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explanation of the york rites

by Pete Normand
33rd Degree in the Scottish Rite
K.Y.C.H. in the York Rite

Please let me add my two cents worth. As both a York Rite Mason, and I am a Past Presiding Officer in all the York Rite Bodies and a K.Y.C.H. (Knight York Cross of Honour), and a Scottish Rite Mason, 33rd Degree and a Board Member of the Scottish Rite Research Society, I have to correct some of the things that have been said here.  


First of all, the York Rite is not actually a "rite" in the same sense that the Scottish Rite is. That is, the York Rite is not unified under one governing body, but is rather split into various components, each with its own governing body. The first of these, the "Royal Arch Chapter," forms the "Capitular Rite." The second is the "Cryptic Rite." And the third is the "Chivalric Rite."  


The third of these, and therefore the entirety of the York Rite, is not open to all Freemasons. It is open to Christian Masons only. However, the Scottish Rite, as a unified Rite of Freemasonry, is open to all good Freemasons of whatever faith. If you live in one of the 15 northeastern states you will be joining the Scottish Rite Northern Jurisdiction. If you live in one of the remaining 35 U.S. states or in our nation's capital, you will be joining the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction.  


The degrees of the Cryptic Rite were actually side degrees of the Scottish Rite that had fallen into disuse. They were then taken over by and worked in Royal Arch Chapters until they were reclaimed by the Scottish Rite. Finally they were relinquished by both the Scottish Rite and the Capitular Rite and were allowed to be worked in separate Councils, becoming what we now call the "Cryptic Rite."  


In the Articles of Union agreed to by the two rival grand lodges in England at their Union in 1813, it stated "that pure ancient Masonry consists of three degrees, and no more, viz., those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason (including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch)." You will notice that it does NOT say "the E.A., F.C., M.M., AND the Holy Royal Arch." Rather, it actually "includes" the H.R.A. degree as part of the M.M. degree. This was added to appease the members of the Ancients Grand Lodge who worked the degree in their lodges as a completion of the M.M. degree, whereas the lodges under the Moderns Grand Lodge did not. To this day, the United Gr. Ldg. of England still follows this system, conferring the Royal Arch Degree on its Master Masons. But, it is done in Chapters of the Royal Arch, which are a part of the Supreme Grand Chapter of the Royal Arch.  


Many hold the misguided belief that the M.M. Degree is not complete in and of itself, but needs the Royal Arch Degree for completion. Of course, this is nonsense. The Word of a MM is "lost" in the MM Degree because, philosophically, it is unknowable, or ineffable. The true "secret" of Masonry is that, in our lives, we are always searching for truth, and it will never be found until we reach our final reward. To suspect that the "lost word" is simply some mumbo-jumbo that will be given you in the Royal Arch degree after you pay your fee, only indicates that someone did not understand the real lessons of the MM Degree.  


The Royal Arch Degree is conferred in BOTH the York Rite and in the Scottish Rite. In the York Rite it sits atop the 4-degree Capitular Rite and is therefore the 7th Degree of the York Rite. In the Scottish Rite, it is the 13th Degree. In the York Rite version of the degree, the degree is set during the building of the Second Temple, that is, the Temple of Zerubbabel, built about the year 516 B.C.E. (although the Degree uses the date 530 B.C.E.), and relates to the discovery of a secret vault beneath the ruins of Solomon's Temple which had been built about 1000 B.C.E. and destroyed by the army of Nebuchadnezzar, King of the Chaldeans, in 586 or 587 B.C.E., thus beginning the period known as the Babylonian Captivity. 70 years later, Prince Zerubbabel returns from the captivity and builds the Second Temple.  

However, the older version of the degree appears to be the Scottish Rite Thirteenth Degree which places the degree not at the end of the Babylonian Captivity in 530 B.C.E., but much earlier, at the building of the original Temple of Solomon, about 1,000 B.C.E. This is why the degree in its Scottish Rite version is called "Royal Arch of Solomon." In this degree, three workmen discover a secret vault within the mount upon which they plan to construct Solomon's Temple.  

In both degrees, a "word" is discovered. But in the York Rite version it is, allegedly, the word that was "lost" at the death of Hiram Abiff. In the Scottish Rite version, it is the ineffable and unknowable name of God that was revealed to Enoch and inscribed by him upon a cubicle stone and set upon a triangular pedestal within the secret vault.  


