Freemasons are members of a fraternal organization derived from the guilds of stoneworkers in the Middle Ages. As building in stone became less common, people joined the Masonic Lodges who were not stoneworkers themselves but were interested in the moral, social and philosophical aspects of the guild. In time, these moral, social and philosophical purposes became the sole purpose of the Lodges. There are records of Lodges of this kind in Scotland as early as the 16th century. In 1717 the first Grand Lodge or organization of Lodges was formed in England.
The English, Scottish and Irish Lodges are the foundation of most Masonic Lodges worldwide. However, in France, a different style of Masonry was developed, and this was the foundation of much European Masonry as well as Masonic Lodges in South America. Some of the French lodges became dissociated from the British Grand Lodges when in 1877, they dispensed with a requirement for their members to believe in a Supreme Being or a Holy Book.
Masons have always practised charity both to the families of
members and to members of society at large. In North America, the
Shriners, a Masonic subgroup, are perhaps the best-known examples
of Masonic Charity.
international fraternal and charitable organization with secret
rites and signs