Defining the Terms
Regular: Regularity is a constitutional mechanism whereby Grand Lodges or Grand Orients give one another mutual recognition. This recognition allows formal interaction at the Grand Lodge level, and gives individual Freemasons the opportunity to attend meetings at Lodges in other recognized jurisdictions.
Irregular: This is a description of practice. For instance, a regular lodge can confer a degree in an irregular manner: George Washington was raised as a master Mason before he was 21 years old, a practice that, at the time, was considered irregular. This does not change that he was a regular Mason.
Clandestine: A clandestine lodge is one that pretends to be Masonic but is without a warrant, dispensation, or charter from a regular/recognized grand lodge. Mackey (History of Freemasonry) states: “The (Anderson) Constitutions declare, Section 8, that where a number of Freemasons shall take upon themselves to form a Lodge without a Grand Master’s Warrant, the regular Lodges are not to countenance them nor own them are fair brethren, and duly formed. In other words, Lodge formed without a Warrant from the Grand Master (we now say Grand Lodge) is “clandestine,” and so a “clandestine Masons” is one made in a Lodge without a Warrant.”
Recognize: When One Grand Lodge recognizes another, it acknowledges its Masonic regularity, authority, and territorial integrity. Such recognition, in order to be effectual, must be mutual. When such a recognition is finally given by a more senior Grand Lodge to a Junior Grand Lodge, (it is always the Junior Grand Lodge that applies for recognition) the two Grand Lodges are said to be in amity, mutual intercourse, or fraternal relations. The processes whereby one Grand Lodge recognizes another often involve, and are sometimes preceded by a settlement of prior differences, if any. The most usual method of assessing the regularity of an unrecognized Grand Lodge petitioning for recognition involves the seeking out of the opinions of other Grand Lodges already recognized. (Henderson, op cit. p. 15)
Amity: Grand Lodges and Grand Orients that afford mutual recognition and allow intervisitation are said to be in amity. As far as the UGLE is concerned, regularity is predicated upon a number of landmarks, set down in the UGLE Constitution and the Constitutions of those Grand Lodges with which they are in amity. Even within this definition, there are some variations with the quantity and content of the Landmarks from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
There are two major branches of Freemasonry which consider their Lodges to be "regular", and both branches consider the other to be "irregular". The first, oldest and significantly largest of these two groups are those Grand Lodges in Amity with the United Grand Lodge of England. The other group are those Orients and Grand Lodges in amity with the Grand de France. The UGLE branch is commonly referred to as being "regular" (or "Mainstream") Masonry, while those Grand Lodges and Grand Orients in amity with GOdF are commonly referred to "liberal" or "irregular" Masonry.
For most regular, Mainstream Masons, there is little or no thought given to clandestine masonry, what it is, what it does, what it looks like, who are its members. They are not demonized to any extent, though they are not, for the most part, considered to be “real” masons. On the rare occasion that clandestine Masonry is considered at all, it is to ensure that the lodge you are visiting is in the Lodges Masonic publication, or, if you have met a brother on the street, to ensure his lodge is in that book before you invite him to your lodge for a degree.
So, Why Regularity?
Regularity is the tool we have devised to keep Masonry… well, Masonic. With anything in life, one must have a definition. In the case of Freemasonry, we have a definition of what is, and what isn’t, Masonic. In Freemasonry, what is Masonic is defined by the use of Regularity, recognition, and amity.
A Google search will show that there are many groups around the world that style themselves as Masonic, from outright frauds, such as the American Masonic Federation founded by Matthew McBlain Thomson upon the premise of selling degrees, to the United Grand Lodge of England, and hundreds of variations in between. Pretenders to masonry are groups like the Regular Grand Lodge of England, and the Grand Lodge of All England at York and of course, the American Masonic Federation noted above.
