The ABC of Masonry in France
Ancient and Accepted – Apprentice – Apron
Ancient and Accepted
The term applies both to the Masons and the Ritual (q.v.) that they practise. The expression recalls the fact that the Grande Loge de France perpetuates and brings into modern usage the inheritance from the Scottish Masons who “accepted” into their lodges people from outside the original craft of builder (hence the term “Accepted”).
Or Entered Apprentice is the first of three degrees of speculative masonry in France. The two higher degrees are Fellow Craft (q.v.) and Master (q.v.)
Worn by Masons at tyled meetings, it refers symbolically to the aprons worn by the stone masons of the Middle Ages, the builders of cathedrals (see Gloves).
Bible – Brotherhood
In the lodges of the Grande Loge de France, during sessions the Bible is generally open at the prologue to the Gospel according to Saint John.
It is not considered as a text of religious revelation, but as the Volume of the Sacred Law which represents:
the book of Tradition: the cultural inheritance on which Freemasonry (from Judeo-Christianity and ancient Greek and Roman culture) is based.
the Volume of the Law: a quest for a rule of moral wisdom that is beyond merely legal structures and that is open to non-religious spirituality (q.v.)
It is for this reason that the first oath of a new member may be sworn, according to his convictions, on any other book of similar nature (Coran, Vedas, Tripitaka, Tao Te King, Zend Avesta or the Doctrine of Confucius).
The third term of the Masonic motto.
It is manifested by a desire for recognition and openness and must reign over all relations between the Brethren of the Grande Loge de France and it invites each to shape his attitude to an ideal of self knowledge and acceptance of others, be they Mason or not. In this respect, it is at once a foundation, an objective and a means.
Compass – Constitution - Covention
Symbolic tool, associated with the square, conveying the idea of a system associating mind and matter, rationality and spirituality, and so on. The symbolic association of these principles elevates their dual character to a higher ternary dimension.
This states the principles, specifies the structures and defines the orientation of the federation of lodges making up the Grande Loge de France. The General Regulations give details of how they are to be applied. The Constitution begins with the motto "Liberty – Equality – Fraternity".
The Convention (in June) and the Meeting of the Grand Lodge Session (in December) are the two occasions when the General Assembly of representatives of the Grande Loge de France meet. The General Assembly exercises legislative power. It associates this with executive power (the Federal Council) to develop the rules and usage of the Grande Loge de France and steers its policies.
Democracy - Duties
The Grande Loge de France has a democratic structure, founded on the separation of power according to the theory of the Freemason Montesquieu.
It comprises the legislative (in which the representatives of the lodges gather in the Grand Lodge Session and the Convention), the executive (a Federal Council of 33 members, elected by the Convention) and the judiciary (Fraternal Jury, elected by the Convention).
The Grand Master of the Obedience is elected by all the representatives of the lodges united in a Convention. The election is annual and the one-year mandate is renewable twice.
It is the same process for the Grand Officers, the two deputy Grand Masters, the Grand Orator, the Grand Secretary and so on.
Within each lodge, the President (or Worshipful Master) and the other officers are elected by all the Master masons. The election is annual and the one-year mandate is renewable twice.
These are the minimum obligations of each mason through which the equality of all masons is established. The term Old Charges is given to those imposed by the Masons of the 17th and 18th centuries. Though they have been re-shaped by the evolution of society, the Old Charges are still remembered today.
In their contemporary acceptation they have become associated with the rights of each Mason, to highlight the requirement imposed on all Masons to achieve a balance between his rights and his duties. Rights are not effective unless duties are respected too.
Equality between brothers is the rule of the Grande Loge de France. Whatever his functions, and after a minimum of 2 years of work (as an Apprentice and then a Fellow Craft) all Master Masons enjoy the same rights but also assume the same duties. This is also one of the three principles of the Masonic motto, with liberty and fraternity, which feature in the preface to the Constitution of the Grande Loge de France.
Fellow Craft – Foreigner – Freedom – Fundamentals
Second degree of speculative Masonry (see Apprentice and Master)
A Mason from a foreign country is considered as a cousin when he has been recognised according to usage. The Masonic brotherhood goes well beyond the frontiers of each nation and the Grande Loge de France entertains official relations with many foreign Obediences (q.v.) in various countries in the world.
Freedom is the first term in the tryptich of the Masons of the Grande Loge de France (see Equality and Fraternity/Brotherhood).
