In this Sojourners post, a observant brother from the Prince Hall tradition asks a very important question about access in the modern age of Freemasonry – Who has it, why, and should it be exclusive? This piece, while brief, explores at least in part these ideas as more and more of a diverse audience is gaining exposure to the meanings of Freemasonry.
The Meaning of Freemasonry
A Sojourners post by Richard E. Gordon III
Many things have been said of the Craft, as such, I will not attempt to reiterate them here, but will attempt to express what freemasonry means to me.
My journey began long before I was made a Mason. There was a longing in my heart to understand the deeper mysteries of the world, their respective interrelations and manifestations, and a desire to know the Truth. I would spend many hours reading books of seemingly different natures, only to be delighted to discover a connection between subjects. These associations were meaningful to me because, as I had worked to achieve insight and understanding, I came closer to a more enlightened view of reality. I felt as if I was coming out of the darkness into something a little more distinguishable, a little more clear.
My worldview began to change. I read The Hiram Key, by Robert Lomas and Christopher Knight in college, as the first book about freemasonry I read as a non-mason. I had sensed a continuous stream of knowledge, some would say, from time immemorial, but this book put into focus what I had already sensed. I had realized I wanted to join the Order, out of curiosity, but also to further development, and to honor those wise men that had gone on before me. One could say that, I was seeking to revive the spirit of the Adept within myself. To be a vessel of the divine spark.
Upon being Raised, I was struck at how real it seemed, as during my initiation, I called out and protested as if I was actually the Master in the Temple. My answer to those who would accost me for the secrets of the Temple, was simply ‘Kill Me’. For I knew I could not get away, and I knew I could not oblige them. As the final blow came, I was thrown backward onto my death shroud, and accidentally caught my foot on a brother. My foot was wrenched aside, twisted, my senses not knowing of where the pain and darkness was truly from. I must say this experience changed me. I truly felt death had come, and the embrace of the shroud was comforting. The Lion’s Paw I had received from my father, and it was a very special moment in my life. This cemented my Quest.
From that point on, I strived to the higher ideals of the Order, subduing my passions and improving myself in science and history. Knowledge is a wonderful gift, but it means nothing if it is not put into practice for the benefit of All. Freemasonry then, helped me to become a man, instilling the virtues that, if all possessed, would surely rebuild the Heavenly Temple on Earth. The meaning of freemasonry is to give purpose. This in turn, gives us the ability to, hopefully, transcend into a Higher and more Lofty state of Society, in the spiritual/alchemical sense of the Philosopher’s Stone. There is one drastic hitch or impediment to this dream, however, and that is the insistence of the rules and regulations of the Craft to deny women, the fairer sex, entry into the Order. How can we as Masons do this injustice to over half the population of the world?
I want my brothers to consider this in earnest. Can we rightly deny our sisters, mothers, daughters, wives, lovers, the joys and spiritual guidance that Freemasonry has to offer? Eastern Star is separate but not equal. It is simply not enough, and in the long run, will hurt the progression of establishing the Temple Cornerstone of the World, for all to enjoy and benefit. Freemasonry is more then just a fraternity, and should be recognized as such, but that task will be thwarted if we deny others the right, who are already Masons in their heart, the opportunity to join the Craft. Was it not Mary of Bethany Jesus’s most beloved disciple? Is not Venus the birther of all Men? Why do we close our doors to her?
I shall simply say that, the meaning of freemasonry is that of continuation, of the hopes and dreams of the Adept.
Richard E. Gordon III
Richard E. Gordon III, was raised a Master Mason in 2010, in Golden Square Lodge #23, 4th Masonic District, Prince Hall Affiliation, Urbana, Ohio, and is a member of Miami Consistory #26 in the Valley of Dayton. He holds a Masters Degree in Applied Behavioral Science from Wright State University and won the “Outstanding Graduate Student Award” (2010) in the Applied Behavioral Science (ABS) program. He also obtained his Bachelors in Psychology in 2007 at Wittenberg University, where he founded and led the Society for Extraordinary Phenomena (SEP). Richard worked as a medical lab researcher at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in the STREAMS program, which is dedicated to fostering biomedical research experiences for minority students, and studied the biomedical effects of intermittent hypoxia in neonatal rats, with implications for conditions such as sleep apnea and aerospace industry considerations. He is a Research Associate with Vision Genomics, LLC.
