A brief view of Freemasonry reveals a convoluted history and far more confusion when you actually try to unravel it. For the sake a friend who asked, here’s MY attempt at it…
First, you have the United Grand Lodge of England (other wise known as UGLE) – this rules over all the English jurisdiction Blue Lodges (first three degrees) of the traditional men’s-only organization.
Other countries have their own Grand Lodges – in fact, so many that it’s hard to list them all here. Suffice to say, there is a Grand Lodge of France, etc. They hold sway over the men’s Ancient Free and Accepted Masons group (AF&AM). In the Americas, each state has its own grand lodge and in some states they use a French ritual, in others an English Ritual. Some use a ritual called Emulation, and so on. In California, there is a Grand Lodge of California who manages the Free and Accepted Masonic organization.
No, these are not Shriners. *sigh* Wait for it…
There are Prince Hall masons which are traditionally African–American male-only Lodges. You can read more about them from answers.com/prince hall masonry. Then you have women only and co-masonic lodges. Of Co-Masonic organizations, there are –
The Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry (Worldwide)
Le Droit Humaine (French with some American Lodges)
The Eastern Order of International Co-Masonry (mostly India but with some American lodges)
The Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for Men and Women (England)
And there may be more I just don’t know about. (note: I was right, there are more if you believe Wikipedia (don’t – research for yourself…) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-Freemasonry)
Women-only organizations that I know about are
the Honorable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (English)
Grande Loge Feminie de France (French)
Women’s Grand Lodge of Belgium (Belgium, of course, and Americas)
Most of these have a grand lodge setup. Some have a Supreme Council setup. This is a unique thing and more will be covered later. Suffice to say that my order, Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry is a Supreme Council setup.
There is York Rite and Scottish Rite. Each is a different degree setup and this setup is independent of the organization you belong to. Some organizations have both and some are only Scottish Rite. Some are only Blue Lodge (first three degrees) and don’t really affiliate either way. Some are York Rite or partial York Rite. I’ll talk about the rites in a different blog.
Confusing, no? There are as many rituals as there are groups and side groups and splinter groups and auxiliaries. Wow. In the end, we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing, right? There’s room for all.