The Masonic Pageant
The 29 Masonic Degrees of the Scottish Rite
There are people today who call themselves “conspiracy theorists”; they are convinced that conspiracies, world domination and secret societies are different words for the same thing. Among this crowd the very mention of Freemasonry is sure to get everybody’s attention. As the oldest and most well-known of all the world’s secret societies, Freemasonry has been accused of everything from being a pagan cult to murdering its own members to doctoring our dollar bill with its symbols. Television documentaries have even hinted that they are behind the UFOs.
Many books have been published in the past two decades that purport to expose one or more esoteric aspects of the Craft. Most of these books have two things in common: They are not written by Freemasons and they concentrate mostly on the Blue, or Symbolic Masonic Lodge, which only confers the first three degrees of Masonry: Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason. The Blue Lodges are the familiar buildings on Main Street we see in almost every American town. Their identifying logo is the square-and-compass, sometimes called the “Blue Lodge emblem”.
But there is much more to Masonry than this. At the very heart of the Masonic fraternity is the largest, wealthiest and most powerful body of Freemasonry: The Scottish Rite. This body confers no less than 29 so-called “higher” degrees on its members, ranging from the 4th to the 32nd degrees. These higher degrees present lessons that are intended to build the character of the individual Mason and, through the individual, the character of the community. On a few hard-working members the Scottish Rite will also attain the 33rd degree, featured in the opening of Dan Brown’s book, The Lost Symbol. This is popularly thought to be the degree that admits a Mason into the “inner circle” of Masonry. So what is this Scottish Rite? Should we fear it?
The Scottish Rite is one of the two “appendant” bodies of Freemasonry, the other one being the York Rite. Both confer other, higher, degrees beyond the Third Degree, which is the highest degree conferred in a Blue Lodge. Either, or both, of these appendant bodies represent the next step for a Blue Lodge Mason who wants to learn more about Freemasonry’s mysteries. This is referred to as “gaining more light.” Unlike the Scottish Rite, which is a unified whole, the York Rite is made up of three separate bodies, each granting two to four degrees, that have nothing much to do with one other. This book is about the Scottish Rite only and does not cover the York Rite degrees.
In the United States, the Scottish Rite is divided into a Northern and a Southern Jurisdiction. The Northern Masonic Jurisdiction (NMJ) is comprised of all 15 states north of the Mason Dixon Line and east of the Mississippi. The Southern Jurisdiction (SJ) is made up of the other 35 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. The headquarters of the NMJ are in Lexington, MA. The SJ’s headquarters are in Washington, D.C. For the most part the degrees of the two jurisdictions are completely different.
The Masonic Pageantis a comprehensive guide to the 29 higher degrees of the Scottish Rite. Although the book’s emphasis is on the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, all of the Southern Jurisdiction’s degrees are also covered. The book is written from a secular point of view and provides historical background material for each degree. It is intended to be enjoyed by newly entered Scottish Rite Masons, longtime members of the Rite, Blue Lodge Masons and anyone, Mason or not, in the general public who is interested in secret societies and their activities.
The Scottish Rite presents its degrees in the form of one-act stage plays of 30 to 45 minutes duration. Unlike the three Blue Lodge degrees, the Scottish Rite degrees are not rites of passage; each one is an allegorical play designed to teach the initiate a character-building lesson. At the heart of each degree are the moral lessons presented for the candidate’s consideration. In addition to these lessons, the Scottish Rite Supreme Council in Lexington has formulated several concepts called “Core Values.” These are: Reverence for God, Integrity, Justice, Tolerance, Devotion to Country and Service to Humanity. Most of the higher degrees are supposed to represent one or more of these core values. Each candidate for membership in the Scottish Rite must internalize the degree’s lessons and reflect on how he might use them to better his life.
The reader, Masonic or not, should be aware from the beginning that I have written this book from a purely secular point of view. This, I believe, insures that no particular religious or philosophical viewpoint is represented at the expense of any other. This method most nearly expresses the original Masonic attitude toward religion: “That religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves.”
In dealing with the historical background of Old Testament degrees (the 4th to the 16th degrees) I have presented only what is currently known to scholars of Biblical archeology about the actual religious milieu of Israel in the pre-Exilic period. Recent archeological discoveries have revealed that environment to have been polytheistic and quite different from the one portrayed in the revisionist Jewish history passed down to us in post-Exilic records (i.e., the Old Testament). The historical backgrounds of the New Testament degrees (the 17th to the 32nd degrees) consist of known historical facts about the time period represented by each degree.
