The Rite of Strict Observance: Part Two

by Burton E. Bennett

The Strict Observance

The Rite of the Strict Observance is based on “Templar Masonry.” Its founders claimed that all Templars were Masons, that they founded – and that the time had come to proclaim it to the world, and to have the Order of the Temple given back all of its former possessions, and to have all of its former powers restored to it. But what is the legend of “Templar Masonry”? Perhaps the French Masonic writer, Beranger, in the following short description, depicts it as well as it can be done. He says:

“The Order of Masonry was instituted by Godfrey de Bouillon, in Palestine, in 1330, after the defeat of the Christian armies, and was communicated only to a few French Masons, some time afterwards, as a reward for the services which they had rendered to the English and Scottish Knights. From these latter true Masonry is derived. Their Mother Lodge is situated on the mountain of Heredom, where the first Lodge in Europe was held, which still exists in all its splendor. The Council General is always held here, and it is the seat of the Sovereign Grand Master for the time being. This mountain is situated between the West and the North of Scotland, sixty miles from Edinburgh.”

“There are other secrets in Masonry which were never known among the French, and which have no relation to the Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Degrees, which were constructed for the general class of Masons. The high degrees, which developed the true design of Masonry and its true secrets, have never been known to them.”

“The Saracens having obtained possession of the holy places in Palestine, where all the mysteries of the Order were practised, made use of them for the most profane purposes. The Christians then leagued together to conquer this beautiful country, and to drive these barbarians from the land. They succeeded in obtaining a footing on these shores under the protection of the numerous armies of the Crusaders, which had been sent there by the Christian princes. The losses which they subsequently experienced put an end to the Christian power, and the Crusaders who remained were subjected to the persecutions of the Saracens, who massacred all who publicly proclaimed the Christian faith. This induced Godfrey de Bouillon, toward the end of the thirteenth century, to conceal the mysteries of religion under the veil of figures, emblems and allegories.”

“Hence the Christians selected the Temple of Solomon because it had so close a relation to the Christian Church, of which its holiness and its magnificence made it the true syymbol. So the Christians concealed the Mystery of the building up of the Church under that of the construction of the Temple, and gave themselves the title of Masons, Architects, or Builders, they were occupied in building the faith. They assembled under the pretext of making plans of architecture to practise the faith of their religion with all the emblems and allegories that Masonry could furnish, and thus protect themselves from cruelty of the Saracens.”

“As the mysteries of Masonry were in their principles, and still are, only those of the Christian religion, they were extremely scrupulous to confide this important secret only to those whose discretion had been tried, and who had been found worthy. For this purpose they fabricated degrees as a test of those in whom they wished to confide, and they gave them at first only the symbolic secrets of Hiram, on which all the mysteries of Blue Masonry is founded, and which is, in fact, the only secret of that Order which has no relation to true Masonry. They explained nothing else to them as they were afraid of being betrayed, and they conferred these degrees as a proper means of recognizing each other, surrounded as they were by barbarians. To succeed more effectually in this they made use of different signs and words for each degree, so as not only to distinguish themselves from the profane Saracens, but to designate the different degrees. These they fixed at the number of seven, the imitation of the Grand Architect who built the Universe in six days and rested on the seventh; and, also, because Solomon was seven years in constructing the Temple, which they had selected as the figurative basis of Masonry. Under the name of Hiram they gave a false application to the Masters and developed the true secret of Masonry only to the higher degrees.”

The Templar Myth

Templar Masonry is divided into four divisions each claiming a different descent from the Templars. (1) That of France which claims descent by way of a charter given by Jacques de Molay, before his death, to Johannes Larmenius creating him Grand Master. (2) That which claims descent from Pierre d’Aumont (who succeeded de Molay as Grand Master) who fled with a few knights to Scotland, and there established Masonry. From Scotland, it was carried to France, and there was formed the Chapter of Claremont, from which it went to Germany and made the Strict Observance which Von Hund so greatly developed. (3) That of the Scandinavian countries which claims descent by way of the real Order of Christ of Portugal that succeeded the Templars, through Beaujeau, a nephew of de Molay, who took his uncle’s ashes to Stockholm and buried them there, and established the Swedish Templar system. (4) That of Scotland which claims descent from the House of the Templars that was never abolished there. The Royal Order of Scotland was created for some of the Knights by Robert Bruce and the rest were united with the Hospitallers. At the Reformation a part embraced Protestantism and united with the Masons. The part that remained Catholic was ultimately joined by the Young Pretender and was carried to France. (5) That of England, all other parts of the British Empire, and the United States, which claims descent from the Knights in England who, when the Order was dissolved, buried themselves in the Masonic Fraternity, and were allowed to retain all of their secrets, and practice all of their ancient rites.

