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Past Guardian of Light

Origins & History of a little known and respected Order

As we well know, Ancient Freemasonry consists of the three Craft Degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason. In England, almost exclusively, due to an historical accident (please see my article in The Journal of the Masonic Society Autumn 2008 p.15), the United Grand Lodge of England, formed in 1813, resolved that the Royal Arch also comprised part of Ancient Freemasonry. Beyond these essential and basic degrees of Freemasonry, there are some sixteen additional Degrees and Orders or Rites in England, which require the three Craft degrees as a prerequisite. These further degrees, frequently wrongly referred to as High or Higher degrees are best known as Orders Beyond the Craft and are tolerated by the United Grand Lodge England and enjoyed by many Brethren of all ranks.


Of all the many Orders Beyond the Craft, one remains quite outstanding, both from the point of view of the ritual as well as its composition. This is the August Order of Light.


The August Order of Light - Otherwise called the Mysteries of Perfection of Sikha (Apex) and of the Ekata (Unity) was launched with a document comprising its rules, regulations and ritual working on 11 November 1881. It is signed: Portman M V, Grand Heirophant Presiding in the West of the August Order of Light and Prince of Kether. Vidal Portman does not appear to have been of the Jewish faith, although the evidence lies only in the fact that he had been active in solely Christian Orders in the late 1800s. The origins of the Order, however, have been attributed indirectly to a Jewish source. In the Library of the United Grand Lodge of England are several files with vast correspondence between John Yarker (1833-1913), the Masonic author and propagator of degrees and his considerable entourage of followers of fringe freemasonry. Two of the letters in the correspondence, both by Yarker to his colleague George Irwin (1828-1893), are the source for much of the published views on the origins of the August Order of Light. The letters are lengthy in content, written in John Yarker’s own inimitable style, on paper headed Antient & Primitive Rite of Masonry. (This was Yarker’s best known ‘baby’ originally formed in 1758, Yarker was granted a patent from the USA in 1872). The first of the letters is dated 10 July 1890, and a relevant section states:


...I am surprised that Westcott looks with any favour upon the ritual I have sent him. It was drawn by some Cabalistic Jew in London , and I know that M V Portman has no great opinion of it. With his permission I amalgamated it with Sat Bhai Perfection (Which you have)....


The second is dated a few months later, 16 October 1890 where Yarker writes:


....I am duly in receipt of yours with Portman’s Ritual returned. I regret I cannot tell you much about it; it was compiled for Portman by a Jew who had studied the Cabala & Theosophy in London...


William Westcott (1848-1925) referred to by Yarker in the first letter was also a member of the occult group of Masons involved in many aspects of fringe masonry. It is the references to the Cabalistic Jew in London in the first letter and to a Jew who had studied the Cabala & Theosophy in London in the second, that have been associated with Portman’s name. This association has led to the speculation that here lies a reference to the source material from which the ritual of the August Order originated. The suggestion that the Cabalistic Jew referred to by Yarker was Rabbi Samuel Jacob Hayyim de Falk (c1710-1782) is untenable because of the time gap.


There has been a close relation between the established Order of Sat B’Hai and that of the August Order as evidenced in the first regulations of the latter Order dated 11 November 1881 headed Honorary Members which states:


.....On the account of the connection of this Order of Perfection with the seven Grades of ‘Sat Bhai’ these Sat Bhais may be admitted at the experimental meetings but they are not to witness our signs or words.


There are two implications of consequence in this statement. Firstly that Portman accepted the Sat B’Hai as the more senior order and secondly that his own ritual of the August Order relied on the Sat B’Hai as a source. The similarity of ritual between these, the only two oriental Orders in fringe masonry, is obvious and becomes apparent when they are compared to each other. Without getting immersed in comparative ritual, the influence of the Sat B’Hai on the August Order is quite apparent. It would not appear, however, that the August Order of Light was brought to England by Portman from India and it certainly had nothing to do with the ritual referred to by John Yarker and which is drawn by some Cabalistic Jews in London. The evidence points to Portman merely adopting the principles and ‘shape’ of the already existing Sat B’Hai ritual, flavouring it with Hindu and other oriental mysticism.


A comparison of the rituals shows that Portman’s ritual for The August Order of Light, dated 11 November 1881, is divided into three Sections with a total of 9 degrees. The Order is to be governed by a Supreme Grand Chapter of Hierophants and the Grand Council of Initiates. The Government of the Society of Sat B’Hai, on the other hand, is to be vested in two Presidents and seven administrative Officers. The ritual of the Sat B’Hai set out in a transcript, the original of which is dated May 1879 and signed Self & Ketu, consists of three Series also with a total of 9 degrees. Here the similarity between the two ends. Section I of the August Order ritual is names DIKSHITA or Initiate. It is governed the Grand Master of the Sacred Crown: the three degrees (in the West) consist of the Novice, the 2nd degree is the Aspirants, under the guidance of a teacher and the 3rd, the Viator who become affiliated members under the supervision of senior occult members. In the Sat B’Hai, the 1st Series is semi-Masonic called the Divisional Ghonsala or Khoh. The 1st degree is the Mute, who is admitted dumb; the 2nd the Auditor, who has passed to speech and the 3rd is the Scribe, who is advanced and is allowed his natural senses.


