Category Archives: info

Some numbers

Members of male-only Freemasonry love to point to the fact that they are the first and the biggest. It is not always so easy, at least, when they refer to regular Freemasonry. In Belgium, for example, only 6,5% of the Freemasons are members of lodges recognised by UGLE. Belgium is an exception though. To give you an idea, just a few examples.

France has a liberal Masonic history. Mixed Freemasonry originates in France just after other Landmarks were dropped and French Freemasonry became irregular. Nowadays there are about 90.000 Freemasons in France, 50.000 of whom are member of the Grand Orient de France which has been irregular for a long time, but seems to be back on speaking terms with London. That would mean that 55% of the French Freemasons is now again regular, a year ago none! That still makes 45% irregular. Female only Freemasonry is France is huge with 14.000 members making up for 17% and mixed about 22%.

Belgium closely followed France on several occasions. Two times the regular organisation was left by UGLE, both times the Landmarks of ‘something higher’ and/or politics in the lodges was dropped. In the end only the Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium remained regular (a split off when the mother organisation took another path), 1.600 members, about 6,5% of the Belgian Freemasons. So what about the rest? The Grandorient of Belgium has about 10.000 members, 42%; the Grand Lodge (not the Regular GL) 3.500 members, 15%. Then we have Le Droit Humain with 6.500 members, 27% and a bunch of small organisations with only 1, 2 or 3 lodges (mostly mixed).

The Netherlands are probably more representative for Freemasonry worldwide. The Grand Orient supposedly has some 6.000 members (92%). There are four mixed organisations, Le Droit Humain with about 350 members (5%), the Nederlandse Grootloge voor Gemengde Vrijmetselarij with 100 members (1,8%), the Nederlands Verbond Van Vrijmetselaren with only 1 lodge left and I believe that the Grandorient of Luxembourgh has two lodges.
There is no women-only Freemasonry in the Netherlands, but the Vitae Feminea Textura is said to have 500 members.
Also note that the Netherlands have no irregular men-only lodges, unlike the neighbours to the south.

So how is that, a mixed lodge?

Male Masons often say that they enjoy coming together without their wives. Some take a step further and say that the presence of women will be contraproductive regarding the “work”. There are even those who say that they would never be able to remain attentive when they would sit next to a woman. I even read a Mason wondering what his wife would say if there were women in his lodge or people wondering how rituals go.

I wonder what the rituals look like of the lodges of men who think their wives would find improper when conducted on a woman? What I have experienced so far was nothing so wild that it could be seen dishonourable. Sure, sometimes a knee or part of the chest has to be visible, but how arising is that compared to what you see when you look around you in the shopping mall?

Or you are sitting in the lodge and your neighbour is a woman, or there is a woman on the opposite side, would that draw your attention away more than thoughts about a problem at work, a sore thumb or the realisation that you wear two different socks? These arguments hardly seem arguments to me. In fact, I am of the opinion that men and women complement eachother spiritually. Sure, the woman’s perspective can be different from the man’s, but you can say the same of two men. In fact, you best hope that the members of your lodge have different opinions, otherwise things would be rather dull.

Ah yes, in the “operative” period, when masons really were masons, there were no women masons (or at least very little). That argument has some merit, but after almost 300 years of “speculative” Freemasonry, is that still a valid argument? I wonder. I do know that there are women in co-Masonry who have looked around in different organisations, Masonic or not, and in the end decided that the building and light symbolism and the way Freemasonry works is what they are looking for. Why deny them the right? The possibility exists.

History

Much information can already be found on the internet. No need to reproduce all that. Especially Wikipedia has some fairly good information, so you can start with the following links:

And of course the websites of the orders that could be interesting for you (see index page, by clicking on the logo above).

Grand Lodge, Grand Orient

A group of Freemasons forms a “lodge”. When three of such lodges decided to cooperate in 1717 London, they called this new organisation “Grand Lodge”. A place where a lodge resides is called an “orient” (Masonic jargon) and in an area some lodges may work together in a “Grand Orient” which falls under the national “Grand Lodge” (or no longer).

During history things started to run differently. Sometimes a Grand Lodge made a decision that made ‘London’ withdraw recognition. A few lodges of this Grand Lodge wanted to ‘stay with London’ and split off. Of course they cannot use the name Grand Lodge any longer, so they had to think of something else, “Grand Orient” for example, or either term with an addition of some sort, or something completely different.

The bottom line is, it is not like every “Grand Lodge” is regular and every “Grand Orient” is irregular. When you want to know the ‘status’ of a lodge or a Grand Lodge you will have to find out if it is regular or not. Internet is helpful in this regard. Most regular organisations will boast about this on their websites, but Wikipedia has helpful information. So, look around, ask around.

Regular, irregular, what is that?

