It is quite simple to determine what Freemasonry is not.
It is not a religion, not an ideology, and not a philosophical view of the world as a whole.
And certainly not a sect or a secret society.
This booklet is an attempt to approach what Freemasonry is. The text is a discovery, a journey through a highly multiform and refined system, wherein man's spiritual development determines the substance of the masonic brotherhood.
Tens of thousands of books have been written about freemasonry. Books which go deep into all aspects of this brotherhood. Masonic writers, but also outsiders draw a picture of a distinguished, ethical and tolerant brotherhood with humanitarian and freedom loving ideals. And still, despite this extensive literature, for many freemasonry remains shrouded in a veil of secrecy. Father Michel Dierickx S.J. named his 1967 study of freemasonry: "The great unknown".
That was twenty years before this booklet was printed (1988) and not much has changed since. Prejudices and misunderstandings have a remarkably long life. After all, phantasms taken up into folklore continue to exercise a great attraction on our imagination.
Examination of but a small part of what has been written about freemasonry is a timeconsuming study. The rich diversity of thought about the origin, objective and existence of the masonic brotherhood makes it impossible to give a brief but allembracing picture.
Freemasons call their endeavours the "Royal Art". Royal in the sense of sovereign. Free. Independent. An art in the sense of all art; an endeavour to develop and bring into expression the deepest of that what is hidden within.
For those who try to get some insight into this difficult to access material, may this article serve as a guide. As a journey of discovery.
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Freemasonry is a method to develop a way of life. This method which is called the Royal Art above all is the practice of tolerance and of love towards one's fellowman.
Freemasons strive for brotherhood among men.
Unique in that striving is the concept "labour", which is the basis of the method.
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Next to the great religious denominations, Freemasonry belongs to the oldest organisations which have their origin in Western culture. In our time freemasonry remains a strong organisation which prospers in all countries of the world where it is permitted to work. To form an opinion of what freemasonry is about, it is necessary to explain something of the origin of this brotherhood.
There are indications that its origin should be sought in the building corporations which existed on the British Isles in the 14th century. Manuscripts written on parchment have been preserved about these corporations which should be seen as trade unions with a spiritual foundation. The laws, obligations and customs of the members of these unions have been recorded in these manuscripts.
Similar elements form the foundations of the laws and customs of presentday masonic organisations. These masonic elements remain in force until today.
The similarity of these elements provides no certainty about the origin of freemasonry, but they are indications which lead to a substantial probability.
In the 14th century only a few received some form of education and schooling. Only a limited group of people could read and write, so all the knowledge of the various trades was verbally communicated. That is the why so little is known about the building corporations, which also were called "lodges" or "building sheds".
These lodges built the many cathedrals which were constructed all over Europe and on the British Isles. A small group of literate men controlled a large group of tradesmen and artists. Symbols were used as an aide memoire for verbal orders and agreements; signs which were recognised by every member of the group and which also had a fixed meaning. Thus the sign whether drawn, engraved or carved was an excellent means of communication. Every member of the lodge or building shed could understand and give meaning to it.
It is difficult to understand how people who could not read or write were able to construct such great buildings. With a minimum of directions and with to us limited aids an aweinspiring building was created. The construction took several decades, sometimes more than a century, and during this period the inspiration to complete the plan had to continue.
Before the work commenced they knew it was likely they would not see the completed building. They worked on a part of the plan and, when old and infirm, they would pass on the work to a younger person. During those days people did not reach old age at 40 years one was already advanced in years so there was a good chance even his successor would not see the completed structure.
These factors still fulfil a meaningful role in presentday freemasonry.
There is still another feature giving us a clear picture of the lodges and building sheds of the Middle Ages. Which is that members of those lodges as well as the lodge itself were not tied down to one place. This means they were free to travel to another place or region, even to another country, to find work there.
In our time this is taken for granted, but during those days it certainly was not. Men were bound to the locality where they were born and where the landlord determined what could or was allowed to occur. They lived within a feudal system wherein they were servants and even bondage existed. To leave his home, the permission of the landlord or his steward was necessary. But the landlord, or his sovereign or nobleman, could release someone from his bondage (for instance as a reward for services rendered).
With these free men a class of commoners was created. The commoners were free to choose a trade, and settle down where the best circumstances existed to practice that trade. Thus the towns and the guilds came into existence.
