A Brief History of the Founding of Co-Freemasonry
Presented at Canonbury Masonic Research Centre on 27 Sep 1999
The general question which is asked is, What is International Co-Freemasonry and when did it start?
It was in Grande Loge Symbolique de France in 1879 that Mlle 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 Paris. Thus started the important events that led up to the forming of the Order known as International Co-Freemasonry — Le Droit Humain.
Under the influence of Dr Georges Martin a number of prominent women were initiated and a new mixed Lodge was founded in Paris in 1893 with Dr Georges Martin becoming its founder. A Constitution was drawn up, under the title Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise Mixte de France, with its first lodge called Le Droit Humain, its activities restricted to Craft Masonry.
It was in 1900 that the Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise Mixte de France was able, with the assistance of sympathetic members of the Grande Loge Symbolique de France, to establish a Supreme Council in the thirty-three degrees of the Antient and Accepted Scottish Rite and administer the Order. Mlle Marie Deraismes was elected the first Grande Maitresse and President of the Supreme Council.
The First Mixed or Co-Masonic Lodge in Great Bntain and the founding of the British Federation
A Co-masonic Lodge was consecrated on 26th September 1902 in London by the Officers of the Supreme Council from Paris and it was given the title of Lodge Human Duty No. 6 of which Dr Annie Besant was the first ruler. While the International Headquarters of the Order remained under the Supreme Council in Paris, the work in this country flourished and many men and women in sympathy with the equality of women joined the Order.
The different Federations that make up this International Order can choose, if they wish, to follow the strongest Order of male Masonry of their own country. Thus the British Federation has chosen to follow the United Grand Lodge of England in its tenets and approach to Freemasonry, which require a belief in a Supreme Being, the presence of a Volume of Sacred Lore on which Obligations are taken and the shared Great Principles of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. The Craft Lodges in the British Federation soon adopted Rituals written in English rather that in French and were working Emulation, Verulam and the Dharma ritual (from India) which later became the Lauderdale ritual similar to the Bristol workings (as I understand it). A Scottish and later an Irish ritual were also approved by the Supreme Council.
The British Federation follows the Order of International Co-Freemasonry — Le Droit Humain — in that all members work the Antient and Accepted Scottish Rite and some side degrees of the York Rite. As well as Craft Lodges, the British Federation has also Mark Lodges, Royal Ark Mariner Lodges, Holy Royal Arch Chapters, Rose Croix Chapters, Knight Templar, Knight Kadosh, the 31st degree, the Consistory of the 32nd degree and Grand Council of the 33rd degree all of which are worked ceremonially. International Co-Freemasonry — Le Droit Humain — is governed by the Supreme Council of the 33rd degree, from Paris.
As we British Federation follow the tenets of U.G.L.E. I am taking on this occasion the first one ‘Brotherly Love’ and I hope that you will be able to glimpse some of the symbolism with which men and women gain working together.
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.
It is necessary here to put flesh on the background of Co-Freemasonry and to do so needs a little background on Co-Freemasony and its ancestors.
Marie Deraismes having qualities which brought her to the foreground of social needs of women and children in France was said by those who first heard her clarion call for Freemasonry that she was simple and graceful, neither shy or overbearing. From the beginning she held her audience. Her voice was sonorous, she spoke easily and with clarity, her witticisms were apt and well said without malice.
This example of feeling, expression and humanism was our beginning.
Victor Hugo said of Marie Deraismes “Carry on the Holy work, Honest people honour you and admire you and it is only right and fair to say so.”
Clemence Royer of France, a latter-time Grand Master, at sixty-four years old said, “My studies in mysticism became the great disappointment of my life.” I believe love is stronger than death, and live by my beliefs.
In the Centenary of our Order in 1993, the World Theme was “No weariness to Love” at which Marquerite Martin 33rd degree, Past Grand Master was quoted that — “This is your work; a work of which you can be proud because it is all about conciliation, love and I dare say that the work of International Co-Freemasonry is so Masonic in its character and in its mind, of perfect spirit of discipline and generosity; marking a new step in the history of Co-Freemasonry.”
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 whichever path one is suited to in order to develop morally and spirituality. Here we have many paths to follow but as a member of the Co-Masonic Order, speculative is not a term which dictates that everyone must also find spirituality as defined by a religious cult. Certainly, if you feel that an individual can see or label a person, or body of people as spiritual or spiritual then something from the ancient masonic order of things is lost to you. 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. However in practical terms, a white stick denotes a blind person but it shows nothing of their mind or soul.
The structure of Co-Freemasonry is such that it falls into two distinct areas; those degrees up to the 18th degree and those beyond, but each inter-link and are important to each other in the development of Brotherhood. Love here is finally outwardly spoken of and is directly concerning each of us in the teaching of the 18th degree. 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 simply a further step for the Candidate who started as an Initiate on the path of development of morality and spiritual progress. Freemasonry has no place for the Ego and this is the first loss, an initiate should feel, or be guided to lose, it has to be clear that here, there is no place for ambition or for previous experience other than to change the individual in freemasonry by gaining the knowledge of love and brotherhood by the teaching of its symbolism.
Annie Besant, as you probably are aware, was the founder of Co- masonry in Great Britain. She was already well known in Theosophical circles and for her work among the poor women and children in England. She started the Tinderbox Union and many other humanitarian works.
