Freemasonry Q & A: What American Freemason has created the most Masonic Rites and Degrees?

September-October 2010

(L. to r.) AMD, HRAKTP, Grand College of Rites, Society of Blue Friars, Knight Masons, KYCH
You might think this was Thomas Smith Webb, who organized and regularized the American York Rite, but he primarily “edited” what already existed. Most Masonic Rites and Degrees have appeared anonymously with vague “time immemorial” traditions. An example of this is the Master Mason Degree which did not exist in 1717 when the premier Grand Lodge was formed in London, but is briefly mentioned in a lodge minute in 1725, and appears fully-formed in 1730 in Samuel Prichard’s Masonry Dissected.

We know who the founders of the first Supreme Council were in 1801 in Charleston, South Carolina, and we know they built their degrees upon the twenty-five degrees of the Order of the Royal Secret (also known as the Rite of Perfection). However, we don’t know who created the Order of the Royal Secret or who wrote their degrees.

In more recent time we can usually identify founders and authors, and Bro. J. Raymond Shute II must be one of the greatest American Masonic innovators. Born in Monroe, North Carolina, in 1904, Ray became a Mason at age 21 and served his lodge as Worshipful Master three years later. One of Ray’s passions was Masonic history, and to encourage this he formed the North Carolina Lodge of Research (1931), the first American lodge devoted to Masonic history (closed in 1953), the Grand College of Rites (1932), devoted to the preservation of extinct Masonic Degrees and Rites, and the Society of Blue Friars (1932), honoring exceptional Masonic authors. He also had a zeal for exclusive organizations whose members were invited to join in recognition of their Masonic accomplishments. Ray created the Knights of the York Cross of Honor and their rituals (1930), and then imported and organized the Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests (1931), the Allied Masonic Degrees (1932), the Knights Beneficent of the Holy City (1934), and the Knight Masons (1936). It is testimony to his organizational skills that all but one of these groups formed during the Great Depression have survived.