The Schroeder Rite is relatively unknown throughout the world. It was developed in Germany from 1795 and adopted by the Grand Lodge of Hamburg in 1801 (some sources say 1811).  It was the work of a commission of Master Masons chaired by Friedrich Ludwig Schroeder, who was its principal author. Today, the Schroeder Rite is widely practised in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Hungary.  In the 1870s, German emigrants introduced the Schroeder Rite to Brazil, where over a hundred Lodges use it today within several obediences, including the Grand Orient of Brazil. In the 1930s, Germans fleeing Nazism also introduced the Schroeder Rite to Chile, and some Lodges practise it in the United States. We will now explore the origins and characteristics of the Schroeder Rite.


Who was Schroeder ?


Friedrich Ludwig Schroeder (1744-1816) was an actor, playwright, director and theatre manager, considered the best German actor during his lifetime and honoured after his death as the Renovator of German Theatre. His literary output is considerable, but he was also a self-taught historian, specialising in the history and rituals of German Freemasonry. His writings are still an important source of information on this part of Masonic history.


Received into the Rite of  the Strict Templar Observance in Hamburg in 1774, Master Mason in 1775 and Worshipful Master in 1785, he was appointed Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Hamburg from 1794 to 1814, when he became Grand Master until his death. 



He should not be confused with his namesake Friedrich Joseph Wilhelm Schroeder (1733-1778), a doctor, professor of medicine at the University of Marburg, alchemist, member of the Strict Templar Observance and Rosicrucian, who founded a Masonic-Rosicrucian Chapter in Marburg in 1766 and was perhaps one of Cagliostro's masters of the occult sciences.


Nor should he be confused with Johann Georg Schroepfer (1730?-1774), a Leipzig lemonade merchant, necromancer, charlatan and swindler. An opponent of the Strict Templar Observance, Schroepfer (who had probably never actually been accepted as a Mason) created an occultist Masonic system based on communication with spirits. He committed suicide by pistol shot in 1774, although murder has also been suggested.


German Freemasonry in the 18th century 


As in other European countries, Freemasonry began with Lodges founded by Englishmen from the Grand Lodge of London. Several English Provincial Grand Lodges were formed in this way. Following the example of their French brothers, German Freemasons played an important role in the emergence and development of the Higher Degrees from the 1740s onwards. 


One system of higher degrees was to play a key role in Germany and achieve unprecedented success in Masonic history : the Strict Templar Observance. It was the work of a whimsical aristocrat, Baron Karl Gotthelf von Hund und Altengrotkau, more simply known as Baron von Hund in Masonic literature (1722-1776). A mystifier and mythomaniac, but probably sincere in his delusions, Hund claimed to have been received into a Templar Chapter in Paris in 1743, in the presence of a mysterious "Knight in the Red Plume", whom he claimed to be Charles Edward Stuart, the Pretender to the throne of England. He was said to have been given the task of reforming Masonry. 


In 1751, he opened a Lodge and a Templar Chapter on his land, and then joined forces with the founder of another Templar Chapter, Christian Adam Marschall von Bieberstein (1732-1786), with whom he forged the documents that would legitimise his work. At the Altenberg Convent in 1764, he presented these documents : a mysterious Patent appointing him Provincial Grand Master (illegible, since it was written in a code that no one could ever decipher) and the famous "Red Book", describing the organisation of the Order and its Provinces. Strict Templar Observance was a huge success, and a majority of German Grand Lodges adhered to it. Other countries with a Germanic culture soon followed (Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Sweden and Strasbourg).


Despite the sumptuous ceremonies and (German!) discipline in the work that everyone agreed upon, the Strict Templar Observance was distressingly poor in content. The only aim was to recover the Templars' property, confiscated when the Order was abolished, or eventually to find the Philosopher's Stone and produce gold. These material interests frustrated some members of the Order, who were in search of spirituality, mysticism and philosophy.


Furthermore, the Strict Templar Observance was a very costly enterprise. It had created a system called the "Economic Plan", which was a sort of tontine intended to provide the Order's dignitaries with comfortable pensions, but to which all the Lodges contributed. Doubts therefore arose as to Hund's real motives. A Convent was held in Kohlo in 1772 to try and clarify matters. Hund was summoned to translate the Patent and state whether or not his Templar lineage was genuine. Cornered, the poor baron collapsed and admitted the hoax. He relinquished his position as Superior of the Order to the Duke of Brunswick (Ferdinand von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, 1721-1792), retaining only the office of Grand Visitor of the Order. But the Strict Templar Observance was shaken : defections were not long in coming. Many Lodges left the Order and joined the two rival Templar Masonic Rites, the Swedish Rite (which still exists today) and the Zinnendorf Rite.


