I am a Freemason, have been for many years, I am a member of a couple of side degrees as well.
To Clear up a couple of things, The only misconceptions out there are from those who don't understand what freemasonry is about.(or those who delve too deeply into conspiracy websites, you know who you are ((so do we!))
I am not familiar with any modern sects which have been mentioned above, Masonry has official recorded history from about 1717 (I stand to be corrected) and unofficially it apparently dates back to the early 13th century with links to the Knights Templar.
As far as the skull and crossbones are concerned, it is more commonly found in the freimaurer or German constitution, why I am not sure, but by all indications it is not neferious in its symbolism.
Now as far as the Egyptians are concerned, not sure where that link came about. As masons we are taught about King Solomon and how he built his magnificent Temple with the aid of a Master Builder, the system that was used as wage at that time had 3 tiers, the entered aprentice who was paid in kind with food and drink, the Fellow craft who was paid both in kind and with coin, and the Master Mason who was paid only in coin, each of these had a seperate password given to him at that level of skill and this is how he applied for his wage.
This is a very brief history of the true origin of Masonry, nothing really to do with egyptians or pharohs or priests etc.
Masonry was later on split into two distinct groups.
The Operative Mason - Those who still physically worked with stone or construction
The Speculative Mason - Those who worked more with Theory and Knowledge and sought enlightenment.
Nowadays most if not all Masons are Speculative Masons.
It is true that Freemasons have secrets, these are purely to preserve the advancement of Masons within Masonry ie. secret words and handshakes which are used to identify masons of different levels with each other or to gain entry to Lodges at labour at any particular degree.
It Should be Known that Freemasonry is NOT a secret society, as we are well known to all, but it is a Society with Secrets.
The only prerequisite to joining masonry was that you are to be a man free-born(not enslaved) and were to be without mame or defect(this is no longer strictly adhered to)
Anyone could and can apply to be a Freemason whether you are a King or a commoner.
No matter what your lineage, you are as equal to the next man in a lodge.
I hope this clears up a few things, please feel free to ask any question, I will answer what I can, secrets excluded(LoL).
A very nice sketch of the Fraternity's history, but perhaps oversimplified. I am of the school of thought of a Templar origin, but not in the traditional sense. I believe the Templars that survived the attack of Friday the 13th sought various ways of escape. As the Order had close relations with the stone masons who built their Preceptories, Churchs and Chapter Houses they naturally sought refuge within and the brothers gladly afforded them cover in their safe houses; others went to Scotland, Portugal, the European East as Teutonic Knights and some to the Hospitalers. As such, there are multiple "Templar" lines of transmission.
I am a 32AASR, York Rite Knight Templar and a memmber of the ROS. As you can see, I've spent my life chasing Templarism...
You are indeed correct, if it wasn't for the surviving Templars, I doubt that Freemasonry would be alive and well today. Well done on your achievement, I am not ready to join the Templars at the moment, going into RC soon, see how far that goes first.
Moses was trained in the schools of Egyptian thought, prior to his realization of his Hebraic roots. Hence the possible infusion of Egyptian elements into what evolved into the masonry of Solomonic times. Or at least so it appears to me from books studied and reflection.
Very nice overview of the Freemasons and their history. I've always been interested in Freemasonry and inspire one day to join them. Would you have any tips or recommendations on an aspiring Mason??
The most important thing you need to do is free your mind of any misconceptions about masonry, go into it with an open mind, find a strong lodge to join, and enjoy yourself! Patience will also be an asset, it usually takes time to move up through the ranks, this is done deliberately to test your mettle and to see how determined you are. Masonry will make a better man out of you if you let it.
The World has changed.
Man. Wo-Man. I'm here and I joined this group because it's philosophy interests me.
Here to learn and here to eventually contribute.
One important prerequisite not mentioned here is a biggie; a belief in a Supreme Being (and often in the Immortality of the Soul).
Is that the only prerequisite?
Usually; a few Grand Lodges will also ask if you believe in the Immortality of the Soul.
There is one other rather unique case: at least one jurisdiction - the Grand Lodge of Texas - also requires a belief in some expression of the "Revealed Will" of that Supreme Being as manifest in the written word (i.e., the Bible, Koran, etc.); while this CAN be justified as being in accordance with Masonic philosophy & symbolism, it's actually a rather unusual requirement to have on the Petition for the Degrees of Freemasonry; this is an idea that is usually left to the conscience of the individual applicant.
The way the question is asked is as follows: "Do you seriously declare, upon your honor, that you firmly believe in the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the Divine authenticity of the Holy Scripture?"
That's actually a pretty radical departure from basic Masonic sensibilities; but it's Texas -- they also ask if you believe in the Constitution of the United States. This, again, can be justified as being in accordance with Masonic philosophy & symbolism, but it's also a rather unique query to be found on a Petition for Masonic Initiation.
Some other American jurisdictions will require consent to a background check, and all ask if you've ever been convicted of a felony -- but a positive answer to that question does NOT mean you won't be accepted; that is subject to the decision of the lodge. I can tell you from personal experience that an old conviction from a man's youth, in which justice has been served, has NOT been an obstacle to a good man being accepted into a lodge. I can think of at least 4 times in my personal knowledge that such a case has not prevented someone from getting initiated, but I know that in one (and only one) case, it did turn out badly for the lodge -- and that was the one & only case where the conviction had been recent, rather than going back a decade or more in the person's history.
Additionally, in the case of Scandinavian Grand Lodges, there is a specific religious requirement; they only accept Christian applicants.
Actually, these are worth looking at in full to give examples of the most extreme requirements to be found in the USA for Acceptance into Freemasonry.
Grand Lodge of Texas Petition for the Masonic Degrees
The Grand Lodge of Florida, however, simply asks about the belief in God, but also adds a lengthy set of declarations to which one must sign in assent, and also adds the legal waiver to submit to a background check:
Grand Lodge of Florida Petition for Masonic Initiation
Contrast these with the almost minimalist Petition for Initiation from New York (which is where I went through the degrees) or the Petition for Degrees under the Grand Lodge of Iowa, where I am now Master of a lodge.
So you can see quite a difference from one state to another.
It does vary like you said. I really thought it was more uniform across the board but each has it's uniqueness. I have been looking forward to getting back to the U.S. to visit my local lodge in Texas. What if I have to move constantly because of military orders? Would it affect me as a member or as a candidate?
Texas; of course! ;-)
Not likely; you may want to look into some of the lodges that exist FOR the military; they do exist -- I'm not clear on how to find them, though. However, most lodges are happy to accept active duty personnel, and even offer dues reductions and also make special consideration in conferring the degrees to make sure you don't get stuck between degrees when deployed or reassigned.
Here, for example, is the website of the Grand Lodge for Overseas U.S. & Canadian military personnel:
American Canadian Grand Lodge (Germany)