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The Rites

Freemasonry is an initiatic Order that educates by degrees and is a matter of gradual progression in self-development. The highest attainment is the grade or degree of Master Mason.

The terminology of “grades” or “degrees” derives directly from the world of the military heavily involved at the time in the prosecution of 18th century wars. There was a need for raising quality overall and maintaining the institutional stability of armies.  Units of soldiers had to be fit for sustained armed conflict, and rank in the army helped keep order, provide gradual education in arms and tactics, and achieve disciplined focus.

The “Ancien régime” was the pre-revolutionary period of French history from the 15th Century forward to the revolution of 1789 and on into the Empire under Napoléon Bonaparte. The term “degree” is personally more appealing to me in its usage across the wide reach of universal Freemasonry and well outside of war. The 3 degrees are:

  • Entered Apprentice
  • Fellow Craft
  • Master Mason

iniz_tifIn all Rites, in all countries, these three grades exist with the same words, tokens and signs of recognition. This is what sustains the  universality of Freemasonry. These three degrees are the basis of Freemasonry, and they must be practiced within the same lodge.

Nevertheless, those are not the only degrees of Masonry. Each system or Rite (a collection of rituals in a vertical hierarchical system) has added more steps in advancing by degree.  For example, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite has 33 degrees, but its institutions are concerned only with the degrees that go from the 4th to the 33rd. These are called the “higher degrees.”  A traditional Grand Lodge, a collection of lodges that work the 3 basic degrees, does not concern itself with these elevated or advanced degrees. The entire system is a Rite, so called. Other masonic bodies such as Supreme Councils, Grand Priories, Grand Encampments, Grand Chapters, and more, are the managing institutions in these cases.

To be a member of these “higher degrees,” you have first to be a member of a blue or symbolic lodge.  The blue Lodge is the foundation that practices the first 3 degrees mentioned earlier. These blue lodges combine in forming a Grand Lodge as also stipulated.

The “higher degrees” are strongly demarcated from the first 3 degrees. Thus, there are special Lodges who practice, or work, the degrees of the 4th to 14th, others of the 15th to 18th and so on.  There is a strongly defined hierarchy that sustains these institutions.

The “higher degrees” can be considered as a deepening or further study and commentary of the sublime degree of Master Mason. The third degree remains the ultimate one can achieve. The English masons call the “higher degree” system Side-Masonry, or the Side Degrees: a collection of rituals with their own inherent lessons.

As an illustration, you  will not see a Masonic lodge practicing or working the degrees the 1st to 18th. This Lodge would not be Masonic because it shatters the singular working of the first 3 degrees culminating with the Hiramic legend presented to the Master Mason in a ritualized and symbolic form.

The Masonic initiation from one degree to the next is not a fast moving procedure in France. A Mason will stay from 1 to 3 years as an Entered Apprentice and only then will he, or she, be proposed as someone capable of advancing to the Fellow Craft. Then, he will remain between 1 and 3 years as a Fellow of the Craft before being raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason. In other countries, such as the USA, a non-Mason can become a Master Mason within 3 months. It is a common practice. There is theoretically no set time in moving from one degree to the next, however, a sound working knowledge of the ritual, and inter-related rituals, the symbolism of the Rite and practice of Freemasonry seems to me to be a fundamental requirement for those who wish one day to become a Master Mason.

This part of the site presents the different Rites in use in the world in general, and particularly in France.

The American York Rite

The American Rite also called the York Rite is a complete system beginning from the first degree and it is used by all the American Grand Lodges. All blue lodges in America are using the Webb ritual working, taking the name from Thomas Smith Webb who standardized the work with small differences from one State […]

The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite

The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR in English – REAA in French) was officially born in the early years of the 19th century. The history of this Rite is the culmination of something called the “Scottish Movement” (what is today called Ecossism).  This stream of Freemasonry likely appeared in England between 1733 and 1735 […]

The Ancient and Primitive Rite of Memphis Misraim

The Rite of Memphis Misraim, also called the Egyptian Rite, holds a specific place in the development and working of French (and worldwide) Masonic rituals. In the first half of the 18th century in Europe traces of the so called “pharaonic rites” can be found. In 1777, in Paris, there was an active Chapter of […]

The English Rite (Emulation)

This Ritual has dozens – even hundreds – of variants officially practiced by lodges belonging to the United Grand Lodge of England.   There have been various influences, including the Bristol Ritual which is itself diverse. There were influences arriving in 1813  from Europe or America precisely during the merger of the Grand Lodge of the […]

The French Rite

This Rite was established in 1783 with a formal consecration held within the Grand Orient of France, followed by the establishment of a Grand General Chapter of France anchored in 1787 within the precincts of the Grand Orient. Its statutes and general regulations mentioned that the Rite was established with 5 Orders of Wisdom.  An […]

The Rectified Scottish Rite (RER)

The Rectified Scottish Rite (RER in French) is highly influenced by the Templar traditions. It was officially born in 1778 in Lyon, France during what is called the “Congress of the Gauls.” Its roots are deep in the German Rite of the “Templar Strict Observance.” Originally it contained contained four symbolical degrees: Entered Apprentice, Fellow […]

The Side Degrees

We have seen that two types of systems exist side by side: The complete systems: These include the first three degrees of Freemasonry which are universally worked in the four corners of the world. The systems of perfection: These higher degrees systems are addressed to the Freemasons who have for several years attained and studied […]