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

Monday, December 31, 2007

Do We Need a National Grand Lodge?

The question that has been raised is: Do We Need a National Grand Lodge?


Well, that ends that, doesn’t it?

Ok, that’s hardly worth reading, so lets look at the issue seriously for a moment… but just a moment.

Periodically, the issue of a National Grand Lodge comes up, with brothers taking one side or another, and of course, a few in the middle. The issue of a National Grand Lodge first came up after the American Civil war (the one we call the Revolutionary War), when, at the instigation of American Union Lodge he was suggested for the office of Grand Master of a National Grand Lodge -- a non-existent body. The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and some others agreed, but too many others disagreed with the concept of a National Grand Lodge and the idea was dropped.

The issue is raised by brothers who, seeing the plethora of rules (and sometimes conflicting rule) under which the almost 100 regular Grand Lodges in the United States operate, desire to establish a single, unified, overarching authority. Their purpose, while laudable, seems contradictory to the traditions of Freemasonry that have been established over the previous 300 years.

We all know that there exists the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), but, what exactly does it Unite? The Grand Lodge of Scotland (GLoS) and the Grand Lodge of Ireland (GLoI) are independent Grand bodies, in amity with the UGLE, and those august bodies are both members of the same United Kingdom. This is very little different from the relationship that the various regular Grand Lodges enjoy with each other, and, frankly, with the UGLE, GLoS, and GLoI.

So, what does the UGLE unite? The answer is, it unites the Moderns and the Antients into one Grand Lodge. Time is too short here to address that whole issue, suffice it to say that was an early schism in the Grand Lodge of England, the one that was formed in 1717. The "Antients" wanted to “preserve” the mystic elements of freemasonry and the "Moderns" wanted to create a more progressive Freemasonry, one of enlightenment through morality, science, contemplation and natural philosophy. In 1813, the "Antients" won the conflict which had started in 1751 and the Masonry we have today is a result of that victory.

They united themselves, the Antients and the Moderns, so the United Grand Lodge of England is more accurately, the Grand Lodge of England, they are still the Premiere Grand Lodge from which all Regular Grand Lodges descend. They are the fount of today’s modern Freemasonry, for even the Grand Orient d’France, the primary “other” Freemasonry in the world was originally chartered by the UGLE.

The question then is: Why a National Grand Lodge of America? Well, one already exists for the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodges. It fell apart in 1877 (an issue that is still in dispute), and still exists to this day. There also used to be a United Grand Lodge of America, a pretender to Masonry that existed mainly in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, and has recently changed its name to the Grand Orient of the United States.

However, there is no Mainstream, Regular Grand Lodge of the United States. The purpose of this article then, is to examine why we should, or should not establish such an organization.


1. To standardize issues of regularity.

2. To standardize rules and regulations.

3. To standardize ritual.

4. To standardize the way Grand Lodges operate.

5. To standardize our message to the world.

6. To eliminate racism in the little pockets where it still exists.

Why not:

1. Regularity, while it is handled in a variety of ways across the world, pretty much follows the recommendations of the Commission on Regularity, a committee of the Grand Masters in all the grand lodges in the United States. As an example of this, the Grand Lodges in the United States all recognize as regular, the Grande Oriente d’Italia, while the UGLE recognizes the Regolare Grande Loggia d’Italia.

The point here is that the Grand Lodges in the United States are already working together on this issue, and with very rare exceptions, are all on the same page. This issue is does not seem sufficient to justify a national authority.

2. Rules and Regulations are fairly standard, and where they are not standard, it is due to local conditions. One issue that is mentioned most often in this regard is that a few of the Southern Grand Lodges hold that selling or dealing in alcohol will prevent a man from being considered for membership, and will subject a brother to a Masonic trial and possible expulsion.

