Chaos Out of Order:  The Rise and Fall of the Swedenborgian Rite

 

Discussion on the Paper

Bro. Michel Brodsky, Master, in proposing a vote of thanks, said:

Brethren, Bro. Gilbert is to be congratulated for the paper you have heard this evening. He has fulfilled the aim of every member of this lodge, and probably of many of its aspiring members.  He has entertained us on a subject which I am convinced, not one of those present ever studied, examined, or even, in many cases heard about.  This obviously reduces any critical comments, and any additional information is even more difficult to bring before the lodge. Further the paper is interesting, well constructed and carefully researched. What, then, can we say about it?

Swedenborg was never a freemason, but he had the reputation of being one and Ragon in ‘L’orthodoxie magonnique’, and Reghellini de Schio in ‘L’esprit du Dogme de la Franche Magonnerie’ state so much. But their statements remains to be proven. During the last quarter of the 18th century the border between Freemasonry, occultism and mysticism is often difficult to delineate. The core of the first Swedenborgian adepts in Berlin, where Pernety was the librarian of King Frederick II of Prussia, adhered to various masonic and esoteric sects. Lennhof and Posner[1] mention that the source of the Swedenborgian legend is to be found in France. In fact the slow migration bringing Pernety’s followers to Avignon occurred in the winter of 1783 when they founded the ‘Illumines d’Avignon’.

This was the ideal place‘ for occultists[2]; as early as 1775 Corberon[3] mentions the existence of ‘une Loge particuliere dans laquelle residait le secret des maqons’ (A peculiar lodge wherein lies the secret of the masons). According to Viatte[4], Pernety is also reported to have collaborated with an existing lodge in Avignon while in contrast with the cold dialectic of the Swedish seer, the Disciples in Avignon were most exalted. Gustave Bord, an anti-masonic author[5], mentions that Pernety organized the ‘regime’ (a word often synonymous with Rite) of the Illumines d’Avignon in 1766, which is very doubtful. He gives a list of six degrees, even crediting Pernety with the creation of the degree of Chevalier du Soleil (Knight of the Sun, later the 28th degree of the Ancient and Accepted Rite). The primary aim of the sect, like nearly all masonic and non-masonic competitors, was to obtain gold by transmutation. Pernety appeared to play down Swedenborg in favour of the Greek authors endeavouring to tie the ‘Celestial Arcana’ with the ‘Hermetic’ legend.

The masonic model was used to justify costly initiations leading either to the ability to manufacture gold, or to reach some very mystical revelations akin to those of Swedenborg himself.

The French revolution brought a halt to all those sects. Freemasonry in France changed, the religious fervour of Willermoz giving way to a rationalistic agnosticism. ‘Voltaire triomphe de Saint Martin[6] (Voltaire is victorious over St. Martin) and the lodges were no longer a welcoming haven for the theosophical theoreticians.

Around 1820 the second wave of Swedenborgianism appeared; the complete works of the Master were translated and published in French, establishing a tie between the 18th and the 19th century mystics. The material was available but the French freemasons were not interested. Later, contemporary with Yarker, Wynn Westcott and their &iends, an important occultist movement appeared in France. MacGregor Mathers married the sister of the foremost French philosopher Henri Bergson and the couple lived in Paris. But Papus, Sedir and their adepts do not appear to have shown any interest in the Swedenborgian Rite. Was it because the Swedenborgian Rite was typically English or Canadian? I can not guess, but Theodor Reuss imported the system, apparently with success, into Germany.

Bro. Gilbert, you rightly acknowledge your debt to our late brother Ellic Howe, who indeed introduced the study of ‘Fringe masonry’ in this lodge. You are the rightful heir to the exponent of this interesting tradition, so close and also so alien to the masonic Order. Its limited success in the hands of Yarker and Westcott has many causes, its final failure, whatever its merits may have been, was not without good effects. Witness the paper we had the pleasure to listen to, for which I have much pleasure in proposing a vote of thanks.

