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The belief system, teachings, and practices of the fraternal order of Free and Accepted Masons, the world's largest secret society. Spread by the advance of the British Empire, Freemasonry remains most popular in the British Isles and in other countries associated the empire. It is said to have been established for mutual help and fellowship; members believe that it has historical roots traceable back through the Romans to the Egyptians and the building of the pyramids. Freemasonry incorporates traditions and rituals that make symbolic use of or reference to the tools of medieval stonemasons, notably the square and compasses. In medieval Europe, like other craft organizations of the period, many medieval associations of masons whose members included freemasons, had developed elaborate secret rituals for imparting the knowledge of their craft and for the initiation of new members. These rituals continued to evolve during the early modern period. In 16th-century Scotland Freemasonry began to incorporate elements of contemporary Hermetic thought. From the early 17th century, the lodges began to admit members who were not connected with the building trades.

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