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Clandestine Masonry

Today in Masonic History we discuss Clandestine Masonry.

Clandestine Masonry is a term that is used in masonry to describe a Grand Lodge, lodge or individual that is not regular or recognized, often just referred to as clandestine.

Clandestine Masonry is a term that I have seen discussed quite often recently on social media. It is really an interesting term. In this article I hope to help those who are not masons to understand what it means and for those who are masons to understand it better.

Before we get started there are a couple of things I need to define. First is "jurisdiction". A jurisdiction is an area controlled by a Grand Lodge. It generally may have multiple lodges under it's control. Often you will find a jurisdiction is defined by a geographical area, for example in the United States it may be defined by the borders of a state, although not always the case. In this article I will refer to "my jurisdiction", this is not meant to refer to my home jurisdiction, just a fictitious jurisdiction meant for example.

Second is a Grand Lodge. A Grand Lodge is the controlling authority of a jurisdiction. They have the authority to give out charters to lodges and provide other governance to the jurisdiction. All Grand Lodges are autonomous, a Grand Lodge does not answer to any higher authority. This is an overly simplified definition of a Grand Lodge, it will suffice though for this article.

The basic definition of Clandestine Masonry is a jurisdiction, lodge or individual who is not recognized by my jurisdiction. Note that I said "my jurisdiction". For this example "My Jurisdiction" is now Jurisdiction A, two other jurisdictions in this example are Jurisdiction B and Jurisdiction C. Jurisdiction A (My Jurisdiction) recognizes Jurisdiction B, from the perspective of the members of Jurisdiction A, Jurisdiction B and it's masons are regular, non-clandestine masons. Jurisdiction C is not recognized by Jurisdiction A, we will get into potential reasons why that may be the case in a minute. So from the perspective of the members of Jurisdiction A the members of Jurisdiction C are clandestine masons. To add more confusion to the mix, Jurisdiction B may see both Jurisdiction A and Jurisdiction C as regular non-clandestine masons, which in the real world is not uncommon.

So why does Jurisdiction A recognize Jurisdiction B and not recognize Jurisdiction C? There can be many reasons why this is the case.

One reason for the lack of universal recognition between all Jurisdictions is ritual work. Masonry has at it's core ritual work designed to teach and remind it's members about the importance of lessons taught in it's ritual and ceremonies. Not every Jurisdiction in the real world teaches the same lessons in it's rituals. If there is something contradictory in Jurisdiction C's ritual as compared to Jurisdiction A then Jurisdiction A will probably not recognize Jurisdiction C. This does not mean that Jurisdiction A and Jurisdiction B have identical ritual work, it just means they do not have anything contradictory in their ritual.

Another reason is that Jurisdiction C, assuming that it is newer than Jurisdiction A, has not requested to be recognized. Let's say for this reason, Jurisdiction C was formed in 1850 and Jurisdiction A was formed in 1750. Jurisdiction A is then the senior Jurisdiction or Grand Lodge. By custom the junior Grand Lodge requests recognition from the senior Grand Lodge. There is nothing that requires a junior Grand Lodge to seek recognition from a senior Grand Lodge. Again in the real world it is common that a junior Grand Lodge does not request recognition from a senior Grand Lodge automatically.

Yet another reason is what I call co-opted Freemasonry. In the above examples I have used Jurisdiction A, B and C as my three jurisdictions. They may all have similar lineages coming from a common source, often the Grand Lodge of England, although not always. More particularly in the modern age, as more and more information is available on-line about Freemasonry these co-opted Jurisdictions and lodges have begun to crop up. In the cases of these co-opted Jurisdictions someone has gone on-line and found masonic ritual, regalia and other things. With this material they have decided to start their own "masonic" organization. They start issuing charters for lodges, start using the square and compasses and declare themselves to be Freemasons. Often, unfortunately, these co-opted lodges or Grand Lodges are started for mercenary reasons. They want to use the recognized name of Freemasonry to make a profit or make an organization so they can be in charge of it. Regardless of the reason the co-opted organization is started many masons who are raised in Jurisdictions with true masonic lineage are often very offended by the misuse of Freemasonry.

Although there is no authority higher than a Grand Lodge, many Grand Lodges are affiliated with associations outside their jurisdiction. For example in North America there is the Conference of Grand Master of North America (CGMNA or COGMNA) which is made up of 64 constituent Grand Lodges, the oldest of which dates itself to 1733. There is also the Prince Hall Affiliation (PHA) which is made up of 49 Grand Lodges throughout North America, the Caribbean and Liberia. All of the Grand Lodges and Lodges of the PHA are direct decedents of the original Prince Hall Lodge which formed in 1797. PHA has 4,500 constituent lodges associated with them and many recognize their CGMNA counterparts and the United Grand Lodge of England.

What I have hopefully been able to point out in this article is that the words Clandestine Masonry have such a broad meaning and nuances really are what are important. The fact is that in the world two Jurisdiction that may occupy the same physical geographic region may not allow their members to attend each others meeting's, they may still meet outside of regular meetings to discuss issues that are important to all parties involved. It should be also remembered that, sometimes, todays clandestine mason may be tomorrows regular mason who can attend your lodge meeting.