Freemasonry, like religion, is an institution that has created for itself its own teleological system of boundaries. What is, and what isn’t, a Freemason is often a hard etched line drawn in the metaphysical sands of the philosophy. And yet, those lines shift between organizations, time or ideology. To overcome this, most branches of Freemasonry have chosen to define Freemasonry in a particular way, like a very specific rendering of a point within the circle – everything within the circle IS and everything without IS NOT. But, at the edge of that boundary, often times are other groups who have made that self same requisite of what is and what is not. Some of those boundaries blend together and others are hard buttressed edges replete with warning totems, curses, and threats of community rejection should they be crossed. The latter example is the edged between mainstream Grand Lodge Freemasonry and Confederation of Freemasonry known as Le Droit Humain. In this installment of Sojourners, I get to cross that boundary and spend some time talking with Dianne Coombs, a lady Freemason from Le Droit Humain. While far from being an outlier within her branch of Masonry, Dianne and I met on that boundary edge and to talk about the fraternity on the other side. Not surprisingly, I found there to be more in common than I thought marked by some stark differences in contrast. The thought to keep in the back of your head while reading this is to ask yourself “how different are we really?”
Greg Stewart (GS) – Dianne, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Before we delve to deeply in the conversation, tell me about who Dianne Coombs is? How long have you been a Freemason?
Dianne Coombs (DC) – I have been a teacher of various subjects for 35 years. I am also a practitioner of yoga, and a student of various subjects such as astrology. I have been a Freemason for 32 years.
GS – What initially interested you in becoming a Freemason?
DC – The organization with which I practiced yoga has schools of initiatic and esoteric studies. It was founded by Masters who were among other things, Freemasons. I wanted to continue being in school, so to speak, and being in a hierarchical organization with specific stages of advancement.
GS – I’m curious, you mention schools of initiation and esoteric studies, and could you elaborate on those traditions?
On the internal side, there are degrees of recognition, and the requirements include a vegetarian diet and abstinence from drugs and alcohol. Those who have been recognized with the first degree and above have the opportunity to join a Secret Chamber.
GS – For the record, you are a member of le Droit Humain (LDH), a mixed-gender masonic organization. How did you initially find them and what lead you to join?
DC – I found out about Le Droit Humain through a friend who had been recently initiated. I joined because I was intrigued by an organization that uses ritual and ceremony, something I am very drawn to.
GS – Were your initial ideas about it validated, or did you discover something different?
DC – Yes and more! More than being just a formal ritual I learned how people, working together to perform ritual well, could create a powerful impact and strong personal bonds.
GS – How so?
DC – At my initiation the ceremony seemed very familiar, possibly through connections to my religious upbringing and later spiritual practices.
GS – If I might ask, what was your religious upbringing that you found familiarity to?
DC – I was raised in the Episcopal Church, but the familiarity didn’t directly relate to the liturgy of the Church. I think I am a person who feels a connection with spiritual ritual, so perhaps that was the connection.
GS – So what influenced you most about Masonry early on? Where did you find your inspiration?
DC – I was initiated into a Lodge that had members who came from a variety of spiritual traditions that all worked together in harmony. I was inspired by the leaders of the American Federation at the time, but no one person in particular was influential.
What was more influential is the fact that Le Droit Humain is an international Order [which] meant that I could attend Lodges all over the world and have Brothers and Sisters all over the world.
GS – Do you, or have you, held any masonic office or leadership roles within Le Droit Humain?
DC – I am installed Master, and currently I a District Deputy for the Mountain States region for the American Federation of Le Droit Humain. I have also served as the head of bodies for higher degrees (beyond the Craft Lodge), and I am a member of the Federation Consistory.
