Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite
The origins of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite lie within the Grand Orient of France. In 1754, the Chevalier de Bonneville established a Chapter of advanced Degrees at Paris, in the College of Jesuits of Clermont (the Chapter of Clermont). The College of Clermont was, says Rebold (History of Three Grand Lodges, page 46) the asylum of the adherents of the House of Stuart, and hence the Rite is to some extent tinctured with Stuart Freemasonry. It began as a series of fourteen degrees known as the Rite of Perfection, or Rite of Heredom. These evolved into The Order of the Royal Secret, which consisted of 25 Degrees under the Constitutions of 1762. Masonic tradition maintains that Lodges of this Rite, transmitted from Bordeaux in France through the West Indies to the American mainland, were established at New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1763; at Albany, New York, in 1767; at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1781–82; and at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1783.
The Grand Constitutions of 1786 provided for an extension of the Rite to thirty-three Degrees, governed in each country under a Supreme Council of the Thirty-third and Last Degree. Its provisions were cited in a Manifesto at Charleston that confirmed the first Supreme Council ever opened under these Grand Constitutions, on May 31, 1801, “by Brothers John Mitchell and Frederick Dalcho.” All regular and recognized Supreme Councils and their Subordinate Bodies today are descended directly or collaterally from this Mother Supreme Council of the World.
In announcing its establishment to the Masonic world in that Manifesto, dated December 4, 1802, the name was given as The Supreme Council of the Thirty-third Degree for the United States of America. The word Scotch appeared in connection with one of the early Supreme Council Degrees, and Scotish (sic) was included in the name of one of the detached Degrees conferred by The Supreme Council.
The name Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite first appeared in an 1804 agreement between the Supreme Council of France and the Grand Orient of France. Beginning with the administration of Grand Commander Albert Pike in 1859, it came into general use in the Southern Jurisdiction and elsewhere. Many Scottish Masons fled to France during political upheavals in the 17th and 18th centuries, at a time when the Degrees of the Rite were evolving in French Freemasonry. This has caused some to think mistakenly that the Rite originated in Scotland. Actually, however, a Supreme Council for Scotland was not established until 1846.
The Grand Constitutions of 1786, in the earliest known text in the possession of John Mitchell and Frederick Dalcho, provided for two Supreme Councils in the United States. The Supreme Council at Charleston sent one of its Active Members to New York and authorized him to establish in 1813 a Supreme Council for the Northern Jurisdiction of the United States of America. With this accomplished, The Supreme Council at Charleston in 1827 ceded to the Northern Supreme Council the 15 states north of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi Rivers. The Southern Supreme Council retained jurisdiction over all other states and territories (at home and abroad) of the United States.
The local Scottish Rite organization, called a “Valley,” confers the 4th through 32nd degrees in degree-conferring meetings. The Scottish Rite is sometimes called the “College of Freemasonry,” because it uses extensive allegory and drama to emphasize the message of its degrees. The degree work may, but not necessarily, be completed at one time.
The Scottish Rite shares the belief of all Masonic organizations that there is no higher degree than that of Master Mason. The degrees are in addition to, and in no way higher than, those of Blue Lodge, or Craft Lodge, Masonry. The degrees simply amplify and elaborate on the lessons of the craft, providing further knowledge of Masonry, the building of the Temple, and ancient religions, with memorable lessons ranging from the days of chivalry to modern times.
All Scottish Rite jurisdictions nominate a select few members to receive the 33rd Degree, Inspector General Honorary, in recognition of outstanding service to the Rite, or in public life, to the principles taught in the degrees. In the Southern Jurisdiction, the Supreme Council chooses 33rd degree members from among those who have previously received the rank and decoration of Knight Commander Court of Honor. The KCCH is bestowed in a Ceremonial of Investiture in recognition of outstanding service to the Rite, or in public life, to the principles taught in the degrees.
The Scottish Rite confers a number of honors upon members who have contributed extraordinary service to the Rite, to Masonry in general, and to the world at large. The first of these is the Rank and Decoration of a Knight Commander of the Court of Honour (KCCH), which may be conferred after a minimum of 46 months of membership (usually much longer) and is strictly limited in numbers. A KCCH may, after 46 months at that rank (but usually longer), receive the 33rd degree, Inspector General Honorary. This award is even more limited in numbers than the KCCH. Finally, a very small number of 33rd Degree Inspectors General Honorary may be recognized with the Grand Cross of the Court of Honor; at the present time, there are perhaps an average of three or four GC’s per state. These honors are voted on biennially at the Session of the Supreme Council and conferred in various locations around the country in groups. The Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction consists of no more than 33 Active 33rd Degree Scottish Rite Masons, known as Sovereign Grand Inspectors General, no more than one per state/Orient. As there are more than 33 Orients, some will be governed by a Deputy. The Supreme Council is governed by a Sovereign Grand Commander. Unlike the Grand Master in Symbolic Masonry, these appointments are for life, although there are some provisions for retirement at advanced age. Replacements for these positions are made at the biennial Session of the Supreme Council. (The next Biennial is in 1999 October, at the House of the Temple in Washington, DC.)
