En: The journey to equal Co-Freemasonry

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The journey to equal Co-Freemasonry — from the Scottish late Renaissance to modern France

First given in short form as a lecture in German by Robert Matthees on 1st April 2023 in lodge “Albert Schweitzer” No. 1812, Berlin, on the occasion of the 130th anniversary of the Droit Humain. Translation by the author, 14th February 2024. (In German: Traktat: Der Weg zur gleichberechtigt gemischten Freimaurerei)

Dear Brothers and Sisters, on the occasion of the 130th anniversary of mixed Freemasonry, I asked myself how the phenomenon of the Droit Humain (DH)[1] and with it the Co-Gendered Freemasonry came into being in the first place. In the following, therefore, I will not look at the 130 years of its existence, instead, I will focus on the prehistory to find out how and where the DH fits and began to fit into the big picture of Freemasonry. This is important for our self-image and will go hand in hand with an exploration of the symbol of the “Lodge”, an insight that may also touch our hearts. Because we will be looking at the universal claim that has unfolded within the symbol of the “Lodge”. - Where do we come from? Let us now enter the catacombs of our order, the early primary sources from the hours of Freemasonry's birth. At best, we will soon feel a little like Indiana Jones.

Freemasonry in Scotland

The lodge, as it occurs in the early catechisms of Freemasonry, is by no means to be understood merely as a physical space. Rather, it appears to us as a temple of memory full of symbols through which we can move within ourselves. Depending on where we direct our gaze, different thoughts and teachings will appear to us symbolically.[2] Even orators such as Cicero made use of this art of memory by moving through a building in their minds and linking various elements in it, rooms, figures, etc., with certain contents of their speeches. As they moved through this building in their minds, they remembered the corresponding passages.[3] The stories that the figures, towers, arches and walls of the old cathedrals still reveal to us today are impressive testimonies to the art of memory of their master builders. And William Schaw, a man of the late Renaissance and Master of Works of the building lodges in Scotland, also wrote in his second statutes in 1599 that the Apprentices and Fellow Crafts of a lodge must “tak tryall of ye airt of memorie”, i.e. pass tests in the art of memory.[4]

William Shaw.jpg

A look into the catechisms with their alternating dialogues of questions and answers gives us an idea of the content and the symbolic explanations they contain:
”Q[uestion]: Where wes [was] you entered? A[nswer]: At the honourable lodge.”[5]
This is what we read in the Edinburgh Register House Manuscript from 1696, for example, and it immediately evokes memories of the catechisms that we still use today when opening and closing our lodges. And it continues:
”Q: What is the name of your lodge | A: Kilwinning.
Q: How stands your lodge | A: east and west as the temple of jerusalem.
Q: Where wes [was] the first lodge. | A: in the porch of Solomon's temple”[6]
We stand here, my dear brothers and sisters, a few years before the founding of the London Premier Grand Lodge, still deep in the religious tradition of building lodge philosophies. What do we learn? The Temple of Jerusalem extends from East to West. In this we already recognise a universal claim. And it is precisely there, in this imaginary, i.e. symbolically imagined place, that the candidate's lodge is located. According to the catechism, the first lodge stood in the forecourt of Solomon's Temple. It should seem clear that no real physical place is being described here.

Freemasonry in England

It is this tradition of speech and philosophy, this lodge culture and its ceremonies, which the gentlemen used in their pubs in London around 1700. Since the great fire that ravaged the city for four days in 1666, there has been an incredible concentration of lodge culture in London, as large parts of the city have to be rebuilt. It was not only from England that the master builders came. St Paul's Cathedral was opened in 1710. The building of Solomon's Temple, with its proportions and mythology, was an incredibly popular topic at this time, for which we simply have to look at Newton's work.[7]
The same goes for the refinement of the world and humankind: it is not only the central theme in the alchemy of the late Renaissance[8], it also remains so here in the natural philosophy, in the new form of science, in the English early Enlightenment.[9] Strictly speaking, it still is today, but at that time it was experienced and understood entirely within the scope of Christian salvation history. Natural history and cultural history and an open horizon when looking to the future only emerged much later, partly due to the experience of acceleration and technological progress, but also due to the philosophy of history of Kant and Herder.[10]
The idea of refinement is wonderfully expressed in building symbolism: rough stones are crafted, buildings and temples are created. And everyone can easily relate to it. After all, we all live in a building and the symbolism has been used since ancient times. Just think of the biblical saying that Jesus is the stone which was rejected by the builders, but became the cornerstone.[11]
Let us now move into the symbolic tradition of the early gentlemen masons in London, into the pubs where they celebrated their gatherings. And let's see how we encounter the symbol “Lodge” here, within the early Premier Grand Lodge in London.
The Wilkinson Manuscript, dating from about 1727, states:
“Q: How is your Lodge Situated | A: Due East & West as all holy Places are or Ought to be”[12]
The lodge thus extends again from east to west, here with the addition: as all holy places do or should do, according to the manuscript.
“Q: Where does it Stand”, it continues. “A: Upon holy Ground in the Vale of Iehosophat or Elsewhere.”[13]
The lodge stands in the valley of Jehoshaphat or elsewhere. Jehoshaphat means “God has judged” in Hebrew which mythologically refers to the narrow furrow of land between the Temple Mount and the olive grove, where the events of the Last Judgement are said to take place.[14] Ok, now it's getting exciting:
“Q: How high is your Lodge | A: Feet & Inches Innumerable
Q: What is the form of your Lodge | A: An Oblong Square
Q: Why so | A: [...] [I omit this answer, because the rectangular shape is described with a grave that corresponds in detail to the contents of the third degree today.]
Q: What is the Center of y[ou]r Lodge | A: the Letter G [...]
Q: How is y[ou]r Lodge Supported? A: By three great Pillars”[14]
This is the beautiful description of the symbol "Lodge" in the early Wilkinson Manuscript, c. 1727, my dear Brothers and Sisters. The Lodge is therefore also described within the Premier Grand Lodge as tending to be universal: it extends from east to west like all holy places, it stands in “Iehosophat or Elsewhere”. Its height is not measurable (”innumerable”), presumably meaning: into the divine. The further embellishment of the symbolic space clearly shows us once again that no physical space is being described here: Thus, the centre of the lodge is the letter G, it is supported by three large pillars. There are phrases about geometry that remind me of the old charges from the 15th century.[15]
The Wilkinson Manuscript originates in a time when there was no established ritual tradition within the Premier Grand Lodge. Much was being tried out and there was a lot of movement. The institutionalisation of English Freemasonry was still in its infancy. In pubs and the halls of large taverns, gentlemen masons celebrated rituals that they borrowed from the building lodge tradition and in whose succession they felt themselves to be.[16] The manuscript dates back to around 1727, as already mentioned. The Master's degree also emerged around this time.[17] The old lodges only knew Apprentices and Fellow Crafts.[18]
The first printed version of the rituals of the early Premier Grand Lodge followed three years later. It is the exposure Masonry Dissected by Samuel Pritchard. It is most likely a pseudo-exposure, i.e. actually just a printed version of the rituals, because printing and writing them down was strictly forbidden due to the oath.[19] This in turn made it very difficult to establish new lodges and, above all, new rituals. We all know the game whisper down the lane?
In any case, Pritchard states 1730:
“Q: What is the form of your Lodge | A: A long Square.
[again a rectangle, as the ground plan of Solomon's Temple is also described]
Q: How long? | A: From East to West.
Q: How broad? | A: From North to South.
Q: How high? | A: Inches, Feet and Yards innumberable, as high as the Heavens.
[beautiful: as high as the heavens! even in the plural: does an image of the kingdom of heaven with several spheres from the late Renaissance still resonate here? Definitely.]
Q: How deep? | A: To the Centre of the Earth.”[20]
We can see that a universal, symbolic space is clearly being outlined here. And it goes even further:
“Q: Where does the Lodge stand? | A: Upon Holy Ground, or the highest Hill or lowest Vale, or in the Vale of Jehosaphat, or any other secret Place.
Q: How is it situated? | A: Due East and West.
Q: Why so? | A: Because all Churches and Chappels are or ought to be so.”[21]
The Lodge no longer only extends universally in height, but also in width and depth. The holy places that we know from the Wilkinson Manuscript are named as churches and chapels that extend from east to west. Their location is said to be a “secret place”. So we can conclude: Even in the earliest records of Freemasonry, we find the lodge as a symbol with universal aspirations. Let's take the journey a little further.