The guilds were still bound to a town, a county or region, but the lodges were free to move to the place were work could be found. Lodges were able to work in other countries; there are indications which show that lodges and lodge members worked in France, Hungary and on the British Isles.
Lodge members were free to travel to other lodges and join them; that is, provided they could prove having been received in a lodge and were admitted as full members. In the earlier mentioned manuscripts the members were called "fellows" or "fellow crafts". He who sought to join a lodge to learn the craft or art was accepted as an "apprentice" or "entered apprentice". After having worked a number of years, the apprentice was accepted or passed as a "fellow" or "fellow craft". He who ruled the lodge was the "master" or "master mason".
This division of three degrees is still used in freemasons' lodges. One is accepted as an entered apprentice, passed as a fellow craft and raised as a master mason.
Just as the members of the guilds, lodge members also practice a trade, but it was more than just that. Building a cathedral consisted of more than building a church. In a metaphorical sense a cathedral is called "a profession of faith in stone and light".
Because but few could read, the foundation of belief and religion was difficult to grasp; something that could only be communicated verbally. The spiritual aim of the cathedral builders was to strive to translate biblical fundamental concepts into a mighty building.
Through the familiar use by the builders of symbolism, the religious concepts were translated into pictures and symbols in light and darkness in stone and glass. The cathedral could be read as read as a pictorial story; the space inside the building could be experienced as a safe and completed reflection of creation. In that way the religious feeling of illiterate man was directed to the aweinspiring wonder of creation and the omnipresence of the Creator.
The belief of the cathedral builders in an ordening and creative power, in a foundation of all that exists, was connected through building with religious thought in a manner which was perceptible, which was experienced, without the assistance of knowledge and literacy.
The builders related the marvel of one's own ability, one's own proficiency, to the great inexplicable miracle of creation. The source of all creation, the foundation of all that is, they named metaphorically the Great Architect of the Universe. With that they made a connection with their own familiar organisation which was led by a master builder, the "master" of the lodge.
Working together in unity to reach a concrete but far distant objective is characteristic of these old lodges and also of the modernday lodges. In this respect the building lodges are the testators of presentday Freemasonry.
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DECLINE AND SURVIVAL
When in later centuries Europe is torn apart by religious strife and associated wars and by political opposition, no more cathedrals are built. The similarity of religious thought and the endeavours which made it possible to work on great achievements is followed by greater individual thought.
This is a logical result of the process of man's liberation, physically as well as spiritually. This has serious consequences for the building lodges; they begin to lead a dormant existence and the members of the lodges must begin to look for work in a different field. To make a living they begin to build towns and palaces for the citizens and government. The result is that the spiritual ideal is pushed more and more into the background.
On the continent of Europe the lodges wither away; their members enter into public guilds. But on the British Isles this process does not occur as quickly; there the lodges continue to exist. The lategothic era is slowly followed by the renaissance, the focusing on the great values of ancient cultures. The advancement of schooling and education of large groups of people gives rise to an interest in the gathering of more knowledge by all sections of the population.
In the British lodges it becomes the custom to admit nontradesmen into the lodge. They are men who have a great interest in rediscovered architecture, mostly of a scientific nature.
The ethical values which still existed in the customs and usages of the old British lodges are perceived by them as a valuable inheritance. They take note of the language of symbolism which still lived on in the lodges and they also see the historical connection with the rediscovered symbolism of the ancient cultures.
The value of striving together towards unity in diversity comes alive in a new manner. These influences are so strong that the old craft lodges are gradually transformed into societies with a speculative character. The spiritual attitude is no longer expressed in buildings, but continues to exist in an ethically oriented way of thinking.
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FREEDOM THROUGH KNOWLEDGE
In the lodges as well as in society the view arises that man has a task to build consciously and literally on the society in which he lives. Society is a product of working together, to strive in unity after welfare on earth.
The concept "cathedral" is seen as obsolete and is no longer applied. Because of the interest in antique cultures, the metaphor of "the temple" comes into being. An ideal temple, the temple of humanity, within which everyone can find a home.
This metaphor is characteristic of the labours in the lodge, still united with the objectives of presentday Freemasonry.
The blooming of the renaissance on the British Isles later than on the continent of Europe stimulates a turbulent growth of the natural sciences. Slowly men learns to free himself from the fears brought about by ignorance. The increase in knowledge shows time and again that a creative and ordening cause is the foundation of all that exists.
This development confirms the value of the naive but profound belief of the cathedral builders of the earlier days.
