Climbing the Ladder: Understanding Freemasonry Degrees

Freemasonry Degrees

Freemasonry is an ancient and widespread fraternal organization with a rich history and a complex system of degrees. These degrees, which are often misunderstood by outsiders, are an essential part of the Masonic experience. In this article, we will delve into the world of Freemasonry degrees, discussing their origins, purposes, and the various rites associated with them.

The Purpose of Freemasonry Degrees

The degrees within Freemasonry serve multiple purposes. First and foremost, they represent a way for members to grow and progress within the organization. As a Mason ascends in rank, he gains new knowledge, understanding, and responsibilities. This journey of self-improvement is a key aspect of Masonic philosophy.

Additionally, the degree system helps to bind members together in shared experiences and common goals. By working through the degrees together, Masons forge strong bonds of brotherhood and friendship that can last a lifetime.

Lastly, the degrees serve as a means of maintaining tradition within the fraternity. By preserving the rituals, symbols, and teachings associated with each degree, Freemasonry ensures that its rich history and values continue to be passed down from generation to generation.

The Origins of Freemasonry Degrees

The origins of Freemasonry degrees can be traced back to medieval craft guilds. These guilds were organizations formed by skilled craftsmen in various trades (such as stonemasons) to protect their interests and pass on their knowledge to future generations. To become a full member of a guild, an individual would have to progress through several ranks or “degrees,” learning new skills at each level.

As Freemasonry evolved from these craft guilds into a more philosophical organization, it adopted this structure of degrees as well. The specific content and meaning behind each degree have changed over time to reflect the evolving values and teachings of the fraternity.

The Three Basic Degrees of Freemasonry

Entered Apprentice

The Entered Apprentice is the first degree in Freemasonry and serves as an introduction to the fraternity. Candidates for this degree learn about the organization’s rituals, symbols, and beliefs. They are also introduced to the language and customs of Masonry, including what topics are not to be discussed in the lodge.

This degree represents a time of learning and growth, akin to youth. After proving themselves as Entered Apprentices, candidates are considered ready to progress to the next degree: the Fellowcraft.


The Fellowcraft degree represents a more advanced stage in a Mason’s journey. In this degree, members delve deeper into the philosophy and intellectual aspects of Freemasonry, seeking greater understanding and wisdom.

This degree is symbolic of reaching adulthood and signifies that a Mason has gained enough knowledge and experience to begin taking on more significant responsibilities within the lodge. When a Fellowcraft has demonstrated that he has learned the lessons of this degree, he is eligible to proceed to the final step: becoming a Master Mason.

Master Mason

The Master Mason is the highest of the three basic degrees in Freemasonry. In this stage, a member achieves maturity and gains advanced wisdom and knowledge. They learn about morality, virtue, and their duties as a Master Mason.

This degree typically takes years to achieve, reflecting the dedication and commitment required to reach this level within the fraternity. Once a member attains the rank of Master Mason, they gain full rights and privileges within their lodge.

The Scottish Rite Degrees: An Extended System

While there are three primary degrees in Freemasonry, many additional degrees can be attained through various appendant bodies or rites. One such system is known as the Scottish Rite.

The Scottish Rite builds upon the foundation laid by the initial three degrees by offering 30 additional appendant degrees that members can pursue after attaining their Master Mason status. These extra degrees are not considered higher in rank than the Master Mason degree, but rather provide further opportunities for study, personal growth, and involvement within the fraternity.

The Structure of the Scottish Rite Degrees

The Scottish Rite degrees are divided into four distinct groups, each with its own set of themes, lessons, and symbols:

1. Lodge of Perfection (4° – 14°)
2. Chapter of Rose Croix (15° – 18°)
3. Council of Kadosh (19° – 30°)
4. Consistory (31° – 32°)

Some lodges also confer an honorary 33rd degree upon select members who have made significant contributions to Freemasonry or society at large.

Progressing Through the Scottish Rite Degrees

Attaining new degrees within the Scottish Rite is based on merit and dedication to the fraternity. Members must demonstrate their commitment through consistent participation in lodge activities and by advancing their Masonic education.

For instance, to be considered for the 32nd degree, a Freemason must have been a Master Mason for at least 14 years, served as the Master of their lodge, and met other requirements set forth by their Supreme Council. The select few who attain the 33rd degree represent the highest echelon of Scottish Rite Freemasonry.

Other Systems of Freemasonry Degrees

In addition to the standard three degrees and the extended Scottish Rite system, there are several other systems within Freemasonry that feature unique sets of degrees:

1. York Rite: This system has a total of nine degrees and is particularly popular in the United States.
2. Swedish Rite: Practiced primarily in Scandinavia and parts of Europe, this system has ten degrees.

Each system has its own rituals, teachings, and requirements for advancement.


Freemasonry degrees offer a structured pathway for members to grow and develop within the fraternity.

They serve as milestones in a Mason’s journey, representing increased knowledge, wisdom, and responsibility.

Whether within the basic three degrees or through the extended systems such as the Scottish Rite, these degrees connect Freemasons across generations and provide a shared experience that binds them together in brotherhood.

By understanding the nature and purpose of Freemasonry degrees, one can appreciate the depth and richness of this ancient organization and its pursuit of self-improvement, camaraderie, and moral virtue.

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