We receive lots of questions on the web site about Freemasonry and Thailand. So in an effort to share the knowledge, we’re posting the questions here. Some have been summarized and edited for smoother reading. If you have a question, just send us an email.
Q. What is Freemasonry?
The standard answer is that Freemasonry is the world’s oldest and largest fraternity creating bonds between men of all races and creeds around the world. It is currently believed there are six million Freemasons across the globe.
In reality, Freemasonry means different things to different people. For some, it’s simply a means of providing fellowship and camaraderie away from bars and nightclubs. For others, it’s a way of amplifying their charitable inclinations to better serve their neighborhoods and communities. And for others, Masonry provides an opportunity to discuss history, philosophy and even esoteric subjects with like minded individuals. Of course, the average Freemason usually enjoys more than one aspect which makes the bonds between us even more powerful.
For additional information and another, better written point of view, I invite you to check out the What Is Freemasonry page at the United Grand Lodge of England or the About Freemasonry page from the Grand Lodge of Scotland.
Q. What do Freemasons do at Lodge?
Freemasons always open (or start) the lodge with a formal “opening”. The point of this is to center the member’s minds away from the cares of the everyday world and to concentrate on the meeting at hand. It also serves to ensure that only qualified Masons are present for the meeting. After the opening, the normal course is business such as paying the bills and voting on measures. This can occasionally be followed by a member reading a paper or discussing some topic of Masonic interest. If there is a candidate, then a degree would follow. The degree provides the candidate the opportunity to prove his knowledge of the current degree and then provides new information during the course of the degree ceremony. After everything is done, the lodge is formally “closed.” At this point, most lodges in Thailand will retire to a harmony or festive board for dinner.
Q. Who can become a Freemason?
There are several ancient requirements for joining Freemasonry. They require the candidate to:
* believe in God (or a supreme being);
* be a man;
* be over the age of 21;
* be freeborn.
These requirements generally provide moral, free-thinking, mature men capable of making their own decisions and keeping their word. Modern day requirements also include financial stability and the ability to donate time to attend lodge. You can find more information on the What Is Masonry and Membership pages.
Q. Do you have to be a stone mason to be a Freemason?
No. Though the beginnings of Freemasonry are lost in the mists of time, there is enough documentary evidence to suggest that the earliest Freemason lodges in Scotland were primarily operative or actual stone masons. The rudimentary rituals of the early Craft must have sparked some interest in the gentry, because over the following decades they began to join. As they were not “real” stone masons, they were classified as non-operative, or speculative Freemasons. Over time, the Speculative Masons began to outnumber the Operative Masons. Until finally we reach modern Freemasonry where the members are more likely to be bankers, lawyers, construction workers, office workers or clergy than actual stone carvers.
Q. Do Freemasons hate Catholics/Protestants/Buddhists/Muslims/etc.?
No. I actually get this question quite frequently from very confused people. The internet is full of vile web sites that use fraudulent material or take things out of context to accuse the Craft of bigotry of one sort or another. The truth is that Freemasonry was the first organization to allow men of different religions to join together in a social context. There is nothing in Masonic ritual which could be deemed offensive to believers of any faith. However there are some who object to the concept of socializing with non-believers (or “different” believers as may be the case). In their view, any organization that allows non-believers is deemed unacceptable. If Freemasonry has a mission in the 21st century, then surely it is to fight against this bigotry and intolerance by extending the hand of brotherhood to men of all races and creeds.
Q. Can a Catholic/Protestant/Buddhist/Muslim become a Freemason?
Yes. There is no restriction within Freemasonry on which religions are acceptable or not acceptable. There is nothing in the vows of a Freemason that would contradict the tenets of your religion. Unless of course, you believe that its sinful to socialize with men of different beliefs. If that’s the case, you’d better get yourself to the monastery quickly! The world is much smaller and more diverse than it used to be. Only by learning more about each other can we hope to get along.
Q. Isn’t Freemasonry just for old, white men?
No. Although Freemasonry was almost certainly the playground for white men back in 18th century England, the Craft gradually expanded around the world and embraced men of many different races, classes and backgrounds. Kipling’s The Mother-Lodge is a great example of this. This poem tells the story of Kipling’s lodge in India and runs down the list of men who shared the powerful lessons of Freemasonry.
We often see newspaper articles about the “graying” of Freemasonry. But in reality, many of our new members are younger men looking for something they can’t find in other social organizations…meaning.
Q. In which God do Freemasons believe?
Each Freemason must believe in God, but the choice of his religion and even the definition of God is up to the individual brother. On their website, the United Grand Lodge of England refers to belief in a “supreme being.” No questions are asked about the specifics, only that he believe. Masonic ritual encourages the brother to study and practice his chosen religion.
