Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Many Doors of Freemasonry: The Swedish Rite

A Series- The Many Doors of Freemasonry: The Swedish Rite
. Freemasonry has many rituals-- almost 100 in the United Kingdom alone and just as many in the U.S. And of the hundreds of jurisdictions may or may not recognize the validity of each other. Many Rituals and accompanying lectures (of varying quality) are known by their authors- Anderson, Preston, Dermott, Webb, Sickels, Cerneau, Morin, etc. And many Orders or Rites (degree schemes) are known for the place of alleged origin - French or 'Latin' (Grand Orient), Dutch (Continental), Swedish, American, South American (influenced by Grand Orient), Irish, Scottish, Russian, etc. American racial relations resulted in a great proliferation of jurisdictions in the United States while language, immigration and politics also contributed to the same throughout the world of Freemasonry. Even before Anderson wrote (without consultation and upon arrogated authority) his Constitutions for Craft Lodges to operate under a Grand Lodge, there was disagreement and there has been since. One Grand Lodge's decision to recognize another Grand Lodge and thus permit visitation is often politically motivated and arbitrary- as are claims to exclusive jurisdictions. In other words Masonry has all the complexities and frailties of any large man-made institution. Yet they all share the purpose, in their own manner, of making a better world through their respective notions of Brotherhood.

Swedish Rite ("I'm suspicious of any club that wouldn't have me as a member"
-Groucho Marx)

The information following was taken from knowledgeable Brethren and reveals nothing not in the public domain-

1. Introduction
The so called Swedish Rite (SR) system of Freemasonry (Svenska Frimurare Orden) is probably the most unusual constitution with which we American and English Masons enjoy fraternal relations. It is not, as may perhaps be assumed, a small and obscure branch of the Craft in Sweden: the Swedish system is also used in the rest of Scandinavia and many German speaking nations and is larger of the two major constitutions in Finland. Besides the Swedish Svenska Frimurare Orden, the Icelandic order Frímúrarareglan á Íslandi uses it, in Norway it is found in Den Norske Frimuerorden, in Denmark it exists as Den Danske Frimurerorden; and the German Große Landesloge der Freimaurer von Deutschland and Austrian Großloge von Österreich work under some form of Swedish Rite. It is not so widely known that it was one of the great strands of the historical Russian constitution. There are also a limited amount of Lodges that work forms of the Swedish Rite outside of Scandinavia, German speaking nations and Russia due to historic circumstances or special charters. There once was a wide number of such Lodges in America, particularly in New York, but these numbers have declined with more of such Lodges joining with local Grand Lodges and eventually giving over their distinctive practices for various reasons. With wide membership over various important nations it would therefore be fair to describe it as a major system, and one that differs from the Anglo-American forms we are accustomed to.

Although I am a member of a UGLE form Lodge, I am unusually well acquainted to comment on the Swedish system. Information in English about the Swedish order is readily available, so the emphasis in this paper will be on the aspects of their system I consider most interesting, with some personal observations and comparisons.

My starting point, however, is not Sweden but a Masonic website devoted to fraternal associations and clubs two observations on the page about Freemasonry caught my attention. The first, in reference to masonry as ‘a system of morality’, is the following comment:

"This morality is taught via role playing in small set-piece allegorical theatrics with the addition of lectures or catechisms in which the candidate gives set answers to set questions."

The second, referring to the history of Freemasonry, observed:

"Stewart in a recent Prestonian Lecture discusses the linkage between the members of several London lodges and the Royal Society to illustrate the interest in the new rationality, political and scientific outlook promulgated within Lodges at this early period. However, by the mid 19th century, he agrees with contemporary French criticism that English Freemasonry had become a “body without a soul”, having lost its original philosophic impulse, and was by then (and still is) obsessed by form, procedure, decorum, mock status etc."

In time Anglo-American Masonry lost its both its culture of debate and philosophical inquiry and even its status as it went from being elite, revolutionary, and intellectually charged to largely working class, statist and frankly dull. These two observations seem to me especially relevant in discussing certain significant differences between conditions and constitutions of British origin and the Swedish system. I hope to bring out that relevance in the following.

