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


Monday, October 30, 2023

NEW BOOK: 'Freemasonry From the 1st to the 33rd Degree' (1875) translated by Kamel Oussayef

by Christopher Hodapp

Illus. Kamel Oussayef 33° has just released a new book through the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction as part of an ongoing program of rediscovering a treasure trove of 18th and 19th century French Masonic manuscripts. Entitled Freemasonry From the 1st to the 33rd Degree: the Complete Ritual of the Sovereign Grand Inspector General of the 33rd and Last Degree of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, it is an English translation of an original document in French, written down in 1875 by an unknown Mason during an international Scottish Rite Congress held at Lausanne, Switzerland. 

They loved book titles in the 19th century that were so long they ended in a different zip code.

While Albert Pike was presenting his newly-revised degrees in the Southern Jurisdiction's Supreme Council in the U.S., this document is a record of the Scottish Rite rituals being worked contemporaneously in Switzerland.

Illus. Brother Kamel has been volunteering for almost 20 years at the Scottish Rite (NMJ) Museum & Library working on this series of very special translation and publication projects. The archives of the museum contain a priceless collection of rare, handwritten French manuscripts that have languished in the vaults for a century or more without ever having been translated into English. His previous books include: Freemasonry By Questions and Answers; Saint Edoüard: A 1748 Masonic Scottish Lodge During the French EnlightenmentThe Spirit of Freemasonryand The Book of Wisdom - all of which have been published in beautiful side-by-side translation editions by the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction

Like his other books, The Complete Ritual  is presented in a photographic facsimile manner, with a color photo of each original manuscript page on the left side, and the English translation on the right. 

The degree rituals themselves are summarized, and there are no real "dramatic vignettes" as in the American Northern and Southern jurisdictions. They describe the transmission of signs and passwords, designs for aprons, sashes or other regalia for each degree, and perhaps a historical or philosophical explanation, as presented in the original document. 

The degrees include the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason as part of the overall Scottish Rite system. The Rite has always been a self-contained system of its own, but in most jurisdictions, they agree not to work their first, second, and third degrees in order to coexist with an established grand lodge's sovereignty. Some countries don't follow this model, and there are many jurisdictions in the world in which the complete Scottish Rite degree system is their grand lodge. In more than a few places, this led to schisms that remain to this day of sovereign grand lodges competing with a parallel Scottish Rite Supreme Council/grand lodge.

There is also an outstanding historical introduction by Illus. Jacques G. Ruelland, Scottish Rite Deputy for the Province of Quebec, Canada that provides much background information about the Lausanne Congress, the circumstance in which this manuscript had been written. He provides a detailed social, political and Masonic background for this important period that has been rarely examined here in the U.S.

The Lausanne Congress of 1875 was important, in part, because pro-secularism French Masons in the Grand Orient de France were attempting to convince French-speaking Masonic bodies to remove all references to God, a "supreme being," or the "Grand Architect of the Universe" from their degree systems and as a requirement for petitioners. 

France's secular Grand Orient craft lodge degrees consisted of (and still do) the Scottish Rite's first three degree rituals, and they were (unsuccessfully) attempting to strong-arm the Swiss into purging God from all of their rituals at this time. Doing so is an awkward situation since many of the Scottish Rite degrees are centered around the Biblical story of building or re-building Solomon's Temple (and are also very similar to what we call in America the York Rite degrees). It's tough to remove references to God successfully from Masonry's Biblical symbolism, especially if you're trying to leave out the Universe's Great Architect from the story of building sacred temples in the hearts of men, patterned after the holiest place on Earth and erected to God by Solomon. Apparently the Swiss thought so too, and didn't follow the Grand Orient's recommendations.

Research has shown that the earliest haute grades ("high degrees") of what we call Scottish Rite Freemasonry had been created or influenced by late-1700s Jacobites - pro-Catholic Scottish and English exiles living in France who had supported the Stuart line of kings back in their homelands. Their Catholic beliefs clashed with the secular forces of the French Revolution period that sought to remove the Church's influence from all government, education, and social aspects of life – even Freemasonry. But even though French movements for "complete freedom of thought" continued to grow in popularity, the French Masonic bodies retained the belief in God as a requirement after the Revolution. That clash of ideologies eventually led to the Grand Orient de France removing the requirement of its members of believing in a Deity in 1877 (two years after the Lausanne Congress), which created a schism in worldwide Freemasonry that exists to this day, and which is why the smaller but widely-recognized Grande Loge Nationale Française is considered the only regular grand lodge in that country by the vast majority of the Masonic world. 

In 2020, Illus. Kamel Oussayef 33° became the 110th author to be admitted into the Society of Blue Friars, a very special organization formed in 1932 to specifically honor Masonic authors.

Friar Oussayef was born in Sétif, Algeria and attended school in France, where he lived for many years. He holds an MA from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and an MS from the School of Public Communications at Boston University.

Kamel is a Past Master of William Parkman Lodge and Converse Lodge in Massachusetts (
Masons in that state do not number their lodges). He has been awarded the prestigious Henry Price and Joseph Warren medals for distinguished service to Freemasonry in Massachusetts. In the AASR, he is an Assistant Master of Ceremonies with the Massachusetts Consistory of the Valley of Boston.

Freemasonry From the 1st to the 33rd Degree: the Complete Ritual of the Sovereign Grand Inspector General of the 33rd and Last Degree of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite is available as an oversize 272-page paperback from the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic jurisdiction's website for $72.80, or as a Kindle edition for $9.99 for cheapskates, skinflints, and starving Masons... (I can't stand e-books myself, but it still does present each full-color manuscript page, followed by the English translation on alternating pages, which makes it a little more cumbersome to read than the dead tree edition.)

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