The metaphor that man had formed of the Creator and his creation undergoes some modification. Natural phenomena and plagues can be explained by cause and effect. No more is it necessary to ascribe phenomena to a fearsome god who for reasons difficult to understand causes man to shudder under the scourge of punishment, wrath or temper.
The metaphor of the creation continues to develop; the journey to new heights of knowledge and science makes unknown horizons visible. For example, the discovery that air is matter, not visible or tangible, with its very own energy. Or that thunder and lighting are not supernatural phenomena, but are caused by electrical discharges.
No one knows where the journey of discovery in nature will end. Each discovery reveals a new secret behind it. Man becomes more and more freed from unreasoned fears, but still remains strongly conscious of the insignificance of his own existence. Furthermore man also discovers himself as a most complicated part of creation. The mutual coherence of all natural phenomena increases the realisation of a relationship between the extremely small and the enormously large between the microcosm and the macrocosm between man and the Great Architect.
The process of man's spiritual liberation is not limited to the natural sciences but influences the whole of society. Insights arise from philosophy and politics which bring about a turnaround in man's relationship with the authorities. Montesquieu designs a threelevel form of government, the "trias politica" which to the present day is considered a sound foundation for the establishment of the state. The philosopher and jurist John Locke puts limitations to the up to now unlimited power of the head of government, by declaring that the law is above the power of the king. The great Voltaire develops his insights and thoughts about man and society. These are but three examples of enlightened freemasons who had a great influence on the fast changing cultural image.
"The Royal Society" existing on the British Isles strongly influences the
development in the arts and sciences. Members of that society travel through
the Europe of those days to broaden and enlarge their knowledge. They test
their insights on those of other enlightened souls, not only in the courts
and universities, but also among the populace. Often merchants who previously
had kept the people separated from each other, now contribute to the breaking
down of these limitations because of their business interests in all centres
Europe now is on the threshold of the Age of Enlightenment.
The belief in man's great qualities as an individual, alive in the lodges since days of old, is now generally accepted in society also. With great vivacity quarrels and charges of heresy are settled by declaring the equality of the several religions. The declaration of Frederick the Great of Prussia is that everyone in his kingdom can be saved in his own way. Tolerance, already practised for centuries in the lodges, is added to the ideal of a better society.
The people go through a spiritual liberation, enabling man to struggle free from the fear and oppression brought about by prejudice and dogma. A true rebirth, in which man has spiritually liberated himself.
The cathedral builders also called themselves free in the sense that the could cross country borders and also because they could think and work independently. Free in being permitted to live without discrimination of belief or race, colour of political persuasion; according to the dictates of one's own conscience.
These developments have placed pillars underneath that which until now has given form to the spirit and aims which support Freemasonry. The link with the past is herewith established, side by side with the already discussed works and ideals of the aforementioned freemasons.
The change from the British operative lodges organisations of tradesmen
to the speculative, spiritually focused lodges of the 16th and 17th
centuries is brought about by the realisation that the brotherhood of man
is an indispensable principle in the endeavour for a better society.
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THE FIRST GRAND LODGE
On 24 June 1717 on the day of St. John four masonic lodges come together in London and decide to work together. Nowhere is it written why this happened, on who's or what initiative and, because at that time no history was recorded, it will never be ascertained what motivated the alliance. The lodges of old were independently working bodies. In a certain sense this has continued after 1717.
But after that day in 1717 they start to work together and a form of organisation is discussed. A Grand Master is elected to be the head of that organisation, so that form is given to a collective structure in which rules are put in place similar to the democratic principles which also begin to sway governments.
It could have been that the London lodges did not want to be left behind
by the developments heralded everywhere in Europe which are in total agreement
with the aims of freemasonry. To strive after a democratic bond also agrees
with being inspired by Greek and Roman cultures. The interest in the architecture
of those cultures which has strongly remained in the British lodges
points in that direction.
But this can be no more that a supposition.
What is certain is that on that day in 1717 organised speculative freemasonry came into existence. And it is from this time that the recorded history of freemasonry begins.
To a member Dr James Anderson a task is given to gather the old charges of the craft lodges and to collect then into a new constitution. In 1723 Anderson is ready and the Constitutions are published. A part of that publication is "The Old Charges", that is, a collection of the original principles which until the present day are THE guide for the mutual behaviour of freemasons.
