Rituals in early mixed gender Freemasonry

Would it be interesting to try to figure out what rituals were used in the first decades of mixed gender Freemasonry? Or perhaps, the first decades of the early federations? To see how they developed in what we know today? That is probably quite a task, because there are a great many different rituals in use all over the world. Can they all be traced back to one or two rituals perhaps? We may never know unless we just start. This isn’t too hard, since we know the first two rituals.

Grande Loge Symbolique Écossaise de France Le Droit Humain Rituel des Travaux Maçonniques

This lengthy title means: “Scottish Symbolic Grand Lodge of France The Human Right Ritual of Masonic Works”. This ritual was first published in 1895. The oldest edition that I know has an “avant-propos” of “Docteur Georges Martin 30e” and is dated “23 Décembre 1895.

This foreword goes (translated from French):

In writing this Ritual of the First Three Degrees for our Mixed Obedience, I have endeavoured to preserve all that constitutes the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in which Maria Deraismes of the lodge “Les Libres-Penseurs” Lodge in Le Pecq and which she and which she taught to the sisters, with whom we would later form Freemasonry in the Orient of Paris on 4 April 1893.

All the points of recognition enshrined in the Great Constitutions of 1 May 1788, adopted on 22 September 1875 by the Convention of the Supreme Council in Lausanne, have been scrupulously maintained.

I have omitted everything in the old rituals that seemed to me to complicate the moral tests at the expense of their clarity.

I did not insist on the physical examinations at the initiated because our constitution abolishes them for female profanes and our customs, moreover, very rarely prescribe them for male profanes.

I thought that the Venerables [Worshipful Masters] of the Grand Lodge and of the mixed Lodges of the Departments or of foreign countries, having regard to their Masonic knowledge, would have no difficulty in passing the most comprehensive physical examinations with this ritual as it is drawn up, should they deem this necessary.

In a word, I have made all the alterations to the letters of the old rituals rituals which, without detracting from the general symbolic spirit in which they were conceived, simplified them, or imposed themselves on their drafting, as a result of the introduction of women into the Masonic Order and the broad philosophical spirit of our obedience.

When the next edition is published, experience which will have resulted from its use, which will show whether any changes need to be made, and changes will have to be made, and apologies will be or omissions which the editor of the first of the first Ritual of Mixed Freemasonry may have committed, on account of his good Will to do the best possible.

Orient of Paris, this 23rd day of December 1895.
Doctor Georges MARTIN 30°
Speaker of the Grande Loge Symbique Écossaise de France le Droit Humain.
Honorable Venerable ad vitam, of the Lodge Jérusalem Ecossaise (Scottish Jerusalem)

My French isn’t good enough to make an entirely clear text and I didn’t want to translate in my interpretation, so the above is fairly literally.

Martin says that he slightly edited the ritual that was used to initiate Marie Desraimes into a lodge of the Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise, the ‘obedience’ that Martin transferred to after his own initiation in a Grand Orient de France lodge.

Martin also says that he removed superfluous elements and did so based on the oldest texts he could find. Also he appears to have made some changes to make them workable to initiate women. Quite some stress is laid on the absence of physical examinations. Apparently that was ‘a thing’ in 1890’ies France, but of course it wouldn’t make sense in an order that allows women to join, to check if the candidate is really male.
On the other side, this could also be a reference to the dressing of the candidate in some rituals, in which an arm is removed from the sleeve of a shirt exposing his breast. According to some this is to check that that candidate really isn’t a woman. Such an apparel would of course be highly inappropriate when initiating a woman, so perhaps we have a sign here that rather than a complete naked half chest / breast, mixed gender lodges rather work with a partially exposed chest.

When the GLSE and Martin’s rituals are compared, the differences appear minor from what Martin suggests in his foreword.

It is interesting that Martin says that while using his first version, changes will undoubtedly be needed to be made. Apparently this wasn’t immediately necessary. Jan Snoek writes in the Handbook of Freemasonry (p. 415): “In 1899 the same edition was issued with a slightly changed title page”. I also have a 1905 edition (foreword of Martin is dated 10 January 1905) which appears to only differ in lay-out. Safe the first sentence, even the “avant-propos” is the same. The title became: “Rituel de l’Obédience Mixte Internationale Le Droit Humain”. In the archives of the Grand Orient of the Netherlands there is a 1899 edition. If the third printing was (practically) the same as the 1895 edition, my guess is that in 1899 a reprint was published with no changes.

Nothing much needed to be changed in the first decade of existence of Le Droit Humain. However…

The Dharma Workings of Craft Masonry”

I have a separate article about the “Dharma Workings“, so a summary suffices here.

Annie Besant was initiated in July 1902 in the ritual described above. Later that year she travelled to London to found the lodge Human Duty no.6. It seems that for the installation of this lodge, the “Scottish Workings of Craft Masonry” was used, a ritual of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. Some authors say that in the lodges an English translation of Martin’s ritual was used (I would love to find a copy of that!). In 1904 Besant founded a lodge in her hometown Benares in India (lodge no.101 by that time!) called “Dharma” and with the help of some friends, she wrote the “Dharma Workings of Craft Masonry”.

The “Dharma Workings” are an almost exact copy of the “Scottish Workings of Craft Masonry” in the opening, from from the initiation on and also in the closing of the lodge, there are elements that clearly are from Martin’s ritual. The (initial) conclusion seems to be that the “Dharma Workings” are a mix between the Scottish ritual and Martin’s ritual.

After Dharma

Here we also see a development from the original ritual of Martin. These Martin rituals were probably used in France, but with the help of Besant, many lodges in other countries were founded, most likely with Dharma or a variety. Let’s have a look at the Netherlands as case study.

