Well, first I wish everyone a Happy Saint Patrick's Day. Since the color appropriate today is green I'm going to talk about the Green Degrees also known as the Order of Knight Masons.
The Knight Masons is an honorary body that extends invitations for membership to active, hard-working Royal Arch Freemasons. The membership includes many of the leaders of Masonry in the United States and is considered an honor earned by service to the craft. In the United States, Freemasons are not supposed to ask for membership in Knight Masonry, but rather wait to be invited. One is required to be a Royal Arch Freemason in good standing in his lodge and chapter, be recommended for membership, and pass a unanimous ballot.
The Mission Statement from the Grand Council of Knight Masons, USA, is:
The Grand Council of Knight Masons of the United States of America, in consideration of its origin strives to:
- Perpetuate the ancient rituals of the Irish Masonic Canon, (the "Green" degrees) by promoting their frequent and regular conferral inits constituent councils, and by its expectation that such conferral will be executed with an accuracy, a precision, and a dramatic power congruent with the highest traditions of the Masonic institution.
- Elevate to membership in its constituent councils only those Freemasons who in their character and persons have amply and thoroughly demonstrated in their Masonic lives, by means of a faithful attachment to the institution, a true and honorable record of service to its goals, and a genuine dedication to its high ideals.
- Foster in its constituent councils the regular exploration and studyof the Masonic Tradition and Heritage by means of an aggressive program of scholarly inquiry and research, and to pursue that Masonic learning in the spirit of our Celtic forbears who kept the light of faith burning in times of darkness.
- Encourage its constituent councils to discover in the pleasures and diversions of the festive board that warm fellowship and that joyous fraternity, which have ever characterized and actuated the great spirit of this Ancient Craft.
- Promote the charitable dimension so central to, and inherent in, Masonic life and tradition by obliging its constituent councils to contribute with customary Masonic liberality to those institutions, both Masonic and non-Masonic, which serve the needs of the greater community.
Knight Masonry contains those degrees which are worked within a council of Knight Masons under the jurisdiction of the Grand Council of Knight Masons.
- Knight of the Sword (formerly the Red Cross of Daniel or Babylonian Pass): The candidate, representing Zerubbabel, seeks admission to come before King Cyrus. The King relates the details of a dream to his courtiers and then permits Zerubbabel to enter. Zerubbabel requests liberty for the captive Jews and gives a signal demonstration of his fidelity. The King, being impressed, grants Zerubbabel and his company permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. He invests him with a sash, a sword, and a password.
- Knight of the East (formerly Jordan Pass): The time is now 16 years after the action of the previous degree. Zerubbabel now returns to Persia from Jerusalem to request King Darius continued support in building the Jewish Temple, and his aid in driving away from the enemies who are frustrating their efforts. Darius grants the request and appoints Zerubbabel as a palace guard. Before retiring, the King proposes the discussion of the relative strengths of wine, women, or the king. Zerubbabel and two other guards contend via argument, with Zerubbabel coming out the victor. He is then escorted safely back to Jerusalem.
- Knight of the East and West (formerly Royal Order)In this degree, Zerubbabel returns in triumph to Jerusalem and reports to the Sanhedrin, or Jewish Council. As a recognition for his valor and constancy, he is created a Knight of the East and West, and is invested with a sash and apron.
- Installed Excellent Chief (a chair degree of the presiding officer)
They are not to be confused with the degrees which may have similar names in other Orders. Despite this, you will find many similarities in the settings and plot elements with the Supreme Degree of the Holy Royal Arch, the Order of the Red Cross of the chivalric orders, and the Scottish Rite’s 15° (Knight of the East), 16° (Prince of Jerusalem), and 17° (Knight of the East and West). These are all, to some extent, related as they all are based on the legend of Zerubbabel (in Hebrew: זְרֻבָּבֶל) and feature Kings Cyrus (in Farsi: کوروش بزرگ) II (a/k/a Cyrus the Great or Cyrus the Elder), Darius (داریوش) I and Josiah (in Hebrew: יֹאשִׁיָּהוּ), and the return of the Jewish Diaspora from Babylonian captivity circa 536 B.C.E. Perhaps most familiar to you will be the wine-women-king debate featured in degrees throughout Freemasonry.
In about 1790 (possibly earlier), “Green Masonry” became separated from the Royal Arch and was known as “Red Cross Masonry;” but by 1810 in some manner not very clear now, the name was changed to “Knight of the Sword”, “Knight of the East” and “Knight of the East and West”. Also, as time went on, the conferring of these three degrees became the exclusive privilege of the Order of Knights Templar, some of the oldest Warrants of the preceptories (known as “commanderies” in the United States) covered the conferring of these degrees. They were not very generally conferred because they had nothing in common with the Templar Orders. Nevertheless, for more than eighty years, the degrees were controlled by the Great Priory of the Order of Knights Templar in Ireland. The degrees are also worked under the authority of the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland. It was the gradual dying of the brethren who were sufficiently versed in Knight Masonry to confer the degrees that first caused alarm early in the Twentieth Century. Candidates for the degrees had to travel far to procure them.
It was visualized that the degrees would eventually die out unless a means to prevent it was taken. The first move was to contact those preceptories/commanderies whose warrants included these degrees. Some of them were loath to part with their rights. Eventually, the subject was taken up with the Great Priory of Ireland. After some time, that body obtained the consent of its preceptories to hand over the conferring of the degrees to the suggested new body. which we now know as the Grand Council of Knight Masons.
The "modus operandi" of this relinquishment of rights from one Grand Body to another eventual Grand Body is unique and pertinent to our existence. In 1922, at a joint meeting of the members of the Great Priory and the Knights Templar, who desired to form the new body was held. A motion by Gerald Black, G.C.T., was passed “that pursuant to report of Committee, all rights and privileges touching the Red Cross Degrees, which are at present vested in the Great Priory be transferred to a Grand Council for these degrees.” The new Grand Council met for its first meeting on 18 June 1923, when it notified the Great Priory that it was then in a position to take over and exercise the rights and privileges with which it was invested.
The first President of the Grand Council was Gerald Black, who received the Degrees on 9 January 1901 in Commercial Priory No. 245, possibly by Gerald Byrne who probably was the last person to confer these degrees in Dublin; it is known that but three Preceptories — Commercial (Dublin), Sharavogue, (Birr) and Shaflesbury (Belfast) were conferring the “Red Cross Degrees” at the turn of the century. Thus we have a Grand Council of Knight Masons, for all intents and purposes appointed by the Great Priory of Ireland.
Knight Masonry was introduced in the United States on 20 May 1936 when the Grand Council in Ireland chartered three councils in North Carolina under a Provincial Grand Superintendent. Seven additional councils were chartered by the Provincial Grand Superintendent. The councils in the United States formed the Grand Council of Knight Masons of the United States of America in 1967. The Grand Council in Dublin recognized this Grand Council of the U.S.A. two years later. All councils chartered in the U.S. since that time was chartered by the Grand Council of the United States. All councils in Ohio, less their newest one, remain under the province of the mother Grand Council in Ireland. Today, there are over seventy councils of Knight Masons in the U.S.A. with more than seven thousand cousins.