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The Swedish Rite is a variation or Rite of Freemasonry that is common in Scandinavian countries (and to a lesser extent in Germany). It is different from other branches of Freemasonry in that it insists on its members being professing Christians.
The Swedish Rite is common in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. A slight variation is common in parts of Germany under the Große Landesloge der Freimaurer von Deutschland. Also other craft masonic bodies are working in the nordic countries (see further under freemasonry in Sweden and freemasonry in Denmark). However only one Grand Lodge in each country is working the Swedish Rite, each of which governs its own jurisdiction. Although fully independent, the Scandinavian Grand Lodges work closely together to keep their rituals as similar as possible.
The Rite is divided into three divisions: St. John's (Craft) degrees (I–III), St. Andrew's (Scottish) degrees (IV–VI) and the Chapter degrees (VII–X). In addition one may attain the XIth degree, although only a very few gain this as it primarily is given to Grand Lodge officers. The Swedish Rite demands members be Christian and not just that they believe in a supreme being. Like other Regular Masonic jurisdictions, only men are allowed membership.
Since 7 November 2006 all laws of the Swedish Order of Freemasons are publicly available on the Internet. Among others, the laws prohibit any member to gain advantages outside the lodge by using the lodge as an instrument. The laws also stress the charity works of the members and the observance of the Golden Rule.
- St. John's degrees
- I Apprentice
- II Fellow Craft
- III Master Mason
- St. Andrew's degrees
- IV/V Apprentice and Companion of St. Andrew (a double degree)
- VI Master of St. Andrew
- Chapter degrees
- VII Very Illustrious Brother, Knight of the East
- Novice (in Danish Order of Freemasons only)
- VIII Most Illustrious Brother, Knight of the West
- IX Enlightened Brother of St. John's Lodge
- X Very Enlightened Brother of St. Andrew's Lodge
- Grand Lodge degree
- XI Most Enlightened Brother, Knight Commander of the Red Cross
Organization and Officers
The Swedish rite is organized in the three divisions mentioned above (St. John, St. Andrew, Chapter), and so are the lodges. There are therefore individual St. Johns lodges conferring the first three degrees, St. Andrews lodges conferring the next three degrees and subsequently Chapters conferring the last degrees; all of these are managed by their individual Worshipful Master, who will be in office for several years (typically 8 years in Denmark). Under each of the grand lodges operating under the Swedish rite, there are a different number of lodges in each division, although with more St. John lodges than St. Andrews lodges and similarly only few Chapters. As an example, there are about 50 St. Johns lodges, about 20 St. Andrews lodges and about 10 Chapters in Denmark. At each division, some of the lodges will be lodges of instruction, that present degree specific lectures rather than conferring masons to degrees.
The officers of the lodges under the Swedish Rite are somewhat different from officers of Craft Masonry. The lodges are managed by a Worshipful Master, who will be assisted by a Primary Deputy Master and typically also a Secondary or even more Deputy Masters; all are elected by the brethren of the lodge and all can and do lead regular lodge meetings. The Primary and Secondary Wardens ("guarding brethren" would be the direct translation) are also elected and are similar to the Senior and Junior warden of Craft Masonry. Additional officers appointed by the Worshipful Master include a Master of Ceremonies, a Secretary, a Treasurer, an Orator, an Introducer, a Director of Music and some more. Officers generally stay in office for several years and are often assisted by substitute officers, who can and do take their place at regular lodge meetings.
There are rules dictating minimum degrees for the various officers and their substitutes. As examples, the Wardens must have at least VII°, their substitutes at least III° and the Worshipful Master of a St. Andrew's lodge must have X°.
The XI° degree is almost solely given to Grand Lodge officers.
