Tag Archives: women and freemasonry

Grand Orient du Québec

Late 2015 I started to set up this website. I looked around the internet to find information about mixed gender and women-only Freemasonry worldwide. Since then I only now and then ‘discover’ an organisation that I hadn’t listed. Recently I had to update the page about Canada, because I hadn’t heard of the Grand Orient du Québec.

Somebody who wanted to join the sub-Reddit is a prospective member of this order. That member also gave some information about the order:

In 1773 the Grande loge de France went through a profound transformation.

It embraced laïcité as a core value. There is no word for it in English but it’s like stricter secularism. It means that government must not touch religion at all instead of simply being neutral. This means that politicians aren’t allowed to say God bless and be seen with religion in any way. It’s a very important French value since the revolution.

It also removed the requirement of believing in a supreme bein, allowed women to join, and democratically elected it’s grands maîtres. Because of all those changes it renamed itself. It was of course opposed by other Masonic organizations that did not like those changes.

It is a progressive, laïc, mixed-gender, republican (as opposed to monarchist) organization. Maybe you heard about it under the name French Rite? It is the largest Masonic entity in France.

The Grand Orient du Québec (GOdQ) was founded by members of the Grand Orient de France (GOdF). We’re unfortunately a minority here as most of the lodges in Quebec are Anglo-saxon.

The Grand Orient du Québec has two lodges in Montréal, both with with another ritual and a study lodge. You can find their website here (which is in French).

So now you also heard about the Grand Orient du Québec. Join us on Reddit to ask your questions about it.

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“.

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.

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.

More light – Julian Rees & Darren Dorente-Bull (2017)

Rees_MoreLightI know Julian Rees for his beautiful book about tracing boards and now he published a new book about “Today’s Freemasonry for men and women” together with Darren Lorente-Bull. Rees has a bit of a name, because he went over from a “regular” United Grand Lodge of England lodge to a lodge of the mixed gender order Le Droit Humain. This British Federation of LDH is what this book is partly about.

The book is only 140 pages and the subjects dealt with vary from general information about Freemasonry (history, symbolism, what happens in a lodge, etc.) to a little bit of history of ‘modern’ Freemasonry and finally mixed-gender Freemasonry, the latter giving an idea of the past of the British Federation. Some pages are filled with lengthy quotes and even an entire “piece of architecture” (a lecture).

Nowhere the information is in much depth. In 10 pages there are 5 theories about the origins of Freemasonry, to give an example.

The little book seems to aim at reaching people who are unfamiliar with the subject of Freemasonry in general, giving the idea that there is more than the best-known variety. It does not say a whole lot about the way a mixed gender lodge works though.

“More light” makes a light read with here and there some information that was new to me (particularly about the British Federation of LDH). It may teach the hardly informed “profane” a little.

The authors claim that this is the first book about mixed gender Freemasonry in English, but of course there already was the book about “the Honorable order of American co-Masonry” (2006).

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.

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.