A rose by any other name may not be the same

In order to have joined the Allied Masonic Degrees of Canada it is generally understood that each Brother of Saint Lawrence has been through at least seven degree ceremonies within the Masonic world. Most Brothers have been through more than that. It would be obvious to the Brothers, that not all degrees, not all ceremonies, are equal.

A rose by any other name may not be the same: A critical examination of degree conferral and transmission.

Ven. Bro. Scott Wisdahl Peace Council No. 224 11 Jun 20

Some of the ceremonies may not have been as meaningful because of the quality of the presentation, the preparation of those giving the degree, and the setting.

Perhaps the Brother was mentally distracted by something in their mundane world, rushed from work or family, or simply not feeling well.

This, however, may not be the only reason for the differences. One way to examine a degree might be how powerful it is, and how original.

Some degrees are done with a mass of candidates, generally using a single representative. Some degrees are essentially just a series of lectures. Other rituals have profound impacts on the individual partaking in it.

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To differentiate the two types of degree rituals the terms ‘conferred’ and ‘transmitted’ will be used.

A degree that is conferred is one that, while potentially beautiful and important, doesn’t have the same impact on the candidates psyche and is not one that is done, one-on-one.

A ritual that is transmitted is one generally that is designed to have a lasting and profound effect on its candidate.

This division is not meant to imply anything regarding quality or value. A degree that is conferred with beauty and ability is of value.

The lessons of that ritual are important. They provide the basic knowledge base for the candidate in that degree and it ties them to the other members who have also had this degree conferred.

Transmission of a degree also implies a passage of information and knowledge and a binding to the group.

It is, however, a more personal experience that binds the initiator to the initiate. The ritual, itself, must have a psychological, an emotional, impact.

Essentially the ritual is a ‘rite of passage’. Once completed, the individual is not the same again [1].

Why then, have this division of degree rituals? Perhaps it can be argued that the difference is important in that the restrictions imposed on performing a degree may not be appropriate in some cases.

The restrictions that are meant are specifically the requirements for tyling and for performing the ritual in person.

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It can be argued that essentially all of the degree ritual materials are able to be found on internet.

Even the Craft’s view that the ‘Secrets’ of the degree are simply the ability to recognize a true Brother. These recognition means, are also available on the internet.

If the rituals are essentially available to everyone, and anyone can determine how to recognize another member of that degree, why then is there restrictions placed on how rituals are conducted [2] ?

One reason to place restrictions on how ritual is conducted is to provide the opportunity to put the materials in context and hopefully entertain as well as educate the candidates.

As an analogy, reading Shakespeare work is not the same as attending a live performance of the same work.

A second reason, perhaps, for the tyling for degrees is so that those involved are not identified, not exposed to people who are not members.

Closely aligned with this, is to prevent a ritual from being disturbed by uninvited people or lampooned. In the ‘Zoom’ world, this is like using the security features to prevent outsiders from ‘Zoom bombing’ or rebroadcasting a private meeting.

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A third reason for performing rituals in the traditional tyled Lodge is that it is an opportunity for fellowship and for advancement.

The candidates interact with the other members; the other members get to see the ritual and its impact on the candidate; and members have the opportunity to learn a ‘part’ and deliver it.

Those that enjoy ritual, whether watching or performing, will understand this reason.

A final reason for a closely tyled chamber, and one that is prepared correctly is when the ritual involved a transmission.

The candidate (almost always individual) needs to be placed in a situation of deep anticipation and perhaps even anxiety.

They are then led through the ritual and when performed correctly, they cross through a portal, or veil, to connect with the initiator and their new work.

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For Brothers of St Lawrence, their initial three Masonic degrees would be a case of transmission. Before Initiation they were just a man.

After the ceremony they were a Brother, and this will never change. The third degree is an example of a profound emotional response and it is why the actual raising is done individually.

No Mason would dispute the impact of the raising.

For these same Brothers, the degree of St Lawrence the Martyr can be juxtapositioned. While the degree has some beautiful sentiments on hospitality as well faith to one’s beliefs, it is not likely to have left a deep emotional impact or psychological event.

This degree would be said to have been conferred. This doesn’t make the St Lawrence degree of no or little value, it is just that it could be conferred in different ways.

Conceptually the idea is not that a conferred degree should be done in public, with open admission.

However, it is probably that most of the conferred degrees could be presented using digital means. Some degrees are essentially a series of lectures. Others involve some visual references.

The concept of floor work, that is moving in a specific patter and physically standing in a specific way is not likely to work using video conferencing. However, things like tracing boards and other images could be presented better on screen.

One might miss the ‘long march’ of the Most Excellent Master’s degree, and its inherent exercise routine, but little of the message would be lost if a video was presented showing the final part of that degree and placement of objects was shown. Even a series of well crafted still images would suffice.

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If conferred degrees could be presented in other methods, for example Zoom or equivalent, there is the opportunity to have more people in attendance from other locations.

Having more of a fixation on delivering the degree, versus running a meeting, could work to improve its delivery.

Different people in attendance would allow for more discussion and education of the degree. Where weather (or pandemic) conditions prevent physically coming together, this allows for degree/ritual work to continue.

Separating the conferrals from transmissions, also allows for a tighter focus on the ritual when it will be presented. Transmission would remain in person and in the hands of the Initiator.

The Allied Masonic Degrees give a great example of conferral of degrees. Rituals that had been written can be presented without having to trace a direct line (or lineage) from Initiator to Initiator.

This provides opportunities for Masons to continue to develop and become better men and understand more of their world and their Craft. Perhaps the other Bodies should examine how they too could confer degrees.


[1] Much of this material can be found in a paper by Christopher Lirette “Betwixt and Between, the Role of Ritual in Esoteric Societies”.

[2] This is notwithstanding the fact that members of a degree will always take an oath never to participate in the delivery of that degree except in a formed ‘Unit’. For the purposes of this paper, this concept will be omitted.

Article by: Scott Wisdahl

RWBro. Scott Wisdahl
Junior Warden, Fort St. John Masonic Lodge No. 131. Grand Lodge of BC & Yukon

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