Yet, in between those extremes, the entirely irregular and clandestine to the very definition of regularity are orients, grand lodges and obediences that have as their members men, and yes, women, who name themselves Masons and brothers. What is a non Mason, no less a regular Mason to make of this spectrum of masonry that confronts them? How is one to decide, and does one need to decide?
We are told by irregular and clandestine Masons that the definition does not matter. Of course that is the position they would take, they must, or they would have to quit their group and join a regular lodge. At the other extreme you have the regular masons, who stand on the ground that the definition is essential, and they must take this position as well.
There are endless papers written on regularity, the Grand Lodges that participate in the system have committees and rules that define regularity. These seem to be pretty cut and dried things, but they aren’t, and therein lies the fault of the whole system. Of course, any system devised by man has faults.
In an earlier blog entry I wrote about the difference between regularity and recognition. In that article, my point was that, while the grand lodges and grand orients need to wrangle over the issue of regularity and amity and recognition, brothers, members of those orients, do not… as long as it does not entail Masonic communication.
Masonic communication, or as it is alternately called, Masonic intercourse, involves any type of communication involving sharing the secrets of masonry. Primarily, that is sitting in a tyled lodge session, which is any type of Masonic meeting where the general public is NOT allowed, or where the qualification for attendance is being a Mason.
For most Masons in the United States, regularity is not an issue. Rare is the case where you will meet a member of a non regular obedience in your travels. In other countries, for instance, in the United Kingdom or France, the probability rises that in your life you will meet at least one female Mason, or a man that is a member of a co-ed lodge. Try not to back away in horror if you do, as they are, for the most part, as is true with all regular masons, good brothers.
That is the rub, and the cause of much… hurt feelings. As a member of the Grand Lodge of California (just to reinforce, I am NOT speaking for the GLoCA here, only for ME), it is my understanding that I cannot hold Masonic intercourse with a clandestine Mason. My grand lodge does not recognize him/her as a Mason, however, on a personal level, its not about what the Grand Lodge does or says. Its about me, and the other Mason.
When I meet a Mason, it is not about whether they are regular. My first reaction is not to ask if they are a member of a regular grand lodge, that doesn’t even come up… unless they ask me to visit their lodge. THEN and only then, do I need to consider if I can do so legally and within my obligation.
Yet, brothers from lodges that are not recognized as regular do have a problem with the whole issue of regularity. Those in co-ed lodges are very interested in getting my grand lodge to recognize them and allow intervisitation, or at least allow the members to chose to attend a co-ed lodge. The question that has to be asked is: Why should the grand lodge do so?
The assumption being made, by the co-ed Mason, is that regular masons want to attend their sessions, that regular masons have an overwhelming curiosity about their sessions. The truth couldn’t be further from the truth, but it is hard to communicate that to our brethren in the co-ed obedience. The other, often unstated but clearly felt opinion by our brethren in the co-ed community is that the grand lodge fears them, that if they could somehow convince their regular brethren to visit that the regular brethren would be so smitten by what they see and experience that they would dimit and join the co-ed lodge on the spot.
This seems a pretty arrogant, though understandable conceit. The co-ed brethren are also, at least this has what has been communicated to me so often I assume it is true, of the opinion that many regular masons would leave the regular grand lodges if they just, somehow, knew that co-ed masonry existed in the world for them. Again, it’s an arrogant thing for them to feel, though as noted before, it is an understandable conceit.
As brothers, we can tie ourselves in knots over the regular/clandestine issue, or we can recognize that regularity is only a tool, one that has served the grand lodges and freemasonry well for almost 300 years. It is a tool for GRAND LODGES, however, and is not a tool of a master mason. We have other tools at our disposal, one of which is the level.
Let us, as brothers then, apply the Level to our non tyled meetings. If a person claims to be a Mason, let us, in the spirit of brotherly love, accept the claim on its face and grant them the respect they are due as masons. Leave the issues of regularity to the grand lodges to wrangle over.
May the blessings of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons, may brotherly love prevail, and evey moral and social virtue, cement us!