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- Generally, Freemasonry (or Masonry) is one of the world’s oldest and largest secular fraternal organizations. It is not known where Freemasonry began. According to one theory, Freemasonry originated with the operative stonemasons who built the great cathedrals and castles in Europe. These stonemasons had lodges in which they discussed trade affairs. They had simple initiation ceremonies and – as there were no City and Guilds certificates, dues cards or trade union membership cards – they adopted secret signs and words to demonstrate that they were trained masons when they moved from site to site. In the 1600s, these operative lodges began to accept non-operatives as “gentlemen masons”. Gradually these non-operatives took over the lodges and turned them from operative to ‘free and accepted’ or ‘speculative’ lodges.
- Freemasonry’s symbolism is primarily drawn from the manual tools of stonemasons – the square and compass, the level and plumb rule, and the trowel. These symbols are found throughout Masons’ Hall.