Nowadays, the term "French Rite" refers to several Masonic Rites, such as the Traditional French Rite, the Restored Modern French Rite, the Philosophical French Rite, the Ancient Observant French Rite and, of course, the French Rite "Groussier". It is sometimes difficult for outsiders to find their way around. What place does the French Rite "Groussier" occupy in the family of the French Rite, and where does it come from? Is the 'Groussier' French Rite"Groussier" the true French Rite? In this paper, we will situate the French Rite "in the genealogy of the French Rite and endeavour to show its specific features.

The origins of the French Rite 

It has become necessary to distinguish between the different forms of the French Rite since the different attempts to restore the old French Masonic practices that began in the 1950s. Previously, in the nineteenth century, the situation of French Freemasonry was very clear. Since the disappearance of the Rectified Scottish Rite, there had remained two major Masonic Rites in France : the French Rite, practised by the Grand Orient of France, and the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, the prerogative of the Supreme Council of France, then of the short-lived "Grande Loge Symbolique Écossaise" and of the Co-masonry "Le Droit Humain". The two Egyptian Rites (Rite of Misraïm, 1805, and Rite of Memphis, 1838) remained very marginal and numerically insignificant. The standard Masonic literature of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries (Vuillaume's Tuileur, Ragon's writings, etc.) generally spoke of only two Rites : the Scottish Rite (meaning the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite) and the Modern Rite (meaning the French Rite).

The French Rite was born of the desire of the Grand Orient of France, from its constitution in 1773, to establish a unified ritual. The work was apparently not launched until 1781, and the three Craft degrees rituals were adopted in 1785. The spread of the new Rite was interrupted by the French Revolution and only resumed under the Directoire, the Consulate and the Empire. This is the Rite that was the subject of a clandestine publication in 1801, under the title of "Régulateur du Maçon".

The different versions of the French Rite

As the official ritual of the Grand Orient de France, the French Rite underwent several modifications during the 19th and 20th centuries. It was adapted to the changing mentalities of the turbulent nineteenth century, and borrowed certain elements from its great rival, the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, whose more spectacular and developed ritual practices made it a dangerous competitor.

The different versions of the French Rite are distinguished by the name of the Grand Master under whose Grand Mastership they were adopted. These are the main phases in this evolution.

Contrary to the anachronistic idea people sometimes have of a Grand Orient of France having always been attached to secularism and anticlericalism, the so-called "Murat" version of 1858 is the most "religious" of all the versions of the French Rite. It was born out of a fundamental work undertaken in 1848, which culminated in the adoption in 1849 of the first Constitution of the Grand Orient of France, which until then had only statutes and regulations. This Constitution states that the Grand Orient of France is "a philanthropic, philosophical and progressive institution based on God and the immortality of the soul". In the first degree, we learn that the Ternary is "the representation of the attributes of divinity: Infinity, Eternity, Omnipotence" and that Freemasons must "Worship God" through their work. In the second degree, the explanation of the Blazing Star with the letter G refers openly to the soul and to God.

The French Rite "Murat" of 1858 also adopted several practices from the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite: the appellation "Venerable Master" (previously it was "Most Venerable"), the expression "free and of good repute" to qualify the candidate, the candidate's writing of a Testament in addition to the three questions, and the undertaking to remain silent at the end of the work.

Finally, the strangest change : during the reception to the third degree, there is no dramatisation of Hiram's murder, and the recipient remains seated while the facts are narrated. The recipient does not play the role of Hiram and is therefore not raised by the Five Points of Mastership.

The many references to God and the immortality of the soul in the French Rite "Murat" soon became uncomfortable for many Lodges, where the number of republican and freethinking Freemasons was growing. The result was the famous Convent of 1877, where, at the request of Pastor Frédéric Desmons, President of the Council of the Order (the Grand Master's title since 1871), the articles making belief in God and the immortality of the soul compulsory were voted out. This did not mean that it was forbidden to invoke and mention the Grand Architect of the Universe, but that these practices became optional, left to the discretion of the Lodges.

The Convent of 1877 also ordered a revision of the rituals, in line with the new orientation of the Constitution. The result was the "Amiable" version of the French Rite, adopted in 1887. In this version, all mention of God and the immortality of the soul disappeared, and it approached very closely the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite as it was then practised in the "Grande Loge Symbolique Écossaise", the most progressive, republican and anti-clerical Masonic Obedience of the time. Among the additions and innovations of the French Rite "Amiable" were the Worshipful Master’s Flaming Sword, the speech offered at the end of the Works, the introduction of a Funeral Ceremony and the installation of the Venerable and the Officers, and the triple battery with the acclamation "Liberté-Égalité-Fraternité". In the first degree, the blindfolded examination appears (which is done three times during the ceremony, before each journey, and is followed by a vote), and the three journeys now symbolise the three ages of life (childhood, youth and maturity). In the second degree, the Five Cartouches representing the Senses, the Arts, the Sciences, the Benefactors of Humanity and the Glorification of Work are introduced, as is the Trowel in the fifth journey. Finally, the ceremony of reception to the third degree is similar to that of the "Murat" version, but the signs and steps are those of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, from which is also borrowed the custom of displaying the letters M B on the apron of the Masters.