GS – Interesting. Not knowing much about LDH, how many higher degree bodies are there in the Le Droit Humain configuration? Does it mirror American mainstream masonry in the U.S.? Would they be easily recognizable to mainstream masons?
DC – After the Craft Degrees, we have Lodges of Perfection, which mainly work the 4º , 12º and 14º, lodges Rose Croix, which work the 17º and 18º, Areopagi (Areopagus singular), which work the 29º and 30º, Sovereign Tribunal of the 31º, Consistory (Princes of the Royal Secret) – 32º and Grand Inspectors General – 33º.
These are based on traditional Scottish Rite degrees, so I think they would be recognizable to mainstream Masons. Those members who have joined Le Droit Humain after having been members of AASR have not mentioned significant differences.
We also have three York Rite degrees that are considered side degrees because they are optional and do not lead to advancement for higher degrees. They are Mark, Holy Royal Arch, and Royal Ark Mariner.
In LDH, higher degrees are not conferred by decree, but given ceremonially in which the candidate participates.
GS – What do you mean by that?
DC – In [mainstream] AASR, multiple degrees can be conferred simply by attending and watching. In LDH, there is a set time period between the higher degrees to receive them , and the candidate must participate in the ceremony, rather than by observing.
GS – I’m always fascinated with the operations of Masonry, the things we do for it, tell me about your work with le Droit Humain.
DC – I have held various offices within Craft Lodges, and I have helped to create Facebook pages to increase awareness about our Order. Additionally I have served as a contact for those who are inquiring about the American Federation.
That’s on the external level.
On the internal level, I have found that being a member has helped me to work to a higher stage of spiritual understanding and to feel a greater connection to humanity as a whole.
GS – Spiritual level, elaborate on that. What have you come to find that to mean in a Masonic context?
DC – In Masonry, I have found a great deal of diversity in background and beliefs compared to other groups in which I have been a member. The fact that we are working together for a common purpose, the brotherhood of humanity, I think transcends the work being done in the individual Lodge. Le Droit Humain has national and international conventions which serve to create connections with people from all over the world. As far as spiritual understanding goes, the individual must transform himself/herself in order to assist humankind. That is one of the great teachings of Freemasonry in all of the degrees. At the same time, there is the reminder that, “it’s not just about me.” None of the ceremonies or rituals can be performed by an individual, but must be performed by the entire lodge working together.
GS – You make an interesting point that I can’t say occurs in a broad way with the Grand Lodge System. So, why do you think co-masonry exists organizationally? Does it fill a particular niche or need?
DC – There are various co-Masonic organizations in the world. In English-speaking countries we are known as The International Order of Freemasonry for Men and Women, Le Droit Humain. We dropped the term “Co-Masonry” because it had a connotation of somehow being lesser than other Masonry. In Europe it is known as “Mixed Masonry,” but that doesn’t really translate into something that makes sense in English.
Le Droit Humain was founded by a man and a woman who were active in the campaign for the rights of women. Thus, it exists because its members believe in equality. Our international constitution says that we accept men and women as co-equals. In addition, generally speaking, its members believe that Freemasonry need not be reserved exclusively for men because the human soul has no gender.
GS – From what you’ve learned or what you know, how did this mixed masonry begin? What were its origins?
DC – This is copied from the international website:
Maria Deraismes, journalist and fighter for the rights of women and children and Dr. Georges Martin, Senator, General Councilor for the Dept. Of the Seine, Municipal Councilor of Paris, undertook campaigns in favor of the civic and political rights of women, the defense of the rights of oppressed children, against clerical intolerance and for the establishment of a neutral school respecting the ideas of everyone.
Maria Deraismes was initiated – on 14th January 1882 – into Lodge “Les Libres Penseurs” of Pecq, a small village to the west of Paris. She was the first female Freemason, symbolising initiatory equality.
