What is the Scottish Rite?

The Scottish Rite is one of the two branches of Freemasonry in which a Master Mason may proceed after he has completed the three degrees of Symbolic or Blue Lodge Masonry. The other branch is known as the York Rite, consisting of Royal Arch Masons, Royal and Select Masters, and Knights Templar. The Scottish Rite includes the degrees from the 4° to the 32°.

The use of the word “Scottish” has led many Masons to believe that the Rite originated in Scotland. There was also a false belief which persisted for many years, that a man had to go to Scotland to receive the 33°. Neither of these statements is true.

Actually, the first reference to the Rite appears in old French records where the word “Ecossais,” meaning Scottish, is found. During the latter part of the 17th Century, when the British Isles were torn by strife, many Scots fled to France and resumed their Masonic interests is that country. It is believed that this influence contributed to the use of the word “Scottish.”

In 1732, the first “Ecossais,” or Scottish Lodge, was organized in Bordeaux, one of the oldest and most influential Masonic centers in France. The membership included Scottish and English Masons. The years 1738-40 saw the formation of the first “Hauts Grades” or advanced degrees. In 1761, certain Masonic authorities in France granted a patent to Stephen Morin of Bordeaux to carry the advanced degrees across the sea to America. In 1763, Morin established these degrees in the French possessions in the West Indies. What he established consisted of a system of 25 so-called higher degrees which flourished in France, and which were known as the “Rite of Perfection.”

Within a few years after 1763, other degrees were added, until the Rite had a ritual structure of 33 degrees — the first three being exemplified in a Symbolic Lodge, if a Grand Lodge with subordinate Lodges existed in the area.

In 1767, Henry Francken, who had been deputized by Morin, organized a Lodge of Perfection in Albany, New York. This was the forerunner of what was to become the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in the United States. During the Colonial Period, other deputies, appointed by Morin, organized Masonic groups which conferred the advanced degrees at other important points along the Atlantic seaboard, including Charleston, South Carolina. These groups were independent and without centralized supervision or control; however, they all agreed that their authority came from Stephen Morin in Jamaica in the West Indies.

On May 31, 1801, the Supreme Council of the Thirty-third degree for the United States of America — the first Scottish Rite Supreme Council in the world-was founded in Charleston, South Carolina. Its aim was to unify these competing groups and to bring Masonic order out of chaos. The full membership of this Supreme Council consisted of 11 Grand Inspectors General.

Of these 11 — John Mitchell, Frederick Dalcho, Abraham Alexander, Emanuel De La Motta, Thomas Bartholomew Bowen, Israel De Lieben, Isaac Auld, Le Comte Alexandre Francois Auguste de Grasse, Jean Baptiste Marie Delahogue, Moses Clava Levy and James Moultrie — nine were born abroad and only Brothers Isaac Auld and James Moultrie were native born. In religion, four were Jews, five were Protestants, and two were Roman Catholics.

On August 5, 1813, Emanuel De La Motta, 33°, of Savannah, Georgia, a distinguished Jewish merchant and philanthropist, and Grand Treasurer General of the Supreme Council at Charleston, organized in New York City the Supreme Council of the Thirty-third degree for the Northern District and Jurisdiction of the United States of America.

The first Sovereign Grand Commander was Ill Daniel D. Tompkins, 33°. He filled this office from 1813-25. He was at the same time Vice President of the United States for two terms, under President Monroe. The first Grand Secretary General of this Supreme Council, its Conservator during the era of anti-Masonic attacks, and its third Sovereign Grand Commander from 1832-51, was Ill John James Joseph Gourgas, 33°.

Both the Northern and the Southern Jurisdictions made slow progress in unifying the scattered degree-conferring groups, and in standardizing the rituals. They were handicapped by the pride in the local organizations; by leadership jealousies; by the anti-Masonic agitation of 1826-40, which almost destroyed Freemasonry; by the War between the States, and by other matters. The process of unification, however, was completed in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction by the Union of 1867, when the last irregular Supreme Council finally acknowledged the authority of the regular Supreme Council. From that Union, there arose what is the present Supreme Council for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States of America.

Since it is now officially recognized as beginning in 1801 in Charleston, South Carolina, the Scottish Rite has spread throughout the world At the present time, the Supreme Council for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction officially recognizes and enjoys friendly relations with the Supreme Councils of the Scottish Rite in 39 other Jurisdictions, and the higher degree systems (Swedish Rite) administered by the Grand Lodges in the four Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden).

The Northern Masonic Jurisdiction specifically covers the 15 states east of the Mississippi River and north of the Mason-Dixon Line and the Ohio River, including Delaware. Its headquarters is in Lexington, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston.

The other Supreme Council in the United States is that of the Southern Jurisdiction. It has its head quarters at Washington, D.C., and covers the remaining 35 states, the District of Columbia, and the United States territories and possessions.

At present, there are 168,000 Scottish Rite Masons throughout the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. Of this number, there are approximately 3,700 Thirty-third degree Masons, comprising the membership of the Supreme Council. There are Scottish Rite centers, called “Valleys,” in 110 cities and towns in the 15 states of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.

One important point which must be recognized by all Masons is the fact that the Scottish Rite shares the belief of all Masonic organizations that there is no higher degree than that of Master Mason. The Supreme Council and its subordinate bodies acknowledge the Masonic supremacy of the Symbolic Grand Lodges, and the Grand Master of Masons is recognized as the ranking Masonic officer present when in attendance at any Scottish Rite meeting.

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, whether his rank be 14° or 33°.