The Netherlands

The first Dutch co-Masons printed both the first English version of Dharma and also the Dutch translation. In 1908 there was a second edition of Dharma which for some reason was not translated to Dutch. The third 1913 edition -however- was translated and published in 1914. By that time work was also done on ritual specific to the Dutch federation, rituals that were heavily edited after the rituals that were used in the (“regular”) Grand Orient of the Netherlands. Even the two Wardens had to move to other places in the lodge room for these revisions. The rituals weren’t changed in one big bang. The first revised edition was published in 1915, the second around 1918 and by 1925 the rituals were roughly as those we know today as “Dutch” or “Scottish” rituals.

But also “Dharma” developed further. Charles Leadbeater and James Wedgwood made the rituals even more Theosophical than they already were. Some of these versions also reached the Netherlands later, but at the time the Dutch federation wanted all lodges to use the new non-Theosophical rituals, a few lodges split off. The one existing lodge of that split off still uses these “English” rituals.

“English” rituals also came (back) to the Netherlands after colonies fought for self-control and co-Masons from the Dutch Indies came or returned to the Netherlands with their ‘Theosophical’ rituals also called “English”.

Here you can see in a nutshell the development in one country.


What about Britain? Nowadays the British federation lists five different rituals, about which they write:

The Lauderdale Ritual
The Lauderdale Ritual has evolved from the Dharma Ritual, dating from about 1904. The ritual is unique to Le Droit Humain. It has elaborate ceremonial, uses incense, and incorporates a candle lighting ceremony. It stresses the mystical side of Masonry, which was dear to Annie Besant and includes her specially written Mystic Charges.

The Verulam Ritual
The Verulam Ritual dates back to about 1925. It is a compromise between the very elaborate Lauderdale and the plainer ceremonial of the English and Scottish workings, again with its own traditions, such as the freeing ceremony. It is thought to have been written by Bishop Wedgwood, who was a leading member of the British Federation.

The Scottish Ritual
The Scottish Ritual was introduced by Annie Besant to cater for those joining from all-male obediences.

The Scottish Standard Ritual is one of the oldest in existence and was originally used – and still used today – by the Grand Lodge of Scotland. It is thought to have been worked at the initiation of Robert Burns by Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No. 2 where he was installed as Poet Laureate of the lodge on 1st March 1787 and remained as such until 1796. The working is ceremonially laconic, with unique characteristics of its own, such as the method of ballot. The Scottish Lodge No. 884 was formed in 1927 at the direct request of Annie Besant who was its founding Master.

The Irish Ritual
The Irish Ritual is very different from the other workings used in the British Federation, being ‘in the round’. It was introduced in 1950 by a brother brought up in the Irish military lodge tradition but little more is known as the records are lost. It has spread, far and wide, through the travels of the Irish military lodges. Introduced with enthusiasm into the British Federation in the early 1950s, the intermingling of the practical and other-worldliness of Celtic mythology is preserved in the unique quality of the this ritual.

The Georges Martin Ritual
The Georges Martin Ritual is crammed full of symbolism. Its origins are unknown but it has much in common with the earliest Scottish workings. There is no incense used but it is easy to see why Annie Besant thought so much of it that she introduced elements from it into the Lauderdale working. The Magic Flute, Mozart’s famous Masonic opera, gives a flavour of the approach of this working which has considerable appeal, whilst also offering much to those of humanitarian principles. This working is commonly used throughout most of our Order in other countries, notably in France, but also very similar versions are in use by other Grand Lodges.

“Verulam” actually appears to have been first published in 1922 by McLellan who did more of the British publications in that time (I have a copy).

The last named Martin rituals (actually “Georges Martin working”) have little to do with the first ritual named in this little article. “The Georges Martin Working” was named after Martin, but isn’t the ritual that he wrote. It is actually a ‘very British’ ritual with an officer in the South, deacons, etc..

“Lauderdale Ritual has evolved from the Dharma Ritual” is not very specific. More about that below.

Initially the text about the “Scottish Ritual” sounds like this is the one used during the installation of lodge Human Duty, but later it says that was introduced in 1927 (again by Besant herself).


Leadbeater moved to Australia in 1914 during a world tour of Theosophical lecturing. A year later Wedgwood joined him to talk about “proposed amendments to the Co-Freemasonic ritual”. In 1916 the “Ritual of the three craft degrees” were published in Sydney. Even though some say that “Sydney” stems from 1925 and the name never seems to have become ‘official’ (I know of no ritual with “Sydney” on the title page), it seems likely that this is the edition sometimes referred to as “Sydney ritual“.

Nowadays in Australia also “Lauderdale” is in use.


The history of Le Droit Humain in Scandinavia may shed a wee bit of light on the above. The countess Ellen Bille Brahe-Selby was a Danish Theosophist. With a few others she was initiated in London and then the group, including Wedgwood, founded the first mixed gender lodge in Kristiana (nowadays called Oslo) in Norway in 1913. From there Le Droit Humain spread to Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland and became a federation headed by Selby. The federation calls its ritual “Lauderdale” which may suggest that Wedgwood took ‘his’ ritual with him under that name. Alternatively, the Norwegian lodges didn’t survive WWII, so the name of the current ritual can also have come when new lodges were founded again from Denmark after the war. It is likely that Wedgwood used the 1913 edition of “Dharma” to start the lodge in Oslo. Perhaps he also had another (rough) version by then. The name “Lauderdale” seems to have been introduced only after 1951.


These preliminary sketches suggest that Martin wrote his ritual based on the one that he knew best. Besant mixed that with a Scottish ritual (heavily editing Martin’s text) and later rituals are largely based on “Dharma”. The further we get from the source, the harder it is to trace the history.

You can find more histories of rituals here.

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