Q. What are Freemasons?
A. Masons are members of a worldwide fraternity. They carry on a tradition of brotherhood that has existed since at least the early 1700s and likely before.

Q. How do I become a Mason?
A. Ask. Masons are prohibited from directly soliciting membership. Instead, we try to offer a favorable public impression and be open to people who approach members or lodges seeking more information with a view to possible membership.

Q. What qualifications do I need to become a Mason?
A. Members must express a belief in a supreme being, but church attendance or membership in a specific denomination is not required. Only adult men can join. Applicants are asked if membership dues and/or attendance at meetings will cause a financial hardship on their family. Before a lodge votes to allow an applicant to join, the petitioner meets with a committee of three members who make sure they are a good citizen.

Q. Can women join?
A. No, but the good news is that there are affiliated organizations in which women take the lead and exist side-by-side with Freemasonry. On the Long Beach Peninsula, the Order of the Eastern Star welcomes new members and its meetings are held in the same lodge room as the Masons.

Q. What do Masons do?
A. Masons on the Long Beach Peninsula meet on the first Thursday evening of the month, except July and August, for a lodge meeting in Ilwaco and almost every Wednesday year-round for an informal lunch. Additional meetings may be scheduled if new members are to be initiated or advanced through the three degrees. Community work includes an annual Bikes for Books program, which encourages pre-teen literacy in local schools, and a youth citizenship awards program.

Q. How did Freemasonry begin?
A. Scholars have examined many theories. Because our rituals focus on aspects of architecture, many link the organization to the ancient stonemason guilds whose artisans built the impressive gothic cathedrals of Europe. Others claim ties to the Knights Templars, a warrior knight organization involved in the protection of pilgrims to the Holy Land. More recent theories suggest Masonry was encouraged by members of the Royal Society, a group of freethinkers and scientists in 1600s England. Masons gathered in London in 1717 to create the first Grand Lodge, which oversaw the growth of the organization. Masonry then spread around the world, in part through the British Army. It came to America in the 1700s and lodges were founded throughout the nation, spurred initially by the Enlightenment thinking among our nation’s founders, many of whom were Masons. Unlike most countries, which have one central Grand Lodge, every U.S. state and the District of Columbia has its own Grand Lodge which oversees individual lodge membership in its jurisdiction. The Grand Lodge of Washington is based at University Place near Tacoma and a new Grand Master is installed every year.

Q. What are the three degrees?
A. Masonry offers a way to “make good men better” by the study of allegories contained in its rituals. The rituals are featured in three separate ceremonies leading members to become a Master Mason on attaining their third degree. They compare the idea of becoming a good citizen to the old stonemason concepts of building a house on solid foundations, etc. Much of the imagery is tied to the traditional story of the building of King Solomon’s Temple. Additionally, the concepts of equality and the universal brotherhood of man are key, emphasizing that we are all equal and connected. Masons help each other, but they also promise to help anyone who is in need. The trustworthiness of Masons is epitomized by the expression “on the level,” which has several meanings, including the allusion to architecture and the equality of all mankind.

Q. Is Masonry a Christian group?
A. No, but Christians are welcome, as are people of all faiths. One of the reasons why Masons like their organization is that members are free to form their own notion of their personal concept of a supreme being. All faiths meet together in harmony. In fact, discussion of religion and politics is not allowed in the lodge room.

Q. Have famous people been Freemasons?
A. Freemason history boasts many prominent Americans. Fourteen of our presidents were members, including George Washington. The most recent was Gerald Ford. Two presidents and Benjamin Franklin served as Grand Masters — head Masons — of their home states. Celebrities from John Wayne to Buzz Aldrin were members. Around the world, Mozart, Rudyard Kipling and many members of European royal families have attended lodges. Mozart’s final opera, “The Magic Flute,” offers parallels with Masonic degrees as the lead character faces tests of his character and integrity. Kipling often wrote about his lodge in India, delighting in the fact that Freemasonry allowed — and indeed encouraged — Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs to meet together “on the level” without any embarrassment or difficulties.

Q. Is Freemasonry a secret society?
A. The very fact that this lodge and hundreds of others have web sites that advertise their meetings and activities should answer that question! It is true that the ancient rituals do have passwords and modes of recognition that we only reveal to members. But parts of our rituals are published in books and have been well documented. Their explanations are highlighted in the lodge ceremonies as new members advance through the three degrees, learning more during their progression to become a Master Mason.

Q. I heard Freemasonry has had some opponents. Why?
A. It is our belief that these fears are unfounded, based on a lack of knowledge about what we do. Freemasonry in modern America may be considered somewhat similar to many other civic or fraternal organizations, except Freemasonry exists around the world and members savor their links with antiquity. In Europe years ago, several popes condemned Freemasonry, in part because members swore oaths to protect its secrets, an action which went against a belief that churchgoers should be able to share everything with their priests. This opposition has been significantly relaxed for decades and many Catholics around the world are active Freemasons. In the United States in the 1830s, there was even a political movement called the Anti-Masonic Party, which supported candidates for public office, including president. This arose from an mysterious saga of a New York man who disappeared after threatening to publicly expose secret Masonic rituals. Recent fictional books and movies like “The Da Vinci Code” and “National Treasure” have highlighted conspiracy theories about Masons’ role in history and even secret efforts to take over the world or preserve sinister secrets. In fact, they have proved unexpected but excellent opportunities for Masons to become more public about the positive work they do — and what they don’t do.

Q. What do those initials mean?
A. Washington Masons are F.&A.M. That means Free and Accepted Masons. Neighboring Masons in Oregon are A.F.&A.M., Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. Because there were two branches of Masonry in England in the mid-1700s, before they combined to form a United Grand Lodge in 1813, Masonry in colonial times and in the newly established United States developed with slightly different rituals. But we are all on the same path toward knowledge. Ilwaco Masons enjoy excellent fraternal relations with our “Ancient” counterparts across the Columbia River in Clatsop County, Oregon, each attending the others’ lodge meetings in Astoria, Warrenton and Seaside and their social events. In fact, many hold memberships and even leadership positions in lodges on either side of the state line. Ilwaco members have visited lodges around the nation, and in Canada and England, and discovered like-minded men eager to make new friendships throughout the brotherhood.

Q. Where can I find out more about Freemasonry?
A. Occident 48 members would be happy to provide details. Petition forms for prospective new members are available. But you must ask!

For details, contact the lodge secretary, Glenn Ripley, at gripley@myspclstitches.com

Occident Lodge No. 48 F & A.M.
of the
Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Washington