WOMEN AND FREEMASONRY
THE DEVELOPMENT OF FREEMASONRY FOR MEN AND WOMEN
Jeanne Heaslewood, P.G.M., G.S.
At the invitation of the Theosophical Society Jeanne Heaslewood presented a Paper at the University of Bristol Theosophical Society Summer School in September 2007. The title of the Paper given to the Summer School was "The Development of Freemasonry for Men and Women in the Millennium". Permission is granted for the lecture to be printed in the Masonic Magazine, Issue Three. Jeanne Heaslewood is a member of the T.S. and a Senior Member of The Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for Men and Women.
So many articles have been written about Women in Freemasonry and cite single women who had to be initiated into a masculine Lodge by virtue of being found by the Lodge members and initiated to maintain the secrecy; due to having been hidden in a cupboard, and various instances quoted range across the country and even to Ireland. These date back to 1710 and continue the tale of inquisitive females.
However, the interesting aspect of women in Freemasonry was that Catherine I, Czarina of Russia, founded the Order of St. Catherine, an Order of Knighthood for women of which she was Grand Mistress in 1712.
And in 1718 the Order of Concord was founded by Prince Schwartsburg-Rudolstadt for both sexes. Thereafter many female Orders, or Orders for females only were started during that time. Of interest in 1784 an Order called Knights and Ladies of the Dove (Chevaliers et Chevalières de la Colombe) was a secret society modelled on Freemasonry and instituted at Versailles for both men and women. It became extinct by the middle of the 19th century. Also in 1813 a branch of the Order of Virtue was established at Charlottenburg. Both sexes were admitted and it had a certain similarity with Freemasonry.
The Order of the Eastern Star is an Adoptive Order and noted to have been in America since about 1850; it exists still today across the world, the characters of this Order are taken from the Old Testament of the Bible and appear in the Order as heroines, all of whom had beautiful characters of sacred history. Ruth, a main player and eventually the wife of Boaz, refused to leave Naomi her mother-in-law following her first husband's death. Her affection and strong attachment is reported in the V.S.L. and it sets the feelings expressed which are also recorded in the most beautiful and heart stirring words, which appear in a study on the Eastern Star.
Entreat me not to leave thee,
Or return from following after thee,
For whither thou goest, I will go,
And where thou lodgest, I will lodge
Thy people shall be my people,
And thy God my God,
Where thou diest, will I die,
And thee will I be buried;
The Lord do so to me, and more also
If ought but death part thee and me.
This sets the special quality of the Star of the East or the Eastern Star and appears again in Freemasonry both masculine, feminine and "mixed" men and women where it is recognised as a Landmark known as Brotherly Love.
Finally, the future of history for Freemasonry for men and women was determined in France in 1879 when it was mooted in the Grande Lodge Symbolique de France.
It was in this lodge that Madame Maria Deraismes, a staunch worker and lecturer for the welfare of humanity in general and women's rights in particular, was initiated into masculine Freemasonry in the Loge Libre Penseurs, in Pecq, a small town outside of Paris.
Thus started the important events that led to the forming of the Order, today known as the Order of Universal Co-Masonry, later to be called International Co-Freemasonry — Le Droit Humain. Since that time, many other worldwide Orders of Freemasonry for Men and Women have been created due to the differences within the Co-Masonic Order. One independent group was formed in June 1908, under the name of the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry. In the beginning this Order was composed of both men and women founders, but the Order did not initiate any new men and since 1935 it has been entirely composed of women. Yet another breakaway group from the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry started a new Order in 1913, and called itself the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons. This was due to various reasons, mainly because the group wished to follow a further spiritual path, by performing what is called the Higher or Additional degrees, beyond the Craft degrees. At that time, they had a few men members and they were allowed to continue in gratitude for their past services until the last of them died about 1935. This new Order has continued to this day and is a totally feminine Order. There are two Women-only Grand Lodges today, and the largest is the original Order which changed its name from the first Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry to the Order of Women Freemasons.
In around 1925 a further Grand Lodge was formed, this time calling itself the Ancient Freemasonry for Men and Women, which was regretfully followed by a further schism and a change of name to The Ancient and Accepted Freemasonry for Men and Women. This organisation was responsible for assisting the French feminine Lodge to set up what is known as a Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of 33 Degrees.
