Diversity and Universality of Masonic Work

From the diversity of rites to the universality of the essence of Masonic work

The genesis of the great Masonic Systems developed, fundamentally, during the course of the 18th century, and it can be considered that it took place in three distinct stages:

Between the beginning of the 18th century and the 1740s, the main lines of Symbolic Freemasonry stabilized, structuring it into three degrees;

From 1740 to 1760, more or less, we witnessed, especially in France, the development of Scottish rite, consisting of the advent of a profusion of degrees complementary to that of Master;

Between 1760 and the end of the 18th century, there were several attempts at logical ordering and structuring these high degrees into coherent systems, as well as regulating their practice through the creation of bodies responsible for their initiatory and administrative jurisdiction.

These efforts resulted in the birth of the Great Continental Rites that we still practice today, such as the Rectified Scottish Regime, the French Rite and, finally, the REAA. These systems, although starting from the same Masonic substrate, organize their degrees according to different ideas.

This whole process of rationalization and systematization of Masonic practice initially generated a huge diversity of paths, of which only those ( Published at freemason.pt) that were more coherent in themselves, symbolically and philosophically, survived.

The perennialism of the Rites was also conditioned by the timeless character of the ideas, which supported their emergence, and by their greater scope.

It is not surprising, therefore, the disappearance of all those who were encompassed by others, or who were more anchored to currents of thought, which turned out to be meaningless in later times.

Who, nowadays, still remembers the Order of African Architects, the Scottish Philosophical Rite, the Rite of the Illuminates of Avignon, the Rite of the Philalethes, the Primitive Rite of Narbonne, the Order of the Flaming Star, the Rite of the Scottish Faithful of Toulouse, the Swedenborg Rite, and so many other systems that, in the here and now, only exist in the History of Masonic ceremonial?

It was, therefore, from this unsustainable chaos, resulting from the disorderly flowering of the “Masonic Rose”, and from the blossoming of its most diverse buds, that the imperative need for uniformity arose.

This situation was widely portrayed, at a later date, by Brother Jean-Marie Ragon, in his book “Masonic Orthodoxy”, in which he refer:

“The number of Freemasons exceeds sixty. It is understood that these productions only have a Masonic form: all different, and currently with degrees belonging to other systems. This mass of Rites is only due to the speculative fabrication of high degrees, from which as many schisms as rites result”.

It was precisely on the initiative of Brothers endowed with an enormous Masonic sense, and who intended to “build bridges”, in favour of the common benefit, that in this immense whirlwind of degrees, and systems, arose, already in the last quarter of the 18th century, the most consistent attempts to bring together what was widely dispersed.

The first Great Continental Rite to be fixed was the Rectified Scottish Regime. This process had its origins in the “Convent des Galias”, which took place in 1778, in Lyon, in which Brother Jean-Baptiste Willermoz presented a revision of both the Rituals of the Strict Templar Observance, of Baron Von Hund, and the Rituals of the Order of the Elect Coen, by Martinez de Pasqually, merging them, and integrating them into the French Masonic Tradition of the time.

From this process of “Rectification”, which was completed at the “Convent of Whilhelmsbad , in 1782, resulted in a Masonic system in which the three universal Symbolic Degrees, Apprentice, Companion, and Master (Blue Lodge), are crowned by a fourth, called the Scottish Master of Santo André (Loja Verde).

This sequence of degrees is followed by an Inner Order of Chivalry, with two levels, called Squire Novice, and Knight Benefactor of the Holy City.

The system is crowned by a priestly class, of secret belonging, to which the course also comprises two levels: the Professed, and the Greatly Professed.

The genesis of the French Rite derives from a process of rationalization, and an attempt to standardize, the ritual practice of the Lodges, developed within the Grand Orient of France, between 1781 and 1787, and in which Brother Alexandre-Louis Roëttiers de Montaleau, who would become Grand Venerable of this Obedience, then still emerging.

The establishment of the Rite culminated in the publication, in 1801, of the “Régulateur du Maçon”, in which the Rituals of its three Symbolic Degrees are compiled, and of the “Régulateur des Chevaliers Maçons”, a document-synthesis of the Rituals of the Degrees of Entry in the four Superior Orders ( Published in freemason.pt) , which completed the initiatory course in this system.