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Bro. Michael Spurr, Senior Warden, in seconding the vote of thanks, said:

Worshipful Master, I would like to second your proposal that a vote of thanks be given to Bro. Gilbert for this paper.

The spinning noise that you may have heard during Brother Gilbert’s interesting paper was probably Swedenborg turning in his grave! As the paper demonstrates, Swedenborg had nothing to do with the rite named after him and he would possibly have been surprised and even dismayed to find himself associated with this failed quasi-masonic system.

Swedenborg was ennobled for the work which he did in connection with the Swedish siege of Fredrikshald (now Halden) in Norway in 1718. This was part of what was called ‘The Great Northern War’ when Norway was trying to break away from Swedish rule. he devised a system of transporting boats overland which proved of great value in the Swedish campaign.

In 1734 he published his Philosophical and Mineral Works (3 volumes) in which he wrote about the derivation of matter. In 1741 he tried in Economy of the Animal Kingdom (2 volumes) to explain the relationship between matter and soul.

Rather like Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727), he claimed, in 1745, to have had religious visions and, during the period 1749 to 1756, produced in thirteen volumes Heavenly Arcana in which he set out a religious system, based on an allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures, according to the instructions which he said he received from God.

While Swedenborg never intended to form a new religious sect, in 1787 an English printer, Robert Hindmarsh, organised one. The followers of this believe that Swedenborg’s writings were divinely inspired. They are known as Swedenborgians and there are currently about 5,000 in Great Britain, spread among 75 societies. In the United States there are two organisations, known as the General Convention of the New Jerusalem with 2,800 members in 47 societies and the General Church of the New Jerusalem with 2,100 members in 33 societies. I think that the number indicted in the paper is rather on the high side.

Like other men of the Enlightenment period, Swedenborg was probably looking for something more than the austere and contradictory arguments advanced by the Deists which had, by the mid-1750s, run their course and his writings have an evangelical touch to them.

Turning to the Rite itself, it is difficult to make a useful comment since as Bro. Gilbert explains it was never widely accepted. The reasons for this are also in the paper; there was opposition from established Orders and while the rite ‘clearly caught the imagination of the active members’ it was ‘inordinately long’. In spite of the publicity given to it by its promoters it never proved to have any popular appeal. It is interesting to speculate why one ritual should succeed and another fail but there must be something missing. Bro. Gilbert has obviously read the ritual, can he suggest what is lacking which prevented it from becoming popular?

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Bro. Martin P. Starr said:

It was with considerable pleasure that I read Bro. Gilbert’s account of the Swedenborgian Rite, a well-fitted tessera in the mosaic of mystical masonic offspring, both respectable and otherwise, begun by the research of the late Bro. Ellic Howe, whose description of its origins I recall hearing on a London visit.

As with so many of the late 19th century ‘fringe’ bodies, previously discussed in the pages of AQC and elsewhere, one again sees the usual cast of characters: Kenneth Mackenzie, F. G. Irwin, John Yarker, W. Wynn Westcott and Theodor Reuss. The latter was responsible in part for the Swedenborgian Rite being carried forward, in name at least, after the death of John Yarker in 1913, as it is one of the constituent bodies of Reuss’ mystically inclined and masonically unrecognized ‘Academia Masonica’, the Ordo Templi Orientis or O.T.O., listed in the Manifesto of the M. .M. .M. . (London: n.d. but 1913), the initials standing for ‘Mysteria Mystica Maxima’, the name of the British section of the Order. My research to date, however, has uncovered no traceable influence of the Swedenborgian Rite upon the rituals or structure of the O.T.O.

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Bro. Clive Harper wrote:

As a rider to Bro. Starr’s comment one might add that Crowley’s adoption/usurpation of the name of the Rite has ironically given it longevity of a sort. The ‘Blue’ Equinox was reprinted in 1972 (and many times since), whilst ‘The Manifesto of the OTO’ was re-promulgated in The Equinox III no. 10 (Thelema Publications, New York, 1986).

