Many people think the Freemasons are a secret, somewhat mysterious organisation. Naturally, lodge meetings are open only to members, but in all other regards we’re open and honest about what we do. The headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England (Freemasons’ Hall in London) is even open to the public.
Click below to find answers to many common questions about Freemasonry.
What is Freemasonry?
What we are (Purpose)
We are a unique members’ organisation which has thrived for over 300 years. Having no political or religious affiliations, we comprise members of all ages, races, religions, cultures and backgrounds. We meet in our individual Lodges throughout the country where we have ceremonial traditions which encourage us both to be more tolerant and respectful and actively to fulfil our civic and charitable responsibilities; we also make time to eat, drink and meet together, and form lifelong friendships.
What we aim for (Vision)
To attract those from all backgrounds and walks of life, enabling them to develop into more thoughtful and confident people. To inspire and challenge them to practise the core values we celebrate – Integrity, Friendship, Respect, Charity – in their private and public lives. To cement our reputation as a force for good in our communities and society at large and as a thriving organisation that people aspire to join.
How we will achieve this (Mission)
Over the next 7 years, we will enhance our reputation as a thriving organisation that people aspire to join and broaden our membership across all age groups.
Rather than working on buildings like the masons of old, today’s Freemasons focus on building themselves as people of integrity, and membership provides the structure to help achieve that goal.
One of the oldest social organisations in the world, Freemasonry is not defined by an ideology. It is open to people from all religions and political persuasions, and provides the common foundation for friendships between members, many of which will last for life.
With a membership of more than 200,000 people drawn from communities across the UK, Freemasonry brings people together irrespective of their race, religion or any other perceived differences that can divide us as a society.
Kindness and charitable giving are deeply ingrained within the principles of Freemasonry. The organisation provides a support structure that helps members make positive contributions to communities and worthwhile causes through fundraising events or volunteer work.
Why become a Freemason?
People join Freemasonry for many different reasons, some join for the friendships they will make; friendships that last a lifetime and encompass the key milestones in life for better or worse. You will meet people who are different to you, those of different ages with radically different life experiences and interests, drawn together by common experience through Freemasonry.
Our members are, and have been for three centuries, drawn from all walks of life. From Captains of industry and chief executives to manual labourers and forklift truck drivers, so you will find people with a wealth of different outlooks from all races, religions, classes and backgrounds.
There are also those who enjoy the ceremonial aspects. Our meetings consist of centuries old lessons centered around you as an individual. How you live your life, the decisions that you make and how to become a better person are all found within our meetings.
Freemasons are taught to look after those less fortunate than themselves, charity is our lifeblood and many members devote their time and energy to helping those less fortunate than themselves.
We also have a huge amount of fun along the way, we eat, drink and meet together and form lifelong friendships.
What goes on in a Lodge Meeting?
There are three ‘degree ceremonies’ performed during masonic meetings. They are essentially one act plays and teach members how to be better people and each play represents a different stage in life.
As an ‘initiate’ or Entered Apprentice, Freemasons are taught we are all born equal, we learn that in life some do better than others and it is up to those that do well to look after the less fortunate. From this stems our belief in the importance of Charity.
The next stage is to become a ‘Fellow Craft’ where Freemasons are taught the importance of improving yourself as a person, and finally as a ‘Master Mason’, where we learn that we have but one life, and the importance of using it wisely.
The details of the ceremonies can easily be accessed online but nothing beats experiencing it for yourself.
After the meetings members dine together informally in order to enjoy good food, good wine, and good company. And most importantly, to have fun together.
Why do Freemasons wear aprons?
The aprons stem from our historical and symbolic roots as stonemasons. Being leather, they were designed to protect them from sharp tools and rough stones. For today’s Freemasons, the apron is a mark of their membership. They are presented with a white leather apron and as they progress this becomes more elaborate.
Are Freemasons expected to give preference to fellow members in job applications?
Absolutely not – it is a misuse of membership to favour Masons over other candidates for job applications, promotions, contracts and similar.
