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:
- belief in a Supreme Being
- belief in the immortality of the soul
- a “book of sacred law” as an indispensable part of the “furniture” (or furnishings) of the Lodge
- the legend of the Third Degree
- the secrets of Freemasonry: The modes of recognition and the symbolic ritual of the Lodge
- 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.