I truly hate this picture...
One persons fringe is another's centre and working within an area that is shrouded in mystery, like Freemasonry, can be especially difficult to understand for people who do not have a working understanding of the relationships between organisations.
The purpose of this post is to try to work on improving the readers understanding of 'recognition' and the relationship between 'Masonic', 'Appendant Bodies' and 'Quasi-Masonic/ Fringe Orders'.
First it is essential to emphasis (again and again) that there is no degree higher in Freemasonry than the 3rd, the Master Mason. There is rank and recognition of experience in the form of the Past Master who has been the Master of a Lodge. In some constitutions there is a 'Board of Installed Masters' which is convened at the Installation of a Master in the Chair of a Lodge, but this is not an additional Degree in the Masonic sense. I will be using the designation Lodge Freemasonry and Grand Lodge Freemasonry to identify "Blue Lodge", "ordinary Freemasonry". ( I know I have been using lots of quotation marks, it makes it easier, so sorry).
Usually 'mainstream' Lodge Freemasonry is decided by recognition by the United Grand Lodge of England. This is the easiest and most visible sigh of Lodge Masonry normality. The Grand Lodge of Western Australia for example is recognised by the UGLE and enjoys recognition from all of the bodies around the world that also find themselves in a positive relationship with the UGLE. There are exceptions and there is an alternate group of Grand Lodges arranged around the Grand Orient of France (yes this is simplistic and grossly reduced to mud map status, but this is not an academic paper, it's a blog). Many of these Grand Lodges do not require a belief in God or may accept women members. This means they are not 'recognised' by the UGLE due to these differences. This system is not perfect for example, in my opinion, the Grand Orient of Italy has been poorly treated by the UGLE and many of the 'Regular' Grand Lodges. The GOI still adheres to all of the Ancient Landmarks but were de-recognised in the 1980's due to the P2 scandal and associated issues.
These Grand bodies oversee the activities of Lodges and give them their legitimacy with a Warrant and Constitution.
Any other Degree received by a Freemason is usually from what is called an Appendant Body. Membership of these organisations usually have certain Masonic prerequisites, such as being a Master Mason or a Past Master for instance.
It is VITAL to understand that the rank achieved in the Appendant Bodies has NO IMPACT OR INFLUENCE in Lodge Freemasonry. A Grand Officer in an Appendant Body has no rank in Grand Lodge created by the Appendant Body rank (obviously they may have Grand Rank they have earned through service to the Lodge and Grand Lodge) and are considered to be ordinary general members of the Lodge. Other members of their Lodge who are members of the Appendant Body that they have received the high rank in may treat them with more respect, but it depends on the individual.
Now the vaunted 33rd Degree that conspiracy theorists are so fond of spruiking as the 'secret masters' of Freemasonry with the 'real secrets' have no real pull or influence in Lodge Freemasonry. Their 33rd degree is in the Antient and Accepted Scottish Rite and only influences members of that Appendant Order and usually only at their meetings. A 33rd could tell me what to do in Lodge Freemasonry, and if I outranked him I could ignore the instruction, but at an AASR meeting, I'd be following his reasonable request.
Masonic and Appendant Body ranks only work in relation to Masonic and Appendant Body activities. I would not expect to be told by a superior to sell my house or do certain activities outside of the Masonic or Appendant Body sphere. I would be more than happy to follow his instruction on a ritual matter, how to walk or where to stand during a degree for example.
There are many Appendant Bodies to be found in the Masonic sphere, anything from Secret Masters to Masonic Knights Templar, and the rank that they achieve is only relevant to that organisation. Some of the organisations are very different to Lodge Freemasonry in that they restrict membership to certain faiths. Christian Orders are prevalent in the Appendant Orders and some Orders restrict membership to Trinitarian Christians. I am a member of one such Appendant Order and I feel it fits the Degree work and the purpose of the Appendant Order to remain as such.
This brings me to 'Quasi/Fringe Masonry' (QFM). This includes organisations that may ignore the traditional prerequisites for Freemasons to be Men and believe in G-d. These orders are such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Co-Masonry, Feminine Freemasonry and countless other Organisations working under the radar. Many of these organisations have a mystical or magical focus and may contain both sexes for balance. These are unusual and may head too far into the occult for normal everyday members of Freemasonry. I am not saying they are wrong, just not right for everyone. Often these organisation have a specific religious focus and may have specific magical/esoteric/occult goals.
Feminine Freemasonry and Co-Masonry allow female and male members and only women to participate in Masonic Activity.
This is only a brief sketch to ensure that I get the major points across.
1. There is no higher degree in Lodge Masonry than the Third, or Master Mason Degree
2. Appendant Bodies may be recognised by Lodge Masonry and linked to it via mutual membership, but they have no official influence on each other.
3. Mystical, Magical and mixed gender is not 'normal' for mainstream Freemasonry.