The Rituals of Freemasonry as performed together by Men and Women

Jeanne Heaslewood, PGM

Grand Secretary
Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for Men and Women

Rituals have always been written by people with great imagination, who have from time past given consideration to the types of people who required different approaches to the drama of Freemasonry. The numerous rituals available to not only Freemasonry but also to other types of organisations which teach morality and self-discipline have always been brought about by the cultural needs and, of course, by the aim of the organisation or even a unit of an organisation which had been founded.

Some researchers consider that rituals may have to offer differences between men working as a single gender unit, women working as a single gender unit or men and women working in conditions of equality. One could question this view, if one thinks that there are certain conditions which have been traditionally accepted in the single-gender Masonic Orders.

Looking beyond the gender of rituals, the question occurs whether there is such a need to change the drama of ritual to suit feminine or masculine or combined groups; surely, the changes that have been brought about are more to do with the intellect and esoteric needs of a particular group of people, and not the gender.

Before looking at particular rituals, it is necessary to question the views of the various Masonic Obediences or Orders of Freemasonry, which might have some relevance to the question of differences of rituals.

United Grand Lodge of England states, in its Book of Constitutions, in the preface of The Charges of a Free-Mason etc. etc. concerning Lodge…

The persons made masons or admitted members of a lodge must be good and true men, free-born, and of mature and discreet age and sound judgement, no bondmen, no women, no immoral or scandalous men, but of good report.

Bernard E. Jones in his Freemasons Guide and Compendium, first published in 1950 with various reprints since that date, states that the first Constitutions, those of 1723, make the matter clear "The Persons admitted members of a Lodge must be good and true Men, free-born, and of mature and discreet age, no Bondmen". However, in the Ancient Charges prefacing the book of Constitutions of the United Grand Lodge of England we are told that the persons are as set out in the latest Constitutions.

Bernard Jones continues in Aims and Relationship of the Craft:

In 1929 the Grand Lodge of England issued Basic Principles for Grand Lodge Recognition, this foreshadowed the greater part of the declaration.

The first condition of admission into, and membership of, the Order is a belief in the Supreme Being, The Bible, the Volume of the Sacred Law, is always open in the Lodges. Every Candidate is required to take his Obligation on that book or on the volume that is held by his particular creed to impart sanctity to an oath or promise taken upon it. While the individual Freemason has the right to hold his own opinion with regard to public affairs, neither in a lodge nor in his capacity as a Freemason, may he discuss or advance his views on theological or political questions; The Grand Lodge has always consistently refused to express any opinion on questions of foreign or domestic State policy either at home or abroad, and it will not allow its name to be associated with any action, however humanitarian it may appear to be, which infringes this policy; The Grand Lodges refuses to have any relations with or to regard as Freemasons, any bodies, styling themselves Freemasons, which do not adhere to these principles.

and laid down that any Grand Lodge asking to be recognised by the English jurisdiction shall strictly observe the principles of the Ancient Landmarks, customs, and usages of the Craft, it membership and that of its individual Lodges shall be composed exclusively of men; there shall be no Masonic intercourse with mixed Lodes or with bodies that admit women to membership, the three Great Lights of Freemasonry (the V.S.L. the Square and the Compasses) shall always be exhibited when it or its subordinate Lodges are at work.

This very strong stuff comes down from the years of servitude of women and has not reflected the movement over the years. From the time of votes for women, much has been established in the profession and in trades which at that time would not have been the acceptable manner of working for women.

Dr. Annie Besant, following her Initiation, Passing and Raising into the Universal Mixte Masonry of France in 1902, decided that Freemasonry had definitely something to offer to men and women working in a lodge together and given the same privileges and pattern of working. Consequently she brought to England in 1902 Universal Freemasonry, the title of which was eventually translated to The International Co-Freemasonry Le Droit Humain. At that stage, the first ritual was a translation of the ritual used in France by the LDH Order. In 1903 Dr. Besant started a Triangle in Benares, India together with her good friends, Franscesca and George Arundale (who were responsible for taking her to Paris to join Universal Mixte Masonry in the first place). It was in Benares in 1904 that the Dharma Ritual came to light and together with Dr. C. W. Leadbeater, she wrote into the Dhama Ritual the special working of the offerings of the elements to be changed into the Elementals. [The pattern of the Hindu religious ceremony of marriage or, if one wishes similar, to that of the changing of wine and bread of the Christian religion.]