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Bro. Trevor Stewart said:

I should like very much to be associated with the well-deserved congratulations given already to Bro. Gilbert for his stimulating and elegant paper. It provides us generously with yet another of his fascinating glimpses into that world of late nineteenth-century arcaneities which characterised some British freemasonic circles of that time. It seems to have been an era that featured the sudden appearance of a veritable plethora of obscure Rites, some of which were more or less esoteric: a so-called ‘Occult Movement’ – others would allege, perhaps, that it was an ‘Occult Revival’.

Most of these Rites seem to have been ‘created’ and ‘led’ – if these are the right words – by just a few freemasons, each one wearing a different ‘hat’ as the occasion demanded. Theirs seems to have been a small, enclosed, self-referencing circle of masonic acquaintances. I hesitate to use the word ‘friends’ because some of them appear to have spent a lot of their time together either squabbling or even quarrelling bitterly. A few of these Rites have survived, more or less intact. Others died and, of these, some did so more quickly than others. One of these early deaths was that suffered by the Swedenborgian Rite as we have heard today.

Bro. Gilbert’s wonderfully detailed paper gives me an initial impression that the Swedenborgian Rite was yet another plant which sprang up quickly but then withered just as soon, especially in England. He invites us to consider several immediate questions. Was it the soil? Was it an adverse climate? Was it because of the inherent weakness of the species itself? Were English freemasons not yet spiritually ready then for the rite and, if so, why? Other, more orthodox, more established and, therefore, more powerful organ-isations, which formed the masonic environment in which it tried to operate, worked effectively against it. Why? Was it just because those personalities who were known to be involved in this Rite were generally thought of by powerful, vested interests as being masonically eccentric? Were the internal power struggles, the apparent lack of organ-isational uniformity and efficiency among its proponents as well as the obvious lack of adequate financial resourcing the fatal elements which brought about this Rite’s eventual and inevitable death?

What interests me more, however, are the general origins of this Rite. I wonder if Bro. Gilbert would help even further by fitting this particular venture into the whole field of late nineteenth-century masonic ‘experimentation’. I, for one, would be interested to learn if there were any features which it had in common with other Rites at the time, in Britain and elsewhere. Would it be correct to assume that these ‘masonic’ ventures actually form a genus? Were there any detectable general patterns underlying all of these phenomena and are there any lessons to be learned from their mostly short histories? Did they arise as part of millenarian expectations, for example? Was there something in the general fin-de-siecle mentality that helped to engender this kind of exploration via ritual? Or was it, as some commentators seem to imply, simply that these Rites were just the products of the imaginings of particular Brethren who felt thwarted in other aspects of their lives and/or masonic careers and, therefore, wished to become ‘large fish in small ponds’? Might it be possible for someone to undertake an analysis of these Rites as a type along socio-psychological lines which has been done already elsewhere for other esoteric phenomena using a European perspective[7]?

These may be considerations which are too broad to be undertaken in our Transactions. In any case, perhaps AQC would not be the most appropriate forum for the kind of socio-psychological analysis of this ‘Movement’ which I think has been needed for some time. Nevertheless, by writing about the Swedenborgian Rite as propagated in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, and about the Brethren who were involved, Bro. Gilbert seems to me to have raised once again important questions about the nature of the British late nineteenth-century ‘Occult Movement’ as a whole. And for that, of course, we must be grateful to him.

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Bro. W. McLeod wrote:

The story of the Swedenborgian Rite, as Bro. Gilbert tells it, is fascinating. We can of course hardly be surprised to find that Yarker, Kenneth Mackenzie, Wynn Westcott, and A. E. Waite were all deeply involved. But it is odd to find that this particular block of ‘Fringe degrees’ was introduced into Britain from Canada – not the usual direction for such migrations. I succumb to the temptation to add a few details about some of the Canadian players on the stage.

