I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore,
and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary,
whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
The Confederation project seeks to imagine the practical organisation of relations between all Masonic obediences in a way that excludes any:
- Struggles for power,
- Domination of one movement by another,
- Attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of obediences.
The creation and establishment of the Confederation would not change the present-day state of obediences (as the United Nations does not alter Member States), or any of their mutual relations, provided they have been built by consent.
On the other hand, the Confederation enables Freemasonry to evolve with brotherly exchanges and the collaboration of all obediences in keeping with their diversity.
The States which were often enemies have founded the Organization of the United Nations. Freemasons has never waged a war: they have to be able create a 'World Federation.
As it is structured, the project does not require any hindering bureaucracy or administration.
The present Confederation proposal is merely a theoretical model. Will this ''machine'' be built? Will it fly, or at least be able to crawl? Its future depends on the sincerity of the Masonic Brotherhood and the dedication of its obediences.
Sign The Call so that they can start moving forward.
The Call to Bratislava is a symbolic gesture. The purpose is not the creation of a new "super-obedience", rather the acknowledgement of the necessity for an all-inclusive dialogue, as well as the creation of an environment where it can occur.
1. Meeting the needs of our time
Modern Freemasonry came into being during The Age of Enlightenment, an era of profound change in Western civilisation and the world. Its founders, including several prominent scientists, understood the need to assimilate the knowledge of earlier centuries and therein found inspiration to contribute to building a new civilisation.
As part of their contribution, they decided to combine their lodges and remake their initiation procedures together. The men were inspired by the legacy of English and Scottish Freemasonry, French and German builders, other cultural icons, earlier civilisations and the writings of the Czech philosopher, Comenius. All were examined through the prism of the founders’ own beliefs and convictions: religious, moral, social, political, as well as their own research within the Royal Academy of Sciences. Their work culminated in a kind of encyclopaedia of knowledge of mankind, drafted in a condensed and coded form of rites and symbols. The four lodges in London did not remain faithful copies of their Middle Ages ancestors, instead opting to evolve in step with the times.
Today, humanity has entered into another period of radical change, one spanning the entire planet and even more complex than during The Age of Enlightenment. Scientists – not just philosophers and other intellectuals – no longer have a unified vision of the world and the universe. Consequently, in all areas, only freedom of thought and diversity in approaches allow holding on to the hope that humanity will meet the challenges caused by environmental issues, demographic constraints and globalisation. The bearers of this hope must be able to communicate among themselves.
Freemasonry seeks unity. The unity of man with what is beyond of him, and vice versa. Hermes Trismegistus wrote on his Emerald Tablet: That which is above is the same as that which is below, to achieve the wonders of the One. The need for such a feeling of belonging in the contemporary world does not contradict this ancient goal of initiation; it just illuminates it from a different angle.
The history of modern Freemasonry itself argues for the diversity of obediences and their reunification.
2. Proposed method
The Confederation project, to be discussed further below, tries to imagine an organisation that allows all obediences to better understand each other and to communicate as equals, then take part in building a bridge that connects them.
The first condition for success in this attempt is not to prejudge the authenticity of this or that obedience, but to accept the evidence that Freemasonry has changed over the centuries and continues to do so.1 While often criticised, the multiplicity of Freemasonry may instead be regarded as positive. It promotes diversity in intellectual approaches, which, like biodiversity, is necessary to safeguard life on earth.
If, at some point in the future, by knowing each other better and respecting each other more, the majority of all obediences’ members come to the conclusion that, on balance, we must develop a new single form of Freemasonry that is shared by all, then why not? But that is not the purpose of this project. At this point in time, "unity in diversity" is a valuable asset to build upon and preserve.
The Confederation project is not the first attempt to bridge the gap between the Masonic obediences. Most previous attempts failed after giving in to the urge to tip the scales in favour of one obedience or another. This does not work. And no inter-obedience associations have managed to become universal.
Political opponents in democracies have found a way to compete while still showing respect to one another. Churches are resigned to cohabitation without abandoning their individuality. It is time that Freemasons also learn to collaborate in the diversity of their movements.
3. Description of the Confederation
The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.
Fear the reader of only one book!
a) Background and fundamental rules
- After entering into Confederation, all obediences shall retain their current forms and continue to follow their paths within the framework of their own organisations.
- All obediences joining shall accept the basic principle of the Confederation, which is respect for other obediences and a willingness to work with them towards Masonic initiation in the fraternal spirit, following the rules described below. 2 The obediences renounce the opportunity to ''excommunicate'' other joining obediences. If a member betrays the fundamental principles and practices of Freemasonry, it may be excluded only through the mutual agreement of all other obediences, or at least a great majority of them.
