The Dharma Workings of Craft Masonry

Mixed gender Freemasonry only really set off when Annie Besant (1847-1933) got involved. History has it that she told Georges Martin (1844-1916) that she would only help out the newly founded Le Droit Humain if she could replace his atheistic ritual with another one. Things appear to be not that simple.

The eminent Masonic scholar Jan Snoek (1946-) dove into the history of the rituals of the Dutch federation of Le Droit Humain. He published an article in the Bulletin (internal publication of the federation at the time) and later (2014) in the Handbook of Freemasonry with Henrik Bogdan (1972-) saying that Besant used the rituals of the Grand Lodge of Scotland as her source to write her “Dharma Workings of Craft Masonry”.

In the mentioned Bulletin Snoek writes (translated from Dutch):

It is unclear at this time exactly what ritual she used, but it does look like it was not the best-known English ritual, the Emulation Ritual. Rather, the indications point toward a Scottish ritual. For example, the Presiding Master is called “Right Worshipful Master” instead of “Worshipful Master” and the altar with the Bible (and possibly other sacred books) is placed in the center of the lodge instead of directly against the Worshipful Master’s table. A number of smaller details also follow the practice followed in Scotland. Incidentally, Annie Besant did adopt some elements from the French ritual with which she herself had been initiated. For example, there is an “Orator” instead of a “Chaplain” whose judgment is sought in various situations, and a circle of drawn swords is formed around the Candidate during the taking of the pledge which is then repeated as a sign of the protection that Freemasonry will offer the new member in the future. (Personal communication from Kevin Tingay, letter dated 26-8-1996.)

I don’t know if Snoek studied the Dutch translation and/or the original English version, but much information in the quote seems to come from Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942)’s New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. Waite compares the rituals to his own, coming with another set of differences:

The English Ritual used by Universal Co-Masonry has been printed and had reached a second edition in 1908. It is called The Dharma Working of Craft Masonry, Dharma being the title of the Lodge at Benares.

The Ceremony of the Installation of the Worshipful Master and the Investiture of Officers has also been printed.

In the Ritual of the Three Degrees the variations from our own form are at once numerous and slight, but there are also certain new things introduced.

Some of them may be tabulated as follows:

  1. The W. M. is called throughout the Right Worshipful Master, following the Scottish fashion.
  2. The rubrics are much fuller.
  3. The Entered Apprentice is taken three times round the Lodge and is brought back on each occasion to the centre.
  4. The second circumambulation is opposite to the first, or against the sun; the third is the same as the first, or with the sun.
  5. In the Second Degree, after the usual circumambulations, the Candidate is placed in the centre and passes through five stages or experiences, corresponding (1) to work on the rough stone; (2) the arts; (3) Sciences; (4) the Humanities, and (5) apparently rest after work, with the idea of work to follow.
  6. In the Third Degree the Obligation is shortened and certain significant covenants are not found, presumably because women take it. The wording also differs.
  7. The wording differs throughout in many places and some of the prayers are changed.

In 1905 a small booklet appeared in Dutch from the “Theosofische Uitgevers Maatschappij”. This publishing house is one of several names that Duwaer & Van Ginkel used, Duwaer and Van Ginkel, who were both part of the first mixed gender lodge in the Netherlands. In any case, the booklet is called Schets van de geschiedenis der Vrijmetselarij en een verslag van de vorming van den Opperraad der Algem. Gemeenschappelijke Vrijmetselarij and subtitled Verhandeling van de Dharma loge te Benares. Voor Nederland bewerkt door H.J. van Ginkel. That’s a mouth full. There is also an English version of this text (that I don’t have). The Dutch version is probably a translation.
A discourse on the history of Freemasonry and a report of the formation of the Supreme Council (of Le Droit Humain), held for the Dharma lodge in Benares, India. It doesn’t say who held the talk, but there is a big chance that it was Annie Besant. In it is mentioned (translated from Dutch):