Samuel Parr Beswick, the founder of the rite, had said that he ‘affiliated in Canada in Beaver’s Lodge’. Bro. Gilbert notes that there is a Beaver Lodge, No. 234, in Thornbury, Ontario, and wonders if this can be the lodge in question. There is however another Beaver Lodge, No. 83, in Strathroy – a more plausible location. And we find that Samuel Beswick, clergyman, affiliated there on February 11, 1876, from Howard Lodge, No. 30, New York. (I am grateful to Bro. Robert E. Davies, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of Ontario, and his staff, particularly to Gail Nickerson, for this information.)

Of the three principal officers of the Grand Lodge and Temple of the Swedenborgian Rite of Canada, Colonel MacLeod Moore (1810 – 1890) had been appointed Provincial Grand Senior Warden of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Canada West in 1854. (We all sometimes have trouble with the orthoepy of ethnic names; but both his signature and his gravestone give ‘MacLeod’ rather than ‘McLeod’.) He was, as I have said in another context, ‘a pot-hunter, who joined many concordant orders; some of them he introduced to Canada, such as the Red Cross of Constantine, the Royal Ark Mariners, the masonic Rosicrucian Society, the Swedenborgian Rite, and the Royal Order of Scotland’ – and the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (The Grand Design [Highland Springs, Virginia, 1991], 176; see also Reginald V. Harris, ‘Col. William James Bury MacLeod Moore: Soldier and Freemason’. Papers of the Canadian Masonic Research Association 7 [1951] = Collected Papers [edited by C. E. B. LeGresley, Cambridge, Ontario, 1986] 1.95 – 113.

In the Craft, T. D. Harington (1808 – 1882) had been Provincial Grand Master of Quebec and three Rivers, 1852 – 57, and was given the rank of Past Grand master (Honorary) in the Grand Lodge of Canada in 1858, for the part he played in the union of the two Grand Lodges in the colony. He actually served as second Grand Master of the new Grand Lodge, 1860 – 64 (see Lewis F. Riggs, ‘Thomas Douglas Harington, 33: Citizen and Freemason’, PCMRA 3 [1950] = Collected PCMRA 1.49 – 60).

George Canning Longley (1827 – 1885) had been named a Grand Steward of the Grand Lodge of Canada in 1863; from 1870 on, he imported an incredible number of Masonic concordant orders into his Ontario village of Maitland (population, about 300), on the St. Lawrence River, about fifty miles east of Kingston – and more than 300 miles east of Strathroy. A leaflet of 1882 lists ‘thirty bodies conferring two hundred and eighty-two degrees ... You could have them all for less than $190.00 and total annual dues of $6.50’ (see R. V. Harris, ‘George Canning Longley and his 300 Degrees’, PCMRA 54 [1960] = Collected PCMRA 2.984 – 992).

Such details of course are purely parochial and peripheral. We have ample reason to be grateful to Bro. Gilbert, for his characteristically lucid narrative of these largely uncharted byways.

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Bro. S. Brent Morris wrote:

Bro. Gilbert has done us all a great favour by bringing to light the details of the abortive ‘Swedenborgian Rite’. It is instructive to consider those aspects of masonic ceremony and ritual that have been thrown at the Craft and to see which have stuck and which have slipped away. We can thus gauge somewhat better the unwritten motives, thoughts, and beliefs of masons of differing periods by observing the changes they embraced and opposed. I think the fraternity is fortunate that the “Swedenborgian Rite” was allowed to slip away.

Perhaps a little additional information can be gleaned about the motives of the few acknowledged American members of Beswick’s rite. First, the 1870s were a time of calm after many bitter years of strife in New York state. At one point in the early 1850s five separate bodies were chartering lodges in the State! From 1837 to 1850, and again from 1853 to about 1859, a schismatic ‘St. John’s Grand Lodge’ worked in opposition to the Grand Lodge. From 1849 to 1858 there was a schism when the ‘Phillips Grand Lodge’ was formed by Past Masters who seceded because the Grand Lodge revoked Past Masters’ right to vote in Grand Lodge.