Another issue is Grand Lodges that retain the ability of the Grand Master to expel masons at sight, as well as make masons at sight. While most grand lodges do not seem to allow this authority to the Grand Master, it is quintessentially Masonic to consider that a man who rises to the Grand Oriental Chair is of such character that he will not abuse the authority. Once more, these are relatively minor issues, differences in law and process and do not seem sufficient to justify a national authority.

3. Ritual should be an issue for the individual lodges, and should probably not even be an issue for a grand lodge to decide upon. The idea that a national body could provide guidance to local lodges just does not seem appropriate, and therefore does not seem sufficient to justify a national authority.

4. Operations of a Grand Lodge are in large part, dependent upon local conditions. The operation of the Grand Lodge of California will be different than the operations of the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island. The needs will be different due to the difference in members, the difference in local laws and so on. These differences are also, to a large extent, better determined by the local lodge/Grand Lodge than a body entirely removed.

To be sure, there are differences. For instance, the Grand Lodge of California’s constitution requires all decisions and edicts issued by the Grand Master between sessions of the Grand Communication to be ratified by the voting members. The voting members are the elected Junior and Senior Warden, the Master, and a single past masters vote, coupled with the votes of all the Past Grand Masters, the District Deputy Grand Masters, and the elected Grand Officers, the Grand Master, the Deputy Grand Master, the Senior Grand Warden, the Junior Grand Warden, the Grand Secretary, the Grand Lecturer and Grand Treasurer.

Legislation can also be proposed by the brethren, with the signature of three master masons. This legislation is voted on at the Grand Communication, and if it receives the 5/6ths super majority, it will pass. If it only receives a majority, it is carried forward to the next Grand Communication, and if it receives 60% plus one vote, the legislation passes.

It is not always the case that the Grand Master and Grand Lodge has such a rein by the brethren, and while it is true that a certain degree of standardization can be useful, it does not seem that the need for this comes anywhere near to rising to the level that would justify a national governing authority.

5. Standardizing our message to the world is the one area where I think a national governing authority would be useful. For instance, the Shrine decided some time back that their reputation needed polishing. They undertook a national ad campaign, in magazines, newspapers, on radio and television, on bill boards, on trucks… everywhere, showing the iconic image of a Shriner carrying a girl on his shoulders with her crutches in his other hand.

Thirty years later, the image of the Shrine is of a bunch of men in little cars, wearing silly hats and supporting hospitals for children. They could do this because THEY have a national governing authority, and can mold and direct their message. Blue Lodges could do that now, through the Committee of Grand Masters which meets every year now to discuss issues of interest to all the Grand Lodges. In a sense, we already have a national authority… only its not an authority and certainly not a governing one.

Regardless, this national committee hasn’t even tried to undertake such a project for many good reasons, too many to go into in this article. However, that being the case, and they having never taken advantage of the opportunity, it again does not seem to necessitate a National Governing Authority.

6. Racism is ugly, and it is certainly not a Masonic virtue. Quite the opposite. The problem it, if that was a stated goal of the National Governing Authority, there are 12 Grand Lodges extent that would never go along with it. As a result, we would end up with a national body that 12 out of a hundred would not recognize or be recognized, and regularity would be compromised.

While it is anathema to Masonry that racism is allowed to even exist, at this point there is little the regular Grand Lodges can do other than withdraw recognition from those 12 Grand Lodges, wait a time with patience until they join the 21st century, or continue what is being done… whispering good counsel to seek to bring about a reformation.

This issue alone, if addressed, would mean the death of the idea of a National Governing Authority, and if this issue is NOT addressed, a National Governing Authority would have no moral authority under which to operate. It would be hamstrung on its first day. Therefore, if for no other reason than this one, there should be no National Governing Authority.

One last consideration is that we already have almost a hundred Regular Grand Lodges in the United States, each with a Grand Line of Officers, a Grand Lodge building, a Grand Charity of one kind or another and so on. Many would argue that the Grand Lodges are already bureaucratic and overly intrusive into the operations of their lodges.

