Why 'orient' in Grand Orient de France?

Wiki: “The Grand Orient de France (GODF) is the largest of several Masonic organizations in France and the oldest in Continental Europé

Why is it the grand orient? I cannot find any meaning in my language, in English or in French where this makes sense (“the east” etc.), and I cannot find information about the origin/meaning of the name.

It seems like ’orient’ is another word for ’grand’ in these circumstances, but why would that be, one wonders. (Wiki: ”[A Masonic “Grand Lodge” (also “Grand Orient”)](It seems like ’orient’ is another word for ’grand’ in these circumstances, but why would that be, one wonders. (Wiki: ”A Masonic “Grand Lodge” (also “Grand Orient”)”))”.)

Larousse includes “town which has a Masonic Lodge” among its definitions for Orient. Not very helpful, I know.

We also use Gran Oriente for some Masonic Lodges in Spanish (RAE is even less helpful than Larousse, no mention to Masons), and I understand the use of that word as being linked on one hand to the concept of “rising” or “coming into being” (as a trade, masons are builders, creators, makers; as an association, they’re supposed to build a better world) and also of “orienting”, “pointing”, “directing” (the members of a lodge are supposed to coordinate their actions). I think I may have got that from a documentary, but any actual memory is lost in the mists of time.

Looked it up quickly on the French side of the web, including the GO’s own page ; but I’m afraid I can’t provide a factual, cited answer. I could find that it started off as the “Grande Loge de France” as an attempt to unify and centralize all of the masonic lodges in the country ; but that failed and a second project was made by more or less the same people under the new name.

“Orient” has no meaning in French in terms of group, association, corporation or anything of the sort. The GO is the only group that calls itself an “Orient” that I know of (there might be lesser Orients I suppose - I’m not really up to speed on the state of French freemasonry), and online dictionary definitions of the word outside of its main meaning refer specifically to the GO and other masonic lodges which have taken the same name (Grand Orient de Belgique, du Luxembourg etc…).

The word does mean “the East” (and more importantly the far east) much like it does in English. WAG : it is possible that the name was chosen to signify or boast ties to the mystical wisdom of Asia, indeed at the time (circa the Revolution) everything Chinese/Indian was still very intriguing and exotic for the French bourgeoisie - the European bourgeoisie at large I should say. It could also, in similar vein, have signified that the GO is the source of wisdom and philosophy and New Things in general in France just as China & India were the point of origin of various new and intriguing things to early Modern lives - tea and coffee, silk and porcelain, spices galore etc… which were all very much in vogue in the *salons *where freemasons congregated and talked.

Oooh, hadn’t seen that answer before I published mine. That’s fascinating.

Thanks Nava, and Kobal. I’ve been contemplating along the same lines the last hour or so, that ’orient’ at the time had a mystical meaning or allusion giving associations to the rising sun, the perhaps spiritually advanced East, perhaps even Jerusalem, and so forth. So ’orient’ may have a symbolic meaning rather than literal. Thanks for the input, very interesting

Those guys who in English are called the Magi, or sometimes the Three Kings? One of their Spanish names is los magos de oriente. As Kobal2 said, “the Orient” was, and still is in some contexts, a magical land of wonder, where spices and silks and exotic stuffs were obtained (their occasional exports of Huns shall be disregarded for purposes of trying to sell it as a super interesting place).

To be fair, the Huns were also super interesting. Wherever they went, people paid attention to them.

BTW there is or was an Orient Lodge in Norwood MA, and a number of “Oriental Lodges” in various parts of the USA. Something calling itself a “Grand Orient of USA” seems to *exist *but not be significant in American Masonry, whose mother lodges seem to be just “Grand Lodge” and follow English/Scottish tradition rather than Continental.

And from that meaning comes a derivation of “orienting” as to instruct or counsel, e.g. “New Employee Orientation” in a workplace, which is also seen as one of the functions of the members. From a masonic blog, in the layout of the Lodge Hall, Orient, literally the East, sunrise, is where the Worshipful Master sits and towards where the assembly faces.

In St Martin, on the island’s French side, there is an Orient Bay (swimsuit optional area), a Club Orient (for “naturalists”), well as several restaurants with “Orient” in their names. I’ve always wondered why Orient.

It’s simple.

As the OP mentioned, “Orient” means “the east.”

Masons make a big deal of coming from the east.

I grew up near Orient, NY. It’s on the far eastern end of Long Island. I’d expect other usages had the same origin.

Don’t know about those (though one notes Orient Bay is, as expected, the eastern one), but the port of Lorient in Brittany is called that way because it was a large, then-state of the art port that developed under Louis XIV as a base for Colbert’s newfangled Compagnie des Indes Orientales (the French EIC). The company enjoyed a royal monopoly on import/export to India & China and their largest port was, therefore “la porte vers l’Orient” (the doorway towards the orient) - shortened to just L’Orient, and then Lorient.

Do you have a cite on this, so I can read about it further?

I would conjecture that it came from what the Masons actually are, a medieval guild of stonecutters and masons that morphed into a social club. Orient to a medieval mason means to align a church facing the east or more simply, to align a structure correctly. I would hazard that a Grand Orient would be a place from which other places are aligned correctly.

Freemasons very very very probably didn’t really originate from actual mason guilds, though. While the various orders like to trace their beginnings to this or that recorded tradesmen guild ; there are no recorded lodge or freemason guild before the 1700s ; and at that time their membership rolls were all very safely bourgeois & lower nobility.

It was not exactly novel either - in that period esoteric, “secret” and mystical orders were super in vogue ; it was also the heyday of the Illuminati as well as all manners of sect-like orders all claiming to be the true honest for real last surviving offshoots of the medieval Templars for example. There were also supposedly Satanic cults going around (as in the scandal of the Poisons in Louis XIV’s court) as well as a revival of alchemy in England centered around Newton… Openly belonging to a super secret organization whot I can’t tell you about was simply the thing to do among the gentry and wannabe-gentry back then. 18th century swag rays, if you will.

While not particularly schooled on the ins and outs or the period really ; I would cynically wager that such organizations and groups provided an “honourable” way for progressive nobles/old money to associate with new money and the rising merchant class and thus circumvent the tradition of spite at people who actually worked for a living (and suddenly were earning a TON of very disposable income). The ritual and philosophy being a mere byproduct of greed and/or ego on the part of the fat burghers.

An orient can also mean a particularly large and fine pearl. So that’s one possibility.

But my bet is that it’s primarily orient as in “orienteering” or the point towards which one must be oriented, or the place where one finds (or is assigned) one’s proper orientation. (Like when Muslims pray, they orient themselves towards Mecca. Which is not necessarily pointing themselves East, but simply pointing themselves in a given direction.)

With Masons though, it’s generally safe to assume that it’s anything you can logically apply to it. The more layers of meaning something has, the more they like it.

Actually it originated in the importance of light in freemasonry. Masonic symbolism and ritual are full of references to light - for instance, the act of being initiated into freemasonry as an apprentice is sometimes archaically called “receiving the light”.

An orient is thus the place where light originates (because the sun rises in the east), and it is a synonym for lodge. An individual (non-grand) lodge might also refer to itself as an orient, even though the usage is more common for grand lodges, which are often called grand orient.

In German masonry, it is common to use the words “im Orient” (in the orient of) to refer to the town or city where a lodge is established. This is often abbreviated to “i.O.”. For example, XYZ Lodge at Hamburg might refer to itself in writing as “XYZ Lodge, i.O. Hamburg”.