2. Origins of the Swedish System
The Swedish Rite has been described as ‘a mixture of the pure Rite of York, the high degrees of the French, the Templarism of the former Strict Observance, and the system of Rosicrucianism.’ Sweden was one of the first countries to receive Freemasonry during its expansionary period in the first half of the 18th century. Masonry came to Sweden in the early 1730s not from England, where modern organised Freemasonry had begun in 1717, but at second hand from France. The chief architect of the Swedish order was C.F. Eckleff, who designed a system with nine degrees. Subsequently, Duke Carl (later King Carl XIII), who was a devoted mason, redesigned the constitution to contain ten degrees. This is basically the same system as is used now, though an eleventh degree has been added, which is awarded only to certain grand officers of the order.

The Swedish Constitution is a closed male order exclusive to the Christian faith, which engages in personal development, friendship and public welfare (including fund-raising). As such, it is almost unique in its insistence on candidates being practising Christians with families whom are the same. The candidate also must have an exceptional background and the investigation committee is extensive. At the beginning of the First Degree ceremony, the candidate must go through a long catechism in which he affirms his adherence to the Christian faith, asserts faith in Christ as the best of all possible beliefs, and confirms that he would never abandon it. Although non-Christian Brethren who are members of other constitutions may visit a Swedish lodge, they cannot become members.

The histories of the Swedish Order and the main orders in the Anglo-sphere is interesting in their variation. Anglo Freemasonry changed in the 17th century was the bearer of radical Enlightenment philosophy: essentially republican (in the Lockean sense), deistic, and highly dynamic.

A century or so later, Anglo Freemasonry changes included the radical de-Christianising of the ritual, and its replacement with the superficially Torahnic and gnostic; anti-clericism (particularly maintaining the traditional mutual enmity with Catholicism) and the admission of freethinkers and Jews and any form of believer in the Supreme Being(s). In France this found its rational conclusion of the entirely secular Grand Orient, which was one step too far for Anglo American Freemasonry who refuses recognition of those Lodges.

Freemasonry came to Sweden from Christian Lodges in France. French Freemasonry, although most likely derived from the English, had developed in two directions: one explicitly Christian, and one whose tendency was rationalist, Talmudic or nonreligious. The latter was inspired by the ideology of the English Grand Lodge: the former came from exiled Jacobite Britons many of whom were Catholics as tis preceded the Papal bull against Freemasonry. Talmudism came from the introduction of Orientalist 'scholars'. Saxon, Greek, Egyptian, Babylonian and other language and traditions were also once used more fully in ritual but all fell somewhat out of favor in the last century in general. (It should be understood that these speculative Masonic influences were almost uniformly adopted under amateur scholarship and by the fashion and influences of the day; so that there existed by the 1800's a Mayan Rite based upon the Popul Vu and Chilam Balaam and said to be as 'ancient' as any other Masonic practice. And it probably was.)

At the time of the formation of the first Grand Lodge, the English situation was unique. As a result of their revolution of 1688, they had secured their particular parliamentary monarchical government. However, Freemasonry as it was neither caused nor participated in these revolutions. Ensuring respectability, English Freemasons remained silent on any part their members may have played, and Continental Masons reconstructed the mythic origins from the Crusades and Knights-Templar, up to 17th century. This however would set the stage for an era of high political involvement of Masons.

The exiled Catholic Jacobite Chevalier Ramsay’s nonsensical story of Masonry coming to France via the mediæval kings of Scotland was popular, as it was designed to bypass the English revolutions altogether. British Freemasons themselves carefully avoided all mention of association with these upheavals. The specifically British origins of Freemasonry already rendered it suspect in most Continental countries where parliaments, revolutions and bills of rights were seen as inherently subversive.

Freemasonry came to Sweden from the conservative religious branch, carried by Swedish noblemen who had been initiated in France. At first it took the form of ‘private lodges’, which bore the name of their founder, and often met at his home, as opposed to the tavern based early English Lodges. One such was Count Axel Wrede Sparre’s Lodge, established in 1735. A formal charter was received in 1737 through friherre Carl Fredrik Scheffer, issued by the French Grand Master Charles Radclyffe, Earl of Derwentwater. The Lodge closed in 1747 when Wrede Sparre left Stockholm to take up an appointment as lieutenant-colonel of the Västgöta cavalry regiment.

