Freemasonry: Some Basic Notions

Freemasonry is arguably the godfather of old esoteric and spiritual fraternities in the Western World, having been at the very root of the Occult Revival of the late Nineteen Century, inspiring groups from The Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, to Thelema and the Ordo Templi Orientis, and further down the line to new religious expression of paganism such as Wicca.

However, Freemasonry is a multifaceted gem, one made of many different Constitutions (usually one per State), with countless different Rites and Rituals, and the latter even being further fragmented into Workings. We often hear the term “Scottish Freemasonry”, “33 Degrees”, and so on, and an outside (or a “cowan”, as we say) would be justified to think Freemasonry is all neatly organised in one single system of rules, regulations, and degrees.   That’s not the case.

Here in England (and in Wales, since the Constitution governs both countries), we have under the auspices of United Grand Lodge of England a very chaotic, non linear progression from the Craft Lodge of the first 3 Degrees, towards those other Orders that provide further instruction in Freemasonry – you can see the diagram in one of the picture I attached to this post. The Rite worked in England and Wales is called Emulation, and it has countless different Workings: Bristol, Logic, Nigerian, Taylor’s, Metropolitan… countless really, each providing a slightly different flavour, be it in floorwork, wordings, and so on.

The Structure of Freemasonry in England and Wales, and Districts Overseas
The Structure of Freemasonry in England and Wales, and Districts Overseas

The other shows the more linear progression of the Scottish Rite and of the York Rite, the two main Rites worked in the United States of America, along with highlights of some of the side Orders: way less than in England, since the two main Rites provide a more coherent repository for the system.

The Structure of Freemasonry in the Scottish and York Rites, and Allied Organisations, in the United States of America and related Constitutions.
The Structure of Freemasonry in the Scottish and York Rites, and Allied Organisations, in the United States of America and related Constitutions.

However… things complicate even further when we move from English and American Freemasonry and we start looking at Continental, or French Masonry: sometimes also called Ecossais, or Scottish – since French Masons considered Scotland the true birthplace of the Craft. Here not only we will find completely different Rites and Rituals, but also a completely different set of Officers in the Lodge, and a completely different Lodge layout as well.

One could say that English and American Freemasonry tends to be speculative, and based on morals and ethics, while Continental or French Freemasonry tends to be liberal, and concerned about spirituality and esotericism.   For the sake of simplicity I am not going to delve any further, but this should give you all an idea of the complexity of Freemasonry.