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Free Born

Today in Masonic History we present Free Born.

One of the common requirements of joining Freemasonry is being "Free Born." What does that really mean?

To understand the idea of being "Free Born" as a requirement of joining Freemasonry you have to look back into the guild lodges. For many people, particularly in the United States, it is seen as relating to slavery in pre-Civil War America. Often even Freemasons believe this is the case, it isn't, at least not directly.

Someone who is Free Born is a person who is born unencumbered by the debts of their family. In the not so distant past, it was not uncommon for families to have multi-generational debt. For the right to work a piece of land, a farmer would have to agree to a large debt that could never be paid in a single lifetime. The farmer and his family would then live and work on the land giving a portion of the crop each year to the land owner. To pay the debt it may go on for generations with no chance for the family to escape from the debt, and each new generation assuming the debt. There were also situations where, for various reasons, an unborn child would be apprenticed to a local tradesman, generally to pay off a debt.

Regardless what the reason may be, the concept of being Free Born, simply put, meant that you had no master that you were obligated to by contract, debt, and yes by slavery. This goes to the common expression, "No man can serve two masters." If you were already indebted somewhere else, you could not perform the tasks needed to fulfill your apprenticeship with a tradesman. In terms of Speculative Freemasonry, this also meant that your vote in a lodge room was potentially not your own.

In theory, an unscrupulous man could fill an Operative Lodge with individuals dedicated only to him because of debt or other reasons, allowing that person to control the contracts the lodge might accept and alter Freemasonry for their own purposes. In Speculative terms, we have seen this happen in modern times with Italian Lodge Propaganda Due. Where an individual converted the purposes of Freemasonry by controlling the individuals in the lodge.

For the most part in the western world, the idea that someone is Free Born is a given. To the point that some have called for it's removal from the ritual work and as a requirement for joining the fraternity. Sometimes hoping to wash away the false premise of it's direct relation to slavery and racism. It is an important reminder though for the individual who is first knocking on the door of the lodge. It should remind all, and be stressed to all that Free Will, which is really what we are talking about when we say Free Born, is critical to Freemasonry as a philosophy. Without Free Will we are left with blind obedience, we are left with a select few making decisions for the larger body of Freemasonry. That smaller group may or may not be working in the best interest of all involved.