The freedom which is claimed is both a freedom of the citizen and a free dom arising from initiation.
It is a freedom of the citizen because it is a part of republican principles.
It is a freedom in initiation because it manifests a desire to overcome as far as possible the determinism of all orders with which each person is confronted: psychological, sociological etc., in order to construct more inner freedom.
For this freedom to be achieved requires the personal work on oneself to which initiation is an invitation.
The fundamental principles of the Grande Loge de France go back to the Scottish Antient and Accepted Rite:
- reference to the principle of the “Great Architect of the Universe” as a non-religious principle and symbol (q.v.)
- the swearing of an oath on the Three Great Lights of Traditional Masonry: the Square, the Compass and the Volume of the Sacred Law (q.v. these terms)
- absolute freedom of philosophical and religious conscience and conscience as a citizen, in mutual tolerance, excluding all ideological extremes and religious fundamentalism
- self-improvement within an initiatory order to humanist and spiritual principles
- the practice of an ethic of acceptance based on the exercise of reason, otherness and exchange
- respect of the Ancient Duties and their transmission
Gavel - Gloves – Great Architect of the Universe
This is the tool that symbolises temporal power, in association with the sword, symbolising spiritual power.
White gloves are always worn by Masons during their working sessions. They represent an ideal of behaviour that each must respect. They are associated with an apron (q.v.)
Great Architect of the Universe
(On this subject, see also the Declaration of Principles)
All ritual working sessions are opened with a reference to the “Great Architect of the Universe”, a phrase that has come down from the 18th century and which has been kept through a desire to respect Masonic tradition. For the Freemasons of the Grande Loge de France, it is both a principle and a symbol.
Evoking the Great Architect echoes the principle of the creator/organiser of the Universe that is found in many civilisations. It can be assimilated to what modern science would call a physical principle ensuring the coherence and intelligibility of the Universe, expressed through the laws organising it.
For the Masons of the Grande Loge de France, therefore, the Great Architect of the Universe is not the anthropomorphic definition of a god of religion, but an initiatory reference through the evocation of which they show their interest in a conception and construction of the sense of their life, combining intellectual and moral values, and also a quest for a free, non-religious, non-dogmatic and non-authoritarian spiritual construction.
In its permanent desire to respect freedom of conscience, the Grande Loge de France allows each Mason of the obedience to sublime this principle in a symbol of his choice and according to his sensitivity, by a freely interpretable definition: it may then, if he so wishes, become the transcendent or immanent symbol of religious form – but with no exclusivity or obligation –
The freedom of each is thus affirmed, enabling believers and non-believers to be welcomed, in the indispensable respect of the convictions of each one.
The Grande Loge de France is thus passionately attached to the principle of secularism, secularism in welcome and openness allowing each to practise, or not, a religion, without having to justify himself to anybody. It is testimony to its desire to be a centre for union between different men who, without it, and because of their sometimes opposing convictions, would remain strangers to each other.
History - Humanism
The year 1894 marked the founding of the Grande Loge de France in its current form. But its history goes back to that of the allegiances in the history of French Freemasonry from the 1730s, when the Grande Loge de France first appeared, and whose current allegiance is in part the continuation.
Humanism, with spirituality, is the domain for research and reflection of the Masons of the Grande Loge de France. It is the basis of their ethical convictions on openness to others.
It manifests their desire to place the human being at the centre of their project for self-improvement by working on oneself and with others.
Initiation is a process of transformation of the individual.
It is based on the belief that constant reflection, with the help of symbols and with the brethren, can lead to intellectual, moral and spiritual improvement. It has as its goal the perfection of knowledge and conscience.
In the lodges of the Grande Loge de France, it does not consist of knowledge to be acquired or a doctrine to be learned, but a personal experience to be developed through a process of initiation. It is both an individual and a collective process, of freedom rules by moral values that give it its unity and its sense. And finally, it is neither a sacrament nor a revelation and has no religious character.
John - Justice
John the Evangelist has been the guardian master of Freemasonry since its origins, which is why the lodges of the first three degrees are called “Lodges of Saint John”. By this reference to Saint John, these lodges become part of Judeo-Christian culture combining ancient, Greek and Roman wisdom, and has enriched this with philosophies of the individual and a sense of history, but without religious connotatios.
Justice is a moral virtue associated with the practice of brotherhood and referring to the respect of the rights and duties of each one.
