Written by Mark G. Robbins, PM, 33°, Grand Lodge Education Officer
So, let’s say you’re on vacation. It could be in another state, or it could be in another country. You’re exploring the area around your hotel, and you see a building with a square and compass on the outside, and the sign by the door says they’re meeting that evening. You decide to stop by to visit later. Or, you’re in the hotel restaurant having lunch, and you see a man wearing a Masonic ring. You strike up a conversation, and he invites you to visit his lodge while you’re there.
A perfect addition to your vacation, right? Maybe not. Do you dimly remember something about not visiting a lodge of clandestine Masons, or conversing Masonically with a clandestine Mason? What does that actually mean? And how would you know?
The “conversing” part can be addressed quickly and easily. Your Minnesota Masonic Manual (available as a pdf file on the Grand Lodge web site if you don’t remember where your copy is) covers just what you can discuss with a non-Mason. If you’re not sure if the man you’re talking to is considered “clandestine,” the safest thing is to just stick to what the manual says you can discuss.
But what of visiting? What defines a clandestine lodge, and how would you know? The term “clandestine” gets used to cover several very different statuses of purported Masonic bodies. To discuss this, we must first define two terms: “regular,” and “recognized.” Regularity includes regularity of practice, and legitimacy of origin. Regularity of practice refers to adhering to what we generally think of as the ancient landmarks, while legitimacy of origin means they can trace their authority to operate in an unbroken line back to one or more of the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland, or Scotland. For example, the three lodges that originally formed the Grand Lodge of Minnesota were first chartered by the Grand Lodges of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio. If we look at Illinois, the lodges that created that Grand Lodge were all chartered by Kentucky, which was formed by lodges chartered by Virginia, which was formed by lodges chartered by all three of the original Grand Lodges. Thus, a direct line of descent can be traced from Minnesota back to England, Ireland, and Scotland.
The most egregious form is the completely “bogus” organization, one that was formed out of thin air, with absolutely no Masonic authority, with the intent to further the financial and self-aggrandizing motivations of the men who started it. This is a problem that plagues many major cities in the United States. The last time I checked, there were over 70 bogus “Grand Lodges” in Illinois, almost all of them in the City of Chicago. Many of them consist of only one lodge. They charge exorbitant fees for membership and dues, most of which goes into the pockets of the men who created the lodges. Many of their members are totally unaware that they belong to an organization that is recognized by no legitimate Masonic body. They’ve simply joined the lodge in their neighborhood that their friends belong to, and fully believe that they are Masons. You’ll see them join online Masonic discussion groups, and are shocked and skeptical when told of their status.
Then you have some that have existed for a very long time, such as the ones discussed in the last eMason. They are outgrowths of legitimate Masonry and can claim legitimacy of origin, but have become irregular in their practices, such as admitting atheists. A prime example of this that was not discussed last month is the Grand Orient of France. This is the oldest and largest Masonic body in France, and was recognized by mainstream Masonry for a very long time, formed in 1728 as the Grand Loge de France, becoming the Grand Orient in the early 1770’s. In 1876, they dropped the requirement of belief in the Grand Architect. This resulted in the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) suspending relations, and other Grand Lodges followed suit. The French National Grand Lodge is recognized by most jurisdictions, with the Grand Lodge of France by others.
Many Masons consider the UGLE to be the ultimate authority on recognition and regularity. You’ll often see Masons asking how to know which Grand Lodges are recognized, and they’ll be told “just look at the list on the UGLE web site.” ( http://ugle.org.uk/about/foreign-grand-lodges) However, this is not always good advice. While, as the oldest Grand Lodge in the world they are certainly influential, each Grand Lodge is entirely autonomous, and they make their own decisions about recognition and regularity. This brings us to the concept of “regular but unrecognized.” For example, if you were going to visit Italy, and looked at the UGLE list, you’d see that they recognize the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy. However, Minnesota (and the vast majority of other American Grand Lodges) recognizes the Grand Orient of Italy. So, the body considered regular and recognized by UGLE is unrecognized by our Grand Lodge, and is thus “clandestine” for the purposes of visitation and discussion.
So, what should you do? If you know where you’re going and planning to visit, the best thing is to check with the Grand Lodge office to clear things beforehand. However, in the situation outlined in the opening paragraph of this article, you may not have time to clear this. One should always err on the side of caution, but recently I became aware of a new, free “app” available for both Apple and Android devices, called “Amity.” I have downloaded and activated it, and tested it on some of the trickier situations, and found it to give accurate information. I think it would be instructive to show you a few “screen shots” of what the app does.
Here is the home screen (figure 1):
You can choose to check by country and state, (figures 2 & 3) to find out what Grand Lodge is recognized by Minnesota, by clicking on the Amity button:
The “Lodge” button lets you type in a city by state or country, (figure 4) and it will identify any recognized lodge or lodges in that city:
As a bonus, you can click on the MSA button, and read Masonic Service Association “Short Talk Bulletins.”
This app is a definite boon to a traveling Mason. It would also be useful for a check on the lodge and Grand Lodge of a visitor who shows up at your lodge.
I hope this has been useful information for you.