Who Made Who? by Bro. Jeff Peace
When was your lodge charted by the Grand Lodge of your jurisdiction? It may have been relatively recently or it could have been hundreds of years ago. Masons petition a Grand Lodge to form and charter new lodges, and that’s the way it's always been — or is it?
In the days of the operatives lodges were formed in the towns and cities for the purpose of managing the trade guild and negotiating wages. In a sense lodges were similar to the present day union hall. Sometimes lodges would be established at large construction sites such as cathedrals and forts for similar purposes. Their "union card" was the secret modes of recognition.
Lodges were self-creating business entities that represented the craftsman and were charted by state and/or local officials.
Grand Lodges were not things or places but events called by the monarch to bring all the Masters of the Craft together for the purpose of discussion and negotiation.
By the late seventeenth century the Masonic guild was in decline and they began accepting "gentleman Masons" into their lodges. The gentleman Masons were not craftsman but middle class businessmen and scholars.
In 1717 a unique event occurred when three of these lodges decided to form a Grand Lodge without consent of the monarch for the purpose of meeting and holding an annual feast. This is of interest because the lodges were entirely independent and sovereign. They created the Grand Lodge, and not the other way around.
They invited other independent and sovereign lodges to join their new Grand Lodge. Some did while others did not become a part of it. The Sts' Johns Masons flatly declined and the Masons at York decided to establish their own Grand Lodge.
Independent lodges continued to exist apart from the Grand Lodges until late in the eighteenth century.
As Freemasonry moved from being a practical trade guild into a benevolent speculative fraternity a method was established for the creation of new lodges whereby the Grand Lodges became the issuers of charters and not the government. It was in this way that Grand Lodge became the creator and lost sight of the fact that it was in fact a creation of the lodges.
The present monolithic system of Masonic government is the exact opposite of what the original founding lodges had intended. If we are to reform Freemasonry in the 21st century we need to begin by recognizing that the lodges are sovereign, and that the Grand Lodge serves the lodges. The Grand Master is not a benevolent dictator, but a servant of the Craft.
Masons still have the right to form independent lodges. These lodges are not clandestine or irregular. The whole concept of being clandestine and/or irregular was invented during the dispute between the Moderns and the Antients in England. It was a childish name-calling game then as much as it is now.
We need more independent lodges offering new and unique insights into Freemasonry. They may choose to form new Grand Lodges based on their ideas. This is the same as it was in 1717. The most important thing is not the survival of the present Grand Lodges, but the continuation of the Craft.
— Bro. Jeff Peace
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