Theosophy and co-Masonry

Some people think that co-Masonry is a Theosophical pet-project. This is far from true.

In 1893 Georges Martin and Marie Deraismes founded what was to become “International Order of Freemasonry for Men and Women, LE DROIT HUMAIN”. Martin and Deraismes were not Theosophists. Actually, Martin had two problems with Freemasonry: the exclusion of women and the presence of the Bible. In the new organisation women were included and the Bible excluded.

Le Droit Humain grew in France on this basis, but after a few years the growth was not what Martin had hoped and the organisation didn’t really reach other countries.

This changed drastically when Martin (Deraismes had since passed away) got in contact with Annie Besant who was looking to ad a ritualistic side to Theosophy. Besant only wanted to cooperate if she could use another ritual which did include a Bible and a Grand Architect. She based her rituals on a British one.

Under Besant, Le Droit Humain exploded. She (helped) found(ed) literally hundreds of lodges all over the world. Everywhere where Besant or her followers had a finger in the foundation of lodges, the Besant rituals were used. These were later made even more Theosophical by Charles Leadbeater and James Wedgwood.

Fairly soon, a reaction followed. For example, almost immediately after helping to found a Dutch section of co-Masonry, Henri van Ginkel (who was initiated by Besant) started to rewrite Besant’s rituals to make them more according to the rituals of the Grand Orient of the Netherlands (‘regular’ men-only Freemasonry). When he tried to impose his non-Theosophical ritual on the existing lodges, three split off to form their own Grand Lodge (1918) in order to be able to keep using the Theosophical rituals. The rest of the Dutch federation started to use the non-Theosophical rituals.

The Supreme Council in Paris was on a similar track as Van Ginkel and also tried to replace the Theosophical rituals by non-Theosophical rituals in all their federations. In several countries, this led to schisms. Ironically, in most federations, years later the rituals would be re-introduced but lodges using these Theosophical rituals are often a minority.

Another minority (but a growing one) are lodges that used rituals based on those of Georges Martin.

There are also countries with a different history altogether. In Belgium, for example, not Besant set off Le Droit Humain, but Freemasons from the Grand Orient of Belgium, an ‘irregular’ Grand Lodge that was the first to skip the requirement of the belief in ‘something higher’. Naturally, their rituals were more akin to those of Georges Martin, hence, without Bible and GAOTU. In Belgium, Theosophy didn’t really get a hold of co-Masonry.

Within the different federations of Le Droit Humain, in their split-offs and in other mixed gender Masonic organisations, a bewildering number of rituals are used. Less than half of these are very or slightly Theosophical. As mentioned, in many federations lodges that use these rituals are minorities too. It is therefor unfair to say that co-Masonry is nowadays Theosophical. As a matter of fact, almost for an entire century, the majority of lodges have been non-Theosophical.

So which are the ‘original’ rituals of Le Droit Humain? I wonder if that’s even a relevant question. The first were those of Martin. Those of Besant were shortly the most used. Of either of these, new versions have been created to accustom lodges in specific countries or areas. Many of these ultimately go back to the rituals of Annie Besant.

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