Masonic students are prepared to accept the fact that at one time and another there have been over one hundred Rites, and at least fifteen hundred Degrees or grades connected directly and indirectly with Freemasonry. Many of these were, of course, quasi-Masonic, their names and origins being now almost unknown, and their history if it was known would be worthless except so far as it might interest the Masonic antiquarian. If it were possible to list all these known and unknown rites and degrees, they would fill quite a large volume, and after all serve no good purpose as many, indeed most of them, were the outcome of childishness, if not worse.
To the Brethren who have only recently joined our Fraternity, the following short resume of the more important of the Masonic Rites may be interesting and perhaps instructive. If it proves to be so, then the object of this paper will have been accomplished.
Our newly raised Brother seeking for Masonic light, naturally asks us what is a Rite? How many degrees make a Rite? To what Rite do I belong or do I belong to any? All perfectly natural questions, and worthy of our reply.
A Rite in Freemasonry is a collection of grades or degrees, always founded on the First three, the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason. All the various Rites except the York and English Rites begin their systems with the Fourth degree, some claiming as many as ninety-six degrees.
I will try and give our inquiring Brother a few pointers about the best known of these Rites, so that he may recognize which of them he already belongs to, and decide which Rite will be most acceptable to the Masonic Jurisdiction in which he resides, and govern himself accordingly.
THE YORK RITE
was the oldest and first established Masonic Rite, consisting of the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason degrees. When Dunckerley dismembered or disrupted the third degree about 1770, he destroyed the identity of this Rite, and as that portion he took from it has never been restored, this Rite therefore does not now exist. It never had any connection with the Grand Lodge of all England, or the York Grand Lodge as it was called, but represented the working of the Premier Grand Lodge established or revived in 1717, and for fifty years after this revival.
Why this Rite got the name of York who can tell? It was and is an unmeaning term, but the name has been so generally used by those in high places, it is no wonder the young craftsman gets confused.
THE ENGLISH RITE,
as laid down in the Articles of the Union in 1813, is as follows: "It is declared and pronounced that pure ancient Masonry consists of three degrees, and no more, viz: those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch. But this article is not intended to prevent any Lodge or Chapter from holding a meeting in any of the degrees of the Orders of Chivalry, according to the constitutions of the said orders." Thus the English Rite rests upon the three symbolic degrees, but makes the Royal Arch the completion of the Masonic edifice.
THE IRISH RITE
If the Irish had a "boat of their own at the time of the flood" they could not rest without a Masonic Rite of their own, and they have,--to my mind it is the most complete, useful and best regulated Rite in existence today. Like all other Rites it is based on the First Three degrees, followed by the Past Master, Mark Master, Royal Arch, and Knight Templar, and all these various degrees stand for. These degrees must be taken in the order named before the Prince Masons degree is conferred; this brings us into the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite at the 18d, followed by the Knight of the Sun 28d, Knight K. H. 30d, Commanders Inquisitors Grand Inspectors 31d, Prince of the Royal Secret 32d, Supreme Council 33d. There are less than four hundred Prince Masons 18d in Ireland; The one Council of the 28d is limited to thirty-five subscribing members; The College of Philosophical Masons 30d consists of thirty subscribing members; The Tribunal of the 31d is limited to twenty-one; and the Consistory 32d cannot have over sixteen members in addition to the nine members of the Supreme Council 33d.
THE AMERICAN RITE
or York Rite as it is commonly though erroneously called, is peculiar to the United states of America, and the term American Rite is perfectly applicable. It confers under the Royal Arch Chapter the Mark Master 4d, Past Master 5d, Most Excellent Master 6d, Holy Royal Arch 7d. The Council takes care of Royal Master 8d, Select Master 9d, Super Excellent Master 10d, while the Knight Red Cross 11d, Knight Templar 12d, and Knight of Malta 13d are taken care of by the Commandery.
