True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Regularity Vs. Recognition

One of the more, I think, misunderstood issues in Freemasonry is that of regularity. What is regularity, who determines it, and what does it mean to not be a regular mason? Before we get into a discussion about regularity, we need to define some terms:

Regular: A chartered lodge that can trace its lineage back to the Grand Lodge of England Grand Lodge of Scotland, or the Grand Lodge of Ireland, through regular Grand Lodges. it 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. Conversely, regularity proscribes interaction with Lodges that are irregular. A Mason who visits an irregular Lodge may have his membership suspended for a time, or he may be expelled. For this reason, all Grand Lodges maintain lists of other jurisdictions and lodges they consider regular.[1]

Clandestine: A lodge operating either without a charter/dispensation or operating with one from a Grand Lodge that is not considered Regular. 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.[2]
Irregular: Often confused with Clandestine. Irregular denotes something not regularly done in masonry. For instance, a woman, made a mason, is by definition of regular masonry, irregularly made, even if all else is done “regularly”. So, for instance, if a regular lodge makes a woman a mason, the doing would be considered irregular.

Recognition: the action of recognizing : the state of being recognized : as a : ACKNOWLEDGMENT; especially : formal acknowledgment of the political existence of a government or nation b : knowledge or feeling that someone or something present has been encountered before[3]
Now that we have our terms straight, we can discuss this. In yesterday’s blog, Are There Women Masons, I noted that there are women masons. I did not say that there were regular women masons, but I did note an indisputable fact. Since then, there has been a long and somewhat serious discussion on the forum I help administer, The Lodgeroom US.

It is one thing to accept a group of masons as regular, and another to simply recognize a fact of life. No one is seriously suggesting that the regular Grand Lodges extend consideration of regularity to women’s lodges, least of all me. Regularity has been clearly defined by the Mainstream Grand Lodge system.

In all of this, there is one thing that should be remembered, my brothers: Will ye, nill ye, there are women who swear the same obligations, who form as lodges, with the same officers, the same symbols, the same rituals, the same teachings, who live the same tenets, and who fulfill their obligations.

As Br. Gregg Hall of The Lodgeroom US says: if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, chances are, it’s a duck.

Our grand lodges teach us that a man is first PREPARED to be made a mason in his heart. Then, it is our obligation that makes us a mason. In the catechism of the first degree in the Grand Lodge of California, the candidate is asked:

What came you here to do?
Ans: To improve myself in masonry
Then you are a mason, I presume?
Ans: I am, so taken and accepted among men and masons
How may I know you to be a mason?
Ans: By my obligation

So, to be known (another word for recognized) as a mason, we have our obligation. To recognize a brother, any brother, we look at how they live, what they do, how they act. Most of us who meet a man in public who claims to be a mason is accepted at face value, without any proofs. After all, in public, we aren’t likely to jump into an exchange of Masonic “secrets”.

The issue here is not conferral of regularity. Neither women’s lodges, nor men’s lodges, are interested in changing the definition of regularity, or of creating intervisitation. Nor is it one of merging the two systems into some kind of mismash of the two… the old, separate but equal concept. The issue here is, rather, one of recognition, not regularity.

Since we have set aside the issue of regularity, we should approach the true issue here, the one that, as masons, we are really commanded to uphold. In my jurisdiction, in the Entered Apprentice lecture, we are taught that:

By the exercise of brotherly love, we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family, the high and the low, the rich and the poor, who, as created by one almighty parent, and inhabitants of the same planet, are to aid, support and protect each other. On this principle, masonry unites men of every country, sect and opinion, and causes true friendship to exist among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.

So, while we cannot, and to be faithful to our obligations, should not, extend consideration of regularity to women’s or co-ed obediences, there is nothing that says we cannot recognize them as MASONS. In this case, recognition would mean the acknowledgment of a self evident fact:

The women are acting as Masons, living as Masons, and keeping the very same obligations that we keep. So, while they are not regular masons, that term has no value to them anyway, we can, and should recognize them as Masons. It does no harm to our Masonry, and in fact, a salient argument could be made that to recognize them as Masons is an imperative in our obligations.

As always, I look forward to your comments.

G-d bless





Anonymous said...

""what does it mean to not be a regular mason? ""

I don't know. You haven't had your daily dose of prunes?? ? ?

Anonymous said...

The lineage system is interesting but can you define "Grand Lodge of England";
the GL of 1717 or the GL of 1813 ?

