What is Freemasonry?

Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation that may trace its origins to the organisation of medieval Stonemasonry. Early organisational forms included “lodges,” incorporations, and craft guilds. Early Freemasonry based on craft labour is known as Operative Freemasonry, while the modern, more philosophical form of Freemasonry is known as Speculative Freemasonry.

Freemasonry now exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around six million world wide. The fraternity is administratively organised into independent Grand Lodges (or sometimes Grand Orients), each of which governs its own Masonic jurisdiction, which consists of subordinate (or constituent) Lodges.

The largest single jurisdiction, in terms of membership, is the United Grand Lodge of England with a membership estimated at around a quarter million. The Grand Lodge of Scotland and Grand Lodge of Ireland (taken together) have approximately 150,000 members. In the United States, the Fraternity is divided between fifty-one Grand Lodges (one for each State, plus Washington DC), which taken together have a total membership of just under two million.

Freemasonry means different things to each of those who join. For some, it’s about making new friends and acquaintances. For others it’s about being able to help deserving causes – making a contribution to family and society.  For most, it is an enjoyable hobby.

Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest and largest non-religious, non-political, fraternal and charitable organisations. It teaches self-knowledge through participation in a progression of ceremonies. Members are expected to be of high moral standing and are encouraged to speak openly about Freemasonry. For many, its biggest draw is the fact that members come from all walks of life and meet as equals whatever their race, religion or socio-economic position in society. 

Freemasonry is a society of men and in some countries, in separate Lodges, a society of women, who are interested in universal moral and spiritual values. Its members are taught its principles (moral lessons and self-knowledge) by a series of ritual dramas – a progression of allegorical two-part plays which are learnt by heart and performed within each Lodge – which follow ancient forms, and use stonemasons’ customs and tools as allegorical guides.

Freemasonry instils in its members a moral and ethical approach to life: a mason’s values are based on integrity, kindness, honesty and fairness. Members are urged to regard the interests of the family as paramount but, importantly, Freemasonry also teaches moral development through  concern for people, care for the less fortunate and help for those in need.

Becoming a Mason

For those seeking to learn more about Freemasonry, there is a wealth of information — and, sadly, some mis-information — easily available to you on the Internet.  If you have an open mind and seek a balanced view, we recommend that you first read the text published on Wikipedia (see also Links listed below).  If you feel so inclined,  the links are provided for further information.

If you are a Mason and you’d like to visit us, whether to actively participate or simply to watch, please let us know.

Some Famous Swiss Masons


Elie Ducommun

Born 19 February 1833 in Geneva. A journalist, Swiss politician, Freemason and pacifist , a founder in 1867 of the League of Peace and Freedom . He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1902 with Charles Albert Gobat .

André Chedel

Born in 1915 and joined Freemasonry in 1954, this native of Le Locle, humanist and renowned philosopher well beyond our frontiers, received the honorary title of Doctor “honoris causa” from the University of Neuchâtel just a few years before his death in 1984.

Jonas Furrer (1805-1861)

Member of the Akazia Lodge at Winterthur, he was elected Grand Orator of the Grand Lodge Alpina of Switzerland in 1844, before he became, four years later, the first President of the Swiss Confederation.

Augusta Giacometti (1877-1947)

Swiss painter from the Grisons, initiated in 1919 at Zürich, he is known for his decorations in holy arts, his floral subjects and, from 1910, for his abstract works of the “tachist” type.

Pierre-Maurice Glayre (1743-1819)

Man of politics, diplomat, he was also private secretary to the King of Poland and the first president of the temporary Assembly in the country of Vaud.

Adrien Lachenal (1849-1918)

This solicitor and politician from Geneva, Federal Counsellor from 1892 to 1899, was elected President of the Swiss Confederation in 1896 and presided over the States Counsel from 1904 to 1918.

Famous International Masons

An overwhelming number of the world’s best and brightest have been or are Freemasons. These groups give you far from a comprehensive list — they’re just a sampling:

Founding fathers: America’s most famous Freemason, George Washington was initiated in 1752, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Other founding fathers who were also Masons include Benjamin Franklin, Marquis de Lafayette, Robert R. Livingstone, John Hancock, and Aaron Burr.

U.S. presidents: Fourteen U.S. presidents are definitely known to have been Freemasons: George Washington, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Gerald R. Ford.

Explorers and adventurers: Freemasons who blazed new trails include Davey Crockett, Jim Bowie, Sam Houston, Christopher “Kit” Carson, Lewis and Clark, Charles Lindbergh, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.

Science and medicine: Many Freemasons have played an important role on the scientific and medical frontiers, among them Edward Jenner (discoverer of the cure for smallpox), Joseph Lister (the man who pioneered the concept of antiseptics in medicine), and Alexander Fleming (won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of penicillin).

Arts and letters: The world of art, music, and literature wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for the contributions of the Masons Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Aleksander Pushkin, Jonathon Swift, Oscar Wilde, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alex Haley, and Mark Twain.


The origins and early development of Freemasonry are a matter of some debate and conjecture. A poem known as the “Regius Manuscript” has been dated to approximately 1390 and is the oldest known Masonic text.

There is evidence to suggest that there were Masonic lodges in existence in Scotland as early as the late 16th century. The Lodge at Kilwinning, Scotland, has records that date to the late 16th century, and is mentioned in the Second Schaw Statutes (1599) . 

There are clear references to the existence of lodges in England by the mid-17th century. The first Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster (later called the Grand Lodge of England (GLE), was founded on 24 June 1717. This was the first Grand Lodge in the world. 

After four years of negotiation, the two Grand Lodges in England united on 27 December 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England. This union led to a standardisation of procedures and regalia.

The earliest official English documents to refer to masons are written in Latin or Norman French. Thus we have “sculptores lapidum liberorum” (London 1212), “magister lathomus liberarum petrarum” (Oxford 1391), and “mestre mason de franche peer” (Statute of Labourers 1351). These all signify a worker in freestone, a grainless sandstone or limestone suitable for ornamental masonry. In the 17th century building accounts of Wadham College the terms freemason and freestone mason are used interchangeably. Freemason also contrasts with “Rough Mason” or “Layer”, as a more skilled worker who worked or laid dressed stone.

Freemasonry in Switzerland

Regular Freemasonry has existed in Switzerland for more than 200 years.  With over 80 Lodges to choose from across Switzerland, as well as those in neighbouring countries, the visiting Mason has a wide choice.

There is a total of 21 Lodges in the Canton of Vaud, working various rituals like Emulation in French and English, Schroder, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite,  Scottish Rectified Rite as well as the Ancient and Primitive Memphis and Misraïm Rite.

Currently there are four Lodges working in English under the Grand Lodge Alpina of Switzerland: St George’s Lodge in Morges, Masonry Universal Lodge in Geneva and Cosmopolitan Lodge in Zurich.  There is also an English-speaking Lodge, St. Andrew’s Lodge in Basel, working Scottish Standard ritual. 

In Geneva there are 13 Lodges working many different rituals.  Just across the border in France, you will find a similar structure in the Province of Dauphiné-Savoie under the auspices of the Grande Loge Nationale Française, which also includes a Lodge (Flumen Luminis) working Emulation ritual in English.

Lodges in various other orders can also be found in Switzerland, including the Royal Arch, Mark, and Royal Ark Mariners.

Links to these Lodges can be found in the Grand Lodge Alpina of Switzerland Website.