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thy company, and Ill tell thee what thou art."
The issue of Masonic Recognition is complex and often ill-understood. We'll try to explain some of the basics here. Most of those who join Freemasonry are completely oblivious to the fact that there are 'competing' organizations which are not accepted as 'regular' by the majority of Masons throughout the world. Although this can be an issue where such unrecognized groups proliferate, for most it is a non-issue. We'll try to explain:
Generally throughout the world, Masonic bodies choose to recognize one another as being legitimate and adhering to the same principles and 'landmarks' as the body which does the recognizing.
You - John or Jane Smith - could decide tomorrow to start your own police force. This would not mean, however, that anyone would recognize your claims as a law enforcement entity were legitimate. In fact, many countries have specific laws against just such action in order to protect the common good and ensure that the general public seeing the word "Police" which you decided to paint on your car actually gave you some stature and recognition as such.
Extending this analogy further, not all police departments act, dress, or proceed in the same way. Within their own jurisdiction, however, they are the entity that - using the laws of the land as well as customs and traditions - decide what is right and what is wrong.
Freemasonry as a fraternal organization has not had the ability to enact laws, rules and regulations which define and proscribe the terms, tenets, and circumstances under which an organization may call itself 'Masonic'. Lacking one central 'head' (either in organization or in a person), each (Grand) body is exclusive unto itself. However, using customs and traditions, Freemasonry generally been able to address these issues over the past three hundred years.
Without delving into the minutia, it is important to remember that in the free world a person is generally entitled to have any opinion he or she wants. If you want to think that the sky is green, you are free to do so - but that will not, perforce, make it so!
Similarly, any group of people can claim that they are a Masonic Lodge (or a Masonic Grand Lodge) but whether the larger body of Freemasonry accepts them as such is certainly a far different matter. And let's be VERY clear here: there is not now nor has there EVER been a "Grand Lodge of the United States" or a "Grand Lodge of America" - regardless of how they might put those words together!
Using customs and traditions of old, ostensibly only Masons can 'make' other Masons and only Grand Lodges could constitute Masonic Lodges. Over three hundred years, though, as one might imagine, these 'rules' were never totally hard and inviolable. Wars, isolation, and other vagaries caused Masonic Lodges to be formed simply by circumstance when Masons came together and sought fellowship. Rarely, but nevertheless at times, a disgruntled member would leave the fold form his own organization. Finally, sometimes the circumstance of place and time would separate or unite Masonic bodies (with Prince Hall and French Freemasonry being two excellent examples). Consequently, the study of Masonic Recognition is a complex and tortured process. (See our page on "Racism" for more information about Prince Hall recognition issues.)
Grand Lodges are the superior body of their jurisdiction. They - and they alone - constitute the authority which can form (in current times) or recognize (in times past - because sometimes there were already lodges working within their jurisdiction) a local lodge as being 'Masonic'. The largest association of these Grand Lodges has no formal designation but are derived from the three Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland.
Between themselves, in the main, a senior Masonic organization (Grand Lodge) would receive a request from another more junior Grand Lodge that it be recognized as well - and that Masonic courtesies be extended so that brethren might visit between their respective lodges. Sometimes extensive scrutiny into the junior Grand Lodge's history, method of formation, or whatever, would occur and sometimes such recognition would be granted based on already held knowledge of the petitioning body or based on the preponderance of recognition by other Masonic Grand Lodges. Of course, the request for recognition did not of necessity start with the most junior Grand Lodge and proceed to the most senior nor was there sometimes any rationale into why a request was delayed or ignored. And thus, while most recognition is straightforward, there still remains a small patchwork quilt which causes confusion, particularly for non-Masons, new Masons, and Masons who travel extensively.
Suffice it to say that there is a generally recognized world-wide body of Freemasonry which - on an on-going basis - considers and acts upon recognition of those within and without its folds. Outside of this body, there are other organizations styling themselves as Masonic which will never be recognized by the majority of Freemasonry's Grand Lodges as such (for some reasons, see below) but might, by accident, incompetence, or chicanery, be recognized by one or two. And finally, there are those organizations which have not been recognized by accidents of history or circumstances within their own organization, now resolved and which will likely rejoin them someday to the vast tapestry of Freemasonry.
If you choose to join a Masonic Lodge, you should assure yourself that it is within this vast body of Freemasonry dispersed throughout the world - or understand the fact that when you join an organization which is not, you will not be recognized as a Mason amongst the world-wide fraternity's members.
