The Blue Lodges of Freemasonry are broken into three Degrees. They are called the Entered Apprentice or First Degree, The Fellowcraft or Second Degree, and the Master Mason or Third Degree, the highest of ancient craft Masonry. These Degrees and their names were taken from middle age craft guilds, where at each stage the craftsman was required to become proficient before moving to the next stage or Degree.
QUALIFICATIONS OF A PETITIONER
The qualifications to be a Mason are clear and distinct. There are physical, moral and spiritual qualifications. In Washington, the petitioner must be a man of at least 18 years of age. He must be free of any previous felonious criminal convictions and be of good moral character. He must also believe in a Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul.
The physical qualifications are necessary because the person must be free to make his own life decisions and be responsible for himself. The moral qualifications are self-evident for the viability of any brotherhood and the lofty ideals of our society. The two spiritual qualifications not only inform the entire structure of Freemasonry but also align the Fraternity with the great Mystery Schools and religions of the world. It is the transition from belief to knowledge that seals the mark of true spiritual initiation.
THE SECRET BALLOT
After a man has applied for Masonic membership, and his background has been thoroughly investigated, the Lodge members vote by secret ballot to accept or to reject him for membership.
Masonry’s secret ballot is another of its ancient customs. It has been rather aptly said that when a petitioner is voted upon for Masonic membership he undergoes the “Ordeal of the Secret Ballot”. To be elected, he must receive an affirmative vote from each and every member present at that meeting. Just one member out of all present – there could be twenty, or fifty, or a hundred members in attendance – can drop the black cube and deny him membership. When you consider the moral yardstick by which Masons measure membership applicants and that only one negative vote can reject a petitioner, it would seem reasonable to assume that a large proportion of petitioners would be rejected for membership. But that is not the case. Many, many more are elected than are rejected. That fact is testimony to the generally good judgment of those who recommend applicants, and it also indicates that the Fraternity, by and large, attracts good men.
It goes without saying that the secret ballot is occasionally abused by a member who rejects a petitioner for mere petty reasons having nothing to do with moral fitness, but such instances are rare and in almost every election the good man is elected to membership.
It is also undeniable that despite the requirements as to recommendation, as to background investigation, and as to unanimous secret ballot, an occasional undesirable person attains Masonic membership. Again, though, these instances are relatively rare. It should be remembered that if a member ever acts contrary to the rules and regulations of Freemasonry, he can be suspended or expelled from membership.
THE ENTERED APPRENTICE OR FIRST DEGREE
This Degree is intended as an introduction to Masonry. The candidate is a voluntary applicant for membership into the Lodge. He must come to the door of the Lodge of his own free will with a belief in a Supreme Being. Here the Candidate is welcomed and receives instructions and light about the Fraternity. Instruction includes the definition of Entered Apprentice, Operative and Speculative Masons; why Masonry teaches in symbolism, that the Lodge room represents the world and some parts of King Solomon’s Temple; and that the Candidate is a symbol of man living in the world, searching for education and truth.
The Entered Apprentice is entrusted with certain secrets of the Order, all of them of a moral and ethical nature, which he must keep inviolable and communicate only in accordance with Masonic law. When the candidate proves his proficiency in the Work of the Entered Apprentice, the Candidate will be ready to be passed to the Fellowcraft Degree or Second Degree.
THE FELLOWCRAFT MASON OR SECOND DEGREE
The Second Degree or Fellowcraft is a term used by the old world Guilds of Operative Masons. They are skilled members of the craft or Fellows of the Craft. As there was no differentiation among the craft, he was also a Master Mason and entitled to teach others, having mastered the secrets of the craft.
Having the division of the craft into three grades instead of two came into being with the advent of the speculative Mason. Here the Fellowcraft Degree is a more advanced search for Masonic light, hence, in Freemasonry the emphasis is on philosophy, intellectual enlightenment and wisdom. The vows and obligation of the Fellowcraft Degree are more advanced and extensive than the First Degree.
The pledge to secrecy is strongly re-enforced. The Candidate is ready to advance to the Degree of Master Mason when he becomes proficient in the lessons of the Fellowcraft Degree.
THE MASTER MASON OR THIRD DEGREE
The Third Degree or Master Mason Degree was originally called the ‘Summit of Ancient Craft Masonry’. The whole system of craft Masonry is intended to present man’s life on earth.
The First Degree is representative of youth, a period of learning. The Second Degree is that of manhood or adult life, increased and expanded learning and work. The Third Degree is that of the mature life or age, an increase in knowledge and wisdom. But foremost of all, the Third Degree is emphasizing the immortality of man’s soul and the certainty of the resurrection of his body to eternal life.
Upon completion of this Third Degree, the Brother is entitled to all the rights and privileges and is obliged to abide by the constitutions, laws and edicts of the Grand Lodge of Washington and the By-Laws of his own Lodge. He will be known as a Master Mason. Upon proving up, he can advance and become an officer of his Lodge.