Answering a question about mixed gender Freemasonry in Denmark, a Dutch freemason mentioned the Maria Ordenen. Never having heard of it, the world wide web was consulted to see what this order could be. It proves to be a fairly big order in Scandinavia and a little abroad with 41 lodges in Norway, 15 in Sweden, 6 in Denmark, 1 in Iceland, 2 in Finland and 2 in Germany with a number 7500 members. If this is true, a lodge has well over 100 members.
Information is (naturally) mostly available in Scandinavian languages, but in in Google translation, the Norwegian Wikipedia page is quite informative.
The order was founded in 1916 in Norway by Dagny Kristensen who led the order for almost 40 years. The name refers to the many Marias mentioned in the Bible and elsewhere. The order would be even more secretive than Freemasonry, since not only member lists are not public, but neither are the by-laws, but recently the ordered has opened up a bit. The order operates “close to Freemasonry”, probably meaning that they use their buildings and that many members are wives of Freemasons. Just as a large part of Scandinavian Freemasonry, the Maria Ordenen requires a belief in God of its members. They also have to be at least 25 years of age.
There is a seven grade system and the symbolism is more focused on the woman.
It all sounds a bit like the order of the Weavers in Netherlands who also operate “closely to Freemasonry”, with a similar structure, but with different symbolism.
Are there more countries with such initiatives?