Different rituals

Only after I was initiated, I learned about the fact that some organisations have different rituals. So one lodge will work in another ‘tradition’ than another lodge of the same organisation. This may be good to know before you apply: there is something to choose regarding the rituals.

Many traditional Masonic orders are so-called “Grand Lodge”s and “Grand Orient”s per country or (for example in the USA) per state. Some of them have a ‘central’ rite, a rite that is prescribed by the Grand Lodge / Orient for all its lodges. Accordingly there are ‘central rituals’. Therefor all these lodges will have (almost) the same formal meetings. Not so in many mixed gender organisations.

A “rite” is -roughly spoken- ‘the way a lodge works’. The word can refer both to “symbolic”, “blue” or “craft degrees” (those of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason) and to ‘high degree’ systems. The first can have names such as “Georges Martin Working” or “Verulam”; the latter the famous “Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite” for example.
A “ritual” can refer to a book with the ritual for each degree.

It is not that a lodge will one day choose ritual A and the next day ritual B, but lodge A can have another ritual than lodge B even when they work under the same organisation.

A little history.

The first mixed gender organisation (and still by far the biggest) is Le Droit Humain. Le Droit Humain was founded in 1893 in France by Georges Martin and Marie Deraismes. Martin was a Freemason whose lodge initiated Deraismes (!) which of course made a problem. The two went on on their own and started with Le Droit Humain. Georges Martin saw the possibility to correct two things he did not like in Freemasonry: 1. The disallowance to initiate women, 2. The Bible in the lodge.

So it happened that Le Droit Humain started as a mixed gender organisation with an atheistic ritual (two reasons to be “irregular”). After a while Le Droit Humain did not grow as fast as Martin had hoped (Deraismes had died since) and he came in contact with Annie Besant who was looking for a way to provide Freemasonry to the members of the Theosophical Society. An agreement could only be made when the Besant could use a ‘more fitting’ ritual for the new branches Le Droit Humain and she combined the ritual of Georges Martin with the “Scottish Workings of Craft Masonry”. More about that here. This worked wonderfully for a while. Many new people joined and Le Droit Humain grew and grew.
The rituals were revised and expanded (again see the “Dharma” text). At some point people found the Theosophical influence too big and wanted a ritual more like that of the men-only lodges of the respective countries where they were active. The Supreme Council in Paris was of the same opinion and started to push the new non-Theosophical rituals unto its member-lodges. This caused more than a few lodges to split off the mother organisation.
Later on other rituals were again allowed and lodges working with the Theosophical rituals returned to or joined Le Droit Humain. At some point also Martin’s ritual found an entrance in countries where it was never introduced and so there suddenly where three rituals available to lodges of Le Droit Humain in some federations.

The development and (number of) rituals differs per country, but this is a very rough sketch of the development. See below the dividing line.

Some federation websites of Le Droit Humain give information about the rituals they use. Some list the ritual used in the list of lodges. Since the rituals can be very different, I find this useful information for people looking to join. A very rough division is that their are atheistic rituals, Theosophical rituals (with incense and sometimes white robes) and rituals more like those of men-only lodges.

There are more orders than Le Droit Humain that have more than one ritual. It would be a difficult task to try to find out all that, it is quite a maze… What even even worse, similar rituals have had different names in the course of time and similar rituals have different names in different countries (or different rituals have similar names), not to mention different obediences.

The above is to give you the rough idea. When you look to join a Masonic lodge, see if you can find out something about the rituals worked and search the internet for more information (or just go and ask). Because I find the subject fascinating, more information will follow below the dividing line. But I warn you, it is a maze…!

Just for Le Droit Humain I have found a long list of names of rituals. Here we go:

  • Dutch;
  • English;
  • French;
  • Rite Moderne;
  • Lauderdale;
  • Verulam;
  • Scottish;
  • Irish;
  • Georges Martin;
  • Emulation;
  • Dharma;
  • Besant/Leadbeater;
  • Annie Besant Concord;
  • Sydney;
  • North-American.

The first and last mentioned Rituals are obviously ‘local’ rituals, so there may be many, many more of these, since Le Droit Humain works in many different countries.

I describe the histories of some of the rituals that are mentioned above. Continue here if you are interested.

