Have you ever
wondered why discussing religion is taboo during meetings of the Craft? Have you
ever considered the reasons why females are not allowed to become Freemasons?
Does this really have anything to do with our Ancient Landmarks? Why are there
objections to Freemasonry on religious grounds? This paper will try to answer
these questions and more.
religion and women with respect to Freemasonry is by no means new. Back in 1923,
J S M Ward, in Freemasonry: Its Aims and Ideals, enumerated a number of
problems that the Craft would need to solve in the near future.
Some of these, such as the exclusion from Masonry of some with an African
ancestry, are well on the way to being resolved. The acknowledgment of the
legitimacy of Prince Hall Masonry is gradually permeating through American as
well as Australian jurisdictions. Tony Pope’s 1994 Kellerman lecture contributed
to this acceptance in our part of the world in no small measure.
However, Ward also saw the relationship of Freemasonry to religion and the
status of women within Freemasonry as problems that needed to be resolved. The
position of these two has not materially changed since Ward’s time.
ANZMRC publishes a quarterly newsletter, Harashim (Hebrew for Craftsmen), which is circulated worldwide in PDF format by email.
of Freemasonry to religion and to women can be seen to be controversial. I know
that many Masons will not agree with some, perhaps with all, of the propositions
of this paper, but I also know that I am not alone in many of these opinions.
Freemasonry is capable of being interpreted mystically. If Freemasonry has this
mystical side, and if its members can gain some religious insights from this, in
my opinion this is but one reason why we should acknowledge the existence of
women Masons and be prepared to accept that they have as much right as us to
gain from these insights. The place of women in the Craft will be considered
later in this paper.
am not able to research these topics as well as I would have wished. I am not
permitted to talk about religion with my brethren during Masonic events, at
least where the Craft is concerned. Regular Grand Lodges discourage contact with
members of lodges deemed to be irregular. In my own jurisdiction, the penalties
for attending meetings of these irregular bodies are suspension or expulsion.
This has meant that I have not bounced around these ideas as much as I would
have liked. I have not talked about the status of female Masons and Co-Masons
with those who are members of those Orders, because Freemasons are discouraged
from discussing Masonic matters with those who belong to Orders not recognised
by their own Grand Lodge. So a large proportion of the research for this paper
has been from secondary sources, namely books and the Internet. It would be
useful if there was more scope for the discussion of religion and the position
of women Masons, if only for research purposes.
In my own
jurisdiction, the question of religion has recently been given prominence. In
December 2001, the rector of the Anglican parish of Lithgow in the Archdiocese
of Sydney, the Rev Bill Winthrop, would not permit Freemasons and members of the
Order of the Eastern Star to be part of his congregation unless they renounced
their Masonic allegiances. A Past Grand Master, MWBro Harold Coates, whose
family had been members of that church for generations, was one of those who was
rejected from his own church. When Harold Coates subsequently died in April
2002, the rector refused to allow the funeral service to be conducted at his
church. The local Uniting Church, with what could be termed a more Christ-like
consideration, was prepared to conduct this service.
In 2003, this same rector moved a motion at the Sydney Anglican Synod regarding
the incompatibility of Anglicanism and Freemasonry. This motion was passed. As
my mother lodge
 is a lodge associated with a Sydney Anglican school, the
repercussions of this motion worry me.
of religion being proscribed, this incident has engendered some talk both in the
lodge room and in the South. In fact, the synod resolution produced a uniform
response from brethren. I have also heard religion discussed in Masonic circles
on other occasions and this has not produced disharmony. Even when there have
been differences of opinion, discussion of religion can produce interesting and
insightful exchanges. The disharmony predicted from the discussion of religion
has not been realised, at least from my observations.
The Grand Master
of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales and the Australian Capital
Territory, MWBro Tony Lauer, issued a response to the Synod’s resolution. He
sees it as being based on two ‘fundamental errors’, namely that ‘Freemasonry
teaches and upholds a system of false religions’, and that ‘Freemasonry and
Christianity are fundamentally and irreconcilably incompatible’.
He argues against Synod’s case, pointing out that Freemasonry encourages its
members to practise their own religious duties according to the religious
beliefs that they hold; however they must believe in a Supreme Being and be
tolerant of the beliefs of others. He states that ‘Freemasonry is not and cannot
be regarded as a religion. It neither possesses nor teaches a theology nor any
system of salvation’. From this it can be inferred that the Grand Master sees
both the teaching of a theology and possessing a system of salvation as basic
requirements for a religion. This point was again made in his address to the
National Press Club in Canberra,
where he said that ‘Freemasonry is not a religion, nor does it preach
salvation through good deeds’.
He also said that religion is defined by ‘a specific theology and by a
particular statement of doctrine’ and, because Freemasonry ‘has neither dogma
nor any creed or doctrinal statement nor is there a specific masonic god’,
Freemasonry is not a religion. Not all would agree with this. Perhaps this is
one of the difficulties in reconciling the differing opinions between Freemasons
and people of an anti-Masonic disposition. What is really meant by the term
Is Freemasonry a
religion? Some Masons have claimed that it is. These have included J S M Ward
and Albert Pike. They are frequently quoted in anti-Masonic literature in
attempts to show the incompatibility of Freemasonry with the particular
religions held by those opposing Freemasonry. Ward wrote: ‘I consider
Freemasonry is a sufficiently organised school of mysticism to be entitled to be
called a religion’
and Albert Pike wrote: ‘Every Masonic Lodge is a temple of religion and its
teachings are instruction in religion’.
Although, it is interesting to note that Pike contradicts this by writing
‘Masonry is not a religion. He who makes of it a religious belief, falsifies and
This latter quotation is not cited in anti-Masonic literature.
