Return to main page

Masonic History

Co-Masonry


There is a distinction to be drawn between that which is claimed to be the same thing and that which only resembles something else.

Between identity and mere similarity there is a great difference. This fact is to be kept in mind when considering the past and present organizations allied in appearance or purpose with Freemasonry and those that are but imitating the Institution in greater or less degree. Of these we may instance the curious development known now as Co-Masonry. An extensive discussion of the subject has appeared in the French journal Symbolisms, beginning in 1920, written by Brother Albert Lantoine with the title La Femme dans la Franc-Maçonnerie, meaning Woman in Freemasonry. There is also an article in the Builder April, 1917, by Brother Arthur Edward Waite, dealing more exclusively but briefly with Co-Masonry. There has also been published in the United States the American Co-Mason, Larkspur, Colorado, as the Official organ of this system in America.

Some differences arose among members of the Supreme Council of France, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, and sundry Bodies withdrew in 1879 to form the Symbolic Grand Lodge, Le Grande Loge Symbolique de France, the assumption being that the ceremonies conferred in this newly-organized Body were the three fundamental Degrees of the Craft and not the advanced grades of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Lodges and not Chapters being governed by the central authority. However, this is not so important as the action of an independent Lodge, Les Libres Penseurs, a name meaning the freethinkers, and quite expressive of the attitude of the members, well illustrated in the course of subsequent events. This Lodge met at Pecq, a small town north of Paris in the Department Seine et Oise. Mademoiselle (Miss) Maria Dcsraimes was on November 25, 1881, proposed at the Lodge Les Libres Penseurs for membership. She was a well-known French writer upon woman's suffrage and other sociological questions. Proposed by the Master, Hubron, and half a dozen other members, she was initiated on January 14, 1882, in a large gathering of the Brethren of this organization, the Symbolic Grand Lodge. Presumably the candidate was passed and raised. Of this Lodge we learn that it soon went out of existence and Lantoine (Symbolism, February, 1921, page 54) records that on November 17, 1882, the Master was expelled from Freemasonry. He tells us that at her initiation, Maria Desraimes, in an address of gratitude after the ceremony, pronounced these words:

If the feeble support that I may be able to render you cannot be effective, that fact in itself is small and of little import, but it well has another importance. The door that you have opened to me will not be closed upon me and all the legion that follows me.

The prophecy did not materialize for that Lodge at least. However, the Worshipful Master of the Lodge at Pecq in order to hold his Brethren in hand had not only threatened he would dimit if the admission of the woman was not voted but had also announced that four or five other Lodges, one of which was the Lodge La Justice, would follow the example they set for the Fraternity. But the anticipations were not soon to be realized. Disturbances had arisen in the Lodge. A profession of faith had been uttered there "that no profane should enter the Lodge if he was not imbued with the principles of forethought, utter atheism," double d'athéisme is the expression. On June 15, 1882, a majority of the Brethren forming this Lodge demanded a restoration of their old discipline.

They exhibited a sentiment of submission and the authorities, June 15, 1883, were assured that "a Lodge is not possessed of self-control to the extent that it steps aside from the General Laws of the constitution." Lantoine explains that this is to say that they had stricken from their program the proposed admission of women and in their list of regular members the name of Maria Desraimes does not figure:

In 1890 the Lodge La Jerusalem Ecossaise of the Symbolic Grand Lodge already mentioned, at the instigation of Dr. Georges Martin who was a member of this Lodge, addressed to all the other Lodges of France a circular letter inviting them to study the question of the admission of women through the creation of mixed or joint Lodges of both the sexes. The Lodges so approached do not appear to have well understood the purpose. Then the Lodge La Jerusalem Ecossaise decided to pass on to action. Its order of the day, the program or agenda for the Communication of May 8, 1891, bore among the items a "Project of Constituting Mixed Lodges." The proposition was handled with more restraint than at Pecq.

The Lodge La Jerusalem Ecossaise would not itself initiate women but she would create at her side a mixed or joint, both sexes, Lodge called Le Droit Humain, Human Right, of which the by-laws had already been discussed and determined.