Adding an additional layer of bureaucracy would seem, therefore, to be contraindicated. It’s a nice thought, on an emotional level, to have one single overarching National Grand Authority, but on reflection, it just does not seem to be a practical idea, on many levels, and is one that is just not needed.

May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.


Unknown said...

Good article, but, I doubt the good people of the Republic of Ireland consider themselves part of the United Kingdom.

Greg Stewart said...

Humbly, I disagree.

A National Grand Lodge, even as a Congress of lodges, would give American Masonry a heightened sense of legitimacy and a single point of information from which to structure such a national body.

No other organization with such a volume of membership exists without a firm leadership structure. Even to have a "national office" so that missives, organization, or communication can come forth would be a good option. Some examples include political parties, trade unions, and corporations. Even some major religious movements have national arms, giving them the ability to create a unified message.

By not having a National organization, we lack any organization to meet the challenges of today. Fund raising is scattered over 50 states to a variety of programs and initiatives. Message delivery is diverse and lacks uniformity. Even organized participation exists as word of mouth, with little dispersal vehicles. So, instead of being able to stand together as a National body of Freemasons, we are relegated instead to a state by state institution. Even with its greatest power, the Grand Lodge power of deciding regularity is largely impotent in still not all states recognize the same things, such as Prince Hall or Co-masonry.

A National Masonic Congress or National Grand Lodge would remedy this and require those not in a modern line to pick up the slack, and require those deemed to progressive to moderate their tempo. most more importantly, it would allow us to say, once and for all, what unifies us AS A COUNTRY.

Two cases in point, the National arm of the Scottish Rite, and the national arm of the Shrine. Why do two subordinate bodies to Blue Lodge "Regular" Freemasonry feel compelled to exist through a National Organization? Because it gives them greater control over the local jurisdictions and allows them to step up from a thousand independent messages to concentrate it into one message.

Even the breadth of Masonic Homes could benefit from a National pot of money, rather than each state going it alone.

We are the Masons who decide this. Not any one Grand Lodge, but you, me, the brothers we sit in lodge with, and the brothers scattered across the globe. We get to decide this. Is it for any one of us to say we do, or do not, need to be Nationally organized?

Think of the possibilities a National Leadership could bring. This doesn't mean the deconstruction of the way it is now, instead it brings a new life to a body that is feeling the aches of age and deterioration. It allows for a National strategy for membership retention, and creates a framework to disseminate a structured education and knowledge base, and creates a fountain from which new ideas can be germinated and nurtured.

To talk about WHO would preside over such a body is premature, and wrong minded. Perhaps, the topic of discussion should be more HOW do we do something like this and what would the benefits be. Surly the greatest institution in the world can come together to decide what is best for it. Democracy did, after all, come from the lodges of Freemasonry, and our operations is still democratic, right?

Anonymous said...

Traveler, I understand your comments, however the fact that there is no perceivable standard (other than walking and acting as masons) indicates that it is not Freemasonry that is to make a grand statement. Rather, it is the individual, influenced by her precepts, that carries light forward. Freemasonry itself is dependent on the active human imagination, or else it would not exist. To nationalize a rather sublime statement on the illumination of individuals is to create a hierarchy and control that is needless.

Sure, religions have national and/ or international arms. We are not a religion. However, how is the conference of N.A. GMs, or the World Conference not a similar concept and practice?

In fine, Freemasonry is indeed a craft--a tool--to be perfected and used so that an individual or body of individuals (aka lodges)may evolve. Forcing it into a limelight in order to re-cast it into an overt social force will, IMHO, be more of a detriment. Evidence of that is apparent today when we see the culture of service organizations that has become confused with American Freemasonry. Indeed, many consider Freemasonry to be that kind of exoteric social force.

L.A. Chose

Greg Stewart said...

To that point then, why have a state Grand Lodge?

Your question:
However, how is the conference of N.A. GMs, or the World Conference not a similar concept and practice?

Because is is little in the democratic hands of the membership, and little of these meetings is conveyed down to the membership about what took place, what came of it, and that it even met in the first place.