The difficulty is
mainly one of definition. What Ward means by religion I suspect differs from
that assumed by anti-Masons. The same can be said for Pike, although many of his
ideas are not held by the majority of Masons, contrary to the authority that
Pike is given in anti-Masonic circles as a spokesman for Freemasonry in general.
The majority of mainstream Masonic jurisdictions, however, are adamant that
Masonry is not a religion in any manner whatsoever. Apart from the question of
definition, another reason for this is, I suspect, to try to deflect claims
about the incompatibility of religion and the Craft.
mainstream Grand Lodges and many individual Masons are inclined to belittle the
ideas of the likes of Ward, Wilmshurst, and Waite, as well as those of Pike. The
first three of these brethren were of a mystical disposition. Religions have
always had difficulties with mystics. Part of the mystic’s quest is to find
union with God, yet to express this identity with the Divine is not looked upon
favourably by the established religions. In the 11th century the Sufi Al-Hallaj
was put to death for claiming that he was God. Ten centuries earlier, Jesus of
Nazareth was put to death for making the same claim. Religions can feel
threatened by those who believe that they can find the Divine independently of
established faiths. Those who see this mystical side in Freemasonry can give
cause for concern for some traditional members of established religions,
particularly those who believe that their religion has a unique and exclusive
relationship with God. Consequently, there can be a tendency for Masons
themselves to feel uncomfortable with any esoteric or mystical interpretation of
their ritual. So, mystical Masons are not universally revered by their brethren,
and their ideas are often not given the consideration that they deserve.
What is religion?
Many have tried to define the term religion, with varying degrees of success.
One definition was given (above) by the Grand Master of my own
jurisdiction. The Anglican theologian John Macquarrie gives another definition.
He sees religion as ‘the whole complex of structures that grows up around the
giving and receiving of revelation. Through this complex, the attitude of faith
finds expression in the world’.
distinguishes between ‘a general abstract conception of religion’ and ‘the
concrete religions that are actually practiced [sic]’. Although admitting
that a few philosophers have advocated ‘religion in the abstract’, he makes the
point that to most people religion ‘assumes a concrete form’, having originated
from ‘a particular occasion of revelation’, which in turn is received in ‘a
particular situation, and in a particular historical culture’. Macquarrie then
poses the question as to whether this particularity invalidates any general
inquiry from this starting point, and answers that it does not, even though a
perspective is implied.
One can commit
oneself within one’s own community of faith and in terms of the symbols
established in that community, and yet believe that for a person in other
circumstances, the same God reveals himself in another community and under
different symbols, and that there may be nothing defective or inadequate about
that person’s commerce with God.
definition, two relevant points can be made. Firstly, religion is a revelation,
and secondly, this revelation by God does not have to be the same for all
peoples at all times and in all circumstances. Revelation can simply be any act
of revealing or disclosing. Freemasonry can claim to be a revelation on this
basis because much is revealed or, perhaps more accurately, Freemasonry gives
its members the opportunity to explore matters both profane and sacred. Its
revelation is often a self-revelation that can be obtained either by
contemplation of its ritual or by discussion with like-minded brethren. However,
revelation in a religious sense more usually involves insights from the Ultimate
Reality, whom many call God. As most Freemasons do not claim that their rituals
are revealed by God, in this sense most Freemasons do not see Freemasonry as
being a religion.
However, it does
have religious tendencies, and Freemasons should acknowledge and even be proud
of this. Some religions have made anti-Masonic statements, but it is interesting
that the majority of these have an exclusivist attitude regarding God and what
can be termed ‘salvation’. They see little of value in religious or
philosophical ideas other than their own. This, of course, conflicts with
Macquarrie’s acceptance that different revelations are possible. His is a more
Surely, in these
days where the opportunity to mix and commune with people of other faiths is
greater than previously, Macquarrie’s proposition is almost self-evident. Is
this not what is happening in our lodge rooms? We respect that our brethren have
an effective and adequate ‘commerce with God’ and do not feel that we must
evangelise because of some misplaced idea that our own faith is the only true
faith and that by not doing our best to convert others to our way of thinking
and worshipping we are effectively ensuring that they will not be as well looked
after in any post-death existence. In my own lodge
 we have
three Volumes of the Sacred Law on our altar, the Holy Bible, the Holy Qur’ān
and the Dhammapada, reflecting the various religions held by our members. People
who are anti-Masonic from a religious perspective are, in the main, those who
believe in an exclusivist theology, one that excludes all other faiths from any
eternal reward. If we reject ridiculous suggestions such as the propensity for
Masons to be devil worshippers, the main objection from Christians who are
anti-Masonic seems to be the exclusion of Jesus from Masonic ceremonies. As
Jesus is seen as being identical with the second person of the Holy Trinity,
they believe that it is only through Jesus that ‘salvation’ can be obtained and
any acknowledgment of God that does not include Jesus as an intermediary is
This paper is
going to concentrate on Christian objections to Masonry. There are other faiths
that do not sanction their members becoming Masons, but their reasons are of a
different ilk from that of exclusivist Christians.
Bahá'ís have their voting rights taken away from them if they become or remain
Masons. It seems that this was not always the case. In 1950, the Grand Secretary
of the Grand Lodge of Tasmania was the chairman of a committee organising a
Bahá'í-sponsored World Religion Day. Two years later, he became a Bahá'í.
However, when it was realised that Shoghi Effendi, who was the Bahá'í leader at
that time, had promulgated that Bahá'ís should not join organisations such as
the Freemasons because they were considered to be ‘secrets societies’, the
Tasmanian Bahá'ís inquired as to the effect of this. Grand Secretary Wilkinson
had his voting rights taken away in 1958 and, having decided to remain a
Freemason, he withdrew from the Bahá'í faith.
