The Independent Magazine for Freemasons
By: David Harrison
This is a truly fascinating look into the history of the Craft after the Master Mason degree, but from a different angle – reviewing rites and rituals no longer in use or in obscurity. The book is divided into two sections – the first discussing rituals from overseas and the second English usage before the Union in 1813. It contains a full bibliography with an extensive notes section for further research.
From the 1720s, when the third degree was evolving, there followed very quickly an explosion of higher or side degrees. Their development was important in the sense that it would have an effect on most Freemasons of that era and even today’s Masons involved with other Orders should know the background.
As a flavour to whet the appetite, the rites of Zinnendorf, of Perfection, of Memphis and Misraim, de Elus Coens, the Black Eagle, Strict Observance, the Seven Degrees and many more are considered. Equally as interesting and as colourful as the rites, are the various characters behind these rites. Many will be unknown to the majority despite being important and popular in their day as they were not overly involved with Craft degrees and so the author is attempting to rectify this gap in many brethren’s knowledge.
These include Bonnie Prince Charlie (and his Jacobites), Martinez de Pasqually, John Yarker, Emanuel Swedenborg, Cagliostro (known for various misgivings, but more importantly his Egyptian Masonry), Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin (today’s order of Martinists relate to his teachings), Arthur Edward Waite and the Russian Freemason Melissino (whose degrees contained a Scottish legend). Although some rites exist today, the lack of continuity means it might be different from the original order. Sadly, many rites disappeared soon after the death of its founder.
The obvious question to brethren today is why bother? These rites had teachings on alchemy, Kabbalah and offered a spiritual pathway similar to ideas in the western Esoteric Tradition and a search for hidden knowledge. Some even had a ‘magical’ element offering a way to God himself. It is clear the intellectuals of the day found great value and true self-discovery within these degrees.
A chapter is devoted to the Old Lancashire Rituals which the author links with Bristol’s Rite of Baldwyn and the Rite of Seven Degrees in London followed by the next two chapters outlining the changes which affected these rites after the union of the English Grand Lodges.
What does this mean for today? It demonstrates the dramatic changes to the Craft with the alterations and closure of rites in order to survive. These rites were written to allow Freemasons a progression in knowledge (as opposed to ranks) and the author clearly shows this evolution must not stop if the Craft is to continue successfully.
Reviewer: N. G. Macleod