A branch of Freemasonry that admits women as well as men to membership, Co-Masonry traces its roots to a schism in the French branch of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. One of the lodges involved in the schism, Les Libres Penseurs (The Free Thinkers) at Pecq in Seine-et-Oise, voted in 1881 to admit Mlle. Maria Desraimes to membership. Forbidden to do so by the Grand Loge Symbolique, their grand lodge, the lodge initiated her anyway and promptly had its charter suspended. In 1893, Mlle. Desraimes and a group of other women interested in Masonry, along with a number of male Masons who felt the exclusion of women from the Craft was unjustifiable, formed a new Grand Lodge that admitted both men and women. Over the next few years the new movement, Co-Masonry, spread rapidly; the first British lodge was founded in 1902 and the first American lodge the next year. See Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR); Freemasonry.
Among the members of the first lodge in London was Annie Besant, Madame Blavatsky’s successor as head of the Theosophical Society. Besant quickly brought Co-Masonry in the English-speaking world into a close alliance with Theosophy and used Theosophical connections to set up Co-Masonic lodges around the world. Not all Co-Masons have found the Theosophical presence agreeable, and one of the continuing sources of strain in the movement is the relevance of Theosophy to Co-Masonry. See Blavatsky, Helen Petrovna; Theosophical Society.
Officially, all regular Masonic grand lodges condemn Co-Masonry as irregular, and regular Masons who attend Co-Masonic lodge meetings face expulsion from their lodges. How strictly this rule is enforced varies sharply from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and there have been quiet, unofficial contacts between regular and Co-Masonic Masons for many years. Presently Co-Masonry remains active in some 50 countries around the world.
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006