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Sunburst pattern above the entrance to the Valley of Washington, D.C.'s Scottish Rite Temple boasts details of ancient Egyptian culture. This well reflects the Scottish Rite·s approach of presenting how Masonic ideals play out in various cultures and eras. Photography: Ill. Mark Dreisonstok, 33°

By ARTURO DE HOYOS, 33°, G.C., K.Y.C.H. Grand Archivist and Grand Historian


About a week after my being raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason, a member of my lodge informed me that within a few months there would be a Scottish Rite reunion.

I mentioned this to another member, who responded that I should join the York Rite instead. When I spoke with my lodge Secretary, he suggested that I might join both, but that there was sometimes a bit of competitive rivalry between the two Rites. I joined both and have always been happy with my decision.


Although we do not have their complete histories, we know quite a bit about the origins of these two Rites, which are the two largest and most popular in the United States. Let us take a brief look back.

When Freemasonry was organized as a Fraternity in the early 1700s, it had only two degrees: Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft. The first "high degree" was the Master Mason, which may have appeared in late 1724, with confirmed conferrals in May 1725. Ever since, these degrees have formed a type of primitive "rite" -i.e., a collection of degrees, linked together, which are given under a Masonic authority.

By 1733, the "Scots Master" Degree was conferred in London. No manuscript copy of the early English ritual is known to survive, but we know that it was still being conferred on "normal" Master Masons in Bristol in 1740 and in Bath until at least 1756. French and German versions, dating from the 1740s, reveal some of the early traditions. There are variations, but they tell a story of crusading knights who dug through the ruins of the Temple at Jerusalem where they discovered the Divine Name on a metal plate ( alternately, its initial letter engraved on a metal bowl). The book Le Parfait Maron (1744) gives a further legend connected with Scots Masonry: the return of the Jews following the Babylonian captivity and the rebuilding of the temple. Similarities hint that these legends were borrowed and revised,

providing content for the Royal Arch Degree. By whatever name, however, the traditions persisted, and the Scots Master/Royal Arch tradition of digging and discovery continues in a variety of degrees in the Masonic world. Versions of this degree are central to both the York and Scottish Rites. Similarly, the original emblem of the Scots Masters ( crossed pillars under a square stone with concentric circles with the letter n still appears in the 5°, Perfect Master, of the Scottish Rite, while the return from exile continued in the 15°, "Knights of the East and Sword," and 16°, "Princes of Jerusalem."


Despite the name, this is not an English institution, which is why Albert G. Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry called it the ''American Rite." Further, it is not a rite, per se,

but rather a cooperation of three rites, each presided over by its own "grand" body and divided as follows: the Royal Arch Chapter (Mark Master, Past Master, Most Excellent Master and Royal Arch Mason), the Cryptic Council (Royal Master, Select Master, Super-Excellent Master) and the Commandery ( Order of the Red Cross, Knight of Malta, Knight Templar). The degrees came from sundry places and were codified by Thomas Smith Webb, who received the high degrees of "Ancient York Masonry" in Pennsylvania. Webb's primitive system was first published in his Free-Mason's Monitor (1797) and gradually improved. Pennsylvania also chartered bodies of these degrees in the Caribbean, so we have copies of the pre-Webb rituals, translated from French, available in our book Reprints of Rituals of Old Degrees. For brevity, I will only discuss the most common degrees, rather than the many honors associated with the York Rite.

The Royal Arch of the York Rite offers members a strong biblical focus on Masonry, as in the role of the High Priest in the sanctum sanctorum, or Holy of Holies. Source: Historic German-language Bible (1882) of Arminius Masonic Lodge, Washington, D.C.

The Royal Arch Chapter. The Mark Master Degree-a form of which dates to ca. 1750-not only includes another accidental discovery of an important stone but also preserves a Masonic tradition that is a century older than the Master Mason Degree. As early as 1598, Scottish Operative Apprentice Masons registered their marks upon becoming Fellow Crafts: "The mark book of the lodge at Aberdeen in 1670 bears the names of forty-nine members, all but two of whom have inserted their marks opposite their names ...”. *

This practice continues today, and Mark Masters select their own "mark:' Once inscribed on a shield-like medallion, it is now ( since the mid-18oos) inscribed on a "Chapter penny" or "shekel.” The "virtual" Past Master Degree has similarities to the actual Past Master ceremony, conferred in some jurisdictions, and was considered a qualification to receiving the Royal Arch. The Most Excellent Master Degree, invented by Webb, tells the story of the completion and dedication of King Solomon's Temple. Finally, the Royal Arch Degree (conferred in Fredericksburg, Virginia, as early as 1753), was once called the "root, heart,

and marrow" of Masonry. As mentioned earlier, it tells of the return from Babylonian captivity and of an important discovery made while exploring the ruins of Solomon's tern -

ple. Because of Webb's contribution, the Chapter degrees have a feel reminiscent of the Blue Lodge.

Cryptic Council. The early history and origins of the Royal Master Degree are unknown. It is believed that Thomas Lowndes first conferred it around 1805 in Columbian Council No. 1, New York. However, Caribbean manuscripts of Huet de Lachelle (ca. 1795) and Pierre Joseph Duhulquod (ca. 1803) also mention a degree with this name, but the subject differs. Today the Royal Master admonishes us on the brevity oflife and tells how a certain secret came to be placed where it was later discovered.

