The 33 Degrees in Freemasonry

Is 33 a mystical number with an inherent meaning?

Editor’s Note:

In February 2018, I was invited to speak at Schenectady Lodge #1174 in Schenectady, New York. Afterward, I was approached by Bro. James (Jim) Simpson, who shared his interest in the topic of my presentation. Jim caught my attention in that he’s an older member, the kind of Brother who leaves you with the impression that he has in-depth knowledge of the craft, its symbols, and history. We exchanged contact information. It was early March of that year when I opened the package of his first paper, “The Thirty Three Degrees of Freemasonry.”

What first caught my eye was that all 12 pages, including the title page and bibliography, were handwritten. For a kid who grew up in the 1980s who wrote thank you letters to my grandparents for every gift they sent me, I can’t remember the last time I opened a piece of mail in the past five years that was handwritten. I read on.

“There are 33 such degrees in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite. Is 33 a mystic number some inherent numerical meaning?”

I was hooked. I read the entire paper that afternoon when I came home after work. Bro. Jim also included photocopies of his supporting documentation to source his research. As a graduate studies student, I felt like I was reading college-level work.

I present to you the first in a series of Bro. James Simpson’s writings. What is special, is that Bro. Simpson is in his early 80s. When we last spoke on the phone, he shared that he’s “taking a hiatus this summer because my mind is getting tired.”

What surprised me over the past few years during our friendship is that he started writing about five years ago. After he was raised, he started reading and didn’t stop. He had so many ideas that he wanted to share his knowledge. This started with “scribbled paragraphs that I would read in my Blue Lodge,” he said. And how were his ideas received? He was thanked with not much discussion. “That was pretty much the end of it. There’s no discussion because the speaker is the only one who has done the reading on the subject. But, others will come to you and thank you for sharing the matter. (Just as he did with me) Don’t be discouraged! All of the Brothers I have known are interested in becoming more adept in the craft as it relates to their position in the Lodge.” He wasn’t the first, nor sadly the last, to learn that some of Freemasonry’s esoteric thoughts and ancient history sometimes fail to connect with the Brothers.

I will be converting Bro. Simpson’s papers to text, my hope is to share them with you as I receive them. He is one of many of our craft’s hidden gems. It is important to me that the library of history in his mind, the handwritten papers that he freely shares with any interested Brother, that knowledge continues to be accessed. I understand, not all Masons seek the additional Light that was promised to us in the degree ritual — but we should. We all began as Entered Apprentices with a desire to know and learn. We need to secure for future generations those “scribbles” that can spark great ideas or thoughts for an entire Craft.

Michael Arce, Editor-in-chief, Craftsmen Online

The 33 Degrees in Freemasonry

There are 33 degrees in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite. Is 33 a mystical number with some inherent numerical meaning?

The great Shakespearean actor and Mason, Edwin Booth, reportedly once said of the Masonic Ritual: “In all my research and study, in all my close analysis of the masterpieces of Shakespeare; in my earnest determination to make those plays a appear real on the mimic stage, I have never, and nowhere met the tragedy so real, so sublime, so magnificent as the Legend of Hiram. It is substance without shadow — the manifest destiny of life which requires no picture and scarcely a word to make a lasting impression upon all who can understand.”

Degree Origination

Our degrees began in France in the year 1725. The new class of scholarly men (Speculative Masons) had discovered written legends from the old Operative Masons. They were also aware of the early history of the Jews given in the Bible. It is from these histories the Hiramic Legend evolved. The early high degrees were a continuation of the Hiramic Legend. This occurred during the Age of Enlightenment when there was a growing interest in all mystical and occult doctrines. The mystical parts of many of the high degrees were influenced by the knowledge of Rosicrucianism and even the mystical parts of the Book of Revelation.

Important practical lessons are being taught through the observance of rituals. Participation in rituals in unifying and gives a greater sense of belonging. A mutual belief in a Supreme Power should bind all initiates together in Brotherhood. We must learn to work for work’s sake without the desire for praise or reward. There are philosophical ideas shown allegorically through the master architect’s tools. They teach us to be faithful to our family and country. They teach universal Brotherhood; honesty in business relations; the forgiveness of past injustices; and perseverance in overcoming the difficulties encountered in our progress toward perfection. These degrees are rich in benefits.

Scottish Rite Degrees and Chakras

Several years before I was raised, I purchased a book entitled “Hands of Light: A Guide to Healing Through the Human Energy Field” by Barbara Brennan. She is a practicing healer, psychotherapist, and scientist. She was a research scientist in atmospheric physics from NASA. She was trained in bioenergetic therapy and is currently teaching courses concerning the human energy field. Barbara presents the first in-depth study of the human energy field for people who seek happiness, health, and their full potential. She discusses how our physical bodies exist within a larger “body,” a human energy field or aura, which is the vehicle through which we create our experience of reality, including health and illness.

There are seven endocrine glands. Each gland has a chakra, which is a cone-shaped energy field that absorbs energy from the universal energy field. As a practitioner, Ms. Brennan will locate unhealthy chakra. The result of her healing will be physical, emotional, and spiritual. Although this healing is not a religion, the charkas are a western interpretation of Hinduism. Western practices have associated chakras with various concepts.

I.E., metaphysical counterparts to the endocrine glands; chakras reside in the psyche; chakras have a physical manifestation. These various beliefs have been speculative. The book “Dark Light Consciousness” has taken the speculative out of the chakras and brought them into the operative world of science. The book author, Edward Bruce Bynum, Ph.D., explores the ancient Egyptian science of the Uraeus and reveals how it is intimately connected to dark matter and to melanin, a light-sensitive, energy-conducting substance found in the brain, nervous system, and organs of all higher life-forms.