Continental Freemasonry and Moderns vs. Anctients

These early rituals also reached France and the continent, where they were quickly enriched and further emphasised. From time to time, these were simply the result of mistranslations: for example, the “blazing star” became the starry sky in France. This in turn was so beautiful that it eventually found its way back to England. And if we look up today, even our temples here in Germany are now often decorated with beautiful starry skies. - How wonderful and enriching human ambiguity can sometimes be!
The self-discovery phase of Freemasonry intensifies in the following years. Different ritual traditions developed, including high degrees or additional degrees alongside the master's degree, in which other legends and ideas were represented or certain topics were examined more closely. Rival grand lodges also emerge quite quickly. For example, the Premier Grand Lodge from the 1720s in London was joined in 1751 by The Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons, the so-called Ancient Grand Lodge, which criticised the rituals of the Premier Grand Lodge as (supposedly) too modern and henceforth referred to them as Moderns.[22] A huge scandal, especially at a time when everything depended on a supposedly long history and continuity: in his 1723 Constitutions, Anderson traced the history of Freemasonry back to Adam.[23] Well, it doesn't go much further than the first man, does it?


A major dispute broke out between Ancients and Moderns, probably the first major fighting terms within Freemasonry. This dispute was settled in 1813 when the two grand lodges merged. The result is the United Grand Lodge of England.
By this time, however, we on the continent had long since been going our own way in the Masonic tradition. But all our paths today are still somehow based on variations of the ritual traditions of the old Moderns or Ancients. Which of these early branches we tend to follow is best recognised by the position of the Wardens: With the Moderns, both sit in the west - we think of the German A.F.A.M. ritual, for example - with the Ancients, the Senior Warden is in the west, the position of the Junior Warden is in the south column - as in the first Scottish rituals of the DH.[24]

Three Distinct Knocks

The ritual of the Ancient Grand Lodge is therefore particularly important for us here. Let's take a quick look at how our “Lodge” symbol appears in Three Distinct Knocks (1760).


