History of Scandinavian freemasonry

World Exemplification of Freemaosnry is an initiative by the Grand Lodge of Indiana. It presents a series of online video lectures on a masonic topic, approximately one per week in 2011. In this one Andreas Önnerfors, scholar and member of the Swedish Order of Freemasonry, talks about the history of freemasonry in Scandinavia, particularly in Sweden and Denmark:

The Evolution of Scandinavian Freemasonry from WEOFM on Vimeo.


Swedish Rite aprons

The Charles D. Visscher Museum of Masonic Culture has offered pictures from their collections on Facebook, including Norwegian Regalia. These are very similar to the ones used in Denmark. The museum is located physically in New Jersey.

Regarding a letter in The Square

The Square (‘the independent magazine for freemasons‘) brings a letter questioning whether UGLE should recognise those Grand Lodges practicing Swedish Rite who according to this letter, ‘discriminate on the grounds of religion’. I have already said my final piece on this accusation (Swedish Rite … or Wrong?), but the letter (or rather its anonymous writer) gets an important fact wrong, so I need to address that:

I have attempted to find out more about this matter at Grand Lodge but all I have been told is that there exists a second Grand Lodge in Denmark – which I believe – practices the Emulation ritual translated into Danish. (I was actually already aware of this as some of their Grand Officers and members attended a lodge – for which I have a connection – at Freemason’s Hall a few years ago, so I saw them). This begs the question as to why we recognise two Grand Lodges in one country – but that is another matter.

(I believe the parenthesis is a comment from editor Mike Porter.)

First of all, UGLE actually recognises two or more Grand Lodges in several countries, and for good reason, but as the writer says, that is another matter.

More imporantly, it is not the case in Denmark. The situation is that The Danish Order of Freemasons (practising Swedish Rite, with around 8,000 members) is the Grand Lodge of Denmark. Within this organisation is The Ancient Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Denmark (some 1,300 members); they entered a concord with the Order which gave them recognition and semi-autonomy (comparable to a Provincial Grand Lodge); but they accept the authority of the Sovereign Grand Master of the Order, and recognition can not be extended to them as an individual organisation. Many members of the Fraternity join the Order to take the higher degrees (IV-X) of that system.

Also, I have also been told that what they work is Emulation, but it clearly isn’t, nor do they name it so (I believe it’s called ‘Ritual for The Ancient Fraternity of F&AM’ or something like that) – it is a mistake that has crept in somewhere. (Unfortunately their website is being updated, but they used to have quite a bit of information in English, so I shall update this post once it’s back online.)

EDIT: corrected the member numbers with the latest edition of the yearbook.


h20453scandinaviasansonThe Swedish Rite is practised in only a handful of small nations, known as the Nordic Countries: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland; as well as Northern Germany in a variant known as Zinnendorf’s Rite. (In addition to these there are a few local lodges in Spain, Togo and elsewhere.) Here are the basic statistics (population (pop.) as per 2007/’08; freemasonry (FM) since; SwR is Swedish Rite; GL is Grand Lodge):

  • Sweden: pop. 9.2 mil; FM since 1735; 15,000 SwR freemasons (incl. Finland)
    Sweden only has one Le Droit Humain lodge as an alternative to the SwR.
  • Denmark: pop. 5.5 mil; FM since 1743 (SwR GL since 1858); 8,000 SwR freemasons + 1,500 other
    Denmark has the most diversity in masonic organisations and ritual; 1,275 of ‘other’ are Craft-masons under the SwR GL, the rest belonging to a number of different unrecognised orders and independent Craft-lodges.
  • Norway: pop. 4.8 mil; FM since 1749; 19,500 SwR freemasons
    Norway has a handful of lodges of German origin under GL-authority, as well as two Le Droit Humain lodges. It is the GL that has experienced the biggest growth, but all have seen a positive trend.
  • Iceland: pop. 320,000; FM since 1913; 3,400 SwR freemasons
  • Finland: pop. 5.3 mil;  FM since 1758; 1.200 SwR freemasons + 6,100 other
    The SwR Grand Chapter of Finland is organised as a Provincial GL under the Swedish Order (Swedish is one of the languages spoken in Finland). The GL of Finland (the majority of freemasons) works Craft.
  • Germany: pop. 82 mil; FM since 1737 (first charter: 1729; SwR GL since 1770); 3,500 SwR freemasons + 9,500 other
    Grosse Landesloge der Freimaurer von Deutchland is one of five unified GLs.

For a total of some 50.000 regular Swedish Rite freemasons, the vast majority of this region, and these years the system is building in strength. Edit, January 12: At the New Year’s Celebration in Copenhagen the Norwegian Grand Master set the number at 55,000.

Notes: Numbers from Wikipedia, Grand Lodge websites and foreign brethren (thank you).

The degrees of Swedish Rite

I just want to very briefly go over the degrees of the Swedish Rite. without touching on the contens. This is the same list that can be found on the official website of the Danish Order of Freemasons, with a few changes and added notes. Go to my Swedish Rite page to find pictures of regalia. Each ‘tier’ is its own entity, so a VII degree brother will be a member of three different lodges; but the rite is progressive, and the degrees are connected like pearls on a string.

