The origins of Scottish Freemasonry may have stemmed from the Order of the Knights Templar, who (among many other things) financed and escorted cathedral builders across Europe. In Scotland the key difference between masons and other local crafts was that masons had another level of organisation - the “Lodge” (earliest Scottish reference 1491). Masons used the Lodge for something more than storing their tools – i.e. teaching morals, sometimes through ritual plays, originating from European Medieval times. The origins of these ‘rites’ are very unclear but have been linked (amonst other things) to the Temple of Solomon, the Crusaders, the Templar Knights and the Rex Deus families.
The Mother Lodge of Scotland is Kilwinning No 0, which was certainly in existence from the late 1500’s, and may well have originated in the 12th century (Kilwinning Abbey) when stonemasons traveled widely across Europe in search of work, and needed ways to identify themselves and protect their craft’s expertise. By 1600 these Masonic lodges had been formally and legally reorganised in Scotland (Schaw’s statutes) – this brought written records, meeting structure, tests for levels of membership and apprentices.
Why rich and important men sought to be admitted these Lodges in the 16/17th centuries is unknown (perhaps because of Freemasonry reputation for ‘noble’ and ancient origins). These ‘non-operative’ masons led Freemasonry in the early 18th century, and it became an influential ‘gentleman’s club’. In 1736 the 33 Scottish Lodges joined to form the Grand Lodge, which chartered a steady stream of new Lodges and issued charters for overseas Lodges and military 'traveling' Lodges.
Membership increased during the 19th and early 20th centuries, especially during or after war, or unsettled times. Freemasons, lodges and the Scottish rites can now be found all over the world and across many religions. Scotland and particularly Rosyln Chappel (also Kilwinning Lodge and Chevalier Ramsay in France) probably hold the major historic link between freemasonry today and its possible ancient origins.
English freemasonry does not accept any important Scottish role in the development of Freemasonry and claims to have developed it all themselves – they would wouldn’t they !.
The French seem much more open minded and there are several lodges there of Scottish origin.
There are about 2 million masons today in the US. Examples of US Masonic Orders include:
- The Scottish Rite;
- The Shrine (Shriners);
- York Rite; Grotto;
- Eastern Star,
- DeMolay International,
- Job’s Daughter’s,
- International Order of Rainbow for Girls;
- Tall Cedars of Lebanon.