Vol. XXVI No. 7 — July 1948

The American Rite

Every Mason ought fully to understand the Rite of Masonry to which he owes his allegiance. As Rites differ in different countries, it is especially necessary that the Mason from the United States fully know his own system when he travels in other countries.

The common classification of “York” and “Scottish” Rites is inaccurate and misleading. “York” Masonry did not originate in York, England, nor did the “Scottish Rite” begin in Scotland.

Too well known to need elaboration here, it may be mentioned for the benefit of those new in Freemasonry that the term “York” as applied to Masonry, stems from the “York Legend” or “Edwin Legend” of which the first trace is in a verse in the oldest known Masonic document — the Regis Poem, other wise known as the Halliwell manuscript. This quaint old document, to be seen in the British Museum, is doggerel verse in old Chaucerian English, almost unreadable as to spelling and obsolete words, but of course completely translated by scholars.

The legend (that a General Assembly of Masons took place in York, in the year 926, by order of the King) is found in several subsequent manuscripts of the Craft. It was seized upon by early and uncritical historians who made much of it, elaborated on it, and built high upon it. Came a more critical era and modern historians who have so torn the old story to shreds that to many they have left little more than myth in its place.

Whatever the truth of the tale, however, “York” came into Masonry at least as honestly as the cherry tree came into contemporary tales of Washington. And York Rite and Ancient York Masonry and similar combinations of words perpetuate the old tradition to this day.

Freemasonry begins for any selected candidate in the United States in a Symbolic Lodge, which is a part of one of forty-nine Grand Lodges — one for each state in the Union, and the District of Columbia. (Written in 1948 when there were 48 states)

These forty-nine Grand Lodges are the supreme Masonic authorities within their territorial jurisdictions.

From the Symbolic (often called Blue Lodge), a Mason may apply for additional Masonic light to four universally recognized Masonic systems; Royal Arch Masonry; Cryptic Masonry; Knight Templarism; the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite.

To none of these may any one apply who is not a member in good standing in a Symbolic Lodge.

In none of these may any Mason remain in good standing, who is not in good standing in a Symbolic Lodge.

Master Masons may apply directly to the Scottish Rite, and to Chapters of the Capitular Rite (Royal Arch Masonry). Councils of the Cryptic Rite and Commanderies of Knights Templar do not accept petitions from Master Masons who are not also “Companions of Royal Arch Chapters”.

The degrees in the Several Rites are:

  1. In the symbolic Lodge:
    1. Entered Apprentice
    2. Fellow Craft
    3. Master Mason.
  2. In Chapters of the Royal Arch:
    1. Mark Master
    2. Past Master
    3. Most Excellent Master
    4. Holy Royal Arch
  3. In Councils of the Cryptic Rite:
    1. Royal Master
    2. Select Master
    3. Super-Excellent Master (is conferred in some Councils as an additional honorary degree)
  4. In Commanderies of Knights Templar:
    1. Knight of the Red Cross
    2. Knight of the Malta
    3. Knight Templar, or, Order of the Temple

There are two Supreme Councils of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry; that of the Southern Jurisdiction, “Mother Council of the World”, which has jurisdiction in thirty-three States of the Union and the District of Columbia; and the Northern Jurisdiction, which has jurisdiction in fifteen States of the Union.

In the Scottish rite, the degrees from the 4th to 14th inclusive form the Lodge of Perfection in both the Northern and the Southern Jurisdictions; in the Northern Jurisdiction the 15th and 16th degrees form the Council of Princes of Jerusalem; the 17th and 18th degrees form the Chapter of Rose Croix; and the degrees from the 19th to the 32nd inclusive form the Consistory.

In the Southern Jurisdiction the degrees from the 15th to 18th inclusive form the Chapter of Rose Croix, the degrees from the 19th to the 30th form the Council of Kadosh and the 31st and 32nd degree form the Consistory.

In the Southern Jurisdiction there is an order decoration, or honor entitled Knight Commander of the Court of Honor, given only by the Supreme Council. From the ranks of the holders of this honor, usually, are chosen those who are to receive the thirty-third and last degree. The Northern Supreme Council does not have the Knight Commander of the Court of Honor but confers its thirty-third and last degree directly on thirty-second degree Masons of the Rite who have been elected by the Supreme Council.

No Mason may petition for Knight Commander of the Court of Honor, or for the thirty-third degree. These are conferred only by the respective Supreme councils and of their own will.

All symbolic Lodges are holden under the Grand Lodges of their respective States (and the District of Columbia).

All Chapters of Royal Arch Mason are holden under the Grand Chapters of their respective States (and the District of Columbia). Most, (not all) Grand Chapters in turn are members of the General Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons for the United States of America, which body, however, has “no power of discipline, admonition, censure or instruction over the Grand Chapters, nor any legislative powers whatever not specially granted by its Constitution” (Mackey). Council of Royal and Select Masters are holden under Grand Councils of Royal and Select Masters of their respective States (And the District of Columbia) except in Virginia and West Virginia, which have no Grand Councils. Most (not all) Grand Councils inn turn are members of the General Grand Council of Cryptic Masonry.

All Commanderies of Knights Templar are holden under Grand Commanderies of Knights Templar of their respective States (and the District of Columbia). All Grand Commanderies, in turn, form the Grand Encampment of the United States, presided over by the Grand Master of Knights Templar.

