The local Scottish Rite organization, called a "Valley", confers the 4th through 32nd degrees in degree-conferring meetings. The Scottish Rite uses extensive allegory and drama in its Degrees to explore the philosophy, history, religions, ethics and ultimate truths that guide Freemasons' lives.
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 or Craft Lodge Masonry. Scottish Rite 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.
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 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 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 actual roots of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry go deep into ancient times. Our teachings proceed our formal organization by thousands of years. The Scottish Rite is formed from an accumulation of Masonic lessons and experiences. Artifacts of the Scottish Rite are scattered throughout the history of many races, cultures, and societies. The signs, symbols, inscriptions, concepts, and teachings can be found in the studies most of the ancient world. They are inscribed on tombs and temples of India, the ruins of Nubia and down through the Egyptian valley of the Nile to its very delta. They are of Chaldera, Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome and even ancient Mexico and the Yucatan.
The formalization of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry as we know it evolved as the Rite of Perfection over 200 years ago on the continent of Europe. It was then written as the Constitutions of 1762. Later the Grand Constitutions of 1786 were enacted and became the creative and derivative laws for us and all our descendant Supreme Councils of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.
Scottish Rite may be the one universal Freemasonry; in fact, in many lands it is the only Freemasonry. Prior to the beginning of World War II, before the totalitarian aggressors suppressed the Craft in most of Europe, there were thirty-seven Supreme Councils in existence, including countries from Italy to the Argentine and New Zealand and from the United States to China and South Africa.
Our Supreme Council was organized at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1801. That body is considered the Mother Supreme Council of the World, and hence all regular and recognized Supreme Councils throughout the world, must trace the pedigree of their constitution to that body.
The members of the Scottish Rite learn about their organization, history and mission of the Rite by progressing through a system of twenty-nine degrees of instruction. Through these degrees, the members are taught and strengthened in their understandings of the highest ethics, the wise expositions of philosophy and religion, the blessings of charity, the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. They are provided a forum from which they may explore the concepts and learn the meanings of symbols, words and phrases long considered lost. These were the truths that Plato, Pythagoras, Socrates, Homer and other intellects of the ages held in high esteem.
Through their instructive and historic degrees, Scottish Rite Masons discover and may develop a comprehensive knowledge of the rites of heritage, philosophy, religion, morality, freedom and tolerance. They strengthen their understanding of, and bonds with, their creator, country, families and themselves.
Out of all this, the Scottish Rite and its membership, have set for themselves a mission of supporting a number of spiritual, charitable and moral programs. They are dedicated to their Scottish Rites activities, the maintenance of moral standards and spiritual values, the pride of patriotism, the love of flag and country and the dispensing of charity without regard to race, color, or creed. These men, as with all Masons, stand for positive programs, yet they will fight with moral courage and enthusiasm every force or power that would seek to destroy freedom, spread spiritual despotism or political tyranny. They firmly believe and support the concept that the sovereignty of the United States of America and other democratic countries resides in the very control of the people themselves.
The Scottish Rite is Masonry, constructively, in action. This is a perilous time in the history of our beloved country. These are days when every man must rally to the cause of freedom and loyalty, when love of country is sorely needed. There is no organization that holds freedom more dear or patriotism more of an ideal than the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Patriotic men do well to ally themselves with such an Order, that they may lend their strength, their talents, and their influence to the preservation of the principles upon which our great democracy was founded.
Freemasonry is engaged in building a temple, a temple not made with hands, but made up of dreams, the aspirations, the hopes, the inspired visions of humanity. Scottish Rite Masons are builders of that temple. Their prayers, their purposes, their efforts are intelligently directed toward that end, to create in the minds of men a place from which shall flow the light of toleration, humility, love of righteousness, devotion to truth and justice, which shall illuminate the world that is to be. This Rite of Freemasonry is committed to no particular social system; it fosters no political or intellectual propaganda. Rather, its mission is to create and stimulate in human hearts that pure sentiment that springs from a literal and wholehearted acceptance of the truth of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man.
