Freemasonry (fr. Franc-maçonnerie) is a movement that appeared in 1717 in the form of a secret society. It originates from little-known sources at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries. The main version of the origin of Freemasonry is considered to be the version of its origin from medieval building guilds of stonemasons. However, there are theories about the more ancient origin of Freemasonry, the beginning of which is derived from the orders of the Templars or - in other versions - from the order of Rosicrucians. The name “Mason” or “Freemason” comes from the French franc-maçon (in Old French masson), and a literal translation of this name is also used - free stonemason.
The ethics and philosophy of Freemasonry are based on monotheistic religions, ancient constitutions of free stonemasons, their regulations, statutes and codes. Freemasonry symbolically uses the tools of building societies and legends about the construction of the Temple of Solomon to express metaphorically what both Freemasons and their critics describe as "a system of morality hidden in allegories and illustrated with symbols."
Freemasonry is administratively organized into sovereign Grand Lodges (in some countries — the "Great East"), each of which leads Masonic lodges within its own jurisdiction. The number of lodges, as a rule, varies from 15 to 100 people, united geographically. Local Lodges are consecrated by the Grand Lodge, which is the only one in one country. Some Grand Lodges recognize each other, some do not, depending on following the ancient Masonic rules. There are also organizations of additional degrees in which members of symbolic Masonic lodges are members and which have their own independent governing bodies. However, in some Masonic organizations, symbolic lodges may be subordinate to the governing bodies of these additional organizations.
Now Freemasonry is spread all over the world and is represented in various organizational forms — Lodges, Grand Lodges, Supreme Councils, Chapters, Areopages, Consistories, Federations and Confederations. The total number of Freemasons in the world is estimated at 4,000,000 people.
The legendary history of Freemasonry brings the Brotherhood of some writers to Adam, others to the construction of the Temple of Solomon; more modest researchers found the roots of Freemasonry in the Pythagoreans, Essenes, the first Christians or Templars. It was only in the middle of the XIX century that Kloss for the first time quite definitely pointed out that the Masonic union arose from the Brotherhood of Freemasons or medieval construction craft societies.
The earliest evidence of the existence of a free construction craft society in medieval Europe dates back to 643, it is mentioned by the edicts of the Lombard king Rotary. In the Gothic era, the construction of huge church buildings lasted for centuries, during which workers and artists who settled near the buildings (their tools were stored in special barracks, Eng. Lodge), gradually entered into close communication. Over time, these communities adopted a guild organization: rules were developed regarding relations between members, the admission of new comrades, the resolution of disputes that arose between the members, and so on. At the same time, a well-known ceremonial was established for various occasions of companionship.
The workshop organization of construction works, of course, was inherent in the construction of cathedrals in England, where stonemasons received the name Freemason, Free-Stone-Mason in official acts. The circumstances of the emergence of construction lodges in England are very dark. In particular, the charter of 926, supposedly donated by King Athelstan to the free stonemasons of York, with which it was customary to begin the history of free construction craft society in England, seems very doubtful.
In modern Masonic literature, there are about 20 manuscripts with specific Masonic texts dating back to the early period. The oldest of them dates back to the XIV century; this is the poem "Regius", a manuscript with the text of which was found in the Old Royal Library in the British Museum in the 1830s.
During the XVII century, construction societies in Europe began to decline rapidly and by the beginning of the XVIII century almost ceased to exist together with the cessation of the construction of Gothic cathedrals. The new prosperity of English lodges was due to the fact that from the end of the 16th century, people who did not belong to the building guild began to gain access there - so-called “outsider stonemasons”, wealthy and educated people who brought a progressive element with them to the lodges. The first of them should be called the London antiquarian Elias Ashmole, about his entry on
October 16, 1646 into one of the lodges in Warrington, Lancashire, there is an entry in his diary. In the last years of the XVII century, William III of Orange joined the lodge, which is why the stonemason’s craft was called the royal art. Probably, it was then that enlightened third-party stonemasons conceived the idea of using the shell of construction societies, which were in some respects philanthropic institutions, and, breathing new life into it, creating a new cause of universal love.