Freemasonry has a presence in all of the democratic countries in the modern world, and in a number of countries recently out of dictatorship and struggling toward greater democracy. The Fraternity, operating with diverse traditions, has roughly 2 million Brothers and Sisters around the world. Members are gathered together within individual Lodges which are themselves grouped into larger “Grand Lodges”.
Freemasonry is a living institution, with different traditions, that change and evolve through time.
One line of thought holds that there can be only a single “Grand Lodge” for each country of the world, however, many nations contain multiple Grand Lodges. Competition or discord can arise between Grand Lodges in the same nation-state or region. These problems often have historical roots.
First, what is Freemasonry?
Here is one definition.
Masonry is a traditional and initiatic order based on brotherhood. It is an alliance of free and moral men of all races, of all nationalities and all beliefs. It has for its goal the moral improvement of the individual and humanity.
This definition has been adopted by the Grand Lodge of France, a vital French body of Freemasonry that works the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, one of the great traditional streams in Freemasonry. Now you already have a little knowledge of Freemasonry. There is much more to study, ponder and learn.
It can be said that freemasonry is divided into two major spheres.
- The Anglophone Masonic world.
- The continental European cultures and Masonic world.
The Anglophone world of Freemasonry
The Anglo American tradition of Freemasonry remains the most numerically significant in the world. With roughly 1.5 million members it revolves around the Premier Grand Lodge or Mother Grand Lodge of the World: The United Grand Lodge of England. It confers legitimacy to other Grand Lodges across the globe through a formal status of “recognition.” In the 20th century it recognizes, with important exceptions, only one Grand Lodge per country. The process of formal recognition can be arbitrary but it is situated in “landmarks” which are criteria last set forth in 1929.
Among these landmarks, there is the need for a belief in a Supreme Being: the Grand Architect of the Universe, and the obligation that the Bible, square and compasses are to be a formal part of the ritual life in lodge of any Grand Lodge granted recognition.
Very fraternal, Anglophone Freemasonry is often described as a “social club,” but it is much more than that. In the USA, each day it gives more than a million dollars for social work and philanthropy. This is a considerable sum in a country where the social safety net is smaller than that in continental Europe. Among the good works are orphanages, hospitals, support for public education and more. A Freemason is understood as a good citizen, charitable and eager to serve others. The theological virtues are taught early to the new member; he must live within the faith of his creator, in hope, and charity for all.
Anglophone freemasonry does not admit women for purposes of initiation. Initiation is the Masonic ceremony during which the candidate becomes a Brother. The moral-aesthetic ceremony is substantially the same in all Masonic Rites, and rituals, across the English speaking world. A Masonic Rite is a coordinated set of rituals established in a hierarchy of degrees of grades. The ceremony in a Masonic degree or grade confers the words, signs and tokens which allow the member of Freemasonry to be recognized as such everywhere on the surface of the earth.
The continental Europeans.
Continental European Freemasonry is quite diverse. Traditional Grand Lodges recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England co-exist alongside progressive bodies of Freemasonry. The Grand Orient of France envisions itself to be the “leader” of the progressive Grand Lodges and works toward that end. From here the situation grows more complex. There are Grand Lodges that are traditional and recognized, non-traditional and recognized Grand Lodges, the Grand Lodges which admit women (Sisters), and some which have deleted references to the Grand Architect of the Universe from their rituals. The Grand Orient of France follows this last practice. They echo Renes Descartes’ philosophy of progress and rationality in this world.
Nearly everywhere across the globe there is a London recognized Grand Lodge, and equally there is a Grand Lodge not recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England. In many cases, it must be noted, this does not prevent them from maintaining fraternal relationships.
In continental Europe, the focus is more on the philosophical “journey” of the Freemason. As it was in the 18th Century, Freemasonry is still considered a “laboratory of ideas” to improve society.
European Freemasonry does not form a monolithic block; it consists of a nebula of Grand Lodges which are not all in recognition but can allow some small amount of visitation between each other. Nevertheless, the Grand Lodges that adamantly refuse to admit women remain the strong majority across the globe. Ninety-nine percent of the Grand Lodges do not accept women.
At the same time, with great fraternal spirit, traditional and progressive Grand Lodges often meet together with each other in different settings. Some of them even have some common social activity or work such as taking care of orphans, assisting employment services and developing opportunities for the underprivileged.
But still, everywhere in the world Freemasons (recognized or not, regular or not) have in their possession the same words, signs and tokens.
Our country with a long history is rich in Masonic tradition. There are Grand Lodges for men, women and even mixed. This part of our website is designed to introduce you to the most representative Grand Lodges in France.