Masonic Questions and Answers

Masonic Questions & Answers

Prepared by the Committee on Masonic Education, the following questions and answers cover a wide variety of topics and provide information on some of the most common questions regarding Freemasonry.

  1. When and where did Masonry originate?
    It was not the work of any single man or group of men. Its beginning is not recorded, although there were certain organizations from which Masonry has borrowed extensively through the centuries in its evolutionary process.
  2. What are the Old Charges or Old Constitutions?
    Medieval manuscripts that outline the legendary history of Freemasonry and present the rules and laws governing the conduct of early operative masons.
  3. What is the Regius Poem?
    The oldest of the so-called Old Constitutions dating from approximately 1390, its Masonic character being revealed years later. It was named the Regius Poem (Latin: rex, regis, king) because it was part of the Royal Library of England and later presented to The British Museum by King George II. It is written in verse, whereas all other copies of the Old Charges are in prose.
  4. What other Old Charges are there?
    More than 100 of these old documents have been discovered. Almost all of them are in Great Britain, but three have been brought to this country. Two are in the possession of The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in Boston. Another, “The Carmick Manuscript of 1727,” is in the Library of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
  5. What were the Guilds?
    Organizations composed of workers such as tailors, dyers, builders and potters.
  6. Of what interest are Guilds to Masons?
    The prevalent theory of the origin of Freemasonry suggests that eventually Guilds of the building trade developed into lodges of operative masons from which, it is supposed, present-day Freemasonry evolved.
  7. Who were Masons prior to 1600?
    Operative masons who made their living by working at one of the building trades.
  8. How did Operative Masonry develop into Speculative Masonry?
    Beginning about 1600, men of prominence who were interested in learning about all types of sciences, particularly architecture and building, became members of some of the lodges of operative masons and finally assumed leadership therein. They used the tools, language and principles of operative masonry to teach the rules of life.
  1. When and where was the first Grand Lodge established?
    On June 24, 1717, in London
  2. How was it formed?
    By action of four existing Lodges that were accustomed to meeting at the Goose and Gridiron Ale-house in St. Paul’s Church-yard; Crown Ale-house in Parker’s Lane near Drury’s Lane; Apple Tree Tavern in Charles Street, Covent Garden; and Rummer and Grapes Tavern in Channel Row, Westminster.
  3. When were other early Grand Lodges formed?
    Grand Lodge of Ireland, 1725; Provincial Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, 1731; Provincial Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, 1733; Grand Lodge of Scotland, 1736, in addition to several formed in England, which were of short duration.
  4. What other Grand Lodge was organized in England in 1751?
    Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of England, according to the Old Constitutions, also known as the “Antients.”
  5. What names were given to these two groups?
    The members of the Grand Lodge of 1751 referred to themselves as “Antient Masons.” The members of the Grand Lodge of 1717 were known as “Modern Masons.”
  6. What was the principle difference between them?
    The Antient’s claimed that the Moderns changed the ritual after the publication of Pritchard’s exposure “Masonry Dissected,” in 1731,and the Moderns had also refused to allow Irish Masons to attend the Moderns’ meetings in London.
  7. How was their rivalry ended?
    By their merger in 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England.
  8. Who were the leaders in the union of 1813?
    The Duke of Sussex and the Duke of Kent (sons of King George III), the Grand Masters of the Moderns and the Antients, respectively.
  9. Is the Goose and Gridiron Ale-house still standing?
    It was torn down in 1894.
  10. What Lodges of the 1717 Grand Lodge of England are in existence?
    The Lodge at the Goose and Gridiron, now called Antiquity No. 2; the Lodge at the Rummer and Grapes, now called Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No. 4; the Lodge at the Apple Tree Tavern, now called Lodge of Fortitude; and Old Cumberland No. 12.
  11. Why were the Antients sometimes called Atholl Masons?
    This was due to the fact that the Dukes of Atholl presided over them as Grand Masters.