We now come to what is the history of Freemasonry for men and women as Annie Besant influenced it. In 1902 Annie Besant was the founder of Co-Masonry in Great Britain, and she was already well known for her work in the Theosophical Society. Two of her close and dearest friends, Francesca and George Arundale were already in the Order of Universal Co-Masonry and Annie Besant travelled to Paris with them, to receive the Craft degrees which were necessary for her to fulfil a desire to bring "mixed" Masonry to Great Britain.
Some time later the title Universal was changed to "International Co-Freemasonry Le Droit Humain". Annie Besant went on to form Lodges in all parts of what was the "Empire" and she was responsible for spreading Co-Masonry across the world. Her tremendous personality and strength of character, her eloquence in stating the facts of Masonry to the lodges, were evident in the number of Lodges she formed in the British Isles. Annie Besant also fought hard to maintain the Landmark of the V.S.L. in every Lodge and also an essential belief in a Supreme Being. This she stated clearly in a lecture to the T.S. in Paris in 1925, explaining how she insisted on this principle for at least Great Britain and the Empire.
To bring this up to date, I have to say here, that in the year 2001, the Consistory Council of the British Federation of International Co-Freemasonry Le Droit Humain was suspended and the main executives expelled. Without labouring the point, it was due to the very reason to which Annie Besant had held fast in 1925. Those organisations that follow the Grand Orient of France do not have the V.S.L. to make an Obligation on as they work to a Constitution, and the essential belief in a Supreme Being is not necessary.
A new Order was inaugurated on 18th February 2001, by the nine members of the 32nd degree and of the Consistory Council of International Co-Freemasonry Le Droit Humain. This Order was called the Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for Men and Women. This seemed to be a simple way of addressing a Masonic Order about to follow the principles and organisation as expressed by U.G.L.E. and Women's Orders of this country.
Happiness in brotherhood is of vital importance because it is this which maintains members. I am not talking of humour but rather of the purity of being together and working for the Masonic good. It is here that the spirit is enlightened. I ask then, what do I mean by Spirit — it is traditionally believed to be the vital principle or animating force within living beings. Or in another way, that which is traditionally regarded as the non-material essence or true nature of an individual, especially as the intangible spiritual core of a person, the soul or the essential and activating principle of a person; the will.
Annie Besant was a fascinating person, perhaps one born too early, yet if later, would she have made such an impact on the one and on the all! Her ability to speak with great clarity, her ability to obtain the attention of the one and of all, an audience. Her work in the fields of humanity, of tackling the poor attitudes towards women — and she brought to Freemasonry those attributes and those magnificent ideals (her words) which underline the Hindu religion and its growth. Following the inauguration of Freemasonry in Great Britain in 1902, Annie Besant founded the first Indian Lodge, in what was Benares. This was called a Triangle and had as it members, Anne Besant, Francesca and George Arundale. They called the lodge The Dharma Lodge and this was the first of many Lodges founded by Annie Besant throughout the world, everywhere where she attended and lectured, especially to the T.S. centres. From this began a great step forward for French Masonry, as Masonry increased in numbers in the dominions until they were able to call themselves Federations.
Annie Besant found a light in Masonry and she was the torch bearer of Truth, by which she lived throughout her trials of life. Robert Browning wrote in his poem Paracelsus —
Truth is within ourselves; it takes no rise
From outward things, whate'er you may believe.
There is an inmost centre in us all,
Where truth abides in fulness; and around,
Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
This perfect, clear perception — which is truth.
The name of one of our Lodges is Lodge Annie Besant and in their Consecration Ceremony quoted the message which Annie Besant sent to the 1932 Theosophical Convention, held in Adyar, India.
When she was too frail to go and open the Convention, this is the message, which today is as fresh as it comes to you.
I welcome you here today with all my heart.
Each one of you is dear to me as though my own son or daughter, and there is nothing could make me so happy as to have you gathered around me in the Master's home.
May His blessing rest on the heads of each one of his children,
May you all rest in His presence,
May His love remain with you.