The Grande Loge de France has drawn up a number of Masonic rules which must be respected on pain of exclusion from the allegiance. These rules have been established in complete conformity with the rules of civil justice and they are the moral extension of them.
Light – Lodge
Lights / Light
The Lights or the Light have an important place in Masonic language.
In the plural, they refer to the philosophy of the century of the Enlightenment when men strove to give light to the Europe of the 18th century, in an attempt to free men from dogmatic constraints (Aufklärung in German), moreover without always succeeding.
In this spirit the lodges of the Grande Loge de France propose to their members to contruct a morality founded on the enlightenment of reason, of the mind and of the heart, going beyond partisan differences.
In the singular, in the same endeavour, each person is encouraged to discover within himself the personal Light that touches his central being.
“Son of Light” is an expression that is frequently used in this sense by the Freemasons.
Lodge (or Craft)
Lodge designates both the members of a group of Masons and the basic administrative and initiatory structures within which the Brethren are gathered, and allows a functioning according to the rules of the Grande Loge de France. Also called Workshop, the two terms refer to the Freemasonry in operation at the origins, and aim to be a meeting place, a work place, a place of learning and exchanges where each person can progress in his knowledge and his conscience.
Masonic Secret – Master – Mixed Membership
Myths abound on Freemasonry; these myths have been nourished by the discretion exercised by the Masons in their conduct, which can appear “mysterious”, whereas the reality is banal. It is indeed more a matter of discretion than of secret. However, a distinction should be made between membership secret and initiatory secret.
The former arises from the fact that while every Mason has the right to reveal his own membership, he must not reveal the membership of another.
The latter arises from the non-communicable nature of the eminently subjective initiatory experience, which involves the entire self of each person, since it is experienced in a symbolic and reflected-upon practice in an act of turning to within oneself that naturally involves emotions and sensitivities.
From a legal point of view, the statutes of the Grande Loge de France, as an association according to the act of 1901, are lodged with all those civil and administrative authorities of France who require to know them.
Thus they are accessible to all who wish to consult them and, except for the personal and intimate character of the initiatory process – whose rituals can be found in numerous bookshops - there exists no “secret” about the aims and principles of the lodges of the Grande Loge de France, which respect the laws of the French Republic.
The grade of Master is the 3rd degree of Freemasonry. At the Grande Loge de France, the Masters run the lodge in collegial fashion, under the presidence of one of them – called the Worshipful Master – elected to office each year. (see Apprentice and Fellow Craft)
The Grande Loge de France is exclusively masculine and only men are initiated, just as other allegiances are exclusively feminine.
Since the end of the Second World War, the Grande Loge de France has fostered and favoured the creation of the largest French feminine obedience: the Grande Loge Féminine de France.
There also exists mixed masonry in which both men and women are initiated.
The Grande Loge de France entertains very good relations with the mixed and feminine allegiances, and a special masonic welcome ceremony allows them to be invited to the Grande Loge de France.
This is one of the names designating a new candidate during his initiation, just before being accepted, after which he becomes a fully-fledged brother.
Obedience – Operative Masons – Orient
The Obedience is a structure which gathers the lodges into an administrative and initiatory organisation, generally national. The Grande Loge de France organised in complete independence and sovereignty has its own constitution and has only those rules that the representatives of the lodges wish to have. It entertains relations with other French and foreign obediences, through official visits and reciprocal conventions.
This term describes the Freemasons of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries; the organisation of their craft set the foundations of modern Freemasonry, whether this link be historical or legendary. They were named “operative Masons” as men engaged in the building crafts, while those called “speculative Masons” were essentially engaged in research, reflections and action in the world of progress to which they wished to contribute.
Symbolically the place from where the light comes.
It is also used for the district where lodges are gathered.
Example: “The orient of Paris”.
Progress and the “perfection of humanity”
These notions are written into the Constitution of the Grande Loge de France (1st chapter). They constitute the objectives to be achieved. To do this, the Grande Loge de France offers a process attached to the basis of this progress, the man himself. By acting with rigour, energy and will each man becomes free, responsible and respectful of himself and others; he is then in a position to contribute to the “progressive and peaceful emancipation of humanity”, the invitation to do which features in the form of the fundamental texts of the Grande Loge de France.
Question for study in the Lodges
Question for study in the Lodges
An annual theme for reflection on which the Brethren of the Obedience work. It is chosen with reference to the humanistic and spiritual commitments of the Grande Loge de France.