To every Master Mason who is desirous of more light and a better understanding of Freemasonry, the Scottish Rite appeals, because:
The Scottish Rite Degrees appeal to the mind and heart through the eye as well as through the ear. Instruction is given by drama, allegory, and symbolism in the great lessons to be learned in history, music, the arts and sciences, Masonic philosophy, morality and various religions. The atmosphere of the sanctuary is not that of a schoolroom, but rather that of a gracious fellowship of learners who sit at the feet of the prophets and sages of all times, and imbibe inspiration from their words of wisdom.
To those who are interested in securing a broader understanding of Freemasonry and desirous of upholding and fostering of the American Way of Life, the Scottish Rite is an effective instrument for the promotion and maintenance of these objectives.
In 1761 the first "secret" Constitutions was framed; in 1762, the "Constitutions and Regulations", these, with the later Constitutions of 1786, are its fundamental law. The first Lodge of Perfection was established in this country in Albany, New York, as early as 1767. The first council of Princes of Jerusalem was organized at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1788. The first Sublime council of Princes of the Royal Secret (of Twenty-five degrees; the 25 was then the highest of the Rite of Perfection) was established at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1797.
The real establishment of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite dates from 1801, when the first Supreme Council, now the Mother Supreme council of the World, was established in Charleston. Subsequently, under the provisions of the Grand Constitutions, a second Supreme Council was formed and the original council took the name of "The Supreme Council 33, for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States of America." It is the oldest existing council and, therefore, the Mother Council of the World, from which all Supreme Councils of the Rite hold, either mediately or immediately. Thus the original Jurisdiction became two by act of the Supreme Council, which in 1813 established the Northern Supreme Council with, originally, fourteen States: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. At that time the present State of Wisconsin was a portion of Illinois territory, becoming a part of Michigan in 1818. Hence the Northern Jurisdiction now comprises fifteen States of the Union.
The Southern Jurisdiction, retaining the rest of the United States and whatever territory may become a part of it and also those countries where the Supreme council has or may hereafter establish Bodies of the Rite, comprises thirty-three States; Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming; it also includes the District of Columbia, the Army and Navy (shared with the Northern Supreme Council),China, Japan, Hawaii, Philippine Islands, Puerto Rico, the Canal Zone and Alaska. These two Jurisdictions have always worked, and now work, in complete harmony, the separation being geographic only. The Scottish Rite is sometimes called Continental Masonry because it had its origin from the Rites practiced on the Continent of Europe which later crystallized into the Scottish Rite through the constitutions of 1761, 1762 and 1786. It is also known and practiced on the Continents of Europe and North and South America, in Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, etc.
In the Southern Jurisdiction the Lodge of Perfection confers the Ineffable degrees from the 4th to the 14th; the Chapter of Rose Croix confers the Historical and Second Temple degrees, 15th and 16th, and the Religious degrees, 17th and 18th; the Council of Kadosh confers the Chivalric and Philosophical degrees, from 19th to the 30th inclusive, and the Consistory completes the series by conferring the Official degrees, 31st and 32nd. In the Northern Jurisdiction the Lodge of Perfection confers the 4th to the 14th, inclusive; the Council of Princes of Jerusalem, the 15th and 16th; the Chapter of Rose Croix, the 17th and 18th; and the Consistory the 19th to 32nd, inclusive. In Canada there are but three Bodies, Lodge of Perfection, Chapter of Rose Croix and Consistory.
The Thirty-third Degree of the Rite differs from others in that for it no one may ask; it must be given. In the Southern Jurisdiction a brother receives first the distinction of being names K.C.C.H. (Knight Commander of the Court of Honor). From those of this rank the Supreme Council chooses those who may receive the 33, Inspector General Honors. The Northern Supreme council does not award the distinction of K.C.C.H. These honors are given for merit, long or distinguished service to the rite, the Craft or to humanity, and are highly prized.
Those who have received the 33 wear a triple band ring, sometimes plain, sometimes bearing a triangle with the figures 33 within it. The Scottish Rite is wholly non-sectarian. It is deeply religious in character, but in the same sense that Symbolic Masonry is religious - it teaches religion, not a religion. Both Northern and Southern Supreme Councils observe the ceremonies of Extinguishing and Relighting the Symbolic Lights; the first on Maundy Thursday (Thursday before Easter), the latter either immediately following or upon Easter Sunday. These ceremonies are perhaps as beautiful and impressive as any degree in any rite, unforgettable by any who have ever seen or taken part in them.