The Dharma Ritual was originally a masculine ritual, founded in India. There are in existence two different versions dated 1904. Dr. C. W. Leadbeater was also a fellow member of the Theosophical Society of which Dr. Besant was the International Head as well as a recent Freemason; he was also interested in this new exciting society. The Dharma Ritual was the accepted ritual of the group and its connotations very much to their thinking, so that it could be changed to suit the then source of imagination or magic which was considered more suitable to the growth of the mixed (men and women) Freemasonry of the Indian Continent. Therefore Leadbeater, together with Annie Besant, added to the Dharma Ritual the embellishments of the offering of the Elementals and the Mystic Charges. The two following degrees, that of the second and third degree, were also given a more dramatic or magic favour. In fact, the changes can be found more fully written up in Leadbeater's book, The Hidden Life in Freemasonry. In this book, Leadbeater explains clearly all the magic of the words of the changes made to the Dharma Ritual. One clearly understands the meaning of the changes from this book.

This Ritual became the formal ritual of the British Jurisdiction at that time, as it reflected the English culture and followed the strongest Masonry in this country. i.e. the UGLE with its usage of the V.S.L. which at that time and still to this day, is not the accepted usage in main French Masonry.

During later years in England, the Dharma Ritual lost its name and merely became known in the British Federation Le Droit Humain by a reprinted date. It also lost the history of the Dharma Ritual. However, when the schism occurred in the British Federation at the end of 2000, the Senior members of the Consistory Council, the then governing body, suspended by the Supreme Council of Paris, and later four Executive Officers expelled by the British Federation Triangle of the 33rd degree, were determined to carry on as Freemasons.

The Founders of the Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for Men and Women not only took this title so as to be understood, that the new organisation was not only British but also determined to follow the standards of the United Grand Lodge of England and the H.F.A.F. and Women's Orders in administration and organisation.

Furthermore, not wishing to follow the Lauderdale Ritual exclusively, it was necessary to review the Dharma Ritual and seek authority from the Head of Freemasonry in India to use the Dharma Ritual as a background to revising and modernising the ritual to suit the new Order. This was agreed and the ritual, in honour of Dr. Annie Besant, the Founder of the Anglo-Saxon Freemasonry for Men and Women, is now called The Besant Ritual. This name was also accepted across the newly formed Eastern Order of International Co-Freemasonry.

The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasonry at the Frontispiece of their Constitution make a simple statement.

The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasonry is organised entirely by women for women.

This Order follows the Universal Ritual, which is not unlike the Emulation Ritual and is used by both the female Orders (without changes!). This surely shows that the male and female organisations are clear in their choice of gender and also clear in following the Rituals without changing them for the sake of the gender of both men and women.

However, it is important to note here that changes made by the UGLE to the Oaths by deleting the medieval penalties of the Obligations in the craft (as well as the H.R.A. Chapter Ritual) has not necessarily been copied by other Masonic Organisations, quasi or recognised. This change does not affect gender only, as previously explained of the Dharma Ritual, which was changed to a more spiritual approach; the changes made to the Emulation and other Rituals of the UGLE were made because of the phylogeny of the time we live in, and not by the gender of the masculine Order.

Of course, on the continent the gender, female and masculine are noted in the ritual books, the usage of "My brothers and sisters" prefaces the command given by the W.M. whereas in England, the female orders and the mixed orders are announced as "My brothers OR Brethren" given as a command. However, the script of the ritual on the Continent remains quite masculine in its content; in fact, the W.M., called Venerable Maître, the masculine address, is strangely enough also used to address a female Venerable Maître. This does not occur in the all-female Order of France, the address to the Grand Master is actually Grand Mistress. This title would not be used in England as the female Orders both have Grand Master as their address for the high office. In the mixed Orders in England which follow the Usages and Organisation of the UGLE, and address both female and Masculine as Worshipful Master and respectively Grand Master. This is not so in the British Federation of International Co-Freemasonry where the head of the Federation (part of the total Order of The International Mixte Order, Le Droit Humain) is called Most Puissant Grand Commander and the Rulers of the craft are termed Right Worshipful Master.

There are far more changes which continually take place within the various organisations of both female, male and mixed Orders, given time and opportunity it would be interesting to follow these developments in the future.

Grand Lodge Masonic Magazine, Issue 5, Spring-Summer 2018.