Many of the previously mentioned concepts are recorded in these "Old Charges",
for instance, the first charge:
I. CONCERNING GOD AND RELIGION.
A Mason is obliged, by his Tenure , to obey the moral Law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charged in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet it is now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguished; whereby Masonry becomes the Centre of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remained at a perpetual Distance."
The first Old Charge already makes plain that freemasonry appeals to him who want to become "the universal man". The man who, free from prejudice and dogma, will learn in communal labour to direct himself to and to work on the welfare of mankind, of society.
Every individual learns to contribute to this endeavour, after his own judgment, knowledge and intellectual ability. In this way everyone works personally on his important aim: "to become a better man".
That is what freemasons understand to be their typical art of living.
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Following these introductory chapters the question remains how it was possible that from these backgrounds an organisation has grown which has spread so quickly over the world. It is remarkable that the world of thoughts outlined, initially borne by but a few enlightened souls, grew into a mutual endeavour and found response everywhere in society.
The spread is due for an important part to contacts in the commercial world of the 18th century which extends far beyond Europe. Through these contacts a purposeful spread of culture, civilization and accrued insights takes place. Also in farflung outposts an interest is kept in all that happens and keeps thinking man occupied in the triangle LondonParisBerlin.
Additionally, after the end of serfdom the need arises to form a professional army. Soldiers and officers are trained in this honourable profession and offer their services to every prince or king who is able to pay their wages.
This event brings about a great mobility of these professional people. They travel to those regions where life for them was inexpensive and so ( in addition to the merchants) they put their mark on the countries they reside.
Something similar also happens in our time, even though in a different context. The growth of tourism, the possibilities to temporarily move to and in other countries and cultures brings with it that new connections are continuously made. The mobility is closely connected with influences to and fro which give the cultures a totally different perspective over the whole world. A new mixed form also comes into existence, through which contraries are diminished and even bridged over. A mutual understanding comes about with the hope and expectation that a time will come wherein not only geographical borders will be removed, but also borders between peoples. A time wherein everyone, though retaining one's own identity, can feel at home everywhere in the world. Wherein man has become a member of a universal community, in short: a citizen of the world.
The spread of the European civilisation in the 18th century goes together with the spread of Freemasonry. The intertwining of business interests with elements of theatre and civilisation is a characteristic feature of the 18th century and also determines the form in which Freemasonry is propagated.
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FREEMASONRY IN THE NETHERLANDS
Soon after the British Grand Lodge was formed in 1717, meetings of freemasons already take place in the Netherlands. It has been recorded in chronicles that in Rotterdam in 1721 meetings are organised by prominent members of the still young British Grand Lodge. The restraint which was practised to record those early proceedings will make much research of archives necessary before it will be accepted that 1721 was the year freemasonry established itself in the Netherlands.
It is officially recorded that in 1734 a Dutch lodge meets. This occurs in The Hague, in the inn "The Golden Lion" in the Hofstraat. One year later the masonic meetings are already banned by the States of Holland and WestFriesland. There was fear of a political conspiracy. When after some years the ban has eased off, ten lodges working in the Netherlands meet in 1756 in The Hague. It is then decided to constitute "The Grand Lodge of the Seven United Provinces".
Later this name is changed to "Order of Freemasons under the Grand East of the Netherlands", under which name the Order continues to exist to the present day.
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The Order of Freemasons is an independent organisation, wherein the lodges working under the Netherlandic jurisdiction are united in a federal alliance. The Order maintains friendly relations with similar masonic organisations in countries over the whole world.
a. The Lodge
A lodge is not a secret society but a lawful organisation which has been registered with the Chamber of Commerce. From days of old the lodges are characterised by their democratic organisational structure wherein periodically the executive is elected, headed by a president.
The executive of the lodge receives its competence from the statutes and bylaws, so that the responsibilities are clearly defined and laid down. Every lodge independently determines the frequency of its meetings. Usually this is once weekly on a fixed night . Some lodges only meet once or twice each month.
b. The Grand East
Representatives of the lodges come together once each year in a legislative meeting. This meeting is held on a date (traditionally determined) near the longest day of the year the 21st of June.
The Grand East, that is the name of this meeting of representatives, embodies the highest authority in the Order. During this annual meeting among other the Executive Committee is elected according to the provisions of the Constitution and Statutes.
The Executive is assisted in its duties by committees consisting of members of several lodges and appointed by the Grand East. Well before the Grand East, the Executive prepares an Annual Report which is sent to the lodges together with an Agenda of all subjects to be discussed. The subjects are proposed by the lodges. The proposal can be amended and, after voting, can be accepted or rejected.