Comparison to Craft Lodges
The Swedish rite is a truly progressive system, where each degree builds upon the preceding degrees. The first three degrees (i.e. the St. John degrees) are quite comparable to the three degrees of Craft Lodges or Blue Lodges and master masons from Swedish rite lodges and from other lodges recognized by The United Grand Lodge of England are permitted to visit each other's meetings. As the names of the first three degrees, Apprentice, Fellow, and Master are identical to the degrees of Craft Lodges, so is the morality being taught, and the well-known symbols of Freemasonry are the same in both rites. Freemasons from either rite will therefore immediately have an understanding when they visit a lodge working under the other rite. However, the actual layout of the lodge room and the actual rituals are quite different. There is similarly some resemblance between the St. Andrews degrees and the Holy Royal Arch.
Another major difference between Swedish rite masons and Craft Lodge masons is that the natural progression for the former is to progress through the degrees rather than through offices. With regular attendance, Swedish Rite masons can progress to the X degree over a period of roughly 15 years, and they will be able to get their full understanding of masonry from doing so. In Craft masonry, the progression is primarily achieved by taking up a sequence of offices. There is no obligation or even expectation that masons under Swedish rite ever take an office in the lodge, and mason who do take offices are not obliged to take these in a specific sequence. As an example, a mason may be elected as Deputy Master without ever having taken another office. There is, however, a requirement that masons have acquired a specific degree before taking up a specific office; these requirements differ somewhat between the grand lodges using the Swedish rite.
As a consequence of the organization of lodges in the three divisions, masons become members of a new lodge when they progress into the next division.
Conditions for progression from one degree to the next varies somewhat between the countries. In Sweden, it is not automatic and a brother not only has to be in regular attendance, but also has to show that he has a certain proficiency and knowledge of Freemasonry. In Denmark, you need to apply to progress from the St. John's division to the St. Andrew's division, and there are rules for the minimum time you need to stay at each degree. However, it is possible to progress to at least IX° without much attendance and without proven proficiency.
Swedish Rite and Christianity
The Swedish Rite requires its members to be professing Christians, compared to traditional Craft Lodges that require its members to believe in some Supreme Being. However, the Swedish Rite is in no way to be considered as a substitute for religion or for churches, and the grand lodges do not in any way attempt to preach Christianity. Religion is as much a personal matter to Swedish Rite masons as it is to any other mason. However, the rituals have Christian roots and have references to the Old and the New Testament of the Christian Bible. Although Christianity is required and must be proved by presenting a Christian birth certificate, the lodges accept members of any Christian denomination, very clearly including both catholics and protestants. Swedish Rite freemasonry has actually borrowed from several different Christian denominations.
The primary foundations of the Swedish Rite are from the late 18th century when Carl Friedrich Eckleff created the first St. Andrews lodge in Stockholm in 1756 and the first Grand Chapter in 1759. His ideas of a truly progressive system to continue the existing system with three degrees was further developed by Duke Karl of Södermalmland, the later Charles XIII of Sweden, who also became the Grand Master of the Swedish Order of Freemansons. By 1800 the Swedish rite had fully evolved and has since this primarily had minor changes. In Denmark, the first St. Andrews Lodge started working in 1855 and the first Chapter shortly after in 1858; this effectively marked the beginning of Swedish Rite in Denmark.
Grand Lodges using the rite
The Swedish Rite is used by:
- The Swedish Order of Freemasons (Svenska Frimurare Orden), with lodges in Sweden and Finland.
- The Norwegian Order of Freemasons (Den Norske Frimurerorden)
- The Danish Order of Freemasons (Den Danske Frimurerorden)
- The Icelandic Order of Freemasons (Frímúrarareglan á Íslandi)
An earlier version of the rite, the Zinnendorf Rite, is used by:
- Grand Landlodge of the Freemasons of Germany (Große Landesloge der Freimaurer von Deutschland)
- Grand Lodges using the Swedish Rite
- Danish Grand Lodge
- Icelandic Grand Lodge
- Norwegian Grand Lodge
- Swedish Grand Lodge
- Grosse Landesloge der Freimaurer von Deutschland
- Other links
- THE SWEDISH CONSTITUTION, Nordic Esotericism in Baroque Splendour, by W.Bro Alex G. Davidson, last retrieved 16 April 2006
- Valley of Schenectady, Northern Jurisdiction, USA, description of Swedish Rite