Tag Archives: freemasonry for women

Happy hermits

HeidleShoek_WomenI knew about the book Women’s Agency and Rituals in Mixed and Female Masonic Orders (2008) edited by Alexandra Heidle and Jan Snoek. It is a publication of the Dutch academic publisher Brill though and these are always very expensive. This book costs € 181,- and second hand it is still very expensive. It looks like it that people somehow connected to a university can get an affordable (€ 25,-) printing-on-demand version from the publisher (via Brill.com/mybook). Hopefully these will find their way to the second-hand market some time soon.

I found a way to read the book after all though. It contains essays of a variety of authors and some of these essays are very interesting. I plan to give summaries of a few of these essays and today I will start with the opening text (after the introduction by Jan Snoek) The relationships of androgynous secret orders with freemasonry. Documents on the Ordre des Hermites de Bonne Humeur in Sachsen-Gotha (1739-1758) by Bärbel Raschke. The name of the order means ‘order of the hermits of good humour’. Raschke refers to “happy hermits”.

Both Snoek’s introduction to the book and Raschke’s to his own essay speak of early female involvement. Before and not long after the foundation of the Grand Lodge of London in 1717 several initiatives developed that included women. The author names a few. The Ordre des Egyptiens of Mlle de Pré (1635), the Ordre des Allumettes of Mlle d’Andelot (1642), the Ordre de l’Amaranthe of Christine of Sweden (1651), the Ordre de Sophipolis of the Brandenburg electorat Princess Sophie Charlotte (1700), the Ordre de la Mouche à Miel of the Duchess de Bourbon (1703), the Societé des Chevaliers et Chevalières de la Bonne-Foi of Mrs de Saliez (1704).

These were most social / ‘salon’ clubs, but when you know that even a woman in a discussion club was extremely progressive, you can imagine was that a woman founding or even leading such a group, was even more so.

According to some authors, Freemasonry was also one of such clubs for the high society. In spite of questions in the early days, the authors of the Constitutions of 1723 were clear: no woman can be allowed to join the organisation. Different solutions to this problem were thought of.

The “Order of the Hermits in Gotha” “existed for an unusually long time, from 1739 to 1758.” (p. 23) Detailed records are available making this a unique case.

What you see more often in similar cases is that the women behind the Hermits were well acquainted with Freemasonry. The husband and/or other men they knew were members and apparently not shy to discuss it with non-members. Princess Louise Dorothea of Sachsen-Gotha knew plenty of these early, German Masons and she had a remarkably rich Masonic library. She must have been well aware of ‘the female question’.

So in 1739 the princess founded her own order and fashioned it after the Masonic order. The order was lead by Louise and her husband, Friedrich III. There were officers not unlike those in Masonic lodges which were filled by rotation. The regulations stated that all members were equal and Louise saw to it that there equal numbers of men and women member.
Initiation was done by a ritual which contained a catechism, isolation and travels. The rituals were not too long and the ‘after sessions’ contained tea, coffee, games and discussions (the princess was an avid reader of philosophy). There were also table lodges with toasts and singing.

Of course the article of B. Raschke is much more detailed, but here we have but one example of the many initiatives that were started around the rise of Freemasonry, in this case obviously as a reaction to it.

Saint John

click image for the sourceIt is that time of the year that Freemasons talk about Saint John. Well actually, it is one of these times of the year. There are two Saints John who play a part in Freemasonry. So what about these Johns?

The two Johns are John the Apostle or John the Evangelist and the other one is John the Baptist. In the Catholic calendar celebrations for them are on 27 December for the Apostle and 24 June for the Baptist (his birth, there are other celebrations concerning John the Baptist). Both Saints John are patron saints of Freemasonry, so it is not strange that their holy-days are celebrated. More than one lodge has been named after either Saint John as well.

Looking at the dates, you may note that the fall around the days on which summer and winter start, the longest and the shortest day of the year. These happenings are called Solstitiae or Solstices. This is a clear example of the fact that in Freemasonry not only building symbolism is used, but also light-symbolism, in this case the course of the sun in particular. John the Baptist gave Jesus the light of baptism so his holy-day is in the lightest period of the year. I guess the Evangelist is supposed to bring the light in the darkest period of the year with his writing.

In Masonic practice, the summer solstice often is the closing of the working year. After which the holiday period starts in which there are no, or at least much fewer, meetings. The winter solstice has a bit more of a Christmas glean around it. However it is early in the new working year, it is a peak in the Masonic calendar. In a certain sense the celebration closes the “profane” (not-Masonic) year.

