Scottish Rite Masonry between


traditions in Freemasonry

Presentation lecture by
Bro. Thomas Richert, 33°, Germany


  • The development of English Blue Freemasonry
  • The Higher Degrees in the Anglo-Saxon Sphere
  • Christian Masonry in Europe
  • The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite
  • Similarities and Differences in the Higher Degrees
  • Looking into the Future

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The development of English Blue Freemasonry 

Speculative, blue or symbolic masonry seems to stem from Scottish roots in the 17th century, as David Stevenson has made plausible. He has also pointed to the fact that the early catechisms which Knoop, Jones and Hamer have published show a diversity of usage. This may – by the way - explain the use which was later made of the term “Scottish” to characterize certain degrees.

Organized masonry, however, started in England with the foundation of the first Grand Lodge in 1717 in London, later called the “Moderns” by its rival, the “Antients” who were founded in 1751. The 1723 Book of Constitutions by Anderson showed a distinctly deist flavour in its First Charge which was kept up in the 1738 edition and also taken over into Dermott´s Constitutions for his new Grand Lodge called the “Antients”.

Although the Old Charges seemed the same, the difference between the two organizations was not only based on ritual usage, but also on a new degree which the Antients favoured, the Royal Arch. This became so popular that the Moderns were not only forced to recognize it, but the even had to accept it in the Articles of Union of 1813, which ended the schism of English Masonry:

“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.” (Grand Lodge, p. 144).

It was this degree which changed the character of English masonry from Anderson´s de-Christianized version to a theist interpretation. In this – however – we can see a certain concession by the Antients for the sake of Union, as

“... the Royal Arch at its inception and for half a century or more had a decidedly Christian character.” ( Jones, p. 27). By giving up the Christian character of the degree and only insisting on the belief in a Supreme Being English Craft Masonry could continue to accept Christians of all denominations, Jews, Muslims and Hindus as members and thus lay the foundation for a super-national structure.

The Higher Degrees in the Anglo-Saxon Sphere

Looking beyond the Craft Degrees – for now accepting the Royal Arch as a part of that - the Christian character of Commandery and Conclave in the so-called York Rite is undisputed. This has obviously influenced the formation of the Supreme Council for England and Wales. Its founder, Dr. Robert Crucefix, was a member of the Supreme Grand Conclave of England, but in 1845 hastily turned to the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the US for a patent to erect a Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite.

He did that being afraid of outside intervention from Ireland or Scotland.

The Supreme Council for Ireland had been formed in 1826 through the Southern Masonic Jurisdiction of the US, the Supreme Council for Scotland was finally founded in 1846 by France. “... it is probable that he was aware that the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction only admitted Christians to the Rose-Croix 18° and above, while the Southern Jurisdiction had been theist from its start. All members of the Rose-Croix in England were Christian, so a Supreme Council with a theist doctrine would have been quite unacceptable.” (Jackson, p. 160).

The Northern Jurisdiction quickly granted the patent, warning him at the same time against “... the irregular and injudicious proceedings of the Grand Councils of Scotland and Ireland ...” (Jackson, p. 173). In the long run all this meant that the new Supreme Council for England and Wales worked only those degrees above the Grand Conclave starting with the Rose Croix as its 18th degree, in this way keeping the Higher Degrees in England exclusively Christian.

This statement can be applied to Scotland, too, as after the foundation of the SC in 1846 the brethren made use of a Rose Croix ritual they took from the Royal Grand Conclave, not getting a French copy until after 1850.

Christian Masonry in Europe

In its formative years Freemasonry developed, expanded and changed rapidly. Not only did it turn from a two-degree-sytem to one of three degrees, but new themes and degrees appeared. In 1733 “Scots Masters” were mentioned in London, and early forms of a Royal Arch degree were probably worked in Ireland around the same time. But we must turn to France for the most important addition.

Andrew Michael Ramsay spent great parts of his life in France. He was a Puritan Scotsman who had turned Catholic, had educated Stuart princes in their exile, wrote several books in French, became a member of The Royal Society and of Horn Lodge in London and in 1737 composed a speech for Paris freemasons. In it he gave a completely new version of the history of Freemasonry:

“At the time of the Crusades in Palestine many princes, lords and citizens associated themselves and vowed to restore theTemple of the Christians in the Holy Land ... They agreed upon several ancient signs and symbolic words drawn from the well of religion ... Some time afterwards our Order formed an intimate union with the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. From that time our Lodges took the name of Lodges of St. John. ... Our Order therefore must be considered ... as an Order founded in remote antiquity and renewed in the Holy Land by our ancestors in order to recall the memory of the most sublime truths ... After the deplorable mishaps in the Crusades ... this colony of brothers was established in England ... and then the members of this fraternity took the name of Freemasons ... The fatal religious discords which embarrassed and tore Europe in the sixteenth century caused our Order to degenerate ... Many of our rites and usages, which were against the prejudices of the times, were changed, veiled and suppressed. Thus it was that may of our brothers forgot ... the spirit of our laws, and only retained the letter and the shell. The beginnings of a remedy have already been made. It is only necessary to continue and at last to bring everything back to its original institution ...” (Lindsay, p. 98 f, corrected by Möller, p. 55)

The message was simple: Freemasonry had been a Christian chivalric order and had to be reformed to become its real self again. Whatever the reasons – it was embraced enthusiastically on the Continent. In a French translation of Anderson´s Book of Constitutions by de la Tierce, which gave the text of the 1723 version, eight articles were added, of which the second ran thus:

“Each one who shows unbelief, who has spoken or written against the old dogmas of the old belief of the Crusaders shall forever be excluded from the order if he does not in open convention disavow his blasphemy ...” (Kloss, p. 46). The print of 1742 also contained Ramsay´s oration.

So Templar Masonry flourished, first in France, but soon in Germay, too. To cut a long story short, the most successful system - the Rite of Strict Observance - ruled for some decades from Denmark to Italy, from France to Russia. It only broke down in 1782 when its superiors could no longer convince the brethren of its genuine origin.

Heirs were the Scandinavian system on the one hand,which had always rivalled the Strict Observance because it held stronger Christian views, and the direct followers of the Strict Observance, the French System of the Rectified Rite, or Chevaliers Bienfaisants de la Cite Sante, another decidedly Christian system.

The English Grand Lodges profited, too, from the breakdown of the Strict Observance, as the strict three-degree-sytem of the Moderns won more adherents on the Continent. They remained a minority, however, as the Christian Grand Lodges inScandinavia, Germany and France dominated Continental Freemasonry by the sheer number of their brethren. It was only in the second half of the 19th Century that things began to change due to a new impetus in aggressive political Catholicism on the one hand and rising Liberalism as its opponent.

The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite

In 1801 a new body had appeared in Charleston, South Carolina, USA. It styled itself Supreme Council of Grand Inspectors General of the 33rd degree and was to become the Mother Council of the World. It had nine members, four of which were Jews, which made it universal and not Christian right from its inception.

In a “Circular throughout the two Hemispheres” dated 1802 they gave a history of their system, the names of the 33 degrees and the structure over which they presided. It consisted of the Symbolic Lodge for the first three degrees, the sublime Grand Lodge or Lodge of Perfection up to the 14th degree, the Council of Princes of Jerusalem for the 15th and 16th degree, and all the following degrees under the Council of Grand Inspectors.

The history given in this Circular traces the beginning to a Scottish nobleman visiting France and establishing a Loge of Perfection in Bordeaux in 1744. From France the degrees came to the West Indies and from there to North America.

Obviously the system has grown over the times and incorporated rituals from different European countries. A French manuscript for the Lodge of Perfection gives only ten degrees and the Jamaican Francken Manuscript from 1783 has only 25. Where the additional eight degrees came from is still a matter of speculation.

It is however interesting to note that a system of twenty higher degrees, very similar to that of Francken, was used inEngland by the Grand Lodge and Chapter of Heredon in London around the same time Francken´s system was worked in theWest Indies. Whatever the sources may have been, the object of the new organisation in charleston was to unite Masons of all degrees, Antient and Modern, under the motto “Ordo ab Chao”.

One of the founders of 1801, Count de Grasse, went back to France and established the Scottish Rite there in 1804. Most European Supreme Councils, but also those in South America, can be traced directly or indirectly to this SC and its rituals which are as universal as those of the Southern Jurisdiction. The Northern Jurisdiction of the USA took on a different tradition, because all members of the early Supreme Council were also leading figures in Templar Masonry. When giving a founding Charter for a Supreme Council in England, a letter accompanied it stating about the 18th degree: “No Jew Brother is ever to be initiated in this degree under any circumstances, or pretext whatever. None but Christian Brothers can be initiated into it.” (Newbury, p. 176). It was only in 1942 that the Northern Jurisdiction undertook a radical revision of the 18th degree and eliminated the Christian commitment.

Today the world-wide Scottish Rite shows three main ritual groups, of which two are universal and one Christian.

