With the start of his third term at Oxford, Wilde's Masonic activities took on new vigor. On 27 November 1876 he was 'perfected' into the 18° of the Rose Croix at the Oxford University Chapter No 40. This was a period of religious consequence to him, with the Roman Catholic Church being an especially strong influence on him. The Trinitarian content of the Rose Croix ritual will have particularly appealed to him at this time.
It allowed his spirituality to surface. He took active office as Chamberlain, a position that no longer exists, as well as Raphael,
which allowed him to conduct candidates in the perfection ceremony.
Some months after his perfection, on 3 March 1877, Oscar Wilde wrote to his close friend and fellow Mason, William Ward:
'I have got rather keen on Masonry lately, I believe in it awfully - in fact would be awfully sorry to have to give it up...'
The Order seems also to have brought out in Wilde his extravagant streak. In November 1876 he spent £15 18s 6d to purchase from George Henry Osmond, a lamb skin Rose Croix apron and collar, a Rose Croix jewel, sword and belt as well as a Masonic leather jewel case, lettered with his initials. He paid £10 on account and Osmond's solicitors sued a year later for the remainder. On 22 November he was summoned before the University Chancellor's Court, where action was brought against him, and the court ordered that he pay the difference plus 25 shillings costs.
On 22 March 1878, Wilde progressed further in the Orders beyond the Craft. He was advanced, with no less than 12 additional candidates, into the Mark degree at the University Mark Lodge No.55. He never attended a meeting after his advancement, his 'mark' was a mirror image of his initials, O-F-W, and is of some curiosity. It would appear that his membership here expired naturally, so to speak, as this is the one Order in which there is no evidence of his expulsions or exclusion.
His demise from the Churchill Lodge was a more deliberate expulsion. In 1881 Bro Lt Col
Thomas Crowder was appointed Secretary to the Lodge and decided on an efficiency drive to collect arrears of subscriptions. Oscar Wilde was among the 11 members who were excluded in 1883. Whilst the excuses were accepted from the Brethren concerned, who were duly readmitted, Oscar Wilde's fate is recorded in the Lodge minutes for 4 June 1883:
Bro Crowder Secretary proposed and Bro G L Hawkins seconded that the expulsion from the Lodge of Bro Oscar
Wilde be reported to Grand Lodge, he having failed to acknowledge the three communications forwarded to him. This was carried unanimously.'
The expulsion from the Churchill Lodge effectively ended Oscar Wilde's Masonic activities. He had not yet been disgraced by society, and the action taken against him in the Churchill Lodge and the remainder of the Orders from which he was finally excluded, appear to have been a matter of neglect on his part rather than deliberate action against him.
His concentrated involvement with Freemasonry only once inspired his work. His first play in 1880, Vera or the Nihilists, has Masonic connotations. The first act opens with a meeting of the conspirators who exchange passwords after which a catechetical opening ceremony follows:
President: What is the Word? First Conspirator: Nabat
P: The answer?
2nd C: Kalit
P: What hour is it?
3rd C: The Hour to suffer
P: What day?
4th C: The day of Oppression
P: What year?
5th C: The year of Hope
P: How many are we in number?
6th C: Ten, Nine and three
The influence of the Masonic ritual appears to be a combination of the Mark degree - in which six principal Officers are involved - and hints at ritual from various Orders. By this time, September 1880, Wilde had divested himself from both Roman Catholicism and Freemasonry.
Having left Oxford for London in 1878, he travelled widely and married Constance Lloyd in 1884. The next decade he spent balanced on that fine dividing line between what was and what was not morally acceptable to the late Victorian London society. In meeting Alfred Douglas, affectionately referred to as Bosie, in June 1891, Wilde was to be put to the test and he failed.
Web site created by Mark Griffin