Today those interested in Freemasonry can find a lodge for men only, women
only, or men and women and choose the one that suits them best."
- Bro S. Brent Morris, Editor of the Scottish Rite Journal
"Today", as Bro Morris uses the word above, began in North America with the first Co-Masonic
Lodge on the continent in 1903. Female-Only Masonry was a little slower in
arriving in North America but did so in its own time. Male-Only Masonry has a
longer, at times more exclusive, history
"Today", there are few places in North America where at least one of three branches of
Freemasonry isn't present. There is male-only or Malecraft Masonry; female-only
or Femalecraft Masonry; and Mixed or Co-Masonry. It is a system we know can work
largely because it does.
And "today", more unfortunately, gender still drives some of the differences between the
three branches. Gender-proving still exists in gender-based Masonry, as do
alterations in Ritual to punish Brethren who might question exclusion. Auxiliary
organizations - worthy though they be - improperly used to house members of a
not-welcome gender do not exist in Co-Freemasonry. Such gender-proving, Ritual
alterations and side organizations have never been needed in Co-Freemasonry.
Co-Masonry also does not cultivate the atmosphere of a "boys" or "girls" club as often
exists in gender-based Freemasonic Lodges. Instead, the Freemasonry worked by
the vast majority of Co-Freemasons in North America is traditional and
conservative; a faint echo of the ancient mystery schools that also were mixed.
As with those mystery schools, Freemasons in Co-Freemasonry are encouraged to
recall the words of the ancient philosophers: "Gnothi Seauton" or "Know
Thyself"; and to work to the glory of the Great Architect of the Universe and to
the perfection of Humanity.
The nature of traditional Freemasonry also points up the fact that differences between the
three branches of Freemasonry in North America are not based solely on sex.
Differences in ritual, tradition and custom can be taken almost for granted
because such differences exist even between lodges laboring under any Order.
However, there also are obvious cultural differences between North American
Co-Freemasonry and most of the US male-only Grand Lodges. Male-Only
Masonry, at times over the past century and more, has persecuted Co-Freemasonry
for no other reason than these differences. For this reason, these differences
have been considered very important.
The roots of those differences could make its own paper. Simply put, male-only Masonry in
most US Grand Lodges evolved over many decades into a charitable organization
with far less traditional Freemasonic emphasis on individual awareness,
understanding and development. Freemasons, schooled in the traditional Craft,
are expected to be individually charitable as a result of individual
self-improvement. Charity is not the primary goal of traditional Freemasonry.
These particular differences between these two branches of Freemasonry in North
American have led to some of the more obvious divergences. Symbols and portions
of Ritual abandoned by US male-only Masonry still exist in North American
Co-Freemasonry. Co-Masons still meet in "Temples", not "Masonic Centers". North
American Co-Freemasonry still retains introspective, meditative disciplines and
the old emblems of mortality.
These more glaring differences don't exist between Co-Freemasonry and Malecraft Orders in
the rest of the world. North American Co-Freemasonry developed more directly out
of European Freemasonry rather than from US male-only Freemasonry. In this way,
North American Co-Freemasonry more closely resembles Canadian male-only Orders,
particularly in ritual and culture, than it does the US male-only Orders.
Though it remains the greatest difference, things are changing and "today" is becoming
more harmonious. "Today" there is arising, from the accumulating ash that is
Malecraft Masonry on the decline in North America, "Traditional", "Strict",
"Restoration" or "Continental" observance Lodges. In these Malecraft Lodges on
the ascent, Brothers are trying to restore that which they lost.
It is no accident that many Malecraft Brothers "today", in these new Lodges and those
within Lodges who seek to emulate them, turn to Co-Freemasons for advice and
assistance. This, combined with cross-currents of communication among
Co-Masonic, Malecraft and Femalecraft scholars, is increasing contact between
the three branches. This cross-fertilization requires no formal recognition
and/or amity agreements between Masonic supreme bodies. Clearly, the winds of
change are blowing thru all Masonic Temples, regardless of branch. There are
Brothers in all branches who fight this change but it will come, regardless.
It's too soon to know what this bodes for all three branches of Freemasonry but we can
hope it bodes well; and further hope we are approaching a "today" when the
differences between the three branches will make no difference.
"Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry" by S. Brent Morris, Ph.D., 33o
(Alpha Books, 2006), page 90
The Scottish Rite Journal is a publication of the Supreme Council
of the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction.
For a fuller explanation, please see my "On Holy Ground: History of the
Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry, the American Federation of Human
Rights" (Masonic Publishing Company of the US, 2011)