On becoming a Freemason, each candidate states unequivocally that he expects to make no material gain from his membership. At various stages during the three ceremonies of his admission (and upon presentation of the final admission certificate), he is reminded that attempts to obtain preferential treatment or material gain for himself or others will not be tolerated. Penalties for abuse of membership are strictly enforced, and range from temporary suspension to expulsion.
Can women be members?
Only men aged over 18 are allowed to join the United Grand Lodge of England in England and Wales.
The two leading women’s Grand Lodges, that we have the closest relationship, with are: Freemasonry for Women and the Order of Women Freemasons. These two groups only admit women because that is the choice of their memberships. Both of the women’s organisations, and ourselves, prefer to practice our Freemasonry in single sex environments. The United Grand Lodge of England regularly hires its facilities out for meetings of the two women’s Lodges due to our mutual respect and close relations.
What is different about the way Freemasons give to charity?
It is the sheer scale. We are one of the biggest charitable givers in the country and gave £51.1m to charities in 2020 alone.
The Masonic Charitable Foundation, the Freemasons’ Charity – our national charitable grant giving arm, tackles some of the most significant challenges facing society, in particular, reducing loneliness in later life and ensuring a positive future for young children. We work in partnership with some of the biggest charities in the country to deliver our support.
Freemasonry also does a huge amount for medical research into treatments for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and a whole range of other conditions. In addition it makes donations to support those affected by overseas disasters as well as those at home, such as the Grenfell Tower disaster.
During the Covid Pandemic Freemasons working together to help their communities. The United Grand Lodge of England, and its members, are doing all they can to help in the fight the coronavirus.
We have seen remarkable stories from across the country of how our members came together – from helping to raise vital funds for the NHS and delivering food to the community, through to purchasing ambulances and manufacturing vital personal protective equipment (PPE). To support Freemasonry’s charitable response to the coronavirus pandemic, UGLE and the Masonic Charitable Foundation, the Freemasons' charity, established the Freemasons’ COVID-19 Community Fund.
This Fund has helped to support a range of local and national charities and projects that are helping people through the current coronavirus pandemic and in total has donated £3m during the pandemic.
Is Freemasonry International?
Freemasonry exists throughout the world and the United Grand Lodge of England has Districts in many oversees countries. Our members are free to visit any of our Lodges abroad and will often find a warm welcome from fellow members who know the local country very well.
In addition to our Lodges, many other counties have sovereign grand lodges, which our members are free to visit and whose members visit us in England and Wales when travelling.
How many Freemasons are there in the UK?
The United Grand Lodge of England has 180,000 members. The Grand Lodge of Scotland has approx. 27,000 members and The Grand Lodge of Ireland has approx. 20,000 members, whilst the two female Grand Lodges in England comprise of around 5,000 members. Worldwide there are estimated to be around six million members.
How much does it cost to be a Freemason?
Costs vary from lodge to lodge, but you can always find a lodge to suit your pocket. When you become a Mason, there is an initiation fee and an apron to buy, after which there is an annual subscription.
ln addition, it’s normal to have a meal after each meeting, and the cost of this can either be included in the annual subscription, or paid for at the time. Charitable donations are entirely up to you, and should always be without detriment to your other financial responsibilities. Similarly, you can join as many lodges as your time and finances can allow, should you wish.
Do you have to believe in a God?
When becoming a Freemason, members are expected to be able to affirm a belief in a ‘Supreme Being’. This is deliberately phrased so as to be fully inclusive; most of our members generally believe in a God - be it Christian, Muslim, Sikh or Jewish etc - of some sort, and there is no requirement to be an active practitioner of any particular religion.
How many degrees are there in Freemasonry?
Basic Freemasonry consists of three ‘Craft’ degrees (Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason) and the ‘Royal Arch’ degree. There are no short-cuts to getting these degrees, and all members must demonstrate their knowledge at each level before proceeding to the next.