In 1752 the lodge ‘St Jean Auxiliare’ was founded by Captain Count Knut Carlsson Posse, under charter from the French Grand Master Louis de Bourbon-Condé, Count of Clermont, a royal prince. Many of the scattered Masons from dormant or shaky private lodges became members of this new lodge. In 1753 the King of Sweden decided to declare it Mother Lodge of all Swedish craft lodges. Freemasonry grew considerably after 1753, when Carl Fredrik Scheffer was installed as the first Swedish Grand Master. In the same year King Adolf Fredrik assumed "Overlordship" of all lodges in Sweden, and thus became the first "High Protector" of Freemasonry, which was akin to but a step beyond the patronage offered n England by the royal family.

The first high-degree "Scottish" (St Andrew’s) Lodge was started in 1756 with Chancellor Carl Friedrich Eckleff as master. In 1759, Eckleff formed the Chapitre Illuminé (Illuminated Chapter or Grand Chapter) ‘L’Innocente’, and began constructing a high-degree system which originally had nine degrees, but was later increased to ten. In 1760 the Swedish Grand Lodge was founded, replacing ‘St Jean Auxiliare’ as Grand Lodge for the Craft, and the present-day organisation of the Order was established as three branches: St John’s, St Andrew’s and the Chapter Degrees. Grand Lodge at that time had no power over the ‘Scottish’ degrees or Eckleff’s ‘Illuminated Chapter’. In 1774 Duke Carl, later King Carl XIII, became Grand Master of both systems, whereby all Masonry in Sweden came under the Grand Lodge. Like the imagined originators of Masonry the Templars, Freemasonry became a religious order patronized by royalty in Scandinavia and German speaking lands.

Duke Carl was elected Grand Master of the Strict Observance in 1776, after Baron von Hund died. However, the selection had political repercussions, and Duke Carl was forced to resign the office after just two years. Nevertheless he then set about reforming the higher degrees, and in 1801 launched the Swedish Rite with eleven degrees, using the Templar traditions as a basis, which is largely the system in use today. Duke Carl used Eckleff’s material and added elements from other sources: the Strict Observance has left clear imprints on the Chapter Degrees (VII – XI). By 1800, no less than 4292 men had been received as Freemasons in lodges belonging to the Swedish Order. This group was as much a product of the Swedish Enlightenment as it was a reaction against it.

3. The Swedish Rite Constitution Today

We will concentrate on the Swedish Rite in Sweden specifically as other Swedish Rites developed and are in the main replicas of this system. The Swedish system consists of eleven degrees, organised into three different lodge levels. The craft masonry lodges are called ‘Lodges of St John’. Degrees IV-VI are conferred in the ‘Scottish Lodges of St Andrew’. Above that is the ‘Chapter Lodge’, which is Templar Freemasonry. The XIth degree is an honorary degree given only to the Grand Officers of the Order (and royal princes). The craft degrees are still compatible with international systems, but the particular Christian content is stronger in the higher degrees.

There are numerous lodge buildings throughout Sweden. Most contain either a St John's lodge or a St John's and a St Andrew's lodge, but only the Provincial Grand Lodge buildings have Chapter Lodges. The three lodges meet in separate halls, since the physical design of the Lodge rooms is different. In many places, there is no Lodge building (since these are seen as very expensive and call for business arrangements that move newer and smaller Lodges away from its main focus); Masons meet in fraternal associations called brödraförengingar (‘brotherhood clubs’) taking advantage of any suitable space available. In these circumstances they perform a simplified version of the masonic rituals, usually without degree workings; they need a special permit to give degrees. Where there is only a lower lodge, there is usually a brotherhood club for Brethren of the higher degrees. In some regions, all lodges and/or brotherhood clubs meet in halls not owned by the Order, often rented from the Oddfellows or some other reputable society.

