While listening to an alarming expose on the declining of membership of “Regular” American Masonry and its apparent inexorable demise, I could not help to wonder if that which has been prohibited, the admission of Women into our Order, is not precisely what and whom we need to insure our survival, and, most importantly, to genuinely live up to our Sacred Principle of Equality. As I gathered my thoughts later on that night, I began to gradually immerse myself in my humble essential library, and proceeded to read, compile, and eventually mold my sentiments and commentaries on paper. The following essay is the result of various sleepless nights that began that same evening.
The eagerness to know the Self and his/her Objective and Predominant Surrounding, in order to achieve Self-Transcendence, is one of the peculiar characteristics of human feeling, thinking and acting.
The perennial problems that Humanity has endeavored to resolve since its very origins, are all alike in their roots, though their solutions have been adapted to “the spirit of times”, that is to say, to the appropriate conditions of a particular civilization in a determined time and place.
Since immemorial times, there have existed ritualistic practices exclusively for men, for women, and/or for both.
Nowadays, it has become frequent to observe the rediscovery or resurfacing of Ancient Schools of Thought and Initiatic Organizations engaged in new ways of understanding and implementing (esoterically and exoterically) the Traditional Science. Among these organizations and schools, Organized Free-Masonry distinguishes itself as the most important of all Initiatic Institutions in Western Europe, America and parts of Asia and Africa.
All these aspects – without prejudice to others that are also worthy of consideration – should be kept into account when asking ourselves and others the questions: “What is Masonry?”, and, “What is Mixed Masonry or Co masonry?”.
As we now begin to reflect, with the purpose of building for ourselves and others the most objective possible vision of what Free-Masonry is in general, and Mixed Free-Masonry or Co masonry in particular, we must try to answer, with the utmost honesty, the following three questions:
- Have there existed initiatic organizations of mixed and feminine orientation in ancient times, and, if so, did they actively participate in the Art of Architecture?
- Has there existed a Mixed and/or a Feminine Speculative Masonry, at least since its alleged “official birth” in 1717, and, if so, how has it evolved?
Is it possible, at this point in time, to conceive a Free-Masonry integrated by Lodges of Women, of Men, or, of Mixed Gender among which there can exist a broad respect to their particular preferences of initiatic realization, while, at the same time, having full conscience that they ALL are part of an unique and indivisible entity known as: Universal Free-Masonry?
A Curious Mythology:
Ever since humans left behind their nomadic conditions and became sedentary, they started to manifest their attitude toward advancement and their aptitude for construction. In fact, Construction is one of the most evident characteristic signs of Civilization in all epochs and cultures; However, with respect to determining its objective origins, History is irremediably mixed with Myth, arriving sometimes to some unsuspected extremes.
Charles Bernardin (1860-1939), notable Masonic Historian and member of the Supreme Council of the Grand Orient of France, was able to compile and prove the existence of 206 authors who contended and presented 39 divergent opinions on the origin of Masonry. Amongst these opinions, the most admiration-worthy are the following:
- At the very beginning of “his constitutions”, Anderson himself asserts that the first Mason was Adam, and that the Great Architect of the Universe inscribed in his heart the Liberal Sciences, and, before all, Geometry, fundament of Masonry and Architecture, which, he later taught to his descendants.
- Fifteen of the thirty nine Masonic Historians elaborated on the existence of a Lodge at the East of Paradise. Some contend that at the sixth day of the Creation, the issue of women in Lodge was addressed and approved at the Celestial Grand Lodge. Others state that the First Mason was indeed Adam, and from that standpoint Jean Marie Ragon de Bettignies (1781-1866) concluded: “… If our father Adam labored in Lodge, he could not have done it with anyone else, but, with his woman …”.
