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.