Originally, since its beginning in 1813, the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction had adopted and used many degrees of the Southern Jurisdiction, which traces its beginning to 1801. Since the middle of the 20th century there has been a continuing effort in the NMJ to renovate and impart new vigor to its ritual system. The Ritual Committees of the NMJ believed that the Southern degrees place too much emphasis on themes of vengeance and retribution stemming from the story of Hiram Abiff, a core legend of the 3rd, or Master Mason degree. This renovation project has resulted in the deletion of most of the original Southern degrees and their replacement by freshly written ritual scripts telling new stories.
Each Scottish Rite center (called a “Valley”) is made up of four groups, called “bodies.” Each body oversees its own particular set of degrees:
The Lodge of Perfection (4th to the 14th degrees)
The Council of Princes of Jerusalem (15th and 16th degrees)
The Chapter of Rose Croix (17th and 18th degrees) and
The Consistory (19th to the 32nd degrees).
In recent decades the Ritual Committees have moved every one of the original Consistory degrees with an Old Testament theme that were set in the Middle East from the Consistory to the Lodge of Perfection. The places left vacant in the Consistory by this rearrangement have been filled by newly written degrees, some of which are set in America. The result is that all Consistory degrees, from the 19th to the 32nd, now feature stories having to do either with American historical figures (the “Americana” degrees) or with knights and clergymen of the Middle Ages. All of these degrees have a New Testament theme and are set in Europe or America.
Also, when the Ritual Committees in the NMJ moved the Old Testament-based Consistory degrees into the Lodge of Perfection, they changed many of the original stories from themes having to do with the Hiramic Legend to new stories, some Biblical and some purely works of the imagination with no basis in either scripture or history.
Starting in the late 20th century, the NMJ has jettisoned the ceremonial portion of most of its degrees. This is the portion in which the officers choose an actual candidate or “neophyte” from the class to join the play’s cast. In addition, the NMJ has deleted almost all of the mystical and exotic content of its rituals. The Southern Jurisdiction still retains this sort of material. The Northern Masonic Jurisdiction now presents every degree from a conventional Judeo-Christian viewpoint, devoid of all magic, mysticism and esoterica.
When treating the degrees that derive from Biblical sources I have consulted the works of Biblical scholars and researchers as well as scriptural source material (when there is any). To insure that this book favors no particular belief system or denomination, I have drawn my scriptural sources from Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish scriptures. For each degree, Northern and Southern, I have relied upon the latest information from archeology, historical research, biographies, comparative religion and scientific theory to the extent that I could access such material.
Despite my own deeply held religious convictions, I have not ascribed a supernatural origin to any historic event, leaving such ascription to the belief system of the individual reader. When citing the opinions of published workers in the fields of Biblical archeology or comparative religion I have included in my citations both their historical and scientific findings as well as any of their cultural or religious speculations that I thought would be of interest. All historic background material that appears to be speculative or unconventional is based on literature research and does not comprise unsupported revisionist theory. Occasions of personal speculation on my part are clearly labeled as such. My only agenda has been to provide purely secular historic information free of mythological or dogmatic content. Other than that, any blame for error or perceived misrepresentation of facts must be laid at my doorstep, as they are my responsibility alone.
This book is entirely my own endeavor and is not an official Scottish Rite publication. The Committee for Ritualist Matters of the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, has reviewed the book’s manuscript and has found no impediment to its publication. Other than that, the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, is not involved in any way with the book’s publication. The Council is not responsible in any way for financial support of the book.
In writing this book I have indeed perched on the shoulders of intellectual giants; luminaries in Freemasonry, history, Biblical scholarship and comparative religion. These include Joseph Campbell, Barbara Tuchman, Raphael Patai, Isaac Asimov, Jacob Bronowski and Sir James Frazer, among others. To keep the book reader-friendly to the general public I have not encumbered it with footnotes or end notes. There is, however, an extensive bibliography. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, I would not want the reader to suppose that I were too dull to appreciate the brilliance of these thinkers or too small-minded to acknowledge my debt to them.
Francis Conway, Ph.D., 33º
- Frank on Introduction
- Nanci J Davids on Introduction
- Obdulia O Erno on Introduction
- Keith B Lucore on 29th Degree
- Del Z Didion on Introduction
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