In addition, there are many additional Masonic degrees and Orders, which further illustrate the principles stated in the Craft and Royal Arch degrees, but are not in any way superior to them.
Do Freemasons take oaths?
New members make solemn promises concerning their conduct in Lodge and in society, but do not swear allegiances to each other or to Freemasonry. Freemasons also promise to support others in times of need, but only if that support does not conflict with their duties to their god, the law, their family or with their responsibilities as a citizen.
What role does ritual play at meetings of the Freemasons?
We use rituals to remind ourselves of our historical roots, reinforce key lessons, and help us forge strong bonds of friendship through shared experience.
Our rituals use storytelling, drama and symbolism to impress upon members the principles and teachings of Freemasonry. This is much more effective than conveying these messages in matter-of-fact everyday language. Sometimes these rituals might seem strange or even amusing when taken out of context (like the rolling-up of trouser legs during admission ceremonies), but like many other aspects of Freemasonry, they have symbolic meaning, and we take them seriously.
Where and when do lodge meetings take place?
Lodge meetings for South Wales Masons are held in ‘Masonic Centres’ located in towns and cities across the region. In addition, facilities such as the Masonic Hall in Cardiff, as well as being shared by several lodges, are used for community functions, weddings, concerts, and various other events.
Lodge meetings typically take place monthly, but some lodges have meetings less frequently, or arrange them only outside key holiday periods. Details of locations and dates of lodge meetings can be found here.
What happens if I decide to join the Freemasons?
When you apply to be a member, we’ll suggest the best lodge for you to join based on what you tell us about your interests and experience. This may not necessarily be the nearest lodge to you geographically speaking. Each new member requires a ‘proposer’ and a ‘seconder’, and these may be people you already know. There is then a short meeting with existing members of the lodge, which is an opportunity for them to find out more about you, and for you to ask any questions you might have.
I’ve got a question that isn’t answered here. Where can I get more information?
If you’d like to find out more about any aspect of Freemasonry that isn’t covered on these pages, simply fill in our general enquiries form, and we’ll be in touch.
What is Freemasonry’s relationship with religion?
All Freemasons must believe in a supreme being (from any religion) – but how that belief is expressed is entirely up to them. Put another way, Freemasonry deals in a man’s relationship with other people, not in a man’s relationship with his god.
However, it’s important to note that Freemasonry is not a religious organisation, and the discussion of religion is not allowed at our meetings.
Unfortunately, there are elements within certain churches who misunderstand or criticise Freemasonry, and confuse our non-religious rituals with religious worship. In actual fact, there are many Masons who are members of such churches, and who are dismayed by these criticisms of Freemasonry – which after all has always encouraged its members to be active in their own religion.
Why do you use the phrases ‘The Great Architect’ and ‘The Volume of Sacred Law’?
Freemasonry embraces all men who believe in a god – including Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Parsees and others. So we use the neutral phrase ‘The Great Architect’ to mean any of their gods, because it allows men of different religions to pray together without offending any of them. Importantly, the use of the phrase ‘The Great Architect’ is not an attempt to combine all gods into one, or to define a god specific to Freemasonry.
For the same reason, we use ‘The Volume of Sacred Law’ (sometimes termed the VSL) to refer to holy texts relevant to a number of faiths, of which the Bible is obviously one.
What is Freemasonry’s relationship with politics?
Lodges governed by UGLE will never express a view on politics or state policy, and the discussion of politics at our meetings has always been prohibited.
What is the relationship between Freemasonry and groups like the Orange Order, Oddfellows and Buffaloes?
None. There are numerous fraternal orders and Friendly Societies whose rituals, regalia and organisation are similar in some respects to those of Freemasonry, but they are entirely unconnected.
Isn’t it true that Freemasons only look after each other?
No – from its earliest days, Freemasonry has been involved in charitable activities. Whilst some aspects of Masonic charity cater specifically (but not exclusively) for Masons or their dependants, we also make significant grants to a wide range of other charities. You can find out more about this on our Charities page.