Eleven years later, on 4th April 1893, Maria Deraismes and Georges Martin, a well known mason, created in Paris the first co-masonic Lodge. Out of this co-masonic Lodge came the birth of the Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise “Le Droit Humain”, establishing the equality of men and women, out of which, later, came the birth of the International Order of Co-Freemasonry “LE DROIT HUMAIN”.
Maria Deraismes died on 6th February 1894, and the task of organizing and developing “LE DROIT HUMAIN” fell on Dr. Martin. His energetic will placed him beyond frontiers, ethnic groups, religions and cultures, and he very quickly founded Lodges outside France: in Switzerland and in England.
The ORDER spread throughout Europe before sowing itself in other parts of the world. Le “DROIT HUMAIN” was built out of a marvelous dream, to unite humanity despite all the barriers, ethnic groups, geopolitics, religions and cultures.
GS – Do you see that mandate of creation still in operation today?
DC – When Le Droit Humain was first founded, a principal reason was to recognize the equality of women, not to create an Order outside the borders of France. After the death of Marie Deraismes, Georges Martin saw that this need transcended national borders. It was his vision to create a more universal Freemasonry.
Considering that humanity remains divided on so many levels, I see that that mandate is definitely still in operation.
GS – What do you see as the role of mixed gender masonry in a landscape dominated by the masculine variety of the fraternity?
DC – Its role is the same as that of many Masonic orders: the progress of humanity. The principal difference is the work on an international level without distinction of gender.
GS – Is there room for both?
DC – There is definitely room for both, just as there is room for women-only or male-only orders. The male members of Le Droit Humain disagree with the idea of discriminating against half of humanity, which is often part of their reason for joining.
GS – Do you see a fixed and unchanging boundary in separate, but essentially equal, branches of Masonry (i.e. regular, Co-Masonry, Prince-Hall, Feminine, etc…)?
DC – I do not see it as fixed. I have come into contact with members [of] traditional male craft lodges who are genuinely interested in learning more about mixed orders. I see very tiny baby steps happening right now towards mutual recognition.
GS – That sounds promising, anything you can elaborate on about this mutual recognition?
DC – While I have come into contact with some traditional Masons who continue to insist that women cannot be Freemasons, in forums such as social media, I have had respectful exchanges of ideas from masculine Brethren. Neither side is insisting that the one join the other, but the fact that the dialogue is respectful, indicates to me that the door is opening slightly. The Lodge of which I am a member has received referrals from masculine lodges for women who would like to become Masons. While that is not indicative of mutual recognition at this point, the fact that there is even a conversation is a step in the right direction.
GS – Are there any overtly different aspects between co-masonry and the grand lodge tradition?
DC – Not really – the main rituals used in the United States are based on traditional AASR rituals. The rituals used in Europe in both Le Droit Humain and traditional orders are essentially the same.
GS – Should there be some recognition between the branches, or even equality of association as in say, some kind of open organizational association?
DC – Yes. We should have this recognition because, in our mutual pursuits for the progress of humanity, we have a lot to gain in solidarity of efforts and to learn from each other’s approach.
GS – Why do you think there continues to be a distinction between the two?
DC – I think many people in the masculine Orders have a great respect for tradition. [But] sometimes respect for tradition does not allow for change. There can be a delicate balance between the respect for tradition and evolution.
One of my favorite texts, The Kybalion: Hermetic Philosophy, teaches that there is always change. If this change is for the greater good of humanity, change does not need to be avoided.
GS – It sounds like there is some degree of openness from the LDH side, how do you react when words like ‘clandestine’ or ‘bogus’ are thrown around when used in describing a flavor of Masonry other than those calling themselves ‘regular’?
DC – I kind of shrug my shoulders. It’s not worth getting upset over, since it’s usually the result of a lack of understanding. By the same token, some male craft lodges have become purely social organizations (men’s clubs) and have drifted away from the deeper traditions of Freemasonry. Often those in traditional lodges seem to have a kind of fear of other orders, or they demonstrate the need to be exclusive (perhaps on a psychological level) – not only towards women, but also towards those or different race or ethnicity.