The following points are from Ms. Brennan’s book.

  • Chakra #1: The coccygeal center is related to the quantity of physical energy and will live in the physical reality.
  • Chakra #2: The gonads is related to the quality of love for your mate.
  • Chakra #3: The solar plexus relates to spiritual wisdom and consciousness of universality of life.
  • Chakra #4: The thymus is the center through which we love ourselves, our families, pets, friends, neighbors, and our countrymen.
  • Chakra #5: The thyroid is associated with taking responsibility for one’s personal needs.
  • Chakra #6: The pituitary is associated with the capacity to visualize and understand mental concepts.
  • Chakra #7: The pineal, the “Crown Chakra.” The pineal gland is related to the person’s connection to his spirituality and integration of his whole being, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Spritual energy and Freemasonry

The Knights Templar were in the Holy Land beginning in the year 1118. Hughes de Payens, the Master of the Order, although a Christian, was a descendant of Muhammed. It was through this connection that the Templars allied themselves with Islam. The Templars’ principal teachers of alchemy were the enlightened Sufis. The Sufis had gathered the rarest and most valuable alchemical texts of the Egyptians, Persians, and Indians. The Sufis also acquired texts from India regarding the mystical form of spiritual enlightenment.

The human spine contains 33 vertebrae. Spirit regeneration would take place by degrees through the 33 vertebrae of the spinal column until reaching the pituitary gland which invokes the pineal body. The science of this regeneration is one of the lost keys of Freemasonry, and it is this reason why ancient Freemasonry was founded upon thirty-three degrees. Manley P. Hall, a 33 Degree Mason and Masonry’s greatest philosopher, states, “The 33rd Degree represents the human head atop the 33 vertebrae of the back.”

From the base of the spine there is the serpent which will wind its way up the spine to the crown chakra. The Sufis knew this as the Baraka; the Jews called it the Shekinah; the Chinese Taoist called it Jing; in India, it was the Kundalini. To awaken the power of the Kundalini, it would take spiritual discipline, including alchemy and yoga. As the Kundalini rises through the physical, emotional, and mental bodies, it performs the task of destroying all the impurities that prevent him from knowing his innate divinity.

With the conquest of Spain by Islam (711-1492), Spain became the seat of Sufi learning in Europe. Beginning with Compostela, Span, there are five cathedrals, one church, and one chapel. The sequence of the sites corresponds to that of the planets in our solar system. Each site also corresponds to a chakra. Just as subliminal energies stream up and down through the chakras within the human body, so similar forces surge northwards and southwards along the great alignment of the cathedrals.

When the novice had progressed thus far along his chosen spiritual path, he was open to receive the messenger of the mystery cults. The novice would make a pilgrimage to St. James of Compostela. The first-degree initiation was the result that flowed spiritually from the awakening of the base chakra that connects us with the earth and physical reality. Its ruling planet — the Moon.
The initiate would then make a pilgrimage to the church in Toulouse. He would be introduced to the mysteries of the second degree with the opening of the abdominal chakra. Here he would discover his inner space and could retire into the isolation of his spirit. Its ruling planet — Mercury.

The novice was the symbol of the third or solar plexus chakra. The fulfillment of this degree led to the awakening of the universal life force. This degree was achieved by the entry into the mysteries of the Venus oracle at the Cathedral of Orleans.

The novice is now ready to awaken the heart chakra which is linked to the region of the thymus gland above the heart. This is the spiritual center controlling the sublime gifts of love. This initiation was held in the Crypt of Chargers Cathedral, the ancient site of the sun oracle.

Induction into the fifth degree was performed in the chamber under Notre-Dame de Paris, the site of the druidic oracle of Mars. The fifth center is the throat chakra and is the first of the higher ones. It is the center of both speech and inner hearing and is connected with the power of sound.

The brow chakra, known to many as the third eye, is connected with the pituitary gland. Clairvoyance is connected with this center, which relates to the spiritual faculties of insight and intuition. This took place in the cathedral of Amiens, and the aspirant would be instructed in the mysteries of the Jupiter oracle.

The seventh degree was attained with the culmination of the spiritual journey a the opening of the crown chakra, which is mystically united with the pineal gland; also known as the Seat of the Soul. This was awarded at the seventh site, Rosslyn Chapel, the ancient and revered site of the Saturn oracle. The initiation ceremony for this degree took place in the hidden chamber under the chapel, which was deliberately created by Earl William St. Clair. The Sinclairs were experts in sacred geometry and geomancy, sciences that teach how to design physical structures so that they harmonize, capture, and amplify the natural currents of energy that flow under and upon the surface of the earth. William Sinclair based the chapel’s dimensions on the Golden Mean, the proportion that determines the geometric spiral, which is synonymous with the path of serpentine life force.

Rosslyn Chapel was situated upon the confluence of important ley lines that united it with sacred landmarks throughout Britain. One of its intersecting leys comes from the direction of the bore stane hill where five powerful ley-lines radiate. In 1994, Niven Sinclair invited Professor Lin Yun, a master of Feng Shui, to measure the flow of the “earth energy” within Rosslyn Chapel. Professor Yun was impressed with this energy and maintained that the chapel was destined to be a center of world peace.

The seven spiritual centers along with their respective planets were in total alignment on July 28, 2019. The author did not make any predictions for this alignment.

Bro. Jim Simpson, Schenectady Lodge #1174, Schenectady, New York
Sigman Bodies Ancient Accept Scottish Rite, Scotia, New York
St. George’s Chapter #157, Schenectady, New York
St. George’s Council #74, Schenectady, New York
St. George’s Commandry #37, Schenectady, New York
Charles H. Copestake #69 AMD, Schenectady, New York