It is perhaps advisable, to announce here in passing, that the authoritative rites of all the lodges within British and Dutch territory, are those of the Scottish Fraternity, originally belonging to the “Grand Lodge of Scotland.” Although to some extent different from the French Ritual, it nevertheless shows a close resemblance to the rites prescribed by the Grand Lodge of England and these were adopted, with some modifications, as more suitable to the intentions, in order to relate more closely to the order of Freemasonry, with which the Co-Freemasonry on English territory was likely to come into contact

So Besant (but why does she mention the Dutch territory?) confirms that a ritual was taken from the Grand Lodge of Scotland. This doesn’t say which ritual of the GLoS though, as they have several.

When comparing “Dharma” with “The Scottish Workings of Craft Masonry”, there are remarkable similarities, but also noticeable differences. More about that below.

The full title of the “Dharma” ritual is “The Dharma Workings of Craft Masonry” which sounds a lot like “Scottish Workings of Craft Masonry”. There are also pretty similar “Complete Workings of Craft Freemasonry” from England, but Besant opted for “Craft Masonry” rather then “Craft Freemasonry” and -as mentioned- a “Right Worshipful Master”.

Besant was initiated with the rituals that Georges Martin had written and it would be odd if she had not used them for inspiration. We’ll get back to that.

I had to search long and hard to find Besant’s text. This is odd. If Besant used it to found dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of lodges, why is it so hard to find it? In the end, I found it (online!) in the library of the University of Manchester (which has a few more things concerning the British federation).

The library has an entry with the year “19??” and an online version with 1919. The latter can’t be correct. Safe the language, the booklet looks exactly like the Dutch printing. This printing also isn’t dated, but I can make a good guess of the time of printing, see later. The printers of the English and Dutch editions are the same, while the 2nd and 3rd English edition2 of 1908 and 1913 was printed by two British printers. Just see these examples (English left, Dutch right):

Besant and others initiated the first Dutch co-Masons in 1904. In 1905 the first lodge (called “Cazotte”) was founded. Two of the people that were initiated were also book publishers and translators. One of them (Johannes Duwaer (1869-1944)) published his Masonic memoirs in the third issue of the Dutch Bulletin of 1933. He has the names of those initiated and those present and then he says:

The attributes were purchased and the Ritual used in England was translated; both the English and Dutch Ritual were printed at the Duwaer and Van Ginkel printing office.

The Dutch translation of the first degree finds its way to the second hand market every so often. This findability is lower for the second and third degrees, but I have copies of them as well. The English versions are harder to find. They are not in the archives of the Dutch federation of Le Droit Humain even though they printed the first edition themselves and even the British federation doesn’t seem to have copies.

The Duwaer quote makes it very likely that the ‘University of Manchester edition’, it the one he is talking about, hence, from around 1904.

The Museum of Freemasonry of the United Grand Lodge of England has three different versions of the 1904 English printing and they have a copy of the 1908 second edition. More about that below.

Trying to identify the rituals used

Above I have named a few ‘candidates’ as possible sources for “Dharma”. I have compared the 1904 edition of “Dharma” with George Martin’s 1895 text (which was used for Besant’s initiation), the “Scottish Workings of Craft Masonry”, “The Complete Workings of Craft Freemasonry” and “Emulation”. It turns out that “Dharma” is largely the “Scottish Workings” with quite a few elements of Martin’s ritual and Besant’s own imagination. I don’t need the other rituals to explain elements of “Dharma”. Let’s have a look.

The opening of “Dharma” is almost literally the “Scottish Workings”. During the part in which everybody present has to prove being a Mason, Besant added: “The W..s pass between the C..s taking the G. and W. On returning to their seats, the S.W. gives k. and says”.
In the Scottish workings those present are only asked to stand “to order” and neither Warden even has to see if all do that correctly. In Martin, Besant found the passing of the “columns”. For the rest, both the “Scottish Workings” and the “Dharma Workings” have expressions such as “O.G. or T.”, “c..s” and eavesdroppers”, the deacons are addressed.
All the way at the end of the opening there are a few differences again, one noticeable. In the “Scottish Workings” the “P.M. opens the V. of S. L.”, in the “Dharma Workings it is the “I.P.M.” who does so. In the “Scottish Workings” when everybody has taken their seats, minutes and communications are read, while in the “Dharma Workings” dignitaries from other lodges are invited to take their places in the East. This -again- comes from Martin.

