What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is a progressive organisation. There is an initiation ceremony, but that is only the start of the journey. "Pure, ancient, Freemasonry" consists of two complimentary Orders, usually referred to as "The Craft" and "The Royal Arch". The Craft meets in Lodges and is closely associated with the colour blue; the Royal Arch meets in Chapters and is closely associated with the colour red. To gain a full understanding of Freemasonry, it is necessary to progress through eight stages, illustrated on the left. These are four "degrees", or ceremonial mystery plays, plus four "chairs", that is to say, being installed as the ruler (or co-ruler) of a Lodge or Chapter.
Freemasonry is open to both men and women, although we choose to meet separately in male Lodges and in female Lodges. They are controlled independently by a male Grand Lodge and a female Grand Lodge.
A person becomes a Freemason by being initiated into a Lodge - this is the First Degree, and is a powerful ceremony designed to make a lasting impression on the mind of the candidate.
Later he will progress further by being passed to the Second Degree and raised to the Third Degree. There is an additional ceremony by which he may be installed as Master (ruler) of his Lodge, if elected by the members. Only Masters and Past Masters of Lodges may attend this ceremony, but it is not a separate degree.
The interval between these stages varies enormously from Lodge to Lodge, but it usually takes between one and three years to progress through all three degrees.
Next, the member moves on to the supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch of Jerusalem. The Royal Arch is more spiritual in content, and the ceremony of the Royal Arch degree is particularly beautiful. Following a change in regulations, a Freemason who has taken the first three degrees may now proceed directly (after a gap of at least a month) to the Royal Arch degree, even if he has not served as Master of his Lodge.
His understanding of Freemasonry is completed by installation into the Chair of the Royal Arch Chapter - but with one major difference! Whereas the Lodge has just one ruler (the Master), assisted by two Wardens, the Chapter is ruled conjointly by three people, known as the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st Principals of the Chapter. The member must progress through each of these three Principals' chairs in turn, spending at least a year in each office, before he has reached the pinnacle of Freemasonry.
This whole journey will take a number of years to complete. Along the way, the member will encounter a great deal of learning about himself and about the world around him; he will learn about his God, and will be actively encouraged to participate in, and support, his own religion (Freemasonry is not open to atheists). He will also encounter an amazing level of friendship and fraternal goodwill. There will be social activity, shared meals, and a network of established charities to support him and his family should hard times come. He will also be taught to support non-Masons and non-Masonic charities to the best of his ability and means. Above all, he will find he has a new and better perspective on life, and it is our sincere belief that whether he started as a good man or a bad man, he will certainly be a better man for the principles he has learned in Freemasonry.