Let me first start by saying that many of you know that I am and belong to a Co-Masonic Order. The opinions I state here are mine and mine alone, and in no way reflect my Order or are meant to represent Freemasonry as an institution. Let’s get that out of the way up front, so there’s no confusion. That’s true of this and every other blog article on my site.
I had the occasion, recently, to have a blog posted to an Esoteric Knowledge and Occult Science group. I didn’t post it myself, but a fellow Freemason did, and it was extremely interesting the comments she received. I will forego the 150 or so comments on the idea that NASA is a hoax, the earth is flat, no round, no flat again, and the ongoing debate about people being sheeple, and that most of us, including me, are incredibly seduced by the illusion of all governments. Those are almost all amusing. I will even forego the commentary that I absolutely “must” be a member of the Order of the Eastern Star because it is inconceivable that a woman (A WOMAN) of all things can be a Freemason. Nope. No such thing. UGLE said that there are no women Freemasons, so it must be so.
This is where, to me, the discussion got interesting. More than once, someone mentioned that “UGLE isn’t the only game in town.” For those who are unfamiliar, UGLE is United Grand Lodge of England, and by its standards, there can be no women within its ranks, nor within Freemasonry at all. How UGLE became the pinnacle of what is and what is not Freemasonry is probably a matter of fate or really good marketing. At the time of Freemasonry’s coming out of the closet (approximately 1717), slaves were certainly not accepted, nor were women due to their status as “near property,” nor those with any physical ailment or handicap. A lot of men cite Andersen’s Constitution (1723) as the defining guide of what Freemasonry is, and is not. Freemasonry in 1717 or 1723 was not the United Grand Lodge of England, however.
Some may not be aware but the UGLE brand of Freemasonry was not created in 1717, technically, as their website asserts. Almost immediately after the alleged “1717 spontaneous creation” of a Grand Lodge, there were new Grand Lodges in England and by the 1740s, there were at least three. The reason for the splits? Purity. One didn’t believe another’s rituals were the “purest” form and therefore split off, forming their own Grand Lodge. Another did the same. Finally, on 27 December 1813 (after yes, nearly 80 years of bickering…) the United Grand Lodge of England (“UGLE“) was constituted at Freemasons’ Hall, London with the Duke of Sussex (younger son of King George III) as Grand Master. Since three Grand Lodges in England had effectively been chartering new Lodges around the globe, the fighting did not end. “Whose Masonry is Better” just kept going on.
There is an earlier Grand Lodge that did not suffer the immediate scism after its formation; it took about fifty years and the French Revolution for that to happen. The Grand Loge de France began in 1728 and didn’t create a new body until 1777, when the Grand Orient de France was created due to rulings by Grand Loge de France. Even so, more Lodges disagreed and a third Grand Lodge was formed – Grande Loge de Clermont. While the rituals of Freemasonry were altered and changed, the underlying ritual basically remained the same in all Obediences. I say basically, but there’s a lot of variation there. Understand, up to this point, I have JUST been discussing England and France. And while these were the largest bodies who were chartering Lodges throughout the world, Grand Lodges are, in present day, in every country; and, in the United States, there’s one in every State. Most Grand Lodges only cover the first three degrees of Freemasonry, “traditional” Freemasonry or Craft Masonry. This does not include Scottish Rite Freemasonry (generally governed by a Supreme Council, of which there are at least five in the world) or English Rite (or York Rite) Freemasonry, which is a collection of degrees loosely tied to the rituals of Freemasonry and commonly tied to Royal Arch Freemasonry. This does not cover the various “rites” that some Masonic Obediences create on their own. This does not cover the several women-only and men/women co-masonic bodies that exist in the world, of which there are dozens in nearly every country. Dozens. Did I even mention Prince Hall Freemasonry? Swedish Freemasonry? No, I did not. If you haven’t got it yet, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Freemasonry groups.
That’s a lot of Grand Lodge – Supreme Council happening. In short, UGLE is not the only game in town. Not on earth, either. Whether or not you want to believe that UGLE is the only legitimate form of Freemasonry is within one’s purview; however, one should be aware that Freemasonry has spread in a lot of forms all over the globe, much like Christianity has, in its various forms. Does a baptist tell a catholic that they aren’t Christian? Probably not. In other words, perhaps we can recognize Freemasons as, I don’t know, Freemasons and work toward a unifying cause? The Perfecting of Humanity? Crazy notion, I know.