THE ANCIENT AND ACCEPTED SCOTTISH RITE
A brother in good standing in his Blue Lodge may elect to take the degrees of this rite, which does not of course include any of the degrees of the American Rite, and is administered by bodies of the Thirty Third degree, called Supreme Councils. This Rite is today more widely extended than all the others put together, no other Rite being worked to any very great extent the United states, Canada, Great Britain, the Latin countries of Europe and South America. This Rite takes care of the degrees from the 4d to 14d in Lodges of Perfection. 15d to 18d in Chapters of Rose Croix. 19d to 30d in Councils of Knights K. H. 31d and 32d in Consistories of M. R. S.
and 33d Supreme Council, of which there are but two in the United States.
This Rite came to us from Europe between the years 1783 and 1801, as the origin of the Rite is a subject of much controversy. We will "nick it at that" as a good old Brother used to say when he wanted an argument stopped in the Lodge. The word "Scottish" the name of this Rite is a misnomer, as none of the degrees ever originated in the "Land O Bibles Kirks and Haggis." It is claimed, however, that amongst its founders were Scotch exiles in France, followers of the Pretender, who introduced the word Scottish in order to make the degrees more attractive and acceptable to the Jacobite party resident there.
Our aspiring Brother will take notice that the degrees of the various Rites are not interchangeable, when he has taken all the degrees of the American Rite he is no further on his way to the 33d; if he elected to take the degrees of the A. & A. S. R. first, he would still have to come back to the American Rite to reach the Commandery.
THE RITE OF MEMPHIS
"The Egyptian Masonic Rite of Memphis" or the "Ancient Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry" is to be found working in several States. It claims to be international, educational, and practical, its influence exerted on behalf of Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood. It was revived in France as the Rite of Memphis in 1814, and introduced into this country by M. De Negre in 1856. It consists of ninety-six degrees, the 96d being called he Sovereign Sublime Magi. In 1852 its Lodges were closed in France, in 1862 they were acknowledged by the Grand Orient and revived. Most of its Lodges, however, abandoned it to join the Modern French Rite. It gets its name from the Legend that an Egyptian Sage Ormus, converted in A.D. 46, introduced the secrets of the Egyptian Mysteries into Europe, claiming that these secrets are incorporated in the degrees of the Rite.
THE RITE OF MIZRAM
This Rite has a grand body of its own in France. It was founded in Milan 1805, and introduced into France in 1814. Its ninety degrees are divided into Seventeen classes. It once had, and may yet have, a Supreme Council in America with a small following; its teachings and Masonry cannot be too highly appreciated. Over one hundred years ago this rite was popular in Great Britain, particularly in Ireland, but it is unknown there now.
THE ANCIENT AND PRIMITIVE RITE
as brought to France by S. Honis in 1814. Introduced into America 1856, and to England from America 1873. Its degrees were reduced from ninety-five to thirty three in 1865, when an effort was made to popularize it. It was practically a revival of the Rite of Memphis, and has a small following in England and Scotland where the late Brother John Yarker was the head and guiding spirit.
THE FRENCH RITE
or Modern French Rite founded in 1786 by the Grand Orient of France, has seven degrees, 4d Elect, 5d Scotch Master, 6d Knight of the East, 7d Rose Croix. It is largely practiced in France and Brazil. It was formerly worked in the state of Louisiana more or less extensively.
THE ANCIENT REFORMED RITE
Established in 1783 is still practiced by the Grand Lodge of Holland, and the Grand Orient of Sweden.
THE RITE OF PERFECTION
had twenty-five degrees and was established by De Bonneville in 1754. It was also known as the "Chapter of Clermont," so named after a Jesuit College in France where a lot of political scheming was carried on in the stuart Cause--this rite was pretty closely identified with the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in its earliest days.
THE RITE OF RAMSEY
or the Rite de Bullion consists of six degrees and was founded about 1728 or later, by Chevalier Michael Andrew Ramsey, a Scotch gentleman of great ability, culture and travel. With other wearers of the "White Cockade" he was exiled in France, and if all said of him be true, and as Paddy said "the half of the lies told of him were not true," the word "Scottish" in most of the higher grades might be laid at his footstool, as well as half a dozen Rites and half a hundred degrees.