My most in-depth investigation is of the “Dharma Workings of Craft Masonry“. This is the ritual that Annie Besant wrote. It is a mix between the “Scottish Workings of Craft Masonry” that was used during the installation of the lodge Human Duty no.6 and the ritual of Georges Martin which was used during Besant’s initiation.
“Dharma” (1904) had a slightly edited new edition in 1908 and a much “revised and enlarged” edition in 1913, both in the UK. In that 1913 edition (I think that James Wedgwood had a big hand in it) elements are introduced such as the incense opening.

Wedgwood travelled from the UK to Australia to met Charles Leadbeater who was there to give Theosophical lectures. Together the two created what became the “Sydney Workings” (or “1916 Workings”) which were published in 1916. Leadbeater was initiated after working on the rituals, by Wedgwood. Both remained in Australia for the next years.

These rituals were again revised, either by Wedgwood, Leadbeater and Wedgwood or by Leadbeater and Besant. The British federation went from the “1916 Workings” to the “1925 Workings” to the “1951 Workings”, but there are also rituals that got different names. From the list above, the “English”, “Lauderdale“, “Verulam“, “Besant/Leadbeater” and “Sydney” are based on “Dharma” and regained much Theosophical elements. The latter two seem to be unofficial names.
“Dutch” and “Scottish” are also based on “Dharma”, but they have been much revised.

Portugal also has a ritual called “English”, but British members of Le Droit Humain said that this ritual is nothing like their own.

In the United Kingdom Le Droit Humain works with no less than six different rituals (Lauderdale, Verulam, Scottish, Irish, Georges Martin, Emulation). They are nicely summed up and explained on their website.

The USA Federation used to have the following in their FAQ:

What rituals do we work?

Our Order works a variety of rituals. In North America, we primarily work the Lauderdale, The North American, & The George Martin rituals. The Los Angeles Metro LDH Lodges work the Lauderdale Ritual, which is the equivalent of all 33 degrees of the Scottish Rite system and includes several York Rite degrees, as well.

These “George Martin rituals” are not the atheistic rituals written by Georges Martin (that are called “French” in the Netherlands), but rather a ‘new’ ritual named after the man.

In a South African LDH Journal (.pdf) we can read the following:

International Order of CoFreemasonry, which is Universal, uses the AASR and works the degrees from 1-33° in one hierarchical order. Various Craft rituals are used in the Order – Emulation (United Grand Lodge of England), Scottish ritual (a plain ritual), Verulam (a compromise between the Lauderdale and Scottish), Irish (performed in the round and mainly in England), French (the triangular layout which is used extensively on the continent) and Lauderdale.

The British website says about their George Martin ritual: “This working uses the earliest triangular layout of the lodge as seen in the first Scottish lodges.” In fact, the version that I know is quite ‘British’, including the placement of the officers. In Australia “French” ritual seems to be synonymous to the “Georges Martin” ritual. In the Netherlands “French” ritual is almost synonymous to the “Rite Moderne” which are both ‘secular’. The “French” ritual of Le Droit Humain is based on that of Martin, the “Rite Moderne” goes back to the older “Régulateur de Mason”.

I also have to add that each order and (within Le Droit Humain each federation) can develop their own rituals and each lodge will ‘perform’ it slightly differently from the next.

A bit more history can be read here.

As you can see, the subject is confusing. Keep in mind though, that when you are interested to join (or visit, when you are already a member) a mixed gender lodge, it could be interesting to see what type of ritual they work, since you may have the possibility to chose a lodge that best fits your personality. It may not be easy to find out what is what, but look around and ask around. Your Secretary could be a good place to start if you are interested to visit a lodge working with a different ritual from your own lodge.

What ritual is biggest, can depend on the country you live in. There may be countries with not as many different rituals. In other countries one of the rituals is big and the other are not.

To close off this little piece of text a little something about the so-called “High Degrees”, “Side Degrees”, “Red Degrees”, etc. In many Masonic organisations, once you have reached the 3rd degree of Master Mason, you can join another organisation for more grades. It is not impossible that the lodge in the “Blue Degrees” (Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason) works in a Scottish Rite, while the Freemason joins a York Rite, Royal Arch, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite or whatever organisation to continue his/her Masonic path.
Indeed, these ‘follow-up-degrees’ can have different rites of their own, but the above is mostly meant to give you some information about the “Craft Lodge” grades to help you to choose a lodge to join. All the rest is food for thought for later.


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