This latter organization under cover of adoption, somewhat modernized, was, Lantoine affirms, a means of attaining the desired end. But the Symbolic Grand Lodge did not fail to take heed of these tactics. The Commission denotative, a species of Board of General Purposes of which the prominent Brother Gustave Mesureur was Chairman, assigned the duty of examining the proposition as regularly submitted and disposed of the matter in dispute by an altogether unfavorable report which occasioned a rather stormy debate. Here are sundry extracts from the official report:

Brother Le Metayer evidenced the regret " that the Brother Georges Martin as a Mason and as a Past Master of a Lodge violated the Constitution in a style so vigorous.'' Brother Friquet "did not understand how the Brother Georges Martin and the brethren who collaborated with him in the founding of a mixed Lodge had the pretension to pass outside the opinion plainly established by the great majority of Lodges and of Masons. In all assemblages, the advice of the majority ought to prevail and be respected ; the promoters of the foundation of a mixed Lodge when they wished to give coherency to a project like that, should forthwith quit the confederation which does not propose to enter that road.

What could be said to Brother Georges Martin was that the new mixed Lodge would not be a regular Lodge and that no one has the right to make known the Masonic words and signs to any associations whatever; that would violate the Constitution; that would be the worst yet, for nobody has the right to take that which does not belong to him." Dr. Georges Martin, observes Lantoine, took some exception to the revolutionary idea inspired by the foundation of the organization and to explain and excuse his undertaking said, "that he had never taken an obligation which prevented him from the creation of a Rite different from those already existing," but the hostile arguments followed fast upon the lips of his opponents. Brother Rosenwald remarked that each Freemason at the moment of his initiation took a pledge that he would not reveal any of the Masonic secrets that are confided to him unless to a good and lawful Freemason or in a regularly constituted Lodge, and that a Brother had not the right to make any use of his Masonic equipment for creation of another Rite or of a mixed Lodge. Brother Friquet, member of the Executive Commission, took anew the opportunity for a word of warning. He besought the Brother Georges Martin to consider the consequences of his determination. The Symbolic Grand Lodge would be obliged to give heed to his actions. They would be forced, in order to safeguard their relations with other Masonic Powers, and to exact obedience to the Constitution freely voted, to take necessary measures.

Making an appeal to his Masonic sentiment, and to his well-known devotion, he prayed the Brother, Georges Martin, to have the wisdom of giving up his plan.

Here Brother Georges Martin seemed touched by this avowal. But the sentiment evaporated and three votes, of which his was one, refused to adopt the decision rejecting his project. The result was officially made known in the report of the proceedings of May 11, 1891, to the effect, "The Brother Georges Martin replied that the discussion came too late and the plans were made; he added that there was only one means of hindering that creation and that was to go before the public powers for the purpose of having them refuse the authorization that was going to be asked." Seemingly they did not intervene before the public authorities and the project was apparently abandoned, at least in the form that had been the purpose to realize it.

They returned in a fresh way. Brothers Goumain-Corneille, Andrien, Schafer and Georges Martin deposited at the office of the Grand Lodge a proposition planned to admit women into Freemasonry. This plan came as an order of the day, a programmed item, on the agenda of July 6, 1891, but as none of the proposers were there to defend it, the project was unanimously rejected.

Was the Symbolic Grand Lodge opposed to feminine initiation? Did she evidence any retrograde spirit? Yes and no. As we have said above, she was tied by international relations to a conformity with the Landmarks. She had existed for a dozen years.

She was treated as an equal with rival Obediences, even with the Supreme Council which finally had recognized her, says Lantoine, and it displeased her to compromise her situation by an experience, however interesting, but which might by a single stroke set her aside from the Freemasonry of the world. The gesture that she had been able to make at her birth, in adopting a program clearly new, might be more difficult for accomplishment, when, as something altogether revolutionary came along, she struggled to show herself worthy of the consideration that was accorded other Powers. For that reason from year to year, far from permitting conviction by the perseverance of Doctor Martin, she opposed him to the end. When the mixed Lodge at last was created without the guardianship of a masculine Lodge, and announced officially its existence in January, 1894, under the title of "Le Droit Humain-Grand Lodge Symbolique Ecossaise," not only did she refuse to enter into relations with it but she was abusive under a plea that might lead to confusion. She sent to all the affiliations the following communication under date of March 21, 1894:

We have been informed by a letter from Madame Maria Desraimes notifying us of the foundation of an Obedience entitled Grande Lodge Symbolique écossaise de France: Le Droit Humain and requesting of us an exchange of fraternal relations.