It is impossible, of course, to describe the degrees of the Scottish Rite. Nor are the degrees the same in the Northern and Southern Supreme Councils. In the latter, the rituals are largely the result of Albert Pike's revision and spiritualization of older rituals. In the Northern Jurisdiction, while many of the degrees follow the Mother Council's ritual in form, some of the ceremonies are entirely different. Scottish Rite degrees usually are, and always should be when possible, put on in costume land by carefully trained casts. Many of the ceremonies are very elaborate, requiring a small army of workers; when well done, they attract brethren from many miles away. Indeed, so difficult are some of the ceremonies, and so extensive the facilities and preparation required, that many are seen but once or twice a year, and in but a few centers in any State. From this has arisen that custom which Scottish Rite Masons know as the "Reunion" - a gathering of Scottish Rite Masons from all over a State to see and take part in the degrees given to a "class"; such Reunions not uncommonly last a week. Not all Bodies of the Rite put on all the degrees in any one Reunion. Those which are omitted are communicated, and often those not "worked" in one reunion are staged in the next. In any "class" the final degrees in each of the four bodies are invariably staged.
Elective and appointed officers in each of the bodies may take part in degrees, but do not necessarily do so. The degrees are elaborate, costumed ceremonies, many of them requiring a much larger cast than could be supplied from an official line. The ceremonies are difficult and intricate, their scenic investiture large; they offer great opportunities for workers who have talent and ability. Teams for the various degrees frequently remain intact for long periods of time, the brethren perfecting themselves from year to year until they are, literally, "Past Masters" in their work. The initiate usually sees a spectacle "The degrees are put on before the candidates rather than worked upon them) which is in the hands of trained experts, many of whom have done the same part for years.In the earlier degrees that "further light", which is hinted at in the Blue Lodge, is given and questions which many Master Masons ask after they are raised to the Sublime Degree are answered with solemnity and reverence. Later, matters wholly new to Master Masons are taken up, and a wealth of philosophy, religion, and knowledge made available for the postulant.
The fourth to the thirty-second degrees of the Scottish Rite, beautiful and inspiring as they are, should not be, as they often are, called "Higher Degrees" connotating an elevation, a superiority, over the first three degrees. "I'm only a Blue Lodge Mason - I never went any higher" - how often is that semiapologic statement made! The greatest authorities in the Scottish Rite are emphatic in the statement that neither that Rite nor any other can make a man more of a Mason than he becomes in the Blue Lodge. The degrees can, and frequently do, make him a better Mason, just as the labor required to earn a college degree can, and often does, make a man a better, but not more a citizen than he was before he passed through college. The Scottish Rite degrees are numerically greater than the first, second and third, but not "higher". Our degrees are in addition to and are in no way "higher" than Blue Lodge degrees. Scottish Rite work amplifies and elaborates on the lessons of the Craft. It should never be forgotten that termination of a member's Symbolic Lodge standing automatically terminates his Scottish Rite membership.
The Scottish Rite is governed by a Supreme Council in each Jurisdiction, just as Symbolic Masonry is governed by a Grand Lodge in each Jurisdiction. But the composition of a Supreme Council and a Grand Lodge is wholly different. The Grand Lodge consists of the Masters and Wardens of Blue Lodges, and certain permanent members (Past Grand Masters, Grand Officers, in some Grand Jurisdictions Past Masters, etc.), Supreme Councils in this country are limited to thirty-three Active Members (Southern Jurisdiction). Sixty-six Active Members (Northern Jurisdiction). These Active Members (All having previously attained the 33 degree) are elected by their fellows and for life. In the Southern Jurisdiction the officers of the Supreme Council are elected for life; in the Northern Supreme Council, for three years, but the principal officers are almost invariably reelected, so that tenure is usually for life.
Scottish Rite Masons in many States have erected and occupy beautiful and impressive buildings, especially designed and equipped for Scottish Rite work. One of the most, if not the most, beautiful Masonic structure in the world is the "House of the Temple" home of the Supreme Council S.J. in Washington, D.C. Sessions of the Supreme Council are held in it every two years.