Candidates must be recommended by two faddrar (sponsors, patrons and mentors), one of whom must hold at least the seventh degree, and the other at least the third. The thoroughness of sponsors' reports (investigations) varies by Lodge as does the use of the secret blackball; though both may be used to to a degree seldom seen in Anglo American Lodges. Applicants must be a minimum of 24 years old, Christian, and of good repute. There is only one form of accepted ritual for each degree, and deviations are not permitted. The degree workings were established in 1800, but the language of the rituals is from the 1700s, which gives a similar impression to the workings of the older UGLE rituals (the language of many of our our rituals, while changed, is essentially that of 1813 or earlier, with a good deal of Victorian interpolations and other embellishments and changes).

Members do not, as a rule, remain members of a St. John’s Lodge when they move on to a St. Andrew’s Lodge. When a Master Mason is elevated to the IVth/Vth degree, a ‘letter of transport’ is sent to the St Andrew's Lodge of his choice. He ceases to be a member of his Craft Lodge and pays all dues to the St. Andrew's Lodge. The same thing happens on passage from St Andrew’s to Chapter Lodge. There are various Inspectors and high Lodge officials as with UGLE inspired Lodges.

Progression from one degree to the next is far from automatic. A Brother has not only to be regular in attendance, he has to give proof of his proficiency and of his knowledge of Freemasonry. Advancement proceeds according to a fixed set of rules with a minimum required time in each degree, a minimum number of visits in that degree, and certain other requirements which the Lodge leaders review. A Brother does not petition for advancement: when the requirements are met, the Worshipful Master and Deputy Masters of his Lodge petition for him. Brothers are expected to advance when summoned to receive a higher degree. The XIth degree is an honorary degree conferred on less than 100 Xth degree Brothers.

The SwR is progressive and continuous. Each degree leads to the next, and each sums up the contents of the preceding degrees. As publicly known the system is grouped into three divisions as follows:

St. John's (Craft) degrees (S:t Johannesloge):

I Apprentice (S:t Johannes Lärling)
II Fellow Craft (S:t Johann
es Medbroder)
III Master Mason (S:t Johannes Mästare)

St. Andrew's (Scottish) degrees (S:t Andreasloge):

IV-V Apprentice-Companion of St. Andrew (S:t Andreas Lärlinge-Medbroder)
VI Master of St. Andrew (S:t Andreas Mästare)

Chapter (Templar) degrees (Kapitelloge):

VII Very Illustrious Brother, Knight of the East (Riddare av Öster)
VIII Most Illustrious Brother, Knight of the West (Riddare av Väster)

The following two degrees are not currently in use:

IX Enlightened Brothers of St. John's Lodge (S:t Johanneslogens förtrogne bröder och Tempelkommendörer)

X Very Enlightened Brothers of St. Andrew's Lodge (S:t Andreaslogens förtrogne Bröder, Riddare av purpurbandet, och Tempelprefekter)*

On top of the system is (Stora Landslogen):

XI Most Enlightened Brother, Knight Commander of the Red Cross (Riddare och Kommendör med Röda korset)

There are approximately 60 Freemasons in Sweden currently holding the XIth degree and the same proportion roughly throughout other SwR practising grand bodies. No longer termed the Illuminated Chapter, they are present or past members of the Grand Council or Grand Officers, and constitute the Swedish Grand Lodge. Sweden has a civil order, equivalent to a British knighthood, instituted in 1811 as the Royal Order of King Carl XIII. It is conferred by the king only upon Freemasons holding the XIth degree, with the number of members limited to 33 (three of whom must be ordained) at any given time. The rank of Grand Master is sometimes referred to as the XIIth Degree.

Reflecting its peculiar structure, the emblem of SwR Freemasonry is not the international square and compasses, but the red Maltese cross of the Knights Templar. The motto of the Order is Veritas Persuadet (‘the truth convinces’). The Order’s purpose and content is personal development (from a Christian basis), fraternal sociability and brotherly love; which are manifested through Lodge workings, discussions, communal meals and other social events; plus contributions to worthy charities.

The signet ring of the Order is issued in the VIIIth degree, and is worn at the discretion of the Brother publicly. At this level, a Brother is also obliged to have designed his coat of arms should he not be in rightful possession of one, which is hung in the Chapter Hall of his Provincial Grand Lodge.

