Category Archives: news

Old photos, who likes a puzzle?

Yesterday I received a little book in Dutch which was published to celebrate the 50th birthday of the international order Le Droit Humain in 1949. The contains a photo with has as subscription “participators of the Supreme Council in the 1930’ies”. I remembered similar photos that can be found online. On a German ‘Masonic wiki’ there are two photos from the same ‘series’ and another photos that looks like it was taken during the same meeting. See here. (Two of the photos can be viewed in a fairly high resolution.)

I got the brilliant idea to try to figure out when the photos were made and who are on it. This started off nicely. If this is indeed the supreme council and the photo is from the 1930’ies I should be able to find the head of the Supreme Council, probably sitting in the most prominent place. The French Wikipedia lists the “dirigeants du Droit humain”. Eugene Piron (1875-1928), chairman from 1918 to 1921 (perhaps that should be 1928, the year he died and the year his successor got the chair) does not appear to be on the photo. His follower-up was Lucien Lévi who lead the Supreme Council from 1928 to 1934. Lévi was a man with a beard and a moustache as we can see here. Bingo, Lévi is the man in the middle. He is on all three photos. That narrows down the period in which the photo was taken to 1928 to 1934.

My next thought was to find the Dutch Grand Commander. F.E. Farwerck had the position from 1923 to 1933 and E.J.F. Thierens from 1933 to 1953, so both are candidates for being on the photo. There are not many photos of Farwerck, but like Lévi he had a moustache and beard. He does not appear to be on the photo. I have found one photo of Thierens which is from 1925 so possibly about a decade earlier. There is no face on the photos that I would say would be him.

Belgium then. The Grand Commander of the Belgian federation overlaps Lévi’s period. Gaston Vandermeeren lead the Belgian federation from 1928 to 1934, but no luck, I can’t find a photo.

In the USA the federation was under the command of Louis Goaziou from 1908 until 1937. So he is a candidate too. Goaziou had a black moustache and a narrow face. He could be the man hanging out a bit on the right of the photo in the second row from the top. That is not a very prominent place though.

I have tried to find Grand Commanders of other federations, but I can’t find the nice (Wikipedia) lists that I found the previous names in. Annie Besant lead the British federation from 1902 onward. She passed away in 1933 and she doesn’t appear to be on the photo either. Was she Grand Commander of the British federation until her death?

Does anybody care to see if we can identify other people on the photos?

Maria Ordenen

Answering a question about mixed gender Freemasonry in Denmark, a Dutch freemason mentioned the Maria Ordenen. Never having heard of it, the world wide web was consulted to see what this order could be. It proves to be a fairly big order in Scandinavia and a little abroad with 41 lodges in Norway, 15 in Sweden, 6 in Denmark, 1 in Iceland, 2 in Finland and 2 in Germany with a number 7500 members. If this is true, a lodge has well over 100 members.

Information is (naturally) mostly available in Scandinavian languages, but in in Google translation, the Norwegian Wikipedia page is quite informative.

The order was founded in 1916 in Norway by Dagny Kristensen who led the order for almost 40 years. The name refers to the many Marias mentioned in the Bible and elsewhere. The order would be even more secretive than Freemasonry, since not only member lists are not public, but neither are the by-laws, but recently the ordered has opened up a bit. The order operates “close to Freemasonry”, probably meaning that they use their buildings and that many members are wives of Freemasons. Just as a large part of Scandinavian Freemasonry, the Maria Ordenen requires a belief in God of its members. They also have to be at least 25 years of age.

There is a seven grade system and the symbolism is more focused on the woman.

It all sounds a bit like the order of the Weavers in Netherlands who also operate “closely to Freemasonry”, with a similar structure, but with different symbolism.

Are there more countries with such initiatives?

Co-Masonry in talkshows

I usually don’t watch podcasts and the like, but I happened to stumble upon an episode of Phoenix Masonry Live that had an interview with the most recent Past Grand Master of Le Droit Humain USA. This is quite an informative interview and it was done by a woman named Elena Llamas who proves to be a member of that very society and who on her turn had been interviewed on the Masonic Roundtable which is also quite informative. Earlier Masonic Roundtable had an interview with two prominent members of The Honorable Order Of American co-Masonry. I will embed the three podcasts below, but first I will note some of the notes that I took while listening.

In the interview with Randy Czerenda the rituals of LDH are spoken of. According to Czerenda the American federation has three rituals that the lodges can choose one from to work with. They are Lauderdale, Georges Martin and the North American Ritual.

In 1903 the first American lodge of LDH was founded in Pennsylvania. It used the Georges Martin ritual which Czerenda  describes as “continental”, but also as “not secular at all”. It is not secular, because it does not tell its members what the symbols mean. There is a Grand Architect of the Universe.

