Grand Lodge Recognition

How, What and Why?

Herbert G. Gardiner, MPS

We hear the phrase, "Grand Lodge Recognition" spoken by brethren, which often leads some members to ask what is actually meant by Grand Lodge recognition, how is this status obtained, and why should a Grand Lodge want Recognition?

Grand Lodge Recognition, in this essay, will be dealt with in the context of "Full Recognition" as granted by regular Grand Lodges. Limited and tiered forms of recognition will not be discussed.

Recognition of a Grand Lodge means the acknowledgment by other regular Grand Lodges of its Masonic regularity, its authority, and its territorial integrity. Simply stated, the recognition of a Grand Lodge is a categorical confirmation of its Masonic regularity and credentials.

In observance of Masonic etiquette, the newly created (junior) Grand Lodge, seeks recognition by the established (senior) regular Grand Lodges. The process is started when the Grand Lodge seeking recognition communicates its credentials documenting its regularity, to the Grand Lodges by whom it wishes to be recognized.

We now come to the meaning of regular, in the Masonic context. As Kent Henderson says in his World Masonic Guide, "Every Grand Lodge considers itself to be regular. This is a self-justified precondition for existence." But this self-assigned status is not necessarily endorsed by the regular Grand Lodges, for they have written criteria that explicitly state what conditions must be complied with in order for them to consider a Grand Lodge regular, and subsequently grant it recognition. These criteria are similar for all regular Grand Lodges.

On September 4, 1929, the United Grand Lodge of England adopted the following Basic Principles for Grand Lodge Recognition, and a Grand Lodge that is loyal to these principles is generally considered regular:

  1. Regularity of Origin; i.e. each Grand Lodge shall have been established lawfully by a duly constituted Grand Lodge or by three or more regularly constituted Lodges.
  2. That a belief in the G.A.O.T.U. and His revealed will shall be an essential qualification for membership.
  3. That all Initiates shall take their Obligation on or in full view of the open volume of the Sacred Law, by which is meant the revelation from above which is binding on the conscience of the particular individual who is being initiated.
  4. That the membership of the Grand Lodge and individual Lodges shall be composed exclusively of men; and that each Grand Lodge shall have no Masonic intercourse of any kind with mixed Lodges or bodies that admit women to membership.
  5. That the Grand Lodge shall have sovereign jurisdiction over the Lodges under its control; i.e. that it shall be a responsible, independent, self-governing organization, with sole and undisputed authority over the Craft or Symbolic Degrees (Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason) within its Jurisdiction; and shall not in any way be subject to, or divide such authority with a Supreme Council or other Power claiming any control or supervision over those degrees.
  6. That the three Great Lights of Freemasonry (namely, the Volume of the sacred Law, the Square, and the Compasses) shall always be exhibited when the Grand Lodge or its subordinate Lodges are at work, the chief of these being the Volume of the Sacred Law.
  7. That the discussion of religion and politics within the Lodge shall be strictly prohibited.
  8. That the principles of the Antient Landmarks, customs, and usages of the craft shall be strictly observed.

There are other considerations that are addressed before a Grand Lodge is considered regular and granted recognition. But the eight Basic Principles indicated above are the fundamental requirements for a Grand Lodge to be declared regular. The Constitution and Ordinances, and the type of Ritual work of the newly established Grand Lodge are also of interest to the Grand Lodges being asked to grant recognition. In some jurisdictions the term legitimacy of origin is used in stem of regularity of origin; the meaning is identical.

An additional factor dealing with territorial integrity exists in the United States; it is known as the American Doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction. Almost all Grand Lodges in the United States embrace this concept, which is described as follows: Basically, it means one Grand Lodge in each State, plus one Grand Lodge in the District of Columbia. More specifically, whenever there are three or more chartered Lodges in any state or territory in which no Grand Lodge exists and there is substantial unity among the Freemasons of such state or territory in forming a new Grand Lodge, they have the absolute right to meet in convention, and a majority of them, not less than three, can organize a Grand Lodge for such state or territory; and when once regularly formed, such Grand Lodge has control and government of all Masons and all Lodges within that state or territory, subject to the Ancient Landmarks of Masonry: and no other Grand Lodge can in any way interfere with its jurisdiction, establish new Lodges in such state or territory, or maintain those already established.

