Masonic Articles and Essays
Notes on the Origin of Co-Masonry
Bro. Arthur Edward Waite
First published in 1917, this article provides an outsider's perspective on the origins and early history of Universal Co-Masonry.
It is said that in or about 1879, several Chapters under the obedience of the Supreme Council of France, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, revolted from that authority and re-incorporated themselves as La Grande Loge Symbolique de France.
The rebellion, as usual, was fomented by the Grand Orient. It is impossible from the confused evidence to decide what Degrees were conferred by the new body, but they were probably the Craft Grades only and not the High Grades of the Scottish Rite. The central body appears to have governed Lodges and not Chapters.
One of the separated Lodges, the nature of whose dissatisfaction is shown by its title of Les Libres Penseurs, held its meetings at Pecq, a village in the department of Seine et Oise.
This Lodge on November 25, 1881, proposed that Mlle Maria Desraimes, a writer on humanitarian subjects and the rights of women, should be admitted to Freemasonry.
The proposers were the W. M. Hubron and six other Master Masons. The initiation took place on January 14, 1882, in the presence of Brethren drawn from all parts. From her subsequent history, the candidate must have been also passed and raised, but there are no particulars in the sources to which I have had access. The Lodge was suspended, but whether by the authority which it had helped to create, by the Supreme Council, or by the Grand Orient, does not appear.
On March 14, April 1 and April 4, 1893, Mlle Desraimes, acting under the influence of a certain Docteur Georges Martin, was concerned in the initiation, passing and raising of 17 candidates. The information does not say whether they were women only or members of both sexes, but the former probably.
Some kind of Temple was founded about the same period, place not indicated; a Constitution was framed; and an androgynous Masonic body thus came into existence, under the title of Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise, being identical with that of the Schismatic body already mentioned. Its one Lodge at the moment was called Le Droit Humain and that which it communicated was termed Universal Joint Freemasonry.
In 1900 the Lodge in question adopted the 30 Degrees superposed on the Craft Grades by the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. This was brought about by the intervention of French Masons said to be in possession of the 33rd Degree. In 1903 there were centres at Benares, Paris and London. At the same period Joint Freemasonry in the British dominion is stated to have used a Craft Ritual appertaining to the Grand Lodge of Scotland. The movement seems to have spread from France to India and thence to England.
The title in the British dominions was altered from Joint Freemasonry to Co-Masonry about 1905. The first English Lodge was called Human Duty and is, I infer, number 6 on the Roll. In 1908 there was a feud in London, which has resulted in the foundation of an independent branch, the reason being that the original body, under Annie Besant and her vice-regents, constituted an automatic and irresponsible headship, in opposition to Masonic principles.
The English Ritual used by Universal Co-Masonry has been printed and had reached a second edition in 1908. It is called The Dharma Working of Craft Masonry, Dharma being the title of the Lodge at Benares. The Ceremony of the Installation of the Worshipful Master and the Investiture of Officers has also been printed. In the Ritual of the Three Degrees, the variations from our own form are at once numerous and slight, but there are also certain new things introduced. Some of them may be tabulated as follows:
1. The W. M. is called throughout the R.W.M., following the Scottish fashion.
2. The rubrics are much fuller.
3. The E.A. is taken three times round the Lodge and is brought back on each occasion to the centre.
4. The second circumambulation is opposite to the first, or against the sun; the third is the same as the first, or with the sun.
5. In the Second Degree, after the usual circumambulations, the Candidate is placed in the centre and passes through five stages or experiences, corresponding (1) to work on the rough stone; (2) the arts; (3) Sciences; (4) the Humanities, and (5) apparently rest after work, with the idea of work to follow.
6. In the Third Degree, the Obligation is shortened and certain significant covenants are not found, presumably because women take it. The wording also differs.
7. The wording differs throughout in many places and some of the prayers are changed.
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