  12. What effect did the existence of two competing Grand Lodges in England have upon Freemasonry in the United States?
    Inasmuch as numerous Lodges had been constituted in America by the Moderns, while others had come into existence under Antient auspices, quite naturally much of the Ritualistic difference (and also the intense rivalry) occurred here. This was complicated somewhat by the fact that there were also Lodges in America of Irish and Scottish origins. The settlement of differences in England in 1813 was followed by similar action in America within a few years.
  13. Does the answer to the previous question apply to Pennsylvania?
    Not entirely; because few of the Modern Lodges survived the Revolutionary War, and consequently, Pennsylvania Masonry is substantially Antient subsequent to 1785.
  14. What was the original printed code of laws in English Masonry?
    The Constitutions of 1723 compiled by James Anderson. This was followed by a revised edition in 1738.
  15. What is the Ahiman Rezon?
    Originally, it was the constitution of the Antient Grand Lodge in London, as compiled by Laurence Dermott, Grand Secretary in 1756. The title is a combination of two proper nouns, from the Old Testament. Ahiman was one of a group of Levites appointed by King David to serve a special function in the Jerusalem sanctuary. He was, specifically, one of the four gatekeepers (1 Chronicles 9: 17–19, 22–31). Dermott included these gatekeepers, especially Ahiman, in his introductory remarks to the original editions of Ahiman Rezon. Rezon was an opponent raised up by God to punish King Solomon, after he had allowed his faith to wander (1 Kings, Chapter 11). Dermott selected these two names because Ahiman guarded the Holy of Holies from the unworthy, and Rezon was a thorn in King Solomon’s side during the time of his fall from purity. This is precisely how the Antients saw themselves in relation to the Moderns.
  1. Who was the first Provincial Grand Master in America?
    Daniel Coxe who was appointed in 1730 for New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, by the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England.
  2. How was the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania formed?
    It was the voluntary association of several Lodges for the mutual advantages to be derived from such a union – the same process followed by the two previous Grand Lodges (England and Ireland).
  3. Which Presidents of the United States were Freemasons?
    George Washington, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Gerald R. Ford. Some authorities also include Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, but documentary evidence is lacking. Lyndon B. Johnson received the Entered Apprentice Degree, but did not advance.
  4. Which other famous Americans, during the Revolution, were Masons?
    Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Paul Revere, John Marshall, Joseph Warren, and John Paul Jones are but a few Masons noted in history.
  5. Which Presidents were Grand Masters?
    Andrew Jackson of Tennessee and Harry S. Truman of Missouri.
  6. Who was the first native-born American to become a Mason?
    Jonathan Belcher, who became Governor of Massachusetts in 1730, according to a letter he wrote to the “First” Lodge of Boston in 1741 stating that he had been made a Mason in 1704 in London.
  7. When and under what circumstances was the Cornerstone of the National Capitol laid?
    On September 18, 1793 by Brother George Washington with a Masonic Ceremony.
  8. Who owns the Gavel used at that time?
    Potomac Lodge No. 5 of the District of Columbia, formerly Columbia Lodge No. 19 of Maryland.
  9. Where has this gavel been used in Pennsylvania?
    In the Laying of the Cornerstone of the Masonic Temple at Philadelphia in 1868, and in 1898, at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, and again in 1986 at the redepositing of the Capstone at the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia, the laying of the Cornerstone of the renovated Washington Grist Mill in Perryopolis in 1992, and at the Dedication of the National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge National Historic Park in 1997.
  10. Who gave George Washington a beautiful Masonic Apron which he wore while laying the Cornerstone of the National Capitol?
    Brother Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Montier, more commonly known as the Marquis de Lafayette.
  11. Where is this apron now?
    In the Collection of the Grand Lodge, on deposit with the Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania.
  12. What were Military Lodges?
    Duly constituted Lodges which had no permanent place of meeting but traveled with regiments or other military organizations to which they were attached.
  13. In the early 1700s how were Lodges formed?
    Under the “time immemorial usage,” a number of Masons were permitted to meet, form a Lodge and practice the Rites of Freemasonry.