GS – Within LDH, what do you see as the role of the esoteric aspects of Masonic study?
DC – Although not explicit, the esoteric aspects of Masonic study are an integral part of the Work. The esoteric traditions of initiation in general often draw many people to become members.
GS – Is there an explicitly esoteric aspect to it?
DC – Yes – we interpret the symbolism of the rituals and furnishings to have a deep meaning, which, of course, is not interpreted for anyone, but left for members to discover for themselves. Many members consider Freemasonry to have ancient roots, back to the earliest times of recorded history, and that Freemasonry is the repository for the ancient Mystery Schools. Even though the symbolism is not interpreted for anyone, it is understood that many ancient traditions have a connection.
GS – Which traditions do you think it draw the greatest parallels or symbols from?
DC – I think the great Mystery traditions have informed Freemasonry in general and Le Droit Humain in particular – ancient Egypt, the Hebraic tradition, the Eleusinian mysteries, the Knights Templar, and more.
I think Le Droit Humain would make the same connections with past traditions that mainstream Masonry has made.
GS – As a body, who does Le Droit Humain look to as its organizational patriarchs, matriarchs or its great authors?
DC – Our organization is not based on the Grand Lodge system; we have a Supreme Council headquartered in Paris. Those countries with a sufficient number of lodges are termed federations.
Our International Constitution says that,
The Order is organized into federations, jurisdictions and pioneer lodges within which Freemasons … meet in lodges of all degrees that have been granted a charter by the Supreme Council of the Order.
Due to the way Le Droit Humain is organized, we do not have patriarchs or matriarchs. We have had many Grand Masters who have left profound writings, as well as have past heads of the American Federation, but none is more influential than another.
Inspirationally, members often draw upon the same Masonic authors as members of other orders.
GS – So, let’s take a turn here and talk about something on the minds of both sides of the divide. As a membership society in a landscape of similar such bodies and organization how do you believe LDH is faring in the modern landscape?
DC – Over the last five years, the American Federation has increased its membership by nearly 50%.
GS – Where has that growth come from do you think? Is there an organizational push for growth or is it organic?
DC – I think there are a lot of factors – the thirst from humanity in general, increasing our visibility without proselytizing, and as is the case with other Orders, personal relationships.
GS – So where do you see le Droit Humain 5 years from now? How about 10 years from now?
DC – I expect to see more Lodges being formed in new areas and increased numbers in those that have already been established.
GS – If someone was interested in finding out more about le Droit or interested in associating with them in some capacity, what would you recommend to them? How could they go about it?
DC – Besides recommending the web pages, I would recommend completing the contact form on www.comasonic.org, because a person who is interested in learning more will be contacted personally. Requesting information on Facebook pages generally draws a personal response as well.
Dianne, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me and share your thoughts. I definitely appreciate it and I know many reading, while perhaps not publicly, appreciate it too.
If you are a traditional Mainstream or Prince Hall Mason, hereafter referred to as a Malecraft Mason, then you probably have the perception that a woman in Masonry is a member of the Eastern Star or Heroines of Jericho. You would be wrong.
Co-Masonry, as Kidd tells us, started with the making a Mason of Maria Deraismes, a well known advocate of women’s rights, in France by a Malecraft Lodge in 1882.
Deraismes, along with Georges Martin, founded Le Droit Humain later called International Co-Freemasonry.
From this modest beginning by 1900 sprang the Supreme Council of Universal Co-Freemasonry, incorporating the 33 degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. This body claimed for itself worldwide jurisdiction of Co-Masonry and chartered new Lodges in many different areas. One of those areas was Britain where Annie Besant organized Co-Masonry.
And if you thought that a woman in Masonry would be an isolated case you would be wrong again. And if you thought that a woman in Masonry was a recent development and a passing fad, you would still be wrong one more time.
