manners of conspiracy theories focusing on them, the Freemasons have remained secretive since their inception, with many believing the organisation to be a cult.
Historically the main requirements for joining the masonry are that the applicant is male, and that they believe in a singular higher being – irrespective of what religion they believe in. Fundamentally, all Freemasons believe in a ‘Grand Architect of the Universe’.
In this blog, we will look at the history of the freemasons, from the very origins to the present day, whilst discussing some of the fraternity’s controversies along the way!
As mentioned, it is theorised that Freemasonry began during the Middle Ages, emerging from the stonemason guilds of the time. Despite this however, at this time, it is not believed that Freemasonry acted as a national entity.
Another theory – that many masons choose to believe – is that they can trace their lineage back to King Solomon. In this theory, it is believed that King Solomon’s temple was to be passed down – in secret – from one generation of stonemasons to the next!
Despite these theories however, in 1717, at a conference at the Goose and Gridiron bar in the City of London, the first grand lodge was organised to rule Freemasonry in England and Wales. There were four lodges in the city during the time.
In Scotland, however, documents reveal that a masonic lodge in Edinburgh has been in operation since at least 1599. Freemasonry swiftly expanded throughout Europe and the colonies in the early eighteenth century.
A major anti-masonic movement occurred in 1826, after the mysterious disappearance of William Morgan – for which many believed the freemasons were accountable. William Morgan had temporarily attended a mason lodge whilst living in Canada, after which he announced that he planned to publish an exposé – hence why many people believed that the Freemasons were guilty of his disappearance.
At present, there are 6 million Freemasons around the world, with around 200,000 located in England and Wales alone. Despite this, however, the membership levels of the Freemasons have seen a decline in recent years. Most masons nowadays are predominantly middle-aged or older; only 2% are 30 years of age or below in England and Wales.
This has led the Freemasons to move forward with the times; where you used to have to be referred by a relation, men can now simply apply to join online!
Nowadays, The Freemasons mostly acts as a way for members to build themselves a sense of purpose, a way to meet new people, and a way to be philanthropic, whether it means giving money or their time!
The Freemasons still haven’t escaped controversy and conspiracy in the modern-day too – from helping to ‘fake’ the moon landing, hiding that the Earth is ‘flat’, being associated with the Illuminati, and some even believe that they were responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
With the gradual declining membership numbers of the Freemasons, the fraternity’s future is uncertain. Regardless of this though, their influence is ingrained into certain elements of Western culture, with their influence on architecture, literature, and even popular customs such as New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Their strive to rid themselves of their cult-like reputation will no doubt continue as years go on, too. It could be argued that this reputation is what is currently stunting the fraternity’s growth.
One thing is for sure about the Freemasons though; if you have knowledge that your ancestor was in fact a freemason, you can find extra sources of information to search through! If you know what lodge they attended, this can prove greatly beneficial for your search – by contacting the lodge, they may be able to supply you with historic information regarding your relative!
If you want to read more about genealogy and related topics, take a look at our other blogs!