The rituals and traditions of the Freemasons have always been surrounded by mystery and speculation. As the world's oldest and largest fraternity, membership is exclusive and the process often long. Before going though the initiation, individuals wishing to join the Freemasons must apply for membership at a Masonic lodge in their area. Applicants are voted on by existing members, and require 100 percent of the vote to be allowed through to the initiation process. There is an estimated 6 million members worldwide.
First Degree of Initiation
Also called the "Entered Apprentice" degree, this is the first stage of the Masonic initiation. The candidate arrives at the Masonic lodge he wishes to join and is first exposed to the lodge and its outline. The initiate then makes promises in regards to his obligations and secret-keeping of the Masonic movement. He is free to stop and leave at any time, with no consequences.
Second Degree of Initiation
Also called the "Fellowcraft Degree," this is the second stage of the Masonic initiation. Five individuals are required to conduct a valid initiation. The individual who wishes to join is blindfolded, and a rope is tied twice around his arm (around the neck in some lodges). The right pant of the individual is rolled up until the knee is exposed and a slipper is placed on the left foot. The person is now considered fully prepared and is taken to the front door of the lodge, where an extensive ritual dialogue begins with three knocks on the door. Familiarity and metaphorical discussion serve to bind the individual to the group.
Third Degree of Initiation
Also called the "Master Mason," this is the last stage of the Masonic initiation and considered the height of Ancient Freemasonry. The candidate undresses until he is only wearing a shirt and pants. In contrast to the second degree, both knees and arms are now exposed and the person is once again blindfolded. A rope is wound around his body three times. The person is now considered prepared and is taken to the front of the door, where three distinct knocks begin another text-intensive ritual that involves a final oath to the "Master Masonry."
Although Masonic rituals are fairly consistent from lodge to lodge, hundreds of years and thousands of locations have created some variations in the proceedings. For example, in some jurisdictions, a man is a Freemason after completing just the first degree, while others require the completion of all three.
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