As with any organization, there is politics. The politics of Freemasonry comes in the form of Recognition. From Wikipedia, and generally true, we read,
Relations between Grand Lodges are determined by the concept of Recognition. Each Grand Lodge maintains a list of other Grand Lodges that it recognises. When two Grand Lodges recognise and are in Masonic communication with each other, they are said to be in amity, and the brethren of each may visit each other’s Lodges and interact Masonically. When two Grand Lodges are not in amity, inter-visitation is not allowed. There are many reasons one Grand Lodge will withhold or withdraw recognition from another, but the two most common are Exclusive Jurisdiction and Regularity
In other words, if one Grand Lodge or Masonic Organization finds agreement with the way another does its ritual, treats its members, or has the same guiding “principles” and identifying tenets, then you can visit them and you are “okay” in their books. If you change anything, your recognition status is examined and if found wanting, you are no longer able to visit. This recognition does not mean you are seen as “Non-Masonic;” it is simply that you don’t practice the same type of Freemasonry that the recognizing Grand Lodge does. Regularity, again from Wikipedia but well said, is “…a concept based on adherence to Masonic Landmarks, the basic membership requirements, tenets and rituals of the craft.” What is Regular in one Grand Lodge is not necessarily Regular in others; additionally, Landmarks are changeable, have been changed, and contrary to popular belief, not carved in stone. There are many who would disagree with me, to whom I would only point out that they should go view Masonic Landmarks and read them. There are a lot.
The majority of lay people, non Freemasons, will hear “recognized” or “irregular” and apply modern, non-Masonic meaning to the terms and think this “isn’t Freemasonry.” I won’t go making accusations but I do believe that larger organizations, like UGLE, have used that misunderstanding to their marketing advantage. If you don’t think that Freemasons do marketing, why do you see their buildings and other good works festooned with plaques, flags, and emblems of their symbols? Of course this is marketing. Nothing wrong with it; one just needs to be aware of the motivations behind the marketing.
As noted in some of these referenced writings, one might hear the term “clandestine.” Freemasons are admonished to never be associated with or sit in a Lodge meeting with a “clandestine” Freemason. What does this mean? Mackey, a 19th C.E. Freemason and author of an extensive encyclopedia, says this: “A body of Freemasons or of those improperly claiming to be Freemasons, uniting in a Lodge without the consent of a Grand Lodge, or, although originally legally constituted, continuing to work after its Charter has been revoked, is styled a Clandestine Lodge.” In terms of Freemasonry, this is a Lodge or person who has never been a Freemason as deputized by a Grand Lodge or Supreme Council, or who has had their membership canceled or revoked, or who has been expelled from their Obedience. Briefly, if you have received a degree from or a member of a Lodge that is recognized and chartered by a Grand Lodge, Supreme Council or other Supreme body, you are a Freemason. Whether you are “regular” to another body is a whole ‘nother matter.
Last thoughts are these: there are men Freemasons, women Freemasons, and Lodges can have any mixture of the lot. They are all, having been duly consecrated by Masonic Jurisprudence, Freemasons. You may not like it. You may not agree. But… There. It. Is. Your disbelief in a thing does not make it so. Your belief is not required for Freemasons of every sort to exist.
Why does everyone want to say what Freemasonry is or is not? I think because our egos like to feel important. We cannot get over the idea that we, and those groups we belong to, are the ‘most special’ of all. This cognitive bias impairs us from seeing things objectively. Objectively, the purpose and types of Freemasonry are manifold. It is “to make good men better,” to achieve “enlightenment,” or as one site puts it, “work for the welfare of mankind, striving morally to ennoble themselves and others, and thereby to bring about a universal league of mankind, which they aspire to exhibit even now on a small scale. (German Handbuch, 1900). There are many things it is not, and no one person holds to be the authority on what Freemasonry is or isn’t, nor what a Freemason should be or do. That is up to the individual Freemason. As a fellow Mason puts it, “Freemasonry seems to be the framework that good works and good people seek to expand upon.” It doesn’t tell one what to think or do – just TO think and TO do. As Universal Co-Masonry says, “Freemasonry is a fraternity including men and women of every race, nationality and religion. Wishing to do away with all cause for division and strife, it continually seeks the means which to help all human beings to unite and work together for the perfection of Humanity.”
It is all Freemasonry, and it is all good. It really doesn’t have to be any more complex than that. Everything else, all the noise, it’s really just ego.
Regarding UGLE and the status of women as Freemasons… interestingly enough, on a pull of the UGLE website (“Interested in Becoming a Freemason” page on September 12, 2020), they had a banner stating that if a woman wanted to become a Freemason, they should go to one of two different Grand Lodges.
To the question of “Are there women Freemasons?” UGLE says yes. Read their FAQ.
Make of that what you will.