Adoniram: The Fourth Grand Master
RIC Charles Varn
by RIC Charles Varn, Grand Principal Conductor of the Work, Grand Council of South Carolina
In the present landscape of Freemasonry, Adoniram is most important to the Scottish Rite, particularly the Southern Jurisdiction. Adoniram may appear in every version of the Southern Jurisdiction’s Lodge of Perfection in at least one version of the degrees1:
- 4°: Secret Master: Venerable Master
- 5°: Perfect Master: Senior Grand Warden
- 6°: Intimate Secretary: Does not appear by name, but due to the parallels between this degree and the Select Master it can be assumed he is present.
- 7°: Provost and Judge: The Senior Warden and one of the Judges
- 8°: Intendant of the Building: Appointed the Superintendent
- 9°: Elu of the Nine & 10° Elu of the Fifteen: The Junior Inspector and leads the expedition to hunt down the ruffians
- 11°: Elu of the Twelve: One of the officers of the court
- 12°: Master Architect: represented by the candidate
- 13°: Royal Arch of Solomon: The Junior Warden or Brother Inspector2 3
- 14°: Perfect Elu: Along with the candidate learns the Sacred Word from King Solomon and King Hiram
The person credited with bring the Scottish Rite, and many high or haut degrees to the new world is Etienne Morin. Morin first becomes involved with the haut degrees in Bordeaux around 1744. In 1747 he travels to Haiti and founds a Scottish Lodge, Scots Master being one of the several Haut Degrees. By 1761 he has returned to France and is issued a patent by the Grand Lodge at Paris which grants him jurisdiction over Craft Lodges in the new world. He then returns to Haiti and uses this patent to form both craft and haut degree lodges across the Caribbean, although his jurisdiction over the haut degrees is nebulous. In 1764 a Loge de Parfaits D’Ecossais (Scottish Lodge of Perfection) is founded in New Orleans, and another is founded in Albany in 1767. This is the watershed moment where other Lodges of Perfection and Councils begin forming across the American Colonies ultimately leading to the formation of the Supreme Council (SJ) in 1801 and the Supreme Council (NMJ) in 1813.4
The inclusion of Adoniram in the York Rite degrees is exclusive to the Council. In the Royal Master he is represented by the Candidate, and in the Select Master he is represented by the Captain of the Guard. This is likely due to the intimate connection between the Scottish Rite, particularly the Lodge of Perfection, and Cryptic Masonry. There are a few competing theories on how this happened, primarily the Baltimore Theory, the Scottish Rite Theory, the Stuart Theory, and the Berlin Theory.5 The Baltimore Theory deals primarily with the Select Master and states the first Councils and Grand Councils began to form in Baltimore around 1810. Many think that this means the Select Master was first practiced in Baltimore at this time, however there is evidence that it was received in Baltimore from a brother from Charleston. However, many councils and Grand Councils do trace their lineage back to Baltimore through Cross. The Scottish Rite Theory also primarily deals with the Select Master. The theory states that the Cryptic degrees were originally associated with Morin’s Rite of Perfection or one of the other organizations associated with the formation of the Scottish Rite. This is supported by the Cryptic Council being listed as a detached or side degree of the Scottish Rite in 1802 and the fact many early instances of the degrees include it being conferred by an Inspector General. There is also the Stuart theory which states that the cryptic degrees come from a system of masonry originally used to promote the cause of the house Stuart in reclaiming the Throne. This theory is a favorite of conspiracy theorists, but the evidence is not as strong as the other theories. It is based on the influence the Stuarts had in France and Scotland and that many of their supporters would have been freemasons. The idea that a system of Freemasonry was developed for this purpose is largely disputed but there are some interesting correlations such as it is believed a certain expression in the one degree was changed to reference Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender, who was a widow’s son. The Berlin Theory is similar to the Scottish Rite theory except includes the additional step that the degrees were originally developed in France, then were transferred to Berlin. There they were modified and improved, some say under the direction of Frederick the Great, and from there they are returned to France. They are then brought to the New World, perhaps by Morin, where they make their way to Charleston, SC and find themselves under the control of the Princes of Jerusalem in 1783. The Princes of Jerusalem was one of the other groups that contributed to the formation of the Scottish Rite as we know it today. This theory is disputed, mostly because of the invocation of Frederick The Great as a Patron, but other portions are supported by documentation.6 South Carolina’s Grand Chapter Proceedings to make mention of it coming to Charleston from an Inspector General of the Ancient and Accepted Rite in 1783 and being deposited by the newly formed Grand Council of the Princes of Jerusalem.7 Regardless of the origins of these degrees The Royal Master and Select Master degrees were listed as “detached” degrees of the Scottish rite allowing them to be conferred outside a Scottish Rite Valley in 1802. In 1818 after a falling out between JJJ Gourgas and Joseph Cerneau, Cerneau brings the Cryptic Degrees to the York Rite where they are incorporated.8 9
There is at least one other Masonic Organization where Adoniram may be represented: The Tall Cedars of Lebanon. This is entirely speculation based on understanding of who Adoniram was and in no way is he referred to in the works of the Tall Cedars. 1 Kings 5:13-14 reads “King Solomon conscripted laborers from all Israel–thirty thousand men. He sent them off to Lebanon in shifts of ten thousand a month, so that they spent one month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor.” Looking at 1 Kings 5:13-14 an assumption can be made about the Tall Cedars of Lebanon’s Prologue Degree There are several master overseers identified only by the type of workers they supervise. One of these overseers may be Adoniram, perhaps the Master Overseer of Workers in Wood since the timbers of the temple were prepared in Lebanon. Again, this is just speculation, but it would draw this organizations degree system closer into the rest of the masonic family.
The service of Adoniram spanned the reigns of three Kings. Through his service to King David, he became a trusted advisor to King Solomon. Under King Solomon he rose from a tax collector to an overseer of workmen, and from there he steadily rose in rank and status until he became a Grand Master and succeeded Hiram Abiff. Adoniram may be one of the most interesting figures in Masonry despite not appearing in Craft Lodge Masonry. He plays an integral role in the Scottish Rite traditions and is one of the most important characters in the Cryptic Council. His important position in the courts of King David and King Solomon may have him represented in other degrees as well, albeit unintentionally. He was even the subject of a competing brand of Freemasonry. Given the importance of this man to Masonic tradition, there are doubtless many other instances of Adoniram influencing Masonic ritual and side degrees.
1 McClenchan, Charles. 2014. “The Book of the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry (1884).” Phoenix Masonry. Accessed April 6, 2018. http://www.phoenixmasonry.org/AASR_1884_/table_of_contents.htm.
2 Waters, Layne. n.d. Education on Adoniram ben Abda.
3 de Hoyos, Arturo. 2009. The Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide. Washington, DC: Supreme Council, 33°.
4 Wikipedia. 2022. Scottish Rite. 05 07. Accessed 06 08, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_Rite.
5 Hinman, Eugene E, Ray V Denslow, and Charles C Hunt. 1930. History of the Cryptic Rite. Tacoma: The General Grand Council R.&S.M.U.S.A.
6 Hinman, Eugene E, Ray V Denslow, and Charles C Hunt. 1930. History of the Cryptic Rite. Tacoma: The General Grand Council R.&S.M.U.S.A.
7 Grand Royal Arch Chapter of South Carolina. 1880. “Proceedings of the Most Excellent Grand Royal Arch Chapter of South Carolina.” Charleston.
8 Hinman, Eugene E, Ray V Denslow, and Charles C Hunt. 1930. History of the Cryptic Rite. Tacoma: The General Grand Council R.&S.M.U.S.A.
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