Members of the
Society of Friends also have difficulties joining Masonry. Quakers believe that
their word should be enough and see no reason why they should take oaths. They
see our obligations taken in front of the altar as oaths and this prevents them
from joining the Craft. Some of the stricter Muslims also have difficulties with
Freemasonry. However, much of Islamic propaganda against Masonry couples
Freemasonry with Zionism and sees both as being involved with plans to take over
It is mainly
Christian denominations that have raised objections in western society, which is
not unexpected, since Christianity is the predominant faith in the West. As
indicated above, some Christians have taken Freemasonry to task because of what
they see as the absence of Jesus in Masonic rituals. Traditionally, there has
been an antipathy between the Roman Catholic Church and Freemasonry. There has
been a number of encyclicals promulgated by the popes. Even today, although
there is a not insubstantial number of Roman Catholics in the Craft, officially
Roman Catholics are not sanctioned to join Freemasonry. Roman Catholics who
become Freemasons have been threatened with excommunication since 1738, when
Pope Clement xii issued his Papal
Bull, In Eminenti. As recently as 1983, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
included in a Declaration of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith the following statement:
negative judgment in regard to Masonic associations remains unchanged since
their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of
the Church and, therefore, membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful
who enrol in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not
receive Holy Communion.
xii’s reasons for his opposition
to Freemasonry are summarised in The Catholic Encyclopedia.
These include ‘creating religious indifferentism and contempt for orthodoxy and
ecclesiastical authority’ and a convoluted argument that, because Masons claim
that their modes of recognition are the only essential secrets and these have
been published, then the real secrets can only be political or anti-religious
conspiracies. As Ward has pointed out, the opposition to Freemasonry by the
Roman Catholic Church may have to do with Freemasonry being seen to be rivalling
Catholicism in that both are worldwide organisations, in addition to its
Walton Hannah, in
his books Darkness Visible and Christian by Degree,
gives fairly reasoned and well thought out arguments as to why Freemasonry and
Christianity are incompatible. In 1952, when he wrote Darkness Visible,
Hannah was a high church Anglican. Subsequently he joined the Roman Catholic
Church. Hannah sees difficulties in what he calls Masonic oaths, and lists some
of the difficulties seen in Masonry by various Christian denominations. I feel
that his concerns were not adequately considered by the Church of England in
that the discussion which took place in Synod was really a Clayton’s discussion.
Piatigorsky has a pertinent point to make regarding the religious aspects of
speaking, to understand the religious aspect of British Freemasonry, and with
some reservations Freemasonry in general, one has to realize that Masonry, taken
both in its origins and in its present state, provides a possibility of
freethinking within religion, conceived in the broadest sense.
If we are
considered to be freethinkers and to be tolerant and accepting in our
relationships with different faiths, then perhaps we are missing good
opportunities in not being able to discuss religion among ourselves.
What is meant by
the term ‘Esoteric Masonry’? Literally ‘esoteric’ means ‘hidden’. Some seem to
think that Esoteric Masonry is Masonry with a bit of incense thrown in, or a bit
more symbolism added to the ritual. In this paper, ‘Esoteric Masonry’ refers to
the meaning seen in the ritual by Masons such as W L Wilmshurst and J S M Ward.
They see Masonry as having a mystical interpretation, where the object is the
quest for union with the Divine.
It could be argued
that this is not supported by the history and origins of Freemasonry. But what
are Freemasonry’s origins? There are many theories. I tend to favour the theory
that sees an indirect link between Operative and Speculative Masonry, developed
mainly by Colin Dyer. John Hamill has stated that this theory is the one that
appeals to him most.
This theory has the advantage of giving reasons for the development of
Speculative Masonry. It posits that Speculative Masonry originated in the late
16th and early 17th centuries, a time of great intolerance in religion and
politics in England. The theory sees those who formed Freemasonry as men who
wished to end the religious and political strife of the time and to form an
Order in which religion and politics had no part. For this reason, talk on
religious matters was banned in Masonic lodges.
But let us not
worry too much about whence Freemasonry comes. If I may borrow terminology used
in linguistics, the esotericism seen in Masonry can be considered to be
‘synchronic’ rather than ‘diachronic’. In linguistics this means that the
language is analysed in its present form, with any historical influences being
ignored, rather than analysing the language through its historical development.
In Esoteric Masonry the ritual can be interpreted as it is presented now, rather
than looking at its historical development. To give an example, Wilmshurst
realises that the ritual in the second degree at one time was more dramatic than
it is now. However, he is able to regard the second degree as ‘deliberately
designed to stand in marked contrast with the other two, so that it may impress
by what is implied but left unformulated’.
argues for Freemasonry being esoteric in two senses. Taking the definition of
‘esoteric’ as being that which is secret or reserved for a few, Mazet claims
Freemasonry to be esoteric in this sense because it is a society of men
‘admitted to it through secret ceremonies, in the course of which they receive
secret means of recognition which they swear not to reveal to people who have
not been admitted in the proper manner’.
