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The York And Scottish Rites
J. Howard Duncan, 32, K.C.C.H.
Lecompton, Kansas

The Master Mason wishing to expand his Masonic associations should benefit from this Brotherís concise comparison of the York Rite and the Scottish Rite.


What are the differences between the Scottish Rite and the York Rite, two major Bodies of extended Masonry? An answer to this question, if attempted without limitation, would soon bog down in a myriad of details. In the intricacies of each Bodyís rituals, for instance, there are hundreds of differences.

An answer to the question, where it might better serve to inform the Blue Lodge Freemason considering continuation of his search for Masonic Light, requires backing away from the details and illustrating the bigger picture. My perspective is from having held most of the local offices of the two organizations without any state or national service.

First, the overriding similarities should be noted. Both groups are Masonic organizations dedicated to the benefit of society through improvement of the individual. By morality lessons and peer association, they promote behaviors which civilize the man and strengthen his society. This is consistent with the Blue Lodge lessons which teach a man to be a better husband, father, son, neighbor, churchgoer, and citizen.

It is in the focus of their objectives that the two organizations can most easily be seen to differ. Scottish Rite Masonry is the champion of individual freedoms and citizenship rights as well as responsibilities. York Rite Masonry in its concluding Degrees or Orders is the champion of Christianity. A man must pledge to defend Christianity to become a Knight Templar Freemason in the York Rite. Good men of other religions (Jews, Moslems, Hindus, etc.) believing in Deity may become Scottish Rite Masons. The Scottish Rite Mason is urged to take an active leadership role in the promotion and protection of individual rights: government by democracy, free speech and press, equitable treatment before the law, freedom of religion and the individual, and separation of church and state.

York Rite Freemasonry has three separate and autonomous Bodies: Chapter, Council, and Commandery. These Bodies each have ritual and conduct meetings. The officers lines are not much different from Blue Lodge, but with differing titles. The top officer in the three Bodies are respectively formally called Excellent High Priest, Illustrious Master, and Eminent Commander. As the title Brother is used in the Blue Lodge, the title Companion is used in the Chapter and Council and the title Sir Knight is used in the Commandery.

Scottish Rite Masonry has four coordinate Bodies: Lodge of Perfection, Chapter of Rose Croix, Council of Kadosh, and Consistory. The business affairs of all four Bodies of the Scottish Rite are conducted in the Lodge of Perfection. The top officers in the four Bodies are respectively formally addressed as Venerable Master, Wise Master, Commander, and Venerable Master of Kadosh.

While some Blue Lodges use costumes, most do not. But both the Scottish and York Rites emphasize the theatrical by use of elaborate costumes, stage props, and often actual stages with scenery backdrops to heighten the dramatic impact of each Riteís morality lessons. This Degree work tends to be done by men well rehearsed in the roles they are performing rather than by the current Lodge officers.

Another noticeable difference from Blue Lodge is the attire sometimes worn by the ordinary members. Most striking of these are the uniforms worn by York Rite Commandery, complete with ceremonial swords. The uniforms are reminiscent of what was worn on formal occasions by naval officers a century ago. The chief characteristic is a large, folded-brim hat, called a chapeau, with ostrich plumes. The other two York Rite Bodies sometimes use modern blazer jackets, red for Chapter and purple for Council.

Scottish Rite limits its nonritual attire to a hat with ornamentation including the symbolic double-headed eagle and gold-colored braiding. The hat is of the pillbox type without bill or brim. Black is the basic color of the hat worn by the majority of the Scottish Rite members who are 32 Masons. The two honorary Degree classes have different identifying colors. Red is used for the man recognized as a Knight Commander of the Court of Honour and labelled as a 32 K.C.C.H. Mason. The supreme honorary recognition of 33 Freemason is titled Inspector General Honorary and includes the identification of a white hat. The white Scottish Rite hat is rare representing slightly over 1% of the membership. In even smaller numbers are the purple or magenta hats worn by the 33 Active Members of The Supreme Council.

Both of the Rites practice charity and have their favorite projects. York Rite Masons have several charities, among them the Royal Arch Masons Auditory Research Assistance Program and the Knights Templar Eye Foundation which makes it possible for needy persons with sight problems to get medical help. The Knights Templars also support a Holy Land Pilgrimage program which sends ministers on tours dedicated to the locales important to Jews, Christians, and followers of Islam. Scottish Rite Free- masons support their 122 Childhood Learning Disorders Clinics, Centers, and Programs and their hospitals in Dallas, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia, treating children with orthopedic, neurological, and learning disabilities. All groups practice local charity and usually sponsor educational scholarships.

Polity also differs. The Scottish Rite is hierarchical and oaths of loyalty are required to the Orderís national leaders whereas the York Rite is democratic in its polity.

In the final analysis both groups are champions, like Blue Lodge Masons, of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.