I am not in a position to make statements about a whole lot of organisations and countries, but still I want to tell you something of the Masonic Ritual. This for the simple reason that I only learned about this myself after I was initiated, while this may be very good to know before you apply: there is something to choose regarding the Rituals.
Most traditional Masonic orders are so-called “Grand Lodge”s and “Grand Orient”s per country or (in the USA) per state. I do not know if this goes for each and every Grand Lodge / Orient, but in many cases there will be 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.
A “Rite” is -roughly spoken- ‘the way a lodge works’, such as ‘according to the Ancient and Accepted Scotish Rite’. A “Ritual” a book with the ritual for each grade (Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason). Contrary to what I expected, there can be more Rituals in use in the same order. 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.
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 has died since) and he came in contact with the Theosophical Society which was looking for a way to provide Freemasonry to its members. An agreement could only be made when the Theosophist Annie Besant could write a ‘more fitting’ Ritual for the young Le Droit Humain. This worked wonderfully for a while. Many new people joined and Le Droit Humain grew and grew.
Later people found the Theosophical influence too big and wanted a Ritual more like that of the men-only lodges. The Supreme Council in Paris was of the same opinion and started to push the new non-Theosophical Ritual unto its member-lodges. This caused more than a few lodges to split-off the mother organisation.
Later on the central Rite was made optional and lodges working with the Theosophical Rituals returned to or joined Le Droit Humain. At some point also Martin’s Rite was revived as well and so there suddenly where three Rituals available to lodges of Le Droit Humain. (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 usefull information for people looking to join. A very rough division is that their are atheistic Rituals, Theosophical Rituals (with incences 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 difference 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:
- Rite Moderne;
- Georges Martin;
- Annie Besant Concord;
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.
This list can be made a bit shorter, when we know that the “Sydney workings” are the same as the “Annie Besant Concord” which became the “Dharma Workings” which after 1925 became “Lauderdale” on its turn and because these are the Rituals written by Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater “Besant/Leadbeater” is more of a popularised name. What in the Netherlands is called “English” also seems to be a variation of that Ritual (the other two Rituals in this country are called “Dutch” (based on the 1928 Ritual of the (regular) Grand Orient of the Netherlands) and “French” (an atheistic Ritual, presumably based on the origianal Ritual of Georges Martin)).
Portugal also has a Ritual called “English”, but British members of Le Droit Humain said that this Ritual is nothing like their own. The British website of Le Droit Humain mentions incense used in their “Lauderdale” Ritual which is also used in the Dutch “English” Ritual.
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 is 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.” That sounds like the description of the South African “French” Ritual and indeed, in Australia “French” Ritual is synonymous to the “Georges Martin” Ritual. In the Netherlands however “French” Ritual is synonymous to the “Rite Moderne” which is an atheistic Ritual probably based on the Ritual written by Georges Martin.
To make the confusion even bigger, in France there are men-only orders with a “French” theistic Ritual which is also called “Rite Moderne”.
Can people not just come up with original names for their Rituals…?
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 grade of Master Mason, you can join another organisation for more grades. It is not impossible that the lodge in the “Blue Grades” (Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason) works in a Scottish Rite, while the Freemason joins a York Rite, Royal Arch, Ancient and Accepted Scotish Rite or whatever organisation to continue his/her Masonic path.
Indeed, these ‘follow-up-grades’ 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.