What is Freemasonry?

A Meeting of Freemasons for the Reception of Apprentices

A Meeting of Freemasons for the Reception of Apprentices, 1809

Thomas Palser (active 1799-1843), London, England

Special Acquisition Fund, 77.10.1a.


This London-made print shows a Masonic meeting. Publishers printed it as part of a series based on a group of French engravings produced in the mid-1700s. By illustrating the inner workings of meetings and rituals, publishers sought to reveal the secrets of Freemasonry. In this image, the lodge Master commands the only seat in the room, a round-backed side chair like the one displayed nearby. Under the Master’s eye, meeting attendees examine a tracing board rolled out on the floor.  

Freemasonry is a fraternal organization for men that teaches a system of ethics using symbols, rituals and ideas drawn from stonemasons’ regulations, Enlightenment philosophy and Judeo-Christian teachings. Now, as in the past, Freemasonry seeks to strengthen a man’s character by providing opportunities for fellowship, charity, education and leadership. Local lodges confer the first three Masonic degrees–Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason–which are based on the biblical story of the building of Solomon’s Temple. Once a Master Mason, a man may choose to join additional Masonic groups, such as the York Rite, which includes the Royal Arch, and the Scottish Rite. Established in Britain, Freemasonry came to North America in the early 1700s and continues to thrive today.