Clearly the similarities remain one of composition only, however. There is nothing that shows an amalgamation or any physical connection between the two Orders or their respective rituals. Incidentally and as a curiosity only, it should be noted that Portman in 1881 would have included women in the Order. His regulation headed ‘PARVATI’ states:


....Female members of the side degree of ‘Parvati’ rank with and after initiates, but they have not the signs. They meet by themselves under the Presidency of the Abebess of Patti and can be inspected by the Members of the ‘Order of Light’ in their offices...Also the President of any Hall has the power to send for them to assist in the magical experiments.


What Portman had in mind when he formulated the regulation that the Female members can be inspected by the Members of the ‘Order of Light must be left to the imagination. There are no records of any such inspections!


There is nothing in the vast correspondence and other writings of Yarker, other than the mention of Portman when referring to the Cabalistic Jew in the above quoted letters that suggest that Yarker was talking of the August Order of Light in his communications with his colleagues. The letters quoted merely state that an outsider, of whom Yarker only remembers his being a Cabalistic Jew in London, composed a ritual for Portman which Portman did not like and forwarded to Yarker for possible incorporation into the Sat B’Hai Perfection ritual. There is nowhere a hint that this may have been connected with the August Order of Light. My view is that Portman was here involved in ritual work totally unconnected to the August Order. John Yarker, in his Arcane Schools of 1909, makes the following further statement on pages 492/3:


....The writer arranged with Bro Portman to amalgamate it (the August Order of Light) with the Sat B’Hai Rite of Perfection, but it seems to be continued separately at Bradford, Yorkshire as the Oriental Order of Light...

....the writer has a letter from Bro Portman in which he says: “The Sat B’Hai rituals are without exception the finest and best suited to an Occult Order of anything I have ever read.


There are several implications in this quote. Firstly, the statement by Portman that The Sat B’Hai rituals are without exception the finest.... would support my view. That is that Portman could have been referring to other attempts at the creation of new ritual - nothing to do with the August Order - such as the unacceptable ritual material composed by the Cabalistic Jew. Secondly Yarker’s words but it seems to be continued separately implies that in spite of the ‘arrangements’ made with Portman, Yarker did not carry out the revision of the ritual.


It has been suggested that John Yarker, having now obtained and amalgamated the August Order with the Sat B’Hai, he passed the Order over to brothers T M Pattinson and B E J Edwards at the turn of the Century. But this is not a viable theory. John Yarker makes it clear, in the quoted statement above, that the August Order was already being worked successfully in Bradford as the Oriental Order of Light. Secondly and far more importantly, housed at the Masonic Hall in Blackwell, Halifax, lies the original warrant for the renewed August Order stating:


I, Maurice Vidal Portman

Founder of the Order of Light

Authorise T H Pattinson and

J B Edwards to admit members

to the Order and to hold meetings

thereof and I confirm their past

actions in so doing


The document has an elaborate oval vignette along the right hand side. It is undated and signed M V Portman.   The fact that the document authorises and confirms past actions implies the Order was already being worked before its formal launch in 1902. One must consider Yarker’s words and he (Portman) leaves all arrangements in the writer’s (Yarker’s) hands. Whilst I can appreciate the possible interpretation of these words as referring specifically to the August Order of Light, I feel equally confident that the reference was to the two Oriental Societies in general, including the Sat B’Hai. Portman, by 1890, was generally disappointed with all aspects of freemasonry and eager to return to India. His letter to Yarker constituted a ‘bail-out’, rather than a ‘hand-over’ of an active and successful organised institution to a successor. This is further supported by Yarker’s comments in his letter to Irwin dated 16 Oct 1890 referred to above, in which Yarker says of Portman:


....I have not heard from him for a long time, he was disappointed in Masonry & we seem to have nothing else to correspond about.


By this time Bros. Edward and Pattinson in Bradford had been in direct contact with Portman who, at some time, handed them a signed warrant legitimising the reconstitution of the Order. It is my view that when Yarker found that the Order was already functional in Bradford, he took no further practical interest in it. He may have intended to incorporate and amalgamate the rituals of the Sat B’Hai with that of the Order of Light but never got round to it. There is no interpolation of the Sat B’Hai ritual in the August Order instituted by John Yarker or anyone else, in spite of the statements made by Yarker himself. John Yarker, had he any interest, could have joined the August Order, as Westcott and many others did when the Order was launched in its present form in 1902.


It is gratifying today to participate in an Order well respected which successfully extricated itself from the confusion and neglect at the end of the last Century and has now survived into a state of popularity and prosperity.




Bateson, Dr Vaughan Masonic Secrets and Antient Mysteries Bradford 1923

Hamill, John M John Yarker: Masonic Charlatan? AQC 109 1996

Howe, Ellic Fringe Masonry in England AQC 85 1972

Jackson, Keith B Beyond the Craft London 1980

Stewart, Trevor In Correspondence with the Author on H Falk May 2000

Yarker, John The Arcane School Belfast 1909