"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Those Notorious First Three Scottish Rite Degrees

I have often opined that everything important I know about life, I learned from the movies 1776, Network, and any Warner Brothers Cartoon made before 1963. So, I will herewith quote Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island in 1776 when he voted in favor of discussing American independence in the Continental Congress, "Well, in all my years I ain't never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn't be talked about. Hell yeah! I'm for debating anything."

Michael Poll, Editor of the Journal of the Masonic Society, was apparently recently invited to speak to a U.S. Masonic research group on the little known subject of the three Craft Lodge degrees worked within what became called the Scottish Rite - only to be dis-invited. Michael partially explains his conundrum in the video above, but for those who were anticipating his presentation, only to be disappointed by the abrupt cancellation, he gives it here (with the appropriate disclaimer for those who may burst into Masonic flames for watching it). 

The short summary is that, yes, the Scottish Rite really does posses their own French-derived rituals for the EA, FC, and MM degrees, even though almost no American Freemasons have seen them and the Rites here say they only confer degrees 4-33; yes, these very different Craft Lodge degrees (sometimes referred to as the "Red Lodge degrees") really are worked in Louisiana, New York, California, D.C., and Hawaii in perfectly regular, recognized, chartered Masonic lodges under their state grand lodges; and yes, if your grand lodge is in amity with those states, nothing should prevent you from visiting them and experiencing these degree rituals in person. Much less just hearing about them.

(Just out of curiosity, if different Craft rituals are heresy in the U.S., how the hell does Pennsylvania get a pass?)


  1. Although I can't answer that final question, I'm certain the answer for U.S. Freemasonry, as a whole, is simple enough. The Craft in the U.S. is based upon a Grand Lodge jurisdictional monopoly on the Craft Lodge Degrees. Somewhere in (perhaps the not so) dim, dark archives of the Scottish Rite is evidence struck of an agreement, with Grand Lodge Masonry, not to confer the Craft Degrees: that as a condition of being considered "regular" & "masonic" in each jurisdiction. Without such an arrangement, there could be no solicitation for the SR degrees (4-32) in Blue Lodges. One might well argue that competition for membership at such a fundamental level would be destructive of the Craft as a whole: perhaps resulting in the tragically "Balkanized" situation one finds in continental Europe.

    1. But that's precisely the point of Mike's presentation: the situation in (primarily) Louisiana is NOT one of competition between the Scottish Rite and the Grand Lodge. The French-derived degrees in their single District are a part of the GL and are worked in their ten chartered lodges. They are not conferred by the Scottish Rite there, but by lodges of the GL of Louisiana. They are merely an alternative series of regular, recognized EA, FC, and MM degrees.

      As our nationwide membership continues to plunge and the primary culprit is failure of retention, not deaths or dearth of initiations, it may be time to take note of WHY we fail to retain members. One reason every one of us hears over and over is deliberate failure to address members in search of a more esoteric-minded lodge experience. I'm not saying they are wrong or right, I'm simply saying it is a major reason why numerous new members claim they don't remain after a year or two.

      We have two choices: ignore those voices and trudge on year after year watching the retention fall while we insist THEY are the "problem," OR perhaps give lodges greater latitude to explore the wider world of rituals and symbolism that exist within the regular, recognized Freemasonry that our US GL's fully acknowledge but pretend are just like ours. They aren't. And GLs like England where they have no officially adopted ritual at all have never exploded or balkanized. (Not a perfect example, but it's what comes to mind.)

    2. Brother Hodapp,

      I agree that the ritual is the most important thing we have to offer to our candidates. It is what separates us from the other fraternal orders. It's what makes Freemasonry special. I also believe we should strengthen and support our rituals, and encourage exploration of our ritual heritage without getting stuck in "this is how we've always done it", even though Grand Lodges practice the work in a myriad of ways all over the world.

