Oswald Wirth (1860-1943) and co-Masonry

Wirth’s name is one that you may quite likely have heard of. He is one of those ‘famous Freemasons’ who lived relatively recently. Besides for being a Freemason, he may be even better known for his Tarot. Indeed, Wirth was an esotericist for whom Freemasonry was but one of his activities.

The first issue of the fourth volume of the Ritual, Secrecy and Civil Society journal has a lengthy article called Oswald Wirth and the Symbolic Revival in Freemasonry by André Combes. Here you can read about Wirth’s Masonic career in detail. It is quite an odd career and there even proves to be a link with mixed gender Freemasonry.

“Oswald Wirth was born on August 5, 1860 in Brienz, in German-speaking Switzerland, near Bern.” He had an anti-clerical, French father and a Catholic mother. Oswald leaned more towards his mother’s view on things and went to a seminary at the age of eight and later to the “Catholic College of Fribourg” at the age 16.

At the age of 19 he lived in London where he was an accountant, but he also developed an interest in “magnetic healing and drawing, and took an interest in Theosophy and occultism.” Also he learned about Freemasonry and even though he started to look for it in London, he was initiated in France in the lodge Bienfaisance Châlonnaise of the Grand Orient de France on 28 January 1884.

Early 1886 Wirth was Secretary of his lodge when it was asked by the Grand Lodge about revisions of the craft rituals. Wirth wrote that report on behalf of his lodge. In his report Wirth shows a preference of the ‘secular’ route that the Grand Orient de France had taken. He even suggested a next step. He did push for a more symbolic approach to Freemasonry. Also he pushed for a more ‘strict’ order, with people having to be tested before going to the next degree.

After the ‘inventory’ of the Grand Orient de France about the preferences of the lodges for changes in the rituals, Louis Amiable (1837-1897) would lead the revision process.

In 1886 Wirth left the military and went to Paris where he became the secretary of Stanislaus de Guaita (1861-1897), a Rosicrucian who in 1888 would found the Ordre kabbalistique de la Rose-Croix. In 1887 Wirth became a member of the lodge Amis Triomfants where he again was an active member, giving lectures that were later published.

Wirth proved to have quite radical ideas. He thought that most symbolism should be removed from Masonic ritual, because the average Freemason didn’t understand them anyway. Then a Freemasonry for the elite should be founded.

Then comes a -for this website- interesting part. Wirth came in contact with the Grande Loge Symbolique Écossaise which was an organisation founded in 1880 and which was more ‘progressive’ than the Grand Orient de France. Wirth started writing for their Bulletin which also dealt with conferences of magnetists and with feminist conferences. Also there he started to push for ritual reforms. Also within his own (GOdF) lodge (which he led in 1893) Wirth kept pushing reforms.

In 1889 Wirth and Ferdinand Baudel: “founded a Masonic Group for Initiatory Studies with the Worshipful Master Cesbron as president” within the Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise. The group published quite some studies and material, material that Wirth put his name on and which is partly still available to the general public. The group was close to Papus and French Kabbalistic and Rosicrucian circles.

You may have heard of the Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise. It is in one of their lodges that Maria Deraismes (1828-1894) was initiated. Wirth was aware of this. Since 1890 there has been talks about the initiation of women in some GLSE lodges. After Le Droit Humain was founded, Wirth apparently had some function within the GLSE and he requested the Grand Lodge to allow Le Droit Humain members to visit GLSE lodges. His request was denied. Wirth obviously was open to the initiation of women. Combes quotes Wirth in his essay:

Considering that Freemasonry has a duty to prevent women being influenced by obscurantism, and that the best way of doing this is to make the Masonic light shine in their eyes.

Considering, moreover, its recent creation in Paris, allowing the initiation of women, the TVAF Lodge asks the GLSE for its authorization to admit members of the mixed Droit Humain Lodge to its works.

The TVAF Lodge [Travail et Vrais Amis Fidèles, a GLSE lodge] thus proposes to conduct an experiment which might enlighten Freemasonry, and subsequently give it a fully informed appreciation of the advantages and disadvantages of the definitive admission of women into Freemasonry.

To quote Combes himself:

In February 1899, asked about the Droit Humain Lodge, he answered that as far as he knew its works were initiatory, which was sufficient. In a letter to André Lebey, on April 30, 1923, he refused to consider “the weaknesses of women, which we can assume to be known,” took an initiatory standpoint and asked: “In her own intelligence, will she find enough conspiratorial spirit to join an association which pursues a very long-term program of human regeneration?”

So the early Le Droit Humain was supported by one of the most interesting French Freemasons of the previous century.

The entire essay about With can be read here.

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