Double-Headed Eagle

Happy 201st Birthday to the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction!

2013_030DI1Today, August 5, 2014, marks the 201st anniversary of the founding of the Scottish Rite’s Northern Masonic Jurisdiction (which founded the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in 1975). A year ago today, we celebrated the momentous occasion of the fraternity’s 200th anniversary – see our posts from last year - here and here. This year, the day is passing more quietly. However, our exhibition, “A Sublime Brotherhood: 200 Years of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction,” which opened last year, is still on view – for a few more weeks. The exhibition will close on September 27, 2014, so if you haven’t visited, it’s time to plan a trip to the museum. We have one more gallery talk planned in the exhibit. The Museum’s Director of Collections and curator of the exhibition, Aimee E. Newell, will offer a free gallery talk on Saturday, September 27, at 2 p.m.

During the official anniversary ceremony last August, in New York City, Sovereign Grand Commander John William McNaughton welcomed his counterpart from the Southern Jurisdiction, Sovereign Grand Commander Ronald Seale. At the festivities, Commander Seale presented Commander McNaughton with a reproduction of the 1813 charter that officially created the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. Commander Seale also presented a commemorative glass vase to celebrate the occasion (see above). The vase is currently on view in our lobby as part of our display of recent acquisitions. Engraved on the front is the double-headed eagle emblem of the Scottish Rite with an inscription, “Presented to the Supreme Council, 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, USA, in honor of its Bicentennial Anniversary 1813-2013 by the Supreme Council, 33°, Southern Jurisdiction, USA.”

To order a copy of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's recent published history, which the exhibition is based on, visit the NMJ online store.

Vase, 2013, United States, gift of the Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, USA, 2013.030. Photograph by David Bohl.

Counting Down to 2013

Lectern Front2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of the parent organization for the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.  In 1813, the Scottish Rite Supreme Council for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, USA, was formed.  Over the coming months, you will read more about this anniversary and the history of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction on our blog.  We will also open an exhibition about the NMJ next spring (check our website for details as Spring 2013 approaches!).

The Museum & Library actively collects objects and documents from the Scottish Rite.  Many of the objects already in our collection are gifts from a Scottish Rite member or local group to the governing body, the Supreme Council, which is located in Lexington, Massachusetts, on the same campus as the Museum.

One of the most eyecatching gifts now in the collection is a lectern that was presented to the Supreme Council in 1931 by the DeWitt Clinton Consistory of the Valley of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Constructed from several different woods, and inlaid with miniature Masonic symbols, the lectern shows an Egyptian Revival style and sports a book holder at top supported by the Scottish Rite's double-headed eagle symbol.  A silver plaque on the lectern credits the design of the piece to Edgar A. Somes, the inlay to T.A. Conti, and the fabrication to Century Furniture Company and Associates.  Grand Rapids, Michigan, was a center of American furnituremaking during the late 1800s and early 1900s; the pride that makers took in their craft is evident from this lectern.Lectern plaque

The lectern was presented to Commander Leon M. Abbott at the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's 1931 annual meeting in Detroit, Michigan.  At the meeting, a representative from Michigan explained that the Egyptian style was chosen because of its connection to Masonic rituals and symbols.

Scottish Rite Lectern, 1931, Century Furniture Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Gift of the Supreme Council, 33o, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, USA, 2010.042.31.  Photographs by David Bohl.

Wings Up or Wings Down?: Using Books to Find An Answer

[Note: this article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of The Northern Light, the membership magazine for the Scottish Rite's Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.]

Maybe you've just joined the Scottish Rite, or maybe you’ve been a Scottish Rite member for years and have been elected to receive the 33°. You or a family member enthusiastically set out to buy something to commemorate the occasion. Right away, you notice that many of the double-headed eagles are available in either the "wings up" or the "wings down" position. You wonder, "what’s the difference?"  Asking your Scottish Rite brothers, you receive answers that are all slightly different and sometimes contradictory.

Baynard_Double_Headed_Eagle_detail_web Where can you find a definitive answer?
Call me biased, but I’d say one of your best bets (short of reading this article) is to contact the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives at the National Heritage Museum. I’ve had members contact me with this question and here’s how I was able to deliver a definitive answer.

First, I looked at two popular books on Freemasonry. Christopher Hodapp’s Freemasons for Dummies and S. Brent Morris’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry both address this question. They draw the same conclusion: in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, the wings-up version of the double-headed eagle is reserved for Active and Active Emeritus members. (No importance is attached to wing position in the Southern Jurisdiction.)

That’s a good start, but I wanted an authoritative source, so I looked at the Supreme Council 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s own Constitutions. In the 2009 edition of the Constitutions, articles 1216 through 1219 address the design of caps (optional in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, but still sometimes worn) and lapel buttons.

Orient_of_Philadelphia_Double_Headed_Eagle_detail_web In the description of 33° Active and Active Emeritus caps (art. 1219.1) and lapel buttons (art. 1216), the double-headed eagle is described as "a double-headed eagle, wings extended and pointing up." For the cap (art. 1219.2) and label button (art. 1217) of a 33° Honorary Member, the eagle is described as a "double-headed eagle, wings extended and pointing down," and for 32° lapel buttons (art. 1218.1) the eagle is described as a "double-headed eagle of gold, wings extended and pointing down."

It looks like the Supreme Council’s Constitutions first addressed wing position in 1934, with the description of lapel buttons, which had been formally introduced in 1927. The Constitutions did not describe caps until the 1955 revision and the position of the double-headed eagle’s wings on caps was not addressed until the 1960s.

Double-headed eagles only appear on 32° rings and are described in article 1209 of the Constitutions: "A Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret is authorized to wear a ring, the basic design of which shall be the double-headed eagle." We can infer that the wings should be pointed down.

Looking at the published Proceedings of the Supreme Council, I found that the wings-up versus wings-down question is not new. In a report on the double-headed eagle delivered by the Committee on Ritual and Ritualistic Matter at the 1885 Annual Meeting of the Supreme Council, they concluded "The rising eagle [i.e. wings up] is not improperly represented, and to those who prefer the ascending position there is, and can be, no objection." This indicates that the question was being asked 125 years ago, although the answer back then was different.

While I have focused on the personal use of double-headed eagles in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, it’s also worth noting that some Supreme Councils in the world use a wings-up double-headed eagle as the emblem of their Council. Both Supreme Councils in the United States use a wings-down version.

In conclusion, unless you are one of the approximately fifty 33° Active Members or an Active Emeritus Member of the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, the answer to the question "wings up or wings down?" is this: wings down.


Detail from cover of Samuel H. Baynard’s History of the Supreme Council, 33°…Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, 1938. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 17.9735 .B361 1938.

Detail from cover of By-laws of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Orient of Philadelphia, Valley of Pennsylvania, 1878. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 17.9735 .Un58 1878.