      However, I do think there is a problem, at least in my own observance, of those approaching Freemasonry seeking an initiatic experience that is closer to something they may encounter in the OTO, AMORC, or the other Western esoteric schools. When they receive our mysteries, they are inevitably disappointed. This is due to a failure of the lodge to be clear about what we are and what we are not, and a failure of the candidate to be up with their research about what they are joining. I can understand where the confusion comes from with much well meaning but misguided information floating around in the ether. Also, the liberating and frustrating miracle that the Craft refuses to be anything more than what the individual makes of it.

      Just some thoughts.

      - Rudy G

    3. No disagreement with you here. We certainly do have too many men who join under false assumptions of Freemasonry being something it isn't. And, not finding it, there have always been those who try to shape it into their own vision. Art De Hoyos is fond of noting at least 1,000 Masonic rituals have been created in France alone over the last three centuries. Frankly, if you put nine French Masons into a locked room, you'll wind up with a minimum of three new grand obediences stalking out of it eventually.

      It's obviously problematic in the U.S. when misguided Masons mistakenly attempt to overlay Preston-Webb working with French-derived trappings and practices that just plain don't squeeze into the same box, no matter how personally uplifting or self-enlightening they may appear.

      That said, the Red Lodge Craft degrees are certainly suitably pedigreed, widely worked, and accepted as regular by all of the GLs in the U.S. (whether they realize it or not!). So, I fully encourage all Masons - not just American ones - to travel and visit outside of their home turf and comfort zone and discover the wider world of perfectly acceptable, appropriate, and fully recognized Masonic rituals and practices. And I'll even go farther and say that I would support any jurisdiction that permitted the kind of latitude that Louisiana, New York, California, DC, and Hawaii enjoy, where multiple, alternative ritual workings can be seen. But even if a GL or GM finds that a bridge too far, I cannot fathom why any jurisdiction wouldn't permit a visiting lodge to exemplify these degrees (or a local one simply reading them aloud as a demonstration), much less a learned member just speaking about them at all.

  2. DC also has a "Red Lodge".

    1. Thanks. I usually forget either DC or Hawaii, depending on my day.

    2. New York's Tenth Manhattan District contains lodges working SR degrees in French, Italian and Spanish They've been doing so since the early 19th Century. I believe there are lodges doing similar SR work in California too.

  3. CA's lodge only performs the EA AASR degree.

  4. For context, note that CA's lodge, La Parfaite Union, only performs the EA AASR degree. It's not considered a red lodge.

  5. But where can one find the Red Room entrance in order to pass to the Black or White lodges?

  6. Let us voice our opinions with respect to all views, barring outside distraction so as to view the core of such subjects.

    Blue lodge freemasonuc degrees are initiate creating and serve as a sort of lens to view many profound mysteries. No system can ever insure coming to light, but the first three accomplish the task well. It took me years to begin to understand the initiation and dare say they are awesome. That being said, a new look at the Scottish rite red house might be enlightening.

  7. I'm firing up the video as Masonic Education is essential. If these are my final words before bursting into flames, please know, I died while becoming enlightened.

    Chris Kimmel
    Vincennes Lodge 1

  8. without doubt, those degrees are beautifull. And they have more content that the standart Preston Webb Ritual. Only 4 Lodges in Germany work the AASR Craft Rituals within the UGLsG. But all the Lodges in Turky as well as the Lodges in France are working a Ritual, based on the AASR Craft Ritual

  9. I've also read that Lodge Le Progrès de l'Océanie confers only an Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite version of the Master Mason's degree. If what I read was right, technically speaking, only Lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodges of Louisiana and New York work the complete progression of Scottish Rite Craft degrees.

    Second, we should emphasize that there is much, much more variation among the Scottish Rite Craft degrees than there is among the York Rite Craft degrees. That's why I used the word "version" above. It's because there is no one substantially similar set of Scottish Rite Craft degrees, though they typically have several notable similarities. The degrees differ from Lodge culture to culture, language to language, and chartering body to chartering body.