The American Doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction applies to the United States and its territories, not to other countries, except for Canada. This concept follows Brother Mackey's definition of the territorial limits of a Grand Lodge, "The territorial limits of a Grand Lodge are determined by the political boundaries of the country in which it is placed." In his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Mackey took the position that the territorial limits of a Grand Lodge (in the United States) are circumscribed within the settled boundaries of that state. Nor can its jurisdiction extend beyond these limits into any of the neighboring States.

Apart from the Prince Hall Lodges, which are not discussed in this paper, the only exception to the American Doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction exists with the Grand Lodges in Alaska which were originally under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Washington. In 1981 the Grand Lodge of Alaska was founded, and by mutual agreement, some of the Lodges in Alaska remained under the Grand Lodge of Washington. There are presently four Lodges located in Alaska that are constituent Lodges of the Grand Lodge of Washington. This arrangement caused some anxiety among some American Grand Lodges for a few years. However, it appears to be satisfactory for the brethren and the Grand Lodges of Washington and Alaska.

Getting back to "recognition" and "regular," in order for a Grand Lodge to obtain recognition, it must be classified as regular in the eyes of the Grand Lodges by whom it wishes to be recognized.

When mutual recognition is achieved, the Grand Lodges are in "amity" which means friendly relations. The term is frequently applied to friendship between nations. Recognition includes establishing and maintaining fraternal relations among regular Grand Lodges, which is akin to diplomatic relations between countries.

The advantages of Grand Lodge Recognition are both tangible and psychological. The members of constituent Lodges whose respective Grand Lodges are in amity have the privilege of visiting each others Lodges. Mackey's 14th Landmark states "The right of every Mason to visit and sit in every regular Lodge is an unquestionable Landmark of the Order." However, at the present time, visiting is considered a privilege and not a right. Experience has shown that there are sound and justifiable reasons why the Master of a Lodge may wish to exclude all visiting brethren except the members of the Lodge from attending a particular Lodge meeting.

It is considered a serious offense for a Mason to visit a non-recognized Lodge; that is a constituent Lodge of a Grand Lodge not recognized by his own Grand Lodge. Technically, a non-recognized Lodge does not exist. But, as a practical matter, there are several Grand Lodges around the world that have limited, or no recognition, by regular Grand Lodges, and function quite contentedly within their own Masonic sphere of influence. An interesting example of Grand Lodges that are considered to be irregular by the vast majority of regular Grand Lodges and not recognized by the regular grand Lodges, exists in France. Presently, there are at least three functioning Grand Lodges in France. The Grande Loge Nationale Française, which the regular Grand Lodges recognize; the Grand Orient of France, which in 1877 deleted all reference to the Supreme Being and removed the Volume of the sacred Law from its Lodges, is considered irregular, and recognition was subsequently withdrawn by the regular grand Lodges. Next is the Grande Loge de France, which in spite of its claims to the contrary, appears to still have organizational ties to the Supreme council of France; it is not recognized by the regular Grand Lodges.

Grand Lodges that recognize each other continuously exchange information about their Masonic activities and the developments in their respective jurisdictions, by providing each other with their Proceedings, Transactions, Bulletins, special notices, Edicts, etc. Dual membership is frequently allowed which permits a Mason to become an affiliated member of a constituent Lodge in the jurisdiction of a Grand Lodge other than his own. The courtesy conferral of degrees and presentation of awards to sojourners, for each other by Grand Lodges in amity, is another tangible benefit to many candidates and brethren.

The vast majority of Grand Lodges that maintain fraternal relations with other Grand Lodges, participate in the Grand Representative Program. It is an old Masonic custom, whereby each regular Grand Lodge approves a nominee (whose name is submitted by his Grand Master) to serve as a representative and represent it at his (representative's) Grand Lodge meetings. In some instances a Grand Master will volunteer to serve as a Grand representative for a particular Grand Lodge. Since representatives are not necessarily located at the Grand Lodge, they are usually designated as being "near" the Grand Lodge.

