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Freemasons are adherents to the movement of Freemasonry, which is internationally active to this day. It is influenced by the ideals of the Enlightenment – supporting the free expression of the personality, helpfulness, brotherhood, and a peaceful and socially just coexistence of human beings (the five principles of Freemasonry are: freedom, equality, brotherhood, tolerance, and humanity). History, traditions, and symbols (best known: the square and compass) of the Freemasons are rooted in the Medieval mason-lodge culture, especially of the English masonic practice. The first Grand Lodge of the Freemasons was founded in 1717 by four London mason lodges under their Grand Master Anton Sayer and spread around the world in the following period. The first complex of rules by the organization (Book of the Constitution) was written in 1723 by the Presbyterian clergyman James Anderson (1678-1739). The Freemasons are organized into the above-mentioned lodges, the chairman of which – called the Master of the Lodge or the Worshipful Master – is determined through the election by the lodge members (brothers). The member levels of personnel development are called degrees, with the first three degrees (apprentice, fellow, master) followed by the high degrees. The first German lodge was founded in 1737 in Hamburg (its name is now "Absalom zu den drei Nesseln"), which the man who was to become King Frederick the Great allegedly joined in the following year. The increasing spread of Freemasonry was only interrupted through the ban of its organization by the National Socialists. In 1958, the (reconstituted) lodges that had formed the United Grand Lodges of Germany after 1945 merged; however, Freemasonry continued to be prohibited in the GDR (East Germany). Through their vow of secrecy, rituals, und symbols, Freemasonry was and still is erroneously associated with secret societies and conspiracies theories, even though many of the rules and rituals have now been revealed and the lodges tend to operate in the style of civic associations. The relationship that the major churches have with Freemasonry is divided: While the Catholic Church still insists upon the incompatibility of Freemasonry and the Catholic Church, Protestants in Germany have been free to have a dual membership in both a lodge and the Protestant Church since 1973. In 2004, there were about 14,000 Freemasons in Germany. The number of members throughout the world in more than 40,000 lodges is estimated to be about 6 million, some of which are in mixed-sex lodges.

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Norbert Bisky
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