How do masons and freemasons differ?

Freemasons


What happens in the box stays in the box

Freemasons recognize each other by certain secret symbols and rituals. Some members publicly profess to belong to a lodge; others prefer to keep a low profile. Are the Freemasons a secret society hatching conspiracies? No, say the experts. The Freemasons see themselves as an ethical association that stands for tolerance and humanity.

Their meetings take place in secret. A Freemason is not allowed to talk about it - that is still the case today. This may seem strange to outsiders. For most, the Freemasons are still a mystery, something they don't understand. That could change.

"With the modern means of communication there are actually no more secrets about the federal government," says the social scientist Hans-Hermann Höhmann from Cologne. He is a member of the Masonic Research Network. He researches the covenant and is also a Freemason himself - since 1958.

More transparency through the network - this also applies to the Freemasons

The Freemasons have become more transparent, especially through the Internet. "Not only third parties write about the merger," says Höhmann. "Even the Freemasons themselves explain themselves to the public on the Internet."

Anyone looking for it can even research the secret identification marks, including hand pressure, in which the member crosses individual fingers in a certain way.

Who or what exactly the Freemasons are can hardly be said despite all the information on the net. There are said to be 2.6 million Freemasons worldwide. "The federation is so complex that it cannot be restricted to a single group," says Dieter-Anton Binder, who received the Karl von Vogelsang State Prize in 1989 for his publications on the history of the Freemasons.

The Freemasons as a closed organization do not exist: "Freemasonry reinvents itself again and again - every society produces a specific Freemasonry," says the historian. Only one vaguely formulated basic idea has united Freemasons all over the world since the beginning in the 13th century.

"Freemasons set themselves the task of shaping their lives in the sense of a tolerant humanity and brotherhood - and that with the help of the association," says Binder.

The lodges are independent Masonic associations

The Freemasons are organized on a decentralized basis: The association is divided into individual groups, the lodges, which are independent of one another. The first of these lodges emerged from stone-cutting brotherhoods in England. On June 24, 1717, four of these leagues merged to form the first Masonic Grand Lodge.

The date is considered to be the official founding date of modern Freemasonry. Freemasons are called "Freemasons" in English. Historians assume that the name derives from "freestone" - this is a soft stone that the stonemasons used to work on. The symbols such as the trowel, the square and the compass can also be traced back to the activities of the first Freemasons.

Most of the lodges are only men. But with the emancipation of women, the associations open up: women's lodges are formed and are recognized as recognized Freemason associations. "Our lodge meets regularly to exchange ideas with the Sci Viam women's lodge in Cologne," says Höhmann.

Banned under Hitler: the Freemasons in World War II

Even in the first decades of their existence, the Freemasons distanced themselves from their origins in the craft. With its basic values ​​of tolerance, brotherhood and humanity, the federal government developed early on into a platform for the educated bourgeoisie. Also in Germany.

On December 6, 1737, the authorized Grand Master of the Kingdom of Prussia and the Electorate of Brandenburg founded Germany's first lodge in Hamburg. Famous personalities such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Kurt Tucholsky joined the Freemasons. Until the 1920s, the leagues in Germany had around 85,000 members.

Under Hitler, however, Freemasonry was despised as a conspiratorial secret society - and finally banned entirely in 1935. "After this historical slump, there are still almost 15,000 members in Germany today, the majority of whom come from the middle class," says Höhmann.

He himself was involved in the rebuilding of the Masonic Order in the former GDR. "This task turned out to be not that easy," he says. After Hitler and the Stasi, people mistrusted anything that could in any way be associated with conspiratorial activities.

The philosophy behind it: Life as a building

The Freemasons use a metaphor to describe their philosophy of life: They compare the development of a person (and society) with the construction of a building, the Temple of Solomon. Because in the tradition of the stonemasons King Solomon is considered the greatest builder in the Holy Scriptures.

"The Freemasons are reinterpreting the Temple of Solomon as a temple of humanity," says Binder. The Freemason seeks to improve himself (the inner temple) and society (the outer temple).

In the course of his life a Mason can attain three degrees: Apprentice, Journeyman and Master. While the apprentice is still looking for the meaning of life, the master has already mastered self-reflection: he overlooks and thinks through his life plan.

The path to becoming a master is relatively easy, says Höhmann: "You take part in the lodge life, after a year you become a journeyman and after another year you become a master." After all, a master also has the authority to lead a lodge. Höhmann himself was twice "Master of the Chair" of the Ver Sacrum Lodge in Cologne.

Where the Freemasons meet

The Freemasons not only design the temple of their lives, they also erect solid structures that are hard to miss, including the Freemasons' Hall in London, the Masonic Temple in Detroit or the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria. "The buildings are an attempt to transfer the world of ideas of the Freemasons into public space," says Binder.

Many of the buildings serve as meeting points for the Freemasons. The members refer to the closed, ritual meetings as temple work. "For us, these meetings are a solemn and spiritual practice room for Masonic values," says Höhmann.

The Freemasons discuss one main topic during temple work: humanity. "At one meeting in our Cologne lodge, for example, the question was about the extent to which morality depends on religion," says the Freemason.

However, Höhmann does not reveal any details. "I can easily express my opinion in public, but not the views of other Freemason colleagues," says Höhmann.

Secrecy for familiarity

The obligation of secrecy about the meetings are both a blessing and a curse for the Freemasons. On the one hand, the rituals are your most important tool for pursuing your basic ideas. On the other hand, they still have the reputation of a secret society that hatches conspiracies.

The Freemason Höhmann from Cologne, on the other hand, argues: "One would like to be able to reflect freely about God and the world." Discretion is a prerequisite for familiarity and depth within the conversations.

"Many clubs keep internal meeting matters to themselves," says Binder. He has been involved with the Masonic Covenant for more than 40 years. "I can rule out any concrete political influence," says the researcher.

Other Freemason experts work with even simpler arguments: "The public is not even aware of the existence of a secret society," says Marian Füssel from the University of Göttingen, who researches secret societies. This applies to the Ku Klux Klan in its active times or to the Illuminati, but not to the Freemasons.

According to the researchers, Freemasonry has little in common with a secret society. In the past, conspiratorial connections only emerged on the margins.

"The Italian secret lodge Propaganda due (P2) actually had its origins in Freemasonry," says Höhmann. She also still uses Masonic rituals, but has long been separated from the humanistic union of Freemasons.