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Mutual Recognition in the world of Freemasonry

 

Paris Woodcut 1489

Individual versus Grand Lodge recognition

Perhaps I begin with too controversial a heading, but in essence, this provides a clear sense between what I consider of utmost significance in the changes that have occured over time. And changes, I would add, that are regressive rather than progressive for an initiatic order. If there is a degree such as that of Master Mason, then the person having achieved such exalted state (ie, most Freemasons) are in possession of what they need to be able to discern whether another person or Lodge is to be accepted as Freemasonic.

This aspect of discernment is of course a tricky one, in that a Freemason who has never visited beyond the confines of his or her local Lodge may (unfortunately) not even be aware of the vast variations between rituals. It is true that in most constitutions, varieties of signs in especially the third degree is both explained and shown. But really, there remains for many not only a paucity of Masonic education in general, but also an apparent lack of interest.

For their sake, should a body of other Freemasons decide on their behalf who is to be considered a Freemason, and then impose the same on all its members? My own reply is clearly no! Either Master Masons are Master Mason, or they remain Apprentice or Fellow-Craft.

The UGLE's Grand Master's 1929 request for a guideline

Following the first World War, it seems that various Masonic activities began to take place in ways that not only perhaps confused some brethren, but also made others desire for more formal means of recognition outside of the time-honoured ones. Part of this is perhaps what played on the then Grand Master of UGLE to request formal guidelines to be adopted by his own GL, and hence also have an impact on similar steps being taken in other constitutions.

The full text of the guidelines has been reproduced online by the Masonic Forum Journal, and will here address the adopted points.

  1. Regularity of origin; i.e. each Grand Lodge shall have been established lawfully by a duly recognized Grand Lodge or by three or more regularly constituted Lodges.
  2. In essence, this seems the most benign rule. I would question, however, whether it can historically be correct. Also, I do not see why a constitution that started out with one or two Lodges who at the time were 'regularly' constituted are to be excluded on this rule alone.

    As a general guideline fine — as long as it allows for individual exceptions where the Masonic body under consideration is actually Masonic. Otherwise, it presents itself as a situation where the rule is applied blindly (ie, without the light of reason).

  3. That a belief in the G.A.O.T.U. and His revealed will shall be an essential qualification for membership.
  4. This goes beyond what is warranted in terms of Freemasonry, and despite the requirement in some jurisdictions for their own members to hold such a belief, it excludes genuine Masonic bodies being duely recognised as such.

    The rule is therefore simply seeking to impose a limited view of Freemasonry, in the same manner that if a Scandinavian Masonic Grand Lodge that currently restricts membership to Christians was to pronounce that only other GLs having the same requirement are genuinely Masonic.

    The UGLE rule here confuses Freemasonry in general (even if it maintains that requirement for its own members) with Freemasonry universal.

    There is the additional problem that given the next rule (which explains what 'His revealed will' actually means) that those who do not accept such a concept are supposedly to be excluded from Freemasonry. Of course, as applied to its own membership, this reflects its own parochialism or local preference, but as extended to Freemasonry universal, is simply incorrect.

    For the sake of completeness, and to UGLE's credit in partly improving this, I should mention that this clause was revised in January 1989 and now reads "Freemasons under its jurisdiction must believe in a Supreme Being". Still a long way to go, but a vast improvement nonetheless.

  5. That all Initiates shall take their Obligation on or in full view of the open Volume of the Sacred Law, by which is meant the revelation from above which is binding on the conscience of the particular individual who is being initiated.
  6. As a number of Constitutions have the initiates taking their obligation 'on their honour' or a Masonic symbol (rather than the Bible or an alternate textual imprint), this again seeks to not duly recognise Freemasonry for what it is, and instead confuses the requirement of membership for its own Lodges with Freemasonry Universal.

    Also, it is simply not that case that there is in all cases a specific volume that 'is binding on the conscience of the particular individual being initiated'.

  7. That the membership of the Grand Lodge and individual Lodges shall be composed exclusively of men; and that each Grand Lodge shall have no Masonic intercourse of any kind with mixed Lodges or bodies which admit women to membership.
  8. What can I say? At the very least, UGLE is aware that Freemasonry is not, nor was, exclusively masculine. I suppose that in 1929, the recognition and fear of other Masonic jurisdictions allowing women was considered just too much for UGLE recognition. It has at least also since had the courage to 'recognise' that at least there are Masonic bodies that do indeed have people (our modern term for the more generic 'man' that was used until recently) of either gender.

    This and the next rule are really more about what appears to be Anglo-Franco relations, than about Freemasonry in general. Would but that political bickering remain outside of proper Masonic recognition.

  9. That the Grand Lodge shall have sovereign jurisdiction over the Lodges under its control; i.e. that it shall be a responsible, independent, self-governing organization, with sole and undisputed authority over the Craft or Symbolic Degrees (Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason) within its Jurisdiction; and shall not in any way be subject to, or divide such authority with, a Supreme Council or other Power claiming any control or supervision over those degrees.
  10. This seems to again address the at-the-time predominant French Masonic GL (or G∴O∴) predilection for its sovereign bodies to operate either as Ancient and Accepted (33°) or Primitive MM (97°). It of course also has its reflection in its historical struggles as it came to terms in its own peculiar manner at the time of union between the Ancients and the 'Moderns', and which and how many degrees are included in Freemasonry. An earlier potential conflict was avoided between itself and the establishment of the 'Premier' Supreme Council in the USA some decades earlier.

    Its own resolve, however, reflects its own resolve about the way it prefers to work, and, again, not Freemasonry Universal.

  11. That the three Great Lights of Freemasonry (namely, the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Square, and the Compasses) shall always be exhibited when the Grand Lodge or its subordinate Lodges are at work, the chief of these being the Volume of the Sacred Law.
  12. The Square and Compasses certainly seem to the universal symbols by which Freemasonry is recognised. Yet I would even here question whether such a rule is one that reflects Freemasonry in general. To have it as a guideline, fine. There may, however, either currently or in the future be a genuine Masonic body that does not exhibit even these two (perhaps for local legal or historical reasons), without in the least being 'unmasonic'.

    As to the VSL, there are already a number of Masonic Constitutions that do not necessarily display this, without in any manner being unmasonic. Again, a confusion between what it has for its own Lodges, and due recognition of Freemasonry Universal.

  13. That the discussion of religion and politics within the Lodge shall be strictly prohibited.
  14. This is of course not even the case in its own Lodges, never mind Lodges under other GLs! A simple look through the transactions of Quator Coronati will make this clear. Unless of course there are unstated exceptions to the rule that are applied when it sees fit. If exceptions to this rule, however, why not to other rules as well?
  15. That the principles of the Antient Landmarks, customs, and usages of the Craft shall be strictly observed.
  16. Finally. A rule I heartily agree with!

    That in itself is perhaps the only rule that should be applied.

    And so good to see that none of these are defined, explained, or in other ways delineated.

Masonic Regularity re-defined

Perhaps, in the spirit of Freemasonry, I could suggest a replacement to the above that seems to reflect in a deeper way the spirit of Freemasonry:

In light of the ideals, principles and Landmarks of Freemasonry, any Lodge or GL that discriminates on grounds of an individual's personal belief, genetic ancestry, or gender will hereforth be deemed irregular.

Of course, I write this in partial jest — for no GL of which I am aware would adopt such a rule as part of its understanding of 'regularity', knowing full well that, unfortunately, far too many Grand Lodges would fall short on at least two of the three points!

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