These were superimposed on a Fifth Order, of an academic and encyclopaedic nature, destined to study “all physical and metaphysical degrees and all systems, particularly those adopted by the Masonic associations in force”.

The architecture of its Blue Freemasonry is based on a practically uniform Masonic tradition, in its essential aspects, which has been consolidating in France since 1725, and was based on the Ritual of the Grand Lodge of Moderns.

This was exported from England by British emigrants, exiled for political reasons, and enriched according to local religious, sociological, and cultural paradigms.

Their Red, or Capitular, Masonry, however, has a purely French origin. It is fully based on the High Grades generated by Scotland, integrating them in a concise way, which does not leave aside the academic study of the enormous diversity of this heritage.

The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite resulted from the last of these structuring processes, taking place in a first phase in Santo Domingo, between 1763 and 1767, on the initiative of Etienne Morin and Henry Andrew Francken, who compiled and ordered a set of 25 high degrees, practiced at the time in France, giving rise to a system called the Order of the Royal Secret, or the Rite of Perfection.

To this Rite, in 25 degrees, were added, in Charleston, in the United States of America, another 8 degrees, by American and French Freemasons, so that the resulting system made up the symbolic number of 33 degrees.

Thus, in 1801, the first Supreme Council of the World was constituted, and the following year the “Circular to the Two Hemispheres” was disseminated , on the initiative of John Mitchell and Frederik Dalcho, respectively Sovereign Grand Commander and Lieutenant of this Power.

This document presented the new Rite as being constituted only by high degrees, leaving to the Grand Lodges the jurisdiction over the symbolic degrees, a situation that still persists today, in the Anglo-Saxon universe.

However, this same Supreme Council, in February 1802, had already sworn in the Brother of Grasse-Tilly with a patent that recognized him as Grand Inspector General (decorated with the 33rd Degree) and, conferred on him powers to constitute, establish and , inspect all Lodges, Chapters, Councils and Consistories of the “royal and military order of ancient and modern Freemasonry over the two Hemispheres, in accordance with the Great Constitutions”.

After a series of vicissitudes, which involved a departure for Santo Domingo, capture by the British, imprisonment in Jamaica, and release followed by a brief second spell in Charleston, Brother de Grasse-Tilly returned to Paris, where he was originally from. from, in 1804. At the same time, other emigrants, who brought the 25-degree system of the Order of the Royal Secret in their luggage, also returned to the French capital.

It was during a process of resistance to the attempt to unify post-revolutionary French Freemasonry, by the Grand Orient of France, that these Brothers, together with other discontents, triggered the appearance of the ephemeral Scottish Grand Lodge General, in which the rituals of the Symbolic Degrees of the Rite, thus configuring a system in 33 Degrees.

These Blue Lodge Rituals, which were published in the “Guide des Maçons Écossais” in 1821 (it is estimated), have as their main sources the English Rituals of the Grand Lodge of the Ancients (disclosed by the exhibition “Three Distinct Knocks” , from 1760) , the Rituals of the French Rite ( “Régulateur du Maçon”), and some traditions of the Scottish Mother Lodges, of Marseilles, Avignon, and Paris, such as the arrangement of the Pillars, the colour red, and the Houzzé acclamation.

The great Masonic systems thus concluded their establishment between the end of the 18th century and the first years of the 19th century.

The following centuries did not bring us a 34th Degree, an even higher Profession, or a Sixth Order.

Its Rituals have, however, been revised ever since, as a result of prevailing currents of thought among the Brothers who used these tools in subsequent times.

The “Masonic Rose”, however, did not stop flourishing, and the 20th century brought us new systems, which although very minor, ensure the work of a still significant number of Freemasons.

Such is the case of the Ancient and Primitive Rite of Memphis-Misraim, which resulted from the fusion of the so-called “Egyptian Rites” of Memphis and Misraim.

These systems, which had emerged in the first half of the 19th century, as variants of the REAA, gained their own identity, after the 2nd World War, through the work of reformulating their Rituals, developed by Brother Robert Ambelain.

This is also the situation of the Operative Rite of Salomão, of the Brazilian Rite, or of the very recent Portuguese Rite, which have recently come to bring new rosebuds to this already vast rosebush.

