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The two "Rites" of Freemasonry are generally recognized; the "York Rite", which many think should more properly be called the American Rite (Royal Arch Chapters, Councils of Royal and Select Masters, Commanderies) and the "Scottish Rite" of thirty three degrees.
Both Rites have their roots in symbolic Masonry, and no man in the United States, Canada, England, Ireland or Scotland may be initiated into either York or Scottish Rite who is not already a member of a Blue Lodge. While the Scottish Rite has thirty-three degrees, numbered from 1 to 33, the Supreme Councils of the English speaking countries do not assume any authority over the first three degrees where there exists a Grand Lodge which adheres to the Landmarks of freemasonry and continues regular, legitimate and duly constituted and which refrains from interfering with the administration of the Fourth to Thirty-third Degrees inclusive by the Supreme Council.
The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite goes so deeply into the past for much of its symbolism and philosophy that its origins are lost in the mists of antiquity from which emerges history. In 1761 the first "secret" Constitutions was framed; in 1762, the "Constitutions and Regulations", these, with the later Constitutions of 1786, are its fundamental law.
The first Lodge of Perfection was established in this country in Albany, New York, as early as 1767. The first council of Princes of Jerusalem was organized at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1788. The first Sublime council of Princes of the Royal Secret (of Twenty-five degrees; the 25 was then the highest of the Rite of Perfection) was established at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1797. The real establishment of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite dates from 1801, when the first Supreme Council, now the Mother Supreme council of the World, was established in Charleston.
Subsequently, under the provisions of the Grand Constitutions, a second Supreme Council was formed and the original council took the name of "The Supreme Council 33, for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States of America." It is the oldest existing council and, therefore, the Mother Council of the World, from which all Supreme Councils of the Rite hold, either mediately or immediately.
Thus the original Jurisdiction became two by act of the Supreme Council, which in 1813 established the Northern Supreme Council with, originally, fourteen States: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. At that time the present State of Wisconsin was a portion of Illinois territory, becoming a part of Michigan in 1818. Hence the Northern Jurisdiction now comprises fifteen States of the Union.
The Southern Jurisdiction, retaining the rest of the United States and whatever territory may become a part of it and also those countries where the Supreme council has or may hereafter establish Bodies of the Rite, comprises thirty-three States; Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming; it also includes the District of Columbia, the Army and Navy (shared with the Northern Supreme Council), China, Japan, Hawaii, Philippine Islands, Puerto Rico, the Canal Zone and Alaska.
These two Jurisdictions have always worked, and now work, in complete harmony, the separation being geographic only.
The Scottish Rite is sometimes called Continental Masonry because it had its origin from the Rites practiced on the Continent of Europe which later crystallized into the Scottish Rite through the constitutions of 1761, 1762 and 1786. It is also known and practiced on the Continents of Europe and North and South America, in Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, etc.
In the Southern Jurisdiction the Lodge of Perfection confers the Ineffable degrees from the 4th to the 14th; the Chapter of Rose Croix confers the Historical and Second Temple degrees, 15th and 16th, and the Religious degrees, 17th and 18th; the Council of Kadosh confers the Chivalric and Philosophical degrees, from 19th to the 30th inclusive, and the Consistory completes the series by conferring the Official degrees, 31st and 32nd.
In the Northern Jurisdiction the Lodge of Perfection confers the 4th to the 14th, inclusive; the Council of Princes of Jerusalem, the 15th and 16th; the Chapter of Rose Croix, the 17th and 18th; and the Consistory the 19th to 32nd, inclusive. In Canada there are but three Bodies, Lodge of Perfection, Chapter of Rose Croix and Consistory.
The Thirty-third Degree of the Rite differs from others in that for it no one may ask; it must be given. In the Southern Jurisdiction a brother receives first the distinction of being names K.C.C.H. (Knight Commander of the Court of Honor). From those of this rank the Supreme Council chooses those who may receive the 33, Inspector General Honors. The Northern Supreme council does not award the distinction of K.C.C.H.
These honors are given for merit, long or distinguished service to the rite, the Craft or to humanity, and are highly prized. those who have received the 33 wear a triple band ring, sometimes plain, sometimes bearing a triangle with the figures 33 within it.
The Scottish Rite is wholly non-sectarian. It is deeply religious in character, but in the same sense that Symbolic Masonry is religious - it teaches religion, not a religion. Both Northern and Southern Supreme Councils observe the ceremonies of Extinguishing and Relighting the Symbolic Lights; the first on Maundy Thursday (Thursday before Easter), the latter either immediately following or upon Easter Sunday. These ceremonies are perhaps as beautiful and impressive as any degree in any rite, unforgettable by any who have ever seen or taken part in them.
Of the religion in the Scottish Rite Grand Commander James D. Richardson of the Southern Jurisdiction (now gone to the Grand Consistory Above) wrote:
"Scottish Rite Masonry has not attempted to propagate any creed, save its own simple and sublime one, of faith in God and good works; no religion, save the universal, eternal and immutable religion, a religion such as God planted in the heart of universal humanity. Its votaries may be sought and found alike in Jewish, Moslem and Christian Temples. It is the teacher of the morals of all religions; it is the teacher of good and not of evil, of truth and not error. As in the days of Dante, its mission is to aid humanity in setting its foot upon despotism, and treading under foot spiritual tyranny and intolerance."
In the Southern Jurisdiction two funeral services are used; the Rose Croix service, for all brethren of the 18th whose families desire it, and the Knight Kadosh, sometimes called the "Midnight" Service. both are conducted by trained teams, and both are beautiful and impressive.
