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The beginnings of the Grand Orient of Poland

Andrzej Mokronowski's letter - the first Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Poland to Grand Master of the Grand Orient of France.
Andrzej Mokronowski’s letter – the first Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Poland to Grand Master of the Grand Orient of France.

On February 26, 1784, there was a meeting of deputies of all Masonic Lodges working in the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. They decided to set up a unified masonic national organisation. The name Grand Orient of Poland was adopted (inscription on the seal: Grand Orient of Poland and Lithuania). Andrzej Mokronowski became the Grand Master.

The Grand Orient of France (later the initiator of liberal and adogmatic freemasonry) recognised this act of establishing a new Obedience and the draft of its progressive and patriotic constitution, establishing friendly relations with the Grand Orient of Poland, while the Great Lodge of England (later the United Grand Lodge of England – the „mother” of conservative Freemasonry) did not recognise the new Obedience. In the following years GOP underwent numerous transformations (changing the name and form of the organisation), acting as the Grand Orient of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (1784–1793) and then the Grand National Orient of Poland (1812–1821).

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Freemasonry of the Constitution of 3 May era

List of the Lodges of the Grand Orient of Poland in 1784
List of the Lodges of the Grand Orient of Poland in 1784

During the King Stanisław August Poniatowski epoch, there was an intensive development of Polish Freemasonry, supported by the king, also a Freemason. There were people in the Lodges who had a great influence on the fate of the country, and over time became involved in the implementation of the reform program.

It is worth adding that about 30% of MPs in the „Four-Year” Parliament (1788-1792) were Brothers from the Lodge , while out of the four main authors and editors of the 3rd May Constitution (first polish Constitution), at least three belonged to Freemasonry. They were: King Stanisław August Poniatowski, Scipione Piattoli and Ignacy Potocki.

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Freemasonry during the Partition of Poland

The translation of sign and name of St. John's Lodge named POLISH BROTHERS UNITED in the Orient of Warsaw (last decade of XVIII century)
The translation of sign and name of St. John’s Lodge named POLISH BROTHERS UNITED in the Orient of Warsaw (last decade of XVIII century)

When Poland lost its independence the Lodge works became dormant. They were reborn in the symbolism of the Polish Legions in Italy and developed greatly during the existence of the Duchy of Warsaw. In those days it was simply inappropriate to play a significant role in the state and in the army, remaining outside the Lodge. Most of the Polish generals, including Prince Józef Poniatowski and General Jan Henry Dąbrowski, were also Brothers.

Also after the fall of Napoleon, the Lodges continued to function, albeit differently in each part of divided Poland. They were most active in the so-called Kingdom of Poland, especially under the gavel of Stanisław Kostka Potocki. The Russian administration had limited insight into the functioning of individual workshops, but it soon turned out that the Lodges became a forge of independence thought. At the same time „National Masonry” arose under the guise of Freemasonry, with the clear objective of regaining Poland’s independence. Freemasonry, always opposing tyranny and despotism, was also active in Russia. For this reason, on September 21, 1821 Tsar Alexander I banned Freemasonry in the Kingdom of Poland and in the following year – throughout the Russian Empire. A long interruption of the activities of Polish Freemasonry ensued .

Map of Poland
Map of Poland

It was not until November 1906 that the Warsaw Cooperative Society was founded. It was an organisation with two facets. The first was overt and public. The Society openly inspired activities of food, rural, credit and later housing cooperatives. As part of its second, covert incarnation the Warsaw Cooperative Society formed an embryo of Polish Freemasonry, which was to be revived after decades of non-existence. Polish Freemasonry was to be later formalised into Lodge Liberation working under the auspices of the Grand Orient of France.

Fascination with Freemasonry was favoured by the current modern intellectual and moral climate. Prominent figures of social life were taken in by it. In the first place one should mention Rafał Radziwiłłowicz (brother in law of writer Stefan Żeromski). As a doctor of psychiatry, he became famous for rescuing future polish Leader Piłsudski from a prison called the Citadel. For many years he headed Polish Freemasonry – first as Grand Master of Grand Orient Chapter (French Rite) and then as one of the leaders of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.

Many among the original members of the Warsaw Cooperative Society (of whom there were 96 in all) were Freemasons. Its board of directors included well-known Polish figures who would soon become Brothers in masonic lodges and set the tone in them: Antoni Natanson, Paweł Leon Jankowski (both of them medical doctors), Alojzy Wierzchleyski (an economist), Zygmunt Chmielewski (a theoretician and practitioner of the cooperative movement), Tadeusz Gałecki (also known under his nom-de-plume „Andrzej Strug”) – the latter not only a renowned writer but also (later) Grand Master of Grand National Lodge (which after the First World War replaced the „dormant” Grand Orient) and Grand Commander of its Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree.

