The Basics of Freemasonry: Getting You Started

By: Jon Patrick Sage, January 10, 2017

Freemasonry is a worldwide organization that is widely rumored and sometimes believed to have originated at the building of King Solomon’s Temple. In later years, the stonemasons of medieval Europe who built grand cathedrals and even castles were rumored to have inherited these secrets, and thus continued the legend of the Old Testament based Freemasonry into the era of enlightenment. This all took a rather drastic and public turn in 1717, when the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) was formed. Henceforth, there was what is known as a regularity among Freemasons. Namely, the era of building in the Freemason guilds was over with and instead those existing and the newly Initiated were divided into jurisdictions, Grand Lodges, and Lodges.

Along the way, some peculiar terms arose, which are very specific to Freemasonry and might be recognized by any number of people. However, for those interested in joining the Craft, it might be helpful to go over some of these terms and even the ideas behind them, so that a potential Inititate may gain insight into the Order in which they hope to join. The author might also add that existing Masons could always benefit from a refresher, and that even while writing this brief exercise in what Freemasonry entails, I was reminded and then even learned a few things! So, let us begin with “The Basics of Freemasonry: Getting You Started”!

We have already discussed the formation of the UGLE and the Grand Lodges and Lodges under its jurisdiction. For much of the world, to be recognized, or rather to be acknowledged, by the UGLE, is said to be “regular” and as such, that Lodge is in “amity” with the UGLE. This is still very much the case, even in America, even if it exists more in theory than in practice. The reason is simple, that being that the UGLE was the first modern governing body and as such, many of the regulations and accepted customs and usages were introduced within Freemasons Hall in London. Accordingly, many of these have been accepted as Landmarks of the Order, and most, if not all, Lodges accept and follow them.

The Lodges of today follow the precedent set down by the stone mason guilds of yesteryear. In a stonemason’s guild, there were apprentices, journeymen, and Fellows of the Craft. Likewise, in any regular Lodge today, you will likely find 3 (possibly 4) degrees. The Entered Apprentice, or 1st degree; the Fellow Craft, the 2nd degree; and the Master Mason degree, or 3rd degree. In many Lodges, especially the European and British ones, there is also a Mark Master, or 4th degree. This term is derivative from the old practice of master stone masons placing their “mark” (a kind of signature) upon their work, in order to prove to all that they were worthy and actually did the work. This technique was said to have been employed at the building of King Solomon’s temple, so that Solomon could distinguish an imposter from a true master. In the modern day, this degree is often used to demonstrate that one has shown a “mastery” of all that is included in the 3rd degree.

If a Lodge is said to be irregular or clandestine, then that indicates that it is NOT in amity with the ULGE or the Grand Lodge within that particular Lodges jurisdiction. However it may sound, there is no shortage of clandestine Lodges, or for that matter, clandestine Masons (any Mason which is suspended, expelled, or who was made a Mason in a clandestine Lodge is considered to be clandestine) and as such, any regular Mason is forbidden to acknowledge him in a formal or Masonic manner.

One such branch of Masonry, Le Droit Humain, or Co-Masonry, is peculiar in the fact that it is practiced and accepted in a great many countries and regions around the world. Yet, it is still considered to be irregular and NOT in amity with the UGLE or most if not all of the Grand Lodges within the United States. Having its foundations in French Masonry, Le Droit Humain is translated roughly to mean abiding by the law of nature, and one of its prime objectives is to act in a fair and equitable way towards all human beings, regardless of race and/or sex. Also, whereas UGLE Lodges are required to profess belief in Deity and have open Scripture on the Altar, such in not always the case in Le Droit Humain or even French Lodges. Instead, they rely upon a practice of morality which protects and recognizes all peoples, Gods, and religions, though none need profess such a faith in either.

More Light In Masonry, while Working under the Landmarks accepted by the Indiana Grand Lodge and the UGLE, would have a very difficult time “endorsing” Le Droit Humain; although, we will state that it may behoove us all to consider that each jurisdiction has their own directives, and this may or many not make them right or wrong. Instead, IF they are acting in accordance with their Masonic Law, then we can and will applaud them for being good Masons in their own right! 

What to expect when joining a Lodge.

  • First of all, a person will offer a petition to a Lodge, and the Lodge will then vote on whether or not to accept that person, based on several criteria, to become Initiated.
  • Secondly, the elected petitioner will be Initated as an Entered Apprentice and at this stage he is “Made” a Mason.
  • Third, the Mason is “Passed” to the 2nd degree, that of a Fellow Craft.
  • Fourth, the Fellow Craft Mason goes through the 3rd degree, in which he is taught of the promise of resurrection and the notion of eternal life. At the conclusion of this degree, he is “Raised” to the sublime degree of a Master Mason.


After all of this, the Master Mason may participate in all Lodge activities and if the Lodge is so inclined, he will be offered the Mark Master degree. In America, it is common for a Master Mason who has been elected by his Lodge to serve as its Master to receive somewhat of a 4th degree, that of a “Past Master” or “Master Elect”. This simply demonstrates that he has learned some of the things necessary to uphold his Lodge as regular and to take additional Obligations that will protect the Lodge and the Craft which that Master will serve.

Along the way, and as a Mason progresses through his Masonic life, there is much symbolism and Ritual, and this discussion can be found in upcoming papers, as well as one published not a few weeks ago, and linked to here. All in all, a life spent in Masonry is one spent in the service of others, as Lodges and Brethren tend to be extremely charitable in many of their actions, and this also blends well with the common belief among Masons that good Works count a great deal towards their general development as men and as Masons.