It is impossible, of course, to describe the degrees of the Scottish Rite. Nor are the degrees the same in the Northern and Southern Supreme Councils. In the latter, the rituals are largely the result of Albert Pike's revision and spiritualization of older rituals. In the Northern Jurisdiction, while many of the degrees follow the Mother Council's ritual in form, some of the ceremonies are entirely different.
Scottish Rite degrees usually are, and always should be when possible, put on in costume land by carefully trained casts. Many of the ceremonies are very elaborate, requiring a small army of workers; when well done, they attract brethren from many miles away. Indeed, so difficult are some of the ceremonies, and so extensive the facilities and preparation required, that many are seen but once or twice a year, and in but a few centers in any State. From this has arisen that custom which Scottish Rite Masons know as the "Reunion" - a gathering of Scottish Rite Masons from all over a State to see and take part in the degrees given to a "class"; such Reunions not uncommonly last a week.
Not all Bodies of the Rite put on all the degrees in any one Reunion. those which are omitted are communicated, and often those not "worked" in one reunion are staged in the next. In any "class" the final degrees in each of the four bodies are invariably staged.
Elective and appointed officers in each of the bodies may take part in degrees, but do not necessarily do so. The degrees are elaborate, costumed ceremonies, many of them requiring a much larger cast than could be supplied from an official line. The ceremonies are difficult and intricate, their scenic investiture large; they offer great opportunities for workers who have talent and ability. Teams for the various degrees frequently remain intact for long periods of time, the brethren perfecting themselves from year to year until they are, literally, "Past Masters" in their work. The initiate usually sees a spectacle "The degrees are put on before the candidates rather than worked upon them) which is in the hands of trained experts, many of whom have done the same part for years.
In the earlier degrees that "further light", which is hinted at in the Blue Lodge, is given and questions which many Master Masons ask after they are raised to the Sublime Degree are answered with solemnity and reverence.
Later, matters wholly new to Master Masons are taken up, and a wealth of philosophy, religion, and knowledge made available for the postulant.
The fourth to the thirty-second degrees of the Scottish Rite, beautiful and inspiring as they are, should not be, as they often are, called "Higher Degrees" connotating an elevation, a superiority, over the first three degrees.
"I'm only a Blue Lodge Mason - I never went any higher" - how often is that semiapologic statement made!
The greatest authorities in the Scottish Rite are emphatic in the statement that neither that Rite nor any other can make a man more of a Mason than he becomes in the Blue Lodge. The degrees can, and frequently do, make him a better Mason, just as the labor required to earn a college degree can, and often does, make a man a better, but not more a citizen than he was before he passed through college. The Scottish Rite degrees are numerically greater than the first, second and third, but not "higher". To quote the greatest authority on Scottish Rite Masonry who ever lived, Albert Pike:
"It may be too late to change a common terminology. But, however we may refer to these ancillary or appendant degrees, let us not make the mistake of pretending that a 33 degree Mason is 'Higher" than a Master Mason, much less the Master of a Lodge. Let us by our conduct and our speech always acknowledge the Grand Master of Masons in his own Jurisdiction to be the highest officer the world has ever known or ever can know.
The Scottish Rite is governed by a Supreme Council in each Jurisdiction, just as Symbolic Masonry is governed by a Grand Lodge in each Jurisdiction. But the composition of a Supreme Council and a Grand Lodge is wholly different. The Grand Lodge consists of the Masters and Wardens of Blue Lodges, and certain permanent members (Past Grand Masters, Grand Officers, in some Grand Jurisdictions Past Masters, etc.), Supreme Councils in this country are limited to thirty-three Active Members (Southern Jurisdiction). Sixty-six Active Members (Northern Jurisdiction). These Active Members (All having previously attained the 33 degree) are elected by their fellows and for life.
In the Southern Jurisdiction the officers of the Supreme Council are elected for life; in the Northern Supreme Council, for three years, but the principal officers are almost invariably reelected, so that tenure is usually for life.
The Grand Commander in the Southern Jurisdiction if John H. Cowles, who is a Past Grand Master of Kentucky. The Grand Commander in the Northern Jurisdiction is Melvin M. Johnson, who is a Past Grand Master of Massachusetts. The Secretary General of the Supreme Council, S. J. is Walter R. Reed, and of the Supreme Council, N.J., Charles H. Spillman.
Scottish Rite Masons in many States have erected and occupy beautiful and impressive buildings, especially designed and equipped for Scottish Rite work. One of the most, if not the most, beautiful Masonic structure in the world is the "House of the Temple" home of the Supreme Council S.J. in Washington, D.C. This magnificent edifice, in which is also the Great Library, has a Supreme Council Chamber which for lofty beauty and impressive dignity is exceeded by none. It is one of the "show places" of the nation's capital. Sessions of the Supreme Council are held in it every two years.
Both Southern and Northern Supreme councils are devoted to interests affecting the nation at large as well as their own particular Masonic labors; The Southern Jurisdiction gave one million dollars to George Washington University to endow a School of government; the Northern Supreme council supplies funds for education and for conducting research into the cause, prevention and cure of dementia praecox, one of the most malignant and prevalent diseases from which humanity suffers. Both Jurisdictions are adherents to the cause of education and the public school. Both Jurisdictions practice charity in a manner which makes all Scottish Rite Masons proud. Both of them uphold, and command respect for, the dignity of all legitimate Masonry.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014