What Are Masons?

George Washington was a Freemason, as were several other U.S. founders.
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The Masons, also called the Freemasons, are an organization that has long been shrouded in secrecy. Its true purpose, though, is altruistic. Members of the organization work together to raise funds for worthy causes and to better themselves and those around them.

1 Group's History

Although it is unclear exactly when and how the organization was formed, one widely quoted theory explains that it originated during the Middle Ages as the stonemasons' guild. It definitely originated before or during the late 14th century, which is when the first reference to the Masons occurs. The fraternity was popular in colonial America, with George Washington, Ben Franklin, John Hancock and other Founding Fathers taking part. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the organization grew and created many homes for orphans, widows and the elderly, according to the Masonic Service Association's "History of Freemasonry."

2 Charity Work

The Masons are essentially a "do-gooders" organization, in which those who join can work together to help others. The organization does a lot of work for various charities, especially raising funds. For example, some branches of Freemasons provide educational services for disadvantaged children. Freemasons are also involved in disaster relief, hospital visitation and other services. Some sections of the Masons work on improving their members personally as well, giving spiritual self-help classes that are based on no specific religion.

3 Religious Views

Although many believed that the organization was a religious group or one with political aspirations, the Masons actually espouse no religion or political views at all. They do require a belief in a Supreme Being in order to be accepted into the group, but freely accept Christians, Jews, Muslims and people of any religion at all that believes in God. On the Freemasons alter, you can see a Bible, a Torah and a Quran, symbolizing their willingness to accept people from all religions. This was a major achievement when the Masons organization was growing, since most organizations were limited to a specific religious denomination and looked down upon those who practiced a different religion.

4 Some Misconceptions

In addition to the main misconception about religion, there are many other myths about the organization that continue until today. People used to say that the pyramid topped by an eye on the back of the dollar bill was a Masonic symbol, or that a specific brand of beer contained the number 33 on it to allude to a branch of the organization. Neither of these theories is true, according to S. Brent Morris, a Master Mason and author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry." "The Great Seal of the United States is not a Masonic emblem, nor does it contain hidden Masonic symbols," Morris wrote. He said the 33 on the Rolling Rock beer bottle refers to 1933, the year Prohibition ended. The secrecy that often shrouded the movement in the past has all but fallen away, and the true tenets of the organization -- that you should be a good person and do good for others -- shines through as the true purpose of the Masons.

Keren (Carrie) Perles is a freelance writer with professional experience in publishing since 2004. Perles has written, edited and developed curriculum for educational publishers. She writes online articles about various topics, mostly about education or parenting, and has been a mother, teacher and tutor for various ages. Perles holds a Bachelor of Arts in English communications from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.