About 1852 the ‘Cerneau’ Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Rite chartered two Craft Lodges in New York. At the same time the Ancient and Accepted Rite had a bewildering array of bitterly competing Supreme Councils.

St. John’s Grand Lodge reunited in 1850, the one surviving Supreme Council Lodge, La Sincerite, asked for a Grand Lodge Charter in 1855, Phillips Grand Lodge reunited in 1858, and the revived St. John’s Grand Lodge died out about 1859. The American Civil War intervened from 1861 to 1865

In 1867, the ‘Cerneau’ and regular Supreme Councils united to form the current Supreme Council for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. By the 1870s, New York masons were enjoying the fruits of an infant peace and probably had little desire for competing or potentially divisive masonic bodies.

The undated memorandum from Beswick alludes to ‘our present Grand Secretary of Blue Masonry, of N.Y. State’. This surely must be R.W. Bro. James M. Austin who served as Grand Secretary from 1853 to 1881, dying in office. Daniel Sickels (not to be confused with the American Civil War Union General Daniel Sickles) served as Junior Grand Warden of St. John’s Grand Lodge in 1850 and became an active member of the ‘Cerneau’ Supreme Council in 1849, serving as Grand Secretary General from 1849 to 1851 and from 1860 to 1867. R.W. Bro. Sickels played a major role as a conciliator in the Grand Lodge union of 1850 and the Supreme Council Union of 1867 as well as another Supreme Council Union of 1863.

John Sheville became an active member of the ‘Cerneau’ Supreme Council in 1866, after instituting Grand Consistories in the states of Indiana and Illinois. Robert Macoy was not so prominent in the Ancient and Accepted rite but served as Deputy Grand Master in 1856 and 1857. He is perhaps best known for his work with the androgynous Order of the Eastern Star and Order of the Amaranth.

Bros Austin, Sickels, Macoy, and Sheville had each been intimately involved with the recent unions in American Masonry, and doubtless had no interest in seeing anything arise that could disturb the peace, as there were already storm clouds on the horizon. Around this time Harry Seymour, expelled from his Supreme Council membership, was operating Alpha Lodge No. 1 of the Antient and Primitive Rite of Memphis in New York. In 1872 Bro. Seymour, perhaps condensing the Antient and Primitive degrees to thirty-three or perhaps relying on his authority as a ‘Sovereign Grand Inspector General’ (the facts are very unclear), organized his own Supreme Council and started competing with the United Supreme Council.

Bro. Beswick’s invention seems to have had little intrinsic merit, but he no doubt doomed it unintentionally by initiating the four Brethren just discussed, none of whom had any stomach for competition or dissension.

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Bro. Paul Rich wrote:

As Bro. Gilbert undoubtedly knows, there is a major division in the Swedenborgian Church in the United States between the General Church and the General Convention. The General Church has a reputation for a much more symbolic, mystical approach than the Convention. I wonder if, in researching this excellent paper, you encountered any indication that the members of either denomination were more inclined towards becoming members of the Craft, or that either sect was more friendly to Freemasonry? Could I add that the bookstore maintained by the English Swedenborgians, who seem to avoid the divisions which characterize the American New Church, is at 20 Bloomsbury Way in London, and has some excellent titles. Also, there are now a variety of Swedenborgian sources available through the Internet, one particularly good one being ‘Neopost’ which is found via the World Wide Web at http://www.delta.net/users/nco/neopost.html and has a wealth of material about Swedenborgianism.

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Bro. Kingsley Prentiss Thompson wrote:

I am grateful to Bro. Gilbert for treating Swedenborg with objectivity, dignity and respect. His opening description of his life and work was both fair and fine.

