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What Is Freemasonry

by Dr. Oskar Posner, Kartsbad, Germany
The Master Mason - October 1925

The following thoughtful, even brilliant, article is an admirable example of the temper and attitude of the Humanitarian, or liberal, wing of German Masonry, in contrast with the ultra-conservative, ardently Christian and intensely nationalistic spirit of the old Prussian Grand Lodges. It represents a group of Grand Lodges which are enthusiastically humanitarian and international in their outlook. The relations between the two groups were for a time rather strained, but they have reached a basis of friendly, if rather distant, fellowship. The old Prussian lodges tolerate the Republic, but hate it; while the Humanity Lodges, as they are called, are trying to interest the new Germany in the Craft - with what success is not quite clear. The brogue is a little different from our Masonic dialect, but it is not difficult to detect the fine conception of the genius and purpose of Masonry which breathes through this article. Translated from the Wiener Freemason, it will be read with interest and profit by the American Craft, if only because it finds in Masonry a basis of fellowship among men, as remote from political parties as from theological affiliation: a "medium of an art which strives to mold people whom life has separated so that they can enter a new communion with one another."  

FREEMASONRY is a community of interests, sentiments and convictions. He who intends to join it must already possess these sentiments and convictions. The initiation into the lodge is a test of this possession of views of life, characteristics, motives of action and receptivity of soul to community moods, indispensable to a Freemason.

Before the candidate for admission, called Searcher, finally decides whether he may join the Society, he should make a careful audit of the contents of his own soul. He should examine himself whether according to his own judgment he possesses those qualities which render him fit for membership. He should study whether his views of life and basic moods agree with the aims, arrangements and manner of work of the Society.

To do this, he must know what the Society demands of him, and what he may expect from the Society. This purpose of self- examination is to be aided by the following dissertations. The lodge should not be entered like a profane union. A relation of continual duties and obligations is entered upon. Therefore, the hour in which the membership is sealed is filled with special responsibility.

The picture of Freemasonry can only be indicated here in outlines and sketches. Only the essential is emphasized. Whether the Searcher can bring his own spirit within these lines is left to his own self-criticism. Freemasonry is work. It begins as work on one's self the moment in which the Searcher expresses the wish to become a Freemason.


THE DESIRE for union with those of similar aims and intents is in the spirit of man. Numberless arrangements of human community life serve this purpose of union. The circle of the natural community, the family, is broken by super-ordained, collective ideas which demand the individual for themselves. Horde, race, people, nation are such super-ordained ideas. The man of today in the midst of life is a member of some vocational communion, of a class. He speaks a definite speech as member of a people or a cultivated community. He is member of a church. By birth or choice he becomes the subject of a state. His social instincts are satisfied by voluntary union. His political convictions or the persuasive arts of others make him a member of a political party.

Each of these groups has a special mark common to all. They want their adherent exclusively for themselves. This leads to conflicts in the individual ego and to the estrangement of men with each other. The very fact that we speak of points of contact with others proves the total insignificance of mental communion between commonplace human beings. The various circles of interest accidentally cross at some point. That is all which occasionally unites men. The best members of the human race have always felt this narrowing of relations to other human beings as depressing. It needs something lacking in every-day life to break it. Life separates man from man; to unite him again with man needs an art; a means of this art, not the art itself, is Freemasonry.

Freemasonry is, therefore, the medium of an art which strives to mold people whom life has separated so that they can enter a new communion with one another.


JOHANN GOTTLIEB FICHTE, who belonging to Freemasonry with devoted enthusiasm, states its task in the following words: "The Mason who was born humane and by the education of his class, by the state and his other social relations, passes beyond it, will, on this basis, again be molded wholly and entirely into a man."

Therefore, he who would become a Mason must recognize the following principle: that there is something higher than those visual forms under which human life daily appears, that this higher thing is present in each human being and only needs developing. This thought, which existed in ancient classic times, which speaks in all religions (before they became church communities), was nurtured by the scholars of the Renaissance who called themselves Humanists, teachers of the humane idea.

The tenets of Freemasonry, which are closely related to this range of ideas, are called the doctrine of Humanity, its content is the valuation of Man according to his inner self and his union with others as the culmination of Humanity.

The result of this teaching is that the Mason overlooks the differences of class, birth, race, nationality, creed, world philosophy, and judges men wholly by their moral worth. Therefore, he who would become a Mason must make it clear to himself that he is joining a Society in which the above differences play no part. He must further know that in this Society he will meet with representatives of all possible points of view and convictions. He need not give up what formerly distinctively filled his life; he only shows by his joining his wish to recognize the humane union, to develop its principles in himself and arrange his active life in accordance with its demands.

FREEMASONRY cannot be political, because it wishes to unite. Its aim and manner of work is higher than the general average of all political parties. It is true Masonic ideas directed to progress and development have points of contact with progressive political programs. But these can only affect the Freemason as a private person, not as lodge member.

The Freemason sees in himself and in the human world in which he lives something incomplete. He has the inner certainty that according to eternal, unchangeable laws a process of development takes place in man which makes its way slowly but unceasingly. This development from simple to complex, from incomplete to perfect, may be retarded by various handicaps, but the history of man teaches that it cannot be held up permanently. The Freemason sees the purpose of his work to be the conquest of all those hindrances placed iii the way of human progress. He therefore assists every activity which aims at liberating man from prejudices and superstition, the most powerful hindrances of progress. Hence he is a fighter for freedom of conscience, of spirit, of research and belief.