The description begins with familiar information:
“Master. What form is your Lodge?
Answer. An Oblong Square.
Master. How long, Brother?
Answer. From East to West.
Master. How wide, Brother?
Answer. Between North and South.
Master. How high, Brother?
Answer. From Earth to the Heavens.
Master. How deep, Brother?
Answer. From the surface of the Earth to the Center.”[25]
And in the explanation of this depth, my dear Brothers and Sisters, a marvellous innovation is hidden. Because it continues:
“Master. Why is your lodge said to be from the Surface to the Center of the Earth?
[and now it comes - attention:]
Answer. Because that Masonry is Universal.”[26]
Masonry is universal, my dear Brothers and Sisters! What a symbol, and what a new self-awareness of our symbolic order has emerged here! A clear shift from the initially rather purely religious connotation, towards a special form of self-description, exaggeratedly speaking: self-empowerment, in my opinion. Of course, the usual religious connotations also follow as we know it:
“Master. Why is your Lodge situated East and West?
Answer. Because all Churches or Chapels are or ought to be so.
Master. Why so, Brother?
Answer. Because the Gospel was first preached in the East, and extended itself to the West.”[27]
Because the gospel was first preached in the East and spread from there to the West, so the answer. The symbolic space is further elaborated - as with Pritchard - and the lodge is supported by three pillars, “Wisdom, Strength and Beauty”. The pillar of Wisdom represents the Master in the East, that of Strength the Senior Warden in the West, that of Beauty the Junior Warden in the South, etc..[28]
The symbolic tradition of Freemasonry has already taken on clear characteristics, and continental influences are also noticeable. Freemasonry has thus always been an international project, a beautiful patchwork carpet of western culture and esotericism. The customs of the building lodges institutionalised by William Shaw in late Renaissance Scotland encountered other institutions in England and, especially in London, gentlemen and an established club system, natural philosophy and early Enlightenment.[29]
On the continent, the early forms of Freemasonry were enriched by further aspects. France and Germany in particular were very creative when it came to designing high degrees. Perhaps this was due to the greater distance, also geographically, from the original building lodge culture, which the gentlemen masons in London still utilised.[30] Ideas of chivalry intervened early on, as the old degree of the Scottish Master or Chevalier de St. André shows us, for example.[31] In France, from the 1760s, the Knight of the Rose Cross, with teachings from a form of native Christianity à la Voltaire, became the most popular degree in Freemasonry[32], while in Germany the Brethren within the Strict Observance visualised their way into Templarism[33], to outline just a few ideas of this immense diversity.[34]
The new form of the Freemasonry rituals, especially that of the new master's degree, in which the candidate experiences a legend first-hand - as it emerged in London in the 1720s - opens up an incredible scope for further expression. And human creativity has known how to fill this space colourfully and brightly[35]: Thus many more degrees emerged which, over time, formed into rites and systems.[36]
A completely new self-awareness quickly emerged, as we can see in Three Distinct Knocks of the Ancient Grand Lodge: It is no longer just the religious that is now characterised as universal - as in the Edinburgh Register House Manuscript from 1696, in which the Temple of Jerusalem extends from east to west - or the lodge, which Pritchard, for example, outlines in 1730 as universal and extending in all directions, no, Freemasonry itself appears here in 1760 with a universal claim. And: once something like this is part of the ritual, the idea quickly unfolds. This is because our symbolic teaching method not only allows a great deal of interpretation, but rather requires creativity and personal involvement when experiencing the degrees.
Freemasonry stands before us in its basic outlines: we have the Moderns, we have the Ancients, we have traditions on the continent and we have a tradition that is perceived as universal in itself. The further journey it will take from this point, right up to the Droit Humain, is what we will now turn our attention to.

Freemasonry in the Colonies & Scottish Rite

The ritual of the Ancients, which we have in front of us in Three Distinct Knocks, is also celebrated in the colonies. As in France and Germany, there are also many competing and confusing systems of different further degrees. One of these systems is the Order of the Royal Secret. It consists of 25 degrees (4th-25th degrees to be precise), which Etienne Stephen Morin literally brought with him on his journey through the colonies in the 1760s. The origin of this system probably lies in the Baylot Manuscript, also a collection of popular degrees.[37]
Morin eventually hands over his rituals with authorisation to Henry Andrew Francken. Francken, very likely a Dutch-born man, became a British citizen in 1758 and lived in Jamaica. He translated the degrees he had received from Morin from French into English and brought them to the British colonies in North America in 1767. Today we know the English version of these 25 degrees as Francken Manuscript or Jamaica Manuscript.[38] Now, further movement happened in the colonies, also in masonic terms.[39] And so it comes that the original 25 degrees were enriched, including a story about Frederick the Great, who was not even aware of his good fortune as the supposed founder of this new masonic system on the other side of the world.[40]
To cut a long story short: The 25 degrees of the Order of the Royal Secret were reorganised and expanded until 1800, when the first Supreme Council of the newly created Scottish Rite with its now 33 degrees was finally established in Charleston in 1801. Many of the degrees of the new Scottish Rite were still extremely rudimentary, some consisted merely of their name.[41] The “Scottish” in the name of the Rite referred to the mythological country of origin of Freemasonry, not to the birthplace of the new system, which was actually in Charleston, South Carolina. Even in Europe, many higher degrees carried the term “Scottish” in their names.
And as always in the history of mankind, there is further movement. We remember: Freemasonry finds its way from the British Isles to the continent, from there, enriched, partly back to England and through imperialism and colonialism even to the most remote regions of the world. - And it is precisely there where uprisings eventually occur. Many of the former masters lose their supposed possessions: fortunately, because human freedom cannot be kept in chains forever!

Back to France

Through remigrants such as de Grasse-Tilly, the new Scottish Rite aka. the enriched and restructured degrees of the former Order of the Royal Secret returned to France, now with 33 degrees, most of which originated there anyway.[42]
In the process, new versions of the degrees 1°-3° based on the Ancients rituals, which we already know from Three Distinct Knocks, were created too. Freemasons in Paris worked with these new rituals from around 1802 - and they quickly developed. As usual, some new topics were introduced, accents were shifted and set. The first printed version of these “Scottish Symbolic Degrees”, i.e. the degrees 1-3 of the Scottish Rite, followed around 1820. As you can see, we are approaching the initial tradition of the DH more and more.
At this point, however, I would like to make a side note: In my opinion, this early history of the Scottish Rite, especially in the USA, requires a critical historical review. Apologists in the USA explain and relativise[43], but the image of man held by people like de Grasse-Tilly and also that of the often celebrated Albert Pike in no way corresponds to the image of humanity that we hold today - and this must be named. In short, it lacks sufficient universality as far as skin colour is concerned. Alexandre Françcois Auguste de Grasse-Tilly owned a plantation with 200 slaves.[44] Albert Pike, the later reformer of various Scottish Rite rituals and author of Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, was a Southern general and fanatical racist.[45] His statue was torn down from its pedestal and set on fire during the Black Lives Matter protests in Washington in June 2020.[46] I will allow myself this side note. Because every history deserves to be considered even in its unpleasant parts.
But back to the beautiful aspects, to the growing universality of our symbol “Lodge”: its description in the French 1820s AASR rituals essentially corresponds to the description from Three Distinct Knocks as we already know it from the Ancients, in which we encounter Freemasonry itself as universal. The rituals take them very much as a model. However, there is a tiny bit of further universalisation. So it says in Three Distinct Knocks 1760 - we remember:
“Q: Why is your Lodge situated East and West?
A: Because all Churches and Chapels are or ought to be so.”[47]
In the Guide des maçons Ecossais, the first printed version of the Scottish rituals 1°-3°, we read in 1820:
“D: Pourquoi votre loge est-elle située est et ouest?
R. Parce que tous le temples le sont ainsi.
[Q: Why is your lodge located in the east and west?
A: Because that's how all temples are.]”[48]
Not only churches and chapels, but all temples now appear to us in the response as universal, my dear Brothers and Sisters. In this way, the spirit of mankind changes in the course of time and with it new and expanding Masonic systems emerge. From the British Isles to the continental mainland, from there with new ideas back to England, into the colonies and again enriched back to the once so-called Old World. And the universalisation of ideas and the conception of humanity always progressed.