Both Saint John celebrations are used to organise a good meeting with a beautiful ritual. Many lodges have their own celebrations, mostly open for members of other lodge-members as well. Some orders have celebrations for their entire organisation, so you can imagine that such as gathering is much larger than just one lodge.

These celebrations are a good way for people to get to a lodge that they keep promising they will visit, but full agendas prevent them from doing so. A bigger event is a good excuse to clear a day in the agenda.

Freemasons are practical people. The celebrations are usually not held on the actual dates of the holy-days of the Saints John or the actual dates of the solstices (for lodges who prefer to refer to the solstice rather than to a Christian saint), but in the closest weekend, or not even, when other lodges have solstices as well. You better pick a date with the biggest change of many visitors. It is not uncommon that one Freemason visits several Saints John, at his/her own lodge, at a befriended lodge and of the entire order for example. Busy times.

So, when on some forum, Facebook group or whatever and you see Freemasons talking about Saint John or a solstice, now you at least have some idea of what this is about.

Stories?

I have been thinking a bit about the future of the website. I think I have found most information about mixed gender and female Freemasonry around the world. I have made short overviews per country, a Google map for navigation, I say a bit about suggested reading and I post a little news every now and then. The world is too big to try to keep up with news. Besides, chanels like Facebook are much easier ways to share news. I can write a little article every now and then, but that (of course) requires that I come up with something to write about.

So I was thinking. In order to make the website a bit more of a place for (potential) co- and female Freemasons *and* a counter balance to the many website about regular Freemasonry, would it be an idea if I posted people’s stories about how and why they joined a mixed or female lodge, experiences since or other short texts that could give information to (potential) brothers and sisters, inspire people to find their own lodge, etc.

What do you think of this idea? Would you submit such a story?

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.

Forgetting something

Karen Kidd quotes a text from “The Very Ills Bro. Bertha Williams 33°”. Williams looks back at her time as leader of the American Federation of Human Rights. She attended one of ‘her’ lodges and did not like what she experienced. Her friend asked if she did not forget something.

Well […] as a matter of fact, you are forgetting several things. […] In the first place, you are not a Master of that Lodge; you are not even a member. You do not even know those people, and you have no responsibility for them. You are judging a situation by appearances, with very little background to it; you may be entirely wrong. But whether you are wrong or right, the main thing that you are forgetting is this: You are not in the work  because of what it may mean to somebody else. You are in it because of what it means to you. Now either you believe in it or you do not. If you do not believe in it – if you feel it has no intrinsic value, that is really not important to the H.O.A.T.F.M., that fundamentally it cannot and would not be of service to humanity – then get out of it. If you think it is important, get to work! Do whatever you have on your desk to do. Do it as perfectly as you can. This is your assignment – EVER – to mind your own business, whatever it may be, and let other people mind theirs. If every member would be content to do just that, then half of our problems would never occur … [sic] That is what I do – attend to my own assignment; that is what you have to dom.

TOLERANCE

It has not been organized and is not maintained in America to compete with any of them, to condemn or fight any of them, but to fill a role of its own and that is to bring together in one organization men and women of all nationalities and races, of all creeds and political beliefs and have them, through the greatest of all Masonic virtues, TOLERANCE, work in peace and harmony to hasten the day when Universal Brotherhood shall be a reality, understood and lived.

Louis Goaziou in Universal Co-Masonry January 1913, quoted in Karen Kidd’s On Holy Ground.

Well posted Co-Masons

Then we must develop a system of Masonic education that will give us membership well posted in Masonic history, in Masonic ethics, in Masonic rules and customs as well as in Masonic symbology. Well posted Co-Masons will not make foolish remarks that have a tendency to raise the antagonism of Masculine Masons who would be friendly if approached in the proper manner. Well posted Co-Masons will know their own place and will not try to overstep where not wanted. False pretense has never secured anyone lasting gains. Let us be what we are and never pretend to be anything else.

Louis Goaziou in his 1927 address to the regional convention of Hollywood of Le Droit Humain, American Federation, quoted by Karen Kidd in On Holy Ground.

Mixed gender Freemasonry around the globe

What do you think about this? A map of the world. When you click on it you will go to Google Maps where you can zoon, scroll and click on the links to come back here.

map2

The ‘country pages’ (also see navigation on top) are work in progress. I now only added all Le Droit Humain countries. There may be more orders active, but that will be a project for some time in the future.