The GL of 1717 wasn't recognise by Ireland and Scotland's GLs... ???

The GL of 1813 was created after many GLs in Europe and in America 'mainstream' and PH) ???

The pragmatic solution is easy: treaty, agreement between GL's that share the same values.


Theron Dunn said...

Fred, there is no difference between the two grand lodges, no matter how you try to make it so. Regularity is not so difficult an issue, unless you are an irregular mason trying to make it seem difficult.

And your solution is actually what exists today. The Regular Grand Lodges in amity DO share the same values, and, as I noted, primarily can trace their lineage back to the UGLE, or through that to the Premiere Grand Lodge of England.

Its really very simple.

Thanks for a thought provoking post, Br. Fred, as always.

Anonymous said...

Recognition: the action of recognizing : the state of being recognized : as a : ACKNOWLEDGMENT; especially : formal acknowledgment of the political existence of a government or nation b : knowledge or feeling that someone or something present has been encountered before[3]

If it looks like a woman, dresses like a woman, and talks like a woman, I would recognise it must be a woman.

However, I would NOT recognise it as a Mason for a Mason MUST be a Man.

Granted there are crossdressers, so perhaps I could recognise that it was a woman dressed as a Mason.

Br. Arthur Peterson

Cora said...

Q: "How do you know yourself to be a freemason?"
A: "By the regularity of my initiation, repeated trials and approbation, and by my being willing at all times to undergo an examination, when properly called on."

You figured it: I'm going to contest your definition of "regular".

The only earthly authority that has the right and ability to declare me "regular" (and by extension: "irregular") is the Supreme Council of International Co-Freemasonry "Le Droit Humain", seated in Paris. No other Obedience than my own has any jurisdiction over me, and therefore what any other jurisdiction may consider me to be is wholly irrelevant.

"regularity" is in the eye of the beholder!

Anonymous said...

"regularity" is in the eye of the beholder!


That is what I have been saying all along.

To me and my Grand Lodge, females can not be Masons and therefore aren't to me an my Grand Lodge.

However, another organisation can spring up (already has) which allows women to be Masons, therefore to the members of that organisation women ARE masons.

That is their business. My Grand Lodge and I have no dealings with them so we frankly don't care. We identify them as irregular, meaning not Masons by our definition and move on.

Done deal.

That is all there is to it. It is not the macho guys versus gals that this issue always gets turned into.

It is simply an issue of standards. We have ours, and I certainly hope they have some of their own.

So can a woman be a Mason? Not how I define one, BUT your definition may differ!

Br. Arthur Peterson

Unknown said...

Your definition of 'Regular' is wrong. There are Grand Lodges,considered Regular that do not trace their linage back to those three mentioned.

Steinarr Kr.

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify for fred. The United Grand lodge of England was not created in 1813.

The two Grand Lodges of England, Premier (1717) and Antients (1756) combined in 1813 and renamed themselves as the "United" Grand Lodge. The UGLE is a continuance of both of the first Grand Lodges neither ceased to exist they combined, that is why the UGLE states it start date as 1717.

Anonymous said...

To limit who is and who is not a "real" regular Mason to those who's GL's can be traced back to the UK is both shortsided and downright insulting. Nevermind that Freemasonry is older and much more on a grand scale than any "grand lodge." GL's are simply houses of beuracracy, nothing more. A Freemason is first made in the heart. Masonry is an idea, not an organisation. It is when we confine ourselves to thinking and living in a box that we place limits on the limitless.


Anonymous said...

"A Freemason is first made in the heart. Masonry is an idea, not an organisation."

I have seen this quoted many times. In my jurisdiction it is actually "where were you first PREPARED?"

Yes you can be prepared to be a Mason in your heart, but it is through initiation in a regular lodge that you are made a Mason.

Jurisdictional difference? Maybe.

Br. Arthur Peterson

Peter Clatworthy said...

The following statement was issued at York on Saturday 29th December 2007.

Regularity and Recognition: The Myth and the Reality

If reports are correct, there is much to commend in the speech recently given by the Pro-Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England to the so-called ‘European Grand Masters’ Meeting’. However, leaving aside the infelicitous claim to speak for ‘England’, there are certain presumptions and confusions in the address that demand the most urgent and serious scrutiny.

Regularity is of course an essential doctrine in Freemasonry but has in recent years been subject to ill-considered assault from within the Craft itself. It is therefore appropriate to analyse those comments of the Pro-Grand Master that seem designed to undermine and devalue a concept that all Freemasons ought to hold dear.