Grande Loge Symbolique Écossaise (GLSE)

A change in Freemasonry can be recognised in Europe, particularly from the 1848 revolutions onwards. Larger groups of people seek and find their way into the order. Soon it was no longer just a project of the nobility or the upper and very upper middle classes on the continent. It is characteristic of this development that it was not until 1848 that the ideals of the French Revolution, “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”, actually found their way into French Freemasonry, with secularism following soon after.[49]
The ideas revolutionised. And so it was that in 1880, 14 lodges in France broke away from the Supreme Council and declared themselves as independent. They considered the pyramid-shaped hierarchy of the Scottish Rite to be a remnant of the nobility. From then on, they wanted to restrict themselves only to the first three symbolic degrees. Ideas of social justice were fiercely incorporated into the rituals. This gave birth to the Grande Loge Symbolique Écossaise de France (GLSE).[50] Georges Martin, who I will come back to in a moment, was one of its founding members. He had only joined Freemasonry in the year before.

Georges MartinRahm.jpg

The history and motivation behind the foundation of the Grande Loge Symbolique Écossaise reminds me very much of the Hamburg theatre director Friedrich Ludwig Schröder. Between 1801 and 1816, in an exchange with philosophers such as Johann Gottfried Herder, he also wrote a new Masonic system, which was limited to the first three symbolic degrees.[52] Schröder also orientated himself on the ritual of the Ancients.[51] In his catechism, he beautifully summarises all the details about the symbol of the lodge. He writes in 1801:
“F: Welche Gestalt hat die Loge? | A: Eines rechtwinklichten länglichten Vierecks, von Osten bis Westen, von Süden bis Norden, von der Erde bis zum Himmel, und von der Oberfläche des Erdbodens bis zum Mittelpunkt.
F: Wie erklären Sie das? | A: Die Maurerey erstreckt sich über den ganzen Erdboden, und alle Brüder auf demselben machen nur eine Loge aus.
[Q: What is the form of the lodge? A: A rectangular long square, from east to west, from south to north, from the Earth to the sky, and from the surface of the Earth to the centre.
Q: How do you explain this? A: Freemasonry extends over the entire Earth, and all the Brothers on its surface make up only one Lodge.]”[52]
I think this sums up the universal idea of Freemasonry in a wonderful way. But when we read it today, we realise: Wait, there's something missing here! Isn't it? When we read it today, we realise: The female element is missing in these words.

The birth of the Droit Humain

The women's rights activist Maria Deraismes and the doctor and senator Georges Martin also felt this at the end of the 19th century in France. Only the idea of a mixed gender Freemasonry with equal rights fulfils the universal claim of the symbol “Lodge” as no longer only one half of humanity would be able to participate. It was a long way to get there.

Marie Deraimes C.jpg

Maria Deraismes was finally admitted to the lodge Les Libres-Penseurs (“The Free Thinkers”) in the Orient of Le Pecq on 14th January 1882. In order for the initiation to take place, the lodge declared its independence from the GLSE five days earlier, on 9th January 1882. Maria gave a wonderful speech at her initiation.[53] After that, however, nothing happened for a long time, apart from disputes about the regularity of what had happened. In the end, 15 Brethren even submitted an application to reintegrate the lodge into the Grande Loge Symbolique Écossaise. The request was approved in 1884. From then on, Maria Deraismes was a Freemason without a lodge. She and Georges Martin worked on a solution. But this took while.[54]
In January 1890, Georges Martin presented a project to found a mixed lodge under the name “Women's Rights”. He described it as an experiment, and asked the GLSE for their opinion. Some lodges were in favour of the idea, but the grand lodge committee rejected it. Maria Deraismes and Georges Martin then began to work on plans for an independent structure to accept women into Freemasonry.[55]
After several preparatory meetings, the time had finally come. On 14th March 1893, eleven years after Maria's initiation in Le Pec, further Sisters were initiated in Paris under the leadership of Maria Deraismes and Georges Martin. Three weeks later, on 4th April 1893, the first mixed-gender obedience with equal rights was founded, the Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise de France “Le Droit Humain”. It is amazing that Maria lived to see this. Because she died the following year in Paris on 6th February 1894 at the age of 65. In the preface to the first rituals of this mixed obedience, Georges Martin wrote on the 23rd December 1895: “In writing this ritual of the first three degrees for our mixed obedience, I have endeavoured to preserve all the characteristics of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite to which Maria Deraismes was initiated by the lodge 'Les Libres-Penseurs' in Le Pecq and which she taught to the 17 Sisters with whom we then founded mixed Freemasonry [Co-Freemasonry] on the 4th April 1893 in the Orient of Paris.”[56]
The Ordre Maçonique Mixte International “Le Droit Humain” emerged from this obedience. Its first constitution was signed on the 11th of May 1901. In addition to the three symbolic degrees, the order adopted again all 33 degrees of the Scottish Rite, probably to be attractive to other Freemasons. Furthermore, the system enabled a rapid and stable international expansion, which would soon take place, particularly through the work of the British women's rights activist Annie Besant and her theosophical branch of Freemasonry.[57] A new phase of self-discovery began, but this would go completely beyond the scope of our little journey. This was followed by many other local spin-offs, such as the Humanitas - Freimaurergroßloge für Frauen und Männer in Deutschland. There were also later spin-offs from traditional male-only Freemasonry towards gender equal Co-Freemasonry, for example the Grand Lodge of Modern Mixed Masons in Great Britain 2011 with lodges in many parts of the world today.