Mazet also sees Freemasonry as being esoteric as opposed to exoteric, ‘inner’
rather than ‘outer’. He sees Freemasonry as conveying ‘a body of moral,
religious, and spiritual teachings’ to its members through ‘ceremonies and
Now, not all
Masons believe that these esoteric interpretations are correct. In particular,
in the Transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, John Hamill writes:
But what are we to
make of the voluminous, indigestible and at times incomprehensible writings of
A. E. Waite who saw Freemasonry as a manifestation of a profound and highly
idiosyncratic Christian mysticism causing him to reject the universalist Craft
in favour of his own curious interpretation of what he termed 'high grades' of
the Christian Orders? Or the thesis put forward by W. L. Wilmshurst in his
The Masonic Initiation (London 1922), in which he emphatically denies that
Freemasonry is a religion but then goes on to interpret the Craft ritual as a
curious combination of the ancient mysteries and a very peculiar form of
Christology? It is very difficult not to reach the conclusion that writers of
the nature of Churchward, Ward, Waite and Wilmshurst, for a great deal of the
time, had their feet planted firmly in the clouds.
On a more
reasoned, factual and academic level, what are we to make of the various papers
which have appeared in the Transactions
of this lodge arguing as to whether or not eighteenth-century Freemasonry was a
manifestation of Deism or Theism? Surely their writers were wasting their time
and that of their readers. If Freemasonry is not a religion and has no theology,
how can it be a manifestation of any religious ‘ism’?
Hamill was then
Librarian and Curator of the United Grand Lodge of England. That Grand Lodge,
along with most other ‘regular’ jurisdictions, is adamant that Masonry is not a
religion. This does not mean that Masonry cannot be a ‘manifestation’ of some
particular religious theory or have a theology. Freemasonry may not be a
religion but it does have certain motifs that can be interpreted in a religious
manner. Even without pursuing the esoteric interpretations of Wilmshurst and
Ward, it is obvious that Freemasonry would be meaningless unless certain
theological concepts are taken by its members as given. A belief in a Divine
Being is an essential prerequisite for membership of a lodge and without a
belief in an afterlife of some sort, references to ‘that Grand Lodge above, that
House not made with hands, eternal in the heavens’
and, some would argue, the significance of the third degree would be
Although it is
possible to obtain much from any exoteric interpretation of Masonry, there is no
reason to gainsay those who obtain even more from esoteric interpretations.
Whether Freemasonry is derived from the ‘ancient mysteries’, as indicated in our
or not, is really immaterial. Hamill is against an esoteric interpretation of
Freemasonry on the grounds that this is not a ‘reasoned, factual and academic’
approach—but does it need to be?
There could well
be other reasons for this belittling of Esoteric Masonry. Just as many
traditional Christians feel ill at ease with mysticism, so too do many of the
more conservative members of the Craft. In my own lodge, I have prepared
commentary based on Ward’s interpretations, for an exemplification of the first
degree, and commentary based on both Ward’s and Wilmshurst’s interpretations for
the second degree.
Some brethren were fascinated by these interpretations and wanted to read more
of the writings of these Esoteric Masons. Others were less than enthusiastic.
As well as there
being distinct advantages in an esoteric interpretation, in that it gives a
theme to our rituals, the theme of the quest for union with the Divine, there
are also disadvantages. The use of the writings of Esoteric Masons in
anti-Masonic literature was alluded to, above. There could also be a fear that
Freemasonry could be seen to sanction some of the more extreme esoteric
movements. Some Masons were deeply involved in the Order of the Golden Dawn.
These included Westcott and Waite. However, one should not disregard Esoteric
Masonry on the basis that some Masons may have been carried away with esoteric
There are Masons
who gain much from an esoteric interpretation of Masonry. There is a web site on
A booklet on meditation, using Masonry as its basis, can be obtained through
this website. Three prominent members of the ANZMRC are featured on this site,
one giving the endorsement of the Holden Study Circle and another two entering
positive statements in the guest book. To give some idea of the raison d’être
for this group, the following introduction appears on this site:
initiation, we believed that Masonry could be the companion of our various
religions, and a means by which the great mysteries of existence could be more
fully revealed. After receiving initiation, we hoped that somewhere within its
edifice we would find contemplative brethren who could guide us along such a
path. Unfortunately, except for the most rare cases, Masonry has responded to
such desires with debate, confusion, silence and only the dimmest flickers of
light from an ancient unseen source.
The idea, the
practice and the movement of Contemplative Masonry seeks to fulfill [sic]
that vision. Its mission is to offer every Master Mason education, training,
guidance and fellowship in his rightful pursuit of more spiritual light in
Masonry. Contemplative Masonry does not denigrate other Masonic purposes and
pursuits, such as academic research, community service, charity, and moral and
social brotherhood. Rather, it seeks to compliment [sic] and enhance the
whole. It is also important to note that Contemplative Masonry does not seek to
make a religion of the Craft. It maintains, even supports and pays homage to
every Mason’s right and responsibility to exercise his own form of faith.
Likewise, Contemplative Masonry imposes no doctrines or creeds upon its
Freemasonry has a mystical side and is of assistance in the quest for union with
the Divine, who are we to prevent more than half the world’s population from
pursuing the ultimate reality by this method? In any case, our not recognising
feminine and Co-Masonic Orders has not resulted in there being no such Orders.
They do exist and their members see themselves as being legitimate Masons.
Why do we not
recognise the right of women to be Masons? A number of years ago, the then Grand
Master of my jurisdiction, MWBro George Currey, visited Canberra and held a
question and answer session. We were told that any questions regarding women in
Freemasonry were not to be asked. However, I got around this by asking whether
there was any likelihood of Co-Masonry being recognised in the near future
because I had Co-Masonic friends in my church and would dearly like to join them
in lodge, which at present I was not able to do. I pointed out that there was a
time when both Prince Hall Masonry and the Order of the Eastern Star were not
acknowledged, but that there is no longer a blanket rejection of these orders;
indeed, many jurisdictions recognise these as being legitimate. This question
was answered with another question—would I prefer the short or the long answer?
