No, they’re not taking over the world, they’re not Illuminati. The Masons were and are a fraternity of men who all share similar moral beliefs (including a belief in a God) and get together regularly, often to raise money for various charities. And for many decades they were at the center of small town life–being a Mason was the entree to a town’s business and political elite–which is why their presence is widespread throughout Appalachia.
Members bill the study of Freemasonry as a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. This system offers three progressively harder grades, or degrees: Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and finally Master Mason. There are numerous side degrees available in Masonry once a member has attained the Master Mason degree, though they are not part of the core rituals.
A side, or ‘chair,’ degree has a definite lesson to teach, and an inner meaning to its ceremony. Side degrees are not under the control of any central governing organization. Generally anyone who has received the degree can confer it upon someone else. Modern side degrees tend to be humorous fundraisers with the fees going to a designated charity.
The Thrice Illustrious Master is a good example of a side degree. “At a meeting of the Grand Council, Royal and Select Masters of North Carolina, held at Asheville in 1932, a resolution was adopted authorizing appointment of a committee to prepare a ritual for the degree of Thrice Illustrious Master,” says Ray Denslow in ‘Masonic Rites & Degrees.’
“Grand Master McKell appointed J. Ray Shute and J. Edward Allen as a committee to prepare the ritual, but charged with the responsibility of obtaining the right to its use from the Supreme Grand Chapter of Scotland, the only authority pretending to hold jurisdiction over the degree.
“The degree was exemplified at the annual assembly in 1933 and a committee was ordered to prepare the ritual, see that it was conferred at each annual assembly, and collect a $5.00 for each candidate, candidates being limited to those who had been elected as Masters of their respective Council.
“In some States the Order is referred to as the Order of Anointed Kings, in others, the Order of the Silver Trowel, and in other instances the Order of Thrice Illustrious Masters.
“Membership is limited to those who have been elected as Masters of Councils. The principal character is King David, and the ritual of the degree refers to events connected with the closing years of King David’s life.”
The ritual consists of two sections, the candidate representing the young King Solomon in both sections. In the first section, the candidate learns of the conspiracy by his half-brother Adonijah, to wrest the throne by cunning from Solomon.
He also learns of his mother (Bathsheba) interceding with the aged and ailing King David to prevent this. After securing David’s approval, Solomon is symbolically conducted to Gihon by Benaiah where he is duly obligated, anointed and hailed as King by Nathan the prophet and Zadok, the High Priest.
In the second section, the newly anointed king is brought before his father David who, in his dying moments, instructs him in moral wisdom and counsels him to govern uprightly and to serve the Lord with all his strength. Upon Solomon’s assent to all this, the king expires.
Sources: Masonic Rites and Degrees, by Ray V. Denslow, p 122, Kessinger Publishing, 2006