FREEMASONRY UNIVERSAL: A NEW GUIDE TO THE MASONIC WORLD (2 vols.)
Kent Henderson and Tony Pope
Pub. Global Masonic Publications, Melbourne
RRP Vol. 1 $AU30, Vol. 2 $AU40, plus shipping.
Kent Henderson’s Masonic World Guide was first published in 1984 and rapidly became indispensable for any travelling brother. This completely revised edition brilliantly fulfils that role of explanation and contacts for the world’s Grand Lodges, but also introduces a much wider examination of the community of Freemasonry today.
Freemasonry Universal comes in 2 volumes. Volume 1 deals with the Americas and was reviewed here last year. Volume 2 has just been released and covers the rest of the world: Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania. Without question, the two volumes are an essential part of any Masonic library.
Central to the relationship between all the branches of the Masonic family around the world is the idea of Regularity. Is this Grand Lodge “regular” or “irregular”? Is it regular to some but irregular to others? Who decides? Why? Why are there a dozen different Grand Lodges in France? What of women’s lodges?
It is a thorny issue, not just for an overseas visitor, but for our basic understanding of Freemasonry.
Kent Henderson and Tony Pope deal with the issue in several ways. A succinct chapter at the start of volume 1 explains how the “mainstream” lodges (those directly descended from England, Scotland and Ireland and practising traditional, male-only Freemasonry) define and implement the concepts of recognition, regularity, autonomy, landmarks and so on.
The authors point out that they are not judging any body as more or less worthy than others. They use the “mainstream” to indicate the ways that variations have developed and how they stand today. These variations are then dealt with in the particular chapter for their region.
This enables the reader to put each example into a context; sometimes it is national, sometimes cultural, sometimes political. In each case it returns to the issue of defining Regular Freemasonry and therefore our personal understanding of the Craft.
Two topical examples are the Prince Hall lodges in America and the multiple Grand Lodges of France. They are considered in rather different ways.
The authors are direct about the Prince Hall aspect of American Masonry. “It cannot be denied that Freemasonry in the United States of America has developed on mainly racially-exclusive lines”. But no judgement of this issue is offered. Instead, as recognition of the PH lodges continues to increase across the rest of the world, the contact information and explanations for each jurisdiction are listed, state by state, alongside the “white” Grand Lodges. Their order, in each case, is by date of establishment. Sometimes the PH lodge is first, sometimes the “white” lodge.
A potential visitor or any Masonic student can choose to consider the distinctions between these lodges in his own terms, as well as the history that led to them.
In France, however, the complexity of the relationships between the dozen or more Grand Lodges requires more direct explanation. A history of the growth of the many offshoots is given with a brief study of each current body and the reasons for its status in relation to the “mainstream” Grand Lodges. These reasons may include the membership of women, recognition of the Great Architect, political activity and so on. Again, while no judgement is offered by the authors, the reader must place all these reasons into his own context and, therefore, develop his definition of Freemasonry.
This is the strength of these two volumes. They look at Freemasonry today as a living, evolving and dynamic institution across the whole world. The divisive issues of race, religion, politics and gender are noted, especially where these may affect contact between brethren. “When in doubt, ask your own Grand Lodge” is the key suggestion throughout, but the authors always emphasize the individual’s ultimate responsibility to consider and decide for himself.
As a travelling guide, Freemasonry Universal is indispensable. But it is as a starting point for our understanding of the Craft throughout the world that it is at its best.
Both volumes are available for purchase from Global Masonic Publication’s home page at <http://www.geocities.com/kentgmp/index.html> or by post from PO Box 332, Williamstown, Vic 3016, Australia.
[Published in Freemasonry Victoria, May 2000. (he had an advance copy on disk)
David Beagley, BA(Hons), DipEd, BEd(Libr), MEd, is Contact Librarian – Arts and Education, Heyward Library, La Trobe University, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia.]