Freemasonry uses allegorical symbols to teach a philosophy concerning the nature of the Creator, the origins of the universe, and humanity's universal destiny. The religious doctrines in which most people are raised are designed to satisfy the basic needs of the general population. To get a truer understanding of the nature of Deity requires a long-term commitment of study. The Freemasonic initiate is put on the path of this study by being initiated into the fraternity of Masonry, a Westernized religious Mystery school. If the initiate studies the ritual, he will receive, proportionate to his ability to understand, deep mystic revelations regarding the nature of the universe and our mystic journey through it. Freemasonry keeps alive this knowledge from generation to generation until such time as it is understood and accepted by all beings.
Though dealing exclusively with religious themes, Freemasonry is not a religion: no one dogma is professed as being particularly Masonic. Nor is the Masonic Lodge a place of worship; it would be better considered a classroom. Freemasonry "teaches" an occult philosophy to lead the initiate towards the essence of religious thought. All that is required of the initiate is an expressed belief in higher intelligence (God); therefore, no atheist can become a Mason. Religions in and of themselves are made by mankind to explain Deity. Freemasons come in all colors and nationalities and may worship Jehovah, Jesus, Mohammed, or Krishna, to name a few.
Masons themselves cannot agree on exactly when Freemasonry began. Some say it was when the Grand Lodge of England was established in 1717. Others who have studied the fraternity closely put the date nearer to 5000 BC -- though it was not then necessarily called Freemasonry -- with major modifications around the first century AD.
Blue Lodge Freemasonry and its "higher" bodies, the York and Scottish Rite, are a tool that teaches a view of life that for centuries has been on the cutting edge of religious and secular thought. Freemasonic ritual is secret because men throughout history have persecuted their fellows for having opinions different from accepted doctrine; secrecy protects life, limb, and the message. Most Freemasons, however, do not understand the allegorical, mystic significance in the ritual work. For them it is a fraternal club with a secret ritualistic initiation which meets once or twice a month for fellowship and to sponsor charities. There are three degrees in Freemasonry. The first is the Entered Apprentice Degree, a purification or a birth into Freemasonry. The Fellow Craft Degree represents the learning years or, symbolically, manhood. The Master Mason Degree is a symbolic death as one man (H.A.) and resurrection and reincarnation into a more perfect life as a Master Mason, an adept in the art of life, a man with the secret knowledge, a Gnostic. Progressing through the three degrees of Masonry, the student increases in Masonic knowledge. When the student "knows" the next step, he is passed and then "raised" up as a Master Mason. He is then informed that one of the most important duties of a Master Mason is to "seek truth."