Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Swedish Rite of Freemasonry

One of the things I love about Freemasonry is traveling and visiting Lodges around the world. On my list of places to still visit is a Lodge in Sweden (or any of the northern European countries really) as they practice a variation of Freemasonry called the Swedish Rite. It differs from the rest of Grand Lodge systems in that to even petition an aspirant must be of the Christian faith, but they do not dictate the denomination or exact practice. This rite is composed of the following 10 degrees and 2 honorary degrees:
St John's Lodge:
1. Entered Apprentice
 2. Fellowcraft
 3. Master Mason
St Andrew's Lodge:
4. Scottish Apprentice
5. Scottish Fellow 
6. Scottish Master 
Chapter:
7. Knight of the East
8. Knight of the West
9. Knight of the South
10. Confident of St. Andrew 
The High Council:
11. Knight Companion of the Red Cross 
12. Vicar of Solomon
The Swedish Rite is practiced commonly in Nordic countries, but each country has its Grand Lodge that governs its own jurisdiction; there's no supreme authority over the entire Swedish Rite, but these Grand Lodges work together to keep the uniformity with the ritual. A slight variation of the Swedish Rite is practiced by the Grosse Landesloge der Freimaurer von Deutschland (one of five recognized by the United Grand Lodges of Germany). The Swedish Rite is a peculiar system that was influenced by the English Freemasonry, French Freemasonry, German Freemasonry and the Rite of Strict Observance, Gnosticism, and Rosicrucianism. You also see similarities with the York Rite and a couple degrees from the Scottish Rite, but this may be due to the fact that they were influenced from the same sources. It is also interesting to see that with the Swedish Rite, you don't see any other appendant bodies in existence in that jurisdiction.

Freemasonry was introduced to Sweden by Count Axel Wrede-Sparre who had gone to France serving as a Cavalry officer and while there became a Freemason. Once back in Sweden, he started a Lodge composed of those who also had joined Freemasonry abroad; many of them were of high nobility. In 1735, he initiated his brother-in-law, Count Carl Gustaf Tessin, in Stockholm. This Lodge was short lived and ceased to exist around 1748. In 1752, Count Knut Posse founded the Lodge St Jean Auxiliaire, receiving a charter from the Grand Master from Paris, and many of the Masons living in Sweden, including Count Axel Wrede-Sparre, joined this Lodge. This Lodge would become to be known as the ”Mother-Lodge of Sweden” (a pseudo Grand Lodge) and who began issuing charters to Lodges through Sweden and Finland. To expand Freemasonry, the Swedish Lodges opened their Lodges to Christian men of other classes outside the nobility.

In 1756, Carl Fredrik Eckleff with six Brothers formed the Scottish Lodge L’Innocente in Stockholm which worked the so called Scottish St Andrew´s degrees. By 1759, Eckleff was able to found a Grand Chapter in Stockholm and was said to be authorized by a foreign patent, but it's not known where this patent originated. An official Grand Lodge of Sweden would be founded the following year, but would not have authority over the Scottish St Andrew´s degreesEckleff was instrumental in starting to mold a system of Freemasonry that had a Christian basis. The Swedish Rite was further developed by Charles XIII, who would eventually become King of Sweden and King of Norway, and became Grand Master of Sweden. Over the years he would create a system of degrees that were not just progressive, but seen as continuous. Charles XIII would eventually head both the Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter, and which would lead to the unification of Freemasonry under one authority. According to Bro. Burton E. Bennett in paper "The Swedish Rite of Freemasonry" the following Templar legend is used by this rite: 
The story is that Jesus told secrets to some of his apostles that he did not tell to others, and, also, told secrets to the Essenes, of whom he was one; that these secrets were handed down as a mystery through the Essenes, and that at the time of the Crusades they were greatly oppressed by the Saracens, and while seven of them, Syric Christians, were fleeing from the Saracens they were rescued by the Knights Templars.
They stayed with them in Jerusalem and imparted to the Templar priests their secrets. These were handed down in this Order till it was abolished and the priests dispersed. They were not molested to the extent that the seculars were, and with their secret knowledge they kept their secret writings. Some of them fled to Scotland, where they founded a priory, and from there their secrets gradually spread to the continent of Europe, and finally reached Sweden.
There are many theories of Templar continuation and its association to the Masonic fraternity, but many of them are made up to increase or enhance the pedigree of a new Masonic knighthood. Brother and Sir Knight Stephen Dafoe, Past Grand Historian of the Great Priory of Canada, wrote a book called "Compasses and the Cross" where he goes through the various myths and legends to see which ones are based on fact and which ones are not.

In 1776 Charles XIII was elected as Grand Master of the Rite of Strict Observance. The Rite of Strict Observance was founded in Germany. In the 1740s a few German Lodges started giving their Entered Apprentices and Fellow Crafts the names of French Knights. Most of these Lodges were in Dresden, but Baron von Hund founded one of these Lodges on his estates East of Dresden around 1751. It was from the close ties of these Lodges that the Rite of Strict Observance was created. It was said that the Rite originated with C.G. Marschall von Bieberstein, who had founded two of the Lodges in Germany; one in Dresden and one in Naumber called “Lodge of the Three Hammers”. Von Hund is said to have taken over after von Bieberstein died in 1750. Under von Hund’s watch, the Rites degrees consisted of: Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, Master Mason, Scottish Master, Novice, and Knights Templar. The Scottish Master degree concerned itself with the preservation of the lost word of Freemasonry which had been cut on a plate of pure metal, placed in a secure location, and centuries later discovered. This was not an exclusive belief as the Ecossais degrees used this, which had sprung up after Ramsey’s Oration. One of the strangest aspects of the Rite of Strict Observance was that the adherence had to swear an oath to blindly follow the directives of "Unknown Superiors" who ruled the order. This invisible leader was said to have possibly been Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender. This was the same man whom Ramsey had tried to tutor some year prior. There is a lack of evidence that supports this idea, but nonetheless the invisible rulers are said to have communicated through Baron von Hund. After von Hund’s death in 28 October 1776, the Rite began to go downhill. Charles XIII only served for 2-years as Grand Master and it is believed he resigned for political reasons. The 1782 Congress of Wilhelmsbad was held and as a result it was resolved by the Freemasons present that Freemasonry were not descendants of the Templars, that there were no “unknown superiors” to hand out instruction, and soon after the Rite came to an end, but as a result the Rectified Scottish Rite emerged.

