A Brief History of the ALLIED MASONIC DEGREES
Most of the “additional” degrees worked in England in the early part of the nineteenth century originally came under the aegis of warrants granted by the “Antients”, who held that Craft Warrants entitled Lodges to work any Masonic degree of which they had knowledge and members available who could work it (although the rituals were not always what could be considered as a standard).
After the formation of the United Grand Lodge various groups of degrees were gradually organised into separate Orders each with their own governing bodies, but during the last quarter of the 1800s a large number of unrelated Degrees of no real interest to any Grand Body were still being worked in different parts of the country.
Eventually, in the late 1870s and according to oral tradition, it was decided to form a “Grand Council of the Allied Masonic Degrees in England and Wales and the Colonies and Dependencies of the British Crown”. This Grand Council would give some sort of cohesion to a few of the “additional degrees” and ensure working with standard rituals.
Almost immediately the “Orders” of the Grand High Priest, St Laurence the Martyr (note Laurence and not, as nowadays, Lawrence), the Red Cross of Babylon and Knights of Constantinople acknowledged the supremacy of Grand Council, which recognised some Councils as “Time Immemorial” and began, in 1880, to grant warrants to others.
In 1892 a similar Grand Council, called the Sovereign College of Allied Masonic Degrees for the United States of America was formed. One of the degrees coming under this Grand Council was the Grand Tilers of King Solomon. By special arrangement with the Sovereign College, the Degree of Grand Tilers of Solomon was conferred on the Grand Master and other members of the Grand Council in 1893 and added to the original four authorised to be worked in Councils under Grand Council. It would appear that King Solomon became plain Solomon in the transfer.
In 1895 the then Grand Master authorised Councils to work the (American) single Degree of Secret Monitor, despite a Grand Council for that Order being in existence since 1897. Peace was declared in 1931 when the Grand Council of the Allied Masonic Degrees agreed to cease practicing the Degree of Secret Monitor.
This means that Warrants granted before 1893 authorised Councils to work four degrees, those granted from 1895 to 1924 six degrees and, as no warrants were issued between 1924 and 1934, later warrants authorise five.
St Lawrence the Martyr
The Degree was designed to commemorate the martyrdom of the Saint in Rome in the middle of the third century AD, and teaches the lessons of fortitude and humility.
It is recorded that the Degree has been worked in its present form for over two centuries in Lancashire and Yorkshire. It’s been suggested that it was originally a piece of old Operative ritual, intended to distinguish a genuine Craftsman from the “new-fangled” Speculatives when they started to join Craft Lodges.
The Degree of St Lawrence the Martyr is the administrative Degree of a Council. The Master of a Council is elected in a Lodge of St Lawrence, it is the only Installation Ceremony practiced in the Order, and thus becomes the Master of the Council. At every meeting of a Council a Lodge of St Lawrence must be opened and closed. A Lodge or Council of any of the other four Degrees is opened and closed only when the Ceremony of Admission in that Degree is worked.
A Lodge of St Lawrence is arranged like a Craft Lodge, but without candles or Wardens’ columns. A Gridiron is placed on the VSL, but the Square and Compasses are not used. Officers are the same as for a Craft Lodge. Ebor Council TI C is unique, we believe, in retaining the office of Keeper of the Gridiron.
Knight of Constantinople
This is a real “side” Degree, in that many years ago, it was customary for one Brother to confer it on another; he would, for example, take him aside at the end of a Lodge meeting, administer a simple obligation and entrust him with the secrets.
The origin of the Degree is not known, but from the strong flavour of Operative influence in the ritual it may be supposed that it arose during the transition from Operative to Speculative Masonry. It is known to have been worked in America in 1831 and may have been taken there by a military Lodge.
The Degree teaches the useful lessons of humility and universal equality.
Grand Tilers of Solomon
This Degree has a legend similar to that of the Cryptic Degree of Select Master, but with interesting variations, in particular with respect to the period of the occurrences. It has also much in common with the Degree of Intimate Secretary (6° of the Ancient and Accepted Rite).
It is known to have been worked in the USA since about 1761 but has not been traced with certainty as having been worked in England before 1893.
The Degree warns of the great danger of carelessness and of hasty judgment and teaches the importance of careful tiling.
The Lodge represents a vaulted chamber in the bowels of the earth beneath the site of King Solomon’s Temple.
A candidate in this Degree is said to be “admitted into the Degree of Masons Elect of Twenty-Seven and created a Grand Tiler of Solomon”.
The Red Cross of Babylon
The Degree was one of the four Ceremonies which the Grand Council originally took under its control. This, the most profoundly mystical of the Allied Masonic Degrees, is of considerable antiquity. Its three Parts or Points have descended from three of the degrees of Rites worked in the mid-eighteenth century.
The Degree has a complicated, but interesting, history and seems to be linked to many other Degrees in differing Constitutions.
The Degree of the Red Cross of Babylon teaches us to keep inviolate our Masonic secrets and to withstand all temptations to reveal them, however profitable those temptations may be. It emphasises the importance of Fidelity, Integrity, and Truth. It is symbolic of the passage of an upright man from struggles overtime in this world to well-earned honour in the next.
The Holy Order of Grand High Priest
The Holy Order of Grand High Priest, which has been worked extensively in Lancashire and Yorkshire and various other parts of England under the banner of certain Antient Lodges, was one of the four ceremonies which the Grand Council then took under its control. Both in this country and in the US it has always been designated an “Order”; that title, instead of Degree, has been preserved.
Almost everywhere the Order has been closely associated with Royal Arch Masonry. Under the original Constitutions of the Grand Council, no Brother could be admitted to the Order unless he was an Installed Principal of a Royal Arch Chapter. This limitation was removed in 1934 to any Royal Arch Mason. Members of the Order, whether or not Installed Principals, are still designated “Excellent Companions”.
The Order carries members to a high realm of Masonic thought. The Companion who is admitted to it is left in no doubt that he is set apart for high duties and responsibilities in life, both as a Mason and as a man. He is taught that, to carry them out, he is called upon to dedicate himself to the service of the Most High God and also to that of his fellow-men.