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THE WORK METHOD
It was mentioned earlier in this brochure that the old craft lodges consisted of members who came from all directions. The mutual relationships of these individually strongly differing men free men with divergent convictions and traditions encourages the need to exchange views about their joint efforts in their common ideal: to build together.
Nowadays this is no different. Every lodge is a "centre of a society of men who should they not have entered the Order would have continued to remain separated from each other". A centre from which a better world is built. A centre wherein the highest art of living is practised: the Royal Art.
In this train of thought the concept "labour" stands central. In a metaphorical sense, man is seen as a "rough stone". By working on himself on this "rough stone" man prepares himself to be fitted into the mutual building. In this way man adjusts himself to other stones: his fellowmen.
Thus man builds on his world, on his community. This is called: building on the temple the temple of humanity.
In a lodge a work place the world and life is seen as yet to be completed building.
The ideal to strive for is the "cubic stone" a perfect form. One tries to approximate this form as close as possible so that, without any further adjustments, he can be fitted in the intended structure of the ideal temple.
The mutual labours in the lodge are directed against this background, to help each other is part of that labour. Especially to be tolerant of each other, being ready to overcome the opposites which divides man. Because opposites are, after all, part of creation, they are also in man. There is no good without evil no light without darkness no happiness with sorrow and no victory without the battle.
The practice of this spiritual labour in the lodge the work place certainly does not make one's personal life any easier. To critically appraise one's own worth, to look at one's own defects and shortcomings is no easy task. But it does bring about a much greater awareness of life and therefore to greater riches, because this labour increases one's awareness of his place in the greater whole.
Also brought about is the recognition that our fellowman is not perfect either. Perfect man does not exist. In masonic expression: every stone can always be improved a little.
The striving for brotherhood is promoted by the practice of selfknowledge and tolerance; this labour, performed together as well as alone, is what the freemason perceives as preparing to build spiritually.
The freemason calls this: the Royal Art. In the Royal Art the art of living is practised, an attempt to realise life as an art. The art of living is the ability to bring order in experiences; the fruitful-ness of life above all is the ability to make conscious choices and decisions when the many opportunities present themselves in life.
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Throughout the centuries, man's creativity has influenced his surroundings. Every cultivation is characterised by its monuments of man's ingenuity and his creative urge.
The concept "building" contains much more than the construction of a "structure with a defined application". That, in real terms, is the purpose and often the motive; but building also includes the concepts: to give form or shape to determine space to control light and shadow. And above all: to determine relation-ships, through which a controlled balance is created: a state of harmony.
Reasoned from the point that all that is large and great exists because of a union of a number of subordinate details, then 'to build' also includes attention to little things, even where this may seem unimportant.
Building is an act of creation which has a relationship with the environment, with space. Man's creativity is nourished by a sensitivity for logic, for reason, for an impulse to exercise an ordering influence.
In freemasonry this is expressed as "bringing order into chaos".
An ordering which, before everything, must be brought into one's being through the practice of selfknowledge. This leads man to perceive his own worth in respect of "freeing the perfect cube which is hidden within one's personality". This ordering principle must also be brought into our relationship with our fellowmen; because it determines the contribution we make to society, to the world we build together.
It requires a willingness to cooperate; it calls for tolerance and willingness to strive for "the brotherhood of man'.
Thus the world of thought is the foundation of what the freemason calls: building on the temple of humanity. Referring by analogy to the cathedral builders: the intended aim may seem unattainable and the result of our united work may remain unknown to us.
But the aim warrants the united labour, even on the most trivial part.
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A SCHOOL OF LEARNING
The masonic work method, as previously described, ensures the "spiritual labour" is never ended. The aim "to become a better man" makes the lodge a place of continuous education. After all, the lodge is a centre of a society of men who otherwise would never have met. Regular intercourse with others who frequently have rather divergent ideas but because of a common interest are still ready for mutual communication, creates the conditions for sound dialogue.
Lodge meetings where the rite is not practised are characterised by the easy atmosphere in which members meet to exchange ideas about a predetermined subject. These meetings called comparities (no literal translation possible nearest: 'formal assemblies') have a formal and instructive character, because the exchange of ideas is determined by an atmosphere of frankness and tolerance wherein courtesy and good taste dominate. During these meetings the concepts "brotherhood" and "mutual trust" are exercised to full advantage and are put to practical use.