His short answer was ‘no’ and his long answer was ‘never’. He did amplify a
little on this, stating that if the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales and
the Australian Capital Territory were to acknowledge Co-Masonry, we would risk
losing our recognition from the other mainstream jurisdictions.
To me, this is no
reason not to acknowledge Co-Masonry, if in fact there are good grounds on which
to base this acknowledgment. We should do what is right, and not be dissuaded
simply because others may not agree with our actions. In the third degree we are
told about a man who would rather suffer death than do what is wrong, and we are
encouraged to ‘imitate the example of that great and good man’. If some act is
correct, then it should not matter what the consequences are. Yet the reason
given for not recognising Co-Masonry is that others may not acknowledge us. I
would expect greater moral fortitude from Masons. Returning to my chair, I got
the feeling that not all were enamoured by my question, although one brother
indicated to me that he approved. I was later told by a Grand Lodge officer that
I had better take care. He cited the case of two Freemasons who were also
Co-Masons being brought before Grand Lodge at a Quarterly Communication. As
brethren, they were asked to explain their actions. When their explanations did
not satisfy Grand Lodge, the epithet of each changed from ‘Brother’ to ‘Mister’,
and they were expelled from Grand Lodge.
The regularity of
Grand Lodges have
instituted a scheme of mutual recognition in which they determine whether other
Grand Lodges and individual lodges are ‘regular’ or ‘irregular’. The premier
Grand Lodge, the United Grand Lodge of England, has listed a number of standards
by which it determines whether or not another Grand Lodge can be considered to
be regular. These are:
(a) the necessity
for a Grand Lodge to have been lawfully established by a regular Grand Lodge or
by three or more private lodges with warrants from a regular Grand Lodge;
(b) for a Grand
Lodge to be independent and self-governing with an undisputed authority over
Craft Freemasonry within its own jurisdiction;
(c) for its
members to be male and for it and its lodges to have no contact with lodges that
(d) for its
members to believe in a Supreme Being;
(e) for its
members to take their obligations on, or in full view of, the Volume of the
(f) for the three
Great Lights of Freemasonry to be displayed when the Grand Lodge and its private
lodges are open;
(g) for discussion
of religion and politics to be prohibited within its lodges; and
(h) for it to
adhere to the established principles, tenets and customs of the Craft and for it
to insist that these are observed within its lodges.
Standards (c), (g)
and (h) are those most germane for this paper. Standard (g) is one that I would
argue is no longer relevant because it was instituted at a time when the
ramifications of religious and political dissent were much greater than they are
now. Standard (c) relates to the irregularity of feminine and Co‑Masonic Orders.
Standard (h) relates to the ability to innovate in Masonry and will be
considered later in this paper.
Women and Masonry
Co-Masonic Grand Lodges and private lodges do exist, irrespective of whether or
not they are recognised by mainstream Grand Lodges. Some of these admit only
women and others admit Masons of both sexes.
In England, there
are two Grand Lodges that admit only women, namely the Order of Women Freemasons
and the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons. There is also the Grand
Lodge for Men and Women, which admits both sexes.
These Grand Lodges satisfy the standards set down by the United Grand Lodge of
England for regularity, except (a)—origin, and (c)—admission of women.
There are other
Grand Lodges that, in addition to (a) and (c), break some of the other standards
set for regularity. One of these is the Grande Loge Féminine de France
accepts only women candidates, does not require its members to believe in the
existence of a Supreme Being and permits the discussion of religious and
political matters. The International Order of Co-Freemasonry Le Droit Humain
similarly does not require its members to believe in a Supreme Being and permits
religious and political discussion. However, it does allow its constituent
members to make their own decision on these matters. The Australian Federation
of DH has, in fact, decided to insist on the use of the Volume of the Sacred
Law, that its members believe in a Supreme Being and that the discussion of
topics of a religious or political nature may not occur.
As recently as
2000, there are two DH lodges in New South Wales, two in Queensland, one in
South Australia, five in Victoria and one in Western Australia. There are also
two lodges belonging to the Order of Women Freemasons in South Australia.
In New Zealand, there are Co-Masonic lodges in Auckland, Wellington and
Christchurch, and there was one in Dunedin that closed in 1985.
So, there are many women Masons in our part of the world, despite our not
with Co-Masonry in particular is that the main Co-Masonic body, DH, makes
reference to the Comte de St Germaine as the head of Masonry. Also, the writings
of one prominent Co-Mason, C W Leadbeater, can be seen as rather strange.
Reference to the position of the Comte de St Germaine certainly featured in the
Grand Lodge of South Australia and the Northern Territory’s paper on Women
This was seen as a definite barrier to any acknowledgment of DH. One Grand Lodge
officer of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales and the Australian Capital
Territory on a couple of occasions has indicated to me that he finds esoteric
interpretations of Masonry unconvincing, pointing out on both occasions his
concerns regarding his reading of Leadbeater’s claim in The Hidden Life in
Freemasonry that the ritual taking place in the lodge room reminded
Leadbeater of his being present, in a former life, at exactly the same ritual in
Also, there is some trepidation regarding the theosophical influences in DH.
