Monday, December 1, 2014

Masonic Symbols: History of the York Rite

If you’ve ever seen masonic symbols on buildings where you live, noticed them on the US one dollar bill, or engaged in the masonic-hype after the National Treasure movies were released, then you’ve probably wondered about what exactly the Freemasons are and how they operate as a group of members. Generally speaking, it is overly broad to say that someone is a Freemason because there are so many different rites, orders, and jurisdictions that break down the organization into many different segments. To better understand the structure of the masonic tradition, we’ve broken down the different orders of one of the Rites of Freemasonry: the York Rite.
The York Rite of Freemasonry
The York Rite, also known as the American Rite, is one of many Rites of Freemasonry. A “Rite” is essentially a series of degrees that a member can achieve progressively, which typically must be attained in a particular order (in other words, members are not able to reach the highest order without first attaining all of the preceding degrees). The York Rite is an appendant body of Freemasonry that Master Masons can join to further their knowledge of the organization and its rituals.
The three orders of the York Rite are the Royal Arch Masonry, the Cryptic Masonry, and the Knights Templar. Even though all three of these groups are considered part of the York Rite, they operate independently as separate bodies.
The Chapter of Royal Arch Masons
The Royal Arch Masonry is the fundamental order of the York Rite in which membership is required in order to maintain membership in the other two orders. This chapter has four different degrees: the Mark Master Mason, the Past Master, the Most Excellent Master, and the Royal Arch Mason (or Holy Royal Arch) degree. The symbol of the Royal Arch is the Triple Tau (seen below in red).
The Council of Cryptic Masons
Even though orders of a Rite typically must be achieved progressively, some jurisdictions of the York Rite allow members to skip the Cryptic Masonry order and become members of only the Royal Arch Masonry and the Knights Templar. The name for the Cryptic order comes from the symbolism of a crypt or underground room that is prominent in its degrees. These three degrees include: Royal Master, Select Master, and Super Excellent Master. There are many variations of the symbol for the degrees of the Cryptic Masonry, one of which can be seen below in purple.
The Commandery of Knights Templar
The final order joined in the York Rite is the Knights Templar. This order is unique from the others because it requires belief in the Christian ideology to earn membership. Unlike the Knights Templar, the Royal Arch and Cryptic Masonry orders only require a belief in all-powerful Supreme Being, regardless of religious conviction. Additionally, since it is the final order, the Knights Templar requires that members have already completed the Royal Arch and, in some jurisdictions, the Cryptic degrees. This order confers three degrees: the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, the Order of the Knights of Malta, and the Order of the Temple. The latin phrase, “In Hoc Signo Vinces” is often used to represent the Knights Templar, as is shown on the keepsake York Rite Knights Templar masonic ring shown below.
This brief overview of the York Rite of Freemasonry is brought to you by Lovie Art Jewelry. Let us know if you have more interesting information about the York Rite and its orders in the comments section!

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