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B.8.2 Freemasonry in France

The history of Freemasonry in France is complicated by the fact that for over 150 years Grand lodges, Chapters, Rites and Orders, as well as Councils, united, divided, vanished, and revived again. Here too, basically, “Ancient Masonry” consists of three grades: “Entered Apprentices”, “Fellow Craft” and “Master Mason” that includes the “Supreme Order of the Royal Arch”. However, so-called “Higher Degrees” (34 quasi-Masonic Orders and 26 Orders admitting men and women for a total of about 1400 degrees) have appeared at one time or the other, and most are still alive.

The majority of all these Higher Degrees, especially those created during the Age of Enlightenment, are based on the virtues of Chivalry, and on legend like the link between Freemasons and Knights Templar. Obviously high sounding titles appealed to the elitist French Masonry. They are known as “degrés ou Grades Ecossais” although they have nothing to do with Scotland. They have been introduced by Ramsay who claimed that Freemasonry started as a chivalric Order before moving from France to Scotland in the fourteenth century, to reappear again in 1717. Initially they were independent of each other, but the Grand Lodge of France put some order into them in 1760.

In 1761 Stephen Morin was made “Grand Inspector in all Parts of the New World” with the order to create there as many lodges as possible in order to “multiply the Royal Order of Masonry in all the Perfect and Sublime Degrees”. What was to become the “Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite” had found its way to North America. German Freemasons developed many Masonic rites based on alchemy, hermeticism, and the Templar myth. As in France they included the ideals of chivalry; as an example we can mention the Rite of Strict Observance created by Baron von Hund in 1755. Those exotic rites attracted speculative philosophers, occult adventurers like Joseph Balsamo known as Count Cagliostro, and others initiated quasi-Masonic secrets political societies such as the “Order of the Illuminati” in Bavaria.

Freemasonry was well established in France at the start of the 1789 revolution, but it had practically disappeared by 1793-94 during the “Terror”. Dr. Joseph Guillotin, an active Freemason and a friend of Benjamin Franklin, invented the guillotine as a mean to ensure that death for capital punishment should be as quick and as painless as possible. With Napoleon came twenty years of war, and of mixed fortune for the Craft. It was banned in Austria and Russia, but it grew in the rest of Western Europe to bring Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth to many people.

In 1877 the Grand Orient was founded to reflect the anti-clerical and anti-religious feelings of the time, and Masonic candidates did not have to profess to believe in the Supreme Being. All references to God and the bible were taken out from its Constitution and Rituals. This allowed unbelievers, atheists and freethinkers to join the Grand Orient, and the organisation involved itself in politics and social policy. As a result the other national Grand Lodges cast the Grand Orient out of the Masonic world.

Since 1804 there had been a Supreme Council 33° for Scottish Rite Masonry in France. Being unhappy with the Grand Orient it set up a Grand Lodge of France in 1880 but, as it did not follow exactly the Masonic rituals, it was not, and it remains, unrecognised internationally. Regular Freemasonry did not exist anymore in France until 1913 when the National Grand Lodge of France was created. (9)