She was first interested in Freemasonry during her early days in India and her Theosophical friends Francesca and George Arundel took her to Paris to be initiated. Annie quickly became so involved that Lodges started all across England by the very force of her character and charismatic personality. Her enthusiasm for and her understanding of the inner side of Freemasonry spread to India, Australia, Canada, South Africa and many other Countries.
At Supreme Council in Paris she was highly thought of — her explanation of our masonry to Supreme Council was: “The Order of International Co-Freemasonry Le Droit Humain is not dogmatic. 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 a better understanding.
I quote Annie Besant’s whole text as stated at the Centenary:
Regarding the regulation of the Order of International Co- Freemasonry. The Supreme Council is the guardian of the Constitution and as such respecting the beliefs of all the members of the Obedience. 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 Order.
The obedience neither may nor must insist on its own convictions which are not shared by all its members.
For these ideals many Brethren in Spain, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Portugal, Greece, Switzerland, Italy and France lost their life’s in Ravensbrück camp and other similar death camps. Also as well as being rounded up, from lists of Brethren who belonged to Freemasonry they were tortured and shot. The Supreme Headquarters was ransacked by the Germans in 1943, Brethren and Lodges were systematically destroyed. Henri Petit, the then Grand Master said “It was necessary to know how to protect ourselves from the perturbing and dangerous elements which will infiltrate among us — Courage, devotion to duty, irreproachable conduct of our Brethren, (The Custodians were Great Britain during the occupation and were guarantor of the persistence of the Soul of Le Droit Humain).”
This is as true today in what are calmer days but we must all be vigilant and conscious of the dangers which surround us.
What a challenge these brothers faced in those difficult years, when it would have been easy to slip from the teaching of masonry — yet the question I ask today is — is it danger which creates a will of the spirit and of commitment to the brotherhood.
If so, are we each aware of the changes presented today. Which are so numerous. Or is it the lack of a dream.
Walt Whitman on brotherhood in his poem “Leaves of Grass” —
I dreamed in a dream I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the rest of the earth. I dreamed that was a new City of Friends, nothing was greater there than the quantity of robust love — it led the rest. Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the World. 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 men ever born are also my brothers and the women my sisters and that a Kelson of the creation is love.
Is it a dream?
Nay, but the lack of it, a dream, and failing it, life’s love and wealth a dream, And all the world a dream!!
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
Surely it ought to be to us, as Freemasons a common bond of
- Strength of association, not criticism and destruction
However, we have to bear in mind that Masons are FREE and be extremely careful to guard that freedom; gained by our predecessors in Masonry. We must not become 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 must be kind and thoughtful to each other, as we frequent the same Temples and use the same Altars. We must gather our varied interests together and feel that respect and kindness to each other, which our common relations and common approach to the one God should inspire, solicitation for all in a brotherhood.
What of our approach to the future. Can it be given by —
- UNITY an important part of Masonry teaching expressed (in Ritual and by the V.S.L.) the meaning of the network spread over the two columns of K.S. Temple or chapters means closeness; togetherness.
- CARING a vital role in Masonry meaning to care for all things — your family, your job, your country; and the wider knowledge of nature and many more examples known to each one of us. It is always necessary to consider how caring can alter a Lodge — the brotherhood.
- COURAGE we must have courage to stand up and declare ourselves — we must have courage to use our strength of masonic teachings, in the outer world — to show how important it is to each one of us — we need an ‘aura’ of friendliness and encouragement and helpfulness to other friends, our fellow staff at places of employment, and within our social life.
- STRENGTH what then of the strength of the Organisation, our Lodge, our Chapter, the Province, ‘the Federation’, the Obedience we belong to. This is a difficult time for us, because we are being badgered in the outer world by all kinds of difficulties. Yet we must be strong in our Masonic life — Strength for the Order we belong to; means that we must grow in Strength, firstly spiritually together by our teachings, tolerance for each other within our own circle and with other fraternities who aspire the same tenets.
Now to consider, taking our Brotherhood into the next millennium, where do we stand today. We are a vital link between the past that lies behind us.
We have the responsibility to love our neighbours, love strongly appears to be a key of the higher 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 our Heart.
If we are not in harmony with other Sacrifice of self-love, we cannot produce the humility of love which is a good support of all our actions and fulfills 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 is 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 an attitude of goodwill to each other and wish for all, general happiness, remembering our five points of Fellowship whereby we swear 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.
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, whether we are part of it or not, and will continue long after we have gone.
Therefore we must not forget that Freemasonry does not belong to us — we have it on loan and are its custodian’s 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 have 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.
It becomes obvious that Membership is foremost in our minds. We suffer from, not only the loss of Brethren to G.L.E. but the important loss of their experience and wide knowledge of the esoteric meaning of Masonry. The loss of 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 lapsings because this is, the problem of the activity of the Lodge and whether the new young professional members are given responsibilities and recognised for their knowledge. Our mentors of the past laid down our Freemasonry — Our mentors of today must not be pushed away — or put on a shelf. There is much younger members have to learn about freemasonry (and I do not mean from occult adventurers and the so-called inspirationalists who attempt to take Freemasonry over) but from ordinary men and women who have made Freemasonry ‘a living thing’.
Marc Grosjean, Grand Master of the Order at the Centenary said “The Rule of our Order is to contribute to the happiness of people through the promotion of social progress and a renewed sense of civic responsibility because the Obedience feels right that all citizens must become conscious of their responsibilities and reflect on the harmony which is necessary between their rights and their duty.”
Finally, I found a small but meaningful text in of all places a Garden Centre — and I would like to finish on this quotation —
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.