Lodge of St. John. This encompasses the first three degrees and is similar to Craft masonry, although the ritual differs. The Master of the Lodge must be of the IX degree, and the officers at least VII.

  • I – Diligent Apprentice of St. John
  • II – Zealous Companion of St. John
  • III – Worthy Master of St. John

Lodge of St. Andrew: Another three (‘Scottish’) degrees. The Master of the St. Andrew’s lodge must be of X degree. The VI degree, Master of St. Andrew, compares with the same degree in Rectified Scottish Rite, and it also makes possible intervisitiation with Rose Croix (Scottish Rite 18°) and Holy Royal Arch.

  • IV-V – Very Worthy Apprentice-Companion of St. Andrew
  • VI – Illustrious Master of St. Andrew

Chapter (or rather: Priory): Originally, the first two degrees of Chapter were called a Steward’s Lodge, but no more. VIII is similar to the Chevalier Bienfaisant de la Cité Sainte, and it also allows intervisitiation with Scottish Rite 32°.

  • VII – Very Illustrious Steward Brother
  • VIII – Most Illustrious Confidential Brother of Solomon
  • IX – Illuminated Confidential Brother of St. John’s Lodge
  • X – Very Illuminated Confidential Brother of St. Andrew’s Lodge, Knight of the Purple Sash

And in addition (the degree number is never used for these):

  • (XI or ‘R&K’) – Most Illuminated Knight and Commander of the Red Cross
  • (XII) – Most Wise, the Sovereign Grand Master of the Order

I use the word Companion rather than Fellowcraft, and you will find the same in works about the rite, as well as texts on Strict Observance.
I have chosen Illuminated rather than the proposed Enlightened.
For VII and VIII I have translated the Danish titles rather than use Knight of East and West.
The website says Knight Commander, which is a mistake – I have added the missing ‘and‘.
I have added the Grand Master to the list.

Swedish Rite regalia

As mentioned earlier, I visited the exhibition on freemasonry here in Århus. The catalogue has pictures of the mannequins wearing regalia, which I would like share here (I have no scanner, so I had to shoot pictures; the files are approx. 500kb each). Gloves are worn in all degrees, and hat is worn by all from III degree and up. The tradition of wearing tails is only used in Denmark and Iceland; Norway and Sweden also allows black suit and tie.

  • I-III is the St. John’s lodge (Craft). The flap is worn up for the Apprentice.
  • IV-VI is the St. Andrew’s lodge (Scots degrees).
  • VII-XI is Chapter. In addition to these, the Sovereign Grand Master (XII) has his own apron and sash. There is also a seperate sash (white and gold) for members of the Supreme Council (who are all XI).

The Rectified Rite in Denmark

As I have touched on previously (Rituals of the Order) Denmark had a period, when it went from using the Strict Observance to the Rectified Rite (before finally landing on Swedish Rite). But this “interim” period is not very well covered, and I have been wondering why it doesn’t seem to match the descriptions I have encountered of the Rectified Scottish Rite (as the two should be synonymous).

Well, yesterday I attented a meeting of the Danish Lodge of Research, Friederich Münter (I am a corresponding member), on this very subject. The presented lecture was written by one of the original founders of the lodge, who is also a member of Chevalier bienfaisant de la Cite Sainte in Belgium. It was a very thorough paper focusing on the historical spread of the rite and the masonic climate in Europe in which it proliferated, and later diminished (or consolidated), up until today.

The complete answer to my question goes beyond the scope of this blog, but basically what happened was this: the convent at Wilhelmsbad, 1782, agreed that the Strict Observance (SO) had outlived itself, and that Willermoz’ Rectified Scottish Rite should take its stead. But the SO was capitulated before agreement had been reached on how exactly to implement the higher degrees of the new system. So the Danish freemasons simply decided to bring home the three Craft-degrees and skip the higher degrees (and the managerial aspects of the order) until the next convent could agree on their design. Unfortunately Prince Ferdinand von Braunschweig, who was the head of SO and took charge of the renewal, died before this could happen. But there was already an existing Grand Chapter in Denmark, and some of its members were loath to give up their status, and others had been promised positions under the new, rectified system; so this institution carried on and handled the leadership (as a grand lodge of Denmark), as the newly imported rite didn’t come as a fully fledged organisation, and it had been decided not to take on Willermoz’ high degrees. Not until 1817 and 1819 did Prince Carl von Hessen-Kassel, the ruler of the Danish freemasons, start Scots (St. Andrew’s) lodges in Denmark, and in 1819 he also instituted a Masonic Directorate to handle the ruling of Masonic affairs. But the faulty system that was introduced in 1782 was never really repaired, because Denmark and Germany ran afoul in political matters. And instead, the Swedish Rite found its way here in 1853 and marked a new beginning.

So, things might have been very different, had the issues at Wilhelmsbad been resolved; imagine: a national regular grand lodge working the full vision of Willermoz (rather than the priories that exist today) … It also explains why Denmark ended up being, by some, considered the last remaining vestige of Strict Observance in Europe (even if that was only due to bad luck and/or lack of leadership).

Pictures: the shield of Lodge of Research Friederich Münter; portrait paintings of Prince Carl von Hessen-Kassel and Prince Ferdinand von Braunschweig (from Wikipedia).