Karen Kidd, in her first book Haunted Chambers, catalogs the lives and occurrences of the first women who were admitted to Male-craft Masonry or who sneaked in. Now in her second book, On Holy Ground: A History of The Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry, Kidd publishes a detailed history of Co- Masonry, the institution that is the Obedience that admits men and women of all religions and national origins.Co-Masonry started in the 1880s. The belief that Co-Masonry sprung up on its own, independently from Malecraft Masonry and developed its own theory on Masonry all by itself is another perception to be shattered. Kidd quotes Annie Besant, founder of Co-Masonry in Great Britain and India.“ Co-Masonry has arisen from the bosom of Masculine Masonry in order to bring women into that ancient fraternity on exactly the same terms as men, and thus to restore the whole Brotherhood to the position from which it fell; when it broke its link with the Ancient Mysteries by excluding women from its ranks, by recognizing distinction of sexes within the pure sanctuary of the Temple.” Maria Deraismes
In 1903 Antoine Muzzarrelli a French born Mason of Italian descent and an educator, lecturer, author and private tutor convinced Georges Martin in France into letting him found North American Co-Masonry on behalf of LDH. Muzzarrelli had become a protector of French Masons in the United States working with the Grand Orient of France. But issues with the GOdF led him to seek another avenue for his Masonic expression and one where he could be the big cheese. Muzzarrelli tapped the anarchist turned Socialist Louis Goaziou, a newspaper publisher in Charleroi, Pennsylvania as his chief deputy and Master of the first North American Co-Masonic Lodge in America, Alpha Lodge #301 formed by The American Federation of Human Rights the name Muzzarrelli chose for this new American Obedience. Alpha Lodge #301 was formerly consecrated with 21 Brethren, of which three were women, on October 18 and 19, 1903 in Charleroi.
In the next five years The American Federation of Human Rights would grow to over 40 Lodges. But Muzzarrelli’s tenure was short lived and towards the end he was beset with financial difficulties and irregularities, litigation and clamor for a National Convention. In 1908 Muzzarrelli was dead by his own hand and the Order was in chaos.
Goaziou reluctantly took over and served as head of the Order from 1908-1937, almost 30 years. His first duty was to get the finances in order. Then he permitted that National Convention in 1908 and presided over it. On May 26, 1909 he reincorporated The American Federation of Human Rights with some needed updates to the original. On January 20, 1910 the Supreme Council of the International Order issued a Charter to The American Federation of Human Rights.
Goaziou presided over the second National Convention in 1913. His most noted achievement was probably the purchase of land in Larkspur, Colorado and establishing the National Headquarters there.
But all was not roses for Goaziou.
Like Muzzarrelli, he had a skirmish with traditional Male-craft Masonry, and the Great Depression hurt the Order badly. Bank closings and the freezing of Federation money made for a very lean bare bones version of Masonry. Not only was their little expansion but some Lodges had to close because of financial difficulties.
But the one difficulty that sent this writer to the research books was the beginning of a long altercation between Theosophist and non-Theosophist Brothers for control of the Order. French Co-Masonry was decidedly secular while English Co-Masonry was decidedly Theosophist in nature. American Co-Masonry started out impartial and very much in the French mode but later developed to resemble more English Co-Masonry.
This factional dispute bled over into Goaaziou’s successor, Edith Armour who was the Order’s first female leader and first Theosophist leader. Although Goasiou had brought many fellow Socialists into Co-Masonry he prided himself on guiding the American Federation of Human rights along a middle path not dominated by any single philosophical, religious or political group. Armour tried vainly to do the same but her Theosophical commitment had the Order leaning to favoritism even if it wasn’t deliberate. This led to a challenge to her leadership by Helen Sturgis who Goaziou had to deal with earlier. Armour survived victorious but her reign saw a marked decline in membership. Yet, to be fair, one must factor in the effect that WWII had on the Order.
