Pete Normand, 33°
The distinctive Scottish Rite caps
derive from the dress regalia of European orders of knighthood.
Second only to the
Masonic apron, the Scottish Rite cap is undoubtedly one of Freemasonry's most
distinctive items of regalia. But, while we as speculative Masons inherit the
Masonic apron from the operative craft of the medieval stonemasons, the
Scottish Rite cap comes down to us from the medieval chivalric tradition.
When the Master Mason receives the Thirty-Second Degree and dons the black
satin headgear of the Scottish Rite, the Masonic craftsman is elevated to an
order of Masonic knighthood.
The Scottish Rite cap is a vestige of the dress
regalia more commonly associated with orders of European knighthood. Aside
from their distinctive caps, the full-dress regalia of the various orders includes other accouterments such as sashes or cordons,
swords and sword belts, cloaks or capes, and jewels, badges, and other
decorations denoting their rank or office within their respective orders.
The two separate traditions of the stonemason's
craft and medieval knighthood have become so intimately intertwined in the
rich pageantry of our Masonic ritual and regalia that most Masons never stop
to consider how or when the two became woven together.
Today, most Masonic historians look to the mid-1700s
for the introduction of the chivalric tradition in Freemasonry. Masonic
rituals published prior to that are concerned purely with the legends and
implements of the operative Mason. But, beginning in the mid-1740s,
additional Degrees appeared that conferred orders of knighthood upon
enthusiastic Brethren eager to add to and to embroider, if you will, their
The seminal moment seems to be an oration delivered
to a French Lodge on December 26, 1736, by the Chevalier Michael Andrew
Ramsay, a Scotsman serving as the Grand Orator of the Grand Lodge of France.
This Masonic lecture, known to history as "Ramsay's Oration,"
embellished upon existing traditions by stating that the founders of
Freemasonry were Crusader knights who, in emulation of the ancient
Israelites, handled "the trowel and mortar with one hand," while in
the other, "they held the sword and buckler."
The subsequent wide publication of this stirring
lecture met with such great approval on the part of the French Brethren that,
over the next few decades, a number of chivalric Degrees appeared. Whether
these Degrees were created out of whole cloth, or were developed out of
older, existing orders, legends, and oral traditions has been grist for
Masonic historians since the first appearance of these so-called Hauts Grades, or High Degrees. Nevertheless, the introduction
of the chivalric Degrees into the structure of Freemasonry led to the
formation of Scottish Rite Freemasonry where the two traditions, of working
craftsmen and religious knights, would be forever mingled.
In what many consider the most moving and
impressive Degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, indeed, perhaps
the culmination of the Rite, the Degree of Knight Kadosh
(30th Degree), the Candidate presents himself as an aspirant to be admitted
into "the Knights of the Poor Fellow Soldiery of the Temple of
Solomon," the ancient name of the Knights Templar.
The new Scottish Rite Mason may at first be confused by the several different
colored caps he will encounter at the first few meetings he attends. The
following is a listing of the various versions of the Scottish Rite cap.
The black silk cap, adorned with the recognizable
Scottish Rite double-headed eagle, is the cap of a Master of the Royal Secret
of the 32nd Degree.
The blue cap, decorated in front with a gold number
50 surrounded by a wreath is the cap of a Fifty-Year Scottish Rite Mason.
The red cap, emblazoned with the red and gold cross
of a Knight Commander, designates that the wearer is a 32nd Degree Mason who
has been invested with the "rank and decoration" of Knight
Commander of the Court of Honour, usually abbreviated K.C.C.H.
The white cap indicates that the wearer has received
the 33rd Degree, Inspector General. It bears the red and gold Patriarchal
Cross of the Degree. The white cap also indicates that, although he is a 33rd
Degree Scottish Rite Mason, he is not a member of the Supreme Council and is,
therefore, designated an "Inspector General Honorary." Some make
the mistake of referring to this as an "Honorary 33rd." The Degree
is that of the 33rd Degree. The name of the Degree is "Inspector
General," and the title is that of "Inspector General
A white silk cap surrounded by a band of dark blue
velvet bordered in gold is the cap of the Grand Cross of the Court of Honour.
The front of the cap is adorned with the gold Teutonic cross of the Grand
Cross. This honor, like that of Knight Commander, is awarded at the Biennial
Sessions of the Supreme Council.
A white 33rd Degree cap that is surrounded by a band
of red velvet bordered in gold is the cap of a Deputy of the Supreme Council.
It indicates that the wearer has been deputized by the Supreme Council to
govern the operation of the Rite in his Orient (state or territory).
The purple cap is that of a Sovereign Grand
Inspector General, or S.G.I.G. It is surrounded by a band of purple velvet,
bordered in gold and decorated with a gold vine of laurel leaves and berries.
The front of the cap is emblazoned with a purple and gold Patriarchal Cross
with crosslets. The wearer of this cap is the head of the Rite in his Orient
and is an Active Member of the Supreme Council.
The violet cap is reserved for the Sovereign Grand
Commander. It is surrounded by a band of violet velvet and, like the purple
cap, is also decorated with a gold vine of laurel leaves and berries. The
front of this cap is emblazoned with the Salem Cross with crosslets.
In addition to their caps, Scottish Rite Masons are
distinguished by their colorful regalia and jewels, which can be seen at
almost any meeting. Some of the symbolic meanings of the regalia are
well-known, and others are shrouded in the mists of speculation (which makes
Masonic research so much fun).