He strives to confront the questions of human community life without preconceived notions. He attempts, therefore, to recognize the basic conditions of human communal life and separate them according to their moral value. Because he confronts these questions without prejudice, he denies all dogmatic belief. He sees governing powers at work in the world which he strives to understand, but he leaves to each co-worker the freedom to seek the way of understanding for himself. The religion of the Freemason is toleration. In his oldest historic constitution book, The Old Duties, is the principle of "Religion in which all men agree; that is, they shall be good and faithful men, men of loyalty and honesty, in whatever sects or differences of belief they may otherwise disagree."


FREEMASONRY is in the conception of wide circles a secret society controlling boundless means of power, which by revolutionary intents places itself in opposition to state and church. In this connection it must be said: First of all, the Society is no secret society. It is a society confined to chosen members. All Masonic lodges are societies locally registered. A secret society hides not only its intentions, but its existence. Neither is the case with Freemasonry. The world communion of Freemasons is a spiritual one. Its bond is the humane sentiment, everywhere the same. National character, constitutional forms, the course of time may influence the forms of expression of this mood. A world organization of Freemasons in the sense of a secret society with uniform super-guidance, such as opposing journals maintain, does not exist, nor could it exist.

The Freemason is in duty bound by basic principles willingly to submit himself to the laws of the state in which he lives. The Freemason acts by the guiding lines of his Masonic inclination within the laws of the state. He loves his people and spends his best powers for the welfare of his own people, but he knows how to keep himself unfettered by overheated nationalism and Chauvinism, and does not forget even in times of the most bitter national controversies that there is a human bond of sympathy between his opponents and himself. The ethical internationalism of the Freemason, therefore, robs no one of his individuality as member of a people's community. "Love of country is the Mason's deed; world citizenship is his thought" (Fichte).


THE CHARACTER of the Mason is based, therefore, primarily on the recognition of pure humanity which unites where life separates. The Mason is a servant in the work of mankind. He is conscious of his own humanity in the degree to which he seeks a brother in man. He understands that life creates differences and knows how to reckon with them. He is, however, always striving to seek and develop the human bond in man. In ready confession of his own imperfection, he seeks first of all to separate the generally human in himself from the dross and train it upward. The development of his own personality is for him only the first step of labor on others and for others. He seeks to understand the world about him lovingly, but dispassionately. The unrestrained mass instincts he meets with sane understanding. His cry is not only forward, but also upward. He who would become a Mason must, therefore, feel within himself the ability to raise himself above the commonplace.

All normal men admit of the beauty of the world and its works. The wisdom of life's conduct, the strength of energy, is united by the Mason with the sense of beauty. Wisdom, strength, beauty are for him a holy triad. He who would become a Mason must, in Kant's sense, tremble at the thought of the moral law in his own breast as lie reverently views the starry firmament.

The Mason places beauty into the form of his manner of work. The lodge is the drill ground of Masonic sentiment. Its form of work is borrowed from an old reverent custom which has come down from the stone mason brotherhoods and by philosophic unions at the beginning of the eighteenth century was filled with humanitarian thoughts. These customs, the Mason exposes only for members of the Society. He keeps them secreted from the profane. This protection against profanation is the entire Masonic secret.


LET US NOW attempt a circumscription of the idea of Freemasonry by way of exclusion. Freemasonry is no secret society. It is no religious sect. It is not irreligious, not opposed to the people. It is non-political, but its aims are much too serious to be confined to a union in the usual sense. Therefore, the lodges are not mere charitable unions, nor social clubs, relief, sick or death registers. There are arrangements of this kind in many lodges, but even there they are only means, not the main purposes.

The members united in the brotherhoods keep faith with each other in all conditions of life. But membership in a union is no protection in all conditions of life, for no brother may be called on for help beyond his capability. Freemasonry opens no economic relations, nor does it offer any opportunity to further material business. All these purposes correspond so completely to arrangements outside of the union that they do not need the Masonry.


MEMBERSHIP in the Society is limited to the age of maturity; the seeker must not only have a good reputation, but be a free man. Free here means able to determine for himself , mental freedom to understand the aims of the Society is absolutely indispensable. There must also be a certain economic freedom, for the lodge needs material with which to carry on; this material must be furnished by the members. The membership dues are so arranged that no really suitable seeker need fear a refusal on account of lack of funds. Freemasonry is no capitalistic order, but a spiritual communion. The penny of the laborer or the man of middle class has there the same value as the large contribution of the wealthy man.


WHAT THE Society expects from the seeker has been explained in detail; what the seeker may expect from the Society depends in a great measure on the seeker himself. He has the opportunity to enter a community of men who, aiming for the highest goal, accomplish what human imperfection renders possible. Their reward is that even in such broken work they perceive their up-building. The seeker unites himself with a chain of men that encircles the earth and who have the same will and purpose as he himself.

He may expect friendship and brotherliness, uplift in brotherly communion, efficacious labor for high purposes and the satisfaction which the individual gains from the power of companionship in joint labor.

But all this will only become his if he comes with the honest intention to give in order to receive and if he holds himself ready voluntarily to try to be himself in little things what the Society hopes to be to humanity. Hence the seeker finds at the door of Freemasonry the old but never-aged words, "Know thyself."

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