In the Anglo-Saxon world, the philosophy of structuring work is very different. Given that, in this conception, nothing overlaps the Master Degree, the Rituals of the Symbolic Degrees constitute “workings”, which structure the “craft”, being all the remaining degrees understood only as parallel forms, called “side degrees” .

Therefore, we do not have here the concept of Rite, as a pyramidally structured work system, as in Continental Freemasonry.

Faced with all this diversity, paths, and forms of practice, built from such different ideas, it seems logical to me to question ourselves with regard to the Universality of the essence of Masonic Work.

For this, I will try to make a small reflection on the philosophical basis, and the objectives of the three great Rites (RER, French Rite, and REAA), focused on the perspective of our sense of Masonic practice (Adogmatic Freemasonry, subordinated to the principle of full Freedom of Conscience).

An analysis ( Published at freemason.pt) of a wider scope, in my opinion, makes no sense, since the same Rites take on very different forms, and objectives, in Obediences with a Theistic perspective, or in Obediences based on principles of Laity .

The RER, anchored in a Christian spirituality, tends to establish behavioural rules to be observed by its followers, both in society and in their relationship with Transcendence. The virtues conveyed are those of Christianity, with beneficence understood as the first principle of otherness.

In an esoteric context, tinged with Martinist theosophy, the Rite is based on the idea that Man, degraded by the fall of Genesis, conserves within himself the means for his redemption.

It is through the symbol that RER Masons demand the original spiritual state, with the aim of Love and Beneficence, in the Christian sense of these concepts, and with a strong chivalric connotation.

In Adogmatic Obediences, the Christianity of the RER is not understood in a Theistic way, and the Rite is not restricted to Catholics or Protestants, as happens in Obediences, or Grand Priories, of the area of ​​the said Regularity.

The practice is based, yes, on the acceptance of the humanist values ​​of Christianity, which are found in the Gospel of John, and on the recognition of Jesus Christ, as an example of the perfect Initiate.

The French Rite, in turn, was structured in the Enlightenment, deeply influenced by the values ​​that emerged at the time, of Encyclopedism, Humanism, development of responsibility for each individual in society, rationalism, free thought and the ideal of freedom.

After two centuries, marked by profound political, social, and cultural evolutions, which triggered the emergence of Republican thought, and the ideals of Secularity, the Rite presents itself, currently, on a substantially different philosophical basis from the initial one, based on Modernity, and in the need to adapt to the Here and Now, not forgetting, however, to be covered with a Traditional character, which is conferred on it by a structuring symbolic support, which has remained more or less fixed, since the end of the 18th century.

It is this genetic binomial, of Tradition and Modernity, which raises, at present, the ultimate challenge of this initiatory journey, in which, as Brother Philippe Guglielmi wrote:

“From the intimate void, at the moment of Initiation when the old man dies, to social void, blank page of a fairer society whose rules are yet to be written, the Freemason working in the French Rite builds his emancipation, brick after brick”.

The ultimate end of the REAA, as defined in the Great Constitutions of 1786, is “the union, happiness, progress, and well-being of the human family, in general, and of each man individually”.

The Scottish initiatory demand thus proposes a slow and structured progression towards Knowledge. This develops in 33 degrees, which constitute deepening stages, with the intention of creating in the Being a realization of fullness.

This progression goes through a harmonious development, and an extended ethics, well beyond a simple morality. It is not at all dogmatic, and it is up to each one to seek his own spiritual path, in full freedom.

The REAA is one of the largest conservatories in terms of myths and symbols of Royal Art. This syncretism, built on the basis of different philosophies and spiritual currents, resulted in a tool that combines metaphysics and rationality, tradition and innovation.

It is therefore, from the ( Published at freemason.pt) personal reinterpretation of this vast symbolic heritage, that the Scottish Freemason is encouraged to take his destiny in his hands, through a succession of transgressions and ruptures. These are presented, staggered in a pyramidal system, in which ascending progress is made, according to the triptych Understanding – Loving – Acting.

It is therefore evident from the comparison of these three Rites that they present themselves with markedly different identities, appealing, in a different way, to the rational, intuitive and emotional worlds.

Are there, however, common axes, in these three systems, or are they just alternative paths, which may, in some respects, be assumed to be complementary?