In the 1860´s the Mother Supreme Council adopted the ritual revisions of Grand Commander Albert Pike which are still used today. After the anti-masonic hysteria in the USA created by the Morgan affair freemasonry and with it the Scottish Rite had nearly ceased working between 1826 and 1844. Only slowly could lodges and bodies resume their activities. “When Albert Pike came to the Scottish Rite its entire membership in this country was less than one thousand. Its degrees were fragmentary, its organizational activity desultory...” (Harris, p. 15). So he demanded in 1860 “... one ritual, purified of all that now defaces and disfigures it, its errors corrected, the meanings of its words restored, its morality and philosophy fully developed.” (Carter, p. 280 f.). So he in fact re-created the rituals on the basis of the fragments he found and information he received through his exhaustive correspondence.

One source was John Gourgas of the Northern Jurisdiction, who had collected whatever he could, though it seems to stem from different systems. What he sent to England were older Scottish Rite rituals from the 30th degree upwards, but the 18thdegree seems to have come from a Templar source, which explains the accompanying letter. After the Northern Jurisdiction has abolished the Christian principle in 1942 the North American continent including Canada uses only universal rituals. There is however a general religious flavour to be felt, probably owing to the rising influence of Protestantism in the US.

The ritual tradition in France is much better documented than in the USA, therefore giving much more material to study the early versions of the Rite. In the course of time French rituals have undergone revisions, too, but without losing their universal tradition. On the contrary the work of the Belgian Grand Commander Goblet d`Alviella in the beginning of the 20thCentury has greatly influenced the European Scottish Rite. It was especially the 30th and the 32nd degrees to which he gave a more political and philosophical flavour, “... making for the establishment of a universal cultus at once rational and fruitful.” (Goblet d´Alviella, p. 289). Generalizing we might say that this Romanic (French/Belgian) ritual tradition is worked mainly in Europe and in South America, that is in countries which have a long Catholic tradition. Here freemasonry in general has a more liberal or even layicistic touch.

The Christian group of the Scottish Rite is a relatively small one, centered on England and Scotland and on Supreme Councils they constituted. In Australia however – founded by the Supreme Council for Scotland - we can see a movement towards the universal interpretation. About ten years ago the Australian Supreme Council allowed its bodies to choose whether to keep Christian rituals or adopt universal ones.

Similarities and Differences in the Higher Degrees

This study is concerned only with the Scandinavian System. As it has undergone several changes in Sweden itself and inGermany as well, I will try to give a basic outline only.

The three degrees from the 4th to the 6th are called the St. Andrew´s Lodge with the St. Andrew´s Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master. They are based on the older Scottish Master degree with its green colour and some alchemist symbolism. In the oldest version a stone was found on which three chemicals were placed: Salt, sulphur and mercury. This was later replaced by a silver triangle with the Name of God as a Tetragram, well known to us. Other details are quite familiar, too: A dagger and a lamp, a subterranean passage, the sign of silence, the acacia, the key and the tow around the neck. The use of alchemist symbols and of Latin words relating to stages in the alchemist processes in the decorations of the rooms is more foreign to us.

Nevertheless we might generally say that these three degrees have similarities to our Lodge of Perfection. There is, however, already one main difference to our universal rituals: Only Christians can become St. Andrew´s Masters, and Christ is named here for the first time as the Supreme Master of the Order.

All of the following degrees are parts of the Chapter, but are divided into two very distinct groups.

The 7th and 8th degrees are chivalric and take up the Templar tradition. In the Knight of the East, also called Brother from the Rise of the Sun in the East and Jerusalem the brother is made a knight and swears to build up the Empire of God. The ritual of the Knight of the West or Templar shows very close semblance to that of the Strict Observance. The candidate is shown knighly armour and weapons and hears the story of Jacob de Molay and the Order of the Temple. He is made a Knight Templar and promises to follow their rules and regulations, but in a second ceremony he also becomes a priest. The Clerics of the StrictObservance have left their mark here as in the following degrees. At this stage he receives a ring – again familiar to us – with three crosses and three letters which differ from region to region.

They may be IDS = In Domino Spes or Jesus Dominus Salvator,

 CDS = Concordia Duce Salus or Crux Dolores Signum or

 RNF = Religio, Natura, Fortitudo.

The common link between these chivalric degrees and those of the Scottish Rite is of course the story of Jacob de Molay and the fate of the Order of the Temple.

But that is all, because we do not find any of the symbols of the Rose Croix or of our Philosophical Degrees in the Scandinavian System. And the degrees which follow now are without parallel in our Scottish Rite.

The 9th degree is that of the Trusted Brother of the St. John´s Lodge. It is opened in the Knight´s Hall, but then transferred to the Hall of the Trusted Brethren, after the brethren have laid down their swords. This hall is a white room dominated by a big cross. In Germany the candidates are told that the secret of the Order is the teaching of St. John the Baptist as embodied by Christ and that the Lodge will only be opened by the Supreme Head of the Order. The ritual is only in preparation of his final coming. All brethren are then connected to the Cross by the Tassel of Unification.