4. The Workings of a Swedish Lodge
As the SwR Order maintains a high degree of secrecy about virtually everything connected with its workings, and there appear to be no authoritative ‘exposures’ (though there was a practive, the only way a non-SwR mason can gain any detailed knowledge about its ceremonies is to learn the and attend Lodge meetings, receiving an invitation for the Work itself as an approved and bona fide visitor. The highest degrees are closed to visitors from other jurisdictions. I shall therefore make a few remarks about my observations of the two degree workings in which I have participated, but only in very general terms.

In a SwR First Degree ceremony there is much that is familiar, and much that is strange. There are, for example, no working tools, and the symbols on the tracing board are quite different. The entire floor of the Lodge room may be black-and-white mosaic, and a floor cloth is carried in and spread out in the centre with great ceremony. There are no wardens in the west and south: instead, two bevakande bröder (‘guarding brothers’ or ‘overseers’) sit on throne-like chairs side-by-side in the west, facing the Master. As they use no pedestals, they signal the knocks by striking the hilts of their swords with small hourglass-shaped hammers worn on chains around their necks! Yet, in spite of the many differences, the gist of the ceremony remains familiar, and passages in some charges bear a strong resemblance to those in our own ritual. The essence of the degree is the same though the figures related to tend to be drawn from differing sources.

Similarly, in the Third Degree, the general outline is familiar (even if the central figure in this working is not H.A!). Where possible, the ceremony is conducted not in the St. John’s lodge room, but in a special room in the vaults of the building. The theatrical element is, once more, much greater than in the many constitutions that occur in Anglo American Masonry. Interestingly, the backdrop to the Master’s pedestal is black with silver teardrops, such as we use only in Lodges of Sorrow. In this degree, as in all except the First, the candidate is required to present a proper paper on par with university work, consisting of what he has learned from the previous degree. This paper must be approved before the ceremony can proceed and such papers are required on a regular basis.

The emphasis in Anglo American Masonry is on ordering the Lodge almost as a business affair; spending time on minutes, discussing absent members, financial matters etc. The affairs of the SwR Lodge are handled by the Master of the Chair (the WM) and his officers; what could jestingly be called an enlightened dictatorship. A clear understanding of what is the status of things up to the degree of the particular Lodge is given annually so that members are informed. It frees the lodge to concentrate on doing degrees, delivering lectures and working in the temple. The business of the Brothers welfare is taken very seriously, too seriously to be dispatched with an "all is well" or an request to be remembered in the prayers of Brethren.

There is no ‘business session’ prior to a degree working: the ceremony begins immediately the Brethren are assembled. Meals are taken after all masonic meetings, and are considered as an integral part of the working. The dress code has been relaxed in recent years, as has our own. Many masons do still wear a tailcoat with black waistcoat, but a tuxedo or dark suit and tie are also acceptable. There is a different apron for every degree, and the third degree regalia is what Swedish masons wear when visiting craft lodges abroad.

A difference between SwR masonry and the Anglo-American systems is that there is no procedure whereby all Brethren take turns at holding the lodge's offices. Lodges are large; for example, the city of Uppsala has over 500 masons but only two lodges. There are many officers, but a Master holds office for six years, and others for at least one year, usually longer. There is no rank of Past Master in the Swedish system, and a Master whose term has expired simply resumes his place amongst the Brethren.

This reflects a fundamental difference between the Anglo-American systems and the Swedish Order. While British and American Masons are waiting for their next office, Swedish masons are waiting for their next degree. Few hope to stay put after becoming a Master Mason: most hope to acquit themselves well and pass on to the high degree section of the Order though this varies with individuals. This also means that SwR has not the selection of many different high degree systems, such as exist in Britain or America; it is one integrated system. It normally takes about two years to become a Master Mason, and 15-20 years to reach the Xth degree.