There never has been a General Grand Lodge of the United States. Such a body was several times proposed during the early history of Freemasonry in the United States — first with the hope of having General George Washington as the first General Grand Master. He declined the honor, and all subsequent attempts to form such a body were as abortive as the first. The proposal has not been seriously advanced since the outbreak of the War Between the States. Grand Lodges are of one mind that such a body would be disastrous to Masonic unity and all Grand Lodges are rightfully and wisely protective of the many advantages of independent sovereignty.

There are many so-called “side orders” of Masonry in the United States, of which the most popular are the Shrine — “Ancient Arabic Order, Nobles of the Mystic Shrine”; the Grotto — “Mystic Order Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm”. The Order of the Eastern Star is for wives, daughters, sisters and mothers of Masons, and also for Masons.

While Masonry is required of members of the first two, and Masonic connections are required of the ladies of the Eastern Star, these are not Masonic orders, or a part of the American Rite; they are orders predicated upon Masonic membership, just as are Masonic Clubs and the National League of Masonic Clubs.

In very early days in this country travel was slow, difficult, and expensive and Masons were comparatively few. With the increase of travel due to railroads and steamships, Masons often sojourned for periods of time in other localities than their homes. All lodges, of course, welcome visiting brethren, but brethren do not like for extended periods to seek continuing hospitality. Brethren also have in a large degree a loyalty to the Mother Lodge which often stands in the way of their taking a dimit to join a more convenient Lodge.

These ideas resulted in the formation of Masonic Clubs, in which brethren meet and discuss their affairs. They often engage in charitable and/or educational activities and promote friendships, without severing the ties which bind them to their Mother Lodges.

Shortly after the beginning of the century several clubs in New York formed themselves into a league, and the National League of Masonic Clubs is now what its name implies, a national organization of many Masonic Clubs the country over.

A natural misunderstanding often arises in the mind of a newly made Mason as to what he has heard named as “the higher degrees” of Masonry. It is an American characteristic to admire that which is of greatest size. Men boast of the highest building, the biggest lake, the largest town, the richest county, the finest forest, the greatest area, satisfied that whatever can be described by a superlative is, therefore, prima facie excellent. The mental habit continues in uninformed Masonic thinking, so that the several degrees in the Scottish Rite and the Chapter, Council and Commandery, necessarily coming after the Symbolic degrees, are usually thought of in terms of being above, higher, and, therefore, greater.

It is undeniably that the thirty-third degree has a larger number as its designation than the third degree, but it may also be argued that a line thirty-two feet long is no “higher” than one three feet long. The additional degrees to be sought in Freemasonry can be a most ennobling experience. They extend the Masonic story, increase the Masonic teaching, add to the Masonic Philosophy.

But, compare to citizenship. An American by birth is a citizen of this country. He may also become a lawyer, be chosen as a judge, serve with distinction, finally be nominated of the Supreme Court and confirmed by the Senate — but the deserved honor makes him no more a citizen than he was by birth and upbringing.

The President of the United States is the “First Citizen” but as a citizen has no more right, power privilege or honor than his humblest neighbor. The additional degrees and Rites of Masonry all of which form the American Rite, can make their fortunate possessor better Masons than they might have been without these experiences and additional teachings.

But none of them can make a good man more a Mason than he was when he was raided to the Sublime Degree.

By a mutual and wise agreement between the four concordant orders of Masonry in the United States, which, with the Grand Lodges of Symbolic Masonry in the United States form the American Rite, all are recognized as primarily dependent upon Symbolic Masonry for their existence. He who dimits from his Symbolic Lodge, not to reaffiliate with another, thereby severs his connection with Chapter, Council, Commandery and Consistory. He who is suspended or expelled from Symbolic Masonry likewise stands to lose his membership in all the bodies of Masonry, all of which demand, as a necessity for membership therein, that members be in good standing in a symbolic Lodge.

It is to be noted that there is a distinction between dimission (voluntary withdrawal) and expulsion (Masonic Death) and suspension, often phrased “Dropped for non-payment of dues.”

The suspended brother is still a member, although denied the instant exercise of his rights and privileges as such. By proper procedure he may be reinstated.

As a general rule, it may be said that the brother who is suspended from his Symbolic Lodge is also considered suspended from the concordant bodies which demand of their members good standing in a Symbolic Lodge. But such suspension may be subject to review. Sovereign Grand Commander Melvin M. Johnson, of the Northern Supreme Council, Ancient Accepted Scottish rite, states; “The Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite holds that such suspension or expulsion by a symbolic Lodge does not become effective (in the Scottish Rite) unless such suspension or expulsion is found to have been lawfully inflicted, upon which question the brother in case has the right to be heard before the proper tribunal of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite.”

As every Master Mason who visits in another Jurisdiction than his own soon discovers, the rituals of no two Grand Lodges are alike. They all tell the same story, are founded on the same legends, have the same philosophy, teach the same truths, but they do this with differing arrangements of sequence and of words.

Nevertheless, the ritual of Freemasonry is the basic rock on which all the Masonic rituals of all the several bodies of Freemasonry are built, or from which they departed on a voyage or secure for themselves a new ritual. Symbolic Masonry is the heart and soul of all Masonry, and the wiser a Mason becomes in any of the concordant bodies, the longer he lives and learns within them, the more convinced is he of the primacy of that which is given the initiate when he is raised to the sublime Degree.

It is because of these facts that there is one Freemasonry in this country, not five; there are four recognized, desirable and admirable branches of the universal Masonic tree, but the trunk and the roots thereof are Symbolic Masonry, to which all Masons of whatever affiliation or degree must belong.

The Masonic Service Association of North America