The world of Freemasonry exerts a powerful influence on the modern imagination. To some they represent a powerful and shadowy elite who have manipulated world history throughout the ages, while to others they are an altogether more mundane and benign fraternal organization. This thorough reference explores the obscure and uncertain origins of Freemasonry and examines the validity of claims surrounding its early association with the Temple of Solomon and the Knights Templar. It also explains the rituals and practices of Freemasonry, which have been viewed as variously obscure, pointless, baffling, and even sinister. The historical significance of Masonry—including its role in colonial America—is also addressed along with its position and role in contemporary society.