So, we know at this point that women cannot become Freemasons, right? Well…not exactly. There are a number of different organizations that allow women to become Masons. This does, unfortunately, come with numerous stipulations, and tends to be a very hot button issue for many members.
Three types of Masonry
By this point, you should be fairly familiar with masculine, or “regular” Masonry (If not, learn more here). These Lodges are easily identified because they only allow men, who believe in a higher power to become members. There are, however, two other types of Masonry out there. Feminine Masonry, as you might have guessed, allows only women to become members of their Lodge; they may or may not have a belief in a higher power as a requirement of membership. The third type is commonly called Co-Masonry, or “mixed” Masonry. These Lodges admit both men and women to join their ranks; they may or may not have a belief in a higher power as a requirement for membership.
The how and why about all of this can be a bit confusing, so we will kind of start at the top, and work our way down. Usually, when you think of Masonry, you think of masculine Masonry, the kind that only admits men. These Lodges are sometimes referred to as “Anglo-American” due to the locations where they are most prevalent, and fall under the jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodge of England (aka UGLE) This is who all of the state Grand Lodges, such as the Grand Lodge of Nebraska, or the Grand Lodge of Maine, answer to. UGLE claims to be the oldest Grand Lodge in existence, stemming from the first Grand Lodge in 1717. They work side by side with the Grand Lodge of Ireland, and the Grand Lodge of Scotland, to bring us the type of Freemasonry that many of us know and love.
However, the beginnings of Freemasonry could never be so cut and dry. The issue was that many different people in many different countries wanted to do the same general thing, but had vastly differing opinions about how it should be done. In addition to this, communication across countries was not exactly as fast in the 18th century as it is today. Around the same time that UGLE was established, came the Grand Orient de France, or GODF. It arose from the ashes of the Grand Lodge of France, which can trace itself back to 1728 or so. The Lodges that fall under the GODF have many different names to distinguish themselves from the UGLE Lodges, and are most commonly referred to as “continental” Lodges. The UGLE Lodges have some not so great and often confusing names for the GODF lodges, usually “irregular” or “clandestine”. These Lodges tend to be much more common in Europe. Instead of Grand Lodges, the jurisdictions for GODF Lodges are called Grand Orients, which, despite the name, has nothing to do with the Shriners. GODF. along with the Grand Lodge of Belgium, the Grand Orient of Belgium, Le Droit Humain, and the Grand Loge de France, all share one thing that separates them from UGLE- none of them require belief in a higher power.
Mixed and Co-Masonic Organizations
After GODF was created, they began a system of Lodges of Adoption, which I have discussed previously. Basically, the idea was that a male only lodge had a parallel lodge that was attached to them, specially for the wives and sister of the male Masons. These Lodges had a four degree system: Female Apprentice, Journeywoman, Mistress, and Perfect Msasoness. Sounds pretty similar to the three degrees in Blue Lodge, right? The idea spread like wildfire across 18th century Europe, and soon the degrees had stretched to 10, and eventually adopted all of the Scottish Rite degrees to their liking. GODF decided that these lodges were unconstitutional in 1808, and were re-instated in 1901. Finally, they broke off in 1935, and became Grande Loge feminine de France. Their lodges spread to Belgium in 1974, and the Grande Loge feminine de Belgique was formed in 1981.
In 1882, a woman names Maria Deraismes convinced a French Lodge to temporarily succeed from its Grand Lodge to initiate her. After she took her third degree, she demitted, allowing the Lodge to re-join the Grand Lodge. She was a well known woman’s rights activist, and by 1893, had found 16 other women who wanted to become speculative Masons. That same year, she established her own Lodge, that allowed both men and women to join. This Lodge has now become one of the largest mixed Masonic organizations in the world, Le Droit Humain.
In 1902, many English Masons were alarmed by the changes that were being made to Masonry by those in Paris. Many chose to abandon ship, and retired from their Lodges in order to create a new Grand Lodge, the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry. When the current Grand Master chose to leave to start anew, a female Grand Master was elected in his place. Throughout the years, more and more male members left for other pursuits, while more and more female members joined. In 1935, the last male left the organization, and since then, it has been exclusively female. They changed their name to fit this in 1958, to the Order of Women Freemasons.
There are many Masonic organizations out there that allow women that I have not mentioned here. The number one piece of advice that I can give about being a woman, and wanting to become a Mason is this – do your research. Find out as much as you can about where your prospective Lodge comes from, and what organizations it belongs to. There are a number of lodges out there that exist only as scams to take your money, and bestow fancy titles upon you. This is not Masonry, this is just a scam. Like masculine Masonry, many mixed or feminine Lodges will have nights where prospective members can come and check it out, and I would encourage you to do so.
What happens at a mixed or feminine Lodge that makes it so different?
They allow women to become members, and usually do not require a belief in a higher power. Other than that, they tend to operate exactly the same as masculine Lodges. No, seriously, that’s it.
What’s the big deal then?
This I will be saving for next week, since it tends to be such a heated issue, and this is getting legnthy as is. Tune in next week for the conclusion of An introduction to Non-Masculine Masonry. As always, have a great week!