There are bigger differences between the “Scottish” and “Dharma Workings” when it comes to the initiation ceremony.
She added Martin’s questioning of the candidate and a testament. Martin has many more situations with questions, Besant didn’t adopt most of them, but this one she did.
The candidate enters “noisily”, an element that can be found with Martin (or European continental rituals in general), not in the other rituals.
The same goes for the three “symbolical journeys” and elements thereof.
The creating, conceiving and constituting of the candidate comes from Martin.
Most charges, tests, the oath, the place of the candidate, the charity question, etc. can mostly be found in the “Scottish Workings”, some also in Martin.

Besant also added elements. The Scottish prayer became a pretty Theosophical “invocation”.
Besant added texts about mysteries of old and offerings to elementals.
What is also odd, only in “Dharma” does the Senior Warden ask for L. for the candidate. Perhaps a typo, as in all British rituals it is the Junior Warden who does so.

In the closing, Besant added the ‘Martinian’ questions if anybody has anything to say. Both the “Scottish Workings” and the “Complete Workings” don’t have this element. “Emulation” does, but since this can also be found in Martin, we don’t need “Emulation” to explain this element. As a side note, “Emulation” was only first published (officially at least) in 1967, so Besant shouldn’t have been able to use it.
For the rest of the closing, “Dharma” mostly follows the “Scottish Workings” with the difference that in “Dharma” the ‘how should we meet, act and part’ has been switched with the secrets with FFF.

The conclusion that Besant used the “Scottish Workings of Craft Masonry” together with the ritual that she knew from her own initiation grows stronger.

An alternative theory

A few texts can be found online written (or originally spoken) by Jeanne Edith Margaret Heaslewood. A text you can find on several places is “A brief history of the founding of co Freemasonry” which was supposedly a lecture given by Heaslewood in 1999. In it, she writes:

The Craft Lodges in the British Federation soon adopted Rituals written in English rather that in French and were working Emulation, Verulam and the Dharma ritual (from India) which later became the Lauderdale ritual similar to the Bristol workings (as I understand it).

“Dharma ritual (from India)”. This could refer to the fact that Besant founded a lodge called “Dharma” in Benares, India. Heaslewood has a more interesting article with the title “The Rituals of Freemasonry as performed together by Men and Women”. Here Heaslewood is listed as “Grand Secretary, Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for Men and Women”.

From the article about the rituals I want to draw your attention to the following remark:

Dr. Annie Besant, following her Initiation, Passing and Raising into the Universal Mixte Masonry of France in 1902, decided that Freemasonry had definitely something to offer to men and women working in a lodge together and given the same privileges and pattern of working. Consequently she brought to England in 1902 Universal Freemasonry, the title of which was eventually translated to The International Co-Freemasonry Le Droit Humain. At that stage, the first ritual was a translation of the ritual used in France by the LDH Order. In 1903 Dr. Besant started a Triangle in Benares, India together with her good friends, Franscesca and George Arundale (who were responsible for taking her to Paris to join Universal Mixte Masonry in the first place). It was in Benares in 1904 that the Dharma Ritual came to light and together with Dr. C. W. Leadbeater, she wrote into the Dha[r]ma Ritual the special working of the offerings of the elements to be changed into the Elementals.

“At that stage, the first ritual was a translation of the ritual used in France by the LDH Order.” The first lodges that Besant started, didn’t yet use her own ritual, but that of Georges Martin. Only when she founded the Dharma lodge in India, work on a more Theosophical ritual was undertaken. The next paragraph is even more striking.

