Conferral versus Communication of Degrees

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    Pete Normand

    During the discussion about “Preserving Traditions and Legacies” at the 2015 Annual Orient Convocation in Fort Worth, there was some confusion about the fact that many valleys do not confer all 29 Scottish Rite Degrees, but only the five obligatory degrees.

    I would point out that, historically, in the United States, the degrees of the Scottish Rite have been communicated from the early 1800s. In fact, the degrees that became the Scottish Rite were introduced to the U.S. by Henry Andrew Francken (see Francken Manuscript of 1783) in a form that could only be communicated, and not conferred. (See “Communication of Degrees,” Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, by Henry W. Coil; 1961; p. 138.) On 20 March 1853, Albert Mackey communicated the 4th through the 32nd degrees of the Scottish Rite to Albert Pike. (See Lodge of the Double-Headed Eagle, by Wm. L. Fox; 1997; p. 52.)

    In communicating a degree, Coil states: “…in the Scottish Rite it is permitted, and seems to have been from early times, that the degree is communicated to the candidate, that is, an officer having the necessary authority simply meets with the candidate in a private room and tells him what the degree is about or may read to him all or portions of the lecture and administers the oath or obligation. In the … United States, a considerable part of the 29 degrees … are thus usually communicated, though generally to a whole class….” (Coil, p. 138)

    Now, the current Statutes of the Supreme Council (Art. III “Degrees,” Sec. 2) state: “The mandatory degrees are the 4th, 14th, 18th, 30th and 32nd, and they shall never be communicated except by the S.G.I.G or Deputy of the Sup. Cncl., and then only in unusual circumstance.” (abbreviations are mine)

    Also, the Statutes (Art. XII “Rituals, Programs, Books, and Libraries,” Sec. 3) states: “The synopses and Communications for the Degrees is adopted as the official and required form for communications of a Degree when for good reason it is not exemplified in full form.”

    What all this means is that communication of degrees, rather than full conferral, is the “traditional” means of conferring a degree on a candidate, and has been done this way from the beginning of the Supreme Council in 1801. Although the Statutes of the Supreme Council (as quoted above) supersede this tradition for the five “mandatory degrees,” the notion that there is something wrong with communicating degrees is not supported by the historical evidence. Granted, it would be far healthier for the Rite if all degrees were conferred in full form.

    However, in the Scottish Rite (continental) tradition, a man proves his possession of the degrees by the presentation of a patent, duly signed and sealed, which he receives after he obtains the 32nd Degree. This is like having a title deed to the degrees, it being impractical to expect a man to recall all the passwords, secret words and signs of each degree. Up until a few years ago, these patents were traditionally presented neatly folded into a leather wallet, which the member carried with him and presented when he visited other valleys. Now, these patents are presented rolled in a tube, and no one carries them with them, relying on their dues card prove their possession of the degrees when they visit other valleys.

    Fraternally,

    Pete Normand, 33°
    Valley of Houston

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