Diversity in unity?

HeidleShoek_WomenHeidle and Snoek’s book also has a ‘very Dutch’ essay. Anne van Marion-Weijer conducted an investigation within the Dutch federation of Le Droit Humain for her master’s thesis for her study at Amsterdam Hermetica.

Besides a student, Van Marion is also a member of the organisation she investigated. She is editor of the periodical Nieuw Perspectief and used to be the archivist.

Her questionnaire was about the fact that within the Dutch federation three different “traditions” are present, a “Dutch” (before 1995 called “Scottish”), “English” and “French” “tradition”.

Van Marion starts with a general introduction. She calls the Dutch federation “special” because it works with different rites, but in fact most (all?) federations of Le Droit Humain have more than one rite. The British federation, for example, lists no less than six on their website.
The general introduction mentions that of the 27.000 members of Le Droit Humain worldwide, 60% live in France or Belgium.
For the Netherlands Van Marion mentions that there were at the time of writing 21 lodges, 15 of which worked in the “Dutch” “tradition”, four in the “English” and two in the “French”.

Then follows more information about the different “traditions”. The author says that in the beginning, there was only the “English” tradition in the Netherlands. Nowadays only 19% works in that “tradition” and two of the four “English” lodges are so small that they have to work together with “Dutch” lodges.

The author says that the “Dutch” rituals are largely based on the rituals of the Grand Orient of the Netherlands, but this is not entirely true. In an article of Jan Snoek that Van Marion mentions in her bibliography, he demonstrates that the “Dutch” rituals are actually translations of Annie Besant‘s “Dharma workings” to which adjustments have been made based on the rituals of the Grand Orient.

In the general introduction to Le Droit Humain the author mentions that initially Georges Martin didn’t want ‘high grades’, but allowed them to be added to attract more members. At the time he only had the 30th degree himself (from the organisation he was initiated in himself), so a way had to be found to grand him the 33th degree in order to be able to pass it on.

Then the text again focuses on the Netherlands and how the Dutch federation fared with the change of rituals from “English” to “Dutch” (first split-off), how the “English” “tradition” returned and how eventually also the “French” would be introduced.
The latter is a nice story. The ritual of Georges Martin was revived at a commemoration, after which several members were of the opinion that these rituals were better than that of their own lodges. Two lodges replaced their own rituals.

Then follows the questionnaire that Van Marion conducted for her thesis. All members of the Dutch federation received questions about the different “traditions”. About a third sent them back. Fortunately the proportion in “tradition” worked of the respondents was about the same as the proportions between the different “traditions” in general.
The questions included were such as ‘are you aware of the different “traditions”?’, ‘were you before you joined?’, ‘did you make a deliberate choice?’, etc.

The conduct was made in September 2005. At the time there were 328 members, 256 women and 70 men.

From the answers of members of the “English” tradition we can see that here is the largest group who made a deliberate choice for this tradition. This could be that they were Theosophist. 30% Had no idea that there were other “traditions” before they received the questionnaire and only 6% was of the opinion that the different “traditions” was enriching. A third sees animosity between the different “traditions”. 12% Was of the opinion that they had nothing in common with the other “traditions” and 84% experience their own rituals as ‘religious’/ ‘spiritual’.
Also the “French” tradition proved to be a deliberate choice. Some people even switched lodges in order to work in this rite. Even though none of the six respondents experienced no animosity between other traditions 60% said to have nothing in common with the other two. Some even expressed themselves quite sharply. None of the respondents experienced their rituals as ‘religious’, but the word ‘spiritual’ was used.
From the largest group, working in the “Dutch” “tradition”, only 26% choose this “tradition” deliberately. From this group the largest part (52%) had not been aware that there were lodges working with another rite. Also the largest part of this group (50%) saw the diversity as enriching, but on the other hand, this group had the only respondents who were of the opinion that the diversity detracted Freemasonry (5%). A third experiences animosity between the different “traditions” and from this group the largest part (70%) experiences “a feeling of togetherness and sacredness / spirituality” during their rituals.

After the questionnaire some more general information follows and then the author continues with testing a sociological theory on her findings. Here we can read how the original main group (“English”), was overshadowed by the “Dutch” tradition and had to play the role of “outsider”.

What pleads for the existence of the very website you are reading now is that Van Marion says that her respondents: “show little interest in the other traditions and they are surprisingly ignorant about the French roots of the IO LDH.”