As a consequence, lodges tend to be fewer but larger than we are familiar with. For instance, Stockholm, with over one million inhabitants, has only a handful of Craft lodges. Each of these has hundreds of members, and holds about one lodge meeting per week. There are University Lodges which are quite popular as they are in the U.K. Nonetheless Lodges with interests-selective memberships, such as policemen, lawyers, soldiers or some other profession, as can be found in the U.K., are rare. (They are also increasingly rare in America which may have more to do with the general decline of Masonry there.) The difference is however that the SwR Lodges already harbor a level of exclusivity (by the highly selective nature of their membership) whereas American Masonry can no longer specialise due to extremely low levels of interest and extremely poor retention thus rendering it unable to be selective in such a way.

In order to visit a Swedish Lodge, one must be at least a Master Mason, and belong to a Lodge which is recognised by the Swedish Order of Freemasons. For the degrees above the third, one needs to be member of a foreign high degree system; there are conversion tables between the degrees. The Xth degree, however, does not receive visitors, like American 33-degree masonry, which does not accept visitors in its highest degree.

5. Social and Religious Criticisms of Swedish Rite Freemasonry

Freemasonry is regarded with some awe by Scandinavians (and perhaps Germans) in general, whether they approve of it or not. Demographically, it has moved steadily away from being solely the preserve of royalty and aristocracy to a predominantly upper-middle class membership, a profile similar to Rotary’s. When there was a lull in membership in the 1960's and 1970's membership became more diverse. The general criticism is that such organisations form elite decision-making bodies. Anders Westholm, Associate Professor of Politics at Uppsala University, commented on alleged masonic elitism to a Swedish newspaper:

"To the extent that an organisation contributes to a reduction in the diversity of
opinions and decision alternatives, it is a danger to democracy. It could lead to international recruiting to elite appointments." — Expressen 12/1/95

However, the same criticism is applied without distinction to Rotary, Lions and affluent churches! More significant is the religious criticism of Swedish Freemasonry. The State Church (Svenska kyrkan, evangelical Lutheran) has no apparent problems with masonry, and many of its members, clergy and even bishops are masons. Some in the minority Free Churches (Missionskyrka, Evangeliska frikyrkan, Pingstkyrkan, all rather Evangelical -like), on the other hand, consider membership of Freemasonry incompatible with membership of themselves, usually on the stated grounds of the SwR being the equivalent of a "selective church" or the Protestant version of a "Catholic confrere".

Duke Carl, later King Carl XIII, developed the moral philosophy of the Swedish Rite, and through two major ritual revisions in 1780 and 1800 he created the system which in essence remains unchanged to this day. Since Carl was affected by the gnostic and esoteric fashions of his time, his revisions brought these elements into the higher degrees, i.e., gnostic and Rosicrucian elements.

Catholics (by their own church) may or may not be forbidden to join the SwR despite its Christian character.  The Church usually objects to Masonic orders being, in the eyes of that Church, religious in nature but not exclusively Christian. One Catholic priest explained possible opposition to the SwR in the following terms:

"We consider that this [idea that Catholics can be Freemasons] is not possible: because the Freemasons are in principle relativistic, they are by their nature a more modern version of the gnostics, they are the heirs and acknowledgers of a type of Enlightenment theology and philosophy which is incompatible with the Catholic faith… the faith is principally public… one cannot build an esoteric entity, “Ecclesiola”, within the greater community and separated from it, where only the elect
would be admitted and which claims to have a special, secret tradition which only these elect may share as part of the Catholic Church; a “secret knowledge” which would imply a “higher stage” of Christian faith — that is exactly what the gnostics claimed — and one cannot celebrate a type of esoteric quasi-sacrament and simultaneously be a Catholic."

Whatever the truth of these charges, Swedish Masons, including some of the small Catholic population, see no conflict with church doctrines church, and the state churches of Scandinavia have been supportive Freemasonry on these grounds. As far as I am aware, the esotericism of the Swedish higher degrees is an element that is not found in our own Anglo-sphere Knights Templar or Rose Croix orders.

6. Conclusions and Personal Observations

I began this paper with two observations about Anglo-American Freemasonry, the first of which, in reference to masonry as ‘a system of morality’, read as follows:

This morality is taught via role playing in small set-piece allegorical theatrics with the addition of lectures or catechisms in which the candidate gives set answers to set questions.

