Swedish merchants and members of the Swedish nobility were introduced to Freemasonry in Paris in the 1730s. Villeroy-Coustos Lodge, an English lodge, had at least seven members who were Swedish, including Count Carl Fredrik Scheffer (1715-86), a diplomat and politician who was subsequently Grand Master of Sweden (1753-74). Other Scandinavian members of the lodge include Niels Krabbe De Wind, Denmark’s Ambassador to Paris, and Carl Adolph von Plessen, one of his colleagues at the Danish Embassy.
Regardless, Swedish Freemasonry was sponsored by Charles Radcliffe, the titular 5th Earl of Derwentwater, a Jacobite exile resident in France. As Grand Master of Freemasons in France, Derwentwater issued a charter to Carl Fredrik Scheffer permitting him to establish Lodges in Sweden and setting out Masonic regulations – ‘Règles générales de la Maçonnerie’ – based on the 1723 Constitutions.
Swedish Rite Freemasonry developed in the second half of the eighteenth century and has remained virtually unchanged since that time. Its ceremonies are based on a combination of eighteenth-century Scottish and French Masonic ritual, both having roots in and similarities to English ritual, as well as elements of Rosicrucianism. Unlike English and other Anglo-Saxon Masonic ritual, Swedish Rite is open exclusively to those of the Christian faith.
Swedish Rite contains ten principal degrees compared to the three ‘blue’ degrees of English Craft Freemasonry and the fourth ‘red’ or Royal Arch degree. It begins with three St John’s Craft degrees, progresses through two St Andrew’s or Scottish degrees, and is followed by five Chapter or Templar degrees. Members of the Grand Council of Swedish Rite take an eleventh degree, becoming Knight Commanders of the Red Cross.
Swedish Rite is based on the concept of personal spiritual advancement and progression through the degrees takes place over an extended period of a decade or more. Moving from a St John’s lodge to a St Andrew’s lodge through to Chapter is not automatic and does not mirror the English pattern of an ascending order of offices within a Lodge from inner guard to junior deacon, senior deacon, junior warden, senior warden, and master.
The first five degrees in Swedish Rite are broadly similar to the first four in English freemasonry, but there are important differences. One is that each degree has its own bespoke lodge room that sets the Masonic tone and throws into relief the moral and spiritual aspects of that degree. Formal court dress (now ‘white tie’), and a sword and scabbard are worn by all participants throughout each ceremony.
From a teleological viewpoint, Swedish Rite embodies individual spiritual and moral advancement. Since the degrees are not open and secrecy is maintained conscientiously in order to preserve the emotional impact for each participant, the following observations are generalised and limited to the first degree only.
The degree ceremony is conducted within an ornate lodge room configured to represent an open-roofed Egyptian or Greek temple. The rite begins with the sun rising in the east and over the course of the ceremony the sun moves slowly across the open sky before setting in the west, at which point the constellations come into view. Period music is played throughout, which serves to enhance the emotional experience and encourage and augment personal reflection.
In Swedish Rite as in freemasonry more widely, a candidate’s moral and spiritual development is marked by and taught via a series of one-act morality plays, with the allegorical aspects of the degree explained through lectures and catechisms in which formal answers are given by the candidate to set questions. However in Swedish Rite the lighting, music and solemnity of the lodge room, the bearing of lodge members, and the formality of the proceedings, are designed expressly to focus the attention of the candidate on the intrinsic message of the ceremony, an event which is preceded with the candidate isolated to encourage spiritual introspection.
Andreas Önnerfors, ‘The Earliest Account of Swedish Freemasonry’, AQC 127 (2014)
Svend Hertling, A Brief History of Danish Freemasonry, AQC 90 (1977)
Bertram Jacobs, ‘Scandinavian Freemasonry’, AQC 72 (1959)
Photography © The Old Stables Press