Freemasonry is the oldest, and by far, the largest fraternal order in the world. Its lodges stretch around the globe, and like the British Empire, it might well be said that the sun never sets upon the Masonic lodge.
Fraternity means an association of brothers, and that is exactly what Freemasonry is – a society of friends and brothers. The origins of Freemasonry date back to the dawn of civilization. The Egyptians practiced many of the philosophies known to modern Free masonry, and men practiced many of the operative skills as guilds formed in Europe during the Tenth Century. Written records of modern Freemasonry have been kept since 1717 with the formation of a general governing body called a Grand Lodge in England.
It is not a secret society in that its Temples are openly marked and almost everyone in the community knows where they are located. The Grand Lodge publishes a roster of the members of every lodge in the jurisdiction. Many of the Lodges have individual bulletins or newsletters which carry the names of the officers and members, as well. Thus it is, in the strictest sense of the word, a society with secrets, and these are limited to its obligation, its modes of recognition, such as pass words and grips, etc. and certain parts of its ritual.
It is religious in character, but is not a religion. It is founded upon the basic principle of the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God, and everyone who comes to its lodges must express a particular belief about God, for this is the privilege of each individual and is not infringed upon by our Fraternity.
Freemasonry practices selective charities, founded on the principle of brotherly need which is not applicable in all cases that appear similar. No member has a specific claim upon the society for its charity, for this is not a right acquired by becoming a member of the society, rather it is a privilege.