Considering that the “French” “tradition” is so small, the author closes her essay saying that: “Time will show us whether or not the French ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ will have a greater appeal in the future than the Dutch ‘wisdom, strength and beauty’ or the ‘English’ ‘faith, hope and charity’.”

Looking at the last few years, I think this just might become the case.

Annie Besant and Freemasonry

HeidleShoek_WomenAnnie Besant has played an enormously big role in mixed gender Freemasonry, so naturally she features frequently in texts about the subject. Still, Andrew Prescott thought it necessary to write a fairly detailed biography of her.

Besant was born from not too wealthy parents. A “wealthy spinster” saw to it that she got her education though. Besant was a devout child and grew up as an independent young lady. When she married she was forced into the typical role of a woman in that time. She did not want to conform and was clear about that. Then she lost her daughter and therewith her faith. That her husband didn’t like, so Besant decided to leave him.

Besant met Charles Bradlaugh an early freethinker who made Besant decide she was an atheist. Bradlaugh let Besant write for his periodical National Reformer. She also proved to be a gifted orator. Bradlaugh and Besant started a publishing house, but the nature of the books resulted in a lawsuit in which Besant defended herself.

Contrary to Bradlaugh Besant started to develop socialist ideas and she became involved in the women’s rights movement. Socialists were too materialistic for her, though, and then she ran into The Secret Doctrine of Helena Blavatsky. Impressed by the massive work, Besant sought contact and the two immediately got along well. In no-time Besant had a high position in the Theosophical Society and its Inner Circle. She moved to Adyar, India, were the headquarters of the Theosophical Society still can be found. There Besant got involved in the movement of the freedom of the Indian people. India was a British colony at the time.

In Adyar Besant started to cooperate with the controversial Charles Leadbeater. Both saw the new Messiah in the boy Jiddu Krishnamurti.

It looks like her acquaintance with Freemasonry (about which later) triggered projects in which ceremonies were a part. An organisation around Krishnamurti arose (Order of the Star in the East) and she helped the Liberal Catholic Church.

Besant also met Charles Wedgwood who would initiate Leadbeater into co-Masonry in 1915. Wedgwood and Leadbeater would rework the rituals of the British federation of Le Droit Humain and bring in many more spiritual(istic) influences. Leadbeater was in contact with the “head of all true Freemasons” and “the Master of the Seventh Ray, the Count of Saint Germain alias Prince Ragoczy”. Besant supported it all.

It wasn’t all well between Besant and Leadbeater though. A misjudgment in her political activities (which Leadbeater disagreed with to begin with) brought problems for Besant, both in her home country (India) and in Le Droit Humain. The ‘case Krishnamurti’ also drove the two apart.

In the period described, also the movement for the rights of women came up. In Boomsbury, UK, a new building for the Theosophical Society was to be built. In the UK it is not uncommon that the laying of the first stone happens with a big parade in which local organisations show themselves. Besant toured the town with a few brothers and sisters in full regalia. For most people this was the first time the saw a female Freemason and the event raised positive attention. This was a fairly daring step, but Besant was not afraid to shake up the public and the organisations she was active in.

Besant had a lot of interests and activities. Sometimes they seem to contradict or change a lot. Even though some Theosophists saw Besant’s Freemasonry as a side-project, Prescott suggests that it was actually cement of Besant’s life. Indeed, when her Masonic position threatened because of her political misstep in India, she wrote that without Freemasonry she would be crippled.
Besant fought for a worldwide brotherhood. Freemasonry was the way to achieve that and other projects to assist.

That Besant heavily marked mixed gender Freemasony (or “joint Freemasonry” in her own words) is obvious. Initially Besant was critical towards Freemasonry. It looks like it that Bradlaugh’s experience with British Freemasonry made her conclude that Freemasonry is a charity organisation in which banquets are the most important activity. Besant claims that in 1895 she was asked to join (perhaps otherwise she wouldn’t be the first British female Freemason), but refused. In 1902 she was initiated in lodge number 1. Soon she started a lodge in England, Human Duty no.6, but not before she saw to it that this would not be a “secular” lodge like the first lodges of Le Droit Humain. There would be a “Grand Architect of the Universe” and Besant would provide fitting rituals.
Many lodges would follow and later Wedgwood and Leadbeater would rework the rituals.

