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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, rather than having three main degrees and seemingly-endless side degrees and appendant bodies, it has an integrated system with ten degrees. It is also different in that, rather than moving through the offices or 'chairs', progress in the Swedish Rite is based on moving through the ten degrees. A fundamental difference is the Swedish Rite's position on religious affiliation: Masonry as recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England requires a belief in God, but accepts candidates of any theistic religion, whereas Swedish Masonry is specifically Christian, and requires a Christian trinitarian belief in all its members. Nonetheless, the main Swedish Rite constitutions are all recognised as regular by the United Grand Lodge of England, and stand in full amity.
The Swedish Rite is the default and usual Masonic rite in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland; that is to say, when a man becomes a Mason in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, or Iceland, he invariably participates in the Swedish Rite. In Finland, the Grand Lodge of Sweden has several Swedish Rite lodges, but the native Grand Lodge of Finland works in standard Anglo-American tradition.
An interesting situation arises in Germany: there are five Grand Lodges with significantly different traditions. Rather than competing with each other for recognition by the United Grand Lodge of England, a superlodge known as the United Grand Lodges of Germany was formed, all of which is fully recognised. Unlike the UGLE, the constituent Grand Lodges of the UGLG have kept this divergence in tradition, meaning that any given medium-sized town will have any or all of the following: a British or Canadian lodge run by the American Canadian Grand Lodge or the Grand Lodge of British Freemasons in Germany, a standard German lodge run by the Grand National Mother Lodge, "The Three Globes" or the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Germany, and a Swedish Rite lodge run by the Grand Landlodge of the Freemasons of Germany.
Although fully independent, the Scandinavian Grand Lodges work closely together to keep their rituals as similar as possible.
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.
Members must be at least twenty-four years of age and of good repute; they must be recommended by at least two members, one of which must have at least the seventh degree and the other at least the third. The Swedish Rite is notably more selective than other Masonic traditions: acceptance rates are only approximately one in three. The traditional rule that a candidate must come of his own will and accord is enforced within the Swedish Rite.
A final requirement is that the candidate profess to adhere to a mainstream Christian faith, assert that it is the best of all possible religions, and swear never to abandon it. If the Christian belief of the candidate is in doubt, a birth certificate may be requested; in the Scandinavian countries, birth certificates contain a field for religion. Owing to the religious history of the Scandinavian nations, Swedish Rite Freemasonry has strong connections with the various national Lutheran churches, which are the majority churches of all the Swedish Rite nations. However, members of any Trinitarian Christian denomination are accepted into membership. Membership of certain sects which are unrecognised by the World Council of Churches does not qualify a candidate for membership of the Swedish Rite; these include the Mormons, the Unification Church (the Moonies), and Jehovah's Witnesses.
Swedish Rite-masonry has ten degrees divided into three groups. The first two groups are called lodges, while the third is called simply Chapter. I.-III.-degree masons meet in a St. John's lodge (equivalent to Blue Lodge or Craft Lodge). IV.-VI.-degree masons meet in a St. Andrew's lodge (equivalent to the Scottish Rite) while VII.-X.-degree masons meet in their respective Chapter.
As a cherished relic from the previously practised Rite of Strict Observance, The Grand Lodge of Denmark maintains a Novice-degree in between the VII. and VIII.-degree.
All grand lodge officers have to be Knights and Commanders of the Red Cross or simply "R&K", of which there are a limited number. Though not formally a degree, grand lodge officers, as a means of expressing the hierarchical nature of the order, are sometimes said to have obtained the XI.-degree. Since being a Knight and Commander of the Red Cross is linked with the duties of a grand lodge office, only a very few Swedish Rite-masons will become it.
Overview and titles
- 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
St. John's, St. Andrews and Chapter work are done in different rooms or buildings. While many towns have a St. John's (Craft) Lodge, fewer have a St. Andrews Lodge. There is only one Chapter per masonic district.
In Denmark, Norway and Germany a mason will retain his craft lodge-membership while advancing through the St. Andrew's and Chapter degrees, and pay dues to all. In Denmark, dues are collected by the Danish Order of Freemasons and distributed to the relevant St. John's, St. Andrews and Chapter-organisations.
In Sweden, Finland, and Iceland a mason will not retain his craft lodge-membership, when he advances to the IV-V.-degree, or his St. Andrew's Lodge-membership, when he advances to the VI.-degree. Also, dues are paid only to the lodge which the mason is presently a member of. Because of the sometimes large distance between one's home and the closest St. Andrew's Lodge, travel outlays can be excessive. To remedy this, Square-and-Compasses Clubs or Friendship Clubs were created in small towns so that St. Andrew's or Chapter Freemasons can socialise without travelling inordinate distances; in Denmark these are called Instruction Lodges. Friendship Clubs cannot confer degrees, except by dispensation from Grand Lodge.
