By R. Stephen Doan, Past Grand Master

In early 1919, Bro. Frank S. Land met a newly fatherless young man and was inspired to start a club for him and his friends at the Kansas City Scottish Rite Temple. Dad Land and the nine initial club members named it after the last leader of the mysterious Knights Templar.


Club membership grew through the spring and summer following its founding. It had a championship baseball team, social activities, and civic projects, but Land felt that something was missing. He wanted the club to have a distinctive quality, and asked his friend, Frank Marshall, to write a ritual for it. In addition to serving in the Council of Kadosh officer line at the Scottish Rite with Land, Marshall was the drama and music critic of the Kansas City Journal and a poet.

Land suggested to Marshall a two-part initiation ritual, with one part that would “[d]ramatize the years of growing as a youth to fulfill a dream – a sort of crown – a Crown of Youth.” Land envisioned that the ritual of the first part or degree would teach values: love of parents, a religious emphasis that would appeal to boys of any faith, courtesy, patriotism, comradeship, the fidelity of Jacques DeMolay, and clean living. For the second degree, he suggested a tableau, which would dramatize the story of DeMolay with all the trappings of a fully staged Scottish Rite degree. Marshall was intrigued and accepted the challenge, completing a first draft over the summer. He and Land continued to refine the ritual until Saturday, September 27, 1919, when the first class of candidates received both degrees.


The DeMolay initiatory ritual is more similar to Scottish Rite ritual of the early 20th century than it is to lodge ritual. This makes sense for two reasons: First, the club’s original sponsor was Adoniram Lodge of Perfection in the Kansas City Scottish Rite. Second, Land made it clear to the young men while they were discussing the club’s formation that membership in it would not make them “junior Masons.” DeMolay ritual is not patterned to look like lodge ritual; however, the same sequence of events used in lodge work is generally used in the Scottish Rite.

The DeMolay Initiatory Degree also bears resemblance to the ritual of the Order of the Eastern Star. The presentation of the lessons to candidates following their obligation is divided among seven preceptors. This is similar to Eastern Star’s use of Star Points, which assumed its current form in the 1870s; in contrast, explanatory lectures in lodge and Scottish Rite rituals are generally conducted by only one or two officers. Marshall was an Eastern Star past patron, and would have been aware that this approach has the benefit of minimizing the ritual work that any one preceptor must memorize, as there are seven to share his duty.


The DeMolay Degree, the second part of the initiation, fulfills Land’s vision: It is a tableau dramatizing the story of Jacques DeMolay with the embellishments of a fully staged Scottish Rite degree. DeMolay was the last grand master of the Knights Templar. He was killed in 1314 by order of the French king, and the Knights Templar were forced to disband. DeMolay would not betray his knightly companions when tempted to do so by the king – a virtue worthy of imitation. 

The key elements of the Scottish Rite 30th degree, Knight Kadosh, were invented in 1743 by the Masons of Lyons, France. This degree dramatizes DeMolay’s story, encouraging participants to work against tyranny in whatever form it appears. The 30th degree refers to DeMolay’s trial and subsequent burning at the stake, but does not dramatize it. In contrast, the DeMolay Degree does.

Many of Masonry’s higher degrees are “prequels” or “sequels” – in motion picture parlance – to a prior degree. The DeMolay Degree can be considered the prequel for the 30th degree. The 30th degree together with the third degree and 18th degree form a Masonic trilogy, each focused on a martyr who attained the wisdom to choose that which is right and the courage to pursue that choice, no matter the consequences. The DeMolay Degree is in essence the third degree for teenage boys – hence its power to inspire DeMolays to do what is right.


Join Past Grand Master Doan at the California Masonic Symposium!



Explore the DeMolay ritual. Discover its fascinating history. Witness a live exemplification of the DeMolay Degree, as conferred in 1919!


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