Masons have no national headquarters as such, but the largest regional is the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction (35 Southern states), which is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. U.S. membership is claimed at about 3.5 million, with about five million worldwide. The basic unit of Freemasonry is the lodge, which exists under a charter issued by a grand lodge exercising administrative powers. The lodges are linked together informally by a system of mutual recognition between lodges that meet the Masonic requirements. The lodge confers three degrees: Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason. Additional degrees are conferred by two groups of advanced Freemasonry: the York Rite, which awards 12 degrees; and the Scottish Rite, which awards 30 higher degrees. In the United States and Canada, members have formed a large number of groups to enable them to expand their social and charitable activities. The best known of these groups is the Shriners (official name: "Ancient Arabic Order Nobles Mystic Shrine"), who hold festive parades and support hospitals for crippled and burned children. To be a Shriner, one must be a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason or its equivalent in the York Rite (Knights Templar). (The 33rd degree is an honorary degree bestowed upon especially worthy masons who have accomplished outstanding work in such fields as religion and politics.)
Although only men (of at least 21 years of age) can be Masons, related organizations are available for their relatives -- there is the Order of the Eastern Star for Master Masons and their wives; the Order of De Molay for boys; and the Order of Job's Daughters and the Order of Rainbow for young girls. The Masonic Lodge has more than a hundred such fraternal organizations, including Daughters of the Nile, The Tall Cedars of Lebanon, The Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm, The Knights of the Red Cross of Constantine, and The Blue Lodge.
Many other secret societies seem to be patterned after the Masons. L. James Rongstad says that Freemasonry "is the 'Granddaddy' of all lodges. Its teachings, rituals, customs and practices, and its secrecy have had an inspirational effect on other similar groups such as the Moose, Eagles, Elks, and the National Grange." Mormon Temple rites are also strikingly similar to Masonic Lodge practices (probably because Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, was also a Mason). Most of the rituals of today's college fraternities are also based more or less directly upon Masonic rituals.
Since Masons are involved in so many worthy causes, many are unaware that Masonic leaders readily admit that Freemasonry is actually a religion, not merely a "fraternal, social, civic service organization." Joseph Fort Newton (1880-1950), an Episcopal minister and recognized authority in the Masonic world, said, "Masonry is not a religion but Religion -- not a church but a worship in which men of all religions may unite." In fact, Freemasonry even sees itself as superseding and unifying all religions. (At various times and places, Freemasonry has met religious and political opposition. Religious opponents, especially the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox churches, have traditionally claimed that Freemasonry is a religion and is a secret organization.)