The Lauderdale Czerenda compares to Emulation, but slightly reworked. He describes it as “baroque”. It also has a Grand Architect, but contrary to the other two rituals, there is also reference to “God with a capital G”.

The third ritual, the North American Ritual, is (more or less) a combination of the other two and it is the most used in the USA.

You can find this part from around 50:00 in the video below, but the whole video is interesting if you want to learn about LDH and how it differs from “mainstream” Freemasonry.

To continue with Elena Llamas. In her interview at the Masonic Roundtable (episode 135) she proves less informed than Czerenda, but still this interview is very interesting. The rites in the USA are shortly spoken about from 24:30 on. She says that there are 22 lodges in the USA and the form of the “triangle” appears to be not just a lodge in the making in the American federation.

Llamas is asked about the differences between LDH USA and the Honorable Order of American co-Masonry. She notes a few. In American co-Masonry all members are “Brothers” as they use it as a title. Also they only work with the “Annie Besant Ritual” and this Theosophical leaning also shows in the fact that all lodges have an image of the Count de Saint Germain above an empty seat in the North of the lodge. This count is regarded “The Head Of All True Freemasons”. In LDH the portrait is allowed, but not inside the lodge. Lastly, American co-Masonry requests the belief in a higher power of its members, LDH does not.

What is also an amusing part of the interview is that when Llamas is asked how long it takes to proceed to the 33rd degree, she says “25 years” which is received with amazement and applaus.

The Roundtable always takes some time to get started, but from about 11:00 it starts to get interesting.

The episode about American co-Masonry is number 76 and can also be found below.

(or click here if you prefer to go to YouTube).

(Masonic RoundtableYouTube)

(Masonic Roundtable, YouTube)

Shee

The one of the elders takeing the Booke and that hee or shee that is to be made mason shall lay their hands thereon, and the charge shall be given.

That’s from a text from 1693 (!), so well before the establishment of the ‘Premier Grand Lodge’ in 1717. Does this “York manuscript No. 4” refer to operative women, or women in speculative lodges? Wikipedia describes the document thus:

The group of masons calling themselves the Grand Lodge of All England meeting since Time Immemorial in the City of York continued to issue written constitutions to lodges, as their authority to meet, until the last quarter of the Eighteenth century. Surviving are York manuscripts numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 (3 missing), the Hope manuscript, and the Scarborough manuscript, which turned up in Canada. Of these, York 4 has been the subject of controversy since it was first described in print. It is dated 1693, and was the first of the Old Charges discovered to have a separate Apprentice Charge, or a set of oaths specially for apprentices. The controversy was caused by the short paragraph describing how the oath was to be taken. “The one of the elders takeing the Booke / and that hee or shee that is to be made mason / shall lay their hands thereon / and the charge shall bee given”. Woodford and Hughan had no particular problem with this reading, believing it to be a copy of a much older document, and realising that women were admitted to the guilds of their deceased menfolk if they were in a position to carry on their trade. Other writers, starting with Hughan’s contemporary David Murray Lyon, the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, insisted that the “shee” must be a scribal error for they, or a mistranslation of the Latin illi (they). Hughan failed to point out that the four lines in question are written in a competent hand in letters twice the size of the surrounding text, but riposted to Lyon that the Apprentice charge in York No 4, Harleian MS 1942, and the Hope manuscript outline the apprentice’s duties to his master or Dame. Modern opinion seems resigned to letting York Manuscript number 4 remain a paradox.

Thanks to Karen Kidd for bringing this to my attention.

Watched: documentary about Le Droit Humain

AutreMaconnerieOne of the makers of Terra Masonica informed me about a documentary about Le Droit Humain. The title of the DVD and the website are in French, but I decided to order a copy. When I got it, I noticed that the information on the box is in French, Spanish and English and the documentary proves to be available in these languages as well. Only now I see that the website is available in all these languages as well.

A minor note about this English language though. It is English that often sounds as if a French(wo)man not mastering the language is reading from a piece of paper. There are quite some interviews in the documentary and the English speaker is put over the talking interviewee. It sounds a bit silly and perhaps subtitles would have been a better idea, but I appreciate the effort of making this documentary available to a larger audience. Doubly so because I expected a documentary in French.

The documentary feels a bit one-sided. It is presented as a documentary about Le Droit Humain, but in fact it is mostly about the French approach to Freemasonry. The subtitle of the documentary is: “humaniste, laïque et mixte”, or ‘humanistic, secular and mixed’. “Laïcité” is an often returning notion within French Freemasonry at large, but the largest spread of Le Droit Humain was when Annie Besant started to found ‘theistic’ (and Theosophical) lodges. Many federations of Le Droit Humain have lodges working in different Rites than “secular” ones.

