Freemasonry is composed of several layers of membership. At its base are the three degrees of Craft or “Blue Lodge” Freemasonry. The fraternity looks to these three degrees as being the highest attainable, as all of the lessons of the fraternity can be found within them. But that has not precluded the development of the larger body, often referred to as the “family” of Freemasonry.
This illustration depicts the entry point and progression of in the family of Freemasonry.
To the young mason, and to the non-mason, the various degrees and bodies may seem many and confusing, but upon careful examination and exploration, their roles and function will become clear.
A Brief Compendium of the Family of Freemasonry
Like stepping-stones to the fraternity at the foundational level of Freemasonry there are several Masonic youth groups. These groups also provide a means to enhance the family experience in Freemasonry, as parents are often participants and supporters along with their younger children. The purpose of these groups is to nurture adolescents and their sense of community and involvement.
These youth groups are:
The foundation of Freemasonry is one of several branches that include several different types that cover the Symbolic Lodge and include gender-specific denominations, mixed-gender organizations and diversity specific representations.
Each of these diverse branches have evolved out of a particular need or interest in pursuing the study of Freemasonry.
This branch of craft, or blue lodge, Freemasonry is denominated by three degrees, or steps, which are:
The Third Degree, that of the Master Mason, is the “highest” degree the can be given in most branches of Freemasonry.
In the United States, each state governs its own recognition, actions and degrees and is composed of its own local individualized “lodges” which are its principal meeting halls. Of important note, Prince Hall Freemasonry is recognized by many states in America, but is still considered by others to be “irregular,” which means they see it as not permissible for involvement in events or meetings with one another. All states in the U.S. see the co-masonic bodies as irregular.
An equal body of Grand Lodge Freemasonry is a feminine branch for women:
Appendant Bodies of Freemasonry
Following the first three degrees of Freemasonry are additional bodies that provide further knowledge and insight to the tradition, building on the original three. These organizations split into two directions, whose teachings are slightly differently, but inherently teach the same message.
The two bodies are:
The Scottish Rite, which is further sub divided into:
As the Scottish Rite is split into two bodies in the continental United States, again teaching slightly different disciplines, within these systems are a conglomeration of additional degrees that offer further insight and philosophy.
Following this second step is a third, which has a slightly different focus, called:
Ancient Arabic Order, Nobles of the Mystic Shrine or A.A.O.N.M.S.
better known as Shriners International
The Shriner’s also have a notable (or notorious) sub organization, known as the:
Auxiliary Bodies of Freemasonry
After these main bodies, there are ancillary groups of Freemasons who have come together to form additional clubs. These are on the national level and meet with regularity in a variety of locations.
These additional Bodies in the family of Freemasonry include:
But this is just part of the picture of Freemasonry in America. With so many “regular” organizations, there exist several outside of that sphere of recognition. This lack of recognition does not reflect necessarily on who they are or what they do, rather it is often a matter of procedural or policy. In many ways great strides are being made to establish recognition and build bonds, rather than breaking them down.