Kidd sums up the Theosophist battle thusly:
“To be sure, the Theosphical society is still active and supportive of Co-Freemasonry even today. It simply does not have now, nor had it ever, the ability to fully populate what is intended to be an inclusive, diverse, independent and free thinking body. No single religion, philosophy, creed, or political persuasion can possibly do that for Freemasonry. By necessity, Freemasonry must be mixed.”
“As Armour herself observed in 1936, differences in interpretation ‘are stimulating and refreshing.’ The lack of these differences caused the Order to become sluggish and stagnant. This is not what Armour ever intended but by the time she realized what was happening, she was too worn and tired to struggle against it, let alone undo it.”
Armour served as the leader of the American Federation for over twenty years from 1937-1959 and she was the first Most Puissant Grand commander to step down rather than die in office.
The docile Bertha Williams followed in 1959 and her weakness finally resulted in her quitting in 1967.
Helen Wycherley followed and she immediately put some backbone back into the office, Kidd tells us:
“She soon made it very clear the Federation would be beholden to no single religious, political or philosophical body. Herself a Theosophist, Wycherley ended American Federation’s time in the Theosophical shadow.”
Wycherley selected Calla Hack as her successor in 1983. The move proved to be a disaster, so much so that Wycherley would come back to campaign against her in a bold attempt to remove her. Hack lost $70,000 of the Federation’s money investing in the stock market totally on her own. She embarked on a campaign to remove a most popular Grand Orator. She was not a Theosophist and had close ties with Paris, so much so that The Federation became divided between the “Loyalists” whose first allegiance was to The International Order and the “Secessionists” whose first loyalty was to the American Federation.
Hack resigned in 1992 and what followed would change The American Federation of Human Rights forever. This time Hack’s successor was chosen by a true election. There were three candidates, Magdalena Cumsille, Rosario Menocal and Vera Bressler. Cumsille got 70% of the vote and Bressler got 6%. Clearly the American Federation had chosen Cumsille. Now in past years all newly selected Most Puissant Grand Commanders were ratified by LDH in Paris. This always had been a rubber stamp of whatever American Co-Masonry had decided.
This time was different. Paris demanded that Bressler be appointed MPGC and so she was. It also remanded American by-law changes, and changes giving the MPGC more autocratic power. By Colorado law, by-law changes to a nonprofit corporation must be ratified by its membership. By a vote of 70-30 it was not and the battle was on. It took a number of years but in due time the American Federation of Human Rights divorced itself from the International Order of Co-Freemasonry, Le Droit Humain. Le Droit Humain founded a new organization in the United States, incorporating in Delaware, and calling itself the “Order of International Co-Freemasonry Le Droit Humain – American Federation.” The old American Federation renamed itself “ the Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry, the American Federation of Human Rights.” Some Lodges stayed with Le Droit Humain in their new American Order but a larger number remained with the newly separated American Federation which elected Magdalena Cumsille MPGC by an overwhelming majority and she continues in that office today.
Karen Kidd has penned a monumental work of distinction in On Holy Ground: A History of The Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry. It’s a powerful work, written with great gusto. And it is interesting reading. It’s interesting because Kidd doesn’t forget to include the human factor. People are human beings to Kidd not just robots in a jig saw puzzle to be fitted together by proper accounting.
In a number of instances Kidd has been able to correct misinformation. Because she is a member Of the American Federation of Human Rights she is privy to files and records off limits to outsiders. Thus she has been able to set the record straight on controversies and assertions that have been made in error.
Her research is meticulous and thorough. She maintains her objectivity. She has no agenda. She doesn’t fill in the blanks with a guess. This book is well documented with a ton of footnotes. At the end are a number of full length manuscripts which is a really nice addition to this work and accentuates the ideas and the struggles of this Order. There are many good pictures. Some of the images and documents have never been published before.
By Karen Kidd
Author of “Haunted Chambers: the Lives of Early Women Freemasons”
Controversial American author Robert Temple observed “Technology is forbidden when it is not allowed to exist.”