The Symbolic Grand Lodge, faithful to its previous Pledges, which have always refused the admission of women in Freemasonry, has refused to take that request into consideration. We have ascertained with surprise that this new Association has borrowed, without our consent or our counsel, the same title as our Confederation and of a certain number of the articles of our Constitution ; this proceeding compels us to inform you that in spite of this similarity we have not taken any part in the creation of that Society and we mean to remain strangers to its operation. The following month the Lodge La Jerusalem Ecossaise carried on its agenda the notice of a discussion on Secret Societies by the Brother Mayer, "active member of the mixed Lodge Le Droit Humain," and the Grand Lodge, not satisfied with calling the attention of the Lodge to the observation of the rules, voted also the preparation of a circular letter calling upon the Lodges "not to admit to their solemn sessions the members, men or women, of the mixed Lodge Le Droit Humain."

Needless to say that the supreme council did not accept with any more favor the birth of the mixed Lodge. The Lodges were told "that they ought to deem as nothing the communication addressed to it by the new group and to avoid all relations with it."

One may remark, says Lantoine, that the request for recognition had been made by Maria Desraimes.

Brethren felt that Georges Martin was the true founder of the Lodge La Droit Humain and he doubtless it was that the Brother Dequinsieux had in view when, at the session of June 12, 1894, of the Symbolic Grand Lodge, he demanded, "that the Symbolic Grand Lodge proceed to an investigation to ascertain who is the Brother who has given the Masonic signs and words to women, and that Brother be put on trial."

But the defensive argument was given by a Deputy, Brother Serin, who explained by a report, probably by the Secretary of the session. "It is the Sister Maria Desraimes who had received the three symbolic degrees at the Lodge, The Freethinkers, at the East of Pecq, Seine and Oise, having grouped around her a selection of women and conferred upon them the symbolic degrees, as was incontestably her right, and in due course founded the mixed Lodge Le Droit Humain with the cooperation of a Brother"

This explanation was perhaps satisfactory to the hearers but far from acceptable to most Freemasons elsewhere. Perhaps the strain of these discussions was too severe for the continued existence of the Symbolic Grand Lodge itself, which expired, that is to say since 1896, when agreeably to a sovereignty granted by the Supreme Council to the Symbolic Lodges, these were fused with the others into the Grand Lodge of France.

After the initiating, passing and raising, on March 14, April 1 and April 4, 1893, according to Brother Waite, of some seventeen candidates, in which ceremonies Miaria Desraimes and Georges Martin seem to have participated, in the year 1900 the Lodge claimed to possess and have the right to confer the whole Thirty-Three Degrees, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite series united with those previously assumed. The title of Grande Loge Symbolique Écossaise continued in use and the movement then spread from France to India, Great Britain and the United States. About 1902 the name Maçonnerie Mixte, or Joint Masonry, seems to have given way to Co-Masonry. There were Lodges at Benares, Paris and London by 1903. The name of the first English Lodge was Human Duty. In 1908 there was a division, one party being headed by Mrs. Annie Besant, prominent in public life in Great Britain and India.

The reader will have noticed in this survey of the situation that the initiating ceremonies practiced by these bodies were not claimed to be other than those pertaining to the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite and which are not authorized by this organization to be used in the United States of America nor in Great Britain. whatever the ritual may have been originally, when used for the initiation of Maria Desraimes, there have been intimations that it has been materially changed, though to what extent these alterations have gone is impossible for us to determine with accuracy.