Women in Freemasonry

But one question remains - for our self-image: Was it all really so new? Women in Freemasonry? Well, let's put it this way: For the versions of Freemasonry that emerged in England in the early 18th century, i.e. for the Moderns and Ancients, it was new. Because in their society women were not free and had no place. Also, the pubs where they held their meetings, particularly the Covent Garden area in London, were probably not places where women would comfortably spend more time than necessary.[58] In France, however, with its literary salons, things looked different.[59] So-called adoption lodges soon developed here. In my home town Hamburg, Germany, the first one opened 1759.[60] In these lodges, men and women celebrated rituals which were specifically written for women and which differed significantly from the craft degrees. The lodges were also assigned to male Masonic lodges and the male Brethren, hence the name adoption lodge. The idea of equality didn’t exist in them. They were a reflection of society at the time.
These facts tempt some researchers to say that, strictly speaking, adoption lodges were not Freemasonry at all, because the rituals were different and there was a lack of freedom. But that is too short-sighted. They were definitely a form of Freemasonry, and clearly so in terms of their self-image. This shows the oath, for example. The earliest ritual of an adoption lodge which is known to me comes from the year 1744. In it, the candidate declares that she will never reveal “Les secrets de La maçonnerie [the secrets of Freemasonry]” to anyone except to a Brother or Sister whom she has recognised as a Mason.[61]
Nor can we speak of mere dependence. The importance of adoption lodges for the emancipation of women is not to be underestimated. They were not just completely dependent playmates of their husbands, as they are sometimes portrayed, but rather active, self-confident and educated women who knew how to lead their lodges and organise the gatherings. Letters and diaries bear witness to this.[62] However, they still didn’t meet equally on the same level.
But how did the whole thing actually look in the past, before the founding of the Premier Grand Lodge and London gentlemen masons who reshaped the building lodge culture for themselves with their way of thinking? The York No. 4 Manuscript is an exciting example. It dates back to 1693 and describes an initiation ceremony with an oath.
We read: “The one of the elders takeing the Booke and that hee or shee that is to bee made mason shall lay their hands theron and the charge shall be given.”[63]
He or she puts his or her hand on the book during the initiation? So was it previously possible for women to find their way into a building lodge? Unthinkable, isn't it? Some Masonic researchers also seem to have fainted at this point. They think the “shee” is a spelling mistake and say it should actually be “they”. I literally heard this a few times during my time in London.
Why I think they have fainted is quite simple. Because a few pages further on, York No. 4 describes how the apprentices have to behave in a particularly lawful manner and to whom they have to report any other incidents. The apprentice turns “during the said apprentisshipp either to his M[aste]r or dame or any other fre[e]mason.”[64] Some researchers probably did not read that far, otherwise they would have discovered the “dame” at this point. Are there any other references?


This woodcut comes from a book by Peter Drach the Elder, c. 1480, which I have enlarged here.[65] But what is this: it shows a woman building a church! Probably also a printing error, right?
But what about this?


The two lads look just like real stonemasons, don't they? With their white bonnets and beautiful clothes. - No wait! Or are they women, too, who are depicted here in the Roman de Girart de Roussillon, 1448?[66]
Hold on a minute: Was all this perhaps not so unimaginable as we think today: women working together with men to build cathedrals? Was such a strict separation between men and women during construction in the Middle Ages perhaps not practical or even thinkable, as some historians have explained to me? Is the common perception today perhaps only disturbed by a little patriarchally distorted view? Perhaps the word stonemason should be gendered from time to time and also used in a feminine form (she, the stonemason)?[67]


This painting can be seen today in Berlin: Alte Nationalgalerie on Museum Island, currently in room 3.13. It shows Sabina von Steinbach working on a figure for the Strasbourg synagogue. On the right is her father Erwin, master of the Strasbourg building lodge, who is apparently discussing the construction plan for the cathedral with his client, Archbishop Konrad. The north tower is scaffolded. The working stonemason could be her brother Johannes. On the shelf is a bust of Sabina's father. Presumably to show that she is working in his spirit.
However, unlike the other two images, the painting does not date from the 15th century, but from the late Romantic period. Moritz von Schwind painted it in 1844.[68] Sabina was highly idealised at the time. She crafted the figures in front of the Strasbourg synagogue, which were destroyed during the French Revolution. Some go so far as to say that she even led her father's lodge, but this is hardly true. Sabina is more of a legend and the painting dates from a different time than the two representations which we have just seen. However, it is very beautiful, isn't it? You should definitely go and see the painting on Museum Island! Because as a legend, Sabina von Steinbach is definitely a great woman in the prehistory of Freemasonry, some lodges even bear her name.[69]
The Regius Poem / the Halliwell Manuscript, a very old craft manuscript, also speaks of Brothers and Sisters in a way as if it was a natural commonplace. It was once dated to the year 1390 (around 1425 seems more likely).[70] In other words, it dates back to the same century as the first two images:
“He [Euclid] should have more worship than the less, [...]
[All these old manuscripts are so wonderfully filled with marvellous mythology, with Pythagoras, with Noah, with Hermes Trismegistos, with King David, with Tubal Cain, etc., always considered in terms of their significance for geometry and craftsmanship, especially the Cooke Manuscript. When you read it, you get an idea where the inspiration for many topics of the higher degrees came from. -
Sorry, I'll start again:]
He [Euclid] should have more worship than the less, [...]
His name it spread full wonder wide. [...]
And so each one shall teach the other,
And love together as sister and brother.”[71]
Around 1425 - what beautiful closing words!


