The initiatory progression on the other side of the Atlantic obeys very different rules than those prevailing in Europe. In fact, in the United States, the time periods between entrance into the lodge—which is not called “initiation”—and access to the master’s degree are most often several months, when they are not restricted to several weeks, the period of time necessary to learn by heart the rituals of the three symbolic grades that are passed on exclusively by oral tradition and never reproduced in extenso. As justification for this way of doing things, American Freemasons emphasize that the apprenticeship and the slow initiatory progression can take place just as easily by virtue of a practice acquired over a lifetime in the lodge. It is important to know that the activity in the lodge is actually essentially devoted to aspects related to knowledge of the tradition and the ritual for them solely, at least for those who are assiduous. That is today’s big problem: American Freemasons are deserting their temples at a growing rate.
With respect to the high grades of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, which some call the side degrees (as it is well known that the first three degrees matter the most in England and in the ranks of the Grand Lodge of London), the 4th to the 32nd degrees are conferred in the span of time encompassing a weekend in the context of a group ceremony that combines the promotions, or “falls,” of dozens of brother masters. This is enough time to communicate very rapidly the rudiments of these grades, which are thereby emptied of their essential content. Access to the 33rd degree, on the other hand, is much more selective and strictly reserved for a very limited number of American Freemasons.
Despite the tangibly healthy developments that have taken place since the time of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., the white and black Masonic communities mingle very little, if at all, in a country where, as we shall see in chapter 5, communal traditions continue to persist. The black Freemasons of Prince Hall, but also those of the more recently created lodges, such as Hiram Abiff or Omega Grand Lodges, have developed their own systems of the high grades. Although these lodges are entirely independent, their characteristics are essentially identical to those of the two white jurisdictions.