An Introduction to Non-Masculine Masonry, Part II

As mentioned last week, the topic of non-masculine Freemasonry tends to illicit a strong response from most people involved in Masonry, no matter which side of the fence they may fall on as far as the actual subject is concerned. This week I wanted to look some of the terms used when talking about non-masculine Lodges, some of the arguments against the organizations, and some history behind the separation between masculine and non-masculine Masonry . If you missed out on the introduction last week, you can check it out here.

Regular versus Irregular versus Clandestine

Perhaps one of the most confusing parts of the argument either for or against non-masculine Masonry, are the terms used to describe it. Often you will hear masculine Masons refer to non-masculine Masonry as irregular, clandestine, or unrecognized.  However, contrary to popular belief, these words do not all mean the same thing. Wording is everything with Masons (thanks Taozen!), no matter which flavor of Masonry they may ascribe to. In the definitions below, please keep in mind that these are from the masculine Mason point of view, a member of a non-masculine Masonic Lodge may have  different definitions.

  • Regular – Ironically, this is probably the most difficult definition. That’s because what qualifies a Lodge as regular can differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Regular simply means that the Lodge meets the standards that have been established by the Grand Lodge that it wants to be a part of. This works on the Grand Lodge level as well, where a Grand Lodge is considered regular if it meets the standards established by the second Grand Lodge that is inquiring the regularity. This doesn’t mean that they have to meet the standards exactly, more that any differences between the two would be trivial. The standards usually include things like ceremonies, hierarchy, and general philosophy.
  • Recognized – After two Lodges or Grand Lodges have deemed each other to be regular, a formal agreement is made, usually with a lot of paperwork, that states that the two Lodges or Grand Lodges agree that the other is regular. We now say that they recognize each other, and members of both Lodges or Grand Lodges may recognize each other as brothers, this usually includes visitation rights.
  • Irregular– A Lodge or Grand Lodge is considered irregular by the inquiring Lodge or Grand Lodge if they do not meet the standards, or if the differences between the standards would be too great. So let’s say  Lodge #826 wants to put on a panel at the statewide Masonic conference, but #826 isn’t a member of the Grand Lodge of Alabama, where the Lodges resides. So, the Grand Lodge of Alabama looks into the standards of what makes up Lodge #826, the core of the Lodge. If the Grand Lodge of Alabama feels that the heart of Lodge #826 is too different from the standards set up by the Grand Lodge of Alabama, then Lodge #826 is considered irregular by the Grand Lodge of Alabama, and therefore not allowed to take part in the statewide conference as a Lodge. (Same scenario works with regular, with Lodge #826 being able to attend.)
  • Unrecognized – Much like you might guess, if two Lodges or Grand Lodges feel that the difference between their standards is too great, and that the other is irregular, they now consider the other Lodge unrecognized as well. Again, even though it sounds negative, it really is not, it simply means that their standards of Masonry, what they consider to be the most important things to uphold, did not match up.
  • Clandestine– Clandestine is usually the term used to describe Lodges that allow women and atheists. However, if someone uses this word to describe these Lodges they are (usually) incorrect. A Lodge is considered clandestine if it was established with ill or dishonorable intent. These are known as the “scam” lodges, and usually involve you paying a large sum of money for little to no degree work, and a certificate with a fancy title on it. Regardless of how you may feel about non-masculine Masonry, I think we can all agree that this is not Masonry, and is often little more than a pyramid scheme.

The argument against non-masculine Masonry

So, what does this mean for non-masculine Masons? Well, the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), acknowledges that they are Masons, but does not consider them regular nor recognize them. Kind of a “I see you over there, but I’m pretending you don’t exist” kind of thing. While there are a number of Grand Lodges in the EU that do recognize them, the issue in the States is a bit more complicated. The Grand Lodges in the United States that are masculine, are (most) all recognized by UGLE. That means that the differences between a non-masculine Lodge in the US and a masculine one would be too great for the two Lodges to recognize each other. As a result, non-masculine Masonry tends to not be very popular in the States, since most of the overseeing organizations are based overseas. In fact, many Masons in the United States are unaware of the existence of non-masculine Masonry, or are ill-informed on the topic.

Of course, tends to lead to some very heated arguments. Without going into too much detail, some of these arguments against non-masculine Masonry include that the authenticity of Freemasonry is lost when we ignore the rules and allow women, that it goes against the obligation taken during the degree work, and of course, that’s the way that it’s always been.Funny thing is, they are often talking about two (or more) different organizations with the same, or similar names, and varying history, in some cases dating back before the foundation of masculine Masonry.  I have found that many Masons tend to be very defensive about “their” craft. However, contrary to conspiracy theorists beliefs, Masonry was not passed down from the gods (or demons for that matter), no one person or organization owns Freemasonry, in fact, the square and compass emblem is not even trademarked, and never will be.

I think of it a bit like the difference between the Girl Scouts and the Girl Guides. Both have very similar names, and very similar goals. In fact, some of their ceremonial work is even the same, which makes sense, since they both really came from the same place. The two don’t interact on a group level, and really both just kind of do their own thing. Eventually, one became more popular than another in one country, while the opposite happened in other countries. It doesn’t make either organization less real, or one more right than the other, they are simply two different groups working toward a very similar end result.

Why did all of this happen?

There are many different reasons as to why the rift between masculine and non-masculine Masonry occurred, and why it is still perpetuated today. Most interestingly I think however, is that we know when it started. In the beginning, everyone recognized each other, and everything was all hunky-dory. However, shortly after the American Civil War,  the first case of derecognition (that is, no longer recognizing a group you once recognized) occurred. In 1869, the Grand Orient de France (GODF) recognized a Lodge in Louisiana that the Grand Lodge of Louisiana did not. The Grand Lodge of Louisiana felt that this was an invasion of their jurisdiction, and decided to remove their recognition of GODF. The Grand Lodge of Louisiana convinced many other US Grand Lodges to remove their recognition as well.