In 1717 the world’s first Grand Lodge was founded in London when three lodges decided to work together. Later the “Constitutions” of Andersson where written down containing rites, but also the co-called “Landmarks”. Here they come:

  1. belief in a Supreme Being
  2. belief in the immortality of the soul
  3. a “book of sacred law” as an indispensable part of the “furniture” (or furnishings) of the Lodge
  4. the legend of the Third Degree
  5. the secrets of Freemasonry: The modes of recognition and the symbolic ritual of the Lodge
  6. that a Mason be a man, freeborn, and of lawful age

Every lodge or national organisation can only dream of becoming recognised by the United Grand Lodge of England if it lives up to these Landmarks. It is easy to understand that a lodge that skipped the notion of a Supreme Being will not be recognised (point 1), neither will a lodge that accepts membership of other people than “a man” (point 6).

Recognised organisations call themselves “regular” and the rest “irregular”, “clandestine” or even “false” or “bogus”. When you look at ‘the other camp’, you will come accross dichotomes such as “dogmatic” versus “adogmatic” Freemasonry or “Anglo-Saxon” (or “Anglo-American”) versus “continental” Freemasonry. Some organisations speak about “modern” or “liberal” Freemasonry.
This latter branch can be men-only, but a lodge wants to be able to discuss politics within the lodge, or it does not want to impose the Bible, or -of course- it allows (only) women to join.

Is it fair that organisations that know it will never be recognised by UGLE use the term “Freemasonry”? That is a valid question. They have done so for over a century, so this seems to be a fact we have to live with. The point is, there are now organisations linked to ‘London’ and organisations that are not. Those that are, are in most countries the largest and often the members look down on ‘the other kinds of’ Freemasonry. The relations seem to get better though. More and more UGLE-related Freemasons are open to the idea that there are other Freemasons too, but since there is no official recognition, they will not sit in the same lodge.

On ‘both sides’ things are more complicated as stated above. It is not as simple as that UGLE decides which Grand Lodge or Grand Orient is “regular”. Grand Lodge A and Grand Orient B can “recognise” one another (without having to ask UGLE), but that does not necessarily mean that Grand Lodge C does too. In most cases this is true though.
Within “liberal” Freemasonry something similar is going on. One organisation can have relations with another, but not with the next. An unrecognised (by UGLE) men-only organisation does not necessarily have relations with a mixed gender order just it is not recognised by UGLE too.

Yep, it can all be pretty confusing.

Why co?

When you are a man and interested in Freemasonry you can set out and try to find some information if it could be something for you. After a while you may want to visit an information evening or something. Male Freemasonry is in most countries by far the biggest Masonic(-related) organisation, so the chance that your first encounter will be with a male-only lodge is substantial. Usually women can also come to these information evenings, but soon they will learn that there is no possibility for them to join. Depending in what country you live, a few things can happen when a woman in the groups asks ‘why’ and ‘what then’?

In the USA, reference might be made to the Order Of The Eastern Star, an organisation founded and sustained by regular lodges and open for men and women who are Freemasons or family thereof.

To take France or Belgium as examples, in these countries irregular Freemasonry is bigger than the regular kind, so chances are that you already ran into a mixed lodge or perhaps into a male lodge in friendly relations with mixed orders.

The last example are the Netherlands. However there are four mixed orders active in the Netherlands, Freemasons seem to be more willing to refer women to the women-only organisation Vita Feminea Textura than suggest co-Masonry. The Vita Feminea Textura, or weavers, is a Freemasonry-like organisation solely for women and started by Freemasons and their women, probably to give the latter an alternative. Instead of working with building symbolism, the weavers use weaving symbolism.

So there you are, interested in Freemasonry. Why would you ‘go for co’?

The first reason could be that you are a woman, so the largest part of the Masonic world is inaccessible for you. Depending on what country you live in, the options could be several mixed orders and maybe also one or more female-only orders.

The second reason could be that the closest lodge to your home happened to be a mixed lodge. Perhaps you were even a member before you knew there was more Freemasonry than your own order.

Then it could be that you are male, but have a partner that wants to join too. So why not join together?

The fourth reason can be that you can not completely find yourself in the ways of regular Freemasonry. Regular Freemasonry uses strict “Landmarks” that all lodges that are member have to live up to. There are people who do not see the use of a God-like idea in Freemasonry, so they have to look for an irregular lodge. Others may want to be able to discuss religion and politics in the lodge, so they have to look for an irregular lodge. Others might see the value of men and women in the same lodge, so they ‘go for co’.

Regular Freemasons have the tendency to look down on any irregular kind of Freemasonry, claiming that only they are the real deal and the rest is “irregular”, “clandestine” or even “bogus” or “false”. Some Freemasons are more openminded than others and simply regard other forms of Freemasonry as different paths.

Inform yourself well. Think of what you are looking for. Try to get information about or even contact with a few lodges to try to find out what best suits your needs. Take your time, there is no rush when you want to make the best decission.