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Freemasonry on the verge of Poland’s regained independence

On June 10, 1910, they gathered in Warsaw and established a Masonic Lodge. They gave it an allusive and ambiguous name, very fashionable in contemporary Polish literature: Liberation.

At the same time they elected Radziwiłłowicz as the worshipful master and asked the Grand Orient of France to issue to the new body its founding documents and to accept it under its authority.

Ludwik Hass

After more than a year of waiting and negotiations, on July 1911 the Enlightenment Ceremony took place. Nothing certain is known about the second Warsaw lodge Revival, which was established so that numerous congregations of members would not attract the attention of the Russian political police, the „Okhrana”. The approximate date of its foundation is unknown: it may have been 1911 or 1912. It is unknown who held the Worshipful Master’s gavel or who were its members. What is know, however, is that the Chapter – the supreme authority over the Lodges – usually met in Patek’s house, which has survived until today at Aleja Szucha 5, where the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania is currently located. Stanisław Pyrowicz, a 63-year old journalist, was the most senior among its original members. The youngest was Witold Giełżyński, who was then not yet thirty (he too was a journalist).

Most reports have been preserved about the provincial Lublin Lodge Free Toilers. It was established in Paris. Writer Stefan Zeromski passed on the masonic ideal onto Jan Hempel, a well-known globetrotter, and Witold Gielzynski, a student. An extensive report by Wanda Papiewska, an indefatigable activist for social change (who had received a special permit to join the lodge from higher masonic authorities) provides the most details about this complex undertaking. Sometime later the same lodge accepted Zofia Marcinowska, a follower of mystical cults while at the same time president of the Women’s Military Readiness League and a collaborator of Polish Legions. Lodge Free Toilers was not typical as it accepted women and was connected with the newspaper Kurier Lubelski. All chief editors of the paper were members of the Lodge.

In early September 1914 the Chapter faced the very important task of organising talks between its representative and Polish leader Piłsudski. Warsaw and Cracow were separated by front lines. This mission was entrusted to Stanisław Patek, as a temporary stage towards accomplishing a much more significant objective: establishing direct contacts with the Western Allies (especially with France), including Lodge Les Renovateurs of the Grand Orient of France, which sponsored the Polish lodges. Patek was to meet with Commandant Piłsudski in Kielce, along the way, and later to hold conferences in Cracow with prominent Galician politicians. The Grand Orient of France was one of very few places in France where the Poles’ situation was not only understood but responded to in a kind manner.

The year 1914 was undoubtedly the apogee of the political activity of the Grand Orient and the Chapter that ran it. During the first year of the war typical, regular masonic work had weaken, and perhaps died down completely. Half a century later Stanisław Osiecki said:

„(…) other issues, such as the struggle for independence, occupied minds, and Freemasonry were in decline.

Stanisław Osiecki

But just then the political role of Polish Freemasonry was greater than ever in the 20th century. A dozen or so of the most famous Freemasons gathered around the not quite formal but ambitious Chapter have become a political lobby. The element of politics dominated the thinking of everyone, including Masons; participation in political activities was an imperative of the moment.

Just before the outbreak of war, Freemasonry as an organisation exhausted the political function of a replacement center of the independence movement, as Piłsudski assembled his own available party facilities. The jury helped him a lot, so it ceased to be needed.

Side effects also weakened the Freemasonry. From the Warsaw Lodges, it seems, only the Lodge Liberation carried out residual activity during the war. Her master Antoni Natanson stayed mainly in Switzerland, maintaining constant contact with Western countries. Maksymilian Malinowski, with a large group of agrarian activists was arrested on May 12, 1915 and put in a Moscow prison; it is known that the Chapter, through Lednicki, looked after his deported family and after himself following his release. Patek was also temporarily interned by the Germans at the Grzmiąca Prison. Provincial lodges merely subsisted: in Kalisz, probably in Sosnowiec, maybe in Łódź. And above all in Lublin, despite the departure of Hemp and Zagrobski and their friends from the Lublin Food Association, which from the masonic agenda transformed into the base of the far left.

Although the structure of Freemasonry was disintegrating, interpersonal ties and a sense of mission were still uniting its members. A meaningful testimony of the preservation of the masonic bond was a very important political act: the announcement on February 22, 1916 of the „Declaration of the Hundred (Men)”.