This schism grew soon after when the GODF decided to remove the belief in a higher power as a requirement for joining in 1877.  Once UGLE got wind that GODF was allowing atheists to become members, they decided to formally remove their recognition, and declared GODF irregular.  Since the majority of jurisdictions follow the lead of either GODF or UGLE, the number of Lodges deemed irregular by UGLE grew. GODF  decided to officially allow the initiation of women in 2010, causing further discord among the two major bodies of Freemasonry.

Who knows what the future of Freemasonry may hold. I would like to see the two warring groups come together as opposed to drift further apart; unfortunetly, I am not sure that this is the course that we are currently on. I think that perhaps one of the most important things to remember when it comes to this topic, is simply to respect one another. Just because you do not agree with something that someone does means that it is wrong, or not real. No matter which route you may choose, remember to keep your chin up, there’s a lot of hate out there.

I think that’s all on this topic for a bit. I hope this causes much discussion in your Lodges and households. As always, have a great week!

I Will Be a Man for My Brethren

French Masonry is a little bit different from what we have here in the states, and even what there is in the UK. This was especially true in the middle of the 18th century. During this time, Freemasonry was beginning to spread throughout the country, from England. While France did follow all of the rules placed by the Grand Lodge of All England, the precursor to UGLE, there was one that they did feel needed a bit of bending. In England, women were not allowed to become Masons, nor were they allowed to attend the banquets or religious services put on by them. France felt that this was a little unnecessary, and they allowed women to attend these events.

As the number of women attending the events grew, so did their want for an organization of their own. There was a separate lodge created, called the Lodge of Adoption. The idea was quite simple, the women would have their own sets of degrees, and were held to similar standards as the regular Masons. However, a Lodge of Adoption could not exist without a supporting, and perhaps governing, regular, masculine Lodge of Masons. Soon after their inception, the Lodges of Adoption came under the jurisdiction of the Grand Orient de France (France’s version of UGLE), who decided that they were consitutional, then unconstitutional, then consitutional, then eventually, they made up their minds and decided that they were unconstitutional. The Lodges of Adoption eventually formed their own jurisdiction, Grand Loge feminine de France. The creation of the Lodges of Adoption were the beginning of what we call co-Masonry today.

A Lodge of Adoption ceremony

Shortly after the Lodge of Adoption had been established, although, the exact date is not known, a Lodge in Paris known as The Lodge of Freres-Artistes, or The Lodge of Artist Brothers, was preparing to open to give a Fete of Adoption, the ritual that opened the Lodge of Adoption, and initiated new women into the Lodge of Adoption that was associated with their Lodge. Before they had opened to receive the women, however, they opened a regular Lodge in the first degree to take care of some other business. As you may or may not know, during the opening of a Lodge, a call is put out for any visitors. Indeed, this Lodge did have a visitor, a young man in a Calgary captain’s uniform. The asked for his certificate, his way of them knowing that he was who he said he was, and he handed it over with little hesitation. It was folded when he handed it to the Senior Deacon, and remained folded until it was passed to the Orator of the Lodge. When the Orator opened it, and read it aloud to the  Lodge, they became very excited, and declared that the Captain should be conferred the first degree at once. More on why in a moment.

Remember, that this was the end of the 18th century in France. The French Revolution was still going on, or may have just been winding down. A young General, named Charles Antoine Dominique Xaintrailles commanded a body of the Army of the Rhone and Moselle, one of the Armies of the Republic, who fought against the revolutionaries. This was a tough time for the people of France, and often women would  often masquerade as men so as to avoid being the victims of sexual violence. General Xaintrailles had a mistress whom he wanted to protect from this, and so, he made her his aide-de-camp. Kind of like a second in command, and aide-de-camp is an officer, whose job is to monitor a senior officer and help enforce his orders. apparently Madame de Xaintrailles was no dainty flower, as she rose to the rank of captain “at the point of the sword.”*

The French Revolution. Not a happy time for anyone.

You see where this is going right? That young captain waiting in the anteroom of the lodge was Madame de Xaintrailles, and the certificate she had handed to the Senior Deacon was the one showing her commission as an aide-de-camp. Apparently, once the certificate was read aloud, the members of the lodge were astonished, and quickly grew very excited. They decided, both unanimously and spontaneously, that she should receive the First degree. Not the first degree of the Lodge of Adoption that they were about to open mind you, but the First degree of speculative, regular, Masonry to Madame de Xaintrailles. They felt that she had “so many times…displayed all the virtues of a man and had deserved to be charged with important missions which required as much courage as discretion and prudence.”*

After being told the decision of the Lodge, she was asked if she would accept. She simply replied,

“I am a man for my country, I will be a man for my Brethren.”

And so, the initiation took place, and Madame de Xaintrailles became a very active member of her Lodge.

How, you may ask, did they ever let this happen? The Reverend, Past Grand Chaplain of England, commented that he failed “to see how the French Brethren were to blame, or how they could have done otherwise under the circumstances. We who know the heroism of English womanhood—not to speak of other peoples—in the adjourned war of the world cannot help speculating humourously what might have been done by himself under similar circumstances, had his gracious presence filled the Chair in the East during any of these recent years.”

Just so you know what’s going on down here, I’ve been asked a few times where I get this information from. I am going to do my best to cite work where I can, so that if you would like to read more on the topic, you can. Let me know if there are any questions.

*The Builder Magazine, February 1921, Vol 7, No. 2

Woman and Freemasonry Dudley Wright

A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry A.E. Waite