The Freemasonry of Charles Leadbeater

You may have read it within these pages. In the early days of Le Droit Humain (so: in the early days of mixed gender Freemasonry and its derivatives) Charles Leadbeater and Annie Besant, two leading Theosophists, aligned with Le Droit Humain and reformed it. This reformation did not last, but this duo certainly had a big hand in the explosive growth of Le Droit Humain in the early days and they wrote rituals for the lodges that they founded.

These Theosophical rituals have and had a variety of names. Examples are “Sydney Workings”, “Annie Besant Concord”, “Dharma Workings”, “Lauderdale”, “Besant / Leadbeater” or “English” (the latter because the rituals were based on British rituals).
None of that is very important for the present article, but what were and are the differences in the rituals and how was the Freemasonry of Leadbeater different from other kinds of Freemasonry? First I want to give a little bit of history.

Annie Besant was initiated in France in 1902 in the (atheistic) ritual of Georges Martin. Later that year she installed the first British lodge in London and she was installed as “Right Worshipful Master”. During the installation most likely the “Scottish Workings Of Craft Masonry” were used. Two years later Besant went to India were she combined the Scottish ritual and Georges Martin’s ritual to the so called “Dharma Workings of Craft Masonry“.

Leadbeater was touring the world to give Theosophical lectures. When in Australia in 1915 he was approached by James Wedgwood (himself initiated in 1910) who was working on the rituals. The two claimed to have consulted 52 “Craft rituals” for their update. This resulted in the “Sydney Workings” which were published in 1916. Leadbeater was so inspired that he was initiated himself in Sydney Lodge no.404 in July 1915. Wedgwood, who was Grand Secretary of the British federation and hence a visitor in Australia, got the honour to lead the initiation of Leadbeater. Leadbeater was passed and raised the same day. Leadbeater like Australia and stayed there. He even was elected to sit in the East a year later. He would remain in Australia until 1929 (81 years of age). He would come back to visit a couple of times the next years.

In 1913 in England the third edition of the “Dharma Workings” were published. They contain elements that became typical for ‘Theososophical rituals’ such as incense during the opening, a procession. Since Leadbeater was only approached to help to revise the rituals in the next year, this incense ceremony can’t come from him. He did (help to) revise the Sydney rituals a few times wither with Wedgwood or with Besant. Leadbeater claimed to be in contact with the “head of all true Freemasons” one of whoms names is the Count of Saint Germain. He guided Leadbeater in the revisions.

Let me start with a few ‘ritual differences’. The arrangement of the lodge differs from one rite to the next. People familiar with Emulation may not be surprised by an empty chair in the North or an officer sitting in the South, but other Masons just may be.
A bigger difference is the ‘dress-code’. White clothing, robes even sometimes, is still the norm in many lodges working some of the Theosophical rites. There seems to have been a time that some sort of hoods were worn.
People not used to Theosophical rituals will have at least two more surprises. First, there is singing in the lodge, second, the opening involves a lengthy ceremony with incense.

So far the outer differences (feel free to complement me using the comment field below).

Leadbeater wrote a lot, but it seems that his bibliography contains just two books about Freemasonry, both published in 1926. The first is called Glimpses of Masonic History (later:  Ancient Mystic Rites). The second The Hidden Life in Freemasonry

The first book, as the title suggests, is a history of Freemasonry. In the last chapter the author touches upon “the co-Masonic order”. As we see more in those days, Leadbeater wrote an esoteric history of Freemasonry describing all kinds of mysteries.
The second title I recently picked up because I ran into a quote from it and decided to check the context. The book is very Theosophical. You can read about “thought forms”, “chakras”, “kundalini”, the ‘Great White Lodge” and whatnot. Of course Leadbeater also writes about Masonic ritual and elements therefrom. The temple, furniture, functionaries, the opening and closing, etc., etc. That is -of course- one thing, but here we actually have a book of a person who wrote Masonic rituals and and this book explains why certain things are the way they are. You can read why Leadbeater added the incence opening and why he left the Q&A at the opening. No matter what you think of such elements, it is interesting to read the ‘how’s and ‘why’s of the author himself.

Then there are the explanations themselves. To stick with the censing; the order of the places and the forms in which the container is swung is extremely particular and Leadbeater says why. He also writes about how he clairvoyantly sees ‘beings’ over the heads of officers and how they become active when the officer has a task in an open lodge. Leadbeater speaks about magnetising the lodge and how hard work this is when other people present don’t understand what is going on. Indeed, a rather ‘fluffy’ explanation of Freemasonry, but of course, each to his/her own.

More common elements that Leadbeater explains certainly can give food for though. He -for example- connects the different officers to parts of the body, such as the astral body (J.D.) or the lower mind (S.D.). During the opening the O.G. (physical body) has to see to it that the temple of the human body is not polluted with elements that should not be in there. The I.D. (etheric double) has to guard against impure thoughts, etc. This gives an idea of how the proceedings during the opening, are a reflection of what is to happen within the members present themselves. Also practical things that are not given much thought usually are explained, like why the feet are the way they are in the different degrees, why the signs are the way they are, etc.

Leadbeater is more than once ‘too Theosophical’ for me, but he certainly gets me thinking every now and then. Besides, and in repetition, it is interesting to read how and why elements got to make part of the rituals that Leadbeater co-authored.

Therefor I think this book will be particularly interesting for members working in any of the Leadbeater(-derived) rituals, but since many elements are the same in other lodges, a (much) different look on what we are doing never hurts, does it?

The author uses a lot of abbreviations, which sometimes make too much of a puzzle to me.

An interesting read up is the “independent Theososophical magazine” Light of Luxor which has one issue dedicated to Leadbeater (biography and some of his lectures). It can be read as PDF here.


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