The Select Master Degree developed from the "Select Master of 27”, which has been conferred since ca. 1795 by early Deputy Inspectors of the Order of the Royal Secret. It commemorates a deposit made in a secret vault beneath Solomon's Temple. Prior to 1868, the two degrees were sometimes attached to the Scottish Rite, and its Councils were created by the Supreme Council or its officers. The Super-Excellent Master commemorates events at the end of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuzaradan.

Commandery or Encampment of Knights Templar. The connection between the Royal Arch and the Knights Templar is old, but it does not reach back to the historic Knights Templar. Rather, that is Masonic lore like the story of Solomon, Hiram of Tyre, and Hiram Abif.

Early Masonic sources show that St. Andrews Royal Arch Chapter of Boston conferred the Excellent, Super-Excellent, Royal Arch, and Knight Templar in 1769 (the last introduced by Irish Masons). The patent of Br. Sir Henry Beaumont, issued in 1783 by the Knights Templar of St. Andrew's Lodge No. 1, Ancient Masons of Charleston, South Carolina, displays emblems of the Blue Lodge, the Royal Arch, and Templary. Massachusetts, Rhode Island,

Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Sovereign Grand Consistory of Chiefs of Exalted Masonry- in other words, by the "Cerneau" Scottish Rite!

When the General Grand Encampment was formed in 1816, its principal officers were still Cerneau Masons or others sympathetic to it. By 1823, however, any implied connections

were gone, and, during the same year, Moses Holbrook, 33°, who later served as Grand Commander of our Supreme Council (Oct. 27, 1826-Dec.1, 1844), received a charter from

the General Grand Encampment for his Templar Encampment.

The Illustrious Order of the Red Cross descends from the Scots Master tradition regarding the return from exile. It includes a story about Zerubbabel petitioning Darius for permission to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem with a memorable lesson on the importance of fidelity and truth. The Mediterranean Pass with the Knight of Malta is a bit of an anomaly. The ceremony commemorates the Knights Hospitallers who became the Knights of Malta. It is exclusively a Christian Order. Finally, the Knights Templar, or "Order of the Temple”, is the summit of the York Rite. Its ritual, also limited to Christians, includes a meaningful and powerful allegory, in which the candidate symbolically assumes the virtues of spiritual knighthood.


With the assumption that most readers are Scottish Rite Masons, I only will give the briefest account.

As most of us know, the world's first Supreme Council, 33°, was created in Charleston, South

Carolina, on May 31, 1801. Twenty-five of its degrees came from the Order of the Royal Secret (ORS) , a Masonic system invented in the 1760s, and John Mitchell (our first Grand Commander) and Frederick Dalcho (Lt. Grand Commander) were presiding officers of that Order. Many of the ORS degrees originated in France and were modified when introduced to the system. While the ORS was governed by the Constitutions of 1762, the Scottish Rite also has the Constitutions of 1786, traditionally assigned to Frederick the Great.

The Rite has Thirty-three degrees divided into bodies: the Lodge of Perfection (4°-14°); Chapter of Rose Croix (15°-18°); Council of Kadosh (19°-30°); and Consistory of Masters of the Royal Secret (31°-32°). Finally, there is the Sovereign Grand Inspector General, 33°, which has both an Honorary and Active (voting) membership, the latter comprising the presiding Supreme Council, 33°.

One of the hallmarks of the Scottish Rite is that its degrees may be taken by any Mason, regardless of religion. While many of its degrees involve traditional Masonic themes

inspired by biblical events, it also uses quasi-historical settings to teach its lessons, which are somewhat more philosophical than those of the York Rite, and places greater emphasis on Masonic education.

Yet there are many similarities as well: like the York Rite, the Scottish Rite also has a Royal Arch degree and several degrees of knighthood, including the Knight Kadosh, which is a Templar initiation.

The Knights Templar, part of the York Rite, focuses heavily on chivalric and Christian tradition. Source: Knights Templar Hand Book (New York Grand Commandery, I 893), p.154

As with other aspects of Masonry, there are also misconceptions about the Scottish Rite. Although our Supreme Council, 33°, SJ, is the oldest in the world, we have never-contrary to conspiracy theoristscontrolled world Freemasonry. Supreme Councils, like other "grand" Masonic bodies, are autonomous. In fact, each of the many Grand Lodges has far more authority than the Scottish Rite. Other mistaken notions suggest that Albert Pike was the world's "highest Mason'' and that his writings were "authoritative.” It is true that Pike was Grand Commander from 1859-91; his work impacted the Scottish Rite throughout the world. He also revised our rituals and wrote philosophical books like Esoterika and Morals and Dogma. Yet after his death, the rituals were revised multiple times, and none of his books are doctrinal. Any Mason, of any degree, may accept or reject anything Pike wrote.

The Scottish and York Rites are important branches of Masonry and exist for a variety of purposes. They offer opportunities for both fellowship and service, and, in all their degrees, they offer lessons that can help us navigate life's challenges and that admonish us to live an honorable life.

Their degrees are also fun, and (if you are a Masonic enthusiast like I am) their publications are fascinating! For these reasons and more, I think you also would be well served by joining both the Scottish Rite and the York Rite.


*Bernard E. Jones, Freemasons' Guide and Compendium (London: Harrap, 1950; rev. ed., 1956), p. 532.

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