Why is a lodge (or Grand Lodge) not recognized by the greater body of Freemasonry? There may be one or more reasons:
Whatever the reason, there are many today (perhaps as many as 100,000 or more) throughout the world who call themselves 'Masons' but are not recognized as such by the huge body of world-wide Freemasonry. Sometimes their actions and activities conducted under the banner of 'Masonry' give other Masons anxiety or a bad reputation yet what can be done except to educate the public and alert them that not all who claim to be Masons are considered as such by Masons!
Organizations such as Le Droit Humain (DH), Co-Masonry, International Free & Accepted Masons (IF&AM), Humanitas, the Grand Lodge of the United States, and many (but not all) Grand Orients (GO), along with miscellaneous others all operate outside the recognition of the large body of Freemasonry and while there are some who choose to affiliate with these bodies for personal reasons, they should be aware that the organizations which they join - although patterned (in a few cases, very closely) after Freemasonry - are simply not recognized as such by the large body of Masons nor will they be welcome to share Masonic communication with the 4-6 million Masons world-wide. (Please see our additional page titled "What about Women" in Masonry and don't miss our page on FAKE MASONRY!)
Reaction by Masons to members of organizations such as those listed above vary from warm fraternalism (they are, in many cases, imitating Freemasonry) to outright disdain (since being outside the generally recognized body of Freemasonry their actions can go uncensored and bring discredit upon others in the minds of the general public). Whether it be because of obligations taken when first becoming a Mason (to recognize only those as Masons whom your Grand Lodge recognizes as such) or due to personal interactions, the position of individual Masons is often markedly different. All of this notwithstanding, however, there are some organizations who are not part of the 'Masonic Family' and will likely never, ever be. Right or wrong, history will judge our actions accordingly....
So how do you know what's "mainstream" Freemasonry if you're seeking to join? First, it's male only. Second, the Grand Lodge to which the local lodge reports is (in nearly all cases) recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England, not to be confused with others with similar names. UGLE, as the acknowledged oldest Masonic Grand body, is generally the arbiter for such matters. If the lodge you're considering joining is a part of a Grand Lodge recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England, you won't have any trouble 'traveling in foreign countries' (a phrase used in Masonic ritual). If not, however, you may find yourself in a situation where you believe that you're a Mason but no one else (except those in your own lodge and, perhaps, one or two other similarly small groups) will agree with you.
In this day of electronic access to information determination of such facts is reasonably simple. Find the web page for the Grand Lodge of your jurisdiction. Most jurisdictions are formed based on the political divisions of state/province/country. While some of the oldest Grand Lodges may have a lodge within another country's borders (an English Lodge in Hong Kong, for example, or a Scottish Lodge in Nova Scotia), there is no such thing in the United States and such instances are quite rare worldwide. (You can look here under "Craft/Blue" or "International" to help locate a Grand Lodge for your location.) How many subordinate lodges does their web site list? Does this match with your knowledge of local Masonic halls, for example? In the free world, every Grand Lodge has at least a hundred or so subordinate lodges (except for very small states/provinces like Vermont with 91 lodges, for example): if the organization you're looking at talks about forming Lodge #10 next month, RUN - don't walk - away from them. On this page we'll show you some 'Masonic make-believes' from which you can draw a comparison.
And although some Grand Lodges may encourage you to make contact with them via the internet, ALL 'recognized' Masonic Grand Lodges will also provide street addresses and phone numbers for contact points. If you're looking at something on the web and you don't find that, move on. Further, NO recognized Grand Lodge will ask you to send ANY personal information via e-mail. You don't have to EVER explain - by e-mail - why you want to join. Why would you want to give your phone number to some internet website that doesn't have THEIR OWN phone?
And one last thing: it seems to be very common for these 'pretend' groups to flaunt the fact that they're (ostensibly) registered with their (US) state bureau of corporations and/or are charitable organizations (particularly US fake groups). Such braggadocio is designed to hide the fact that they really are just a bunch of phonies. Regular/recognized Masonic organizations need not stoop to such triviality as bragging about incorporation. State/province and/or other governmental agency recognition adds no legitimacy whatsoever to a Masonic organization save those who are trying to collect money and want their donors to have tax relief if available. Registering as a corporation is quite simple and can be done even by a cat!
We hope that these comments are helpful in your search for information about recognition amongst Masonic bodies. There are many viewpoints on this matter; this represents one, albeit one which is reflective of that felt by many (probably the great majority of) Masons who have considered these issues at length.
(Our thanks to Brother Don
Heller of California who made us far more aware of the problem presented by
non-recognized 'masonry' when he commented that he had almost joined an
unrecognized lodge without realizing it.)
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