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Even seasoned Freemasons can be confused by the various degrees and Orders within the Family Tree of Masonry. Imagine how the general public feels. This page was inspired by some auction listings trying to sell various items claimed to be Masonic. The items were not Masonic at all. On this page we explore some of the organizations in Australia that look like Freemasonry, and sound like Freemasonry, but are not Freemasonry.
We should say from the outset that Freemasonry does see these groups as "competitors", nor are we passing any judgment, either positive or negative, on these fraternal groups. At the same time, we may not necessarily agree with all their doctrines. Some are based on religious or political issues - subjects which Freemasonry sees as the great dividers of humankind. Others are based on the principles of goodwill, charity, and integrity - the grand principles of Freemasonry, and may viewed as our cousins. There are many Freemasons who are also members of these groups. Many of these groups arose after the recognized establishment of Freemasonry in 1717 and merely copied certain aspects and terminology of Freemasonry in order to gain acceptance and recognition. In order to render as accurate account as possible, much of the information on this page has been taken directly from web sites of the groups themselves. No plagiarism intended, but as I am not a member of these groups it seemed only fitting to let them describe themselves in their own words. Where possible we have included pictures of the aprons, collars, sashes, and other regalia of these orders. This may help you identify those old items that grand-father left to you and your family.
If you have any information or questions on fraternal orders that you would like to share, please send an email from here.
It may surprise many Freemasons to know that they are not the only "Free" Order based on old trades and guilds. Over the centuries we have seen the Free Shepherds, Free Gardeners, Free Colliers, and Free Carpenters among many others. Of these, the only one which seems to have survived the ravages of time are the Free Gardeners. Among all the major Orders on this page, this is the only one which seems to pre-date Freemasonry, and one of the most difficult to gain information about. The earliest records of the Free Gardeners go back to a "Fraternite of the Gairdener's of East Lothian" in 1676. This original Fraternity was to be joined by another "Fraternite" at Dunfermline in the early eighteenth century. Like Masonic Lodges, the Free Gardeners lodges began as operative bodies but soon began to accept nonoperatives. It was not until the late eighteenth century that the Gardeners began to take off as independent lodges. In the mid-19th century there were various attempts to form a national Grand Lodge, resulting in an Eastern and a Western Grand Lodge being formed but with many lodges remaining without the authority of either. The Free Gardeners spread into England and across the sea to the United States and Australia. In the early 1980's the Curator of the Museum & Library of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, Robert Cooper, noticed that much of the regalia stored for the museum did not appear to be Masonic at all. After much research into the matter he wrote a book entitled "A History of the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners" which is taken as the authoritative work on this Order. Today, the Free Gardeners operate in Australia as a Friendly Society in Western Australia.
The first recorded meeting of this Order was in 1822 at the Harp Tavern near the Drury Lane Theatre. It comprised a group of stage hands and theatre technicians who had been denied a long held privilege formerly extended to them. These privileges involved an Order called "The City of Lushington" which was mostly for entertainment and social purposes. While the stage hands and technicians were formerly allowed attendance at the City's meetings, the privilege was later withdrawn and the City Order became a closed shop to actors and artists only. The stage hands and theatre staff therefore starting holding their own exclusive meetings that excluded the actors and artists. As the theatre staff moved around the country in pursuance of their profession, Lodges would have been founded in the various cities, towns and villages. Over the years there have been a number of internal differences of opinion leading to break away formations operating under the same principles and still using the name of the Buffaloes. These groups or 'constitutions' are generally referred to as Banners. As in Masonry the Seditious and Riotous Assembly Acts of 1799 had a profound effect on Buffalo meetings, as it will have done on many clubs, societies and other bodies of the day. In April 1866 the then known Lodges formulated a Grand Primo Lodge to control the movement, to set laws, to establish procedures and administration. This body later became known as the Grand Lodge of England. Why "Buffaloes"? One theory is that an aim of the very early group was to an hitherto neglected ballad 'We'll chase the Buffalo'. Apparently this ballad was sung by many members at meetings right up until the 1950's. There are four degrees or rank of membership. The first is called Brother, but usually known as the Kangaroo. The second is Primo (or Certified Primo), the third is Knight of Merit, and the 4th the Roll of Honour or Right Honourable. The Second Degree is awarded as result of a mixture of time, attendance and an examination on the ability to take the chair of a Lodge while third and fourth degrees are based on length of membership and a proven attendance record. The purpose of the Order is often freely and aptly described as "the pursuit of Brotherhood". The conception of Brotherhood is firmly based on the family principle, that the total power and strength of the family shall be available to the individual in accordance with his need. The R.A.O.B. is a philanthropic and charitable body. Lodges and Provinces are at liberty to undertake whatever activity they consider appropriate for the needs of the community in which they work and live. Charitable funds exist at Lodge, Province and Grand Lodge levels to assist members of the Order and/or their dependants who are in necessitous circumstances.
