Many people ask me “what is the difference between Co-Masonry and Freemasonry?” That question can be loaded, depending on who ask. In my own opinion, the question can be answered various ways – all true and all valid.
Freemasonry is a fraternal organization that sprang (and I use the term loosely) into existence in 1717. There is a lot of evidence and documentation to suggest that it was a long time coming – perhaps as much as a thousand years coming. Documents pulled from the early 10th century seem to indicate that a “speculative” type of Freemasonry existed far earlier. If you ask most Ancient and Accepted Freemasons, they will say that it began in 1717.
I should say here that there are literally hundreds of types of Freemasonry in the current culture. There are men-only groups, women-only groups, and mixed-gender groups. They typically referred to as male Masonry, adoptive Lodges or feminine lodges, and co-masonry. Freemasonry and Masonry are generally interchangeable terms that mean “Speculative” Freemasonry. For those of you who want to know more about speculative versus operative Masonry, now would be a good time to Google it. I couldn’t begin to cover it here.
Of the male-only Lodges, they are basically broken into two types: English and French. If you want to know more about the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) which is typically the authority for English-oriented Lodges, Wikipedia has a pretty good article as does the UGLE website. The other type is French, generally following the Grand Orient de France (GOdF). Again, Wikipedia is pretty good as is the French website.
For women-only and co-masonic organizations, I’d refer you again to Wikipedia (believe me, I don’t use it for knowledge at all but it is a good place for links!) under Co-Freemasonry and Women and Masonry subjects. Their list of links is really pretty good and is kept up to date by the people who know…
Which brings me to the us vs. them. I have heard all sorts of extremes on this, from the Yahoo! groups I belong to to individual Freemasons (male and female); some believe that either their way is the “true” way and other groups are evil to the other extreme where some don’t understand nor care what the other group does or thinks. For me, personally, both of these views are unconscious and odd, especially given the nature of the institution of Freemasonry.
We’re taught, as Co-Masons actually, to practice brotherly love, tolerance, patience, temperance, prudence, and justice. Each one of us has a different idea of what all those things mean and we all practice them variously. Yet, the basic undercurrent seems to be, or that it should be, that we should listen with an open mind and open heart, let people have their differences, seek to understand those differences, and check in with your own mind and heart to seek their truth. Another way to look at it is that each of us does not have the answer for everything; perhaps by sharing the answers we have found, we can create something good.
Yet, I hear often about how “we’re better than them because we X” or “they all seem to be stupid.” I’ve heard generalizations about how they think, how they speak, how they conduct themselves – both from male-only Freemasons and co-masons. I don’t understand this concept. I don’t believe in generalities; not one person looks like another person – doesn’t it seem to fit that we think differently as well? Someone recently said that there are as many realities as their are people in the world. I agree. To stick someone with a cultural ego before you’ve even gotten to know them does them a disservice and in my opinion, makes you biased and discriminatory. How can we have an open mind if we’ve already created a form, a structure, for that person to fit into? We all meet on the level and act upright with each other – in this, as far as I know, all of our rituals are similar. If that’s so, how can we pre-judge people? We automatically do this because we are fitting ourselves into a hierarchy that soothes the ego – collective or personal.
There is plenty of room in the world for every person’s opinion and thought. They take up no space physical space and in fact, help build it in my opinion. I like to think that all Freemasons are working toward the betterment of themselves and humanity. There is no “us and them” when we all come together on a single platform to make the world a better place. Maybe each one of us has a different idea of what that means; perhaps some are smarter than others and others have more social talents. Some are better at fundraising and some are better at symbolism. Does it really matter all that much if it add to the basic foundation of the principles of Freemasonry? Does it really matter all that much if we disagree on one symbol or another? The collective ego calling itself an organization might say “yes” but when it really is stripped away, the answer is no.
So, will I tell you what I think the differences are between Co-Masonry and Freemasonry? Nope. It’s not all that important. I know what I am part of and what I am contributing to – I am satisfied in my own mind with the relationship with my order. I do not need anything more. I am content to open up myself to many ways of doing things and seeing how the world works differently. The moment I cut myself off, the moment tolerance dissipates and patience flees, I am no longer the best Co-Mason I can be. I encourage you to learn. I encourage you to understand. Perhaps in that understanding we can build a frame of world betterment where everyone can hang their hat.