Brother George Fleming Moore printed articles entitled Notes from India and Co-Masonry in the October, 1910, and February, 1911, issues of the New Age, of which he then was the editor. These essays examined various assertions that have been circulated, one being that made in the columns of the Cherag, of July, 1910, this being a journal published at Bombay, India, in the interests of a society calling itself Masonic and using the name Universal Masonry. This magazine published a claim that Madame H. P. Blavatsky was a Thirty-third Degree Mason. In proof of this statement reference is made to the Franklin Register of February 8, 1878, for a copy of her Diploma which is reprinted as follows:

To the Glory of the Sublime Architect of the Universe.

Ancient and Primitive Rite of Masonry, Derived through the Charter of the Sovereign Sanctuary of America, From the Grand Council of the Grand Lodge of France.

Salutation on all points of the triangle. Respect to the Order. Peace, Tolerance, Truth.

To all illustrious and enlightened Masons throughout the World-Union, Prosperity, Friendship. Fraternity.

We, the Thrice-Illustrious Sovereign Grand Master General, and we, the Sovereign Grand Conservators, thirty-third and last degree of the Sovereign Sanctuary of England, Wales, etc., decorated the Grand Star of Sirius, etc., Grand Commanders of the Three Legions of the Knights of Masonry, by virtue of the high authority with which we are invested, have declared and proclaimed and by these presents do declare and proclaim our illustrious and enlightened Brother, H. P. Blavatsky, to be an Apprentice, Companion, Perfect Mistress, Sublime Elect Scotch Lady, Grand Elect, Chevaliere de Rose Croix, Adoniramite Mistress. Perfect Venerable Mistress, and a crowned Princess of Rite of Adoption.

Given under our hands and the seals of the Sovereign Sanctuary for England and Wales, sitting in the Valley of London, this 24th day of November, 1877, year of true Light 5877

John Yarker, 33 Sovereign Grand Master.

M. Caspari. 33 Grand Secretary.

A. D. Loewenstark, 33 Grand Secretary.

Brother Moore comments on the above document thus:

A paper signed by John Yarker, M. Caspari, and A. D.Loewenstark, which shows on its very face that it is merely a certificate of membership in the Rite of Adoption. The very names of the Degrees given in this diploma show that it was and is not a Masonic document. and that the men who gave it had no intention of creating any such false impression by it. If Brother Wadia had known anything of Masonry he would have seen and known that the Rite of Adoption was made for women and is only an adjunct to regular Masonry and not in any sense a part of it. The degrees which Madame Blavatsky received according to this paper were those of Apprentice Companion, Perfect Mistress, Sublime Elect Scotch Lady, etc., etc., of the Rite of Adoption. To put forward such a document as evidence that a woman is a Mason is the various trifling and seems to us unworthy of serious comment. Thousands of women have been members of the Rite of Adoption and have not claimed to be Masons, because .they knew better, and it has been reserved for a man to put forward such an utterly absurd claim for a woman who is dead and whose good friends say that she never claimed to be a Mason.

When we say the good friends of Madame Blavatsky assert that she never claimed to be a Mason we refer to members of the Theosophical Society.

Shortly after the issuance of our article, Notes from India, we received a letter from Brother J. H. Fussell, of Point Loma, California, taking us to task for intimating that Madame Blavatsky ever claimed to be a Mason and urging us in the strongest terms to correct what he deemed an error and one that is unfair to the memory of H. P. Blavatsky.

In view of what is here said about Theosophy, it is but fair to add a frank statement bearing the imprint of the Aryan Theosophical Press at Point Loma and credited to Madame Katherine Tingley of the International Headquarters there. She states:

Let me first state what is my attitude toward Masonry.

Many of the happiest recollections of my childhood are associated with my dear grandfather, who was one of the best-known Masons in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and received some of the highest Masonic honors in these States.

It was from him that I received my earliest education. It was from his Masonic books that I learned to read and spell and draw, and from his noble and sweet character I came to regard Masonry as associated with the best in life. ln fact, I came to think that all the best men in the world must be Masons.

Now it does not necessarily follow that this last statement is true, for some of the noblest men 1 have met have not been Masons ; still, on the other hand many of the best men I have known have belonged to the Masonic Order, and I have seen nothing but the best results flow from a deep interest in Masonry wherever I have known of it, and from my knowledge and acquaintance of Masons I regard Masonry and the principles which underlie it as a great force for good in the world.