The earliest printed record of an Odd Fellows Lodge appears in a reference to a lodge meeting at a Globe Tavern in England, in 1748. This lodge was numbered nine, so apparently there were at least nine associated Odd Fellows lodges at that time. Other evidence suggests that our origins were in an organization known as the Ancient Order of Bucks which thrived in England in the 18th Century, and had as its emblem three bucks with their antlers intertwined. These men had as their leader a "Most Noble Grand" and met in club rooms and taverns. One of their principal emblems was "a bundle of sticks," familiar to modern Odd Fellows as signifying strength in union. They dropped "Bucks" from the name in 1802. Whatever the origin, solid evidence begins to be found in the late 18th Century. By 1796 Odd Fellow organizations were numerous in England, and each was independent from the others. Fraternal groups such as the Odd Fellows were suppressed in England for a time, but by 1803 the Odd Fellows were revived by an organization called "London Union Odd Fellows," which later became known as the "Grand Lodge of England" and assumed authority over all Odd Fellow lodges in that country. Victory Lodge in Manchester declared itself independent of the Grand Lodge of England in 1809. In 1814, the six Odd Fellows lodges in the Manchester area met and formed The Manchester Unity of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which elected officers and proceeded to standardize degree work of the lodges. Odd Fellows are also known as the Three Link Fraternity which stands for Friendship, Love and Truth. Today in Australia, IOOF and MU are better known for their role as Friendly Societies offering financial solutions and health care benefits, respectively, to the public. These roles are in reality not too far distant to those envisaged by the original founders.
The original Druids existed in remote ages in Britain and Europe as a ruling order of priests, who not only presided over the religious celebrations of the people, but were also the judges, legislators, lawyers, philosophers, physicians and instructors of youth. They rendered themselves beloved by their countrymen due to their justice and benevolence, and it is these grounds that the modern Druids model themselves upon the Druids of long ago. The Ancient Order of Druids was founded on 29th November 1781 in England. The first Druids' Lodge was set up in Australia in Melbourne in 1851. The UAOD Lodges operate under the Australian Druidic Ritual, with a European-derived Seven Degree Ritual also in use. The Order was created for the purposes of fostering social and intellectual communication amongst its members, as well as to promote general benevolence. The motto of the Druids the world over is "United To Assist", while their aim is stated as Unity, Peace and Concord. Today in Australia, the Druids are better known for their role as a Friendly Society offering health care benefits and retirement village living to the public.
The Order began in Salford, England in 1835. These original Rechabites took their name from the Old Testament leader, Rechab, who instructed his tribe to refrain from drinking alcohol. It is recorded that the tribe was tested and remained loyal to its principals. During the Industrial Revolution these ideals came to the fore once again and people joined together to help each other prevent the damage to families caused through the abuse of alcohol. Eventually, with migration, the order came to Australia in the mid 1800's and became established first in Tasmania, next in Victoria in 1847 and then across the other States. Applicants for membership to the Order were required to sign a pledge of Total Abstinence in order to gain admission. Throughout the years, members of the Society relied upon the Order for assistance during times of sickness and death and enjoyed the feeling of security knowing that in the face of misfortune, help would be extended. IOR today operates in a very different environment to that of the previous century. Whilst its services have been greatly extended, the basic principles of mutuality and self help, on which IOR was founded, are just as evident. Today the Order operates as a Friendly Society offering services in the areas of retirement villages, holiday units, nursing homes, investments, funeral benefits, social activities through the fraternal membership, temperance education and scholarships, and a health benefits funds.
