Freemasons and the Scottish Rite System
The Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite is an appendant body of Freemasonry and is considered entirely optional for Masons to join. The Scottish Rite is technically a concordant body because some of its degrees continue the story of the building of Solomon’s Temple that's started in the first three lodge degrees.
The Scottish Rite regularly confers degrees 4 through 32 on its candidates. Additionally, the Rite also bestows the 33rd degree on certain members. The 33rd degree is an honorary degree for special service.
These higher degree numbers should not be considered higher ranks. The 3rd degree, the Master Mason, is the most important degree in Freemasonry, and any other degrees are considered simply extensions of being a Master Mason.
In the United States, the Scottish Rite presents its ritual ceremonies in an auditorium to multiple candidates. The ceremonies are dramatically staged as short plays, generally complete with sets, scenery, makeup, lighting, sound effects, music, and costumes.
Most states have no more than two or three Scottish Rite chapters (called valleys), and degree conferrals (called ceremonials or reunions) are done only once or twice a year. Each degree has its own obligation (oath) and identifying sign (gesture). At the proper moment in each ceremony, the audience rises and, in unison, gives the sign and recites the obligation.
The Scottish Rite in the U.S. is divided into two geographical territories: the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction (NMJ) and the Southern Masonic Jurisdiction (SMJ). Each territory is governed by its own Supreme Council.
Within each valley, the degrees that are conferred are actually divided among what amounts to several internal departments. Each one is in charge of presenting their particular degrees, and each one has its own officers and meetings. They’re sort of like in-house lodges within each Scottish Rite valley:
Lodge of Perfection: The 4th through the 14th degrees are presided over by the Lodge of Perfection. These degrees are considered to be the ineffable degrees.
Council Princes of Jerusalem: In the NMJ, the Council Princes of Jerusalem presides over the 15th and 16th degrees. This division doesn't exist in the SMJ.
Chapter of the Rose-Croix: In the NMJ, the Chapter of the Rose Croix presides over the 17th and 18th degrees, and in the SMJ, the chapter is responsible for the 15th through 18th degrees.
Council of Kadosh: The SMJ classifies the 19th through 30th degrees as part of the Council of Kadosh. The NMJ doesn't have this council.
Consistory: The NMJ puts the 19th through 32nd degrees under the authority of the Consistory, but the SMJ only places the 31st and 32nd degrees in this group.
To be a Scottish Rite Mason, you don’t have to be from Scotland or go to Scotland. You need only be a Master Mason in good standing with your lodge. In the United States, to be a Scottish Rite 32nd-degree Mason doesn't mean you have to have every degree from the 4th through the 32nd conferred upon you. Nor do you have to experience the degrees in order — they’re self-contained lessons. Some are considered more essential than others to have a basic understanding of the philosophy of the Rite, but if you experience the 32nd degree, you’re a 32nd-degree Mason.