The 10th degree – the Elect - has taken up most of the usages of the older 9th degree, especially the mixing of blood, a ceremony taken over from the Clerics of the Strict Observance. In the Chapel the candidate is asked to give some drops of his blood into a chalice of wine. From a crystal flask some drops are then added, which stem from former ceremonies. In this way his blood is mixed with that of all the brethren of this degree before him. Then the vessel is passed around and all drink from it. At the end the rest of the concoction is poured back into the crystal flask to be used in further rituals. The new brother is told that he is now the member of the royal priesthood and that by drinking the blood mixture he is not only united with all brethren but also with the Supreme Master of the Order and through him with God himself.

There are two more ceremonies, that of the Knight Commander with the Red Cross and that of Vicarius Salomonis who is the temporal head of the Order. Only scraps of information from the 19th century are known to me, so I can make no valid statement about them. It seems, however, that formerly the Vicarius Salomonis was regarded as the Grand Master of the Order of the Temple which had secretely survived under the disguise of the Freemasons. At least until the end of the 19thcentury this was the official doctrine, not just a legend.

Looking back at the Scandinavian System one might say that similar or even identical ritual elements point to related origins, but that the development through the times has lead to a differentiation which has made us only distant relatives, but still brothers.

Looking into the Future

Freemasonry and with it the Scottish Rite are intimately connected with Western civilization. Most Asian and African countries, especially those with virulent Islamic or Communist traditions, are empty spaces for us.

But Western civilization is rapidly changing, too. The 20th century has seen the rise of Totalitarianism and a decline of the traditional values. The number of church-goers has fallen, together with membership figures of the established religious groups. On the other hand sects and esoteric cults are blossoming. Another factor furthering change is increased migration which has favoured multi-culturalism, again undermining older value systems.

Today a counter-movement can be seen: A new discussion about values is taking place in many countries. Obviously people feel the need for a system of morality, even if it is no longer based on dogmatic religion. This may be a chance for freemasonry in general and of course for the Scottish Rite.

The only serious competitors we have in high degree Masonry are the Scandinavian System and the York Rite. The Scandinavian System is of great but only regional importance, whereas the York Rite is operating world-wide. Both, however, are demanding the Christian faith as the prerequisite for membership. But as the number of the faithful is receding their membership will fall in due time.

The Scottish Rite is universal, even if some Supreme Councils are not, but the example of Australia shows that there is a changing atmosphere. For the future it seems a wise course to have universal and Christian rituals side by side in the Scottish Rite, wherever it still seems necessary, and to have intervisitation agreements with the Scandinavian System. For reasons not quite clear to me – they seem to have their origin in the United States – such intervisitation is not deemed possible with theYork rite.

Let me finally tell you about the German experience: Our Scottish Rite has such intervisitation agreements with all three existing systems, of which two are Christian. We do visit each other and feel that these contacts strengthen not only the brotherly bonds, but add to the understanding of the other systems, thereby increasing our ritual experience and creating tolerance among us where there has been strife before.


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Carter, James D., History of the Supreme Council, 33° ... Southern Jurisdiction, U. S. A. 1801 – 1861, Washington D. C. 1964

Dermott, Laurence,Ahiman Rezon, London 1756, Facsimile reprint Bloomington 1971

Goblet d´Alviella, Count, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of the Conception of God as illustrated by Anthropology and History, London 1892

Grand Lodge 1717 – 1967, Oxford 1967

Harris, Ray Baker, Bibliography of the Writings of Albert Pike, Washington D. C. 1957

Jackson, A. C. F., Rose Croix, London 1987

Jones, Bernard E., Freemason´s Book of the Royal Arch, London 1972

Kloss, Georg, Geschichte der Freimaurerei in Frankreich, Bd. 1, Darmstadt 1852

Knoop, ‘D’., G. P. Jones, D. Hamer, The Early Masonic Catechisms, Manchester 1963

Lindsay, R. S., The Scottish Rite for Scotland, Edinburgh 1958

Möller, Dieter, Fünf frühe Freimaurerreden, Bayreuth 1966

Newbury, George Adelbert, Louis Lenway Williams, A History of the Supreme Council, 33° ... for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States of America, Lexington 1987

Richert, Thomas, Der Pflichtbegriff in der Freimaurerei, in Quatuor Coronati Jahrbuch 25, Bayreuth 1988

Stevenson, David, The Origins of Freemasonry, Cambridge 1988

Wells, Roy A., The Rise and Development of Organised Freemasonry, London  1986