Fact: The Third Degree is the highest in Freemasonry

When you become a Freemason, you join your local Lodge (sometimes referred to as the "Blue Lodge" or "Craft Lodge") under the jurisdiction of your state's Grand Lodge. Blue Lodges confer only three degrees on their candidates... there is no higher "rank" than that of the third degree, or Master Mason.

After receiving the third degree, a Master Mason can join what are called appendant bodies - organizations which are separate from Grand Lodges but allow only Master Masons to join. The Shrine is probably the best-known appendant body. Two others, the York Rite and Scottish Rite confer additional degrees on their members. In fact, the Scottish Rite confers an additional 29 degrees, plus an honorary 33rd degree given to members for distinguished service. When you read about 32nd and 33rd degree Masons, you know you're reading about the Scottish Rite.

However, these additional degrees are not "higher" than Master Mason, and don't indicate any kind of rank within the fraternity. A common analogy for these degrees is to think of them as "continuing education" for a Master Mason; there is much to be learned from them, but the 32º of the Scottish Rite or the Order of the Temple degree of the Knights Templar (a group within the York Rite) should not be thought of as the Masonic equivalent of a PhD to the Blue Lodge's Bachelor's degree.

The Scottish Rite in the United States is divided into a Northern Jurisdiction and a Southern Jurisdiction. Based on the cover illustration, it seems likely that the Supreme Council of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction will figure prominently in Dan Brown's upcoming novel The Lost Symbol. Brother Christopher Hodapp has prepared a very helpful page to help sort fact from fiction - check it out!

"The Lost Symbol" and the Scottish Rite