Beyond this, there is the only 'side degree' of the Swedish Rite---that of the Order of Charles XIII. This is an order of chivalry equivalent to a knighthood and given only to Knights-Commander of the Red Cross at the King's pleasure; its members may not number more than thirty-three, and three of them must be ecclesiastics of the established Lutheran Church. Although it is jokingly termed the 'twelfth degree', the Order of Charles XIII is in no way a part of the official Swedish Rite, and forms an invitation-only side degree or chivalric order.
The Masonic ring is given in the eighth degree, and consists of the customary red St. Andrew's Cross and sometimes the Masonic motto, Veritas Persuadet. It is worn on the index finger of the right hand. A Knight of the West is also made to design his own coat of arms, taking the traditional European rules of heraldry into account. The resulting coat-of-arms hangs in his Provincial Grand Lodge.
The tenth degree is the highest ordinarily attainable; it can be received after roughly twentyone years of regular attendance and good proficiency in the ritual.
Lodge Officers and Offices
The lodges are managed by a Worshipful Master, who will be assisted by one or more Deputy Masters (these are given Latin ordinal names: primary, secondary, and so forth). There are also the Primary and Secondary Wardens, a Master of Ceremonies, a Secretary, a Treasurer, an Orator, and a Director of Music.
The lodge offices do not rotate as in e.g. American freemasonry. A mason is not obliged or expected to take up an office, nor is there a progression between the offices. E.g.: Any man holding the appropriate degree may campaign for election as Worshipful Master without ever having held any office before, and the same holds for all the other offices of the Rite.
While the Master and his deputies, as well as the Wardens, are voted in, other officers are appointed by the Master. Once elected or appointed one often keeps his position for at least some years, while the Master will usually hold his position for the better part of a decade, though Sweden has a limit of six years per term and a retirement age of 75 year.
There are rules dictating minimum degrees for the various officers and their substitutes. In Denmark, the officers of a St. John's lodge must uniformly be at least Master Masons; Wardens must be Knights of the East; and the Worshipful Master must be (depending on source) a Knight of the West or a Right Enlightened Brother of St. Andrew.
Deputy officers are fully empowered to take the place of their principals at stated meetings.
There is a single progression through the degrees of the Swedish Rite, as opposed to the multiple side degrees and appendant bodies of Anglo-American Masonry. Swedish Rite Masons join at the level of an Entered Apprentice, and, with time, become Right Enlightened Brothers of St Andrew.
The morality and symbolism taught in the St John degrees is the same as that of the Blue Lodge; in addition, Swedish Rite Master Masons and Master Masons elsewhere in the world are fully accepted as visitors in each other's lodges. That said, the layout of a St John's lodge-room and that of a Blue Lodge is entirely different, as is the ritual (excepting, of course, the word and grips of recognition, which are truly international). The central figure of the Master Mason's narrative is Adoniram rather than Hiram Abiff; consequently, the central figure of the Knight of the West narrative becomes Jacques de Molay rather than Adoniram.
The Swedish Rite places more emphasis on the mystical and the spiritual, in contrast with the Anglo-American version of Freemasonry, which prioritises rote-learning. According to Alex G. Davidson, the mood in an English lodge-room is "relaxed and friendly" compared to the "mysterious and gloomy", "intensely solemn and almost mystical... otherworldly atmosphere" of the Swedish Rite.
There is less emphasis on rote-learning in the Swedish Rite compared to its English cousin; while English Masonry places importance on so-called word-perfect ritual (that is, committed to memory and repeated without a single deviation from the prepared text), the Swedish Rite prefers candidates to understand the spirit of the ritual. Accordingly, Lodge officers are given a book from which to read during degree ceremonies; the task of delivering these speeches falls on an officer known as the Orator. Furthermore, candidates are examined on their proficiency of the previous degree: by this is meant that, prior to being passed or raised (as appropriate), candidates are made to write down the salient points of the morality taught by the previous degree.
The way by which a Lodge in the Swedish Rite is called to work and to refreshment is also different from the English way, and bears mentioning. The Junior and Senior Wardens do not have pedestals that they set on their sides; rather, they wear handle-less, hyperboloidal mallets (similar to the gavel of the U.S. Senate) on a chain round their necks, with which they strike the hilt of their swords.
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 Södermanland, 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, with lodges in Sweden and Finland.
- The Norwegian Order of Freemasons
- The Danish Order of Freemasons
- The Icelandic Order of Freemasons
An earlier version of the rite, the Zinnendorf Rite, is used by:
- Freemasonry in Denmark
- Freemasonry in Sweden
- Order of Charles XIII (Charles XIII of Sweden)
- List of Masonic Rites
- Swedish Order of Freemasons. "Ordens Allmänna Lagar" (General Laws of the Order), Stockholm, 7 November 2006. Retrieved on 2010-08-11.
- "Svenska Frimurare Orden". www.frimurarorden.se. Retrieved 2015-08-09.
- "De uheldige helte". www.mogensolofsen.dk. Retrieved 2015-08-09.
Grand Lodges using the Swedish Rite
- Danish Grand Lodge
- Icelandic Grand Lodge
- Norwegian Grand Lodge
- Swedish Grand Lodge
- Grosse Landesloge der Freimaurer von Deutschland
- 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