The British federation of Le Droit Humain did start to show cracks under Besant’s leadership. People who saw too big Theosophic influences split to found Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry in 1908. After a big fight an an official investigation another split-off took place and Order of Ancient and Accepted Masonry was founded. In spite of everything there was no breech with the Supreme Council in Paris.

Besant had many sides. Some people think some sides of her were irreconcilable, but Prescott is of another opinion. A fact is that Besant, almost singlehandedly, brought a massive rise for mixed gender Freemasonry, but also several splits. And besides the massive amounts of time she must have invested in Le Droit Humain she could also spend massive amounts of time in the Theosophical Society and many, many other activities.

Maçonnerie des Dames

HeidleShoek_WomenAndreas Önnerfors has an interesting essay about “The plans of the Strict Observance to establish a female branch”.
The Strict Observance? Aren’t they… very conservative?

In the archives of the Strict Observance in Denmark the author found a very well worked-out plan of 57 pages from 1773 for a female Strict Observance lodge that apparently escaped everyone until he discovered it. The documents contain regulations and even rituals. Önnerfors reprints all that he found, partly in three different languages (German, Swedish and English).
Now you may say: that’s probably an action of a few renegade members in the far North, but among the papers there is even a letter of Baron von Hund who was of the opinion that it was not yet a good idea to start a female lodge. In spite of the far developed plans, they never seem to have come to fruition.

Önnerfors opens with an interesting thought. What if the thinking about and development of forms of Freemasonry for (men and) women, triggered the development of chivalric (male) high grades?

In 1748 there appears to have been a Loge des Dames in Copenhagen. This was in fact a mixed lodge, since it had a male Warden and also its Grand Master was a man. This Grand Master was Wilhelm Matthias Neergaard who was also involved in the early development of high grades in Germany. The lodge initiated women over de course of several years.

The author found another document that connects women to high grades. A document from Germany that was brought to Sweden which speaks of “your lady knight”.

The the Strict Observance system then.
Contrary to the ‘normal’ Strict Observance, the dames system had five degrees instead of seven. The texts are very detailed and people who are better acquainted with the Strict Observance than myself may be able to judge how far the dames system differs from, or is similar to, the ‘normal’ system. Notable, for example, is the form of the temple, which is a square with an added triangle on one side. Within this triangle there is a ‘holy of holies’ part that is shielded from the rest of the temple.

The “deputy master” is a man, but he is the assistant of the ‘Maitresse en chaire’ and a lodge must consist of at least five persons, but besides the “deputy master” they should be female. The ‘Maitresse en chaire’ has contact with other SO lodges, all of them.

There is an interesting twitch to the five degrees. They correspond to Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason, but contrary to normal SO, the fourth degree is reserved for the Wardens and the fifth for the ‘Maitresse en chaire’. The Wardens have a different name in each degree.
Other functions are secretary, treasurer, orator and ‘serving sister’ (a master of ceremonies).
Secretary is a very important function reserved for people in the highest degree (so she must have been ‘Maitresse en chaire’ before?). There are quite a few demands, one of which is that she must be fluid in both French and German, apparently with the international contacts in mind.

The author prints drawings that have been made for several jewels. The lodge, furniture and equipment are described. “[T]he initiation rituals vary from a rather complex one for the first to a mere instruction for the higher degrees.” They are described with quite some detail.
An interesting point about the oath: “It is also a part of the oath to pay honour to the order of male Freemasonry, to support its lodges and to protect it against accusations from outside”. Also amusing is that the initiate receives two pairs of gloves, one of which is for “the man she esteems most”.

There are quite elaborate tracing boards with elements from the Old Testament (which Davies thinks typical for French lodges of adoption). An interesting element is the “Frère terrible”, a man of posture, whose task -as the name suggests- is to frighten the candidate.

The author sees similarities with French rituals from lodges of adoption, such as the somewhat odd “I think so” answers in the catechism and the climbing of the Jacob’s ladder.

Closing off the author refers to other rituals of adoption lodges that are found in Scandinavia and concludes that in these early days, such lodges were fairly common all over Europe.

So common, even the Strict Observance had a project with it!

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 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.

More light

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).

Haunted Chambers

Just heard about this book “Haunted Chambers, The Lives Of Early Women Freemasons“. I wonder if it is any good. I will let you know when I read it.

Looking for the Amazon link, I also saw a few other titles that could be interesting as well:

Plenty to read… Anybody know any of these titles? Are they any good?