However, for an Order which accepts all worthy men who believe in a Supreme
Being, irrespective of their interpretations of this Being, and which does not
exclude men because of any theological beliefs, it is rather strange that one of
the reasons for the rejection of this Co-Masonic Order is that it gives a
special status to the Comte de St Germaine and adopts Theosophical ideas. It
would seem that there might be some limits to the tolerance espoused by
Of course, the
usual reason given is that ‘from time immemorial’ Freemasonry has not accepted
women and, as ‘it is not within the power of any man or body of men to change
Masonry’, therefore nothing can be done. There are examples of what could be
conceived of as being Landmarks being changed. In my jurisdiction, the
candidates used to be prepared for all three degrees. There was a change in the
mode of preparation for the first degree, and the modes of preparation for the
second and third degrees were abolished. At first it was for the Worshipful
Master to decide. Further down the track, this was no longer to be at the
Worshipful Master’s discretion and all had to follow the new regulations. It
seems that the former mode of preparation was no longer considered a Landmark
and, indeed, it was possible for a body of men to change Masonry.
Master-elect has to agree during his installation ceremony that ‘it is not in
the power of any man or body of men to make innovations in the Body of Masonry’.
Now, it appears that this is not the case. This came from the omission of a
phrase from Anderson’s Constitutions of 1738, Regulation 39, which states
‘that it is not in the Power of any Man or Body of Men to make any Alteration or
Innovation in the Body of Masonry, without the Consent first obtained of the G.
Lodge.’ These final nine words have been omitted and they make a lot of
difference to the meaning of this agreement.
The change to the
mode of preparation in the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales and the
Australian Capital Territory is but a fairly recent innovation in the history of
Freemasonry. There are many others, going right back to the union of the
Antients and the Moderns.
So, it is possible
to change the mode of preparation if Grand Lodge’s consent is obtained. It
should also be possible to admit women to Freemasonry, if Grand Lodge’s consent
is obtained. This is not very likely, but there is a glimmer of hope. I
mentioned earlier MWBro George Currey’s answer to my question on Co-Masonry. My
present Grand Master is not as intransigent. At his National Press Club
presentation mentioned above, MWBro Tony Lauer stated that ‘if in time both
parties are proved to be wrong and the men and women are agreeable, we may well
envisage the possibility, in time, of some form of united leadership’.
Previous to this statement, the Grand Master had claimed that ‘women in fact do
have parallel organisations created for women by women’. The only Order with
women members usually acknowledged is the Order of the Eastern Star, but this is
a co‑Masonic Order created by a man, Dr Rob Morris. So, the Grand Master must be
referring to Orders whose membership consists only of women. His statement is
very guarded, but at least there is a possibility of some future recognition of
feminine Masonic Orders.
I would be quite
happy to sit in lodge with a female Mason, but I realise that there are many to
whom this is anathema. If it were permissible for females to join our Order,
there is still no way that a woman could become a member of a particular lodge
if sufficient members were opposed to it. Depending on the by-laws of the lodge,
one, two, three or more black balls can reject any potential candidate or
So, what is the
harm in acknowledging women Masons? They already exist, whether we like it or
not, and acknowledgment does not mean that all lodges must have both men and
women members. Indeed, some of the women’s lodges prefer not to have men
present. It is a pretence that there are no female Masons, when in fact there
are women who meet in lodges and participate in rituals very similar to ours.
Because we don’t recognise them does not mean that they are not Masons.
In answer to the
questions posed at the beginning of this paper, the following can be said. The
reason usually given for not discussing religion in lodges is that such
discussions can cause disharmony among brethren. This makes more sense if we
consider the times in which Speculative Masonry began, a time of religious
intolerance. In today’s world, at least in our society, there is much more
tolerance and even acceptance of different faiths and religious views. It is not
a given that the discussion of religion produces disharmony. Although
Freemasonry does have religious tendencies, it cannot be considered a religion
in the sense that it has dogma and advocates a preferred way to ‘salvation’.
There are some who
claim Freemasonry to be a religion, but they have a different definition of
religion. In any case, those attracted to Freemasonry are likely to be spiritual
beings. It is unfortunate that there is a proscription on the discussion of
religion within the lodge. If I am correct in my surmising that the main reason
religion cannot be discussed in a Masonic setting is historical, then I can see
no reason why such a proscription should continue. There could be definite
advantages in allowing religion to be discussed. Just as the members of various
religions today are in dialogue, so should the members of Freemasonry, who can
hold various religious points of view, be able to discuss such matters. Much
good has come from inter-faith dialogue outside the lodge. Much good should come
from the discussion of religion within the lodge.
If there is a
mystical side to Masonry, then those of a mystical frame of mind can gain much
from Freemasonry. Why should women be prevented from gaining the benefits of
being Masons? Of course, they are not so prevented and there are feminine and
Co-Masonic Orders. However, masculine Masonry does not acknowledge the
legitimacy of such Orders. Even if one wants to restrict Freemasonry to men,
this is no reason why there cannot be an acknowledgment of Orders consisting
solely of women or having members of both sexes. An organisation that is
tolerant in so many other matters appears intolerant in not acknowledging the
rights of women to gain spiritual insights from Masonic ritual. It also prevents
its own members from visiting Co-Masonic lodges. Such visits could well give
them a greater insight into the esoteric side of Masonry.
against allowing religious matters to be discussed in lodge, acknowledging the
legitimacy of feminine and Co-Masonic Orders, and allowing visits among these
lodges, is that these involve Ancient Landmarks but, as indicated above,
innovation is possible within Masonry, if the Grand Lodge approves.
So, if there are
sufficient reasons to change our attitude regarding the discussion of religion,
and to recognise and be in amity with feminine and Co-Masonic Orders, then this
can be done if Grand Lodge consents to such alterations and innovations. I am
not prepared to predict that such changes will occur in the near future, but one
can live in hope.
