This is the transcript of the educational given at Progress Lodge #22, on October 3, 2011. Presented here for those who missed it.
Brothers, tonight we are taking an adventure. And like all adventures, we start at the beginning. And the beginning of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry is 1801 in Charleston, South Carolina. In Charleston, in this year the first Supreme Council formed, giving birth to the Scottish Rite as we know it today.
Sounds odd don’t it? We are here to talk about the Scottish Rite, but in order to do so, we have to go to South Carolina, but only after having gone to the Caribbean? You’d think we’d go to Scotland, right? And why 1801, the Scottish Grand Lodge was created in 1736! Just exactly what sort of adventure is this, you might wonder.
And I understand your confusion. I respond to it saying – only a boring adventure starts, flows, and ends the way you planned it. But I do share your disappointment. Even though the evidence suggests Freemasonry is as Scottish as Scotch Whiskey, we won’t be setting foot in Scotland tonight. Nope, we are starting at the beginning, Charleston, 1801, but after go we go to Jamacia.
But before we leave, let’s establish a common framework. The Scottish Rite is the amalgam of a variety of degree ‘currents’, or themes. These currents can be roughly categorized as ineffable, historic, religious/esoteric, philosophic, and chivalric.
Ineffable – pertaining directly to the narrative to the building of the temple, and restoration of the lost word.
Historic & Religious/Esoteric – while alchemical and hermetic symbolism wind their through all the degrees of the Rite, these degrees are particularly singled out, and are overtly Rosicrucian in their symbolism and story.
Philosophic & Chivalric – while cast specifically as knightly orders real and imagined, these degrees serve to test the philosophic resolve and moral character of the candidate.
It is paramount that we understand these currents. They are important later on.
Anyway where were we? Right, Jamaica! 1790’s! Rum and Pirates! Hmm… maybe Robinson was onto something with his brothers to pirates or corsairs…anyway… Wait, we’re not ready for this yet, we need to go back to England, then to Jamaica and finally, Charleston, 1801.
Our adventure tonight starts at the beginning, at Temple Bar, in London in the year 1733. This location and the events taking place there will come to impact the course of Masonry in America and around the world, so it is important to acquaint ourselves a little bit with Temple Bar.
In the middle ages, the City of London grew beyond its ancient walls in several places. This caused a problem when it came to regulating trade, and determining under whose jurisdiction a given location, or transaction, was or wasn’t. So the city erected barriers on major roads where ever a new boundary was set. Some of these barriers are little more than large stones marking the boundary, others like a tollbooth, and come elaborate structures with rooms built into them. In some cases offenders even jailed at these barriers as a warning to those who might take creative interpretations to the City’s ordinances, i.e. taxable domains.
Of these barriers the most famous was Temple Bar, and that is because of its location. The road marked by this barrier connected England’s commercial center (London) with its political center (Westminster). So, this barrier was more than just regulating trade, it enforced political doctrine. Couriers passed, or didn’t pass, this barrier. Nobles passed, or didn’t pass, this barrier. Spies and Lovers passed, or didn’t pass, this barrier. More importantly, ideas might enter and might exit through this barrier. This barrier, by virtue of its location was the nexus of an information highway in England. Any events taking place here had great importance. When the King came to London, the Mayor of the City met him at Temple Bar to reaffirm loyalty. If you were meeting a Temple Bar, the matter was serious.
The name of this barrier is also important. The name is taken from the nearby Temple Church, a Templar construction.
So, here we are at Temple Bar, in 1733. Masons are meeting here for something important.
Sorry, sorry, this isn’t right either. We need rewind a little more. This is the wrong year; we need to go to the beginning.
OK! This is it. The beginning – well, sort of. We’re still in London, the year is 1725, today is May 12th, and tonight we are conferring the Master Mason degree on Brother Charles Cotton. We should be quiet, because we are getting ready for the lecture – it’s all about Noah and the Ark, the true secrets of the Master Mason Degree and thus Freemasonry.
Seriously, let’s listen in:
“We have it by tradition, and still some reference to scripture for it caused Shem, Ham and Japheth to go to their father Noah’s grave for to see if they could find anything about him to lead them to the valuable secret which this famous preacher had… For I hope all will allow that all things needful for the new world was in the Ark with Noah.
Now these 3 men had already agreed that if they did not find the very thing itself, that the first thing that they found was to be to them as a secret… They not doubting, but did most firmly believe that God was able and would also prove willing, through their faith, prayer and obedience, to cause what they did find to prove as valuable to them as if they had received the secret at first from God Himself at its headspring.
