What is Freemasonry?
As when joining any organisation and especially Freemasonry, there can be some trepidation in knowing what to expect. As I have written many times before, the Internet is full of Masonic theories and dubious information so I thought it was time for a quick look at what it is like within a Freemasons’ Lodge, the layout, regalia, what people do and what is expected of a new member.
Freemasonry – Dress Code & Regalia
When you attend a Freemason’s Lodge for a meeting you are expected to dress in a certain way. The dress codes in all Lodges are quite similar and include:
- a dark lounge suit
- an appropriate tie
- a white shirt
- white gloves
- black shoes
You will also wear an apron, the mark or badge of a Freemason and one which displays your progress through the degrees of Freemasonry. Although there are a number of different types of aprons within Freemasonry the three main ones are pure white, white with two light blue rosettes and a much more ornate one with three light blue rosettes, white background, light blue surround and silver tassels.
Freemasonry – The Progression
When being initiated into Freemasonry you become what is called and Entered Apprentice. It is at this stage that you are presented with your first apron, that of being plain white. The next stage of progression is that of becoming a Fellow Craft and this is the Second Degree in Freemasonry. In this stage or degree you are presented with a white apron with two light blue rosettes at its base. The Third Degree in Freemasonry is when you are made a Master Mason and you are then allowed to wear the more ornate of the three aprons with the white background, light blue surround, three light blue rosettes and silver tassels.
Freemasonry – The Lodge Room
Every Lodge Room in Freemasonry is laid out in the same way. From the first time you enter a Lodge Room and during the currency of your Masonic career it will always look the same and become very familiar, no matter if it is your Lodge or you are a visiting Brother to another Lodge.
A typical Lodge Room layout (picture credit – UGLE)
As you will note the Lodge Room is laid out like a compass, with each side being identified as North, South, East and West. In the East, South and West there are pedestals where the senior officers of Lodge sit. They are the Worshipful Master (East), the Senior Warden (West) and the Junior Warden (South). The North side of the Lodge Room is where the Secretary and Treasurer sit. I will explain a little more about the officers of the Lodge and their roles a little later in this article.
As you stand in the entrance of the Lodge Room the Brother immediately to your right is the Inner Guard. You will immediately recognise him as he holds a sword as is befitting his role within the Lodge. To the right of him is the Senior Warden and then to his right is the Junior Deacon. To the right of the Junior Deacon sits the Organist. If there is a Junior Deacon it must then follow that there is a Senior Deacon. He sits in the North of the Lodge Room to the right of the Worshipful Master. To the left of the Senior Deacon sit the Almoner and Charity Steward.
In looking at the Worshipful Master’s position in the East, there are two officers sat to his left namely, the Immediate Past Master (IPM) and the Chaplain. Following round from them and in the South of the Lodge Room and to the right of the Junior Warden, sits the Director of Ceremonies and the Assistant Director of Ceremonies.
On the other side of the Junior Warden sit the Stewards of the Lodge. Stewards are the most junior of the Lodge officers and is usually the starting point for most Brethren in their Masonic progression.
I have already mentioned that the Lodge Room is set out as North, South, East and West, but it is also split between the East and the West. The positions of the Lodge officers are fixed but not every Brother attending the Lodge meeting will be an officer of the Lodge. So as a newly Initiated Brother, where do you sit?
The easiest way to answer the question is that, the higher your rank in Freemasonry then the closer to the Worshipful Master you sit. As an Entered Apprentice and even as far as being a Master Mason (Lodge dependant) , you would sit left of the Junior Warden and Secretary; that is towards the Senior Warden’s pedestal in the West. To the right of the Secretary and Senior Warden’s pedestal would sit Grand Lodge Officers and Provincial Grand Lodge Officers, the former having the higher rank. In some Lodges it is customary for all visiting Brethren to sit near to the Worshipful Master, irrespective of rank. As a rule of thumb for a new Brother you would be advised to keep towards the West unless invited otherwise.
Freemasonry – The Officers
As I promised a little earlier in this article, please find below some short descriptions of each office held within a Lodge and what is expected of the Brother holding that office.
The first Officers I will look at are known as Progressive Officers. It is normal that each year the Brethren holding these offices would move to the next office up the chain, until they reach the position of Worshipful Master. The recognised route of progression is:
- Inner Guard
- Junior Deacon
- Senior Deacon
- Junior Warden
- Senior Warden
- Worshipful Master
It should be noted that the office of Worshipful Master is always subject to an election amongst the Brethren of the Lodge.
Every officer within the Lodge will wear a light blue collar with a jewel of office hanging below. In an effort to assist I have added an example jewel beside each office listed.
The Worshipful Master is there to direct and be in charge of the Lodge. A new Master is elected every year by the Brethren of the Lodge and then installed into his office in an Installation Ceremony. The Worshipful Master has his place in the East of the Lodge, behind a pedestal. All the ceremonies are usually conducted by the Worship Master, with the assistance of the officers of the Lodge. Being installed as the Worship Master is the highest honour a Lodge can award one its members.