The initiative to issue a declaration came out of the Piłsudski’s circles, on whose behalf Medard Downarowicz and Tytus Filipowicz participated (under the name of the Patriot Union – both Freemasons). This declaration proclaimed, among others: „The Polish nation’s aspiration is to regain an independent state, protected by its own military force.

Jan Molenda (supporter of Piłsudski and national democracy 1908-1918)

For the first time such a manifesto of the will of the nation was publicly announced, signed not only by seven parties and political coalitions (parties related to Piłsudski, LPP party and two smaller from the national camp), but also – by name – by one hundred well-known activists. Among them there were 34 Masons (in a few cases it’s uncertain whether they were fully initiated) and a dozen or so of their close friends. All members of the Chapter and the entire Masonic elite signed it: Rafał Radziwiłłowicz, Stanisław Patek, Antoni Natanson, Zygmunt Chmielewski, Wacław Łypacewicz, Stanisław Osiecki, Eugeniusz Śmiarowski, Leon Supiński, Wacław Makowski, Witold Giełżyński. Adding those members of the order who found themselves in the leadership of the party promoting the declaration, it can be said that this was a moment of triumph of Freemasonry, despite its dispersion. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that it became a strong final chord.

Tytus Filipowicz noted that the Declaration was „an exceptional document of civil courage in our conditions of occupation”. Its signatories „risked losing their freedom and, together with their freedom, workshops and existence for their families.” The final collapse of the Chapter – and all the Freemasons of the Grand Orient – took place in January 1918, after a sharp discussion about the further political fate of Poland.

Cyrkiel i Węgielnica

Freemasonry and Freemasons in independent Poland

A large part of active Freemasons after a short break joined the establishment of the Grand National Lodge of Poland. The structures of the Grand Orient in the interwar period did not function.

By a decree of the President of Poland from 1938, for the second time in history, the state authorities decided to liquidate Freemasonry in Poland. The activity of small masonic circles survived in Warsaw until the Warsaw Uprising, and in Cracow until the Red Army entered.

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Freemasonry during the Polish People’s Republic

In the first post-war years, despite the suggestion of communistic leader Bolesław Bierut or his immediate surroundings aimed at rebuilding the Masonic Lodges, this intention was not realised in Poland. This was due to the fact that the most senior pre-war Freemasons (Stanisław Stempowski and Marian Ponikiewski) fearing that Freemasonry would become an instrument in the hands of the Communist Party, they strongly rejected these proposals. Reflecting on Bierut’s offer, Janusz Maciejewski even suspected that this proposal was caused by his six-month membership of Freemasonry in the spring of 1922. This could suggest that when making his offer, Bierut spoke as a suspended Brother. The attempt by Ludwik Rajchman in 1947 to obtain Bierut’s consent to resume the Lodge’s operation was unsuccessful due to the objection of other Communist official Jakub Berman who was present at the meeting.

The October breakthrough of 1956 did not contribute to the revival of the Masonic movement in Poland. The only attempts to restore the Lodge came from outside. In February 1957, Paul Blanc, Grand Secretary for Foreign Relations of the Grand Orient of France, who came to the Polish ambassador in Paris, proposed resuming Freemasonry in Poland. He emphasised the progressive nature of the masonic movement and asked for the opportunity to give a lecture to the Brothers in Poland. It seems that this initiative went unnoticed. Another attempt was made in 1962 by the Grand Master of the Grand Orient of France, Jacques Mitterand, during his visit to Warsaw. Apparently, he was even supposed to meet with Władysław Gomułka himself in this matter. This initiative also failed.

Meanwhile, an underground Masonic Lodge had existed here since February 12, 1961, when eight adepts carried out the ritual „awakening” of the pre-war Copernicus. Professor Janusz Maciejewski emphasised very strongly that:

„From the point of view of masonic regularity, there was Freemasonry in Poland in 1961-89 – and also as part of World Freemasonry. There was, after all, an agreement with the Lodge „Copernicus” in Paris that its members are our representatives and, in a sense, substitutes for worldwide Freemasonry.

Professor Janusz Maciejewski

A week later the first initiations took place including among others Jan Józef Lipski, the president of the Crooked Circle Club („Klub Krzywego Koła„).

Cyrkiel i Węgielnica

The revival of Poland, the revival of Freemasonry

The changes which occurred in 1989 brought about a renaissance of Freemasonry in Poland. Regular Freemasonry was revived in the form of Grand National Lodge of Poland and first steps were taken towards a revival of International Mixed Masonic Order Le Droit Humain.