  14. When and where was George Washington made a Mason?
    On November 4, 1752 in the Lodge at Fredericksburg, Virginia.
  15. Who was Warrant Master of Alexandria Lodge when it ceased to be No. 39 of Pennsylvania and became No. 22 of Virginia?
    George Washington.
  16. Upon what Bible was George Washington sworn in as President of the United States, and by whom was the Oath of Office administered?
    The Bible that belonged to St. John’s Lodge No. 1, New York City. The Oath of Office was administered by Robert R. Livingston, Chancellor of the State who at the time was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York. Although not part of the text of the Oath in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, Washington pronounced the words, “so help me God” and kissed the Bible, setting a precedent that every President has followed to this day.
  17. What was the first book dedicated to Brother George Washington?
    The 1783 Pennsylvania edition of the Ahiman Rezon


  1. What was the first printed reference to Masonic Lodges in Pennsylvania?
    In the issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette, dated December 8, 1730, its editor, Benjamin Franklin (not then a Mason) refers to “several Lodges of Freemasons” having been “Erected in this Province.”
  2. What is the oldest Masonic Lodge Record in America?
    The account book, “Liber B,” 1731 of St. John’s Lodge of Philadelphia, owned by The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
  3. Who succeeded Daniel Coxe as Grand Master of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania?
    William Allen in 1731.
  4. Who were some of William Allen’s successors?
    Humphrey Murray, Benjamin Franklin, James Hamilton, Thomas Hopkinson, William Plumstead, Joseph Shippen, Philip Syng.
  5. Where was the first Masonic Hall in America?
    “Freemasons’ Lodge” built in 1755 in Philadelphia on the south side of Norris (or Lodge) Alley, which extends west from Second Street and is parallel to and north of Walnut Street.
  6. Where were other early Masonic meeting places in Philadelphia?
    Tun Tavern on the east side of what was known as King Street, between Chestnut and Walnut Streets (1730); Indian King Tavern (1735); Royal Standard Tavern, High Street near Second Street (1749).
  7. What was the first Masonic Book printed in America?
    The “Constitutions of the Free-Masons” (a reprint of Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723) printed by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia in 1734 “for the Use of the Brethren in North America.”
  8. What Pennsylvania Past Master and Past District Deputy Grand Master became President of the United States?
    James Buchanan of Lodge No. 43, Lancaster.
  9. What Grand Master of Pennsylvania became Vice President of the United States under President Polk?
    George M. Dallas
  1. Who was St. John the Evangelist?
    One of the Apostles, born in Galilee and known for his effective preaching in Asia Minor and at Ephesus. A man of great energy and poetic fire, he became one of the Patron Saints of Freemasonry, earning that distinction because of his constant cultivation of Brotherly Love. The day consecrated as the Festival of St. John the Evangelist, December 27, at High Noon, is the beginning of a new Masonic Year in Pennsylvania.
  2. What do A.D. and A.L. mean and why?
    A.D. is an abbreviation for the Latin words Anno Domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord,” and is the Christian method of designating the number of years following the birth of Christ. Freemasons’ nomenclature in this respect comes from the old belief (entirely erroneous) that the world was created 4,000 years before Christ, and therefore calculates the date as 4,000 years plus the current year, for instance, 1999 A.D. or 5999 A.L., which is an abbreviation for the Latin words, Anno Lucis, meaning “in the year of Light” or the time of Creation.
  3. What is meant by the Volume of the Sacred Law?
    The holy book of one’s prevailing faith and the Great Light in Freemasonry.
  4. Which Grand Lodge removed the Volume of the Sacred Law from the altar, and why?
    The Grand Orient of France in 1877 to stress its adherence to the basic principle of universality. Practically all other Grand Lodges withdrew their official recognition of the Grand Orient.
  5. Must all Masons be obligated on the Bible?
    The primary requirement of a Freemason is a belief in a Supreme Being, whether He be called God or Allah or Jehovah or any of the names by which the Supreme Architect of the Universe may be designated. Hence a candidate for Freemasonry should be obligated on a book he considers to be a Volume of the Sacred Law of his religious faith, (e.g. Holy Bible, Torah, Koran).