Let me also add that the story of Hiram Abiff, while somewhat abbreviated in the Master Masons Degree, is expanded upon in the Scottish Rite. The story of the aftermath of the murder of Hiram and the story of the ruffians and their capture by the Fellowcrafts sent to find them is ellucidated and expanded in the degrees of the 4th through the 12th. In the Scottish Rite Third Degree, the ruffians are not captured. That is because in the Scottish Rite version of the Degrees, it takes 14 degrees to reach "perfection." And so the degrees 4 through 14 are called the "Lodge of Perfection." So, if you really want "the rest of the story," you have to see the degrees of the Lodge of Perfection.  


Well, that depends on what you mean by older. If you mean, "which Rite, in its present form, with all the degrees together, is older?", then the answer has to be "The Scottish Rite." The Scottish Rite of 33 Degrees came together in its final form in the year 1801. But there were older versions of the Rite that collected together a lesser number of degrees as early as the mid-1700's and prior to 1750: that is, "The Rite of Perfection," etc.  

The York Rite, with all four of the degrees of the Royal Arch Chapter, and the degrees of the Council, as well as the degrees of the Commandery, did not solidify until the late 1800's. As late as 1871, the Grand Council of Massachusetts called a convention of Grand Councils from 14 states and adopted a resolution that Cryptic Degrees should be under the exclusive jurisdiction of Grand Councils and that no Cryptic Mason should be recognized unless he had received the degrees in a Cryptic Council or by the Scottish Rite, and NOT under the authority of a Royal Arch Chapter.  

So you can see, that even as late as 1871, the York Rite had not quite "come together" as a "Rite" by any loose definition.  


Some misquided Masons join the York Rite, instead of the Scottish Rite, under the impression that this is the only way to "become a Knight Templar." What they don't understand is that the Scottish Rite IS the Knights Templar, and no less a Templar body, and possibly more so, than the York Rite Templars.  

The full name of the Scottish Rite is "The Knights Commander of the House of the Temple of Solomon of the Thirty-Third and Last Degree of the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry." (whew) This IS the Knights Templar, or Knights of the Temple of Solomon, "Militiae Templo Hierosolomitanae."  

Further, there is not just one "Templar" Degree in the Scottish Rite, but several. The 27th Degree is "Knight Commander of the Temple." In the 28th Degree, "Scottish Knight of St. Andrew," the candidate represents a Knight Templar after the suppression of the Order. He seeks admission into the Order of Knights of St. Andrew who are but Templars who have been given refuge by Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland. The candidate is captured by what appears to be the Holy Inquisition of the Church who accuse him of being of the heresy of being a Freemason. But this is only a test, and because he refuses to renounce his previous vows, he is admitted and made a Knight of St. Andrew.  


But the most important Knight Templar degree of the Scottish Rite is the 30th Degree of "Knight Kadosh." The word "Kadosh" means "Holy" or "separated," as anything "holy" is "separate" and apart from the rest. It refers to the "Kadosh Kadoshem," or "Sanctum Sanctorum," of Solomon's Temple. Part of the degree is set in an asylum of Knights Templar where the assembly decides whether the candidate is worthy to be advanced any further. While standing guard as part of his vigil, he is confronted by the spirit of a deceased knight who advises him to abandon his post and flee with his life. He remains steadfast and is eventually rewarded.  

As a side note, just to show the pedigree of the name "Kadosh" as part of the Templar orders of the Scottish Rite, in 1791, a controlling body of the order in England was known officially as "the Grand Elect Knights Templar Kadosh and Holy Sepulchre of St. John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta." Two years later, the Duke of kent, Grand Patron of the Order, name Thomas Dunckerly Grand Master of the Knights of Rosy Cross, Knights Kadosh, and Knights Templar."  

Many would argue that the Scottish Rite 18th Degree, "Knight Rose Croix," is a Templar Degree in disguise. I would agree.  

Nevertheless, the structure of the Supreme Council, the governing body of the Rite, is that of the Knights Templar. That is why the presiding officer is called "The Grand Commander." The Scottish Rite Caps are in fact caps of knighthood. They are the last remaining vestige of chivalric regalia. And, I have to tell you, its a lot easier to wear than a Knights of Columbus uniform.  

I have to advise you that in the Scottish Rite you get more degrees and more "bang for your buck." But, both are wonderful and neither should be avoided.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014