That said, the documentaries has some history of Le Droit Humain either shown by actors that are put in classical drawings, the reading of texts of Marie Deraismes and Georges Martin and through interviews.
The documentary of about an hour is divided into chapters about the subjects in the subtitle, but also subjects such as Freemasonry during WWII (not specifically about LDH) and charity.

The people who are interviewed range from members to chairmen and -women of lodges and umbrella organisations. They tell personal stories about their initiations and thoughts about Freemasonry, but there are also some ‘bigger stories’.
A good choice is the mix of people. One is quite harsh towards men-only Freemasonry, another a feminist, the next anti-clerical; but there is also a Catholic woman who chose for a “secular” lodge and a feminist who preferred a mixed gender lodge over a female only one.

The interviewees and places where was filmed are from France, but also Southern America. You also get to see some temples, sometimes empty, sometimes with Masons in full dressing, sometimes even ‘in action’.

The documentary seems to try to give an idea of Freemasonry in general and (the secular branch of) Le Droit Humain in particular. This worked out fairly well. Outsiders get a fairly good idea of the subject. Freemasons (also members of other federations of Le Droit Humain) get an insight into ‘the French branch’.

The DVD costs € 20,- plus shipping and is available from “Femmes et Images“.

Watched: Terra Masonica

TerraMasonicaIt is not like I actually planned it this way, but it came about that I watched the Terra Masonica documentary last Saturday, thus, on this years Summer Saint John, thus, on the day that 300 years ago the Grand Lodge of London (later to become the United Grand Lodge of England) was founded. That latter event was the reason for a small group of people to travel around the world and visit and film the most remarkable lodges and their members. Hence the subtitle: “around the world in 80 lodges”.

It is a two hour documentary in two parts. By the lodges that are visited a bit of a history of Freemasonry emerges. The first lodge to visit is “the lodge without a number” or “the mother lodge” of Killwinning. This lodge has the oldest proven existence, way before 1717, and the even older records have been destroyed by a fire.

Then we cross the pond to the first lodge in the USA. Then South to Brazil and to the Southernmost lodge on Tierra del Fuego. Next stop is the most northern lodge in the snow of Norway. Then France, the near East and the East.

The makers of the documentary interview members ranging from Worshipful Masters to newly initiated members. Here and there they investigate history and of course show lodge buildings, large and small, making some stunning images.

A goal seems to be to show the variety of Freemasonry today, but in my opinion some more emphasis could have been laid on that. A few times “atheistic” lodges are mentioned and women Freemasons also only in passing. It would have nice had the makers visited the headquarters of Le Droit Humain in Paris, or the headquarters of The Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry in Larkspur. Perhaps visited a women’s Grand Lodge. That could have been a way to say something about this form of Freemasonry.

That said, it is nice to see how things go in a country such as Israel or India and the makers located some remarkable buildings such as an open air temple in Brazil.

The DVD can be bought on several places and the film can be streamed as well. More information at the website.

Contributions?

What? Has it been over two years since I started this website? When I did, I had a plan to gather information about mixed gender Freemasonry and women-only variations and that around the world. I found out what organisations are active in which countries. With that job finished, there is not so much to add to the website. Of course I run into news and the like, but how often is this interesting around the globe?

So I was thinking. Would it be nice to have stories of members of mixed gender and female lodges from all over, to say a little something about how they came to join this form of Freemasonry, how you like it and perhaps some country specific things so other people can get an idea of the (little) differences between different countries and different orders?

Should you like the idea, please reply below this post so we can come into contact.

Honorable Order international

AFHR
The Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry (before April 2017 “The Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry”) is what remained when the American federation of Le Droit Humain split off the Supreme Council in Paris. Some lodges (6) decided to keep working under Le Droit Humain, the majority (8) formed the new order The Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry and the members of 4 other lodges spread over lodges of the two new orders.
From the viewpoint of the Honorable Order, they are the continuation of the mixed gender order that started in the USA in 1903. The headquarters of what used to be the American Federation are now the headquarters of the Honorable Order. The current American Le Droit Humain is the split-off in this scenario.
Be that as it may, since 1994 there were two branches from the same tree.

Both Le Droit Humain and the Honorable Order grew since. Le Droit Humain has some 16 lodges, the Honorable Order 29. What is perhaps a little ironic, the Honorable Order is nowdays an international order again with lodges in Argentinia and Chile (one each) and two in Brazil.

It is good to (virtually) run into people, since the website of the Honorable Order does not seem to say anything about the foreign lodges, but now I was able to make the respective country-pages more complete.