Freemasonry is then, work which is all about conciliation, love and of perfect spirit of discipline and generosity; marking a new step in the history of the Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for Men and Women, in Great Britain, Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania. In these later countries much work is to be carried out, they have the urge to follow Annie Besant's desire for Freemasonry, but still have much work to do in the fields of humanity. We will, with God's help, gradually change the attitudes to conciliation, love and perfect spirit, to peace and goodwill.
We live in an age where it seems the search for wisdom has never been greater and there are hundreds of new founding organisations claiming to offer such prizes as peace, illumination, self-mastery and wisdom, which are usually couched terms for gaining wealth and power.
The base of Freemasonry across the world and in all various Orders is of a hierarchical structure. We are the privileged inheritors of the ancient orders of symbolism, mystery, geometry and brotherhood. Indeed Speculative Masonry, with its many deviations of the word, speculative, is to take the view of anything from the mind, to consider anything mentally. One can, then as a Freemason take to oneself which path one is suited to in order to develop morally and spiritually.
Here we have many paths to follow but as a member of my particular Freemasonry, that of the Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for Men and Women, speculative is not a term which dictates that everyone must also find spirituality as defined by any particular religious cult. Certainly, an individual can see or label a person, or body of people as spiritual, by what subject or measurement is used. It is easy to label a cult as a spiritual body, which is usually the reason of existence of a pseudo-religious group or cult. One is reminded of the blind person, who uses a white stick to let everyone know immediately that is what they are; how much of the sight has gone, which is noted, but unless you know this person from the inside of thought and deed, you know nothing.
It is important in the development both of a Masonic order and of the Masons themselves that from the beginning of speaking to someone about Freemasonry, one must also learn something about the person whom Freemasonry wishes to learn of. The development of morality and spiritual progress and of the desire for more knowledge, of the desire to understand the ancient mysteries and to seek for the symbolism behind the artefacts given to a Mason, is no mean task. It is sometimes a task which takes many years, but there are those who have a previous esoteric knowledge and intuition of these things, which is why many people gravitate towards belonging or wishing to belong to Freemasonry. Freemasonry has no place for the ego and this is the first loss an Initiate would experience, during the preparation for initiation and during the blind-folded journeys around the Lodge. Freemasonry has no place for ambition, one can only bring to Freemasonry the personal skills and experience, and which maybe will only be called upon during the years of learning and the organisation requirements.
But there is a time and a place to give the personal skill to the progress of Freemasonry, but this must never be of a personal nature but one of a caring and helpful role. The change in the individual Freemason by the different paths of instruction acceptable to the individual gains friendship, love and brotherhood by its teaching of the ritual and symbolism. Is Brotherhood then a simple reason for success and happiness, Such as
- sharing like a brother (friend)
- relationship between brothers.
- relationship of an association which exists for mutual help.
Which should mean,
- strength, particularly of the association without criticism which becomes destructive enough to finally lose its way
Annie Besant explained Freemasonry as:
It works simply searching for the Truth. In Lodges, discussions concerning social and religious questions cannot in any case give more than explanations to members and enable them to do their duties as Freemasons with better understanding. No limit is put to the search for the Truth, but of course, the great freedom cannot serve the peculiar interest of a member to the detriment of The Grand Lodge.
On this occasion, I am following the great Landmark of Brotherly Love and I hope that you will be able to glimpse some of the symbolism with which men and women gain by working together.
The structure of our particular Freemasonry is two-fold, the Grand Lodge which is about the three Craft Degrees, which are self explanatory, the Apprentice, the Fellowcraft and the Master Mason. The second part of the Order is called The Grand Conclave, this is the term used by the Knights Templar and we use it to differentiate between the Grand Lodge and The Grand Conclave.
Of which, further degrees can be taken, from the 4th to the 33rd and last degree; these are offered to the members when they feel they have reached the growth of their spiritual work in the Grand Lodge. Love in the 18th degree or that called the Rose Croix degree is an important development of Brotherhood.
Love here is finally outwardly spoken of and is directly concerning each of us in its teaching. If you do not find the discipline of love and sacrifice in this degree, it is necessary to falter and stay until the humanity and love of its teaching seeps into your soul. This is a further step for the Candidate who started as an Initiate on the path of development of morality and spiritual progress.
