Freemasonry for Men and Women
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Co-Masonic Freemasonry

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."[1] - Bro S. Brent Morris, Editor of the Scottish Rite Journal[2]

"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[3]

"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.

[1]"Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry" by S. Brent Morris, Ph.D., 33o (Alpha Books, 2006), page 90

[2]The Scottish Rite Journal is a publication of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction.

[3] 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)

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