The Questions for study in the Lodges are generally on the following themes:
the dialogue between cultures and spiritualities
the link between humanism and spirituality
the practice of a non-religious spirituality
the relations between scientific progress and the ethical approach
the evolution of cultures and civilisations
the construction of the self, the construction of the world
knowledge and awareness of the self
intellectual, moral and spiritual progress
and so on.
The reflections are the subject of a report given at the general assembly, and in certain cases they are sent on to the civil authorities who may use them in their own reflection on similar themes.
Religions – Rite - Ritual
The Grande Loge de France respects the principle of secularism and does not entertain official relations with religions, to which it professes rigorous neutrality.
It respects all religions which themselves respect the free choice of the human person and his integrity, excluding all degrees of fundamentalism.
It nevertheless has unofficial relations with representatives of religions which profess due measure and moderation in the affirmation of their convictions and it judges desirable to entertain these relations because of the importance of religion in our societies.
The Brethren are held to no obligations in this domain: they may be believers or non-believers and no particular conviction is required on their part, but to respect the sensitivity and freedom of each person, they must refrain from proselytising their own convictions in the lodges.
The basis of the identity of an obedience and the framework for its initiatory functioning.
It includes all of the fundamental concepts and symbolic practices that organise and rule the work in the lodges, giving it its sense. By reference to a “common core” of symbols (square, compass etc.) several Masonic rites have been elaborated over the centuries, which have sufficient differences between each other not to be confused.
The lodges of the Grande Loge de France practise a single rite, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, so called in reference to its origins.
It is the most widely followed rite in the world.
The essentials of its fundamentals feature in the Declaration of the Principles of the Grande Loge de France (see this page).
It leaves to each individual the total freedom of his religious and citizen’s conscience, and obliges nobody to believe or not to believe in a divinity, and respects all sensitivities and philosophical, moral, spiritual and religious forms of thought that themselves respect the freedom of conscience of human beings. This freedom, attached to ethical and spiritual values, is at the heart of the conduct of the Grande Loge de France.
This is the practical manifestation of the fundamentals of the Rite, founded on practice and symbolic reflection, with the aim of the personal progress of each initiate, and should not be confused with the Rite itself.
Although the terms are semantically related, there is no question of religious worship, from which it is far removed, and it makes no reference to any particular religious faith.
Volume of the Sacred Law – Secularism – Spirituality – Stone – Symbols – Sword
Volume of the Sacred Law
This is used for the swearing of oaths, like the square and the compass, the three together making up the “Three Great Lights” of Masonic Tradition.
In the lodges of the Grande Loge de France, the Volume of the Sacred Law is the Bible, its texts being considered not as religious texts but as texts with an ethical and spiritual dimension opening the way to reflection without enclosing it within any particular form and inviting the practice of a traditional and personal interpretation with no reference to any particular belief (see “the Bible” and the “Declaration of the principles of the Grande Loge de France”).
Secularism as a principle of the separation of powers is a value to which the Grande Loge de France lays claim.
It refers back to the law of December 1905 introduced by the Freemasons of the time, and also features in article 2 of the Constitution of the French Republic of 1958, proclaiming that the state will subsidise no form of worship, leaving the individual freedom of conscience.
This secularism is open, with both believers and non-believers being welcomed , and required of each person to respect the freedom of conscience of all.
Spirituality is the activity of the human mind when it is engaged in the kind of thinking that is not accessible by the tools of rational knowledge and which generally is of metaphysical or religious nature. The masonic symbols are among the tools necessary to enter into this domain.
But unlike other approaches, claiming either an aggressive anti-clericalism or on the other hand the respect of a particular religious practice, the spirituality proposed in the Grande Loge de France refers to no particular religious or anti-religious persuasion, and considers that this domain belongs to the freedom of conscience of each individual.
On the other hand, this spirituality fosters reconciliation between human beings, beyond their beliefs, considering that while respecting the differences between cultures and civilisations, the most important thing is to bring them together in a common concern for dignity and respect of their freedom and physical, mental, intellectual, moral, and spiritual integrity.
The practice of this spirituality is therefore naturally associated with a humanistic dimension, a duality that characterises the initiatory process of the Grande Loge de France.