It would be most exciting and interesting if Swedenborg had been a mason but the pattern of his later life was to be a prolific writer; not a promoter, or supporter of a fraternity; and certainly not an earner and wearer of various titles, badges, jewels and other forms of self gratification. He wanted his writings to speak for themselves, in the hope of influencing Christianity for the better, and he kept his life simple and humble.

As to Samuel Beswick, I can understand his zeal to make Swedenborg, his writings and theology known to mankind in general and to masons in particular but his methods and personal integrity left much to be desired. How simple to give credit in a sermon to one’s sources, be they Dr. Channing or Swedenborg himself, and then expand upon them in the latter part of the sermon, rather than taking full credit. His book, Swedenborg Rite..., shows rich imagination. What a pity he could not have used this imagination productively in original sermons, kept his big mouth judiciously shut at times, stayed within the good graces of the Swedenborgian Church, and been properly ordained. I can understand his still being active in local Churches, even though the convention voted him out of the ordained ranks, due to the serious lack of talented leaders in the scattered, sparse congregations, which condition still exists to this day.

A final word on Samuel Beswick. Bro. Gilbert states that it was he who wrote the Swedenborgian Rite rituals, which were unfortunately somewhat lengthy; but that ‘something about the ritual caught the imagination of the active members of the Rite’. Beswick must have been good at writing, being an editor and author. What was it that caught their imagination? Was it the concept that the Bible from beginning to end is a symbolic/correspondential tale of man’s regeneration, his journey from being selfish and worldly to a state of humbleness, spirituality and being in love with God and his fellow man?

Whether Beswick was just name dropping or if he actually had the blessing of Albert Pike, I don’t know. What I do know is that Emmanuel Swedenborg is mentioned once or twice in Pike’s great book, Morals and Dogma.

One can also only wish that Bro. Clerke had not been so hasty in applying the ‘sting’ to Bro. Harington and his introduction of the Swedenborgian Rite. Why could not the excellent qualities of the degrees have been examined by the Grand Secretary General independent of Bro. Yarker? As I recall, one of the Scottish Rite degrees has to do with the New Jerusalem mentioned in the Book of Revelation written by St. John the Evangelist! Could there not be some expansion on this subject? There is such a wealth of material in Swedenborg’s writings for presentation in degree work. A minimum of three degrees would be needed to present a rounded picture, three being a sacred number and found in so many applications in the Seer’s pages.

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Bro. Alan Trotter wrote:

My initial response is firstly to propose my own vote of congratulations to Bro. Gilbert for an excellent paper and secondly, to advise him to dismiss any comments made as to the length of time required to deliver such a detailed and interesting article. If certain information is necessary to render a complete picture, and thereby serve to lend authority to the principal theme, then sufficient time must be allowed to include such points. If the lecture had been tailored to the requisite thirty five minutes, instead of the fifty three actually taken, (as counted by the acting Director of Ceremonies) I feel sure that relevant information would had to have been sacrificed to that modern-day deity – convenience. [Editor’s note: I must here apologise to less interested brethren who were, I suspect, discomfited by the undue length of my delivery.]

I wonder where our Fraternity would be today, if William Preston had been limited to thirty five minutes in which to deliver his celebrated lectures, at the Crown and Anchor or Mitre Tavern?

But the principal reason for my comment is to reflect not so much upon the theme of the lecture, but rather upon the actual people who were behind the deeds.

When talking about any of the masonic, (or indeed quasi-masonic) giants who made their presence felt during the 18th and 19th centuries, one is impelled to enquire as to what was their stimulus? What inspiration drove people, like Anderson, Preston, Dermott and even people like John Yarker and Samuel Beswick, to spend countless hours, days, weeks and months, in researching archive material conducive to ‘discovering’ a long lost masonic legend, the culmination of which bore no promises of fame and fortune.

