Early American rituals

Here we have two North American “symbolic” (meaning of the “craft” degrees, Entered Apprentise, Fellow Craft and Master Mason) ritual books. The book on the left was printed in Charleroi (USA), the other one in Larkspur. Both are undated. Of the light blue edition I saw a copy with a stamp of Grand Commander Louis Goaziou. Goaziou was Grand Commander from 1909, I think until his death in 1933, so the book from the left is most likely from that time. Of the other book I saw a copied which was gifted to a newly raised Master Mason in 1944, so it can’t be older than that.

A few things caught my attention. The first lodges in the USA were founded in 1903, just before the first edition of the “Dharma Workings of Craft Masonry” were published. By 1908 there was a federation. The history of the American federation (1) doesn’t say what ritual was used to initiate the first American co-Masons, but there is the suggestion that it wasn’t existing co-Masons who initiated the first Americans, but an American who already was a Freemason, member of a men-only organisation. Perhaps the first American co-Masons were initiated using an existing American ritual. This might explain the following thing that caught my attention.

The book on the left has an interesting looking plan for a lodge (in the third degree book):

There is no plan of a lodge in either the first or the second edition of “Dharma” and there are two in the 1913 third edition, a “continental” and an “English” one. The first has both Wardens in the West, the second has one Warden in the South, just as above. Still, what you see above is not quite an ‘English setup’, see below left. It is more an ‘American setup’, below right.

In England the “three lights” are on the pedestals of three main officers. Other officers have different places or are lacking.

I’ve got the first degree of the book on the left. It has no plan of the lodge and it starts with the tracing board that can also be seen above. At first glance, the first degree is different from English rituals of that time. Clothing seems to happen when people are already in the temple. The booklet has no procession, no censing and the lighting of candles is not before the opening like in later British co-Masonic rituals. The opening itself is quite like the British rituals. There is a “R.W.M.” Following the text further, large parts are literally “Dharma” even up to a detail such as it is the J.D. who gets the answers from the candidate. It looks like it that the Americans took “Dharma” and added some missing elements (such as the lighting of the candles which has been written into the opening) themselves.

The early days of Le Droit Humain in North America

Karen Kidd of the Honorable Order of American co-Masonry (nowadays Universal co-Masonry) wrote an extensive history of her order (2). That order came forth from the North American federation of Le Droit Humain, so Kidd also deals with that ‘prehistory’ of her own order.

The start of co-Masonry in the USA went differently from that of other countries. Le Droit Humain started in France, but it was mostly the Theosophist Annie Besant who brought the expansive growth of mixed gender Freemasonry. She, and other Theosophists, went to a wide range of countries to found lodges. Usually these Theosophists took with them Besant´s ritual. Not so in the USA.

The North American story starts with a Frenchman of Italian descent: Antoine Jules Cesar Venceslas Ermanigilde Muzzarelli (1843-1908), now that’s a name! Born in France, his father didn’t quite live up to the expectations for subordinates of Napoleon’s rule, so he had to go into exile. He left his family behind. Muzzarelli joined the army and was initiated into Freemasonry on 9 January 1871 in a lodge called La Loge Sincérité in Bordeaux. That lodge had “an uneven history” as Kidd writes. “Founded in 1764, its [the lodge’s] efforts to receive recognition from various Grand Lodges were repeatedly rebuffed until June of 1784, when Sincérité was taken under the la Grande Loge de Clermont. In September 1948, Sincérité was absorbed into la Loge Instruire et Construire (the Lodge to Inform and Build)”. (3) This Grande Loge de Clermont was a rival Grand Lodge to the Grand Orient de France that existed until 1799 when the two organisations merged.

As a good French Freemason and military man, Muzzarelli remained politically active, but he changed alliances as the ruling powers of France changed, as they often did in these times of revolution. Still his political activities resulted in him being exiled from France himself as well. He sailed to Philadelphia in March 1876. Even though he planned to return to France when possible, he had his 19 year old fiancé sail to New York half a year later.

Thing fared better in the USA than Muzzarelli expected. There is a suggestion that he lost his wife though. Contacts in France ensured employment of the French government which brought Muzzarelli to South America. Back in North America he became a famous writer and lecturer, both in North America and as writer for newspapers, also in Europe. A later second marriage was, in spite of a son, an unhappy one.

I can’t find in Kidd’s account how Muzzarelli fared as a French Freemason in America. Around the time that Muzzarelli found himself forced to exchange France for North America, also the ‘schism’ occurred between the Grand Orient de France (which removed the obligation to belief in something higher) and the United Grand Lodge of England and other “regular” organisations. It could be that for a while, Muzzarelli could visit and/or join American lodges, but by the time American lodges realised that Muzzarelli was an “irregular” Freemason, things may have become more difficult. On the other hand, many American lodges simply didn’t admit immigrants in the first place, so perhaps he had to find other ways to continue his Freemasonry anyway.

To fill the gap for many immigrant Masons who weren’t allowed to join American lodges, foreign bodies, such as the Grand Orient de France, tried to step in. Muzzarelli still had so many contacts in France, that he took it upon him to ‘shelter’ French Freemasons who, for a shorter or longer time, came to the USA. He offered the Grand Orient de France to found lodges under their banner. One such lodge was L’Atlantide in Manhattan and later some 50 other lodges followed. Being stubborn, his relationship with the Grand Orient de France would eventually “sour” and Muzzarelli started to widen his perspective.

Somehow he learned of the newly founded Le Droit Humain. According to himself, he had plans to start lodges that allowed women before, but now he had two French organisations that he could try to play out against each other (the two didn’t recognise each other at the time) for his own means. The Grand Orient de France also didn’t yet initiate women, so Muzzarelli had to find allies to try to set up the first mixed gender lodge in the USA. He found his man in another French immigrant, Louis Goaziou (1864-1934).

Like Besant for the UK, Muzzarelli told Martin that in the USA Freemasonry can’t be ‘atheistic’. He played hard on the Grand Orient de France and Le Droit Humain, but was in turn also played himself by a (fictitious) body The Supreme Council of the Ancient York Rite. In the end, a lodge under Le Droit Humain was founded. Goaziou and 14 others were initiated in October 1903 and Le Droit Humain set off in North America.

Unfortunately, Kidd doesn’t seem to say what ritual Muzarelli ‘used’, but the image of the lodge above, certainly isn’t French. Apparently Muzzarelli didn’t just use the ritual(s) that he knew from the Grand Orient de France. It seems he had worked himself into American lodges and borrowed a ritual from them. It would be nice to see the actual ritual so I can compare them to other rituals and see what was what.

Nowadays the American federation supposedly have lodges using the “Lauderdale” ritual, the “Georges Martin” ritual, both of which are also used in the UK. Then there is the “North American Ritual” which just might be the current version of what we see above.

(1) https://www.freemasonryformenandwomen.org/our-history.html (accessed 19/7/2023)
(2) On Holy Ground Karen Kidd, 2011
(3) On Holy Ground page 22, note 36

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