  6. Who were the first non-operative Masonic members of record?
    The first recorded initiations of non-stonemasons were for William, Lord Alexander; his brother, Anthony Alexander (the King’s Master of Works); and Sir Alexander Strachan of Thornton. They were initiated July 3, 1634, in the lodge now named Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary’s Chapel), No.1.
  7. Why are we called Freemasons?
    The name definitely dates back to the days when Masonry was almost wholly operative in character. Numerous explanations have been suggested, such as (a) masons worked in free stone (which could be carved), and hence were called “free-stone masons,” later shortened to “freemasons;” (b) they were free men, not serfs; (c) they were free to move from place to place as they might desire; (d) they were given the freedom of the towns or localities in which they worked; (e) they were free of the rules and regulations that were usually imposed upon members of guilds.
  8. When does a candidate for the Degrees of Freemasonry become a Member of a Lodge?
    Although not entitled to all the rights and privileges of the Lodge until he is Raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason, in Pennsylvania the candidate becomes a member of the Lodge at the time he receives his Entered Apprentice Mason’s Degree.
  9. Who are the Members of Grand Lodge?
    The Grand Lodge Officers, Past Grand Masters, Past Deputy Grand Masters, Past Masters by one year’s service and the Worshipful Masters and Wardens of all Symbolic Lodges lawfully Warranted and duly Constituted by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and under its Jurisdiction.
  10. Is Freemasonry a charitable organization?
    It is not a charitable organization as such, but it engages in many acts of charity. In Pennsylvania, three outstanding examples of this are the Masonic Villages (located in Elizabethtown, Warminster, Sewickley, Dallas and Lafayette Hill), the Masonic Children’s Home at Elizabethtown, and the Pennsylvania Masonic Youth Foundation. Individual Lodges assist needy members, their widows, orphans, and community cases as need arises and funds are available. Additionally, the appendant Masonic bodies all have tremendous charitable outreaches which are well known for treating crippled and burned children, providing eye and dental care, leading medical research in the areas of schizophrenia and mental illness, providing training for children with dyslexia and support for kids with muscular dystrophy, to name just a few.
  11. Is there any reason that a Roman Catholic cannot be made a Mason?
    There is nothing in the Constitution, rules, regulations, edicts or customs of Freemasonry that prohibit a Roman Catholic from becoming a member of the Masonic Fraternity.
  12. When and where did African American Freemasonry start in the United States?
    On March 6, 1775, in Boston, when the degrees of Masonry were conferred upon Prince Hall and 14 other African American men in a Military Lodge (No. 441 on the Irish Register) in the English Army attached to the 38th Regiment.
  13. Who was Prince Hall?
    It is recorded that he was born in Barbados, British West Indies. He came to Boston, became the leader of the free African Americans of that city, and was an ordained minister.
  14. Did these African American Masons have a Lodge of their own?
    On September 29, 1784, the Grand Lodge of England issued a Charter for African Lodge No. 459 of Boston. It was instrumental in forming the first African American Grand Lodge in the United States.
  15. What is a recognized Grand Lodge?
    From the standpoint of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, it is one which is considered as being accepted as regular and legitimate. The Grand Lodges of the United States have different ideas on this subject, and as a result, some Grand Lodges in other countries are recognized by some Grand Lodges in our country but others are not.
  16. What Lodges may be visited?
    Only Lodges that are under the jurisdiction of Grand Lodges your Grand Lodge recognizes as being legitimate. When traveling in other jurisdictions and planning Lodge visits, it is important to make inquiries of your Lodge Secretary and your District Deputy Grand Master, before starting on your trip.
  17. What are the “Higher Degrees” in Freemasonry?
    There are none, although there are additional degrees other than the three of Symbolic Masonry. The degrees of the Scottish and York Rites are dependent on the Three Degrees of the Symbolic Lodge.
