Principles of Freemasonry

Posted by George Washington Union on April 10, 2019 at 5:55 PM

By Nat:. Val:.

In order to get a better understanding of who we are and what we do, it seems important to give a basic historical background showing our common ancestry with regular Freemasonry, as well as the causes for our separation. Then, exploring the principles that rule our order as well as our motto will hopefully contribute to a better grasp of what we represent.

Modern Freemasonry is a product of the age of Enlightenment, where it went from an operational society based on various crafts to a society of thinkers. The first Grand Lodge was born in England in 1717. The Grand Orient de France (GODF), which gave the George Washington Union (GWU) its patent to operate as a masonic entity, was established in 1728 and is the oldest masonic body in continental Europe, but it was only in 1877 that the GODF abolished the requirement that its members believe in God and in the immortality of the soul. So for those of you who are familiar with regular Freemasonry, you will find that this is one of the principles that differentiates the two types of Freemasonry from one another.

It is also worth noting that the first woman to become a Freemason was Elizabeth Aldworth in Ireland in 1712. Unfortunately, the Anderson’s Constitutions excluded women in 1723. It was not until 1882 that the second woman Freemason (Maria Deraisme) was initiated in France, and Co-masonic lodges became a reality.

Now that we have covered the fundamental philosophical difference between regular and continental Freemasonry, we can delve into the principles of our order.

But before we dive into what the principles of continental Freemasonry are, it may be helpful to define the terms principle and Freemasonry. In this particular instance, a principle is a fundamental quality determining the nature or essence of Freemasonry. On the other hand, much like other Freemasons before me, I have found that a definition for Freemasonry straight out of the dictionary does not quite cut it. Indeed, “instinctive sympathy or fellow feeling between people with something in common” is true, but it is not enough.

Charles Clyde Hunt, in his Article “The principles of Freemasonry”, recounts what Brother W.N. Ponton of Canada had to say on the subject. And since I liked most of what I read, I will read excerpts that apply to us continental Freemasons.

“Masonry is something more than a secret society (though secrecy is an element in esoteric work); more than ritualism (though the ritual, simple in its dignity and quaint and rhythmic in expression, is a factor); more than symbolism (though symbolism teaching is significant and transfigures the commonplace); more than philosophy (though it speculatively teaches how to live wisely and well)...; More than mere landmarks (though these have their defining, historical, and traditional place); more even than brotherhood (for as in Pythagorean days, it is educational and intellectual as well as social and fraternal)...; yet it is all these together with that something more of which language is inadequate to express the subtle mystery, even to those few choice spirits who seek to penetrate to the heart of its often unconscious power…”

Because the definition of Freemasonry is so vague, its Guiding Principles seem necessary to get a basic understanding of what it is, or at least of what we are getting into:

  1. Only individuals who are free and of good morals, and who are willing to commit to promoting a life of peace, love and fraternity are allowed to join Freemasonry.
  2. By aiming towards the moral perfection of its members, Freemasonry also aims at perfecting humanity as a whole. In other words individual betterment will lead to a universal one.
  3. Freemasonry imposes on its members the exact and scrupulous practice of the rituals and symbolism, all recognised as the access point to knowledge by means of spirituality and initiations. While it recognises the diversity of rites practiced, it insists that they are practiced precisely.
  4. Freemasonry imposes on its members the respect of everyone’s opinions and beliefs. It forbids controversial political and religious subjects. By doing so, it is the center of a permanent and fraternal union where comprehension, tolerance and harmony between men and women who would otherwise be strangers is maintained. That being said, Freemasonry does not forbid divergences in opinions from its members, nor does it forbid religious beliefs. It will simply not provide its members with an kind of dogmas.
  5. Freemasons swear on the Volume of the sacred law in order to give a more solemn character to the act. GWU uses a blank book to allow the member taking his/her obligation to make it be what he/she wants it to be (bible, Torah, Quran, etc.. or just a blank book).
  6. Freemasons assemble, outside of the uninitiated world, in Lodges (or temples if you will), that always contain the 3 great lights, namely the volume of the sacred law, a square and a compass. There, they work following their rite, with zeal and diligence, in conformity with the rules and principles prescribed by the constitution, rules and regulations of the masonic body that governs their lodge. To many, the compass, with its moving branches, symbolizes the freedom to perceive our theories in the way we best see fit. The square, with its rigid limbs, symbolizes moral rectitude.
  7. A candidate who wishes to enter freemasonry must be 18 years or more, of good reports, honest, loyal, discreet, and worthy, in all areas, of becoming a brother or sister.
  8. Freemasons encourage love of country, upholding the law, respecting authority. They consider work as an essential human duty to be honored in all its forms.
  9. Freemasons contribute to the good reputation of the order by exhibiting a wise and dignified behavior to the outside world while respecting the secrecy associated with Freemasonry. In other words, the uninitiated world will judge the order based on the behavior of its members. It is not uncommon for a candidate to apply because of his/her freemason’s friend’s commendable behavior.
  10. Freemasons owe each other aid and fraternal protection even at the peril of their own life. They must strive to remain calm, and maintain a perfect balance under all circumstances, thus demonstrating perfect control of themselves.

Regular Freemasonry would add a belief in a greater power and the exclusion of women to this list of principles.

But one cannot mention the principles of continental Freemasonry in order to shed light on it without mentioning its motto: “Liberty, equality, fraternity.” First uttered by Robespierre during the French revolution, it was repeated by the Vice Grand Master of the GODF in 1848 when he attended a meeting with the French provisional government in order to show the support of French Freemasonry. From that point on, it became the motto of continental Freemasonry.

  • Liberty stands for the absolute respect for its members’ freedom of conscience and speech. In lodge members can express themselves without being interrupted, and can think and make up their own mind without being coerced.
  • Equality is written within our founding texts. Women and men are equal in all aspects of the lodge’s life. They each have the same rights and the same duties.
  • Fraternity is one of the core concepts of Freemasonry as it strengthens the bonds between brothers and sisters. It is the ability to give, receive and share and it is based on loyalty, tolerance, respect, trust and indulgence.
  • GWU has chosen to add its own motto to that of its masonic family. It is: “Harmony, unity, diversity.”
  • Harmony describes a necessary sentiment among the Lodges and Triangles and the members of the Union to enforce the Masonic goals and objectives set in its Basic Documents and underlying principles (constitution, rules and regulations, bylaws)
  • Unity describes the commonality of Masonic goals and beliefs to all Lodges, Triangles and members of the Union.
  • Diversity describes the diversity of gender as well as of personal cultures, languages, and personal beliefs respected within the Union and outside of it.

Overall, we are not that different from our “regular” brothers. A lot of the principles that rule their order also rule ours. But the fact that we look for diversity by allowing women and atheists to join makes us a necessary entity in today’s modern world.

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