I wish to record
my thanks to two brethren, namely Neil Morse and Tony Pope. Neil is a member of
my lodge, Lodge Commonwealth of Australia, and has for many years been the
Secretary of the Canberra Lodge of Research and Instruction. I thank Neil for
his encouragement of Masonic research in general in the ACT and in particular
for his provision of leads and literature that have assisted me in my research
pursuits. I suspect that I would not be a Kellerman Lecturer had it not been for
Neil’s encouragement. I also thank Tony Pope for his assistance with this paper.
As editor of the Proceedings for this conference he has made many
valuable suggestions that have improved both the presentation and accuracy of my
paper. In particular, his assistance in setting right my understanding of the
various feminine and Co-Masonic lodges is particularly appreciated.
Bob: ‘Lodges of Southern New Zealand’ in (2002) Welcome to the Hocken
Bulletin #43, Friends of the Hocken Collections, available at website <http://www.library.otago.ac.nz/pdf/Hoc_Fr_bulletins/43_bulletin.pdf101:131>.
Carl H: Introduction to Freemasonry – Master Mason, available at website
Masonry, at website <http://www.mastermason.com/contemplative_masonry>.
Lodge of British Columbia and
Yukon: Freemasonry and Rome’ at website <http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/Writings/RomanCatholics.html#1>.
Hermann: ‘Masonry (Freemasonry)’ in The Catholic Encyclopedia, at website
J M: ‘The sins of our Masonic fathers’ in (1988) Ars Quatuor Coronatorum
101:131–136, QCCC Ltd, London 1989.
Perspectives – The Collected Papers of John Hamill, Australian Masonic
Research Council, Belmont 1992.
Walton: Darkness Visible: A Revelation and Interpretation of Freemasonry,
Augustine Press, 1952.
by Degrees: Masonic Religion Revealed in the Light of Faith, Augustine
A F: Masonic Music, Allan & Co, Melbourne 1930.
T O: ‘It is not in the power of any man . . .’ in (1972) AQC 85:194–216,
QCCC Ltd, London 1973.
Graham: The Bahá'í Faith in Tasmania 1923–1963, available at website <http://bahai‑library.com/asia‑pacific/02bahai%20Faith%20in%20Tasmania.htm>.
Kent and Pope, Tony:
Freemasonry Universal, Volume 2—Africa, Europe, Asia & Oceania, Global
Masonic Publications, Williamstown, 2000.
Tony: ‘Sydney Anglican Synod 2003’; copy at website of UGL NSW&ACT <http://www.uglnsw.freemasonry.org.au/>.
and Freemasons: Past, Present and Future’, presented at the National Press Club,
Canberra, on 28 April 2004.
Celil: ‘Freemasonry in the Islamic World’, available on the Pietre‑Stones Review
of Freemasonry website at <http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/layiktez1.html>.
John: Principles of Christian Theology, rev edn, SCM Press, London 1977.
Edmond: ‘Freemasonry and Esotericism’ in Modern Esoteric Spirituality,
Antoine Faivre and Jacob
Needleman eds, SCM Press, London
Alexander, Who’s Afraid of Freemasons?, Harvill Press, London 1997.
Albert: Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Rite of Freemasonry,
prepared for the Supreme Council of the Thirty Third Degree for the Southern
Jurisdiction of the United States, Charleston, 1871, 1925 reprint; also
available at website <http://www.illuminati‑news.com/e‑books/morals‑dogma/apike.htm>.
Tony, ‘Our Segregated Brethren, Prince Hall Freemasons’ in Australian Masonic
Research Council Proceedings 1994, ANZMRC, Williamstown 1994.
Lodge of England: ‘Freemasonry’s
External Relations’ at website <http://www.grandlodge‑england.org/masonry/freemasonrys‑external‑relations.htm>.
Lodge of NSW and the ACT of
Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons: Third Degree, October 1998.
Degree, October 1998.
of Installation, Re‑Installation, Proclamation of a Worshipful Master and
Investiture of Officers, August 1999.
———— ‘Farewell to
an exceptional man and a brother Freemason’, NSW&ACT Freemason, v34 #3,
UGL NSW&ACT, June 2002, p5.
Master’s address to the National Press Club’, NSW&ACT Freemason, v36 #3,
UGL NSW&ACT, June 2004, pp10–11.
J S M: Freemasonry: Its Aims and Ideals, William Rider & Son, London
W L: The Ceremony of Passing, Kessinger Publishing Co, Montana USA, nd.
George: ‘The New Millennium, Freemasonry and Women’, Gender Relations Task
Force, GL SA&NT, 2001.
Ward, J S M: Freemasonry: Its Aims and Ideals, William Rider &
Son, London 1923.
Pope, Tony, ‘Our Segregated Brethren, Prince Hall Freemasons’ in
Australian Masonic Research Council Proceedings 1994, AMRC,
Williamstown 1994, pp39–73.
This is specified in Regulation 11.2.2 of the Constitutions of
‘Farewell to an exceptional man and a brother Freemason’, NSW&ACT
Freemason, v34 #3, UGL NSW&ACT, June 2002, p5.
Lodge The King’s School, #760, UGL NSW&ACT.
Lauer, Tony: ‘Sydney Anglican Synod 2003’. This appears on the website
of UGL NSW&ACT <http://www.uglnsw.freemasonry.org.au/>.
Lauer, Tony: ‘Freemasonry and Freemasons: Past, Present and Future’,
presented at the National Press Club, Canberra, on 28 April 2004.
‘Highlights’ of this address, including this quotation, can be read in
‘Grand Master’s address to the National Press Club’, NSW&ACT
Freemason, v36 #3, UGL NSW&ACT, June 2004, pp10–11.
Ward, J S M, op cit, p185.
