American System, The
The once universally established custom of describing the branches of Freemasonry as the York Rite and the Scottish Rite is falling into a disuse which an increasing number of Grand Bodies are hoping will become complete.
The two names have always been anomalous, ambiguous, confusing, and mistaken in fact. Knight Templarism was never in one "Rite'' with the Royal Arch, and of itself had never been associated with York; neither the Royal Arch itself nor the Craft Degrees to which it once belonged had originated in York---or, if a Mason prefers to accept the Prince Edwin tradition, they had no connection with it for centuries.
The Scottish Rite had not originated in Scotland; moreover a number of its Degrees are themselves Royal Arch or Knight Templar in character. To add to the confusion, the Lodges under the Ancient Grand Lodge of England (1751) called themselves York Masonry, and the name as thus used is still incorporated in the titles of two or three American Grand Lodges. In the process of taking on so many meanings the name "York" lost any meaning that may ever have properly belonged to it. There was once a Grand Lodge of All England at York, but it did not last many years, and Chartered no Lodges in America ; a second Grand Lodge sponsored by it, and called the Grand Lodge of England South of the River Trent, lasted for an even shorter time. If the tradition about Prince Edwin which is enshrined in the Old Charges is accepted as historical (as is seldom done) it gives no peculiar precedence to Freemasonry in York, because the City of York was merely the place where a General Assembly was held, and the Fraternity said to have been Chartered there had no more connection with Freemasonry in York than with Freemasonry in London.
The phrases "York Rite" and "Scottish Rite" are giving way to the more descriptive and historically correct phrase of The American Masonic System.
This System consists of a set of five Rites in which each maintains undivided its own independence and its own sovereignty, and yet are bound together by the rules of comity; these rules rest on the authority of honor, general agreement, and common consent.
These five are: Ancient Craft (or Symbolic-"Blue Lodge" is slang) Masonry; Royal Arch Masonry; Cryptic Masonry; Knight Templarism; the Scottish Rite (with 29 Degrees, not including the 33 ).
Each of the latter four Rites requires that any one of its own members must be also a member in good standing in a Regular Lodge of Ancient Craft Masonry, thereby guaranteeing that American Freemasonry shall not split into a number of separate Freemasonries as has occurred in European countries. The Ancient Craft Rite is organized under forty-nine Grand Lodges, each one independent and sovereign.
The Royal Arch and Cryptic Rites and the Knight Templar Orders are organized under State and National Grand Bodies; the Scottish Rite is organized under Consistories which belong to either of two Jurisdictions: the Northern with its seat at Boston, Mass.; the Southern with its seat at Washington, D.C. Of the "Side Orders" the largest are the Shrine, the Order of the Eastern Star, and the Grotto ; no one of these belongs to the American System but each and every one, and of its own volition, has made it a qualification that each of its own members shall have some connection, by membership or by family relationship, with one or more of the five Rites in The American System. No satisfactory adjectival phrase for distinguishing the Degrees after the Third from Ancient Craft Masonry bas as yet been found; at least, none has been officially adopted. They are called "Concordant Orders," "High Degrees," etc.; according to the canons of historical usage "High Grades" would be most nearly correct; but the "high" has a special sense and does not mean that other Degrees are higher than the Master Mason Degree, except as 32 is a "higher" number than three. In two respects Ancient Craft Masonry is in a unique position by comparison with the other four Rites : it guards the doors to Freemasonry as a whole, so that no Mason can be in any Rite unless be is a member in it; and its own Ritual was that out of which the other Rituals were formed, or which they elaborated and expanded, or served as their point of departure: and in addition it bolds a great primacy in antiquity, for while there are existing records of Craft Lodges at least as early as the Fourteenth Century the oldest known record of any High Grade is of the 1740's.
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