Women’s Agency And Rituals In Mixed And Female Masonic Orders – Alexandra Heidl & Jan Snoek (editors) (2008)

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This book is published by the Dutch academic publisher Brill and these books are always very expensive. The publisher sells the book for € 181,-, the Amazon prices start at $ 194,-. It seems that when you are affiliated to a University, you can get a cheap (€ 25,-) printing-on-demand through Brill.com/mybooks.

As the title suggests the book is about women in Freemasonry and similar orders. It is a collection of essays of a variety of authors. There are some very interesting texts in the book based on meticulous investigations, so it is too bad that these are only available to a specialist audience. Brill has many interesting titles, but you either have to dig deep into your pocket to buy it or to be lucky.

After a lengthy introduction by Jan Snoek, the first text is from the hands of Bärbel Raschke. Raschke writes about Masonic-like organisations that involved women in the early days of Freemasonry. He mostly looks at the well-documented case of Ordre des Hermites de bonne humeur (‘Order of the happy Hermits’) in Sachsen-Gotha (1739-1758). This was an organisation founded by an aristocratic woman who knew many early, German Freemasons. The author writes about the history and a bit about organisation and ritual.
Malcolm Davies wrote the next essay about a very early (1752) lodge of adoption in Den Haag (The Hague), Netherlands. Lodges of adoption were lodges created for the women of Freemasons. They were mostly ‘Freemasonry-like’ with adapted rituals and under patronage of a male Mason. La Loge de Juste seems to have been more of a mixed gender lodge and for a short while it worked under the same Grand Master as the men-only organisation in the Netherlands. Scandals and financial problems brought the end of both the “regular” and adoption organisations. Eventually the (still existing) Dutch “regular” organisation (the Grand Orient of the Netherlands) would only be founded in 1756.
Probably the most controversial essay is of Andreas Önnerfors who wrote about plans to start a Maçonnerie des Dames (‘Ladies Masonry’) of the very conservative Strict Observance. Önnerfors found 57 pages with detailed plans (including rituals for five degrees) in the Masonic archives in Copenhagen, Denmark. Many of these pages are reprinted at the end of the article.
James Smith Allen describes how the rise of women’s rights movement in France ran parallel with the rise of mixed gender Freemasonry. Many persons can be found in both movements.
Anton van de Sande describes the discussion within the Grand Orient of the Netherlands about the admittance of women. A decision that was almost made (!) but when mixed gender Freemasonry reached the Netherlands, the point was put in the refrigerator.
Leaving Freemasonry Hendrik Bogdan presents his essay about women in the Golden Dawn.
The next text initially does not seem to be about women in Freemasonry. In an article translated from French Bernard Dat investigates the claims of Etienne Stretton that he was a high ranking member of an operative organisation in the early days of Freemasonry. At the end the role of women is shortly treated.
More women rights in the text of Ann Pilcher Dayton Freemasonry and Suffrage: The Manifestation of Social Conscience.
Andrew Prescott has a detailed biography of Annie Besant who was very important in the expansion of mixed gender Freemasonry. She was an extremely active and very versatile person.
The last text is a masters thesis investigation into the perception of the three different rites within the Dutch federation of Le Droit Humain by its members.

I always find it interesting to read about people swimming against the stream and this book makes it look like that quite some people did in the early days of Freemasonry. Apparently the major players ‘won’, because the subject about women in Freemasonry is as controversial today as it was in these days. More even. Most essays are about the periode 1700 up until 1800, but after that it took a century before actual mixed gender Freemasonry would be developed.

Indeed, an interesting book. Too bad it is not exactly easy (or cheap) to get.

2008 Brill, isbn 9004172394

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