And, I mentioned more than religions in the comparison. Are we similar to a corporation, to a trade union, to a political party? Even if we are closer in tone to the boy scouts or the YMCA, we would benefit from being organized nationally.

Anonymous said...

My only comment would be is that if you feel the Grand Lodges are out of touch with the membership, just get a National Grand Lodge. I don't think the Masonic related organizations that have a national structure have shown any exceptional moves or insight with the membership although the Scottish Rite N.J. have come close. Even they are too disconnected from the individual Masons and their Valleys.

Mark Koltko-Rivera said...

Brother Dunn,

You mention the following:

"Regardless, this national committee [the council of Grand Masters] hasn’t even tried to undertake such a project [i.e., polishing Masonry's image nationally] for many good reasons, too many to go into in this article."

Could you please go into this in another article?

Mark Koltko-Rivera said...

I have some further objections to the notion of a National Grand Lodge:

--We have seen some very nasty actions on the part of state Grand Masters, over just the last year or so. (The expulsion of the Past Grand Master of West Virginia is just the most recent event that comes to mind, and is a particularly heinous example; see the description of the incident on the Freemasons for Dummies blog, http:// silenced.html.)
We cannot in fact trust that state Grand Masters are of such a character that they would not abuse the office of a National Grand Master.

--We need to consider the nature of that particularly disappointing creature, the Masonic Politician. With all due respect to those who are worthy of their offices, my experience with Grand Line Officers has not been impressive overall. At least half of those I have come to know have struck me as totally lacking in Masonic vision. They are not interested in the esoteric side of Masonry at all, aside from the performance of the ritual itself; they are quite interested in having brethren bow and scrape in the name of 'showing respect'; they are very interested in exerting power for the sake of power; they are intolerant of dissent or critique of any sort. (This is one of the reasons I do not use my real name on my blog.) Would I like that kind of leader propelled to the national level? Not at all, thank you very much.

--The dynamics of leadership selection is also an issue. If such a National Grand Lodge were formed, there would probably be some requirement that the National Grand Line be made up of former or current State Grand Line officers. This would ensure that the leadership would be conservative in the extreme, and composed of the very leaders who helped to get Freemasonry into the fix that we are in today. Thus: "the new boss, same as the old boss," except that now it would be expanded to the national level.

There is something very valuable about the current setup of autonomy for state Grand Lodges. If some state Grand Master exerts unrighteous leadership, one can sometimes find refuge in another Grand Lodge jurisdiction, through plural membership. With a National Grand Lodge, no such refuge would be available.

We Masonic bloggers and blog-readers are just the sort of fellows who will be on the outs with a lesser-evolved National Grand Master; the blogosphere will be no refuge at all, as long as we are anywhere in the United States. Keep in mind that, in recent memory, at least two state Grand Masters attempted to crack down on readers of The Philalethes--when Masons were supposed to have helped put freedom of the press in the Constitution! You can be assured that if these state Grand Masters could have cracked down on the Internet, they would have done so--and the power to do so would be much expanded under a National Grand Master.

We can achieve the benefits of a united front for Masonry without subjecting ourselves to the potential of Masonic tyranny. Oppose the formation of a National Grand Lodge.

Tubal Cain said...

We need better electorate policy.

Stop appointments and let the brethren Vote. Let a mason stand up and tell us what he will do if elected.

Not keep status quo because I need an appointment to get into line, and then there is no opposition

Theron Dunn said...

2 Bowl: What you ask for is currently available in many grand jurisdictions, the Grand Lodge of California is but one of them.

Unknown said...

Because of the discourse in regard to the national compact or even masonic congress, has contributed to the splits within certain affiliations of freemasonry in America. Even though the NC helped spread certain forms of masonry in America our craft to an extent mimic whats in human nature, not being able to agree to disagree (to put it politely). Basically, choose a side, since there is strength in numbers, join the jurisdiction that has the most numbers. (shrugs my shoulders).

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