That same year 1772, unaware of the turmoil, Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730-1824), constantly in search of the "true" Masonic secret, asked for his Grand Lodge of the Regular Masters of Lyon to join the Strict Templar Observance. Having been assured that the aim of the Order was not to avenge Jacques de Molay on the successors of Philip the Fair and Clement V, Willermoz joined in 1774.


But he was soon disappointed by the lack of content in the rituals of the Strict Templar Observance and completely rewrote the rituals, inserting the Martinesism that was so dear to him. The "Lyon Reform" - which is in fact the "System of the Knights Beneficent of the Holy City" or "Rectified Scottish Rite" - was adopted by the Convent of the Gauls in 1778 and practised by the French Lodges of the Strict Templar Observance.


In 1782, the Duke of Brunswick convened a great Convent in Wilhemsbad, to which all the Provinces of the Order and some friendly Masonic   Orders were invited, with the aim of defining the true aims of Freemasonry. This Convent rejected the Templar origin and adopted the "Lyon Reform", with the exception of the two most mystical grades that Willermoz had included (the Profession and the Grand Profession). But this effort at recovery came too late. The German Lodges left the Order one after the other, and in 1783, the Strict Templar Observance collapsed ; the Rectified Scottish Rite that had succeeded it remained only in France and Switzerland.


The German Grand Lodges therefore regained their autonomy and renewed their links with London, while generally adopting the Swedish Rite or the Zinnendorf Rite. Some Lodges joined a para-Masonic order with Rosicrucian and alchemical overtones, the "Golden Rose Croix of Ancient System", founded in Berlin in 1777, which in turn went dormant in 1786.


The Grand Lodge of Hamburg and the emergence of the Schroeder Rite


Created in 1740 as an English Provincial Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of Hamburg had joined the Strict Observance Templar in 1765, without however severing all relations with London. In 1783, it therefore quite naturally returned to the London orbit, while initially adopting the Templar Zinnendorf Rite.


But the Templar systems, and more generally the higher degrees, had left a bitter taste in the mouths of many German Freemasons : pompous decorum, the stranglehold of the high aristocracy, an authoritarian hierarchy, exorbitant costs, embezzlement, mystification and a barely veiled contempt for the Craft Lodges and proper Masonic symbolism, all of which had finally wearied more than one Brother.



Appointed Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Hamburg in 1794, the following year Schroeder undertook a major project to return to the ritual roots, working with a committee of Masters. Among these documents was "The Three Distinct Knocks", a disclosure of a ritual of the "Ancients" published in London in 1760, which he had translated into German. This document, which he entitled "Aeltestes Ritual" (The Oldest Ritual), was the main basis of his work, which aimed to return to the purest Masonic tradition, free of the dross of the higher degrees. In 1801 (or 1811?), the new Rite was adopted by the Grand Lodge of Hamburg.


The characteristics and spirit of the Schroeder Rite 


The Schroeder Rite is a cousin of the Emulation Rite and the craft degrees of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite as they developed in France from 1804 and were set out in the "Guide des Maçons Écossais" (circa 1809-1816) : all three derive directly from "Three Distinct Knocks", but with different choices.


It is a sober Rite, in only three degrees, very close to the old English rituals, reduced to Masonic fundamentals and focused solely on the symbolism of the Builders, with no alchemical, mystical, chivalric or other additions. Schroeder considered that Freemasonry was complete at the degree of Master Mason, but he created an "Engbund" (literally "Close Alliance"), which allowed Master Masons who wished to study the higher degrees to do so, without actually practising them.


The spirit of the Schroeder Rite can be summed up in these words : fidelity to Masonic fundamentals, benevolence, gentleness, fraternity, equality, morality, love of humanity, humility, a warning against Masonic pride and a secular spirituality. It is a far cry from the grandiloquence, mysticism and taste for the spectacular and macabre that dominated much of 18th-century French and German Freemasonry, and which is still present in many Masonic Rites today.


Schroeder's Rite can be considered the most successful European attempt to return to the fundamentals of ancient English Freemasonry, after an 18th century in which French and German Freemasons had constantly overloaded the rituals with all sorts of borrowings from traditions outside the symbolism of the Builders (alchemy, chivalry, theosophy, and sometimes even practical magic, theurgy, necromancy, divination, etc.).


Schroeder's intention was to restore the full flavour of the three Craft degrees by keeping them within the symbolism of the Temple and the Craft. He refused to reduce the three traditional degrees to being no more than a vague preliminary to higher speculations, as expressed in the systems of higher degrees. Schroeder did not reject the higher degrees altogether, as evidenced by the 'Engbund' he created to enable Master Masons to study them. But he categorically refused to allow these degrees to take over the traditional Craft Lodge : denouncing the underlying pride of systems that dangle degrees with the most flattering titles, he encouraged Masons to stick humbly to the tradition of the Craft, which is rich enough to stand on its own.

May 27, 2024 — Ion Rajalescu