The Senior and Junior Wardens are next most senior officers within the Lodge after the Worshipful Master. The Senior Warden sits in the West of the Lodge facing the Worship Master and the Junior Warden sits in the South of the Lodge facing the Secretary and the Treasurer. It is the role of the Junior Warden to ensure that no unqualified persons enter the Lodge Room. Although their roles are different they are there to assist the Worshipful Master in his duties and help with the smooth running of the Lodge meeting.
The role of a Deacon is to assist candidates through their ceremonies along with other practical aspects of the Lodge meeting. Deacons can also be identified as they carry a staff known as a wand as a mark of their office.
The Inner Guard sits just inside the Lodge room door and checks that those people entering are properly qualified to do so.
This is generally the first office that a Brother will hold within the Lodge. A Steward’s main job is to assist at the dinner following the meeting, which is known as the Social Board.
Next we look at the Non Progressive Officers and these are positions which are normally filled by Past Masters of the Lodge, who have already served as Progressive Officers and as Worshipful Master. These offices are usually held by Brethren for a number of years to allow for continuity and experience within the roles. The Non Progressive Officers are appointed or re appointed each year by the Worshipful Master with the exception of the Treasurer and the Tyler who have to be elected by the Brethren of the Lodge.
The Immediate Past Master is not actually an office as the position is the vacating Worshipful Master’s by right. He is normally the preceding Worship Master and it is his role to assist and advise the new Worshipful Master in his duties. The Immediate Past Master sits directly on the left of the Worshipful Master.
All Lodge meetings begin and end with a prayer. It is the Chaplain’s role to lead the Brethren in these prayers.
The Treasurer is responsible for the finances of the Lodge and he prepares the annual accounts for the Lodge. These accounts are then audited before being presented to the Brethren of the Lodge. The Treasurer also makes recommendations as to subscriptions before they are decided upon in open Lodge.
It is the Secretary’s role to administer the Lodge and he is the main conduit for United Grand Lodge and Provincial Grand Lodge (Metropolitan Grand Lodge if the Lodge is in London). He is also responsible for taking the minutes of the Lodge meeting and distributing the summons notifying the Brethren of the meeting and its agenda.
It is the role of the Assistant Secretary to understudy the Secretary and assist with any matters of Lodge administration that maybe required of him by the Secretary. In some Lodges it is the Assistant Secretary who is responsible for making the dining arrangements.
The Director of Ceremonies oversees and organises all the ceremonies that are conducted within the Lodge. He ensures that any officer who has a role within the ceremony has an excellent working knowledge of what he has to do. He arranges practices or rehearsals to ensure that the ceremony is conducted properly. He also is responsible for the conduct and decorum within any ceremony.
It is the Assistant Director of Ceremonies’ role to understudy the Director of Ceremonies and assist him with any ritual duties that may be required.
The Almoner is the welfare officer within the Lodge. He is charged with maintaining contact with any widows of deceased Brethren of the Lodge and with those Brethren who may be ill or indisposed for a variety of reasons. He is also available for Brethren who may be suffering financial issues.
It is the role of the Charity Steward to organise charity collections within the Lodge and advise the Brethren on which charities (both Masonic and Non Masonic) that they may wish to donate to.
The role of the Organist is to play music within the Lodge for both meetings and ceremonies.
The Tyler is normally an experienced Freemason who sits outside the door of the Lodge to ensure that no one tries improperly to get into the Lodge meeting. He is also responsible for ensuring that all candidates are properly prepared before they enter the Lodge.
Many Lodges now formally appoint a Lodge Mentor to look after new Brethren. This role is usually held by a long standing and experienced Freemason who can answer the questions that a new Brother may have.
Freemasonry – Grand Lodge & Provincial Grand Lodge Officers
Depending on Lodge membership, the overwhelming amount of officers within the Lodge will wear the light blue aprons of a Master Mason. However, you may well notice that some of the Brethren (those sitting closest to the Worshipful Master) will be wearing dark blue aprons and collars.
These are long standing and experienced Brethren who have received Honours from either a Provincial Grand Lodge or the United Grand Lodge of England.
Freemasonry – I Hope I Have Helped A Little
I sincerely hope that this has been of some help to those people either new to Freemasonry or considering joining a Lodge.
What is important to remember is that if you don’t understand anything then ask a member of your Lodge. As you look around your Lodge room at all the Brethren in office or the long standing officers of Grand Lodge and Provincial Grand Lodge you need to remember that you and they all started from the same point. I follow a golden rule in Freemasonry in that Freemasons like to talk about Freemasonry and I have never met a Brother yet who is not willing to help and offer an answer to a question.
If you would like to know more about Freemasonry in general, the United Grand Lodge of England has produced an excellent brochure which you can download by ugl-becoming-a-freemason.