The Grand Orient of France took steps in this direction in the first half of 1990. In May of that year Didier Sniadach, a Polish-speaking representative of the Grand Orient of France, residing in Lille, arrived in Warsaw. He did not hide his intentions, which he highlighted in an interview given to „Życie Warszawy”. Trying to probe the moods of people who could be potential candidates for initiation, he also held several meetings in Warsaw and Łódź.

Shortly after, in July 1990, Allain Marville, a member of the Council of the Order of the Grand Orient of France, came to Poland with several Brothers. In „Gazeta Wyborcza” they posted an advertisement in which they wrote:

French Freemasons invite everyone interested in the global masonic movement to a meeting on Thursday, August 9 at 7pm in Doctor’s Club Aleje Ujazdowskie 24.

Gazeta Wyborcza

These efforts were effective. Initiations of members took place on December 1, 1990 in a palace at the Łazienki Palace, with the help of brothers from the Parisian lodge „Victor Schoelcher” (GOdF). The first Workshop Liberty Restored working in a liberal rite began operations on April 26, 1991. Its name stressed that historic moment of Poland. Before World War II, during 1920-1938 there had been a lodge under that name but it operated under the auspices of Grand National Lodge of Poland and focused mainly on men of science and letters. Among its members were: Gabriel Narutowicz, prof. Jan Mazurkiewicz, prof. Mieczysław Michałowicz, prof. Janusz Groszkowski (post-war president of the Polish Academy of Sciences).

Independently, with the support of the Lodge l’Esperance in the Orient of Lille, Lodge Hope in the Orient of Warsaw was installed in Poland in 1991. In following years new lodges were founded: Unity in the Orient of Katowice and Tolerance in the Orient of Mikołów. All three Lodges worked in the Rectified Scottish Rite.

Out of the Lodge Liberty Restored lodges Three Brothers (May 21, 1993) and Europe (March 11, 1994) were born. Both operated in the Orient of Warsaw. Deriving from Freedom Restored, they worked in the French Rite. In February 1997, the deputy Grand Master of the Grand Orient of France for Foreign Affairs Eric Vanlerberghe came to Poland, accompanied by Deputy Grand Master for Administrative Affairs Alain Dupret and Guarantor of Friendship of Polish Liberal Lodges in the Grand Orient of France Michel Klich. During a press conference, guests from France announced plans to establish an independent and adogmatic Obedience in Poland. Eric Vanlerberghe said:

„We can now return from Poland. We leave our ritual and organisation, we declare to help Polish brothers in their independent activity.

Eric Vanlerberghe

The first Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Poland brought back to life at that time, was a philosopher and religious expert, Andrzej Rusław Nowicki.

Celebration of introduction of Light of the Grand Orient of Poland took place on July 12, 1997. From then on Grand Orient of Poland, as a sovereign obedience, comprised six lodges, which had to date been subordinate to Grand Orient of France: four in Warsaw, one in Katowice and one in Mikołów. GOP was registered as an association at the Warsaw Regional Court on November 14, 1997. Lodge Narutowicz in Cracow remained outside the national structures of the Grand Orient of Poland, as a provincial lodge under Grand Orient of France. Numerous years were spent on expanding the organisational structure of the Grand Orient of Poland, on creating a system of higher degrees (both in the French Rite and in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite) , as well as on establishing international contacts.

Women were admitted to the Order at the Convent of 2008. New lodges were created shortly, thanks to the support of Lodge Liberty Restored. These were: Galileo in the Orient of Bydgoszcz and Cezary Leżeński in the Orient of Warsaw, working in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, as well as Kultura in the Orient of Warsaw, working in the French Rite. Lights were also lit in Lodge Moria in the Orient of Riga (Latvia). This Lodge is to be the foundation of the future Grand Orient of Latvia. Subsequently, the lights were lit at Lodge Witelon – this Lodge is dedicated to accepting candidates who live far from the current workshops of Grand Orient of Poland. According to its founding formula, the Lodge works once every few months but usually has two meetings during a single weekend.

Further elements of Grand Orient of Poland are Lodges: Atanor established in 2013, working in the Orient of Warsaw in the AASR, Abraxas under the Light of Sirius working in the Memphis-Misraim Rite (2019), Astrolabe working in the Orient of Cracow and the English-speaking Lodges Universe (2019) and Synergy (2019), the first of which works in Warsaw and the second – in various cities of Europe. At the beginning of year 2020 GOP created a new workshop in the Orient of Poznan called Falcon & Owl.