[Square & Compasses]

Letter of the month: May 2001

Message-ID: <000801c0d7d5$cf1f1320$4942b4d8@Hiwaay.net>
From: "Mark Dennis" <mdennis@hiwaay.net>
To: <masonry-ask@mit.edu>
Subject: questions
Date: Tue, 8 May 2001 10:44:44 -0500

I am very interested in masonary and think that the ideas that characterise the organization may parallel my own.

I am confused about the various different branches of masonry ie Scottish Rite and York. Could you please shead some light on the differences?

I also wonder about other fraternities such as the Knights Templar and many others and would like to know about similarities and differences and if their is a past connection in histories and so forth.

So many questions I know, any site suggestions? I am associated with many masons at work and know them to be great positive role models for those around them, but they are vague when anything about the organization is mentioned. Your help will help-thanks.


Message-Id: <200105081742.NAA23995@art-farmer.mit.edu>
To: "Mark Dennis" <mdennis@hiwaay.net>
Subject: Re: questions
In-Reply-To: Your message of "Tue, 08 May 2001 10:44:44 CDT."
             <000801c0d7d5$cf1f1320$4942b4d8@Hiwaay.net>
Date: Tue, 08 May 2001 13:42:16 -0400

Dear Mr. Dennis,

Thanks for writing. It would be good to finally put together an answer about this and post it at the web-site. I'll use your letter as an excuse to do just that!

Blue Lodge

The first and fundamental main trunk of Masonry (sometimes called "Freemasonry" to distinguish it from the operative trades of stone- and brick-work) is the lodge, sometimes called a "craft lodge" or "blue lodge." A lodge is a number of Masons who have a charter or warrant from a grand lodge which allows them to meet and work.

The work of the lodge consists of initiating applicants and advancing them through the three degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason, working for the social and moral improvement of the brethren, as well as the usual business of any fraternal and charitable group: planning social functions, raising and dispensing charity funds, looking after the membership, etc.

Lodges (in the USA at least) will carry the abbreviation A.F.&A.M., for "Ancient Free and Accepted Masons" or F.&A.M., for "Free and Accepted Masons".

Once a member has reached the third degree (Master Mason), he is entitled to join any of the other "side degrees" of Masonry.

It is important to know that these "side degrees" are NOT "higher degrees". There is no "higher" degree than Master Mason.

In the USA, the most popular and widespread of these side degrees have long been grouped into appendant orders (or "side bodies"). The two largest of these bodies are the "Scottish Rite" and "York Rite".

Scottish Rite

The Scottish Rite has two sovereign authorities in the US:

  • the Northern Jurisdiction (with authority over the 15 north-eastern states -- full name "The Supreme Council, 33° Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction")
  • the Southern Jurisdiction (the other 35 states of the south and west -- full name "The Supreme Council, 33° Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction, U.S.A.")

A Mason who wishes to take these degrees would apply to a "valley," a Scottish Rite regional sub-division. Each valley is made up of four bodies, which present the indicated degree ceremonies:

Northern Southern
Body Degrees Body Degrees
"Lodge of Perfection" 4-14 "Lodge of Perfection" 4-14
"Council" 15-16 Chapter of Rose Croix 15-18
"Chapter Rose Croix" 17-18 Council of Kadosh 19-30
"Consistory" 19-32 Consistory 31-32

For instance, I applied to the Valley of Boston, which covers (roughly) the eastern half Massachusetts, and which is made up of Boston Lafayette Lodge of Perfection, Giles F. Yates Council, Mount Olivet Chapter Rose Croix, and Massachusetts Consistory.

Besides numbers, the degrees have wonderfully elaborate and fancy names like: "Secret Master," "Perfect Master," "Prince of Jerusalem," "Knight of the Rose Croix," "Sublime Price of the Royal Secret," et cetera.

There are some differences in the Northern and Southern Jurisdictions in the order and arrangement of degrees are in each body, as shown. Also there are some differences in the actual content of a few of the degrees between the Northern and Sourthern jurisdictions.

The degrees are moral and philosophical lessons, each based on a historical or legendary episode: including the eras of the first or second temples in Jerusalem, the time of the Crusades, American history, or purely legendary with no particular historical background.

In modern practice, the Mason who joins Scottish Rite usually attends a one-day class at which at least one degree from each body, always including an abbreviated version of the 32nd degree, is presented to an auditorium of candidates and their sponsors. At the conclusion of the ceremonies, each of the candidates is a "32nd Degree Mason." So despite the intimidating number of degrees, it does not take years and years to progress through the Scottish Rite -- usually just a single weekend.