So [they] came to the grave, finding nothing save the dead body almost consumed away. Taking a grip at a finger, it came away…so from joint to joint…so to the wrist…so to the elbow…so they reared up the dead body…and supported it…setting foot to foot…knee to knee…breast to breast…cheek to cheek…and hand to back…and cried out ‘Help, Oh Father’… As if they had said ‘Oh Father of Heaven, help us now, for our earthly father cannot’… so laid down the dead body again and not knowing what to do… so one said: ‘Here is yet marrow in this bone’ and the second said: ‘But a dry bone’ and the third said: ‘It stinketh’. So they agreed to give it a name as is known to free masonry to this day…so went to their undertakings, and afterwards works stood. “
In reality, we don’t know the exact lecture given that night. But we do know competing legends existed in London during this time of mixed national origin. The lecture above is from the Graham MS and is dated at 1726. Already you can see distinctive similarities to our Master Mason degree. Three man go to a grave of a great artificer hoping discover some great secret to make needful things; and endeavor to raise the body by grips and adopting a specific posture consisting of five points call upon God for wisdom and help; and getting no discernible secret, declare a substitute.
The Hiramic story we know it didn’t appear until 1730. The great question is why, and the answer to WHY leads us to Temple Bar, and from there ultimately to America.
The Great Fire of London destroyed nearly hour hundred acres of the city, and displaced almost two-hundred-thousand souls. As we know from any natural disaster cries for relief and rebuilding assistance go out to every able bodied person in the surrounding areas. This disaster was no different. Many migrant works came to London to assist with the rebuilding.
Masons descended upon London from all parts of what is now the United Kingdom, and possibly beyond, making London in the late 1600’s the largest nexus of Masons in the world, and maybe the largest. Each one of these Masons brought with them their skills, but also their legends, and rituals and customs.
In London of the 1670’s, this wasn’t much of a problem. There was work to do, and designs were on the trestle board. Besides Masons were the heroes of the day, everyone liked us, we made London glorious again, built homes and schools and churches and institutions. But by the 1700’s this work was winding down. London had become the largest city in Europe, and with fire had the side effect of reinvigorating the economy. London, was a great place to be English, if it weren’t for all those non-English types. At the same time, the Scots were becoming a tiresome lot for pure-true-blue-English-Londoners. Scotland has never really taken well to the English crown. In 1708, 1715, 1719, 1738, and 1745, various Scottish families attempted to abolish English rule in Scotland, and/or establish different English Rule in Scotland, or invade England outright and give us all a brogue.
So, in 1717 after all the work is done, the Grand Lodge appears in London, and one of the first things they set about doing is gathering together all these different forms of Masonry in London, establish an official history of Masonry and formalize ritual and customs.
Last week we heard Brother Tim Hogan attribute authorship of our Master Mason degree to Brother Desaguliers, noting that he was a Fellow of the Royal Society, interested in Alchemy like Issac Newton also an alchemist and Fellow of the Royal Society. Also mentioned were Elias Ashmole, an Englishman and Royal Society Fellow, and Robert Moray, a Royal Society Fellow, who while being a Scotsman, joined Charles II in exile in Paris and returned with him when Charles II took back the throne. While being alchemists, Fellows of the Royal Society, etc… Which is all true, and important, but the largely understated connection between all these men was their loyalty to the English Crown. If Desaguliers did write our Master Mason degree, and if he did include all these alchemical elements, the reason the Hiramic story beat out the Noachide is twofold:
First, and as is clearly established in the historic record of the time, alchemy, kabbalah, etc… were common literary, academic, and intellectual tropes. Outside of the Bible, one of the largest volumes of printed documents in England was alchemical and hermetic texts – you couldn’t escape them. Given the cost of printing and distribution, printing houses would only have produced these works because there was an audience willing to pay money for them, thus to make his narrative more attractive all he needed to do was liberally include such elements – as did the evolving EA and FC degrees – which when compared to the Registerhouse, Chetwode and Kevan manuscripts, it clearly was for more esoteric, and;
Second, and more importantly, if Desagulier wrote the Hiramic legend, that would make Hiram, an Englishman.
If PGL possessed a clearly English legend, then there was no need for those other, non-english legends. Which makes one speculate, just what was so dangerous at St. Paul’s Churchyard that Anderson had to burn it.
And this is why the events at Temple Bar are important. The Constitutions published in 1734 by PGL pay homage to Scottish heritage, but they cast Masonry has having settled exclusively in England. For a long time I wondered at this and it wasn’t until this year, that I understood why: It was a matter of survival of this new Masonic organization to be English, be loyal to the Crown, countenance no rebellion, and attract leading Englishmen, i.e. not one of those traitorous Scottish organizations!
So just what was so important in 1733 that Masons were gathering a Temple Bar, what were they doing that it set the stage for Freemasonry in America?