The Dharma Ritual was originally a masculine ritual, founded in India. There are in existence two different versions dated 1904. Dr. C. W. Leadbeater was also a fellow member of the Theosophical Society of which Dr. Besant was the International Head as well as a recent Freemason; he was also interested in this new exciting society. The Dharma Ritual was the accepted ritual of the group and its connotations very much to their thinking, so that it could be changed to suit the then source of imagination or magic which was considered more suitable to the growth of the mixed (men and women) Freemasonry of the Indian Continent. Therefore Leadbeater, together with Annie Besant, added to the Dharma Ritual the embellishments of the offering of the Elementals and the Mystic Charges. The two following degrees, that of the second and third degree, were also given a more dramatic or magic favour. In fact, the changes can be found more fully written up in Leadbeater’s book, The Hidden Life in Freemasonry. In this book, Leadbeater explains clearly all the magic of the words of the changes made to the Dharma Ritual. One clearly understands the meaning of the changes from this book.

Could this mean that Besant did not base her Dharma ritual on Scottish rituals or Emulation, but that she simply translated an Indian ritual that she liked better than that of Georges Martin? Heaslewood also says that “added to the Dharma Ritual” “embellishments” were made. So there had to be a more minimalist first version of Dharma.

Were these two originally male Dharma rituals, rituals of existing Masonic orders in India or was Besant involved in the process of writing them? (But why would she write rituals for men-only lodges?) Only in that case, the whole Snoek/Bogdan theory about Scottish origins make any sense. On the other hand, there is more information in the direction that Dharma has British origins than Indian.

When we look at the foundation of the first British lodge “Human Duty“, a strong suggestion rises that Besant was initiated in Martin’s ritual, Besant used a Scottish ritual for her own installation and the installation of the first London lodge, then appeared to have used a translation of the Martin ritual for a while until working on the Dharma rituals in India. The latter, then, is a mix between the “Scottish Workings” and the ritual of George Martin.

Either the use of a (presumably) Scottish ritual or that of a possible variety to the Martin ritual is known as “Besant concord” (or alternatively “Besant accord”).

Editions of Dharma

In March 2023 I visited the library of the Museum of Freemasonry of the United Grand Lodge of England. Their catalogue lists the 1908 second edition which I haven’t found anywhere else. On visiting I got a couple of versions of “Dharma”. I only needed to see the 1908 edition, but I’m glad that I the other versions as well. They have three versions of the 1904 edition! There is a version in which the three degrees are printed separately. In another version the three degrees are combined and then there is a first degree which appears to be a test print.

Here is what I got, combined, to give you an idea of the sizes. Top left is the ‘test print’, top right is edition with three degrees combined. Bottom left is the 1908 edition and bottom right is the first first degree. In the latter case, the comparison to the Dutch edition is obvious:

As we saw, Duwaer & Van Ginkel printed the first edition of the “Dharma Workings” in (or around) 1904.

Then we have what I suggest was a test print:

As you can see, this version is dated: 1904.

This edition is similar to the Duwaer & Van Ginkel editions, but not identical.

See where I’m going?

The ‘test print’ doesn’t mention a printer. The test print was: “privately printed for the Dharma lodge, Benares City 1904. Copyright all rights reserved”. The Duwaer & Van Ginkel print was: “Privately printed for the Dharma lodge Benares City. All rights reserved”.

There is more, the texts have differences too. The ‘test print’ speaks of “the supreme council of universal joint Freemasonry”. In the D&vG edition, this is “the supreme council of universal co-Masonry”.
There is a difference in the opening, which appears to be tiny, but it is (somewhat) striking. In the ‘test print’ it says: “R.W.M. (to P.M.)”. In the D&vG print this became: “R.W.M. (to I.P.M.)”. In the “Scottish Workings of Craft Masonry” this is: “R.W.M. (to P.M.)”. In the (English) “Complete Workings Of Craft Freemasonry” the question about the placement of the W.M. is directed to the S.W. This is the same in “Emulation”. This is another suggestion that the “Scottish Workings of Craft Masonry” were the starting point. The “P.M.” from the “Scottish Workings” for -for some reason- replaced by an “I.P.M.”
In “Dharma” both the ‘test print’ and the first edition the: “(I.)P.M. opens the V. of S. K.” while in the “Scottish Workings” this is the “V. of S. L.”