To summarise, we can therefore say:

  • The path of the development of Freemasonry does not run in a straight line. There are forks, crossroads, one-way streets and - for some - perhaps even wrong turns.
  • Rather, Freemasonry is more like a colourful hand fan whose diversity began to open up enormously in the early 18th century.
  • From the very beginning, it attracts and combines different traditions of Western esotericism[72] such as neoplatonism, hermeticism, of course Christianity, but also astrology, alchemy, the Enlightenment, later scientificism, secularism and internationalism.
  • All of these ingredients are present to varying degrees in the different systems and rites.
  • Where one system ends and the next begins is often difficult to unravel historically.
  • One's own history must be analysed honestly and uprightly with regard to dark eras. The research lodge Quatuor Coronati has achieved this considerably for Germany before and during the Nazi era in 2022, among other things by distributing Manuel Pauli's dissertation as an annual giveaway.[73] However, I believe there are still some tasks for Scottish Rite research, especially in the USA.
  • It seems that there have always been women in building lodges and cathedral construction. Whether they were the norm is doubtful, but their examples are clearly documented.
  • Women in symbolic Masonic lodges, on the other hand, no longer existed among the gentlemen masons in England from the beginning of the 18th century. The majority of lodges still adhere to this dogma today.
  • So-called adoption lodges for women soon developed in France. They celebrated rituals designed for women that differed significantly from the symbolic craft degrees. The idea of equality did not exist in adoption lodges. However, it is by no means possible to speak of mere dependence. Their importance for the emancipation of women should not be underestimated. The oath of the adoption lodges testifies to the masonic self-image of their female members.
  • However, not until mixed lodges, in which women and men work together, do we fulfil the universal claim that Freemasonry has always had at its heart in the form of the symbol of the “Lodge”. - At least that's my opinion.
  • The Droit Humain, or rather Maria Deraismes and Georges Martin still in the environment of the Grande Loge Symbolique Écossaise, provided the starting signal for this, or rather the reconnection to the actually old tradition of women working together with men in building lodges serving the temple of humanity.
  • There are a variety of Masonic systems and degrees. What may be a diversion for one or the other may be perceived by another as a necessity on the way to the destination.
  • The destination or goal of Freemasonry is and remains the development of humanity.
  • As we have seen, the idea of universality has been sprouting and growing within it from the very beginning.
  • And the more unjust walls we tear down that exist in the image of humanity and that try to deny other people their full humanity, the more of these unjust walls and barriers we tear down, the more universally we can work on building the temple. I hope you have your Masonic pick hammers ready.
  • It is now up to us to redefine this claim of universality in our time and situation - to realise it and its claim anew.

That is the thought I would like to share with you with all these words.
Thank you for your interest and your commitment!

Robert Matthees
Hamburg, 23rd March 2023
Translated into English on 14th February 2024