The men gathering at Temple Bar, were Brothers of a small number of London Lodges performing the Scots Master degree, i.e. Scottish Masonry. Just exactly what PGL couldn’t abide
Whether or not the political landscape on London and its environs decimated Scottish Masonry in England, we do know Scottish Masonry flourished in France. By1736 the Scotch Master degree jumped the Channel over to France, where freed of English politics the seeds of Scottish Masonry were put to fertile ground.
We don’t have full and complete copies of Scottish Ritual from this time. And surviving records indicate a number of variations but Mackey records that generally the version agree upon the manner of preserving the true word.
It is to the effect that the builder of the Temple engraved the word upon a triangle of pure metal, and, fearing that it might be lost, he always bore it about his person, suspended from his neck, with the engraved side next to his breast. In a time of great peril to himself, he cast it into an old dry well, which was in the southeast corner of the Temple, where it was afterward found by three Masters. They were passing near the well at the hour of meridian, and were attracted by its brilliant appearance; whereupon one of them, descending with the assistance of his comrades, obtained it, and carried it to King Solomon.
But in the mind of one Scottish expatriate living in France this legend was all he needed to create a Masonic firestorm.
Andrew Michael Ramsay 9 January 1686 – 6 May 1743, a Scottish Baronet, a Knight of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem a French Crusader order descended from the Hospitallers, a Freemason, and a Jacobite. He became involved in Freemasonry in France in about 1726, about the time that Masonry came to France. You probably know him as Chevalier Ramsay.
Ramsay is notable because it was he who linked Freemasonry to Crusading Orders, specifically the Knights Hospitaller; though he is erroneously reported as linking us to Templars. His Discourse of 1737 also triggered one of the Catholic Church decisions that Freemasonry was a heresy. In little more than a decade a Freemason, Ramsay had linked Scottish Masonry to the Crusaders, and made us enemies of the Church.
Those of you who are members of the Scottish Rite will certainly see echoes of knightly themes, and the remnants of historical antagonism with the Catholic Church in our Degrees. If only Ramsay were a mystic, all Scottish rite degrees would be represented in this guy.
As it turns out, Ramsay was also a mystic of Quietism, an advocate of Christian Universalism, and like all gentleman of his time in he possessed at least conversational understanding of the Hermetic sciences; though his mystic endeavors suggest otherwise. He spent his youth in an isolated religious community consisting of mystics from various disciplines; and was no doubt immersed in various schools of hermeticism, kabbalah, and alchemy well beyond the pale of most men in his time. Additionally he penned not less than three volumes of theological commentary most drawn from pagan sources, blended with his unique Christian view.
In this one man we see the genesis of many of the currents in the Scottish Rite. And his form of Masonry, would be an early prototype of French Degrees systems, and the Scottish Rite to come.
But Ramsay was not alone. In 1743, the Grand Lodge of France enacted legislation restricting the privileges of Scots Masters, and in 1745 the same Grand Lodge, gave them special privileges. And again in 1747 and 1755. Clearly something was going on, and the Scots Masters were having an impact. In France Freemasonry blended easily with myriad esoteric currents, and when supercharged with his Knightly thesis, Masonic growth exploded exponentially, both in number of degrees, and memberships.
Scottish, or Ecossais Masonry geminated into hundreds of Degrees as cataloged by Mackey and Oliver, and not less than three full Rites of Masonry developed, again one headed by non-other than Ramsay himself, which was the original source for all other Scottish systems in France.
In this hotbed of esoteric knightly Masonry, one Lodge comes into our view, Loge la Francaise. This Lodge specialized in newly forming high grade, or haut grade, Masonry. And business was good. So good in fact that in 1743, the Lodge charted a daughter Lodge, called Lodge Parfaite Harmonie. One of the chartering members of this new Lodge was Etienne Morin, who would bring Scottish Masonry to the new world.
And now Brothers, as promised, we are going to Jamaica.
Coming to America
We don’t have much of the early history of Etienne Morin. Presumably he was born in 1717, the son of a mildly successful business man in the Cahors region of France. Like his father before him, he became a businessman, and settled into trade between Bordeaux (interestingly one of France’s Masonic hotbeds) and the West Indies. Similarly, we don’t know exactly when he became involved in Masonry. DeHoyos records him as a charter member of Lodge Perfect Harmony. In 1744 in Antingua he received and initiated the Governor of the Windward Islands English, William Matthews, into the highest degrees of Scottish Perfection. In 1745 he founded another Scottish lodge, known as the Perfect Elect, taking from the surrounding Lodges of Bordeaux some of the finest ritualists available. This fact suggests he had already established a strong Masonic reputation.