In the 1904 print there are: “the ceremonies of calling off and calling on, to call the lodge from refreshment to labour” (or the other way around). This is the same in the Duwaer & Van Ginkel printing. The “Scottish Workings” have “the ceremony of calling off and calling on” in the index, but on the page itself: “Calling-off and Calling-on” as title and “To call the lodge from labour to refreshment” at the start of the text. This is the same in “The Complete Workings”. “Emulation” says nothing about “refreshment to labour”.

The differences between the ‘test print’ and the D&vG editions are minor, but when we continue with the initiation ceremony, the differences between “Dharma” and the “Scottish Workings” become more serious.

In the “Scottish Workings”, the initiation starts quite abruptly. The lodge is opened, the Tyler knocks on the door and the Inner Guard says that there is an alarm. In “Dharma” the “D. of C.” (director of ceremonies?) receives the candidate, brings him/her to “the ante-chamber of reflection”, asks him/her to reply to questions which are brought to the Worshipful Master. Then there is a vote and only then the candidate is picked up. This comes from Martin, but not literally. The dialogue about the poor candidate again comes from the “Scottish Workings”.

What follows is a mix between the “Scottish Workings” and Martin with elements from Besant herself. Where Martin has an “interrogatoire”, the other two rituals have an introduction with a question if the candidate is prepared to undergo the initiation.
Then follows an element that comes from Martin: three journeys, also copying the alternating directions.

I have not combed through the entire initiation, but it seems that -in spite of more additions of Besant herself- also this part is a mix between the “Scottish Workings” and Martin, but more of the latter.

Also there are no obvious differences between the ‘test print’ and the first official edition.

Then there is another edition of Duwaer & Van Ginkel of the first (official) printing. One with three degrees combined into a cloth bound hardcover with blue printing on dark red linen.

Somewhat smaller in size is the second edition from 1908 with gold print on a blue cloth hardcover. It again has three degrees combined. Perhaps there are again also versions per degree.

The publisher was “Manchester : Marsden and Co., Ltd.” and this edition was “revised & enlarged”. The London Museum of Freemasonry got its copy from: “the Nine Muses Lodge”.

There is a “Note” saying that: “the Ceremonies have been arranged in the order in which they will be required in actual working.” Also a: “number of additions of direction in the working have been made, and a few transpositions.”

The opening remained the same. The “I.P.M.” remained, so the Duwaer & Van Ginkel” printing indeed seems to be an improved version of the edition dated 1904.

The part “ceremony of initiation” begins in 1904 and D&vG with: “The D. of C. receives the Can. at the entrance of the precincts”. In 1908 this part of the initiation was written out more as: “(The Brethern being assembled, the R.W.M. calls his officers…” which is literally the text of the “Scottish Workings” and the “Complete Workings”, but not only textually very different from “Emulation”.

Also the announcement of the candidate is made more specific. Not just “gives the alarm”, but also the way it should be given. This is different from the “Scottish Workings” but even more so from the “Complete Workings”. In the latter there is a “report”, just as in “Emulation”.

“In whom do you put your trust” is in the old editions: “…”, in 1908 there was but one option.

In this vein the second edition is very similar to the 1904 editions, but as the “note” says, a “number of additions of direction in the working have been made” to remove confusion. A notable change is that the door is no longer opened “noisily” when the candidate enters the room and the three journeys are now all in the same direction.

Then there is a third edition.