Of course all of the above is untrue. It is indeed the purest nonsense. These fabrications were made for the purpose of establishing an order not only that nobles of all countries could join, but that all who joined would believe they became ennobled. Designing men took advantage of it to obtain both money and power through “lost secrets”, occultism and magic. It was an age that believed not only with personal contact with God, but also with the devil; and the supposed secrets of the Ancient Masons furnished the seed for all this tremendous growth. The truth is that all Templar Masonry is descended from a Kadosh degree invented in Lyons, France, in 1743. Gould, the greatest and most learned of all Masonic historians, says:

“During the period I have just sketched (rise of High Degrees in France) it has always been maintained that Ramsey introduced a Rite of five degrees between 1786-38, called the “RITE DE RAMSEY” or “DE BOUILLON.” I trust that I have already demonstrated that he did nothing of the sort, but it may be added, that beyond mere assertions, echoes of Thory, there is not the slightest evidence that a “Rite de Ramsey” ever existed. The application is a comparatively modern one, not being heard of till Thory invented it. Nevertheless, about 1740, various Rites, or degrees, of Scots Masonry, did spring into existence, followed shortly afterwards by Scots Mother-Lodges controlling systems of subordinate Scots Lodges. At first these had reference to the recovery of the “lost word,” but before long additions were made. In 1743 the Masons of Lyons invented the Kadosh degree, comprising the vengeance of the Templars, and thus laid the foundation for all the Templar Rites. It was at first called Junior Elect; but developed into Elect of Nine, or of Perignan, Elect of Fifteen, Illustrious Master, Knight of Aurora, Grand Inquisitor, Grand Elect, Commander of the Temple, etc.”

The Rite of Strict Observance was carried from France to Germany as early as 1749. if not before. Von Bieberstein, as Provincial Grand Master, was succeeded at his death, about 1750, by Karl Gotheif, Baron Von Hund, and Alten-Grotkau. He was made a Mason in 1742. A year or so afterwards he met at Paris Lord, Kilmarnock, who interested him in Templarism, and he was initiated into the Order of the Temple. He was given a patent and directed to report to the Prov. Grand Master, Von Bieberstein, of the 7th Province in Germany.

Von Hund as Grand Master

When Von Hund succeeded Von Bieberstein, at his death, as Provincial Grand Master, the Strict Observance began to assume a commanding position in the Masonic world. We can trace its beginnings back to Lord Kilmarnock. Grand Master of Scotland, in 1742- 43. Kilmarnock in Scotland was made a barony, under the Boyds, the ruling family, in 1591, and was made an earldom in 1661. Lord Kilmarnock was working in behalf of the exiled house of Stuart, and used the Templar system for that purpose. Von Hund probably knew nothing of this and was honest in what he did. Lord Kilmarnock was the last Boyd to bear that title and was beheaded on Tower Hill, London, in 1746, for his share in the Jacobite uprising.

In 1751 Von Hund began to give particular attention to the restoration of the Order of the Temple. and evidently considered it his life work. He commenced to make Knights and divided all Europe into nine Provinces, to-wit: (1) Arragon, (2) Auvergne, (3) Occitania, (4) Leon, (5) Burgundy, (6) Britain, (7) Elbe and Oder, (8) Rhine, and (9) the Archipelago.

The Rite of Strict Observance consisted of six degrees, namely, (1) Apprentice, (2) Fellow Craft, (3) Master Mason, (4) Scottish Master, (5) Noviciate, and (6) Templar. The first three degrees was Ancient Craft Masonry. The fourth degree depicts the method used to preserve the “lost word”, which was cut on a plate of pure metal. put into a secure place. And centuries afterwards recovered, so it was asserted. It of course belonged to the Eceossais system of degrees (Scots system). The select Master of the American Rite belongs to the same system, and its teachings are found in the Royal Arch Degree. It is the fifth degree of the French Rite. The thirteenth degree of Scotish Rite also belongs to this system. The fifth degree is preparatory to the real Templar degree and the sixth degree is the real Knighthood. Later another degree called the Professed Knight was, it is said, added to Hund’s system. Only noblemen were eligible to Knighthood, although others could be made companions by paying very large sums of money.

The Imposter Johnson Appears

In 1763 a fellow named Leucht, going under the name of’ Johnson, who had got hold of some Masonic papers relating to Masonry proper, as well as the “high degrees”, appeared at Jena where there was a Clermont Chapter practicing the Templar degrees in the Strict Observance system, and stated that he had a commission from the Sovereign Chapter in Scotland to reform the German Lodges and impart the true secrets of Masonry, and that these secrets enabled their possessors to prepare the philosopher’s stone. He obtained Iarge sums of money from the members. It was soon seen that he was a charlatan. He fled, but later on was arrested and died in prison. Even this episode did not harm the Strict Observance, rather it spread its fame. probably on account of Von Hund’s high standing and well known honesty. It took on a most wonderful growth. It became practically the only Masonry in Germany and spread into Holland and Russia and into France, Switzerland and Italy as well.

