The precise origins of Freemasonry have been lost in time, however, its traditions date back to the Middle Ages and to the stonemasons who built the cathedrals and castles of Europe.
To construct them, it was necessary for men to have considerable knowledge of geometry, arithmetic and engineering. These highly skilled masons formed themselves into lodges to protect the skills and secrets of their trade and to pass their knowledge on to worthy apprentices. Importantly, these men were not bondsmen, hence the word “free” in Freemason.
By the 17th Century, when the building of castles and cathedrals diminished, Masonry began to lose its ‘operative’ aspects and worthy men who were not craftsmen were also accepted into its membership. It was from this time that Masons were known as ‘free and accepted’ Masons, as they continue to be known to this day.
The first Grand Lodge was established in England in 1717 and thereafter Freemasonry spread rapidly throughout the world. Freemasonry has been practiced in Australasia since early in the 19th Century.
Brief History of New Zealand Freemasons
The Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of New Zealand (Freemasons New Zealand) was constituted in April 1890 but Freemasonry has been in New Zealand since the early 1800’s under the banners of the English, Irish and Scottish Constitutions. The first Masonic meeting in New Zealand was held in 1837 and the first Lodge founded in 1842. It currently has a membership of 8500 Freemasons formed into 231 Lodges throughout New Zealand.
New Zealand Grand Lodge
How and When Freemasonry Began: One Account
There are two main theories of origin. According to one, the operative stonemasons who built the great cathedrals and castles had lodges in which they discussed trade affairs. They had simple initiation ceremonies and, as there were no City and Guilds certificates, dues cards or trade union membership cards, they adopted secret signs and words to demonstrate that they were trained masons when they moved from site to site. In the 1600s, these operative lodges began to accept non-operatives as “gentlemen masons”. Gradually these non-operatives took over the lodges and turned them from operative to ‘free and accepted’ or ‘speculative’ lodges.
The other theory is that in the late 1500s and early 1600s, there was a group, which was interested in the promotion of religious and political tolerance in an age of great intolerance when differences of opinion on matters of religion and politics were to lead to bloody civil war. In forming Freemasonry, they were trying to make better men and build a better world. As the means of teaching in those days was by allegory and symbolism, they took the idea of building as the central allegory on which to form their system. The main source of allegory was the Bible, the contents of which were known to everyone even if they could not read, and the only building described in detail in the Bible was King Solomon’s Temple, which became the basis of the ritual. The old trade guilds provided them with their basic administration of a Master, Wardens, Treasurer and Secretary, and the operative mason’s tools provided them with a wealth of symbols with which to illustrate the moral teachings of Freemasonry.