In my little biography of Arthur Waite (1857-1942), we saw that Yarker objected Waite’s disrespectful reference to co-Masonry. Yarkers ties to co-Masonry are more often mentioned than those of Waite, but it proved not too easy to find much information about it.
Like Waite, Yarker was initiated into a lodge under the United Grand Lodge of England, yet at a much earlier age. He was initiated on 25 October 1854 in lodge of Integrity in Manchester, 21 years of age. Like Waite, Yarker was interested in the esotericism ‘behind’ Freemasonry and an avid ‘collector of initiations’. Just as Waite, he also ventured outside (“regular”) Freemasonry for his initiations.
The legacy that Yarker left behind balances between the praise for his Arcane Schools published in 1909 and his involvement of the likes of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) and Theodor Reuss (1855-1923).
Yarker was born in Swindale Shap, Westmoreland. At an early age, he and his family relocated to Lancashire then Manchester, where he would live the rest of his life. Three months after his initiation, Yarker was passed and raised (16 and 25 April 1855). Just as Waite, Yarker started to attend every ‘higher degree’ that he could find. Also he had functions in his “craft loge”, also that of Worshipful Master. The other degrees and systems included Mark Master, Royal Arch, Knights Templar and the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. Due to a disagreement about the historicity and validity of the system, Yarker had to leave the AASR in 1870. Consequentially he founded his own “Ancient and Primitive Rite”, much to the dismay of his former Grand Council.
In time, Yarker would also add the Cerneau Scottish Rite and the Swedenborgian Rite to his sizable portfolio of authorities, along with obscurities like the Rite of Ishmael, Red Branch of Eri, Sat Bhai, and Ancient Order of Zuzumites. (1)
Yarker’s esoteric and occult interests led him towards the Theosophical Society. Famously:
[Helena] Blavatsky [(1831-1891)] was also made a Brother of the Adoptive Rite of Freemasonry. In 1877, Sovereign Grand Master John Yarker, a prominent Freemason and Occultist of the time, conferred upon Blavatsky the degrees of the Ancient and Primitive Rite of Masonry. (2)
Adoptive Freemasonry or his own, new rite? Other sources say that it concerned Memphis-Misraim and even adoptive Memphis-Misraim. I once saw a copy of the/a diploma, which is the same as this one and that is obviously Yarker’s “Ancient and Primitive Rite”.
Wikipedia (3) has: “The Ancient and Primitive Rite, also called the Order of the Ancient and Primitive Rite of Memphis-Mizraim”, so some of the remarks could be true at the same time. “Adoptive” would be a strange description though. Perhaps it was rather mixed gender Freemasonry?
So there we are: Yarker and co-Masonry. Was his own organisation mixed gender or did he just confer a high degree on paper to Blavatsky to honour her? A fact is, is that Yarker was not opposed to co-Masonry. At least, in response to Waite he wrote in 1911: “We may not like Co-Masonry; for one thing, it affords less opportunity for the gourmandizing proclivities of the ordinary Freemason, but the system has come to stay and we might treat it with civility’” (my emphasis). How did he see the women in his own rite then? Did he have separate “adoption” lodges in mind?
Yarker seems to not have joined Waite’s “Fellowship of the Rosy Cross” which had both men and women as members. He did join other organisations which had both sexes as members. The Golden Dawn, the Ordo Templi Orientis. A fact is that he was, for a while, on good terms with Aleister Crowley and Crowley was unhappy with the positive response to Yarker’s book in co-Masonic circles, so there seems to have been some disagreement around the subject.
So did Yarker have contacts within co-Masonry? One at least. A contact who was also in contact with Waite: Aimée Bothwell-Gosse (1866– 1954). Bothwell was initiated in the new mixed gender order Le Droit Humain in France and would rise to the 33º, but she was mostly active in the British federation. She also caused the British split off of Le Droit Humain, “Order of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masonry for Men and Women” in 1925 (4).
Bothwell was also active in the “Operative” Masonic organisation of Clement Edwin Stretton (1850-1915), the “The Worshipful Society of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers and Bricklayers” that was also mentioned in the biography of Waite.
Stretton started in ‘project’ in 1909 (5). Dat writes:
From June 1910 onwards, Stretton opened his order for ‘Ladies’. In October, the three then initiated omen even created a women’s lodge, but that seems to have had a short life: from then on the order was effectively mixed. One month later, Miss Aimée Bothwell Gosse, an active member of the British Federation of Le Droit Humain and editor of its periodical, The Co-Mason, was affiliated.
That periodical The Co-Mason published extensively about the “operatives”, but also published texts of Yarker. The photo at the top is from The Co-Mason.
There is another link to co-Masonry. Like Waite and Yarker, there were also co-Masonic ‘collectors of initiations’, such as James Ingall Wedgwood (1883-1951). Wedgwood also was an active British co-Mason and later a good contact of Charles Leadbeater (1854-1934). A website about Leadbeater states:
Wedgwood particularly, and Leadbeater more generally, sought to acquire additional “sources of authority” to supplement those received from the French Lodge from which Co-Masonry derived. Thus, in 1914, Wedgwood acquired the highest degrees of the Rites of Memphis and Mizraim, and of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (Cerneau) from the eccentric collector of Masonic (and other) Rites, John Yarker (1883-1913), who, partly for financial reasons, maintain some association with Co-Masonry. Wedgwood passed on what he had received from Yarker to Leadbeater. (6)
Yarker appeared in the Dutch magazine Swastika who translated and republished several texts from The Co-Mason. The editor of Swastika and Bothwell were probably acquainted and since Yarker still lived, it is likely that he knew that his texts also appeared in other co-Masonic publications.
So Yarker sure had contacts within co-Masonry. Perhaps there was a bigger interest in things esoteric there as in “regular” Freemasonry. Also “financial reasons” as ascribed above may have played a part. As we saw in the biography of Waite, more co-Masons joined Waites “Fellowship of the Rosy Cross” than did “Masons proper”. Yarker seems to have not, but they certainly moved in the same circles. The somewhat amusing fact is that Yarker started to publish in The Co-Mason, but he also kept publishing in the Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. He sought and kept his allies where needed. He may have never joined a co-Masonic lodge, but he certainly kept in contact with people with similar interests to his own, including co-Masons.
(1) John Yarker – US Grand Lodge (oto-usa.org) (accessed 4/7/2023), a suggested biography
(2) Masonic Stories| Who was Helena Blavatsky? (universalfreemasonry.org) (accessed 4/7/2023)
(3) Ancient and Primitive Rite – Wikipedia (accessed 4/7/2023)
(4) more about that here: 575742.pdf (whiterose.ac.uk)
(5) See “Stretton’s ‘operative’ Masonry: legacy or forgery?” by Bernard Dat in Agents and Rituals in Mixed and Female Masonic Orders edited by Alexandra Heidl and Jan Snoek (2008)
(6) Leadbeater and The Rite of Memphis (1) | C.W. LEADBEATER (wordpress.com) (accessed 4/7/2023)