Annie Besant accord
In all of our degree ceremonies, short dramas enacted with the use of allegories, a set form of words and actions is used. These words and actions have come down to us from the earliest days of Freemasonry and incorporate all the lessons that there are to be learned about what is known as ‘the Craft’. The content of these rituals has remained unchanged, but the outer form has been adapted over the years to accord better with the spiritual values we seek to impart. In the British Federation of the International Order of Freemasonry as in many English-speaking countries in the world, the most commonly practised ritual is that called the ‘Lauderdale Ritual.’
This ritual, in the basic first three degrees, was given the name of ‘Lauderdale’ in 1992, when the 1960 edition was re-printed. Prior to that, between 1916 and 1960, the rituals had no name but they originated from the Dharma Ritual, written around 1905 for Le Droit Humain in India, under the direction of the Founder of Co-Masonry in Britain, Annie Besant. It was used by Lodge Dharma in Benares, India. At the very beginning, many members of the Order in London and in various parts of what was then the British Empire were also members of the Theosophical Society, who believed that Co-Freemasonry was a revival of the Ancient Mysteries, so the Dharma ritual was designed to bring into greater prominence that which those early members considered to be ancient mystery traditions. Various amendments were made between 1916 and 1960 and, on re-printing in 1992, it was decided to name the ritual the Lauderdale ritual because the headquarters of the British Federation had been located in Lauderdale Road, London, until 1936.
Other rituals were worked – and still are – namely the Verulam Ritual, which has similarities to the Lauderdale, the Scottish Ritual worked by the Scottish Lodge from 1927, the Irish Ritual worked by Erin Lodge in Dalkey, Ireland in 1928, and to-day by St Michael Lodge in Northern Ireland and finally Emulation Ritual worked by Lodge Reconciliation in Surbiton prior to its dormancy. Lodge International Concord works the Georges Martin ritual.
When Annie Besant formed the first Lodge in Great Britain in 1902, followed by other Lodges, a translation of the French ritual was used but it was soon found that this did not suit the British. The first transaction of Dharma Lodge in Benares, from 1907, reflects this in its notes regarding the early days of the Order:
In France, at the present day, the tendency in our fraternity is to dispense with the religious element and the large majority of [French] brethren, including those of our own Order, prefer a somewhat materialistic attitude. Our Supreme Council, however, in granting an English Constitution, recognised that different methods are required in different countries, and have consequently sanctioned our upholding for ourselves a belief in a creative principle under the title of ‘Great Architect of the Universe’.
This is often referred to as the Besant Accord and is the justification given for differences between Anglo-Saxon approaches to masonic practice and continental approaches. Put very simply, this means that for the English-speaking world liberal Freemasonry has developed along predominantly spiritual lines, distancing itself from the socio-political approach predominantly adopted in continental Europe. This is not by any means to say that the spiritual dimension is absent in continental liberal Freemasonry.
In 1908, the American Federation was constituted. Here too, the French rituals hitherto supplied by Supreme Council in Paris were proving discordant. Theosophical viewpoints had already stimulated a rise in pursuit of the ‘mysteries’ in British and Commonwealth Lodges, rather than the emphasis on social rights promoted by Georges Martin.
In 1914, as the Order grew and language and cultural differences became more pronounced, the national represent-atives of various countries sought the right to use different rituals and general regulations and, following approval from Supreme Council, made appropriate adjustments to take account of geography, language and the practices of other existing, solely masculine Obediences in their respective countries.
In the preface to the 1992 Lauderdale Ritual in Britain we read:
As Masons may belong to any religion, it is desirable to have on the Altar a Scripture of more than one Great Faith, but no attempt should be made to impose any particular interpretation of the Ritual upon any Brother of the Order. The Lodges should observe towards each other the old rule: ‘In things essential, Unity; in non-essential, Liberty; in all things, Charity’.