Pike, Albert: Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Rite of
Freemasonry, the Supreme Council of the Thirty Third Degree for the
Southern Jurisdiction of the United States, Charleston 1871, 1925
reprint, p213. This is also available on the website <http://www.illuminati‑news.com/e‑books/morals‑dogma/apike05.htm#13>.
The quotation is taken from Pike’s explanation of the 13th Degree, the
Royal Arch of Solomon.
ibid, p161. The website is
The quotation is taken from Pike’s explanation of the 10th Degree, the
Illustrious Elect of the Fifteen.
Pike was the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite, Southern
Jurisdiction of the USA, from 1859 to 1892.
Macquarrie, John: Principles of Christian Theology, rev edn, SCM
Press, London 1977, p151.
Lodge Commonwealth of Australia, #633, UGL NSW&ACT.
Hassell, Graham: The Bahá'í Faith in Tasmania 1923-1963,
a copy of which is available on the website <http://bahai‑library.com/asia‑pacific/02bahai%20Faith%20in%20Tasmania.htm>.
For example, the Islamic Jurisdictional College at its meeting on 15
July 1978, issued an opinion concerning Freemasonry which included the
statement that there is ‘a clear relationship between Freemasonry,
Judaism and International Zionism’. This opinion is quoted in the
article by Celil Layiktez, ‘Freemasonry in the Islamic World’, which
appears in the Pietre‑Stones Review of Freemasonry website at <http://users.libero.it/fjit.bvg/layiktez1.html>.
See the article ‘Freemasonry and Rome’ on the website of the Grand Lodge
of British Columbia and Yukon at
See article Hermann Gruber: ‘Masonry (Freemasonry)’ in The Catholic
Encyclopedia, on the website <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09771a.htm#VIII>.
Ward, J S M, op cit, p186.
Hannah, Walton: Darkness Visible: A Revelation and Interpretation of
Freemasonry, Augustine Press, 1952; Hannah, Walton: Christian by
Degrees: Masonic Religion Revealed in the Light of Faith, Augustine
Piatigorsky, Alexander: Who’s Afraid of Freemasons?, Harvill
Press, London 1997, p121.
Hamill, J M: Masonic Perspectives – The Collected Papers of John
Hamill, Australian Masonic Research Council, Belmont 1992, p18.
Wilmshurst, W L: The Ceremony of Passing, Kessinger Publishing
Co, Montana USA, nd, p5.
Mazet, Edmond: ‘Freemasonry and Esotericism’ in Modern Esoteric
Spirituality, Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman eds, SCM Press,
London 1993, p248.
Hamill, J M:
‘The sins of our Masonic fathers’ in (1988) Ars Quatuor Coronatorum
101:131–136, QCCC Ltd, London 1989.
UGL NSW&ACT of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons: Third Degree,
October 1998, p157.
Although resurrection is only one possible interpretation of the third
degree, many Masons hold this interpretation. In my lodge, at the time
of the raising of the candidate, the following words are sung: ‘I am the
Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord; He that believeth in Me,
though he were dead, yet shall he live’. This appears in Hart, A F:
Masonic Music, Allan & Co, Melbourne 1930, p17. See Claudy, Carl H:
Introduction to Freemasonry – Master Mason, for possible
interpretations of the Hiramic Legend. This is also available of the
website <http:/www.freemasons‑freemasonry.com/claudy4.html>. When
referring to the lost secret, Claudy states that the ‘Sublime Degree
teaches that in another life it may be found’.
For example, the observation ‘that light was ever an object of
attainment in all ancient mysteries’, UGL NSW&ACT of Ancient, Free and
Accepted Masons, First Degree, October 1998, p23.
Presented at Lodge Commonwealth of Australia, #633, UGL NSW&ACT, on
Tuesday 5 March 2002 and Tuesday 6 April 2004, respectively.
See website <http://www.mastermason.com/contemplative_masonry>.
This incident was confirmed by the minutes of the Communications of the
UGL of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, kindly sent
to me, at my request, by VW Bro Peter Court from the Grand Secretary’s
See the website of the UGLE, <http://www.grandlodge‑england.org/masonry/freemasonrys‑external‑relations.htm>.
Henderson, Kent and Pope, Tony: Freemasonry Universal, Volume
2—Africa, Europe, Asia & Oceania, Global Masonic Publications,
Williamstown 2000, p119.
Henderson & Pope, op cit, p198.
The information on the three existing NZ lodges comes from a posting by
a Co‑Mason, writing under the pseudonym of Whistler, on 28 April 2004,
at an Internet discussion forum. <http://www.thefreemason.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=1476敳>.
The information on Dunedin comes from Booth, Bob: ‘Lodges of Southern
New Zealand’ in (2002) Welcome to the Hocken Bulletin #43,
Friends of the Hocken Collections, available on the website <http://www.library.otago.ac.nz/pdf/Hoc_Fr_bulletins/43_bulletin.pdf101:131>.
Woolmer, George: ‘The New Millennium, Freemasonry and Women’, Gender
Relations Task Force, GL SA&NT, 2001.
Leadbeater was a Theosophist and had a belief in reincarnation.
UGL NSW&ACT of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons: Ceremonies of
Installation, Re‑Installation, Proclamation of a Worshipful Master and
Investiture of Officers, August 1999, p10.
See Haunch, T O: ‘It is not in the power of any man . . .’ in (1972)
Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 85:194–216, QCCC Ltd, London 1973.
Lauer, Tony: ‘Freemasonry and Freemasons: Past, Present and Future’,
presented at the National Press Club, Canberra, on 28 April 2004. It is
noteworthy that this part of the talk is not included in the
‘highlights’ printed in NSW&ACT Freemason, v36 #3, UGL NSW&ACT,
June 2004, pp10–11.