Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Is Freemasonry a Science, Art, Religion, Philosophy,..........?

 “In a society so widely extended as Freemasonry, the branches of which are spread over the four quarters of the globe, it cannot be denied that we have many members of rank and opulence; neither can it be concealed that among the thousands who range under its banners, there are some who, perhaps from circumstances of unavoidable calamity and misfortune, are reduced to the lowest ebb of poverty and distress.” (1)

The question that comes to my mind when I think about this topic is this – What is that ‘thing’ or ‘quality’ about Freemasonry that ‘binds’ such diverse people as mentioned in the passage above together?
Therefore through this essay, I seek to arrive at an understanding of what freemasonry is by illustrating some of the categories that describe it and evaluating if any of them can be used to categorize it succinctly. If not whether there is some other term that does and if so what it could be.

The most well-known definition is that which first appeared around the 19th Century, which states that:

“Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” (1)

Now I will attempt to elaborate on this definition to get a handle on what freemasonry is. To analyze the meaning of this definition of Freemasonry a little better let us break it down into its smaller parts:

Phrase 1:"...a peculiar system of morality..."
Interpretation: The word peculiar
 (2) arises from the Latin root"peculiaris".
Technically it means "characteristic of only one person, group, or thing", or "different from the usual or normal". 
Nowadays the word peculiar has negative connotations, as anyone who hears this word today associates it with meaning "strange" or "odd", but in the 19th century it meant "special and unique".
The word system (3)
(from Latin systēma, in turn from Greek σύστημα systēma) means "An organized set of interrelated ideas or principles."
The word morality (4) (from the Latin moralitas "manner, character, proper behavior") it refers to an ideal code of conduct, one which would be espoused in preference to alternatives by all rational people, under specified conditions. Therefore this phrase refers to a special and ideal set of principles that form the basis for a code of conduct.

Phrase 2:"...veiled in allegory..."
Interpretation: The word veiled (5)
means "concealed or disguised" or "muted or unclear".
The word allegory refers to a story or visual image with a second distinct meaning partially hidden behind its literal or visible meaning.
Therefore this phrase refers to a method of communication which uses a narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form to convey an abstract idea or concept that plain language has difficulty in describing or which would take a long time to communicate.

Phrase 3:"...illustrated by symbols."
The word illustrate (6) (Latin illūstrāre or illūstrāt means to make bright) means "to clarify by serving as an example or comparison"
The word symbol in the simplest sense, refers to anything that stands for or represents something else beyond it— usually an idea conventionally associated with it. For eg. the Indian flag is a symbol of the country India.
Therefore this phrase refers to the usage of an object as an example or comparison to represent another idea or concept.

By now the question that begins to form in the minds of people who have understood the definition is - is Freemasonry a kind of education?
My answer to that is, yes but it is not an end in itself (although for some people it might be). Just as we need to learn to drive a car before we can actually drive safely (literal meaning). Just as we need to be lit before we can go out into our society and be beacons of light to others. (figurative meaning). Just like that we need to learn a certain special system of morality before we can implement that in the various spheres of our lives. An education is something that later on helps one to practice something so Freemasonry appears to educate us – but to what end? Is it to practice a science?... is it to practice an art?... or is it to practice a philosophy or is it to practice something else?!
Allow me to now speculate on some of these questions.

Is it a Science?

We all know that scientist or academic men like to spend time in the company of like-minded people talking about their pet theories and discussing new inventions and discoveries; so is it some sort of science that Freemasonry teaches such that its members due to a common love for science come together?
Freemasonry points out to us the importance of the science and exhorts us to explore it and with its aid understand the hidden mysteries of nature.
The high value it places on the understanding of architectural study or science is clear to most masons; who realize that with science man can raise huge buildings. But looking at this on a deeper level the mason in search of true light is lead to the realization that there is a Great Architect who has so intricately designed the universe itself based on the principles of science so deep of which Man has only begun to scratch the surface.
There is science in Freemasonry, but alas it does not explain why it is so beautiful for that we may need to explore the next term – Art.

Is it an Art?

Among artist and art loving people there is again a common love for art that brings them together for exhibitions and even prompting them to donate money to charity events – all out of a love and appreciation for the art that they enjoy. So is it some sort of art that Freemasonry expounds that brings men together?
In the Installation ceremony (Canadian) there is a mention of the following lines:

Masonry, my brethren, according to the general acceptance of the term, is an art, founded on the principles of geometry and directed to the service and convenience of mankind… (7)

But does the fact that there is an art involved in masonry tell us that is that all encompassing category into which we can push Freemasonry? I think not, for there is a passion and zeal among its adherents seen normally only among those whom we would call religious – never mind that some people’s religion is their fascination with cars or in the case of women their fascination with footwear!