This edition was published by yet another publishing house: William McLellan & company from Glasgow. This booklet says: “Third Edition (Revised and Enlarged) of the “Dharma Workings” 1913″. There is a booklet per degree.
The title page statement is much different from the second edition:

Universal Co-Freemasonry. The Workings of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Symbolic or Craft Degrees. Issued under the sanction of the Deputy of the Supreme Council of Universal Co-Freemasonry for Great Britain and its Dependencies

This edition is has the dimensions 14×11 cm, but fewer pages, 92 for the first degree.

This third edition certainly was “revised and enlarged”. In earlier editions the lodge appeared to just be opened. There are no candles lit. The third edition has the (in)famous “ceremony of incensing”, a “ceremony of lighting the candles” and “entering in procession”. Two plans of the lodge have been added, one with an “continental” and one with an “English” setup (both officers in the West versus one in the South and one in the West). Unfortunately there is no foreword or note to explain the big changes. The “I.P.M.” became a “R.W.I.P.M.” The opening of the lodge is roughly the same as before, but this version is much more Theosophical than the previous two.

Again the rituals is worked out in more detail than before. For example, for the first time there are directions for the clothing of the candidate, directions that are familiar today, but which I also didn’t find in the other rituals that I compared “Dharma” to.

Notable, in the 1913 edition, the second journey is again in opposite direction to the first.

The third edition was a serious revision and enlargement. I am unsure who was responsible for the additions. I always thought Charles Leadbeater and James Wedgwood, but the former was only initiated (by Wedgwood) in 1915! Wedgwood was a member since 1910, so he is the more likely candidate, but he worked from Australia and I don’t know how big the influence from Australia was before Leadbeater. There are other new ‘non-Theosophical’ elements for which I have yet to find the (possible) source. If you want to learn more about the intense ceremony, read Leadbeater’s The Hidden Life In Freemasonry 1926).

Later editions

In Handbook of Freemasonry the earlier mentioned Jan Snoek writes:

In 1915, Charles Webster Leadbeater -since 1896 the personal theoretician of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society- was initiated into ldh. The next year Leadbeater and James Ingall Wedgwood-another member of ldh and the Theosophical Society-revised the rituals with which the English speaking part of ldh was working ‘according to the astral instructions of the count of Saint-Germain’. In 1925, these rituals were once more (slightly) revised by Annie Besant and Leadbeater (the ‘1916 Working revised’ or ‘Glasgow Rituals’). This version became the standard for all the English speaking lodges of ldh during the next fifty years.

Snoek suggests that there are 1916 and 1925 versions of “Dharma”. Could they be rituals that we know by names such as “Verulam”, “Lauderdale”, “Sydney” (which seem to be from 1916)? More homework for me. What I did find out by now is that “Verulam” (sometimes) has as complete title “Verulam Workings of Craft Masonry” which suggests affinity. What became “Sydney” was worked on by Wedgwood and Leadbeater before the latter’s initiation and Besant is sometimes connected to “Lauderdale” also suggesting that it is a continuation of “Dharma”.

Conclusion (for now)

We have encountered two theories of the origin of “Dharma” which are (almost) impossible to reconcile, but the Scottish origin keeps gaining in probability.

“The Scottish Workings of Craft Masonry” are the most likely candidate to have heavily influenced the first version of “Dharma”. Just compare the opening of the lodge in both texts and little doubt remains (see below). As mentioned, comparing the texts, brings also differences to light, but in combination with Martin’s ritual the cursory look at “Dharma” appear to be explainable. Later editions (partly) had yet other sources.

But why Scottish rituals? Did Besant have people in her surroundings who where members of the Grand Lodge of Scotland? Or did she just go out shopping and happened to be able to lay her hands on the Scottish rituals? In another article I looked into the people involved in the foundation of Human Duty, but I found no candidates to explain the introduction of Scottish rituals. Currently there is just the flimsy suggestion that Besant took the word “Écossaise” (‘Scottish’) in the original name of Le Droit Humain literally.

Also we had a little look into the development of “Dharma”.

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