A lodge is a place where social position, prosperity and status of the members are no obstruction. It is a place where ideas can be exchanged unhindered about the most diverse subjects. Tolerance ensures no one gets hurt. There is no need to be on one's guard because mutual trust makes it possible to speak free and unrestrained. Great principles such as freedom, equality and brotherhood, striving for honesty and justice, the desire for cooperation are selfevident requirements in this circle. The warmth and enrichment which are generated between them are refreshing after the events of the day. It is a source of inspiration.
It can actually be true that formidable and widely differing points of view are held between brothers in the lodge. This is because the right and freedom to have personal opinions is unconditionally respected by both sides.
There even is a willingness to look at other views, but the right remains to compare these with one's own opinions. In the lodge, in the comparitie, no one seeks to be right. The privilege to contribute to the spiritual labour of some one is enough. The search is for truth and that includes that everyone must be prepared to kindle one's light from that of another.
That, for the freemason, is the greatest good, a spiritual attitude, to which he has bound himself at his acceptance. A principle he has promised never to "betray".
It is the hard masonic formula for "being found wanting in this endeavour". The strength of the Order, which has remained the same for two and a half centuries, is contained for an important measure in these aspects. The result is what the freemason calls: "meeting in harmony".
The lodge is a school where this is practised together.
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It is frequently claimed with much persistence that freemasonry is a secret society. A factor that naturally stimulates the nonmember to curiosity, wanting to know what this secret might be.
This by itself does not need to be harmful because the stimulation to know can also lead to respectable interest. The Order does not shun such interest, on the contrary, it strongly strives to disseminate the principles. This is shown by issue of this publication and by many other activities of the present and in the past.
However the rumour of "the secret" has in most cases a less innocent and often even a malicious character. It is frequently suggested that "the secret" contains a conspiracy; a plot against the established order as well as a quest for "world domination". All this is totally opposed to what freemasonry stands for, to that what it represents. The accusation is unfounded. No opponent has ever been able to show that a striving for power and conspiracy exist within the Order. This is a myth.
It is a fact that the Order is not a secret society, but is a society with Royal approval, with legally registered statutes and laws. In the Netherlands, Prince Frederik the brother of King William II, who also was a freemason was a Grand Master of the Order for 65 years. This in itself is nothing special; in some countries it is even customary that a member of Royalty carries the function of Grand Master, sometimes in succession.
History teaches that many great personalities made no secret of being a freemason and this is no different in our time. Would they have cooperated in a conspiracy, directed against whom or what ever?
Sound reasoning tells us that such an accusation is absurd. Never has evil intent of some sort been shown or proved.
The accusation of conspiracies especially found their source in the fear of totalitarian powers of every critical approach of their doctrines. An unreasonable and unreasoned fear of people who are free and independent thinkers, who freely consider those doctrines, as well as the Greatest Good.
The consequence was that dictatorial regimes of the left as well as the right have prohibited Freemasonry and have persecuted its members. It is not so long ago that a South European dictator in one of his latest addresses ascribed the failing of his policies to "Jewish world power and Freemasonry".
The assertion that there is a coordinating international organisation of freemasons the socalled world freemasonry is also devoid of every foundation.
That organisation does not - cannot exist!
In every country where an organisation of freemasons exists, the Grand Lodge is fully independent. These national Grand Lodges do maintain friendly relations with each other, for the same reasons why so many other organisations in society maintain relations with each other.
The Netherlandic Order maintains friendly relations with some 120 Grand Lodges. They represent some six million freemasons over the whole world; a number of like, but between themselves very different people who cannot be discounted. But, just because they allow each other to be independently thinking men, with diverse natures and perceptions, on that basis it must already be evident that they could not possibly consent to a united and unifying endeavour for power and dominion.
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A SECRET AFTER ALL?
A misunderstanding often has a very simple, sometimes even a somewhat foolish origin which (used in the negative sense) can lead to "suspicions". Since days of old, freemasons have used the expression "a secret", but something quite different is meant, less vulgar than "something kept hidden from others" and also having a wider meaning.
That meaning is contained in the communal concept, the mutual understanding of and also the relationship with the concept "Great Architect of the Universe".
What is meant is the following.
Learning to know and accept oneself and (in connection therewith) our fellowmen is an experience that can only be shared with him who accepts and pursues this also.
It is a mutual experience, a twosided achievement which cannot be explained. Nor can it be expressed in words because to that end language is inadequate.
