There are three official degrees of Masonry—the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason. Master Mason is the Lodge’s highest degree. Still, the lessons learned and the personal advancement made in accomplishing these degrees is only a start for many Masons, and those who wish to pursue their knowledge further often join what is known as an “appendant body” of Freemasonry. Here is a look at the best-known of these bodies.
The Scottish Rite
Many people believe that Masonry has some 33 degrees, but this is a distinction conferred by the Scottish Rite, an appendant body that actually comes from the United States. As a legacy of sectional divisions in the Nineteenth Century when the Rite was founded, there is a Northern Jurisdiction and Southern Jurisdiction, each of which have slight differences in titles for the degrees and some of the rituals involved. Each degree is a further exploration of the lessons of the first three degrees, and like the Grand Lodge, the Rite is very active in charitable work. The most prominent of these works is the network of Scottish Rite Children’s Hospitals, which treat juvenile maladies free of charge, regardless of any family connection to Masonry.
The York Rite
The York Rite was also founded in the United States and has since spread around the world. While the Scottish Rite involves 30 additional degrees, the York Rite features an additional 7-10. The reason for this ambiguity is that the York Rite is actually a collection of three other bodies, the Royal Arch Masons (which have four extra degrees), the Cryptic Masons (with three extra degrees) and the Knights Templar (which have three degrees as well). Knights Templar require all of their members to be Christians, and so Masons who are not a part of the Christian Church can only progress through the first 7 York Rite degrees.
And as for those who find something ominous in the names “Cryptic” and “Knights Templar,” the first refers to a crypt in Solomon’s Temple which is used as a teaching symbol and the Knights Templar have no connection to the Medieval order, having been founded several hundred years later.
Formally known as the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, the Shriners were founded in 1870 in New York City. The organization was founded to help those who had found brotherhood in the Lodge find fun and fellowship with their fellow Masons. Ask anybody who knows, and they’ll tell you the Shriners know how to throw a party, and their auditoriums often host world-class entertainment. For all their fun, the Shriners also do serious charitable work, running a network of children’s hospitals that serve thousands of young people free of charge every year. Like the Scottish and York Rites, one must be a Master Mason to join the Shrine.
With all the work being done by men to make themselves better in the Lodge, a number of women wanted to get involved with Masonry as well. It is one of the basic landmarks—or rules—of the Lodge that all Masons must be men, but in response to the interests of women, the Order of the Eastern Star was founded in Boston in 1850. Men who have reached the level of Master Mason and women who have some sort of family relationship with a Mason are both allowed to join, and the stories of women heroes of the Bible are used as symbols for personal advancement. Despite the Biblical nature of Eastern Star’s teaching, like the Grand Lodge all faiths are welcome, provided they believe in God.