Due to its complexity and the variety of stages through which its itinerary towards perfection evolves, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite may be defined as the maximum initiate expression in the modern age . It has laid down a tradition which appears from the outside (exoterically) as “many Rites or parts of the pre-existent rites”, while inside it aims to a harmonic knowledge of “the most sublime truths” of the past. Such a categorical judgment is justified by the fact that, among the initiate organizations – that have the intrinsic aim of improving the spiritual life of mankind in his globality, it is the one which mostly seems to be aimed to achieve what Pico della Mirandola wrote in the Oration on the Dignity of Man: “Let a holy ambition enter into our souls; let us not be content with mediocrity, but rather strive after the highest and expend all our strength in achieving it”.
On the other hand, a further series of initiate moments are born from the need to overlap the three traditional grades of Apprentice, Companion and Master, which was widespread during the Freemasonry of the 18th century, with a further series of initiate moments which tend to realize the Great Masterpiece through the assimilation of a rituality which comes from the principal schools of thoughts of the Western tradition, such as the cabala, alchemy, rosicrucianism, templarism, christianity, and hermetism in its most different species. This need has passed from the historical operative phase to a speculative one.
The structure of the Rite is like a pyramid which is based on a platform built on three symbolic stages of Freemasonry, which proceed towards superior levels of knowledge through a succession of other thirty degrees, numbered progressively from 4th to 33rd. Their multiplicity can be explained by the intrigue of elements with a different philosophical, legendary, historical and symbolic connotation, which tend to express different realities and mysteries as a whole, which need a specific ritual interpretation.
The degrees of the Rite can be grouped into four categories, which follow the highest objectives of the traditional itinerary of Freemasonry, depicted as three symbolic or primitive degrees (Blue Masonry) on which the Scottish pyramid stands.
DEGREES OF PERFECTION
They are called degrees of Perfection (and practiced in the Lodges of Perfection) the eleven grades from 4th to 14th, called as follows:
4th Secret Master,
5th Perfect Master,
6th Intimate Secretary,
7th Provost and Judge,
8th Intendent of the Buildings,
9th Elect of Nine,
10th Elect of Fifteen,
11th Sublime Elect,
12th Grand Master Architect,
13th Royal Arch of Enoch,
14th Scotch Knight of Perfection or Grand Elect of the Holy Vault and Sublime Mason.
Those degrees propose again the spirit of the initiation to the minor mysteries in the Scottish pyramid, from Apprentice to the first step of maturity, marked by the transition to Companion. They constitute the Red Masonry in the following four grades, until the 18th.
They are so-called because of the Chapter , where they are practiced, and they propose the Freemason experience of Companion again, until the elevation to the Mastery. They are called as follows:
15th Knight of the Sword, or of the East,
16th Prince of Jerusalem,
17th Knight of the East and West,
18th The Sovereign Prince Rose-Croix of Heredom, Knight of the Pelican and Eagle.
At this degree, with access to the Rosicrucian Chapter, the Scotch disciple gains the right instruments for a new Mastery, compared with the superior levels of knowledge.
The evolution of the condition of Master advances until the 30 th grade, where the initiation to the most important mysteries eventually takes place. The twelve grades through which that extreme itinerary of perfection is accomplished are called Philosophical Degrees, and practiced in Areopagus or Councils.
These degrees are as follows:
19th Grand Pontiff of Heavenly Jerusalem or Sublime Scotch Knight,
20th Grand Master of all Symbolic Lodges,
21st Noachite, or Prussian Knight,
22nd Knight of the Royal Axe,
23rd Chief of the Tabernacle,
24th Prince of the Tabernacle,
25th Knight of the Brazen Serpent,
26th Prince of Mercy or Scottish Trinitary,
27th Knight Commander of the Temple,
28th Knight of the Sun, or Prince Adept,
29th Grand Scottish Knight of St Andrew,
30 th Grand Elect Knight Kadosh, Knight of the White and Black Eagle.
Kadosh is the “saint”, the “pure” person who has stepped over the threshold of the supreme initiate, bringing to the extreme consequences the theme of the detachment from whatever psychological, spiritual or philosophical conditioning factor. He is “the soldier of Eternity who has cut himself off from the world”, i. e. the mason who has thoroughly realized the objective of a total mental and spiritual liberation, obtained through a ritual practice that in a “full spirit of independence frees him from every submission to the ideas that he could have previously learnt through religious faith, cultural or socio-political background”.
The twelve Philosophical degrees all together represent the Black Masonry.
They are so-called the three degrees at the top of the Scotch pyramid, that hold the maximum responsibility connected to the management of the AASR : justice, rituality, the categorical task of re-ordering chaos, as laid out by the motto of the Supreme Council ( Ordo ab chao ), that globally expresses spirit and intentions of the whole body ritual.
Each function is given a specific headquarters, i. e. the Tribunal (where the members of the three upper degrees sit), the Consistory (reserved for the 32nd and 33rd ) and the Supreme Council (exclusively of the 33 rd ).
The latter is the volitive body, i. e. “the maximum authority of the Rite”, to which specific Regulations recognize “exclusive ritual, legislative, administrative, judiciary and disciplinary powers”, as well as the prerogative of the guardian of the “initiate heritage collected by the founders”:
31st Inspector Inquisitor Commander,
32nd Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret,
33rd Sovereign Grand Inspector General.
All these degrees are called White Masonry.
Only seven out of thirty degrees of the Scottish pyramid (the 4th, the 9th, the 18th, the 30th and the three Sublime degrees) are active in actual fact, or rather practiced through a constant ritual in the respective Lodges.
This does not mean that the other degrees – generally called “unaccustomed” or intermediate – should be considered as pure virtuosity. On the contrary, they represent an existential continuity, indispensable for the philosophical coherence of the Scottish initiate itinerary, each one being depository of specific heritage which represents symbols and history. Thus, knowledge – even that ritual – is required for access to the subsequent grades. It follow that the initiation to the 9th, the 18th and the 30th degrees must undergo a propaedeutic ceremony of titles and dignity of the previous degrees Nor is it about ephemeral formality, since among the duties of every lodge there is deep study of the meaning of these degrees, less explored in their rituality, history and legend.
THE MASONIC “SECRET”
A short synthesis of the Scottish initiate itinerary will follow, through short descriptions of the seven practiced degrees. The intermediate degrees will be explained separately. It is important to underline that in that way not any mystery will be revealed, since Masonic mystery is incommunicable. That is true not because a specific veto exists, but because contempt of the Freemason rituality remains incomprehensible in its deep spiritual essence for those who have not had a direct experience, as the taste of an apple for those who have never tasted it – said the mason Giacomo Casanova, usually hostile to giving explanations about his lodge experiences – or the blue of the sky for a blind man from his birth.
From this standpoint, the Masonic “secret” has a significance which is completely different from the one outside the Freemason initiate world. It is something more than a means dictated by prudence or by the fear of self reveal, but it is the past participle of the verb secernere , i. e. the secreto (the distillation, the extract or the secretion) that only the work in the Masonic lodges can produce. For this reason it can not be reached from the outside, neither through detailed information and the reading of the rituals.
After this preface, a true picture of the initiate Scottish itinerary can be depicted as well as the degrees that mark it along, saying that it begins where the Word is lost (the lost Word symbols the interrupted Tradition with the murder of Hiram) and goes on to find it again. To do all this, a new phase of apprenticeship is necessary, although at an unprofessional level.
This phase begins with the 4th degree, where the chosen Masters – appointed from above, not by their own choice – receive the signs of the Secret Masters.