In 1794, Sigismund Bacstrom was initiated into the “Societas Roseae Crucis” by Comte Louis De Chazal, on the island of Mauritius. Bacstrom signed a series of fourteen pledges, which has been reproduced in various places (e.g. A E Waite’s Real History of the Rosicrucians). Curiously, one of the clauses contains this paragraph:
And, as there is no distinction of sexes in the spiritual world, neither amongst the blessed Angels nor among the rational immortal spirits of the Human race; and as we have had a Semiramis, Queen of Egypt, a Myriam, the prophetess, a Peronella, the wife of Flamel, and lately a Leona Constantia, Abbess of Clermont, who was actually received as a practical Member and Master into our Society in the year 1796, which women are believed to have been all possessors of the Great Work, consequently Sorores Roseae Crucis and members of our Society by possession, as the possession of this our art is the key to the most hidden knowledge. And moreover as redemption was manifested to mankind by means of a woman (the Blessed Virgin), and as salvation, which is of infinitely more value than our whole Art, is granted to the female sex as well as to the male, our Society does not exclude a worthy woman from being initiated, God himself not having excluded women from partaking of every spiritual felicity in the next life. We will not hesitate to receive a worthy woman into our Society as a member apprentice, (and even as a practical member or master if she does possess our work practically and has herself accomplished it), provided she is found, like Peronella, Flamel’s wife, to be sober, pious, discreet, prudent, not loquacious, but reserved, of an upright mind and blameless conduct, and withall desirous of knowledge.
It is within my personal knowledge that a facsimile of Bacstrom’s 14 Rosicrucian pledges was amongst the documents that the Reverend A F A Woodford passed to Wynn Westcott. Coincidentally, the original Adeptus Minor of the Golden Dawn ceremony contains a series of clauses similar though not identical to the Bacstrom document, implying that MacGregor Mathers too used this as inspiration to create the later ritual. Mathers puts it more succinctly:
I further promise to support the admission of both sexes to our Order, on a perfect equality, and that I will always display brotherly love and forbearance towards the members of the whole Order, neither slandering nor evil-speaking, nor repeating nor tale-bearing, whereby strife and ill-feeling may be engendered.
Thus, pointing to the example of Bacstrom quoted above, Rosicrucianism appears to have been prophetic in recognising male-female equality, almost a century before it became established as the norm within new esoteric societies which arose as part of the Occult Revival of the late Victorian period. Hence, Westcott probably had this in mind when he wrote this, describing the Societas Rosicruciana In Anglia (SRIA), which was founded by Robert Wentworth Little in 1867:
Frater Little was a student of the school of Levi and also an eminent Freemason, and the Rosicrucian Society as revised by him was made by intention and permission essentially masonic, thus severing all connection with those Adepts who have not been Craftsmen, as Basil Valentine, Artephus, Nicolas Flamel, Jacob Behmen and Robert Fludd. The Rosicrucian Society in the same manner fails to recognize any worth for occult research in women. This is also an innovation or the scheme of the Ancient Mysteries in many of which, notably those of Isis priestesses and virgin prophetesses, were prominent ministers.
Historic Lecture of the Golden Dawn.
This is ironic in that the SRIA, although it is an organisation for Masons, is not actually Masonic per se! By this I mean that if one were to take any of the additional degrees in Freemasonry – such as the Mark, Royal Arch, Knights Templar, Rose Croix, Royal & Select Masters etc etc etc – as well as the three degrees of Craft Masonry itself, one would notice that they are all based upon a common theme, that of the importance of King Solomon’s Temple in general and the Holy of Holies therein in particular. For example, the original Freemasons built it; the companions of the Royal Arch re-discovered it; the Knights Templar re-discovered it again – and so forth (this could be worthy of a blog post or an article in its own right).
However: the SRIA moves completely away from that Solomonic-paradigm, as it concerns itself with the mythos of Christian Rosenkreutz and the Rosicrucian fraternity. In doing so it provides a number of rituals which come as a delight to those freemasons genuinely interested esoteric matters, but must bewilder those who see the Craft as nothing other than a chance to collect badges. And yet, according to Westcott, it is only half the way there! We should remember that despite the apparent criticism Westcott himself was one of the most ardent supporters of the SRIA, working hard for almost thirty years at least to turn it into a genuine forum for esoteric study and learning.
It has been claimed by minds wiser than myself that the SRIA could remove the Masonic requirement from its ordinances – although personally I think that mucking about with a constitution can often upset people unnecessarily. The only near equivalent would be something like AMORC, but that is different again – it’s a pity that there is not a male/female version.