Analysing its main aspects, we can easily conclude that:

All have as their objective a thought devoid of dogmas and prejudices, as well as an awakening of conscience to duties of a universal nature;
Everyone seeks, through a base of self-construction, an improvement of Humanity, whether only by example, by charity, or even calling for direct action in the “ Polis” , through an exercise of committed citizenship, and more enlightened;
Finally, all have a Humanist sense, and frame the Fraternity as the Cornerstone of Masonic Construction.
In a broad sense, we can therefore conclude that the true essence of Masonic Work is Universal, centering on the triple objective of Liberating, Building, and connecting for Fraternity.

In this sense, we can understand the diversity of the Rites as being the simple expression of the richness of the Masonic Tradition, verifying what, since I was Initiated, I have always heard the older Brothers say: “It is more what unites us than the that separates us” .

And Unity must always be one of our main objectives, especially at a time like the current one, when the Order is once again confronted with currents of primary anti-Masonism, fuelled by obscurantist populism.

The Rosemary and Marjoram wars, generated by differences in Rites, Jurisdictions, Obediences, or even senses of practice, have been a constant in the History of Freemasonry, since the famous schism between the Ancients and the Moderns, which started in 1751, and was not resolved until more than sixty years later. Normally, in these processes, nobody wins and everybody loses, starting with the Order.

There are no better or worse Masonic Rites, there are and will always be better and worse Masons, the best, in my opinion, being those who seek to bring together what is dispersed, and who do not understand the Fraternity as being a one-way street.

Only with good Mason Masters, Freemasonry can really be what it should be, an enlightened space, where Peace, Harmony, Tolerance, and Fraternal Love reign, and in which diversity constitutes a permanent exercise of otherness.

I therefore end by sharing with you this brief reflection by Brother Pierre Mollier, published in the magazine “Franc-Maçonnerie”, to which I fully subscribe:

“But as with the man of one book, the Mason of one Rite is to be feared. The Rites never ceased to influence each other, through a subtle process that alternated imports and the affirmation of a specific identity.

It is difficult to understand a Rite well without placing it in the context of the general history of Masonic ceremonies. If it is legitimate to have preferences, discovering other Rites is the obligatory detour to better understand yours.”


Bauer Alain and Mayer Gérard ”Le Rite Français”, PUF, Paris, 2012;

Berneheim Alan ”Le Rite en 33 grades – From Frederik Dalcho to Charles Riandey ”, Dervy, Paris, 2013;

Berneheim Alan ”Etienne Morin et l’Ordre du Royal Secret” ;

Collective ”Encyclopédie de la franc-maçonnerie”, Le Livre de Poche, Paris, 2002;

Comino Daniel ”Approche anthropologique des rites maçonniques”, Éditions Dervy, Paris, 2012;

Dachez Roger ”Les Rites Maçonniques Égyptiens” , PUF, Paris, 2012;

Dachez Roger and Pétillot Jean-Marc ”Le Rite Écossais Rectifié” , PUF, Paris, 2012;

Roger Dachez and Alain Bauer ”Les Rites Maçonniques Anglo-Saxons” , PUF, Paris, 2011;

Jaunaux Laurent ”Le Ritual des anciens ou édition 6004 du guide des Ecossal Masons ”, Dervy, Paris, 2004;

Marcos Ludvic ”Histoire Illustrée du Rite Français”, Éditions Dervy, Paris, 2012;

Mollier Pierre ”Naissance et essor du Rite Écossais Ancien Accepté en France 1804-1826 ”, 2004;

Mollier Pierre ”Les Rites vus sous l’angle philosophique et spirituel”, Franc-Maçonnerie Magazine/Hors-série nº 5, Paris, 2018;

Nöel Pierre ”Les Grades Bleus du Rite Écossais Ancien et Accepté”, Éditions Télètes, Paris, 2003;

Ragon Jean-Marie ”Orthodoxie Maçonnique”, Dentu, Libraire-Editeur, Paris, 1853;

Trébuchet Louis ”Les résistences au Grand Orient et le destin de la Franc-Maçonnerie Française ”, 2013;

Article by: Joaquim Grave dos Santos


Re-published by kind permission: https://www.freemason.pt/

Translated from Portuguese: https://www.freemason.pt/diversidade-rito-universalidade-trabalho-maconico/

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