- The Confederation and its leadership shall not interfere in the operations of obediences and member lodges.
- The Confederation must accept the principle that Brothers and Sisters are free to ''visit'' the lodges of all joining obediences during their rites work, among other means to achieve its objectives, as described further on.
- Each lodge, however, maintains the right to determine by secret ballot, renewable every three years, if it opens all of its Meetings or only some, at a minimum of one time per year. It will publish its decision on the convening of its Assemblies. The lodge’s internal rules state the conditions for future speaking roles of visitors.3
Even in the extreme case where all of the lodges of an obedience decide to remain closed, all of their Meetings, with the exception of one per year, and that of some members, or even all other obediences affiliated with the Confederation, cannot go against the principle of mutual respect for its members and a willingness to join in the fraternal spirit at the Confederation level. Under this condition, it is conceivable that a lodge decides to work only with those members, and it will not be understood like an expression of hostility or contempt vis-à-vis others.
b) Creation of the Confederation
The first step towards building the Confederation will take place through preliminary discussions with the Grand Masters (Presidents) of the two Freemasonry streams’ major obediences that agree with the thoughts cited above. They incur no liability towards obediences that decide to join the Confederation during later their General Assemblies.
These contacts will be made without waiting to establish a general consensus for the Confederation. After preliminary discussions, the leaders may decide to invite representatives of other Masonic powers, whose participation is not binding on their obediences.
If, at the end of these preparatory Assemblies, the representatives agree to found the Committee of Grand Masters as described below, they will ask their obediences for permission to participate.4
The Confederation will include all Masonic obediences in the world that accept its principles and rules and are eligible under the following criteria:
- All obediences created under the auspices of one or more other Masonic obediences and are recognised by at least 33 obediences in three or more states.
- Obediences in existence for more than a century need only satisfy the second recognition condition.
- This rule will subsequently be subject to a Committee decision (see below) that sets forth the terms of admission for obediences lacking the precedence to meet according to the rules above.5
Given the Confederation’s objectives and the fact that its leadership has neither the intention nor the ability to interfere with the operations of the obediences, all of them, regardless of their size, will be represented in its governing body by the same number of delegates. Far more than being the place where decisions are made (that role is devolved to Confederation General Assembly), these groups will promote mutual knowledge and understanding of their members.
Photo Tomasz Mickolajczyk
The Committee of Grand Masters and the Research Council
The Confederation is directed by the Committee, composed of the Grand Masters (Presidents) in power of all member obediences.6
The Committee is charged with the following tasks:
- Establish the rules for its Assemblies,
- Put forward operating principles and rules for the Confederation and its administration,
- Define the logistical arrangements of the Constituent Assembly and Confederation General Assembly,
- Seeking funding sources for the Confederation,
- Form the first Research Council, which will thereafter be appointed by the obediences,
- Convene the Confederation Constituent Assembly, then the General Assembly,
- Organise and facilitate Confederation General Assemblies,
- Make admissions decisions regarding new obediences,
- Recommend the exclusion of members who do not follow Confederation principles and rules,
- Maintain relationships with obediences that do not belong to the Confederation.
The Committee has the following rights:
After having formed and convened the Confederation Constituent Assembly, Committee members will be entitled to participate in all of the member lodges’ rites work, regardless of their belonging to one or another lodge, and the lodges cannot oppose their participation.
When working with any obedience other than their own, as well as during Confederation Assemblies, they shall sit in the Orient, wearing their aprons and Masonic dignitaries cords decorated with a symbol representing Committee membership.
They will be entitled to speak in the lodges during any discussion of the Confederation, and only on this occasion. This right remains valid even if a lodge is not accustomed to receiving visitors in its Temple from an obedience to which the Grand Master in question belongs, or if it does not allow responses from visitors.7
The Research Council
The Committee shall form the Research Council by choosing three Masters from each obedience who will participate in a study of their principles, rites and modes of operation.
The Council shall set forth the procedures for its Assemblies.
While working to create the Confederation, the Council will study obediences that have granted their Grand Masters the right to participate in the first Committee and will share its findings in the Constituent Assembly. Subsequently, it will study Confederation member obediences.
During the Constituent Assembly, each obedience may show its approval by nominating its first delegates, or replacing them with three other Masters qualified in relation to their task. They shall be appointed following the rules for the selection of its dignitaries.
The term for Researchers is six years, renewable under the same terms.
If an obedience deems it necessary to remove one of its Council representatives before the end of his term and replace him with another Master, it may do so in consultation with the Committee and after receiving its approval.