Influenced by his time as Grand Master of the Rite of Strict Observance and using the foundations by Eckleff, Charles XIII created the degree system used by the Swedish Rite that is still seen today. Aside from being the driving force of the Swedish Rite, Charles XIII also set precedence. After his tenure as Grand Master, all Kings of Sweden served as Grand Master of Sweden until King Gustaf VI Adolf died in 1973; after Gustaf died, King Carl XVI Gustaf (the new Swedish king) didn't want to become a Freemason although he is considered the "High Protector of the Swedish Order of Freemasons." Since the death of Gustaf, other members of the Royal House, often titled "Prince," have served as Grand Master and, have in past, also filled the positions of Pro Grand Master and Deputy Grand Master. The current Grand Master is Anders Strömberg.


As stated above, the Swedish Rite is a continuous system and is best described as a ladder reaching from the bottom of a deep well. At the bottom, an aspirant looms in darkness, but upon being initiated an Entered Apprentice Mason he steps upon the first rung of the ladder, striving for the light. In the Swedish Rite, the climb is slow and one is only allowed to pass to the next rung if he has proven himself worthy; it can take up to 2-years for one to become a Master Mason and another 15-20 years to be elevated to the 10th degree. Only a select few reach the uppermost rung of the ladder. The first three degrees are those of any other Grand Lodge, those of Craft Masonry or the degrees of a St. John's Lodge:

The first three degrees are similar, but have noticeable differences. One such example is that the Fellowcraft degree does not include the 7 Liberal Arts & Sciences and is more concerned with fraternalism and setting the stage for the story of the degree of Master Mason.


The three "Scottish" degrees of St. Andrew's Lodge (4° - 6°) are similar to other "Ecossais" degrees which deal with the preservation and recovery of the Master's Word. These degrees can be compared to the Royal Arch and Select Master in the York Rite as well as Scotch Master in the French Rite.


The Knight of the East is the 7th degree of the Swedish Rite and depicts the erection of the Second Temple after the Jews were released from Babylonian captivity. This degree is comparable to the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross in the York Rite as well as the degrees of the Order of Knight Masons and 15° of the Scottish Rite. To sit as Warden of a St. John's Lodge (1° - 3°), one must possess this degree. The 8th degree, or Knight of the West, is the first Templar order conferred in this system which is based upon the Templar legend explained above; that the Templars fled to Scotland where they founded the Masonic fraternity and through England and then France led to the establishment of Freemasonry in Sweden. To be elected as Master of a St. John's Lodge, one must possess this degree. The 9th degree, or Knight of the South, is a Hermetic degree and has influence from Rosicrucianism which had flourished towards the end of the 18th century. The Confident of St. Andrew is the 10th degree and is described as a "mythical crusading" degree and is comparable to the 29° of the Scottish Rite. 


The 11th degree, or Knight Companion of the Red Cross, is a degree reserved for past and present Grand Lodge officers and has a membership limit of 33. The 12th degree is called the "Vicar of Solomon" and the only one who holds this degree is the Grand Master.


In American Freemasonry, the various offices are sought after, but in the Swedish Rite the degrees are the focus of the members. From research, a Master of a St. John's Lodge will serve in that position for 4-years and is supported by Deputies and Wardens. In comparison to other Grand Lodges, the Swedish Rite is considered an autocratic system where most of the power lies with the Grand Master. This came about as a result of the times. In the 18th century Freemasonry was decentralized with very few Grand Lodges formed in Europe which was causing conflicts to arise everywhere. To ensure no strife would arise within the emerging Swedish Rite, it was seen as necessary that it be built upon a strong central authority, the Grand Master.

Due to the Swedish Rite's very secretive nature there isn't as much information out there in comparison to other Masonic rites, but it is a fascinating rite to study nonetheless. I recommend watching "Episode 44 - Swedish Rite" by the Masonic Roundtable for more information.

References

1. Bennett, Burton E. The Degrees of the Swedish Rite. September 1924. http://www.phoenixmasonry.org/the_builder_1924_september.htm. 


2. Bennett, Burton E. The Swedish Rite of Freemasonry. January 1926. http://www.themasonictrowel.com/Articles/General/other_files/the_swedish_rite_of_freemasonry.htm. 

3. Davidson, Alex G. The Swedish Constitution. 2005. http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/swedish_constitution.html. 

4. Swedish Rite. n.d. http://www.worldlibrary.org/articles/swedish_rite. 


5. Swedish Rite. n.d. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swedish_Rite. 
6. Swedish Rite FAQ. March 18, 1998. http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/texts/swedish_faq.html. 

7. The Grand Lodge of Sweden. n.d. https://www.frimurarorden.se/information-in-english/the-grand-lodge-of-sweden/.

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