- Elian Brault stated, rather persuasively: “… Given that the Serpent of Genesis approached Eve first, to have her taste the fruit of The Tree of Life, Science and Death, it was Eve evidently the First Initiated, whom, in turn, initiated Adam …”
- For his own part, Marc Bedarride sustains that the Patriarch Jabel, son of Lamech, was the first who conceived the felicitous idea of accepting a woman in Lodge. He chose as Grand Mistress his sister Noema, daughter of Lamech and Sella, and sister of Tubalcain. Since the age of seventeen, Noema demonstrated having the most outstanding qualities, by being honest, civilized, gracious, affable, amiable, kind and beautiful. Jabel surrounded himself with other illustrious sisters to help him with his labors – having had their first Lodge meeting at a plain field surrounded by twelve palms, and under a pure and serene sky where Peace, Concord and Harmony reigned.
When some poorly informed people – Masons and Non-Masons – blindedly reject the possibility of a Woman being eligible and/or worthy of Masonic Initiation, whether it be in a Feminine Lodge or a Mixed-one, one cannot help to “sketch” a light smile; for it is clear, even by the accounts and terms of Profane History, that women, in their individual capacities or through their membership in diverse guilds of spinners, weaveresses, carvers, upholsterers, sculptresses, etc. have taken active participation in the Divine Art of Architecture.
Some evidential facts that support the above statement are the following:
- The Carpenters Guild of Norwich, a guild that dates from 1375, and to which the Masons of York belonged, recollect that: “Every year, the Saturday following the Ascension, the Brothers and Sisters get together in a determined place to recite their prayers in honor of the Holy Trinity, in favor of the Holy Church, for Peace and Union of the country, and for the repose of the souls of all defunct, not only Fore-Brothers and Fore-Sisters, but, all friends and Christians… If a member of our Guild dies, his/her Brothers and Sisters should pray for him/her and celebrate a mass for the peaceful state of his/her soul”…
- In the archives of York Lodge Number 236, which belonged to the Ancient Grand Lodge of England, in the Orient of York whose origin is immemorial, there is a Manuscript dated in 1693 and transcribed on a lightly mutilated parchment, by which we find that, during the reception of a neophyte in the 17th century: “One of the Elders picks-up the Book, and He or She who is to be made a Mason places his/her hand on the Book, and then the instructions are given”.
- Another fact comes to contradict the exaggerated misogyny of a vast number of Masons, Grand Jurisdictions and Concordant Bodies: There is a great feminine name, among those “admirable cathedral builders”, that of Sabine de Pierrefonds, daughter of Herve de Pierrefonds, better known by the Germanic name of Erwin Von Steinbach. Sabine participated in the construction of the cathedral of Strasburg, and also sculpted some of the most prominent statues of Notre Dame in Paris. Evidently, however, the construction of these cathedrals, which, usually took up to a couple of centuries to be built, required more than one Master of the Work, and it is highly probable that Sabine de Pierrefonds was not the only woman who toiled in these labors.
On another hand, among those possible feminine receptions of “Accepted Masons”, like those narrated by ancient medieval “Duties” and “Charges”, we can include those of the Masters’ wives, since these “Bylaws” make an invariable reference to them both:
“Thou shall not reveal the secrets or projects of thy Master or thy Mistress…”
(Ancient Constitutions of Franc-Masons, taken from a manuscript written 500 years ago by J. Roberts, Warwick-Lane, 1722, Apprentices’ Bylaws, 1,4,5,7)
The publication of this manuscript was prior to that of “Anderson’s Constitutions”, and it has been found to be more trust-worthy, in light of its antiquity and uniqueness – since in 1724 (seven years after the creation of the alleged “First Grand Lodge”) Anderson simply made a synthesis of various documents, some of which were even second hand; whereas in the case of our aforementioned manuscript, we are in the presence of an unique and complete document. And with respect to the evoked “Mistress”, we can all admit that Sabine de Pierrefonds, artist and sculptress, had to, at the same time, form/train Apprentices and Companions (Fellow crafts). Later on, in due time, the benefits of this Feminine Initiation into “Accepted Free-Masonry” were extended to a female monarch: Queen Anne Stewart, Daughter of James II, who ruled between 1702 and 1714.
To be continued in part 2
Reprinted by permission of Carlos Antonio Martinez, Jr.