Footnotes & sources

  1. Short form for the first equal mixed Grand Lodge in the world: Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise de France “Le Droit Humain”, later Ordre Maçonique Mixte International “Le Droit Humain”.
  2. Cf. Stevenson, D.: The Origins of Freemasonry — Scotland's Century, 1590 to 1710. Revised Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 49, p. 87-96.
  3. Cf. Yates, F. A.: The Art of Memory. London: Bodley Head, 2014, p. 17-41.
  4. Schaw, W.: Second Schaw Statute, 1599. URL: http://www.themasonictrowel.com/Articles/Manuscripts/manuscripts/shaw_statutes/shaw_statutes.htm (accessed on 22nd March 2023).
  5. Edinburgh Register House Manuscript, 1696. In: Knoop, D., Carr, H., Jones, G. P., Hamer, D.: The Early Masonic Catechisms. London: Quatuor Coronati Lodge no. 2076, 1975, p. 31-34, here p. 33. Auch URL: http://theoldcharges.com/chapter-21.html (accessed on 29th March 2023).
  6. Ib., p. 33.
  7. Cf. Iliffe, R.: Newton — A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford Academic, 2007.
  8. Cf. Janacek, B.: Alchemical Belief — Occultism in the Religious Culture of Early Modern England. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015, p. 1-15; cf. Hanegraaff, W. J., Faivre, A., van den Broek, R., Brach, J.-P.: Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism. Leiden: Brill, 2006, p. 12-23, p. 34-50.
  9. Cf. Carpenter, A. T.: John Theophilus Desaguliers — A Natural Philosopher, Engineer and Freemason in Newtonian England. London: Continuum, 2011.
  10. Cf. Koselleck, R.: Zeitschichten — Studien zur Historik. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2003, p. 20.
  11. Cf. Epheser 2:20.
  12. Wilkinson Manuskript, ca. 1727. In: Knoop, D., Carr, H., Jones, G. P., Hamer, D.: The Early Masonic Catechisms. London: Quatuor Coronati Lodge no. 2076, 1975, p. 121-151, here p. 129. Auch URL: http://theoldcharges.com/chapter-32.html (accessed on 29th March 2023).
  13. Ib., p. 130.
  14. Wilkinson Manuskript, ca. 1727. In: Knoop, D., Carr, H., Jones, G. P., Hamer, D.: The Early Masonic Catechisms. London: Quatuor Coronati Lodge no. 2076, 1975, p. 121-151, here p. 130, p. 133. Auch URL: http://theoldcharges.com/chapter-32.html (accessed on 29th March 2023).
  15. Cf. for example Cooke Manuskript, c. 1450. URL: http://www.durandlodge.com/books/cooke.pdf (accessed on 22nd August 2022).
  16. Cf. Dachez, R., Bauer, A.: Freemasonry — A French View. Washington, D.C.: Westphalia Press, 2015, p. 11-12.
  17. Cf. Powell, C.: The Hiramic Legend and the Creation of the Third Degree. In: Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, vol. 133, 2020. URL: https://www.quatuorcoronati.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/AQC-134.02-Powell-1.pdf (accessed on 22nd August 2022).
  18. Cf. Snoek, J. A. M.: The earliest development of masonic degrees and rituals — Hamill versus Stevenson. In: Formen und Inhalte freimaurerischer Rituale, 2017, p. 17-38.
  19. Cf. Snoek, J. A. M.: Die Harodim — Vortrag auf der auf der Jahrestagung der Forschungsvereinigung Frederik zu Lübeck am 25. Oktober 2013. URL: https://www.freimaurer-wiki.de/index.php/Frederik:_Die_Harodim (accessed on 22nd August 2022); cf. Snoek, J. A. M.: Introduction & Bibliography. In: British Freemasonry 1717-1813, Rituals I — English, Irish and Scottish Craft degrees, Vol. 2 (2016), p. ix-xviii.
  20. Pritchard, p.: Masonry Dissected. London: 1730, p. 8/9. URL: https://archive.org/details/MasonryDissected (accessed on 22nd August 2022).
  21. Ib., p. 9.
  22. Cf. Prescott, A., Sommers, p. M.: Searching for the Apple Tree — Revisiting the Earliest Years of English Organized Freemasonry, in: Reflections on Three Hundred Years of Freemasonry. Saint Neots: Lewis Masonic, 2017, p. 681-704; cf. Clark, P.: British Clubs and Societies 1580-1800 — The Origins of an Associational World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 309-349.
  23. “Adam, our first Parent, created after the Image of God, the great Architect of the Universe, must have had the Liberal Sciences, particularly Geometry, written on his Heart.” — Anderson, J.: The Constitutions of the Free-Masons. London: 1723, p. 1-2. URL: https://archive.org/details/the-constitutions-of-the-free-masons-1723 (accessed on 22nd August 2022).
  24. Cf. Martin, G.: Rituels I-III. Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise de France “Le Droit Humain”, 1895.
  25. Three Distinct Knocks, ca. 1760, p. 27. URL: https://linfordresearch.info/fordownload/Other%20Books/TDK%20exposure%20Dublin%20edn.pdf (accessed on 22nd August 2022).
  26. Ib., p. 27.
  27. Ib., p. 27.
  28. Ib., p. 28.
  29. Cf. Clark, P.: British Clubs and Societies 1580-1800 — The Origins of an Associational World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. vii-x, p. 8, p. 26-44.
  30. Cf. Lorente-Bull, D.: The Other Brotherhood — When Freemasonry Crossed the English Channel. Autores Contemporáneos. Band 2. Asturias: Entreacacias, 2019, p. 53.
  31. Cf. Mollier, P.: Some news from the “Russian Archives” about the early history of the high degrees — the Scottish Order in Berlin from 1742 to 1752. In: Ritual, Secrecy and Civil Society, Volume 1, Number 1, Spring 2013, p. 22-26; cf. Ritual transcript Écossais de Prusse, ou Le Chevalier de St André, c. 1750 (GON 192.A.62: Sammlung Georg Kloss, XXV-26). In: Bettag, K., Snoek, J. A. M.: Quellen der Eckleff`schen Andreas-Akten. Flensburg: Forschungsvereinigung Frederik, 2012, p. 401-408.
  32. Cf. Mollier, P.: The Masonic Degree of Rose-Croix and Christianity — The Complex Links between Religion and Freemasonry during the Enlightenment. In: Ritual, Secrecy and Civil Society, Volume 1, Number 2, Winter 2013/2014, p. 15-24, here p. 15. URL: https://pierremollier.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/pm-127-rose-croix-and-christianity.pdf (accessed on 22nd August 2022).
  33. Cf. LeForestier, R.: Die templerische und okkultistische Freimaurerei im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert. Band 1. Heidelberg: Werner Kristkeitz Verlag, 1988, p. 189-221.
  34. Just Ray Denslow lists around 2000 different Masonic degrees and rites. — Cf. Denslow, R. V.: Masonic Rites and Degrees. Trenton, Missouri: Published by the Author, 1955.
  35. For example the 97 degrees of the original Memphis rite. In: The Rite of Memphis, Collectana, vol. 3, pt. 1 & 2. Washington, D.C.: The Grand College or Rites of the United States of America, 1992.
  36. Cf. de Hoyos, A.: Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor & Guide. Washington, DC: The Supreme Council 33°, 2016, p. IX-XVII.
  37. Cf. The Baylot Manuscript in Translation. Massachusetts: Triad Press, 2020.
  38. Cf. Francken, H. A., de Hoyos, A.: Freemasonry`s Royal Secret — The Francken Manuscript. Washington, DC: The Scottish Rite Research Society, 2014.
  39. Cf. Morris, B.: Henry Andrew Francken & His Masonic Manuscripts. In: Heredom — The Transactions of the Scottish Rite Research Society, vol. 23 (2015), p. 107-114. URL: http://scottishriteresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Francken-MSS.pdf (accessed on 22nd March 2023).