By being both spiritual and humanistic it is able to foster the idea of human dignity and an active and responsible respect for others and for nature, and to reject the reduction of these ideals to a single economic or ideological statute from contemporary materialism.
In the symbolic sense: any Mason (and any human being) who works on himself is considered as a “stone” to be
rough-hewn and finished to achieve his endeavour, the human being during transformation being considered in this way. The saying “bring one’s stone to the edifice” has this symbolic sense.
These are the tools or supports for initiatory reflection: concrete signs calling up a multitude of intellectual, moral and spiritual meanings that are beyond the mere language of concepts and intellectual rationality.
They frequently evoke a metaphorical or allegorical interpretation.
By their use, an aptitude to enrich the way human and natural reality is perceived can be developed, combining complex and sometimes contradictory aspects; and from there to seek conciliatory solutions beyond the simple binary approach of man and nature, making of the differences a new form.
At the Grande Loge de France, the use of these symbols is directed toward the progress of members in knowledge and conscience.
As an example:
The gavel and chisel are symbols of construction
The square and the compass are symbols of the rectitude and openness of the mind.
A symbol of the spiritual authority of the Worshipful Master. It is associated with the mallet gavel, which symbolises his temporal power of administration and management.
Temple – Tolerance – Tools – Tradition – Truth – Tyled meeting
A rectangular room decorated with Masonic symbols, it is the workplace of Freemasons, and as such is neither a sanctuary nor a place of worship, despite the confusing terminology.
Its setting and ambience encourage intellectual, moral and spiritual reflection.
The Masonic Temples are open to the public during certain public occasions (conferences, ceremionies etc.).
The fundamental virtue of Masonic morality, characterised by an attitude of acceptance of individual, ethnic, cultural etc. differences, allowing each the possibility of promoting his ideas and his vision if the world, and only demanding for each the respect due to all.
It therefore refuses both any ideological or religious fanaticism or dogmatism that wish to impose their truth on others, and the laxity that is the acceptance of all values, even those in contradiction with the respect and the dignity of human beings.
The gavel, the chisel, the square, the compass, the ruler, the level ... these are all symbolic tools (see symbol) that must be applied to self-endeavour as part of a pedagogical relation with the members of the lodge. Through this reflection, associating rationality and spirituality, intelligence and sensitivity, there comes a deepening of self-knowledge and knowledge of others, and the encouragement to turn into action a desire for the positive transformation of oneself and the world. They are always present in the Temple (q.v.)
As both an act of transmission and a body of moral and spiritual values, it arises from a current of knowledge and wisdom springing from rich and varied cultural sources. It sets up man as a being able to construct himself according to values handed on within initiatory experience. It can also be considered as a heritage of culture and civilisation.
In this act of transmission, each Mason gives to those who follow him a vision of the man, a passion for mastery and a faith in the ability of human beings to build the future that they themselves will experience in their initiatory process.
There is a distinction to be made between the Truth of knowledge and the Truth of acts.
The former concerns the description of reality as being “in conformity with the thing (things in nature, living things, etc.) that it describes”. This is one of the great problems of human thought, which today still has no definitive solution, but is one that the Masons of the Grande Loge de France like to confront.
The latter concerns the conformity of the acts of each individual in relation to the motal values that he claims for himself.
These two dimensions are brought together in the initiation, where they are made the subject of a quest and not of a definitive conquest.
To achieve this, the Masons of the Grande Loge de France exercise a constructive scepticism encouraging them to admit no hindrance or limit in this search, which thus remains a permanent search.
This is the term used for ritual Masonic meetings. They are governed by precise and codified texts and acts, according to a precise order. In the Grande Loge de France, they have nothing to do with a liturgy or religious worship, nor with simple work meetings such as take place in everyday life.
The desire for a human dimension that goes beyond mere culture or civilisation toward a vaster opening in which the human being is characterised as springing from the “unity of mankind”, without being referred to a particular origin, culture or civilisation.
The Freemasons of the 18th and 19th centuries wanted to adopt the idea of a “Universal Republic of Mankind”, but the project quickly sank out of sight in the context of the economic and military conflicts of the time, and the necessary and natural affirmation of the identity of human cultures.
Though the concept appears today to be threatened by what some call the “shock of civilisations”, it nevertheless remains a current issue and orients some of the efforts of the Freemasons who both respect the originality of each culture and who desire to contribute to the spreading throughout the world of the the principle of the unity of mankind, universal respect being conditional on respect for human diversity.