The Freemasonry of Charles Leadbeater

You may have read it within these pages. In the early days of Le Droit Humain (so: in the early days of mixed gender Freemasonry and its derivatives) Charles Leadbeater and Annie Besant, two leading Theosophists, aligned with Le Droit Humain and reformed it. This reformation did not last, but this duo certainly had a big hand in the explosive growth of Le Droit Humain in the early days and they wrote rituals for the lodges that they founded.

These Theosophical rituals have and had a variety of names. Examples are “Sydney Workings”, “Annie Besant Concord”, “Dharma Workings”, “Lauderdale”, “Besant / Leadbeater” or “English” (the latter because the rituals were based on what is nowadays Emulation).
None of that is very important for the present article, but what were and are the differences in the rituals and how was the Freemasonry of Leadbeater different from other kinds of Freemasonry?

Let me start with a few ‘ritual differences’. The arrangement of the lodge differs from one rite to the next. People familiar with Emulation may not be surprised by an empty chair in the North or an officer sitting in the South, but other Masons just may be.
A bigger difference is the ‘dress-code’. White clothing, robes even sometimes, is still the norm in many lodges working any of the Theosophical rites. There seems to have been a time that some sort of hoods were worn.
People not used to Theosophical rituals will have at leat two more surprises. First, there is singing in the lodge, second, the opening involves a lengthy ceremony with incence.

So far the outer differences (feel free to complement me using the comment field below).

Leadbeater wrote a lot, but it seems that his bibliography contains just two books about Freemasonry, both published in 1926. The first is called Glimpses of Masonic History (later:  Ancient Mystic Rites). The second The Hidden Life in Freemasonry

The first book, as the title suggests, is a history of Freemasonry. In the last chapter the author touches upon “the co-Masonic order”. As we see more in those days, Leadbeater wrote an esoteric history of Freemasonry describing all kinds of mysteries.
The second title I recently picked up because I ran into a quote from it and decided to check the context. The book is very Theosophical. You can read about “thought forms”, “chakras”, “kundalini”, the ‘Great White Lodge” and whatnot. Of course Leadbeater also writes about Masonic ritual and elements therefrom. The temple, furniture, functionaries, the opening and closing, etc., etc. That is -of course- one thing, but here we actually have a book of a person who wrote Masonic rituals and and this book explains why certain things are the way they are. You can read why Leadbeater added the incence opening and why he left the Q&A at the opening. No matter what you think of such elements, it is interesting to read the ‘how’s and ‘why’s of the author himself.

Then there are the explanations themselves. To stick with the censing; the order of the places and the forms in which the container is swung is extremely particular and Leadbeater says why. He also writes about how he clairvoyantly sees ‘beings’ over the heads of officers and how they become active when the officer has a task in an open lodge. Leadbeater speaks about magnetising the lodge and how hard work this is when other people present don’t understand what is going on. Indeed, a rather ‘fluffy’ explanation of Freemasonry, but of course, each to his/her own.

More common elements that Leadbeater explains certainly can give food for though. He -for example- connects the different officers to parts of the body, such as the astral body (J.D.) or the lower mind (S.D.). During the opening the O.G. (physical body) has to see to it that the temple of the human body is not polluted with elements that should not be in there. The I.D. (etheric double) has to guard against impure thoughts, etc. This gives an idea of how the proceedings during the opening, are a reflection of what is to happen within the members present themselves. Also practical things that are not given much thought usually are explained, like why the feet are the way they are in the different degrees, why the signs are the way they are, etc.

Leadbeater is more than once ‘too Theosophical’ for me, but he certainly gets me thinking every now and then. Besides, and in repetition, it is interesting to read how and why elements got to make part of the rituals that Leadbeater co-authored.

Therefor I think this book will be particularly interesting for members working in any of the Leadbeater(-derived) rituals, but since many elements are the same in other lodges, a (much) different look on what we are doing never hurts, does it?

The author uses a lot of abbreviations, which sometimes make too much of a puzzle to me.

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3 comments

  1. As a member of the Sydney Lodge No. 404, I am very aware of the influence of CWL on our work. I too am not as swayed by the Theosopical interpretations and modifications to the old English, Scottish, Irish and French rituals, BUT, such eclecticism DOES evidence the liberalism and adogmatic approach of DH. It is important to recognise and respect the contribution our forebears have made.

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    1. That would probably be ‘giveaways’ for the “profane” 🙂 My guess is that functions and attributes have different names from what I am used to sometimes and when these alternative terms are abbreviated, this can make quite a puzzle. But there are also other abbreviations. “nor to exhibit any lack of caution with regard to the w … s and s … s which we have solemnly sworn never to reveal” (373). Most of them I ‘get’ after a few considerations, but the reading goes slowly this way.

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