Usually when two Grand Lodges grant mutual recognition and enter into fraternal relations, they exchange representatives. Thus, each Grand Lodge will have a representative near the other. A Commission, or certificate of Appointment, is issued to the representative by the Grand Lodge he is representing. It is usually presented to him at a Communication of his Grand Lodge. With the exception of Pennsylvania, Iowa, New Mexico, and Wyoming, almost all regular Grand Lodges maintaining fraternal relations exchange representatives.

It is believed that originally, the Grand Representatives functioned in the nature of Ambassadors; some of them still do, to a limited extent. The method of conducting transactions between Grand Lodges has changed considerably, and all business is presently conducted between the Grand Secretaries. But, the Grand Representative Program is still in place, although in most instances it operates on an honorary basis.

Psychologically, there is a certain amount of pride in knowing that your Grand Lodge has the credentials which enable it to be "recognized" as a "regular" Grand Lodge by over one hundred regular Grand Lodges around the world. As a result of this status, the brethren of your Grand Lodge will be welcomed by these many Grand Lodges.

Recognition also brings home the point of the universal appeal of Freemasonry in which your Grand Lodge has a role, and a special stake. Additionally, recognition gives a brother peace of mind in knowing that in these troubled times of political, ethnic, and religious strife, he will find brother Freemasons in many parts of this troubled world, who will "keep the faith."

Recognition is not an irrevocable condition. It is not a form of status that once granted, continues indefinitely. Recognition can be withdrawn by the Grand Lodge(s) who granted it, for it provides a means of maintaining agreed upon standards. And when certain fundamental standards are not adhered to, withdrawal of recognition is the ultimate expression of disapproval of an action taken by a Grand Lodge.

In 1952, the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America (which Hawaii became a member of in 1989) established the Commission on Information for Recognition. Its purpose is to gather, collate, and from time to time revise information on Grand Lodges in other lands, as a service to the Grand Lodges of the Conference.

The Commission neither advises nor recommends that recognition be given to any Grand Lodges, but just indicates whether or not it considers that a Grand Lodge in question satisfies the conditions of regularity.

The Commission consists of six members of broad geographical origin. One new member, usually a Deputy Grand Master, is elected each year, and serves for six years.

After each Annual Meeting of the Conference of Grand Masters, the commision's report, given to and adopted by the Conference, is printed and copies sent to the Grand Secretaries and to the Chairmen of the Committees on Fraternal Relations of the Grand Lodges of the Conference.

The report of the Commission is based upon the most current information available, and in some instances, after a conference with members of some of the Grand Lodges mentioned in the report. This Commission is considered to be the best and most reliable source for information on "regularity" in North America.

R.W. Robert L. Dillard, Jr., Past Grand Master, Grand Lodge of Texas, is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Commission.

Brethren who are contemplating visiting Lodges abroad, should check with the Secretary of their Lodge and advise him of the various countries where visitations to Lodges are planned. He will contact the Grand Secretary, who will in turn provide him with the necessary documents and advise him which Grand Lodges their Grand Lodge maintains fraternal relations with, and any other pertinent information needed by the member planning to visit Lodges in foreign countries.

The study of "Grand Lodge Recognition" is another fascinating aspect of the Craft. The brethren who are interested in the history of Grand Lodges will find much to sustain their curiosity and intellect in this subject.


Constitution & Ordinances, Hawaii Masonic Code. Honolulu: Grand Lodge of Hawaii, F. & A.M.

Henderson, Kent. Masonic World Guide, Victoria, Australia: Macoy Publishing & Supply Co., 1984.

Haftner, Christopher. Regularity of Origin, Hong Kong: Chater-Cosmos Transactions, 1986.

Hamill, John. The Craft: A History of English Freemasonry, London England: the Aquarian Press, 1986.

Dillard, Robert L. Annual Report,Commission for Recognition, 1993, Dallas, Texas.

Revised edition of Albert G. Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry.

Note: The author is Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Hawaii, F. & A.M., and also serves as Assistant Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Grand Lodge Recognition.

The Philalethes, December 1993