Teaching morality by allegory and symbols makes us actors in a play, where the lodge room is the theatre and the candidate the protagonist. However, compared with the Swedish workings, our theatrics are rather poor. Our deacons march the candidate briskly around the room under the full glare of fluorescent lighting, while the Brethren sit about, exchanging jocular remarks sotto voce. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly and any meaning is left to the individual and that is most often no meaning at all.

A SwR working is an intensely solemn and almost mystical experience. The ritual of a SwR degree is somewhat more simple and explicit than our own, further reinforcing the other-worldly atmosphere and heightening the shared experience.

The second observation, in reference to the history of Freemasonry, noted:

….However, by the mid 19th century, he [Stewart] agrees with contemporary French criticism that English Freemasonry had become a “body without a soul”, having lost its original philosophic impulse, and was by then (and possibly still is) obsessed by form, procedure, decorum, status etc.

This encapsulates what I consider to be the major philosophic difference between the two systems. Anglo-American Freemasonry, having abandoned its original engagement in fluid, contemporary (and often controversial) social and scientific debate, now sets the expert delivery of ritual as its highest goal and fails to demand or even ask for interpretation and understanding. In spite of claims to the contrary, the essence of a ‘good’ working is generally regarded to be proficiency in word-perfect rote learning, rather than content or meaning. The philosophical aspect, eagerly debated by our 18th century Brethren, exists at best only in an attenuated and vestigial form.

SwR Freemasonry, on the other hand, has retained its original spiritual (if not philosophical) impulse, and clearly sets this at the centre of all its activities. Masonic education, and proof of learning by candidates as a precondition for advancement, are considered to be of the highest importance. Discussions of far ranging subjects occur, often initiated by Lodge work and often during the meal following, with the standing admonishment to avoid rancour, pressing solicitation of business or proselytising. This is opposed to the charge of stricter prohibitions among UGLE and American Masons. While there may be some concerns in common with those expressed by our own members, e.g. a desire for a shorter ritual, and more involvement of wives and partners, the Swedish mason is really a horse of a different colour.

In a recent paper to the United Masters Lodge of Research in New Zealand, R.W. Bro. Neil Ingram, Past Provincial Grand Master, commented that the new policy of ‘Openness’, and its related membership recruitment drives, seemed to be counter-productive. He observed that around the world:

"Masonic jurisdictions focusing on membership numbers were failing, whereas those focusing on quality of members and meetings were succeeding.'

"The less easy it is to become a Freemason, the more desirable membership is to potential candidates. In simple terms, things easily attained are not highly valued. We are careful to make the instruction valuable and to limit it to those who can value it."

‘Openness’ is anathema to the Swedish Order, as expressed by the Past Grand Master, M.W. Bro. Gustav Piehl:

"By publishing its rules and regulations the Order aims at informing the public to explicitly manifest its message. The organisational structure and Rituals themselves will, however, continue to remain strictly secret. The very proceedings that take place at a Lodge meeting have always to be kept confidential. The passing through the Masonic degree structure is intended to reveal empirical knowledge. Should the substance contained in these rituals be published, the pedagogic model, and the singular experience of each candidate, would then be lost. It would be like an advance unveiling of a written test of lessons undiscovered. "

Neither are membership drives acceptable. It is relatively difficult to apply to join the SwR (more so in some Lodges and jurisdictions than others), and acceptance is low. Quality, rather than quantity, is the focus: quality in ritual (without an obsessive emphasis on rote-learning: in both degrees I have witnessed, longer charges were read from a leather-bound book), quality in education, quality of candidates, quality of premises, quality of refectory, etc. What I have heard is that the SwR Masons feel that it is largely by bettering their membership progressively that Brethren continue to take part. They eventually hope to only have the very best members.

"Our criteria is that a new members should be better than us. We accept a new member as a brother but we also look at them as a father would, regardless of age; we want to our new members to be more able and more committed than us and we want to help them to be so." -Bro. Carl Sund

In spite of this selective outlook, membership is steadily growing. More significantly, the spread of ages is much more even: members range from the mid-20s to the mid-80s, but the curve peaks in the mid-40s. In English speaking Lodges, as we know only too well, the curve is highly skewed to the elderly, peaking in the late-60s and retention is very poor. This indicates the relative success of Swedish passive recruitment.
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