For all these ideals, many hundreds of Freemasons, men and women lost their lives during the last Great War and were rounded up, their temples destroyed. In fact, in countries where dictatorship still governs, Masons are not at liberty to follow their ideals. It is necessary to know how to protect ourselves from the perturbing and dangerous elements which will always infiltrate among us — Courage, devotion to duty, irreproachable conduct of our Brethren are necessary and true today in what we call calmer days, but we must all be vigilant and conscious of the dangers which surround us.
Are we each aware of the changes in life which are presented today They are so numerous. Or is it the lack of a dream?
Walt Whitman on Brotherhood in his poem Leaves of Grass —
I dream'd in a dream I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the
whole of the rest of the earth,
I dream'd that was the new city of Friends,
Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love, it led the rest,
Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass
all the argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women
my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love,
Is it a dream?
Nay but the lack of it the dream,
And failing it life's lore and wealth a dream,
And all the world a dream.
Is Brotherhood then a simple reason for success and happiness?
We have to bear in mind that Masons are FREE and be extremely careful to guard that freedom gained by our predecessors of Masonry. We must not become known as a sect or club whose fruit is of only one tree. Any association which looks like a sect, ends up by frightening people away and is mindless and does not allow the evolvement of freedom to follow each his own line of thought as does Freemasonry.
It is not possible to create a true and genuine brotherhood upon any theory of the baseness of Human Nature — nor by a community of belief in abstract proportions. Where strength exists in a full and useful Masonic Lodge, life then is a success of harmony and beauty the activity of which transforms each brother. Masons should be kind and affectionate to each other, as we Obligate ourselves to the essential Landmark of Belief in a Supreme Being and brotherly love. Freemasons should gather their varied interests together and feel that respect and kindness for each other, which our common relations and common approach to the one God should inspire solicitation for all in a brotherhood.
What is it then, to inspire the noble, the lofty-minded, the person seeking esoteric knowledge — What then is our approach for the future?
Is it Unity — in Masonry unity can be expressed as ritual, the sharing of ceremonies well rehearsed from years ago; is it the V.S.L. which is the name covering all great religion sacred writings, whilst Freemasonry shares the one God, there is a valuable unity. In token to the building of K.S. Temple, the Chapiters standing almost together and appearing to guard the door to the Middle Chamber, have a network spread over the two columns, chapiter means closeness, togetherness.
Is it Caring, which is embraced by brotherly love, an important landmark in Masonry, it is the vital link in a lodge, without it, caring for your family, your job, your country, nature, the animal kingdom, and your fellow members. This is hard work, if you put your soul into it. It reverberates throughout the physical self, — kindness — caring, means patience and a love of humanity.
Perhaps it is Courage. Courage demands honesty, the type where if you have principles and beliefs, it is necessary to question, whether it goes with the strength to declare one's self. To have the courage to show the world how important our values are to each of us, and where they come from. Freemasons usually have an aura of friendliness and encouragement and helpfulness to our friends, our fellow staff at places of employment and within our social life.
Strength then, is it to be the strength of physical culture, strength of the mind, does it mean strength of principles, strong in a belief. However, the question is really, does it mean to stand up for a principle. Perhaps, it is strength to grow together in tolerance, to maintain harmony, to assist the weak. Freemasonry is a vital link with the past; the past may be too distant, to delve up historical proof for all our beliefs, yet one matter will withstand Contradiction, the future will come, whether we are part of it or not and yet the mysteries of long ago remain to haunt us with discovering their meanings and this will continue long after we have gone.
Freemasonry does not belong to the individual, it is on loan to each generation, in the same manner as in the past. Yet, uncomfortable as it may seem, Masonry has to move with the times, it must examine habits and prejudices and make adjustments to suit the times of our lives; this is without leaving the past and the Landmarks and principles of Masonry behind.
We have a responsibility to love our neighbours, love strongly appears to be a key of the additional degrees. We sacrifice our love of self. This is in order to help and guide in due humility not to seek the great Power; never from a Lordly height of Separateness to seek to dominate, for if so we do at our peril. We must dwell long and to good purpose in the Holy Place of the Heart.