Central to the ritual of the 14°, Perfect Elu, is the presentation of a ring, worn by Scottish Rite
Masons from the 14° through the 32°. It is a plain gold band with an
equilateral triangular plate enclosing the Hebrew letter yud,
the initial letter of Yahweh—the tetragrammaton—the
ineffable name of God. Engraved on the inside is the Latin motto, "Virtus Junxit Mors Non Separabit" (Whom virtue unites, death will not
separate). Ill. Bro. Jim Tresner, 33°, G.C., tells
us in Vested in Glory, "The circular shape of the ring symbolizes
unending commitment and loyalty, just as it does in a marriage. The triangular
plate and the letter signify that the commitment is to the Deity."
A Thirty-Second Degree Mason, Master of the Royal
Secret, is identified with the jewel of the Degree: a gold
Teutonic Cross with the numerals XXXII surrounded by a laurel wreath in the
center and suspended from a white ribbon. The Teutonic Cross was probably
adopted because the Grand Constitutions of 1786 were believed to be authored
by the Prussian King, Frederick the Great, and the Teutonic Knights were the
preeminent German order of knighthood. The laurel wreath is the ancient
symbol of victory and triumph, and it is used throughout Scottish Rite
Regalia. Here it can signify the triumph of attaining the Royal Secret.
After being a Thirty-Second Degree Mason in the Southern
Jurisdiction for at least 46 months and distinguishing himself in service to
Masonry, to the Scottish Rite, or to the service of humanity, a Brother may
be selected to be invested with the Rank and Decoration of a Knight Commander
of the Court of Honour. The selection is made by the Supreme Council at its
Biennial Session meeting every odd year, and about 2.5% of our members have
been so recognized. Recipients of this honor receive a special jewel to wear
on their coats, over the heart. The K.C.C.H. jewel is a red passion cross
(arms of unequal length), fitched (the ends
terminate in three points) on a circle of laurel leaves, on which is a raised
gold circular plate, with gold beads around the circumference. The plate is
enameled in white, and on it is a green trefoil, an ancient symbol of
spirituality. Around the trefoil is "KT. COMM. COURT OF HONOUR."
The jewel is suspended from a white ribbon.
Possibly the most
recognized (and certainly misunderstood) Masonic honor is the Thirty-Third
Degree of the Scottish Rite. In the Southern Jurisdiction, one who has been a
Knight Commander of the Court of Honour for at least 46 months is eligible to
be elected by the Supreme Council to this Degree. About 1.5% of our members
hold this Degree. The ring is a triple band of gold, either plain or with a
triangular plate of gold enclosing the numerals 33. The jewel, suspended from
a white ribbon, has very distinctive details.
Jim Tresner describes it
as follows: "The basis of the jewel is a Teutonic Cross. On that is a
nine-pointed star, composed of three gold triangles, interlaced. The design
also forms nine small triangles, and in each of these is one of the letters …
'S.A.P.I.E.N.T.I.A.,' the Latin word for wisdom. A sword extends from the
lower part of the left side of the jewel to the upper part of the right side.
Crossing that is … a 'Hand of Justice.' This forms a scepter, terminating in
a carving of a hand…. On top of the cross, triangles, crossed sword, and Hand
of Justice is a circular plate, and on the plate is a shield with a crowned
double-headed eagle. To the right of the eagle is a balance and to the left
is a Square and Compasses. Around the design are the Latin
words Ordo ab
Chao, Order out of Chaos, enclosed by two serpents, each biting its tail."
The Teutonic Cross continues to remind us of the
German origins of the Grand Constitutions of 1786. The double-headed eagle
looking to the East and West may be from the coat of arms of Germany or from
a French ancestor organization of the Scottish Rite, the Emperors of the East
and West. Its crown signifies that the Thirty-third Degree is the
administrative Degree of the Rite, and this symbolism of proper
administration is continued with the sword of strength, the hand of justice,
and the scales in balance. The three three-sided figures remind us of 33, the
number of this Degree, while Sapientia indicates
the symbolic achievement required for this recognition. The snakes biting
their tails are ancient symbols of eternity and completion, and can allude to
the scriptural admonition, "Be ye therefore wise as serpents and
harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16).
The highest honor awarded by the Supreme Council,
33°, S.J., is the Grand Cross of the Court of Honour. There are fewer than 60
living recipients of this decoration out of nearly 400,000 members in the
Southern Jurisdiction. The Grand Cross jewel has as its foundation the
Teutonic Cross of the 32° and 33° resting on a wreath of gold oak leaves,
emblematic of strength of purpose in the service of humanity and the Rite. In
the center is a gold circular plate with a blue enameled border containing
the gold letters, "GR. CROSS COURT OF HONOUR."
In the center of the plate is an enameled crimson rose with green leaves on a
white background. The red rose recalls the imagery of the 18°, Knight Rose
Croix, where the flower represents renewal, as a recipient of the Grand Cross
is forever renewing his efforts to serve.
All of the unique regalia of the Scottish Rite is
explained in detail with color pictures in Bro. Jim Tresner's
book, Vested in Glory (see "Book Reviews").
Pierre G. "Pete"
is a Past Master of both Sul Ross Lodge No. 1300
and St. Alban's Lodge No. 1455 in College Station, Texas, and is a Past
Master of Texas Lodge of Research. He is Director of Work of the Scottish
Rite Bodies in Houston, Texas. He is a founding member of both the St.
Alban's Research Society and the Preservation Masonic Research Society. He
is the former editor of American Masonic Review and is currently an editor
of the Plumbline, the bulletin of the Scottish Rite Research Society.
Reprinted with permission of the Scottish Rite Journal, October 2001