Whilst the regular masonic authorities of the day saw fit to starve the Swedenborgian, Memphis, Misraim or Golden Dawn rites of any credibility, weren’t Anderson, Preston and others, just as guilty of a little ‘liberal interpretation’ of a few historical facts and figures, when it came to backing up their own claims with regards to authenticity of records, history and ritual. Indeed, did the ‘Moderns’ initially and vehemently deny any credence to the Royal Arch, because they knew, as we do today, that the events as portrayed within the ritual, could not possibly have taken place?

And of course if masons are to honest with themselves, they must ask, ‘Does it really matter?’, as long as the ceremony succeeds in transmitting the desired message.

Is not the basic idea of any of the ritual dramas to lay a scenario before a candidate, in order to draw his attention towards a particular moral aspect along his road of self discovery? Encapsulated in a more modern context, one may draw a parallel by contemplating the parables of the Bible, converted to an interactive computer programme, in which the candidate assumes a character role and re-enacts the drama from within.

One thing is certain. Of Preston, Yarker and co. we will never see their like again.

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Bro. Gilbert replied:

Although it is very satisfying to receive the praise of one’s peers, I feel that in some respects I have not truly earned it. The comments of Bro. Brodsky, which greatly supplement the meagre information about Pernety that I provided, remind me that I omitted to tell the whole tale of what I entitled ‘The First Rite of Swedenborg’. Pernety was not the only purveyor of Swedenborg’s doctrines by way of masonic Rites; more important for Beswick was the Marquis de Thome, who allegedly established a Rite of Swedenborg at Paris in 1783 (which is an improbable date, for he would have pre-empted Pernety, his supposed source, by three years). de Thome’s Rite consisted of six degrees, the names of which – if not the content – were adopted by Beswick for his brainchild.

The later Rite also seems to have found favour in France. Contrary to Bro. Brodsky’s assertion, Papus (Gerard Encausse) was enthusiastic about the Swedenborgian Rite; he promoted it in his journals in France (l’Initiation) and in England (INRI), and made use of Swedenborgian Rite note-paper of his own design for his correspondence. At the present time a French Swedenborgian minister, Revd Alain Nicolier, has recently stated that there is a current growth of interest in Swedenborg among French freemasons (although of which obedience is unclear) and that there is even an attempt to revive the Swedenborgian Rite. If this attempt succeeds then it may be possible to answer the question of Bro. Spurr and Bro. Thompson as to just what it was that ‘caught the imagination’ of Yarker and his associates.

In the interim I would suggest that the answer lies in their working of the Rite. Merely reading a ritual text cannot convey the experience of working a masonic ceremony, and even the most prosaic, lengthy and dull rituals can be transformed if the ceremon-ies are well performed. Presumably for some members of the Rite some kind of personal illumination took place; none of them, however, seems to have recorded their impressions of the ceremonies as practised. Whytehead, it may be noted, merely read the rituals.

Much also remains to be learned about the outer history of the Rite, and I am much indebted to Bro. McLeod for his detailed information on Beswick’s masonic membership in Canada, and to Bro. Morris for his succinct analysis of the strife that beset Freemasonry in New York State during the mid-19th century. Perhaps Bro. Morris may go on to unearth the lost details of Beswick’s masonic affiliations in New York – always assuming that there were any.

Turning to Canada, I feel that there was never any hope of Shadwell Clerke taking a sympathetic look at the Rite as Bro. Thompson wishes he had done: the association with Yarker was enough for the English Supreme Council to damn it utterly. Harington was wise to have taken the course that he did. And I should point out to Bro. McLeod that I am aware of the correct spelling of MacLeod Moore’s name; I was simply following the practice of both Yarker and the masonic journals of the time.

