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!