Early mixed gender Freemasonry in Scandinavia

A leaflet celebrating 10 years of existence of the Norwegian lodge Yggdrasil (1913-1923) found its way online(1). The 28 page booklet gives the history of the lodge Yggdrasil that was founded in Christiania (nowadays Oslo) on 15 October 1913 and how co-Masonry has spread further over Norway, but also Iceland, Sweden, Finland and Denmark since.

This history can possibly shed some light on the ritual development in early co-Masonry. These two people are named with photo in the little booklet:

Ellen Bille Brahe Selby (addressed as “Br.”) (Ellen Basse Fønss (1876-1949)(2) and the famous James Ingal Wedgwood (1883-1951). Selby was a Danish Theosophist who went to England to be initiated in the co-Masonic order by James Wedgwood. In 1913 Selby, Wedgwood and two other persons travelled to Christiania to -with the help of Norwegian Freemasons- initiated, passed and raised over the course of two days, no less than 26 people.

Wedgwood, this is interesting.

As we saw before, the first Theosophical co-Masonic rituals were the “Dharma Workings of co-Masonry” first published in 1904 or 1905 in the Netherlands. There was a somewhat revised second edition, published in England in 1908 and a much revised third edition, also published in England in 1913. It is in this third edition that we for the first time find a procession, an incense ceremony and the lighting of candles. In 1916 a new edition was published in Sydney, Australia. Of that edition it is known that James Wedgwood travelled to Australia to meet Charles Leadbeater to work on the rituals. Afterwards Wedgwood initiated Leadbeater using that revision. I also ascribe the 1913 edition, and hence the incense additions, etc. to Wedgwood. Could perhaps Wedgwood’s trip to Norway provide proof of his authorship of the 1913 edition?

I have a 1995 ritual from Norway. I am not sure if it is still the same ritual as in 1913, but let’s have a look at it.

One thing immediately caught my eye. Below “forberedende ceremonier” it says that the image of the Head of all True Freemasons (count Rakoczy / Saint Germain / etc.) hangs behind the pedestal of the Worshipful Master. This is an element that can’t be found in the 1913 edition of “Dharma”, but it can be found in the 1916 (“Sydney”) edition. From 1925 on, the picture hangs in the North, no longer in the East.

There are other details that highly suggest that the 1995 Scandinavian ritual is not a translation of the 1913 (‘Wedgwood’?) edition, nor of later editions, but rather the 1916 edition. The plan of the lodge in the 1913 edition has the altar exactly in the middle of the lodge. In both the 1916 and the Scandinavian edition, it has moved a bit towards the East (unfortunately there are no plans in later English editions). Both the 1916 edition and the Scandinavian edition have a “charge” and a “mystic” charge, not yet present in 1913 (and still present in 1925 and 1951). The table of contents are very similar both in lay-out and in heads in the 1916 and Scandinavian editions. The conclusion almost has to be, that Scandinavia for a long time used the rituals sometimes known as “Sydney Workings” and might not have started using the recently published 1913 edition. How could that be?

Wedgwood signed the charter of the first Scandinavian lodge. If he helped to found it, it is not unthinkable that he brought ‘his own’ ritual. If he indeed wrote the 1913 edition, it would have been logical if that was the 1913 edition. It had just been published after all.

As we saw before, Leadbeater was in Australia in 1914 and only in 1915 Wedgwood joined him there: “to consult Mr. Leadbeater on proposed amendments to the Co-Freemasonic ritual” (my emphasis). Could Wedgwood have been working on the rituals by the time he helped to start a lodge in Norway and did it take him until 1915 before he decided to consult Leadbeater? That doesn’t sound very likely. Especially not when you think about the fact that the Yggdrasil lodge in that case should have been using the ritual for at least over a year by that time and another one before it was official.

Or did Yggdrasil and possibly other lodges, use the 1913 ritual, but by actually using it, found that it needed amendments? The 1916 is a big improvement of the 1913 edition in some ways. The older -for example- first had an opening and lighting of candles and then the procession of entering the lodge. That is of course a strange order that was revised in 1916 and could still be found in 1995 in Norway.
It is possible that Yggdrasil started with the 1913 edition and formed one of the sources of input for the 1916 edition and as soon as that was out, translated that version and used it until at least 1995. For some reason they didn’t seem to have went along with the 1925 and 1951 revisions, but after 1995 the rituals have been revised by the federation itself (for which I find no obvious sources).

All this doesn’t provide a real clue to the authorship of the 1913 edition. If it indeed was Wedgwood, it would have been logical had he taken in to Norway. I can’t imagine that in the year of publication he was already unhappy with it. If he did not write the 1913 edition, but was already working on what was to be published in 1916, he either brought Yggdrasil an unfinished (and unauthorised) ritual, which doesn’t seem likely either. Or he simply brought the most current 1913 ritual and Scandinavia and the lodge indeed switched to the 1916 ritual as soon as it was out.

The latter would also be somewhat strange, because the editions of 1925 and 1951 seem not to have been used in Scandinavia. They do name their current ritual “Lauderdale”. It seems that in England only the 1960 edition of the 1951 ritual got the name “Lauderdale” and that version is not much like the “Lauderdale” in Scandinavia. It is as if the Scandinavian federation stuck to the 1916 edition until at least 1995, then made their own changes (rather than translating a more contemporary English ritual) and started using a name that has become current in some other federations.

Selby passed away in 1951, so she was still around when the 1925 English edition came out. Two years before (at the 10th anniversary of the lodge Yggdrasil) she was national representative, so there are chances that in 1925 she still was. What would have made her (and her successor) decide to not go along with the revised rituals, but stick to the 1916 edition? Wedgwood passed away in the same year as Selby, so I see no possible reason there.

So to get more clarity about the authorship of the 1913 edition, we might need to find out if there is indeed another, older, ritual in Scandinavia. If that version was indeed brought there by Wedgwood, that still doesn’t prove his authorship, but perhaps the circumstances can clear things up a little.

(1) Yggdrasil Loge 1913-1923 (accessed 16/1/2024)
(2) Biography on the Danish Wikipedia (accessed 16/1/2024)

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