The Ancient Order of Foresters or as it is known today, Foresters, originated in England, the first recorded Foresters meeting being held in Leeds in 1834. The Order established its first branch (court) in Australia in Victoria in 1849. Foresters was set up as a non-profit organisation. The founding principles of the society being to provide financial and social benefits as well as support to members and their families in times of unemployment, sickness, death, disability and old age. Foresters played a particularly active role in the lives of members and their families during times of crisis in the Depression and both World Wars. Foresters membership growth was significant during and up to the mid 1940's. At this stage the society had nearly one hundred branches (courts) spread throughout Victoria, with representation in all states of Australia. During this period funds raised by Foresters contributed to the construction of approximately twenty Foresters halls throughout the state. These facilities were utilised for meetings and community purposes and halls were used as refuges in times of trauma such as bushfires and floods. In the post Second World War period membership began to decline as the social circumstances improved due to the growth of the economy and an abundance of work and improvement in the provision of government benefits. Although the importance of such groups as the Ancient Order of Foresters has declined in recent years, the society through a core of loyal and dedicated members, has never wavered from its original objectives and mission to "serve the community and deserving groups by involvement in social activities and fund raising for charities."
Essentially, this is a pro-British and Protestant group. The Orange Order was formed in County Armagh, Ireland in 1795 and was named after the protestant King William III of England (William of Orange) who, on 12th July 1690 at the Battle of Boyne, defeated James III, the deposed catholic monarch of England, Scotland, and Wales. In 1836 the Order's activities were severely curtailed by the British government, but when the English parliament in 1885 ruled in favour of Irish home rule, the Order was revived and drastically increased in membership. The Order is today most well known for its members' annual march through the streets dressed in their orange sashes, bowler hats, white gloves, and canes. These marches are the cause of much friction between the Order and both the IRA and Sinn Fein, and draw much media attention. A great deal has been written about a supposed relationship between this order and Freemasonry. No doubt much of this supposed link derives from the strong protestant stance of the Order and the (supposed, but totally untrue) anti-catholic stance of Freemasonry. It is not hard to imagine that there were Freemasons involved in the Order, however, to say that it is a Masonic creation is totally wrong and is based on one of the biggest fallacies regarding Freemasonry. The Order today operates worldwide in places far removed from the initial England-Ireland conflict.
Of all the groups on this page, this one appears the most often linked with Freemasonry. In fact, the UGL of NSW & ACT book Freemasonry's Family Circle (1993) mentions two groups under the name of Societas Rosicruciana that are related to Freemasonry. As regards its history, the Order says:
Advancement in membership is through a progessive system of lessons divided into two sections. The Neophyte section comprises an Introductory lesson and three Atriums of either 3 or 4 months in duration, while the Temple section comprises 9 degrees of between 3 and 9 months to complete. If completed in the required timeframe, the entire sequence takes over 5 years. What is the Order all about? Their own words are this ....
In his "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry", A.E.Waite includes a lengthy discussion on Non-Masonic Rites. Many of these groups have now vanished into obscurity - for example, the four degree Tobaccological Society which somehow derived "moral instruction" from the art of smoking would hardly have a place in today's society. Most were limited in their existence to the European continent and a few in America. Some of these groups were founded by Freemasons, but their rituals and purposes cannot always be seen as compliant with the ideals of Freemasonry. The common thread that they have with Freemasonry is that most were established to encourage fellowship among their members. Others, however, used the veil of a fraternal organization for purely political motives, such as the Order of the Sleeping Lion which intended to restore Napoleon. Many also used an initiation and degree-based system of membership, such as the 36 degree system of the Order of Ishmael. Some of the Orders are very old and their existence has been inferred from historical texts, such as the Brethren of the Bridge which was confirmed by Pope Lucius III in 1182 and existed until the end of the 16th century (it's possessions were claimed to have been transferred to the Knights of St John of Jerusalem - the Hospitaliers). Maybe some of these Orders still exist in isolated pockets today. Below is a list of those Rites and Orders that Waite describes in his Encyclopedia:
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Last modified: March 22, 2014