    Finally, we must be careful about the use of the terms "Red Lodge" and "Red Degrees." While the color red is the near universal color of Scottish Rite Craft Masonry today, it was not always so. Indeed, its use can be traced to early-nineteenth century France. At least for some of the Scottish Rite Lodges of the Sixteenth Masonic District in New Orleans, the predominant color is not red, but blue, because these Lodges pre-date the emergence of red as the official color of Scottish Rite Craft Masonry by several decades.

    Hope that this helps clarify matters more.

    H. Barlow Holley
    Cervantes Lodge No. 5 (of the Sixteenth Masonic District)
    Mt. Gerizim Lodge No. 54
    Grand Lodge of Louisiana

  10. Many to most US masons live in their own masonic bubble... I like their version of the EA degree better than ours but take our FC & MM degrees

  11. I like the SR EA degree better than ours, most lodges in the Caribbean, Central & South America use it

  12. In Canada, to note, most Grand Lodges out east in the maritimes practice Ancient York working very similar to most American Preston-Webb ritual.

    Ontario is solely "Canadian Rite"--that is, a slightly longer version of Emulation. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta all have Ancient York and Canadian Rite with less Ancient York as you travel West. It is theorized that South-North railways took American immigrants to bring their version of Masonry to Western Canada.

    The GL of British Columbia and Yukon has various lodges that practice one of: Canadian Rite (even longer version), Ancient York, Emulation, and Australian (very similar to Emulation and thus Canadian).

    Newfoundland and Labrador was under the GL of Scotland until many lodges formed its own GL but there still remains lodges under GLoS. Those craft workings are much more involved.

  13. I'm curious if anyone happens to have an answer to this, but when I was getting ready to go through my Scottish Rite reunion, I got a copy of The Porch and the Middle Chamber (which has Pikes version of the AASR craft degrees in it). How similar is this to what is practiced currently in LA (or anywhere that uses the Scottish Rite craft degrees)?

    1. Hi, Bro. Damien!

      Pike's The Porch and the Middle Chamber (with the esoteric work) has roughly the same elements that most of the Scottish Rite Craft degrees have, including those as practiced here in Louisiana. Pike, Foulhouze, and many other Masonic ritual compilers and editors drew from earlier Scottish Rite sources. Nevertheless, there are greater or lesser differences in verbiage, types of explanations and lectures, inclusions and exclusions of this or that portion of ritual, etc. You could think of Scottish Rite Craft rituals like a many-branched tree: deriving from the same base but diverging here and there as time went on. So, yes, Pike's compilations share a broad outline with other Scottish Rite Craft rituals, but comparatively speaking Scottish Rite Craft Masonry is still very heterogeneous. Listening to different rituals, you would only rarely hear the same or substantially similar statements, but if you compared the rituals side by side, you would find a number of correlatives. Hope that answers your question. If you want some further details (that I obviously cannot give in this context), feel free to shoot me--or, even better, W. Bro. Mike Poll--an e-mail. My address is hholley@sas.upenn.edu.

      Bro. Barlow Holley

  14. Last month I was participating in my adopted valleys reunion. When I took the degrees, in my home valley, we only had the big 5 conferred on us. My adopted valley conferres almost all of them. I had participated in several reunions prior to last month but never had a chance to watch much as i was usually engaged. However this go round I caught one of the degrees and realized that there is a HUGE difference between most GL 3rds and tje AASR. Ill try to explain with out violating my obligations....usually after the search party returns with their "prisoners" KS has the prisoners "dealt" with.....in the AASR those "prisoners" havent been located yet.......
    I was so confused! I havent read bridge to light or morals and dogma, guess i should do that huh?

  15. Outstanding. Brother Poll's grasp of the history of the Scottish Rite and of American Freemasonry is extensive. What could possibly be wrong with learning about this aspect of American Freemasonry? And what could possibly be wrong with him making this presentation to a lodge of research? His treatment by the grand lodge who uninvited him only serves to demonstrate that ignorance reaches to the highest levels in some grand jurisdictions. Shame.


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