The Brotherhood of Free and Accepted Masons has been around a long time. How long? No one is quite sure. Masonic Legend says they were present at the building of King Solomon’s Temple and that the king, King Hiram of Tyre and Hiram Abiff, the Widow’s Son, were all Master Masons. Hiram Abiff, the Widow’s Son of the Tribe of Napthali, is mentioned in the Bible as one of the builders of the Temple. 1 Kings 7:13-47
Masonic legend says that Hiram Abiff was slain by three men seeking the Secrets of a Master Mason. These secrets could only be revealed during a ceremony when three master masons were present. Since King Solomon, King Hiram and Hiram Abiff were the only master masons, Hiram’s death meant the secrets could not be revealed until future generations of Masons discover them anew. Masonic tradition does not hint at what these secrets were, though Scottish Rite ceremonies hint at there being secret rooms under Solomon’s Temple.
More demonstrable history begins in 1717 when four Lodges in London formed the Grand Lodge of England. However, the lodges already existed and there were already Masons. Infact, the Lodge at York complained because they weren’t considered. There are indications that Masonic Lodges in the 17th century helped to form the Royal Society and that for centuries they had been hiding scholars and scientists under discipline from the Roman Catholic Church. The Church claims that the Masons have attacked it and lists as evidence two Masonic attacks: Masons support freedom of religion and public education. The antipathy is one-sided but its roots lead to another theory of Masonic origin.
The Knights Templar, an order of warrior monks, fought in the Crusades, protected pilgrims en route to the Holy Land, and handled monetary transactions across international boundaries becoming rich and powerful in the process. With the Crusades over they remained rich and powerful but lost their other functions. Royalty owed them money and feared their power. On Friday, October 13, 1306, King Phillip of France obtained an order from Pope Clement, then headquartered in Avignon, France, not Rome, to arrest and try the Templars for heresy. They were rounded up in France, but elsewhere execution of the order was delayed and the Knights disappeared while the church confiscated their lands and monasteries. Two things disappeared along with the knights: their vast treasure and their fleet. A few years later in 1314, they were said to have fought beside the Bruce at Bannockburn. And then they disappear from history, sort of.
They are said to have taken refuge amongst the guilds of operative masons and adopted secret symbolism from their tools calling themselves speculative masons. Rejected by the church, falsely accused of heresy, they became free to speculate about science and religion. Exposed to alien religions in the Holy Land, they are supposed to be the first to accept freedom of conscience or religion. In 1381, Wat Tyler, led a Peasant Revolt in England, targeting among other things, former enemy’s and rivals of the Templars. The tyler is a Masonic office. The rebellion was remarkably well-coordinated and widespread suggesting that their was some secret organization behind it. Many Freemasons take this to be the origin of their organization. Born in Blood by John J. Robinson outlines this relationship.
Masons enter the Lodge as apprentices and undergo training by a brother Mason in the ritual and their obligations to one another, hopefully becoming better men in the process. The tradition is oral passed from one brother Mason to another. When they have successfully completed training, they are passed to Fellowcraft and finally raised as Master Masons. Short of murder and treason, no Mason should let another come to harm.
George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and many others among the Founding Fathers were Masons. The Boston Tea Party was conducted by a Masonic Lodge. Albert Pike was a Freemason and a Confederate General. More information is available at the Allied Masonic Organizations or from the Grand Lodge of Arizona, F&AM or The History of Freemasonry.