  40. Cf. Jackson, A. F. C.: Rose Croix — The History of the Ancient and Accepted Rite for England and Wales. St Neots: Lewis Masonic, 1980, p. 31-74.
  41. Cf. Ordo ab Chao — The Original and Complete Rituals of the First Supreme Council, 33°, Volume 1 & 2. Boston & New York: Poemandres Press, 1995.
  42. Cf. Francken, H. A., de Hoyos, A.: Freemasonry`s Royal Secret — The Francken Manuscript. Washington, DC: The Scottish Rite Research Society, 2014, p. vii-xx.
  43. Cf. bspw. de Hoyos, A.: Tyler's Place Podcast “Defending Albert Pike” (June 2017). URL: https://www.spreaker.com/user/tylersplace/ttp-june-2017-mixdown-1 (accessed on 21st March 2023).
  44. “As to myself, after having lost a commodious dwelling & 200 Negroes [...]” — Brief von de Grasse-Tilly an G. Washington vom 25. August 1793. URL: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-13-02-0356 (accessed on 21st March 2023)
  45. “I took my obligations to white men, not to Negroes. When I have to accept Negroes as brothers or leave Masonry, I shall leave it. [...] I am interested to keep the Ancient and Accepted Rite uncontaminated.” — Brief von Albert Pike an John D. Caldwell vom 13. September 1875. URL: https://www.readex.com/blog/albert-pike-confederate-commissioner-masonic-demiurge-apologist-slavery-apostate-union (accessed on 22nd March 2023); cf. Portnoy, J.: A homeless Confederate? Albert Pike’s complicated legacy leaves statue in limbo. In: Washington Post (30. Oktober 2017). URL: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/a-homeless-confederate-albert-pikes-complicated-legacy-leaves-statue-in-limbo/2017/10/16/40fe05d6-aa10-11e7-92d1-58c702d2d975_story.html (accessed on 22nd March 2023).
  46. Cf. Demonstranten stürzen Statue von Südstaaten-General in Washington. In: FAZ (20.06.2020). URL:‌‌ https://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/von-trump-zu-biden/washington-demonstranten-stuerzen-suedstaatengeneral-denkmal-16824289.html (accessed on 22nd March 2023); “The D.C. Police are not doing their job as they watch a statue be ripped down & burn. These people should be immediately arrested. A disgrace to our Country!” — Tweet von Donald Trump am 20. Juni 2020. URL: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1274182502421315584 (accessed on 22nd March 2023).
  47. Three Distinct Knocks, ca. 1760, p. 27. URL: https://linfordresearch.info/fordownload/Other%20Books/TDK%20exposure%20Dublin%20edn.pdf (accessed on 22nd August 2022).
  48. Guide des maçons Ecossais ou cahiers des trois grades symboliques du Rit Ancien et Accepté, 1820, p. 33 (translated by Robert Matthees).
  49. Cf. Dachez, R., Bauer, A.: Freemasonry — A French View. Washington, D.C.: Westphalia Press, 2015, p. 28/29, p. 33-35, p. 41-42.
  50. Cf. Snoek, J. a. M.: Initiating Women in Freemasonry. Leiden: Brill, 2011, p. 176, p. 196–198; cf. Jupeau-Réquillard, F.: La Grande Loge symbolique écossaise, 1880-1911 ou Les Avant-gardes maçonniques. Paris: Du Rocher éditions, 1998.
  51. Cf. Schröder, F. L.: Aeltestes Ritual. In: Schröder’sche Ritualsammlung. Rudolstadt: ca. 1805/1806.
  52. Schröder, F. L.: Ritual des Lehrlingsgrades, 1801. In: Quatuor Coronati — Quellenkundliche Arbeit Nr. 33, 1994.
  53. Cf. Deraismes, M. (14. Januar 1882). In: Bulletin Trimestriel, Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise de France “Le Droit Humain”, Jg. 1, Nr. 2, April 1895, p. 39-45.
  54. Cf. Bulletin Trimestriel, Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise de France “Le Droit Humain”, Jg. 1, Nr. 1, Januar 1895, p. 12.
  55. Cf. Hivert-Messeca, G., Hivert-Messeca, Y.: Femmes et franc-maçonnerie: Trois siècles de franc-maçonnerie féminine et mixte en France (de 1740 à nos jours). Paris: Dervy, 2015, p. 312-373.
  56. Martin, G.: Rituels I-III. Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise de France “Le Droit Humain”, 1895, p. 2. Translated by Robert Matthees.
  57. Cf. Snoek, J. A. M.: Researching Freemasonry — Where are we?. In: Formen und Inhalte freimaurerischer Rituale, 2017, p. 153-175, here p. 173; cf. Leadbeater, C. W.: The Hidden Life in Freemasonry. Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1926; cf. Steiner, R.: Die Tempellegende und die Goldene Legende (GA093). Dornach: Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1991, p. 21.
  58. Cf. Prescott, A.: Youtube-Video “Searching for the Apple Tree: What Happened in 1716? — Sankey Lecture Series in Masonic Studies”. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1cumvKlLcM (accessed on 22nd August 2022).
  59. Cf. Lilti, A.: The World of the Salons: Sociability and Worldliness in Eighteenth-Century Paris. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  60. Adoptionsloge “Concordia”, founded 3rd July 1759 by Johann Gottfried Exter (1734-1799), W.M. lodge "Absalom", Provincial Grand Master of Hamburg and Lower Saxony. (Cf. Lenning, C.: Allgemeines Handbuch der Freimaurerei. Erster Band. Leipzig: Max Hesse's Verlag, 1900, p. 271/272.)
  61. Catechisme De L'adoption Pour Les franches Maconnes, 1744 (BN FM 151, ADO1744). In: Snoek, J. a. M.: Initiating Women in Freemasonry. Leiden: Brill, 2011, p. 418-424, here p. 419.
  62. Cf. Moreillon, F.: Women and Freemasonry in the Eighteenth Century: Some New Documents — The Giroust Manuscripts. In: Ritual, Secrecy and Civil Society, Volume 1, Number 1, Spring 2013, p. 12-21.
  63. York Roll No. 4, 1693. In: Bardwell, J. B.: Ancient York Masonic Rolls — Reprint of Ancient Masonic Rolls of Constitutions, 1895, p. 57-66, here p. 63.
  64. Ib., p. 66.
  65. Peter Drach der Ältere: Das ist der spiegel der menschen behaltnis mit den ewangelien vnd mit epistelen nach der zyt des iars, mit dt. Perikopen und Auszügen aus Der Heiligen Leben. Speyer, c. 1480, image 242 (optimised with Remini AI). URL: https://daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/0003/bsb00031715/images/index.html?fip= (accessed on 1st February 2021).
  66. Roman de Girart de Roussillon, 1448, Cod. 2549, fol. 167v optimised with Remini AI). URL: https://digital.onb.ac.at/rep/osd/?10FFC0F6 (accessed on 27th March 2023).
  67. Cf. Criado Perez, C.: Invisible Women — Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. London: Chatto & Windus, 2019.
  68. Moritz von Schwind: Sabina von Steinbach, 1844 (optimised with Remini AI). URL: https://smb.museum-digital.de/index.php?t=objekt&oges=143881 (accessed on 1st February 2021).
  69. For example AASR lodge of perfection Sabina von Steinbach, Frankfurt on the Main, Germany.
  70. Cf. Prescott, A.: Einige literaturwissenschaftliche Kontexte der Regius- und Cooke-Manuskripte. In: Wurzeln der Freimaurerei — Aktuelle Forschungsergebnisse über ihre Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Band 1, 2016, p. 87-131.
  71. Regius Poem / Halliwell Manuscript, ca. 1425. URL: https://freemasonry.bcy.ca/texts/regius.html (accessed on 22nd August 2022).
  72. Cf. Snoek, J. A. M.: Einführung in die westliche Esoterik, für Freimaurer. Zürich: Modestia cum Libertate, 2011.
  73. Cf. Pauli, M.: Die deutsche Freimaurerei in der langen Jahrhundertwende (1860 – 1935). Berlin: Peter Lang, 2022.