  18. To what extent may a Mason talk about Freemasonry to those who are not members of the Fraternity?
    Masons need not be reticent in speaking about Freemasonry to those who have an honest desire for knowledge. Three informative folders, “Friend to Friend” “ASK!, ” and “Freemasonry–A Way of Life,” published by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, are available to be given to interested non-Masons. Questions asked in sincerity for the purpose of obtaining reasonable information concerning Freemasonry should be answered in the spirit in which they are asked. (Your attention is directed to Question No. 100.)
  19. Why are Lodges in some Jurisdictions known as A.F. & A.M. and others as F. & A.M.?
    There were two Grand Lodges in England between 1751 and 1813, one was called “Moderns” (actually, the older of the two) and one was called “Antients.” The latter used the title Ancient Free and Accepted Masons (A.F. & A.M.) while the original Grand Lodge used Free and Accepted Masons (F. & A.M.). Warrants to Lodges in the United States were granted by these two Grand Lodges and thus the differences. Twenty-four Grand Jurisdictions in the United States use A.F. & A.M., 25 use F. & A.M., South Carolina uses A.F.M. and the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia uses F.A.A.M.
  20. How is a Lodge formed in Pennsylvania?
    Fifteen or more Master Masons, having resigned from the Lodges to which they belonged, may petition the Grand Lodge for a Warrant to form a Lodge and practice the Rites of Freemasonry. The petition must be signed not only by the applicants, but by three well-known Masons, Members of a subordinate Lodge, by the District Deputy Grand Master, and must be recommended by another Lodge. After the petition has been approved by Grand Lodge, the Lodge is duly Constituted by the Grand Master or by someone delegated by him to perform that duty.
  21. What is the oldest existing Lodge record?
    That of Edinburgh Lodge No. 1 dated July 30, 1599.
  22. What is a “Moon Lodge?”
    In former times when roads were poor and traveling difficult, numerous Lodges met on the date of the Full Moon or, in some instances, a certain number of days before or after the Full Moon so that those going to and from Lodge Meetings might have the light of the moon to make the journey safer and easier. In recent years, a number of former “Moon Lodges” have changed their Meetings to a specific date. Some Lodges, however, still meet on, or a certain number of days before or after, the Full Moon.
  23. What was the origin of the expression “Blue Lodges?”
    There are several theories, of which two have the most adherents. Some believe that operative Masons felt that blue, the color of the sky both by day and by night, was associated in their minds with the purity of Deity, which Masons attempt to emulate. Others refer to the change made by speculative Masons shortly after the establishment of the original Grand Lodge of England when blue was substituted for white as the official Masonic color, presumably because it was the color of the Order of the Garter of which a number of Masonic leaders were members.
  24. What are the qualifications of a petitioner for Freemasonry?
    That he believes in the Supreme Architect of the Universe (by whatever name He may be called); that he applies for initiation and membership of his own free will and accord; that he is recommended by two Master Masons, one of whom must be a Member of the Lodge to which he desires to apply; that he is of good character; and that he be a man and of mature age (18 in Pennsylvania.)
  25. What is the meaning of the letters G.A.O.T.U?
    Grand, or sometimes, Great Architect of the Universe.
  26. What is the Cerneau Rite of Freemasonry?
    A clandestine, spurious and irregular order of men claiming to be Masons with various degrees of success in its organization from the year 1807. It is believed that this Rite no longer exists.
  27. What is an Edict?
    In Pennsylvania, a ruling issued by the R.W. Grand Master that has the effect of Masonic Law.
  28. What is Ancient Craft Masonry?
    The Three Symbolic Degrees — Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason.
  29. What is a Lewis?
    The son of a Mason who becomes a member of the Craft before he reaches lawful age. In England the term “Lewis” is a symbol of strength, a man’s strength being represented in his son.
  30. What is Esoteric?
    The unwritten work of the Ritual, which is not to be revealed, except to one entitled to receive it.
  31. Where can additional information concerning Freemasonry be obtained?
    We have many good book titles available in our gift shop, and Pennsylvania Freemasons may borrow many more from the library.