From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"I affirm, as the main thesis of my concluding labours, that Freemasonry is neither more nor less than Rosicrucianism as modified by those who transplanted it into England. At the beginning of the seventeenth century many learned heads in England were occupied with Theosophy, Cabbalism, and Alchemy: amongst the proofs of this [...] above all [the work] of Robert Fludd. Fludd it was, or whosoever was the author of the Summum Bonum, 1629, that must be considered as the immediate father of Free-masonry, as Andrea was its remote father."--"Historico-critical Inquiry into the Origin of the Rosicrucians and the Freemasons" (1824) by Thomas De Quincey
"In the 18th century, as the spiritual influence of the Church waned, thinkers dreamt of new faiths. Many of these based their thinking on occult knowledge allegedly handed down through the ages, from the Orient to the Knights Templar and, finally, to the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians who flourished during the Age of Enlightenment."--Sholem Stein
Freemasonry or Masonry refers to fraternal organisations that trace their origins to the local guilds of stonemasons that, from the end of the 13th century, regulated the qualifications of stonemasons and their interaction with authorities and clients.
The degrees of Freemasonry retain the three grades of medieval craft guilds, those of Entered Apprentice, Journeyman or fellow (now called Fellowcraft), and Master Mason. The candidate of these three degrees is progressively taught the meanings of the symbols of Freemasonry and entrusted with grips, signs, and words to signify to other members that he has been so initiated. The degrees are part allegorical morality play and part lecture. These three degrees form Craft (or Blue Lodge) Freemasonry, and members of any of these degrees are known as Freemasons or Masons. There are additional degrees, which vary with locality and jurisdiction, and are usually administered by their own bodies (separate from those who administer the Craft degrees).
Due to misconceptions about Freemasonry’s tradition of not discussing its rituals with non-members, the fraternity has become associated with many conspiracy theories.