In the Strict Observance the real rulers of the Order were unknown, and on joining it an oath of obedience was made to the Order and to the Unknown Superiors. who at the proper time and in the proper place would make themselves known, when the Order would be restored to all its pristine glory. Von Hund probably thought that the “Young Pretender” (also known as the “Young Chevalier” and the “Count of Albany”). Prince Charles Edward, was the Grand Master. While it was probably a political scheme in his behalf in the first place it was dropped after his defeat at Culloden in 1746, and all of the time since then Von Hund was working honestly in the dark without any backing whatever. The Knight of the Red Feather, whom he asserted he met in Paris, and whom he supposed was the Grand Master of the Order, was, as far as Von Hund was personally concerned, only a red devil.

The Rite of the Strict Observance reached its highest point when the Princes of Germany joined it. The Lodge of the Three Globes of Berlin, Prussia, with its subordinate lodges, the English Provincial Grand Lodge and the Lodges of Denmark, also joined it. However Zinnendorf, who was a member and active worker, resigned in 1766 to introduce the Swedish system into Germany. It grew rapidly and soon became a real rival to the Strict Observance. The members began to want to realize something out of their membership. They wanted to know who the “Unknown Superiors” were. They really wanted to receive that Occult knowledge which all of the knights of the order believed the rulers possessed – the heritage of the Order of the Temple. While all of this seems nonsense to us, it was not to them. It was the fault of the age, for all believed in occult science, and those who delved into it believed that the great secrets belonged to the Masons. but to which branch they did not know, and how to find the right one was their constant aim.

The Clerks of the Strict Observance

An Order called the Clerics turned up and it was supposed for a time that the “lost secrets” were with it. But nothing was found there, and it was determined to have a general convention for the purpose of examining into everything, so as to get on the right road. All still firmly believed that the Unknown Grand Master and his Councilors possessed all occult science and that a way could be devised to reach them. This convention took place at Brunswick and was in session from May 23 to July 6, 1775. But nothing came out of it except extreme dissatisfaction to all, and it was agreed to fully examine into both the descent of the Order and the Grand Mastership of the Young Pretender. Baron Von Hund while intimating who the Grand Master really was, with tears in his eyes refused to state directly, saying that he had taken an oath, on his sword and honor, never to do so; but as those who were in authority seemed to be determined to divulge nothing, it might be well to elect a Grand Master and take all matters into their own hands. This course produced a charlatan greater, if possible, than Leucht.

Baron Von Gugumos was at the Brunswick convention and told different members of it that they were all on the wrong track; that the Strict Observance was an imitation, or rather, only a branch of the true Order, and possessed none of the real secrets; that the Patriarch of the Greek Church at Cyprus was the Grand Master of the Order and that there reposed all of the mighty secrets of the alchemists that had been preserved from the most ancient times by the Templars. Some of the princes and others were initiated into his Order, and he promised to get the Patriarch to disclose to them all of the alchemical secrets. Much enthusiasm was aroused, and it was thought at last that they were on the right track.

The Convention of Wiesbaden

A convention, at the suggestion of the Baron, was at Wiesbaden on Aug. 15, 1776, with the consent the Prince of Nassau-Usingen, but without that of the Duke of Brunswick. Among those present was the sovereign, the Duke of Nassau; also the Duke of Gotha, the Landgraves Ludwig and George, and many other nobles of lesser note. At one time there was not less than twelve reigning sovereign Princes of Germany members of the Rite of the Strict Observance, and they were the most active members seeking “lost secrets”. It is no wonder that Gugomos had everything his own way, when so many in authority believed in magic and alchemy and, in fact, in all of the occult sciences. Gugomos produced an impressive patent, made for him by some scholar, and made a mystic speech. He reinitiated them into the “real Order” and sold them shoddy regalia and brass jewels at exorbitant prices. In the language of the present day, “he made a killing.” Some had doubts and wanted him then and there to perform his magic feats. This, he said, he would gladly do if they would build the necessary sacred shrine,. and that, while this was being done, he would go to Cyprus and get the necessary sacred wands and altars. It was necessary, he explained, to have a secret and proper sanctuary for the delivery of the oracles, and then again the recipients must be properly prepared. He went but he never came back.

Baron Von Hund died on Oct. 28, 1776, and as might be expected confusion ensued. His effects were care-fully examined, but nothing was found that could throw any light on the Order or its Grand Master, except that the Baron believed that it was the Young Pretender. But Prince Charles Edward on being questioned later on in Italy about it, stated that he knew nothing about it and was not even a Mason.’

In 1782 the Rite of Strict Observance was reorganized by Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, who was elected Grand Master General. The next year, however, the Lodge of the Three Globes of Berlin, with all of its subordinate lodges and the Hamburg Lodges, withdrew from the Strict Observance. On July 3, 1792, Prince Ferdinand died, and the Order died with him except in France and Denmark. In Denmark in 1792 Prince Karl of Hesse was appointed Grand Master of Denmark by royal decree. In 1808, in France, Prince Cambaceres, Arch Chancellor of the Napoleonic Empire and Grand Master of the Grand Orient, became Provincial Grand Master. The Rite continued being worked in the Rectified Rite, under the Grand Orient till 1811, when it completely died out. Prince Karl of Hesse died in 1836 and in 1855 the Danish lodges adopted the Swedish Rite, and with this the Rite of the Strict Observance breathed its last breath.

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