The Council is charged with the following tasks:
- Assist the Committee in its work by offering advice,
- Research the nature and Masonic practices of Confederation members,8
- Evaluate the Confederation operating rules proposed by the Committee, to which the Council will forward its comments, from a historical and Masonic point of view,
- Monitor the Confederation administration’s compliance with its Masonic character and send its observations to the Committee,
- Prepare the ritual to be used during the first Assembly of elected obedience representatives.
The Council shall be guided by the Anderson Constitution of 1723 and commonalities of existing rites, while ignoring the principles and rules that currently divide Freemasons. This ritual shall not express any religious belief or form of discrimination, since doing so would be contrary to the spirit of brotherhood. It is understood that the obediences themselves may continue to require their members have faith in a principle Creator, if that is their custom.9
Taking into account the goals and content of the Confederation Assemblies, this ritual shall facilitate and encourage a fraternal exchange of opinions between the Brother and Sister delegates and ensure democratic decision-making.
The Council will discuss the ritual with the Committee, which shall then approve the final form.10
The Council has the following rights:
From the Constituent Assembly of the Confederation, the Council has the same rights of entry to all lodges as the Committee, but its members will attend as observers and may not intervene in the work in any way.
Being neutral, they shall not wear any symbol of the obediences to which they belong. They may wear long robes, knotted at the waist with a rope with 12 knots symbolising brotherhood and the will to rise. If the Council and the Committee considers it appropriate, they may cover their heads with hoods.11
e) Confederation assemblies
Image: Gerard, Pixabay
Confederation Assemblies serve ''to discover the mystery of existence'' and ''the study of man's place in society in the spirit of universal brotherhood".12
Frequency of Assemblies
The Committee shall convene the Constituent Assembly of the Confederation after completing its preparatory work and that of the Council.
Each obedience shall be represented by nine delegates selected following the usual rules for choosing representatives.
The Committee shall inform delegates of its work and submit for their vote the terms of organisation of the first three Confederation General Assemblies.
The Committee report and vote count shall be made available to all member obediences’ lodges.
The Council representative shall report on the activities of the latter and explain why its members believe that creation of the Confederation is consistent with the history and values of Freemasonry.
The representative’s report shall also be made available to all member obediences’ lodges.
Three years after this Constituent Assembly, the Committee shall convene a General Assembly.
The Committee shall inform the delegates of its work.
Each Committee member shall present a brief spoken or written report on his obedience’s activity. The Assembly shall not act on these reports. It may choose to make these reports, or a written summary of all the work in progress, available to all obediences’ lodges.
One of the Committee members shall inform the Assembly of his contacts with other Masonic powers, which, without being part of the Confederation, maintain Brotherly relations with it. He shall also report on any other obedience’s hostile behaviour.
The Council representative shall report on Council activities and present his views on the Confederation’s nature of initiation, philosophical perspective and charitable activities. He may issue warnings against actions contrary to its rules without naming the offenders. The Assembly shall not act on such information but may decide to prepare a written summary of all the work in progress for the lodges of all obediences.
Five years after the Constituent Assembly, the Committee shall convene the second General Assembly, which shall hear the following reports:
- Committee report on its work.
- Brief reports from Committee members on the work of their obediences.13 The Assembly shall discuss these issues, without voting. A written summary of all the work in progress shall be made available to all lodges in the Confederation. The lodges of each obedience shall discuss the report to the extent that it concerns them.
- Council report on the agreement between the basic rules of Freemasonry and the activity of the Confederation and its obediences. They shall issue warnings against acts contrary to its rules, without naming the offenders. The Assembly shall discuss these issues, without voting. A written summary shall be made available to all lodges in the Confederation.
- Committee report on its contacts with Masonic powers outside of the Confederation. The Committee shall present Confederation candidate obediences and may recommend the exclusion of some of its members. The Assembly shall decide by voting.
From this Confederation Assembly, the Committee and the Council may recommend to the obediences:
- Work issues to which all of the lodges are invited, but are not obliged, to take part,
- Organisation of Confederation public events.
These proposals will be carried out only if the majority of obediences approve them and if no obedience vetoes a proposal. Obediences may abstain during votes.
A written summary of all work in progress shall be made available to the lodges of all obediences.
Seven years after the Confederation Constituent Assembly, the Committee shall convene the third General Assembly that shall hear the four reports of the Committee and the Council, as in the previous Assembly, and shall discuss and vote on decisions concerning the whole Confederation.
