Dispatches from Maine

Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things. That I reside in Maine is icing on the cake.

16 March 2008

Changing Ritual

Since I mentioned my concerns about the Scottish Rite ritual in passing yesterday, I thought I should provide some valuable context. My specific area of research is the development of Masonic ritual, with a focus on its development here in New England. Freemasons, in modern times, believe their ritual is today as it always has been. This could not be further from the truth. Here in Maine, for instance, the ritual underwent several significant revisions:

  • 1820

    We lost our use of the Antients Ritual and shifted exclusively to the Moderns (Webb) style.

  • 1852-1855

    The Grand Lodge of Maine agreed upon an authorized ritual as exemplified by M.W. Bro. John Miller. The ritual style we inherited from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts had been lost when they moved to the Baltimore Ritual in 1844.

  • 1874

    The Grand Lodge of Maine adopted new lectures as performed by M.W. Bro. Timothy Murray.

  • 1894

    The Grand Lodge of Maine commissioned a committee to review and publish a new authorized ritual, plain text, for the exclusive use of the Grand Lecturer. This ritual shed a number of very beautiful elements in favor of brevity.

  • 19?? (I have not yet reached the 20th century...)

    A final revision of the ritual, which I have not yet found, added a number of new elements, included two new exchanges between the Master and Deacons. It also restructured the Master Mason lecture in a way that materially changed the symbolic portion of the lecture.

These revisions added a few pieces of valuable coordination in the catechism, but in general shortened some of the more beautiful language. The changes to the Master Mason lecture in particular are disappointing because they brought the Master's Carpet into the exoteric class, rather than leaving it as an independent element. Suddenly all of the very old slides which do not include the Master's Carpet make a lot of sense!

Having learned so much of this history, I dearly wish I could go back and speak with the Past Grand Lecturers and Past Grand Masters and warn them. They firmly believed that they were hewing to a more ancient form of the ritual, but with all of the documents to come to light since 1894 and all of previously secreted manuscript ciphers this assertion appears unfounded. Rather than restore an older ritual, they created a new distinct one. The ceremonies are only mildly less beautiful, yet would that we could prevent those changes from having happened.

With this in mind, I try to pay careful attention to any changes to ritual and attempt to look forward a hundred years to imagine the impact of the change. Any revision which results in a massive shortening of the degree has, in my opinion, a significant risk of being amplified in the future leaving us with but a hint at its ancient beauty. Here in Maine, I have been happy with the openness of our Masonic leaders to talk through such matters and seriously consider the impact before making a change. It appears, in like manner, the Scottish Rite (NMJ) is also open to such conversation. I look forward to gaining more understanding regarding our own process for revising the ritual and sharing my concerns regarding the long term impact of shortening.

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At 17 March, 2008 21:19 , Blogger Masonic Traveler said...

Now to get really wonky, start looking at what other states did, and or what other Rites did. It really turns into a malange of degrees and messages. Essentially all the same, but with varying degrees (pardon the pun) of sentiment. the AASR 1-3 degrees are very interesting in their ties to alchemy and transformation.

At 27 March, 2008 08:32 , Blogger Justa Mason said...

Have you been able to re-construct any of the earlier versions of the degrees after going through the 100-plus year old manuscripts?



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