The Masonic Lodge is the basic organisational unit of Freemasonry. The Lodge meets regularly to conduct the usual formal business of any small organisation (pay bills, organise social and charitable events, elect new members, etc.). In addition to business, the meeting may perform a ceremony to confer a Masonic degree or receive a lecture, which is usually on some aspect of Masonic history or ritual. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Lodge might adjourn for a formal dinner, or festive board, sometimes involving toasting and song.
The bulk of Masonic ritual consists of degree ceremonies. Candidates for Freemasonry are progressively initiated into Freemasonry, first in the degree of Entered Apprentice. Some time later, in a separate ceremony, they will be passed to the degree of Fellowcraft, and finally they will be raised to the degree of Master Mason. In all of these ceremonies, the candidate is entrusted with passwords, signs and grips (secret handshakes) peculiar to his new rank. Another ceremony is the annual installation of the Master and officers of the Lodge. In some jurisdictions Installed Master is valued as a separate rank, with its own secrets to distinguish its members. In other jurisdictions, the grade is not recognised, and no inner ceremony conveys new secrets during the installation of a new Master of the Lodge.
Most Lodges have some sort of social calendar, allowing Masons and their partners to meet in a less ritualised environment. Often coupled with these events is the obligation placed on every Mason to contribute to charity. This occurs at both Lodge and Grand Lodge level. Masonic charities contribute to many fields, such as education or disaster relief.
These private local Lodges form the backbone of Freemasonry, and a Freemason will necessarily have been initiated into one of these. There also exist specialist Lodges where Masons meet to celebrate events, such as sport or Masonic research. The rank of Master Mason also entitles a Freemason to explore Masonry further through other degrees, administered separately from the Craft, or “Blue Lodge” degrees described here, but having a similar format to their meetings.
There is very little consistency in Freemasonry. Because each Masonic jurisdiction is independent, each sets its own procedures. The wording of the ritual, the number of officers present, the layout of the meeting room, etc. varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
The officers of the Lodge are elected or appointed annually. Every Masonic Lodge has a Master, two Wardens, a secretary and a treasurer. There is also a Tyler, or outer guard, who is always present outside the door of a working Lodge. Other offices vary between jurisdictions.
Each Masonic Lodge exists and operates according to a set of ancient principles known as the Landmarks of Freemasonry. These principles have thus far eluded any universally accepted definition.
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