Q. But aren’t there some lodges that allow atheists?
Yes, but these lodges are not recognized by most other lodges. They are considered irregular and outside the mainstream of Freemasonry. As a result mainstream Masons do not recognize them to be brothers or allow visitation between lodges. The largest of these would be the Grand Orient of France which famously allowed atheist members to join in 1877. The United Grand Lodge of England and most of the other Grand Lodges around the world dropped their recognition of the Grand Orient shortly after.
Q. Can women become a Mason?
Women may not join “mainstream” lodges. Although there is no stated reason for this, I believe it is to eliminate sexual tension and rivalries in order to maintain harmony within the lodge. Women may join feminine or co-masonic lodges. Feminine lodges allow only women to join, while co-masonic lodges allow both men and women to join. There are no known feminine or co-masonic lodges in Thailand.
In other countries, there are groups that allow women to join as associate members. The most popular of these is the Eastern Star. Though popular in the US, Canada, Australia and elsewhere, it is not recognized by any of the Grand Lodges in Thailand.
Q. What does “irregular” and “mainstream” mean?
Regularity in Freemasonry traditionally relies on several “ancient” landmarks. These ancient landmarks have appeared in books from the early 18th century and have been adopted by several Grand Lodges. However as they were adopted it appears that the number of “ancient” landmarks grew around ten to over fifty in some Grand Lodges. However in general, they include the following:
* Belief in a Supreme Being
* An open Volume of Sacred Law as an indispensible part of the furnishings of the lodge
* The legend of the Third Degree
* A Mason be a man, freeborn and of age
More information on the landmarks may be found here.
However, being “regular” does not mean that a Grand Lodge is part of the “mainstream” of Freemasonry. The mainstream refers to the large portion of Grand Lodges around the world that recognize each other and allow inter-visitation and even plural memberships. Plural memberships are very common in Bangkok. Being part of the mainstream requires “recognition” by the other Grand Lodges around the world. This is a purely political exercise carried out by the officers of these Grand Lodges. It is not easy to gain recognition and losing it is a huge loss.
The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Delaware is currently operating in Bangkok. It is a well established fact that Prince Hall masonry is by all accounts, regular. However due to past prejudices on behalf of the “mainstream” lodges, the Prince Hall lodges (predominantly African-American) were excluded. This situation is gradually changing with more Prince Hall Grand Lodges achieving recognition. We hope to one day soon sit in lodge our Prince Hall brethren.
The standard response to this is that the only secret is that there are no secrets. In reality, Masonic rituals can be bought online and there are so many books out there “exposing” Masonry that even the mildly curious should be satisfied. The main secret in Masonry are the ways in which we identify ourselves as Masons to others. This is important, because Masons vow to keep the confidences of our brethren. We help each other with problems and become a sounding board for brethren in need. Knowing that someone will be discreet makes it easier to open up and share your problems. Is it perfect? No. There are always some who take their promises lightly whether it comes to marriage, markets or Masonry. But it is a place to start.
Q. What do you mean by all these Grand Lodges?
A Grand Lodge is the highest legal authority in Freemasonry. All regular Freemasons belong to lodges that are on the roll of a particular Grand Lodge. These Grand Lodges are aligned with a particular nation or in the case of the US, Canada and Australia with a particular state or province. In Thailand we have lodges from the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands, France and the US state of Delaware.
Q. Is there a Grand Lodge of Thailand?
No. Masonry has only been in Thailand since 1911. There has yet to be the widespread, local support necessary to fuel growth sufficient enough to drive the formation of a Thai Grand Lodge. As such, Thailand is considered “open” territory. Which is why we see six different Grand Lodges represented in the kingdom. The formation of a Grand Lodge of Thailand would prevent any new lodges being formed by other Grand Lodges.
Q. If I’m a Mason from overseas, how can I visit a lodge in Thailand?
Pack your dinner jacket and check out the Masonic Tourist section of this web site for more details.
Q. Can I tour the Masonic Hall?
Not likely. The only Masonic Hall in Bangkok is the Lodge St. John Masonic Hall. The Hall contains records, photos and other memorabilia. However, it is only open for meetings. Please check with the Lodge St. John Secretary for details.
Q. What charities do Thai Masons support?
Each lodge has different ideas on the role of charity. Some lodges view this solely in terms of aiding the lodge’s brethren and their families in time of distress, while others take a wider view. Many of the lodges spent large amounts of money and time to help the Tsunami victims in southern Thailand in 2005/6. Others have supported schools, hospitals and clean water projects in the kingdom.
Q. As a Mason, how can I learn more?
Read. The Links page includes a list of useful research forums. The Cornerstone Society in particular has a number of papers discussing various aspects of the Craft.