Of course the more dedicated and interested members will return to other one-day sessions, or to other scheduled meetings to see the various other degrees in the rite.

York Rite

The other major appendant body is York Rite. There are no overall York Rite jurisdictions as their are for the Scottish Rite. (This is not strictly true. See these comments.) Each Grand Lodge has a corresponding York Rite grand body. Like Scottish Rite, the York Rite degrees are administered by a few different bodies:

body degrees
Chapter of
Royal Arch Masons
("R.A.M.")
Mark Master Mason
Most Excellent Master
(Virtual) Past Master
Royal Arch Mason
Council of
Royal and Select Masters
("R.&S.M.")
Royal Master
Select Master
Super Excellent Master
Commandery Order of the Red Cross
Order of Malta
Order of the Temple

This is the usual progression of York Rite degrees. Unlike Scottish Rite, the candidates progress individually or in small groups through each degree, as in blue lodge. You can also see that the York Rite degrees are not identified by number, for instance a York Rite Masonic Knight Templar is never referred to as a 13th degree Mason.

The York Rite also has within it a variety of lesser-known invitiational or honorary degrees and bodies: Grand Council of Knight Masons, High Council of Masonic Societas Rosicruciana, York Rite Sovereign College, among others.

Another distinguishing feature of York Rite is that its third body, the Commandery, is explicitly Christian, taking its emblems and teachings from Christian writings and history. All other branches and bodies of Masonry (in the US and nearly all the rest of the world) are non-denominational, and open to those of any religion.

The knightly orders of Red Cross, Malta, and Temple take their names and emblems from the orders of Knights Hospitallers, Knights of Malta, and Knights Templar who fought during the Crusades. (The Crusades were a series of military campaigns launched from Christian Europe between 1095 to 1270 which were directed against Muslim control of Jerusalem and its Christian shrines.) Despite their names, these York Rite commandery bodies are not considered to be any kind of lineal descendants from those historical orders of knighthood.

There is some excellent history of the founding and development of the York Rite degrees at www.yorkrite.com -- some of the degrees are claimed to be old or even "ancient" while others were written or compiled as recently as the 1800s.

The Shrine

The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine ("A.A.O.N.M.S." or more commonly "Shriners") is probably the most well-known group in Masonry. The Shrine is governed by one international "Imperial" body that covers all the Shrine temples within the USA and abroad. (http://shriners.com/Shrine/)

Shriners are recognized by their distinctive red tassled fezzes. They consider themselves "the playground" of Masonry, and most Shriners choose to join in one of the various club and activities within Shrine-dom: clowns, marching musical units, bands, motorcycle parade units, et cetera. The Shriners are famous for their annual circuses in different parts of the country, and more importantly for the tremendous amount of funds they raise each year to support a network of children's hospitals that specialize either in orthopedics or burn treatment. These hospitals provide their services to their young patients and their families at no charge. Absolutely free.

For many years a Mason was required to reach the 32nd degree in Scottish Rite or the Knights Templar of York Rite in order to join the Shrine. One result was that many men rushed through the Scottish or York rites simply to become eligible for the Shrine, which is most apparent in the abbreviation of the Scottish Rite path to 32nd degree. In the last year or two, the Shrine has changed its policies, and now any Master Mason (3rd degree) is eligible to join.

Other Bodies

There are various other side degrees in Masonry , some of which are local or regional, others more widespread. Some of these other degrees come under the "Allied Masonic Degrees" of the York Rite, and others are independent, under no particular rite.

That's a basic summary. The web-sites listed can tell you more.


+---------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Gary L. Dryfoos <dryfoo@mit.edu>| PM: Ocean Lodge AF&AM, Saugus, MA
| P.O.Box 425400, Camb, MA 02142  | PM: Mt. Scopus Lodge AF&AM, Malden, MA
| http://web.mit.edu/dryfoo/Masonry/  | Richard C. Maclaurin Lodge, MIT, MA
| w: 617.253-0184 f: 617.258-6875 | Internet Lodge #9659, E. Lancs UGLE
|                                 | 32~; MPS; B'hood o/t Blue Forget-Me-Not
|                                 | R.W. Grand Rep. GL Russia near GL Mass.
| "...one sacred band, or society of Friends and Brothers, among
|  whom no contention should ever exist, save that noble contention,
|  or rather emulation, of who best can work and best agree."
+===========================================================================

Up to the Letters: Main page
All the way UP to A Page About Freemasonry main page.