It is an intention, of which the poet Willem Brandt in one of his masonic poems wrote:
"He said: tell me their secret, but I who knew it for so many years sought for a word, a moment of hesitation
and in vain I tried to explain it.
Then I said: Love, but I suddenly knew it was more than that, a mystical significance, incomprehensible but still of this earth,
of everyone as well as mine.
It is music, a word, a gesture, a sign, and it shines in someone's eyes,
it is his heart and mine,
it's the sacred covenant of all that is beautiful, bright and true.
He asked me: show me their secret, but I could not point to it in countless conversations.
Only he who already possesses it himself can ever discover the secret."
To become a member of the Order of Freemasons a serious candidate must fulfil a number of conditions. Mature men of the age of 21 years and older may apply for membership.
A candidatetobe must be known as an honest and trustworthy man who prides himself on a tolerant attitude of life. The last condition especially is of great significance. After all the Order is (as previously explained) a union of men with widely differing view of life and religion. Every member must be able to feel at home in such diverse company. The interview which precedes the acceptance of a candidatetobe is especially directed to that aspect.
Although the Order uses many ways to make itself known to the public in general, itdoes not proselyte; that is expressly forbidden. Thus no one can be invited to become a member. He who is interested in Freemasonry must apply himself. That can occur in two ways.
If one knows a freemason in his neighborhood, he can turn to him. This is also possible if that relative, friend or acquaintance lives elsewhere, such as another municipality. He will bring the interested party into contact with a Master Mason, a member of a lodge near where he lives or in his near vicinity.
If one does not know a member of the Order, then he can make contact with a local or nearby lodge. Most lodges in the Netherlands are listed in the telephone directory, often under the 'V' for 'Vrijmetselarij' (Under the F for Freemasonry in English speaking countries).
If such contact is not possible, then inquiries can be made with the Grand Lodge in The Hague, where the secretariat will assist him.
A list of the places where lodges are situated and the Order's address may be found at the back of this issue. (Not included in this translation - but can be found in this link).
The most important reason not to proselyte is because a free mason must be "a seeker for truth". Each must independently search for that what for him represents his personal truth. Every member should and may hold his own views of life and political opinions. But no member is permitted to try and change the views of another to those of his own. Everyone's right to have his own truth is respected.
Thus the slightest attempt to convert a freemason is a most unusual occurrence. He can of course give others an insight into that what for him is true. The listener then must determine himself if that concept fits within the framework of his own views. He therefore must decide to take the first step.
Women cannot become a member of the Order of Freemasons. According to old and generally recognised and accepted regulations of this Order it is not permitted to accept women.
This is not a form of discrimination. For the freemason every person is equal, indifferent of sex, race or colour. The status of man is no greater or more important than of woman. However, the masculine and feminine natures are different and it is here the Order perceives a reason not to mix the sexes.
With the presence of women in the lodge, the mutual good relationships within the lodge cannot remain the same. The unity in the lodge would be put to the test and frankness would make place for more reserved behaviour.
But it is a requirement for a married man that his wife approves his joining the Order. And also that the husband completely involves his wife in his intellectual development and shares his experiences with her.
With the continuing emancipation, the idea that women in all respects must "be totally equal to men" is also out of date. Women have their own organisations and opportunities where they can seek their own identity. The Order "Vita Feminea Textura" (which translates as "The life of a woman is like a woven texture") is an equal institution in respect of male freemasonry, though independent of the Order of Freemasons. Membership of that Order is restricted to women.
For those who may hold different views there is a mixed Order in the Netherlands, called "Le Droit Humain" (which also has lodges in many other countries in the world). It is true the relationship between the here mentioned organisations is substantial, but they are independent of each other and want to remain that way.
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Through the rituals Freemasonry stimulates in a profound manner the awakening of all that has been discussed before. Symbols and rituals images and acts refer to concepts which cannot be "described" in words or formulas which are valid for and appeal to everyone. Within the rite, the symbolism of building and the symbolism of light are united in a central theme: the building of the temple of humanity, also called the temple of perfection. The concept discussed in an earlier chapter, the "freeing" of the perfect cube which is hidden within the rough stone or rough ashlar, is derived from the rite. The stages of man's spiritual development are symbolised within the rite by three degrees: that of entered apprentice, fellow craft and master mason.
The rite provides the opportunity of a totally individual experience of Freemasonry. Taking part in the rite offers one the opportunity to understand symbolism in his own way, to form his own concepts, and to get to know himself better. That is an essential aspect of the united labour.