I cannot understand how any true woman would wish to intrude into an Order held to be exclusively for men.

There are lines of work which I hold are exclusively in the province of men, just as there are lines of work which are exclusively in the province of women. I hold that woman can only wield her full share of influence in the world from a knowledge gained by using and fulfilling her opportunities as a woman, and in her own sphere. I consider that she steps away from her true position and greatly lessens her influence by seeking to invade the sphere of man.

Why should women be disturbed that men have an organization which is exclusively for men? As I understand Masonry it seems to inculcate all the virtues, honor, rectitude, chastity, etc., for this much has often been publicly stated by Masons ; and speaking generally, I have no hesitation in saying that from my experience, the majority of them, to a degree, at least, try to exemplify these virtues in their lives. There may be some who fall far short of the Masonic ideals--in our present disturbed civilization it can hardly be expected otherwise--but that cannot be laid at the door of Masonry, but of human frailty, and as a result of men's failing to grasp their higher opportunities in life.

Many a woman has known of the uplifting and refining power, tending toward self-restraint and nobility and virtue, which Masonry has exercised in the life of brother, husband, or son; and without in any way encroaching on Masonry or seeking to pry into its secrets, every true woman, in the light of the knowledge that is publicly given out by Masons themselves of Masonic principles, can, if she will, help brother, husband, son, or friend, to be true to these principles and be a true Mason. What is needed today by both men and women is a greater respect, first for themselves, in their true natures as man and woman, and following that a greater respect each for the other--of women for men and of men for women.

Such respect implies no invasion of one another's sphere, but the very contrary, and in fact can only suffer terribly from such invasion. There is a common ground on which men and women can meet, which is pre-eminently in the home.

lt is also in the world of art, music, literature, education, and all the highest ideals of social, civic, and national life.

l have had many letters from all classes, asking questions as to my attitude in this matter, seeing that the name Theosophy has most unfortunately and without any warrant become associated with Co-Masonry.

Such association is absolutely unwarranted, and I hold that no true Theosophist will give his adherence or support to Co-Masonry. The fact that any person or body of persons should attempt to attach themselves to an organization from which, by the rules of that organization, they are excluded, would make me seriously question their motives, and one would probably find such people to be either fanatics or extremely credulous, or --------! Whatever knowledge such people may think they have in the matter, it must indeed be very limited, or rather no knowledge at all, for otherwise they would see the absurdity of trying to attach themselves to an organization in which, in the very nature of things, they would be cut of place. If it were possible to conceive of the secrets of Masonry being given to a woman, from my understanding of the matter it could be only through some one unfaithful to his vows as a Mason, and no true or self-respecting woman would think of availing herself of such information; nor could it, by the nature of things be held to be reliable, for he who is unfaithful in one thing will be unfaithful in others, and I prophesy that this attempt of certain women to seek admission where they do not belong can result only in confusion, disaster, and serious embarrassment for all such women.

Let me say one other word. We know there is true coin and counterfeit, and I am inclined to think that this Co-Masonry is a counterfeit, and that it is not based on true Masonry. Whatever the basis on which it is founded, it is my opinion that most probably it has grown out of some pseudo-Masonic body. Theosophy has its counterfeits, and all truth has, and this I know from my own personal experience. And just as there are certain small coteries which use the name Theosophy and seek to impress the public as being a part of the Theosophical Movement founded by Madame H. P. Blavatsky, and against which all true Theosophists protest, so, too, I hold that the attempt to use the word Masonry by one not entitled to its use, in the manner in which it is so used, should also call forth protest. Every Theosophist will protest against the attempt to relate Co-Masonry with Theosophy, and as all true Masons repudiate Co-Masonry, so will all members of the Universal Brotherhood and Theosopllical Society, the faithful followers of H. P. Blavatsky repudiate the so-called Theosophy with which the alleged Co-Masonry is claimed to be associated.

- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry

more c0-masonry

more masonic history