The world of Freemasonry exerts a powerful influence on the modern imagination. In an age when perceived notions of history are being increasingly questioned and re-examined it is perhaps inevitable that secretive societies such as the Freemasons find themselves at the centre of considerable speculation and conjecture. To some they represent a powerful and shadowy elite who have manipulated world history throughout the ages, whilst to others they are an altogether more mundane and benign fraternal organisation. Giles Morgan begins by exploring the obscure and uncertain origins of Freemasonry. It has been variously argued that it derives from the practices of medieval stonemasons, that it dates to events surrounding the construction of the Temple of Solomon and that it is connected to ancient Mystery Cults. One of the major and often disputed claims made for Freemasonry is that it is directly attributable to the Knights Templar, generating a wealth of best-selling publications such as 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' and more recently Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code', linking Freemasonry to a supposed secret order known as the Priory of Sion who are the guardians of the true nature of the Holy Grail. Freemasonry today is a worldwide phenomenon that accepts membership from a diverse ethnic and religious range of backgrounds. Entry to Freemasonry requires a belief in a Supreme Being although it insists it does not constitute a religion in itself. The rituals and practices of Freemasonry have been viewed as variously obscure, pointless, baffling, sinister and frightening. An intensely stratified and hierarchical structure underpins most Masonic orders whose activities are focussed within meeting points usually termed as Lodges. Giles Morgan examines its historical significance (George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were both Masons) and its position and role in contemporary society.
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