The revival of symbolism of the French Rite "Groussier"

The minimalist practices of the French Rite "Gérard" did not win the support of all the members of the Grand Orient of France, far from it. In 1931, 1932 and 1933, Armand Bédarride (1864-1935), an eminent lawyer and member of the Council of the Order and then of the Grand College of Rites of the Grand Orient of France, wrote three reports in which he protested against the defective and insufficiently initiatory nature of the rituals then in use and advocated a return to traditional forms (in particular the representation of Hiram's death), but in a language more suited to modern times. A convinced republican and defender of secularism, Armand Bédarride was nonetheless deeply spiritualist and attached to initiatory values, and he deplored the hostility shown by so many Freemasons of the Grand Orient in France towards religious sentiment.

Armand Bédarride died before seeing his wishes fulfilled, but his ideas were taken up by another leading figure in French Freemasonry, Arthur Groussier (1863-1957), who was elected President of the Council of the Order five times. A progressive politician, defender of the workers' cause, trade unionist, socialist deputy to the Chamber of Deputies, Arthur Groussier was a true Mason, and all accounts of him depict him as an upright and good man. He was remembered in the Chamber of Deputies as a formidable debater, but always courteous and respectful towards his political opponents, which was hardly the standard under the Third Republic!

In 1938, Arthur Groussier presented a new version, which took up the ritual of the "Amiable" version, while adding more symbolism, particularly in the description of the working tools and lights. He also reintroduced elements from the original 1785 ritual: the Worshipful Master’s sword was once again a straight sword ; in the reception to the first degree, he reinstated the purifications by water and fire (and added air) ; and he introduced the Chain of Union at the end of the Works, which appeared at the end of the Table Works in the 1785 ritual. The second and third degrees still differed little from the "Amiable" version. The French Rite "Groussier" was unfinished and its development and dissemination were interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War.

Work only resumed after the Liberation in 1945, and in 1955 a new variant of the French Rite "Groussier” was adopted. This new version included the trials of the mark imposed on the body and the vision of a corpse symbolising the fate of those who betrayed their oath of secrecy, clear borrowings from the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite. The din and clash of swords were reinstated on the Entered Apprentice's journeys. At the reception to the second degree (curiously named "elevation" in this version), a completely original symbolism was introduced : the recipient would discover five pots of black, blue, green, red and colourless colour, containing respectively earth, wheat grass, wheat stalk, wheat ear and wheat grain, symbolising purification by the Four Elements and their Quintessence. As for the third degree, it remained very close to the "Amiable" version, but the scene of Hiram's murder was again performed in front of the recipient, who was in attendance but did not play the role of Hiram.

Posterity of the French Rite "Groussier"

Adopted in 1955, the French Rite "Groussier" became the reference rite of the Grand Orient de France, and remains so today. Over the years, it has of course undergone a number of modifications, additions and deletions. Today, for example, there is a very fine alternative ceremony for reception to the second degree, with an operative connotation, based on the discovery of the Blazing Star by assembling five cut stones.

But in essence, the French Rite "Groussier" remains the same, and its longevity shows that it has found a kind of balance between tradition and modernity. 

However, one may wonder why Arthur Groussier and those who continued his work did not simply return to the French Rite of 1785, which had the required qualities : a high initiatory value and an absence of explicit spiritual references. Indeed, contrary to what one might imagine, the 1785 ritual never invokes the Great Architect of the Universe and the Bible does not appear on the Altar.  This is certainly because Brothers such as Armand Bédarride and Arthur Groussier, although deploring the lack of symbolism in the French Rite "Gérard" were still men of the 19th century, progressive men who could scarcely envisage simply reverting to a text dating back to the Ancien Régime. There is therefore no intention in the French Rite "Groussier" to return to the sources in terms of form, but a simple desire to update the initiatory tradition of Freemasonry.

The late finalisation of the French Rite "Groussier" in 1955 may have come a little late. Stemming from the mentality of the 19th century, this version is contemporary with another trend, that of a return to the sources. The twentieth century saw a change in mentality, and moved away from the progressive, positivist bias that suggests that what is new is always better than what is old : on the contrary, many believe now that it is in the old, original forms that one can hope to find the very essence of Freemasonry.

It is therefore no coincidence that the same year, 1955, saw both the adoption of the French Rite "Groussier” and the founding of the Lodge "Devoir et Raison", whose aim was to study the ancient forms of Masonic ritual and which, under the impetus of René Guilly in particular, was the source of the revival of the Traditional French Rite.

December 27, 2023 — Ion Rajalescu