The Committee and the Council may recommend to the obediences various work issues, public events, the admission of candidate obediences or the possible exclusion of members not following the Confederation’s rules. These points will be handled under the same terms as before.
This third General Assembly shall consider, and then vote by secret ballot, on the following issues:
- The final text of the Confederation general rules,
- The final form of Confederation Assembly rites.
A written summary of all work underway shall be made available to the lodges of all obediences.
Nine years: If deemed necessary, the Committee may convene another General Assembly, which shall be in charge of resolving items left open in the preceding Assembly and/or to discuss new issues.
After seven (or nine) years, the cycle of Assemblies will be held every three years following the Assembly programme for the seventh year, as described above.
The Committee and the Council shall determine the location of Confederation General Assemblies.
Given the objectives of the Confederation, its nature and tasks assigned to its General Assembly, the meeting could and should take place in another country each time..
Obedience representation at General Assemblies
The Committee and the Council shall propose to the Constituent Assembly rules for representation of obediences for future General Assemblies. The delegates shall vote and their decisions remain valid for the first three General Assemblies.
Given the number of obediences that may comprise the Confederation, the ''one lodge, one delegate'' rule cannot be applied at General Assemblies, but this does not exclude the possibility of all lodges participating through the use of new communication technologies. In this event, some decisions might be taken following the ''one lodge, one voice'' rule.
The Committee may propose to the Constituent Assembly and the first three General Assemblies the technical means to link them to the lodges during sessions.
Upon its creation, the Confederation would be chaired by the Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, and then by his equal of the Grand Orient of France. It would subsequently alternate between an obedience "recognized" by UGLE and then one not recognized by it.
This presidency is honorary, but it would be both logical and fair to honour the oldest members.
The Constituent Assembly and the first two General Assemblies shall follow the rites and transitional rules established by the Committee and the Council.
Before the third General Assembly, these transitional rules and rites should have been discussed in Confederation member obedience lodges then enriched with their contributions. The Council shall consider and discuss them with the Committee and then draft new texts that will be voted upon by the third General Assembly.
The General Assembly will vote on their acceptance, or it may amend them, or, if necessary, remand them to the lodges for further study.
FORUM: Project feasibility World Confederation of Masonic Obediences
1However, bringing the two streams of the Masonic movement together does not imply that the Confederation must accept any group that bears the name ''Freemasonry'' without having anything in common with the European initiatory tradition: See the terms of membership outlined further on.
2This Unitarian attitude enables the collaboration of lodges of different obediences that wish to do so but refrain out of caution today.
3Most obediences maintain more or less formal relations, and even the United Grand Lodge of England today recognises feminine Masonry without admitting Sisters in its Temples. All obediences then may accept changing their principles that govern recognition of other obediences. Yet since Freemasonry lives inside the lodge and each lodge has the right to conduct its work freely without deviating from its obedience’s own rules and traditions, only the lodges can decide to what extent they are ready to open their doors to other Brothers and Sisters. The Confederation will definitely not take intervene in making this determination.
4The Grand Masters may begin exploratory talks as part of their mandate. But in order to create the Confederation, they obviously must obtain their obediences’ consent.
5This rule, limiting initial membership to recognised obediences, is intended to simplify negotiations, which clearly will be easier with only a few dozen participants than the 250 existing obediences. It also aims to avoid endless debates on the ''conformity'' of lesser known Masonic ideals and practices.
6This simple rule would prevent any ''power struggles'' to get elected.
7Committee members must participate in the work of the lodges to formulate a solid opinion of the obediences so they can describe their organisation and rules to the Confederation and defend them, if necessary.
8These studies are only theoretical during the preparatory period, without requiring the Researchers’ participation in the work of the lodges.
9At the origin of Modern Freemasonry, the expression the Great Architect of the Universe is a symbol (by Goethe, in Masonry, "everything is symbol"), but later it became a name of faith, its synonym. Some obediences accepted this change while others did not. The Confederation does not intend to intervene in this debate.
10Researchers study and advise, the Grand Masters lead.
11Council members being observers, they must be discreet. Their dress may not display any identifiers of their obediences. It is equally desirable, at least in the early days of the Confederation, to reduce the difference in perception of the masculine/feminine gender of Council members. If this recommendation is accepted, the Confederation General Assembly should approve any future changes.
12In all societies, including Masonry, initiation represents the transition from ''childhood'' to adulthood, from the individual to society, and seeks to express man’s place in the universe. All obediences accept this dual objective, even if they differ by favouring one part of the initiation process more than another.
13These reports may also be sent in advance to delegates, so more time is available for discussion.
FORUM: Project feasibility World Confederation of Masonic Obediences