Tag Archives: history

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)


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.

La Loge de Juste

HeidleShoek_WomenMalcolm Davies tells the interesting story of an early ‘lodge of adoption’ in Den Haag (the Hague), the Netherlands.

Lodges of adoption rose in France in the early days of Freemasonry. They were lodges for the wives of Freemasons, somewhat similar in organisation and workings, but adapted. The lodges of adoption worked under a ‘regular lodge’ and was headed by a member of that lodge, hence, a man.
In Den Haag the situation seems to have been somewhat different. The author describes the lodge as “a mixed Scottish lodge.” That sounds as if in this case there were no diluted Masonic rituals for the ladies, but an actual mixed gender lodge. There are only records for half a year of activity in 1751. That is 5 years before the foundation of the Dutch Grand Orient of the Netherlands! There is an interesting suggestion about that in the article.

In spite of the short life, the lodge was very active. Ritual and song books were published and several members were initiated. The ancient discussion about women in Freemasonry seems to have spelled the quick end of the lodge though.

In 1747 the French conquered the Southern Netherlands and seem to have brought with them the idea of lodges of adoption. Willem Bentinck was an active person trying to form the Netherlands into a single, democratically ruled country and he played a leading role in the foundation of La Loge de Juste. Apparently his democratic ideas also involved the role of women.

Now comes an interesting part. When you look at the history of Freemasonry in the Netherlands, you will usually learn that in 1734 the first lodge was founded, a year later the second, but it took until 1756 that 10 lodges united to form “Groote Loge der Zeven Vereenigde Nederlanden” (‘grand lodge of the seven united Netherlands’), nowadays the Grand Orient of the Netherlands. Malcolm Davies has a slightly different history though.

The First Dutch Grand Master, Radermacher, died on 12 April 1748. He had been Premier Grand Maître de l’Illustre Ordre dans les Provinces Unies et du Ressort de la Généralité from June, 1735. On 24 June 1749, Joost Gerrit, (Juste Gerard) baron van Wassenaer (1716−1753) was installed as the new Grand Master.

The second Grand Master, the baron, was a friend of Willem Bentinck and when Bentinck founded La Loge de Juste, the baron turned the lodge into a Grand Lodge and was appointed Grand Master. Thus he became Grand Master of both the men-only as the mixed gender organisations.
This first Grand Lodge(s) went down under mismanagement and scandals and was dismantled in 1752. Four years later the (nowadays regular) organisation that exists this very day was founded with a “clean slate”.
The author suggests that part of the scandal was the recognition of the mixed gender lodge which even bore the baron’s name.

Then follows information about La Loge de Juste. Members were aristocrats and actors. The latter -in these days- were about the same as prostitutes. People who went to the opera even had to defend themselves and particularly state that they never came backstage. The combination of members of the lodge of high and low society of course drew attention from outsiders.

As I said, the lodge has been very active for a short while. Texts were written and published, also a songbook. What was also in the making were rituals. A certain St. Etienne wrote rituals for two higher grades. It is not certain if these were ever worked.
The author does find similarities with the rituals of a later Dutch mixed gender lodge L’Adoption ou la Maçonnerie des Femmes en trois Grades (The Hague, 1775). “The images and allegories used in the rituals described are taken from the Old Testament, e.g. Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, The Tower of Babel and Jacob’s Ladder.”

There is much information about the problematic finances of the lodge, problems which, probably in combination with some scandals, led to the demise of La Loge de Juste.

Davies makes some cross-references to adoption Freemasonry in France and a few to other mixed gender Masonic-like organisation such as the German Order of the Mopses (ca. 1740 – ca. 1770). Interesting to note is that the Grand Orient de France recognised the lodges of adoption in 1774, but because later they ran the risk of loosing regularity over this standpoint, the lodges of adoption were ‘disconnected’ and the Women’s Grand Lodge of France was founded.

All in all an interesting story of the problematic history of the involvement of women in Freemasonry.

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.