“It is easy to forbid technology to exist in the past because all you have to do is to deny it. Enforcing the ban then becomes a simple matter of remaining deaf, dumb and blind. And most of us have no trouble in doing that when necessary. . . I call it consensus blindness. People agree not to see what they are convinced cannot exist.”
Temple made these comments in his paper “Forbidden Technology”, which is about optical technology, long denied by “experts”, that none-the-less existed for millennia.
“Consensus blindness” long has been the unwritten/unspoken rule among Malecraft Masons, likewise accepted by many non Masons including women, about the existence of early women Freemasons. However, just as there are lenses in Ancient Egyptian archaeological finds dating to the 4th and 5th dynasties at Abydos, so also have women Masons existed throughout all of the modern Freemasonic period.
Denying their existence, for centuries, was the expected norm and any Masonic historian who wrote about them had to adopt a sort of double-speak. For instance, 20th Century Masonic scholar Carl Claudy, when he wrote about women Freemasons in his “Masonic Harvest”, spent the first page of that chapter stating that women could not be Freemasons; then ten pages describing – with continual double-speak – the lives of those women Freemasons.
Claudy, whatever his personal opinions, had no choice but to write about early Women Freemasons in this way. Had he attempted to be more straight-forward, it likely would never have been published. In this way, Claudy and other Masonic writers kept from complete obscurity the lives of these women Freemasons.
Their existence is a fact, despite determined effort to ignore, marginalize and deny it. That effort, however, ongoing for centuries, has done its worst. The very vast majority of early women Freemasons are unknown to us. Finding them can take as much effort as it did to obscure them.
Gunnilda the Mason: a female operative mason mentioned by name as living in Norwich in the Calendar of Close Rolls for the year 1256.
Elizabeth St. Leger Aldworth: initiated into her father’s lodge in County Cork in Ireland before the founding of the modern Freemasonry Grand Lodges.
Hannah Mather Crocker: Grand Mistress of the Femalecraft St. Ann’s Lodge in Boston during the 1770s.
Henriette Heiniken: better known as “Madame de Xaintrailles”, a hero of the Napoleonic wars initiated into an otherwise Malecraft Lodge in Paris the early 19th Century.
Mary Ann Belding Sproul: an early New Brunswick settler initiated into her husband’s Lodge in the early 19th Century.
Catherine Sweet Babington: a teen-ager when she snuck into her uncles’ lodge in East Kentucky, initiated into that Lodge at the height of the anti-Masonic era spawned by the disappearance of William Morgan.
Salome Anderson: late 19th Century wealthy matron of Oakland, CA, outed as a Freemason by a respected Masonic publication six years before her death in 1898.
And many more. Late 19th Century Masonic history W. Fred Vernon, writing when Malecraft Masons were a bit more laid back about the subject, commented, “I have no doubt other ancient Lodges have their lady members just as ancient buildings have their haunted chambers.”
I’ve heard my book is a threat to all Freemasonry, Malecraft Masonry in particular. This is no more true than admitting to the existence of their contemporary male brethren is a threat to any part of Freemasonry. All our Brethren who have passed to the Grand Lodge above, be they male or female, are to be remembered and emulated.
While none of these women were Co-Masons, they did pave the way for that part of Freemasonry. And, today, women can become Freemasons without eavesdropping, sneaking into lodges or hiding in furniture.
For more than a century, Freemasonry has operated in three parts. There is Malecraft Masonry, there is Femalecraft Masonry and there is Co- or Mixed Masonry. And we know this system can work, largely before it does.
And so it will continue with the past duly recalled. I wrote about these women to follow in the tradition of Claudy and other Masonic historians who kept their stories alive. I wrote the truth that this generation, and the next, may find worthy of remembrance.
Listen to the Masonic Central Podcast with Br. Kidd.
 Temple’s paper was published in the Summer 2001 edition (Issue 17) of Freemasonry Today and is available online here: http://www.freemasonrytoday.com/17/p11.php
 See “Calendar of Close Rolls 1254-1256”, page 366