Scottish Rite Degrees
The Degrees of the Scottish Rite are one-act plays often staged with costume, scenery, special effects, and the full rigging of any production. Their purpose is to examine different philosophies, ancient religions, and systems of ethics. Through all of these, people have tried to answer certain universal questions. The Degrees of the Rite do not tell a person what he should think about these questions. Instead, they tell him about what great thinkers and civilizations of the past have thought, and they try to create a situation in which the candidate or Brother can gain insight. Agreeing with Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living, the Rite helps with this self-examination by providing reference points.
Theatre is the oldest known means of teaching, especially of teaching abstract ideas. It was one of the principal means of instruction in the Middle Ages as well as in ancient Greece and Rome. Masonry borrows the techniques of theatre to make its lessons more impressive and to aid the candidate in forming the beginnings of what it is hoped will be a lifelong pattern of study and thought. Most of the Degrees are set in ancient Israel because it is from the legends surrounding King Solomon’s Temple that Masonry takes many of its parables and lessons. Ancient Egypt and Medieval Europe also serve as Degree settings.
Almost every Master Mason who is afforded an opportunity to petition for the Scottish Rite Degrees naturally raises the question in his mind, “Why should I take the Scottish Rite Degrees?” It is a fair and quite appropriate question for him to ask as it is of utmost importance that the prospective initiate have a clear and definite understanding of what the Rite stands for and is endeavoring to accomplish. Here are a few reasons.
The Scottish Rite Degrees give us a sense of historical values and standards. Today is the child of yesterday, and no one can understand the significance of the epochal events that are shaking the world unless he sees them from the vantage point of history. Out of the crises of the past, man has discovered principles that are as solid as the mountains, as enduring as the stars.
The moral truths that prevailed in Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome are just as valid, just as imperative in the digital 21st century. In his confidence in the reality of these principles, man has built his faith in the permanent value of moral truth. Here is to be found the basis of optimism, of faith in the free institutions, and of confidence in a civilization resting on ethical principles. No man can witness the Degrees of the Scottish Rite and be either a cynic or a pessimist. They renew his faith in God, in man, and in the process of history.
The Scottish Rite Degrees put into picturesque but explicit language the civic and social ideals implicit in the Blue Lodge Degrees. For centuries, Freemasonry has been a tremendous force for enlightenment, freedom, and social progress in Europe and in the Americas. It was neither caprice nor mere prejudice that caused the Nazis and Fascists to proscribe Freemasonry. Why did the Nazi oppressors hate Masonry? Why did they violate the sacred emblems of the Craft? Why did they hunt down with ruthless cruelty our Masonic leaders? Particularly, why did the totalitarians persecute “Masons of all Degrees”? They knew that tyranny is threatened wherever a Masonic Lodge or Temple exists.
Freemasonry is a compelling and conquering spiritual force, and the reasons are revealed in the Scottish Rite Degrees. Scottish Freemasonry is the foe of intolerance, fanaticism, and superstition. It battles every form of racial and sectarian prejudice and bigotry. It is a mighty exponent of freedom in thought, religion, and government. Thus, the Scottish Rite is a rite of instruction. It interprets the symbols and allegories of Masonry in the light of history and philosophy using the words of the supreme prophets of humanity, ceremonies of the great religions of the world, and significant episodes from history to point the moral and adorn the tale.
The Scottish Rite makes application of the doctrines of Freemasonry to every realm of human activity. The individual Mason is taught to put into practice in his personal life and thought the lessons learned in the Blue Lodge.
Socially, the Scottish Rite is Freemasonry Militant, not in the sense of propaganda and agitation, nor by endorsing specific causes or sponsoring particular political movements, but by showing through illustrations from history and human evolution how the Mason may make his influence felt for the principles of free thought, free government, free education, and free religion. The Scottish Rite Mason is the foe of intolerance, bigotry, and ignorance in all their forms. That is what the Scottish Rite Degrees are all about.
The degrees of the Scottish Rite are divided into six sections, originally there were seven, but the 15th and 16th Degrees (originally a section to itself called the Council of Princes of Jerusalem) were merged with the Chapter of Rose Croix.
- Symbolic Lodge (3 Degrees)
- Lodge of Perfection (11 Degrees)
- Chapter of Rose Croix (4 Degrees)
- Council of Kadosh (12 Degrees)
- Consistory (2 Degrees)
- Supreme Council (1 Degree)