In the rite, man as an Entered Apprentice moves to improvement through the acquisition of selfknowledge. Later, as a Fellow Craft he strives for selfdevelopment towards the degree of Master Mason, which concerns the bringing of offers out of love for one's fellowman.
Generally there is a year between the acceptance as an Entered Apprentice and being passed to the degree of Fellow Craft. After a further year the raising to the degree of Master Mason usually takes place.
Freemasonry does not disclose certain parts of the rite of the rituals. This means that, in general, the rite remains hidden for the candidate and also for the nonmason.
During the initiation, and also during the following degrees, the personal experience matters: the personal making of a symbolical journey from darkness to light. The working of the rite would be disadvantaged if the full details of the ritual would be known to the candidate beforehand. That what man will truly appreciate must be personally experienced by him, an experience that is felt within his deepest being.
Freemasonry does not say how this experience should take place. Masonically speaking, man finds his most profound and creative freedom within himself.
Just to communicate the rite is insufficient to bring about an emotion. It is for this reason that Freemasonry does not want the rite to become common property. The still unknown ritual must be carried out and experienced in the proper place in the right circle and also in the proper manner. The rite then becomes a mighty medium which causes a unique experience in the initiate. It again becomes a source of inspiration for all who are involved therein, for all witnesses of the event. In this way the purpose of the rite is satisfied.
This makes understandable that the stories about masonic "secrecy" are based on the refusal to allow a detailed examination of the rituals by nonmembers. Still these facts are not secret enough to make it impossible to trace them. Anyone who wants to can find the rituals in large libraries. But their examination only provides a partial and often unintelligible picture, because their substance can only be felt and understood when the rite is performed. The substance is in the initiation; to bring that what in fact is simple and selfevident to a higher plane.
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The first sentence of the proposition at the beginning of this publication states:
"Freemasonry is a method to develop a way of life."
This certainly is not a definition. Freemasonry as a topic is an allinclusive and also multiform concept, is impossible to define in a single sentence. The same goes for the concept "art". The topic can only be approximated, and everyone must do this in his own way. Thus every member of the Order forms his own notions of Freemasonry.
Despite the frank attempt to present an objective picture, this booklet cannot make an exception to this. The picture is not and per definition: is never complete; it is no more than a point of view in a journey of discovery.
Tens of thousands of book have been written about Freemasonry, all collected in the Library of the Order in The Hague. And even this impressive total can never give a complete picture of Freemasonry.
The masonic ideal lives in men and this fact brings about an endless
multiplicity. And that makes it a strong and vital concept. The purpose and
being of Freemasonry contain a never ceasing call to continue to strive for
unity in the construction of the temple of humanity. That temple is never
completed, because the plan constantly renews itself.
26 December 1986
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Following are Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of the
Order of Freemasons under the Grand East of the Netherlands.
1. Freemasonry is a spiritual orientation born out of an inner urge, which reveals itself in a continued striving to develop those qualities of mind and spirit which can raise man to a higher spiritual and moral level. It finds its application in the practice of the highest form of the art of living.
2. The Order, an independent part of the brotherhood of Freemasons spread over the surface of the earth, aims to be a common centre for the practice of that art of living, and strives for a manysided and harmonious development of man and humanity.
3. The starting point is a firm belief in the reality of a spiritual and moral worldorder which propels man and humanity upwards.
4. Moreover, it accepts as a foundation the acceptance of:
the great value of the human personality;
everyone's right to seek independently for truth;
man's moral responsibility for all of his actions;
the equality of the nature of all men;
everyone's duty to work with dedication for the wellbeing of the community.
1. The Order attempts to reach its goal by ensuring its organisation and the mutual relationships in its midst are in accord with the principles described in Article 2; and by continually informing the community of these principles.
2. The Order accomplishes this by its own method, with the assistance of symbols and rituals as an interpretation of ideals and concepts, expressions of its greatest spiritual essence on the one hand; and by promoting everything that can change spiritual poverty, moral and material wretchedness into spiritual and moral riches and material prosperity on the other hand.
3. The Order fosters tolerance, practices justice, promotes charity, seeks for that which unites men and peoples, attempts to remove that what divides minds and hearts, and it raises the all uniting brotherhood to a higher level of unity by making it a living reality in everyone's consciousness.
4. The Order demands obedience to the laws of the land (in which one resides).
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Updated: 15 May 2006