Is it a Religion?

Religion is one area that tightly binds and separates men in such a strong way that some have killed and been killed for their belief in that religion. Is it some sort of ‘new’ religion that Freemasonry teaches these men that they decide to join hands even with those of other faiths?
The triumph of Freemasonry has been that it teaches no dogma. It has no creed and it does not tell you which God to believe in, which person to vote for or even that this masonic symbol means only this one thing and nothing else! Every Master Mason is free to interpret the world based on that light that he has attained or yet to attain – does this sound like a religion? Not to me. To me it sounds like it is more of a philosophy or a way of life.

Is it a Philosophy?

Is it some idea or philosophy that Freemasonry teaches that men from all walks of like realize the truth in it and come together as a group? Is it a new world order as President George Bush put it?
So what is the philosophy of Freemasonry? On a simplistic level, its teachings can be explained in a few points:

  • Belief in a Supreme Being.
  • This Supreme Being created everything including us.
  • This Supreme Being has revealed to Man certain Moral laws.
  • There is an afterlife when we will be called upon to give an account for our actions in this life.
To me it looks like a category that covers most of what I have seen in Freemasonry. But am I right? Is this the all-encompassing category into which we can put Freemasonry? To find our answer let us look at how Freemasonry had been defined by Freemasons.

What is Freemasonry?

So what exactly does freemasonry do for a person?
Why is it that some people spend their whole lives and a lot of their free time on Freemasonry?
What is this “attraction” that Freemasonry holds that is not seen among other groups?
In modern times it becomes fashionable to be vague and just define it most simply by saying:

“Freemasonry - Making good men better!”

In his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (8) the author Daniel Pink suggests that motivation by means of rewards (example bonuses) and fear of punishment (no promotions), does not work.
The book claims that we have progressed into an era where our motivation is largely intrinsic, or from within ourselves and that this type of motivation can be classified into:
  • Autonomy,
  •  Mastery and
  • Purpose

I now highlight some of the areas where our masonic philosophy reflects these qualities. It is only a matter of time for the mason who has internalized these teachings to become motivated to perform exceptionally in other spheres of his life. The reason being wherever you have a good mix of these traits – in an organization or a home or even a relationship; there you see motivated people performing better than before!


Freemasonry teaches people to be autonomous as is evident in the NE charge:
“You, being newly admitted into Masonry, are placed at the North-East part of the Lodge figuratively to represent that stone, and from the foundation laid this evening may you raise a superstructure perfect in its parts and honourable to the builder.” (1)
Notice that we are not taught that we are just another wheel in a big machine; we are taught that we are to attempt to ‘raise a superstructure’ ourselves.


In the words of Hiram Abiff: “…no doubt patience and industry would, in due time, entitle the worthy Mason to a participation of them, (1)” Fellow Crafts who have shown mastery in the craft are finally raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason.


The search for light is the beginning and continual endeavor of all masons. This is translated into a search for truth and is the equivalent to the search for the everlasting; the great “I Am”. To a mason who has understood the deeper meanings of the search for truth that becomes a lifelong journey of self-examination and conquest not just of the outer but also the inner realms of one’s existence.

In this sense Freemasonry helps people grow, build themselves up and thus helps make good men better!! When a group of such men get together it can not only benefit their families, and communities but ultimately society itself. And that my brethren is what Freemasonry is about.

In my view Freemasonry through its philosophy addresses these three areas in a very holistic manner. Brotherly love, Relief and Truth under the Fatherhood of God in the brotherhood of Man is one explanation of Freemasonry - that touches on its core principles.


1. Craft Freemasonry. Craft Ritual Book (Indian). Seventeenth Edition. New Delhi : Grand Lodge of India, 1997. p. 200.
2. Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. peculiar. (n.d.). [Online] [Cited: August 30, 2012.]
3. —. system. (n.d.). [Online] [Cited: August 30, 2012.]
4. —. morality. (n.d.). [Online] [Cited: August 30, 2012.]
5. Unabridged. veiled. (n.d.). [Online] [Cited: August 30, 2012.]
6. Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. illustrate. (n.d.). [Online] [Cited: August 30, 2012.] illustrate. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10
7. Marner, R. W. Bro. Wally. Canadian Installation Charge. [Online] [Cited: August 30, 2012.]
8. Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. 1 edition (December 29, 2009). s.l. : Riverhead Hardcover, 2009. p. 256.