Bro. Stewart’s questions are more difficult to answer and I might have balked at the subtle pressure to produce a grand analysis of the underlying causes of the upsurge of masonic and quasi-masonic Rites associated with the ‘Occult Revival’ (as it is usually termed). However, since my paper was delivered a large cache of documents relating to the Swedenborgian Rite, and to other ‘fringe’ bodies, has been discovered in the library of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia – much to my embarrassment, as I have the honour to be the Librarian-General of that body! The documents include much additional material on the membership of the Rite and on Westcott’s two attempts (in 1886 and 1902) to breathe new life into it. Perhaps most fascinating of all is the sequence of letters from Reuss to Westcott of which the other side was printed in Lady Queenborough’s Occult Theocrasy. This, of course, precedes the period, referred to by Bro. Starr and Bro. Harper, when first Reuss and then Aleister Crowley absorbed the Rite, albeit in name only, into the O.T.O.

With this wealth of new material it is now feasible to produce a more detailed study of Victorian ‘Fringe Masonry’ than was previously possible, and I shall attempt – in due course, I do not propose to offer a firm date for completion – to set the phenomenon within both its social and masonic context in the hope of providing just such a typological and socio-psychological analysis as Bro. Stewart seeks.

I must take issue with Bro. Spurr over the number of Swedenborgian Christians in the world. While his own estimate for the United Kingdom is high – 2,000 would be nearer the mark – my own figure of 25,000 world-wide is not an over-estimate, for it takes account of the very large branch of the New Church in South Africa (some 15,000 members) and of churches in other parts of the world. Nor do all members of the New Church believe in the divine inspiration of Swedenborg’s writings. Those who do, at least those in the USA, tend to belong to the General Church, but I have no information as to the proportion of church members who are freemasons and I cannot answer Bro. Rich’s query. What I can say from personal experience is that the New Church in England has no hostility towards the Craft, although I do not know how many of its members are Freemasons.

Bro. Trotter is most kind in defending my breach of etiquette in over-running my allotted time, but I am unable to repay his kindness by providing an answer to his question on the source of inspiration. Perhaps it may be found in the use of interactive computer programmes. If one were able to carry out a working of Beswick’s ceremonies in ‘virtual reality’, then perhaps it would be possible to discover what drove its author. Such an exercise would, at the least, ensure that the Rite would no longer be extinct, and we could be sure that there really was a Swedenborgian Rite after all.

(Brethren of a literary turn of mind ought by now to have recognised the source of my beginning and my end. For those who have not I will simply ask, ‘Which do you think it was?)

 



[1] Eugen Lennhoff/Oskar Posner: Internationales Freimaurerlexikon, Amalthea verlag, Wien-Munchen. Unver-laanderfer nachdruck des Ausgabe 1932 (reprint of the 1932 Edition) 1992 ISBN 8 – 85002 – 038-X.

[2] Avignon and the surrounding lands called the ‘Comtat’ were until 1789 part of the Papal States and not a possession of the King of France. It was governed by a ‘Legat’ and Freemasonry was at times suspended and persecuted under the leadership of the local Grand Inquisitor

[3] Corberon: Journal 1, 392 (12 November 1775).

[4] Viatte, August: Les Sources occultes du Romantisme illuminisme – Theosophie 1770 – 1820. Librairie Honore Champion Editeur, 7 Quai Malaquais, Paris, 1969.

[5] Gustave Bord: La franc-maconnerie en france des origines a 1815 Tome 1 Les oueriers de l’idee revlutionnaire. (1688 – 1771) re-edition, Slatkine, Geneve-Paris 1985.

[6] Idem Tome II, p. 244

Dom Antoine Pernety was a member of the Royal Arch de l’Amitie Lodge at Berlin in 1782, which is clear from the lodges Livre d’Architecture, in which Pernety is recorded as a native of Roman, near Valance in France.  He is also stated to have received the VII Grade of the ‘Hauts Grades et Souverain Chapitre’ on 1 November 1778, ‘a prie depuis deux ans qu’on le dispense de travaux’

[7] E.g., J-p. Laurant: ‘The Primitive Characteristics of Nineteenth-century Esotericism’ in A. Faivre & J. Needleman (eds.) Modern Esoteric Spirituality (1992), pp. 277 – 287.