In 1761 the French Grand Lodge, the Grand and Sovereign Lodge of St. John of Jerusalem, made Morin a Grand Inspector for all parts of the World. The original patent, presumed to deal with only symbolic Lodges, but by reviews of later patents, possibly embellished by Morin himself (a habit he continued late into his Masonic career) he was authorized and empowered to establish perfect and sublime Masonry in all parts of the world.
Morin immediately took to task. He compiled a greatest hits collection of French Masonry. He made sure to include all the number one degrees of the era; historic degrees, knightly degrees, hermetic degrees, Kabbalistic degrees, Rosicrucian degrees, alchemical degrees, even more knightly degrees and fantastical legends of Templary, etc… essentially, every current spoke of back at the beginning.. In all he took in twenty-five degrees for his greatest hits collection. He dubbed his new twenty-five degree system the Order of the Royal Secret. This is sometimes referred to as the Rite of Perfection, but it is best referred to as Morin’s Rite.
With his new degrees and every expanding patent, Morin sailed for the West Indies and in 1763 started establishing Lodges, and conferring high degrees wherever he could find an audience. By the next year he had established Lodges in Louisiana and elevated a Dutch Mason, Andrew Francken, empowering him to further create bodies throughout the New World. And, like his predecessor, Franken went right to work. By 1767 he had established bodies in New York conferring the 4°-14°, and in 1768 appointed Moses Michael Hayes as Deputy Inspector General for the West Indies and North America, giving Hayes authority over all degrees of the Rite. Hayes in turn inducted eight people to be Assistant Inspectors General. Ultimately, as recorded by Brent Morris, a total of seventy-five inspectors general of some rank (assistant, deputy, etc…) were established in the United States; and at least eight bodies were operating prior to 1801.
Perhaps an inefficient system, the system of Inspectors established by Morin and Francken was effective. Though little known to anglo lodges in America, the Order of the Royal Secret had spread far and wide enough that Webb, the Great Unifier of American Work when compiling his Freemason’s Monitor, included the Ineffable Scottish Degrees of Masonry (4°-14°) AND the system of Inspectors had given birth to “York Degrees” of Royal and Select Masters, the former being a corruption of the Scots Master degree itself, and the other of the Perfect Elect degree of the French System, AND had even sparked a question of Regularity in America, as noted in 1787 on the Memorial of Lodge No. 40 on the Registry of Pennsylvania as noted by Brent Morris:
“Brother Joseph Myers, Junr. was then, and actually is (under the jurisdiction of the late Prussian Monarch) an Inspector General and Grand Master of and over the Ineffable Degrees of Masonry. The second, brother James Fallon, is and was a regular Past-Master … made and installed in a … Lodge of Ineffable Masons at Philadelphia, under a regular commission.”
Thus illustrating the impact of Scottish Masonry; and the article just read reveals even in 1787, you can’t make a Past Master happy.
We’ve been talking for a while now, and I’d like to pause and contemplate for a moment – in less than one hundred years, a small band of Brothers practicing a politically unpopular degree preserved a masonic legend that has shaped and lent its name to numerous rites of masonry, and hundreds of degrees in two hemispheres. Their efforts at the fringes of London where ancient operative guilds regulated traffic, and named after a Templar Church, set the stage to bring together a system to communicating some of the most sublime and profound teachings of the ages; and along the way even gave degrees to a competing rite of masonry in a country that didn’t even exist yet.
And this Brothers, moves us finally into Charleston, South Carolina, 1801 – at the beginning. Here in this city, a group of Brothers following the Constitutions of 1786 established the first Supreme Council, which transformed the Order of the Royal Secret into the thirty-three degree system we know today as the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Under their guidance the degrees evolved combining history, philosophy, morality, ethics, mathematics, esoterica, and knightly virtues into a coherent and progressive system of Masonry; and in what is either the cruelest twist of irony in Masonic history, or the work of true esoteric and moral genius, the Rite of Masonry bearing the name Scottish, derived from the Scots Master degree, the degree distinguished by actually preserving the true word of Scottish Masonry, lost it in the rubbish of the Temple.
And if you want to find it, hints are to be found in Jay Kinney’s Masonic Myth.
Recommended Reading & References
- The Masonic Myth: Unlocking the Truth About the Symbols, the Secret Rites, and the History of Freemasonry, Jay Kinney
- Scottish Rite Monitor and Guide, Art DeHoyos
- The English & French Wikipedia Articles On Masonry, Morin, Ramsay, and Scottish Rite Masonry (yes I said wikipedia, get over it. If you think it is inaccurate, change it!)
- The Royal Secret In America Before 1801, Brent Morris
- Register House Manuscript
- Chetwode Crawley Manuscript
- Kevan Manuscript
- The Constitutions of the Free-Masons