There is, for example, the explicit declaration that ‘to be regular a Grand Lodge must conform to each of our basic Principles for Grand Lodge Recognition or it cannot be considered as regular’. Given a moment’s consideration a truly outrageous claim! Freemasonry is not, and never has been, subject to or contained within the United Grand Lodge of England. To suggest as much is to diminish the history, role and actuality of Freemasonry. The cart is clearly and contrivedly put before the horse, making regularity the reward for recognition. And conveniently in so doing the two quite separate and distinct concepts of ‘Regularity’ and ‘Recognition’ are conflated.

‘Regularity’ requires a strict acceptance and observance of the Ancient Landmarks of the Order. Such Landmarks are visible and ascertainable and are found within any regular Grand Lodge. Regularity is represented by adherence: nothing more, nothing less. It is not, and cannot ever be, bestowed. Indeed, Regularity is necessarily beyond the capacity of anybody or any organisation whatsoever to bestow, be they Grand Master or Grand Lodge. The very best any such Master or Lodge can hope to do is to bequeath Regularity to his or its successor. And here I can of course confirm that the Grand Lodge of All England is such a regular Grand Lodge and adheres strictly to those Ancient Landmarks that alone can make it so.

‘Recognition’ is a very different concept. There are, for example, devices the use of which may enable a regularly made Freemason to be ‘recognised’ by others. Such may be said to amount to individual recognition and on this level the term is quite uncontroversial. However, the question should be asked as to what purpose Grand Lodge ‘recognition’ actually serves, and who in fact really benefits from such a device. It should here be noted that Grand Lodge ‘recognition’ has its genesis in late eighteenth century legislation, such as the Unlawful Societies Act, designed to stifle debate and discussion within the context of an authoritarian and politically repressive state. We recoil from the memory of such devices and reject this latter day attempt to rejuvenate so tainted and un-Masonic a concept.

Far from having had thrust upon them ‘the mantle of being guardians of regularity’, the United Grand Lodge of England in fact seized upon the opportunity presented by repressive legislation to attempt nothing less than the appropriation of Freemasonry. In contradistinction, the Grand Lodge of All England does not accept the validity of any such spurious doctrine as ‘recognition’ nor does it ‘recognise’ any other Grand Lodges nor seek such ‘recognition’ from others. Rather, it stands as the bearer of traditional Masonic principles and disowns all attempts to subjugate and subvert genuine Freemasonry.

The Grand Lodge of All England has frequently and consistently published its position with regard to these two quite separate and distinct concepts of ‘Regularity’ and ‘Recognition’. Together with a detailed historical exposition this is explained at length on our website at and is authoritatively represented on a number of general Masonic websites. It is stated in our official submission to the Commission on Information for Recognition of the Conference of Grand Master Masons of North America, in articles in the hands of various Masonic publishers and in correspondence with various interested parties.

A Grand Lodge is, indeed, ‘either regular or it is not’. But whether ‘recognition’ is extended or denied to one Grand Lodge by another is irrelevant. There is in Masonic terms no historical or constitutional basis for this spurious and wholly political doctrine of ‘recognition’. To continue to employ such a device as a means of dividing Mason from Mason is the residue of one of the least attractive, most repressive and disgraceful periods of modern Masonic history.

From inception, the United Grand Lodge of England has sought, unsuccessfully, to exert a monopoly over Freemasonry. What cannot be countenanced is that this aspiration should be allowed to corrupt the wholly genuine concept, vital to genuine Freemasonry, of Regularity, and to render it nothing more than a self-serving ideological notion. This concern is made all the immediate by the compromises already entered into by United Grand Lodge of England and the dilution of Masonic principles and practices that these compromises have brought about.

Much of the difficulty the Pro-Grand Master sought to address in his speech was to do with the role of the United Grand Lodge of England within the Masonic world. Such difficulty, however, is due to his own Grand Lodge in seeking to redefine Freemasonry in its own image and as in its own gift. The Masonic doctrine of Regularity exists outside and is wholly independent of any Grand Lodge. It is most emphatically not to be confused and conflated with the practice of Grand Lodge ‘recognition’ devised and instituted by the United Grand Lodge of England for its own hegemonic purposes. And Freemasonry, even English Freemasonry, is most emphatically not to be confused and conflated with the United Grand Lodge of England.

John Gordon Graves
Grand-Master Mason
Grand Lodge of All England

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