Letter of the month: May 2001
From: "Mark Dennis" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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
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
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.
To: "Mark Dennis" <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: questions
In-Reply-To: Your message of "Tue, 08 May 2001 10:44:44 CDT."
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!
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".
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:
|"Lodge of Perfection"
||"Lodge of Perfection"
||Chapter of Rose Croix
|"Chapter Rose Croix"
||Council of Kadosh
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
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.
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
Royal Arch Masons
|Mark Master Mason
|Most Excellent Master
|(Virtual) Past Master
|Royal Arch Mason
Royal and Select Masters
|Super Excellent Master
||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 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.
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
That's a basic summary. The web-sites listed can tell you more.
| Gary L. Dryfoos <firstname.lastname@example.org>| 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."
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