Currently I am (finally) reading Mark Sedgewick’s Against The Modern World, a history of Traditionalism. It contains biographical information of people such as René Guénon, Frithjof Shuon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, but also subjects that I never really thought about. One such subject is “Masonic Traditionalism”.
I was aware that Guénon had shortly been a Freemason and that in his earlier works, he saw Freemasonry as one of the two only genuine Western initiatic orders. Later in his life he changed his mind. Things are not quite so simple it seems.
The first connection between Guénon and Freemasonry occurs on page 47/8:
In 1906 Guénon entered Encausse’s Free School of Hermetic Sciences (as the Independent Group for Esoteric Studies has been renamed) and joined the neo-Masonic Martinist Order and an irregular Masonic body called Humanidad (Humanity), located in France but licensed by a Spanish rather than a French Obedience.
“Encausse” is Gérard Encause, better known as “Papus” who founded the Martinist Order and a whole range of pseudo Masonic groups.
I had already heard that Guénon used to belong to an “irregular” lodge, but on page 67 Sedgewick says something that I did not yet know:
In 1912 Guénon received his sixth and final initiation, into the regular Masonic lodge Thébah. He was introduced to this lodge by Oswald Wirth, a central figure in the history of Masonic Traditionalism. Wirth, the single most important figure in twentieth-century French Masonry, had earlier made the same journey from occultism to respectability that Guénon would make under Catholic auspices.
Wirth is best known for his Tarot, but as Sedgewick writes, he was an important character in Freemasonry in France. Unfortunately hardly any of his work has been translated.
The regular lodge did not manage to change the views on Freemasonry that Guénon would develop later in his life. Or did it?
The first World War had put an end to much Masonic activity, including Guénon’s and events would bring him to Cairo were Guénon would spend the rest of his life as a Muslim.
So far little ‘breaking news’.
On page 120 and further, Sedgewick describes how after the war Masonic life started to flourish again in France and Alexandre Mordiof contacted Michel Dumesnil de Gramont, Grand Master of “the French Grand Lodge”, and “some other senior Masons [who] evidently appreciated the work of Guénon as they had that of Wirth”. This resulted in “the founding of a new lodge on Traditionalist lines, La Grande Triade [The Great Triad] – the name came from the book of Guénon’s that dealt most explicitly with Masonic initiation, La grande Triade (1946)” (p. 121).
The lodge had a promising start with a growing numbers of members and so many visitors that the place they used was sometimes too small.
In the chapter about “Fragmentation” Sedgewick shortly returns to the subject of “Masonic Traditionalism”. Even though Guénon had been living in Cairo for a while, he was concerned with Traditionalist initiatives that he heard about from his many contacts. There was the Sufi order of Schuon (Alawiyya), a Catholic organisation called “the Fraternity of the Cavaliers of the Divine Paraclete”, “but also the Grande Triade”.
The lodge had become so popular that it actually grew too big. Also people started to apply for membership who had no interest in Traditionalism, just in Freemasonry. Within “the French Grand Lodge” there was no way to limit admissions by the candidate’s philosophy, so by “1949 Guénon was beginning to express doubts, although he continued to take a keen interest in the development of the lodge’s ritual until his death”. (p. 127)
Many people asked Guénon where they could find a genuine initiation. For a while he had directed people to Sufi orders, then to Schuon’s Alawiyya, but at some point also to La Grande Triade. One of these people was Jean Reyor, but his ‘career’ was short lived.
Reyor and Jean Tourniac “together founded the Trois Anneaux [Three Rings], a “wild” lodge (one not answering to any Obedience)” shortly after Reyor was requested to leave La Grande Triade. This lodge based its rituals on the “”operative” Masonic rituals of Clement Stratton [actually: Stretton], an English Mason who claimed to have rediscovered the original (pre-eighteenth-century) rituals of Masonry – a claim that Guénon had in part accepted, though he identified parts of Stratton’s rituals as being modern insertions.” (p. 127)
This lodge drew only a few members and after internal struggles already ceased activity in 1953.
This collapse caused Reyor to end his Masonic interests, but Tourniac continued on his path within yet another obedience, the “Grand National Lodge of France”. His overt Traditionalism caused a minor upliving in Traditionalism within Freemasonry in France.
[Tourniac] also revived the Trois Anneaux under another name in the mid 1970s, this time with only Christian and Jewish members […]. By the end of the twentieth century this “wild” lodge had given rise to several other Traditionalist lodges in various parts of France, answering to Tourniac as a variety of grand master (though the term was not used). An unidentified Traditionalist Mason succeeded after his death.
The most lasting impact of this group of Traditionalist Masons was perhaps to achieve rapprochement between Traditionalist Masonry and French academia. In 1964 [Jean] Baylot established a research lodge […] which held lectures and published a scholarly journal devoted to Masonic and Traditionalist questions. The keynote speaker at its opening meeting was Mircea Eliade, and its journal has since achieved general respect.
Traditionalist Masonry continues to flourish. A further Traditionalist lodge under the French Grand Lodge was established in the 1990s, the Règle d’Abraham (Rule of Abraham), dedicated not only to ends similar to those of Tourniac, Baylot and Riquet, but to understanding among the three Abrahamic religions (not just Judaism and Christianity but also Islam), based especially on the work of Ibn Al-Arabi. The Masonic expression of Traditionalism is notably different from all other expressions of Traditionalism in operating with the full blessing of the relevant authorities. This is true perhaps because Masonry is closer than any other expression of Traditionalism to the milieu in which Traditionalism had it origins.
So, Guénon was less negative about Freemasonry than I thought and people took (some of) his ideas to ‘work out Masonically’. Also along hardly Traditionalist lines I might say, a “wild” lodge can hardly claim “filiation”, but perhaps things are not as black and white and some want it.
Sedgewick does not say of Traditionalist Masonry also left France, but there seem to be actual Traditionalist Masonic lodges.