If we are not in harmony with Sacrifice of self-love, we cannot produce the humility of love which is a good support of all our actions and fulfils the Law of the Sovereign Architect.
If we see Brotherhood love, as a development of our social instincts, then we are describing it as a wise, common sense adjustment of one's self to one's fellows. When we make that wise and harmonious adjustment, it is not in response to some sentimental and pious wish that such should be but we should make it in response to the learning of fact, to the way things really are within our structure of love, wisdom and strength.
To really understand love within Brotherhood as a form of wisdom, demanded by the social structure of the Masonic world, which also is not then troubled by sentimental difficulties and should not permit accidental private experiences to sour brotherly striving. Human natures have opposites of each other.
What one admires, another detests, love and hate. Temperaments differ. Interests differ. Brotherhood (love) does not demand of us that we privately like people who are obnoxious to us, or that others should like us, if they find our company distasteful. Such matters are of one's own intimate likes and dislikes, having to do with private friendship rather than brotherhood. However, in Masonry with its paramount teaching of Love, we strive to maintain our five points of Fellowship whereby we seek to uphold our Brother in absence as in presence. We are then bound together in love in search for a world of harmony and unity and here we start at the very initiative stage and continue to search forever.
As I said previously, the past may be too distant to delve up historical proof for all our beliefs, yet one matter will withstand any attempt at contradiction — the future will come, and will continue long after we have gone. We in Freemasonry know, that it does not belong to us — we have it on loan and are its custodians for the time we live. We must then see that it is handed on to the next, and the next and the next generation, pure and unsullied. Uncomfortable as it may seem, we will need to move with the times — we must examine some of our habits and prejudices and make adjustments to suit the present world we live in.
With membership in the minds of many organisations, Freemasonry is not different, and we have this very much on our minds with consideration to the work which young people do today. So much more demanding than yesterday. We suffer from, not only the loss of brethren to Grand Lodge Eternal but the important loss of their experience and wide knowledge of the esoteric meaning of Masonry. The younger members, by the very fact, that workloads are too heavy for them, money to difficult to earn and maintain, cannot always be blamed for the groups of resignations and lapsing because this is, the problem of the activity of a Lodge, also it is a fact that younger members look to be given responsibilities and require recognition for their knowledge of the world and their profession.
Our Mentors of the past laid down the rules of Freemasonry. Our Mentors of today must not be pushed away — or put on a shelf. There is much that younger people can learn about Freemasonry (and I do not mean from occult adventurers and the so-called inspirationalists who attempt to change Freemasonry to something imagined and not of regular practice within a Consecrated Lodge) for ordinary men and women who have made Freemasonry "a living thing". As with many organisations today, the loss of younger members, so keen to join, yet cannot provide the time to fulfil the obligations impressed upon them at the beginning of their life — Masonic or otherwise. The demand of work today, means that they work longer hours, cannot find the time for leisure and certainly cannot cope with a continued relationship with Masonry or other organisations. Today, organisations rely on the older members who have to take the responsibility of administration just in order to maintain the lodge, the order, the organisation.
This is difficult when you consider the splendid precepts and devise ways whereby esoteric knowledge, symbolism and spirituality must be maintained in today's world. The future needs to be kept good for the world to survive with excellent knowledgeable people. Masonic philosophy is not a private exercise in mental and moral gymnastics in a Lodge Temple, it is intended to change men and women to live with a loving brotherhood in their relationships with fellow people.
The principles of Masonry are such that they should be acknowledged with the realisation to live to them. Actions and behaviour are the mirror of Freemasonry. The precepts should lead to a renewed sense of civic responsibility because of the importance today that all citizens of the world must believe in their responsibilities and reflect on the harmony which is necessary between their rights and their duty.
Finally, I found, sometime ago, a small but meaningful text in, of all places a Garden Centre, and I would like to finish this talk by quoting it.
I sought my soul but my soul I could not see,
I sought my God, but my God eluded me,
I sought my Brother, and I found all three.
Reproduced, with the permission of the author, from the Masonic Magazine, Issue 3, September, 2007. Published by the Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for Men and Women (UK)