vendredi 4 janvier 2008

the Ancient Toltec Rite - 100 Years of a Masonic Secret in Topeka

by John M. Karnes, 32°, KCCH

A brief history of the Ancient Toltec Rite, a unique American Masonic
organization for men and women.

Program from a 1923 reception and dinner

At first glance, the Masonic Temple on Southwest Fourteenth Street, Topeka, Kansas, doesn’t seem much different from any other Masonic building one might see across the country. However, upon closer examination, there is something unique about this building. The sign beside the door lists the times various Masonic organizations meet there—a Symbolic Lodge, the three “York Rite” bodies, an Eastern Star Chapter, a Rainbow Girls Assembly, and others. But among the organizations listed, one stands out that is not to be seen on any other Masonic building: Topeka Council, No. 1, Ancient Toltec Rite. To those familiar with the Toltec empire, which thrived around the 10th century A.D. in what is now central Mexico, Topeka seems an odd place to find an organization bearing such a name. So what is the Ancient Toltec Rite?

On April 11, 1904, Charles Bard Hamilton, Clement Smith, and others met and organized the Grand Council, Ancient Toltec Rite, with Hamilton and Smith respectively as Grand Commander and Grand Secretary. The next day, with several aspirants present, the Grand Council instituted Topeka Council, No. 1 and installed its officers. On April 14, 71 aspirants were initiated into the newly formed Rite. Hamilton, who had traveled extensively in Mexico, had prepared the original ritual for the Rite in 1902.

The Grand Council governs Topeka Council No. 1, the only subordinate council now in existence. The subordinate council confers three degrees:

  • the Cloister (First) Degree, “Sisters and Brothers of Charity”;
  • the Chapter (Second) Degree “Companions of Justice and Mercy”; and
  • the Council (Third) Degree, “Knights and Ladies of the Holy Cross.”

Membership is restricted to Knights Templar or 32° Scottish Rite Masons and women related to them.

Officers of Topeka Council No. 1, Ancient Toltec Rite, 1948

The arrangement of the Lodge Room in the Cloister Degree represents the Palace at Uxmal. Part of this degree, referred to as the “Bride of the Sacred Well,” focuses on Yum Chac, rain god of the Toltecs, and the appeal of the people to him for rain to water their dying crops. The First Degree is the only time that the Toltec people are specifically mentioned in the current edition of the ritual; in the original edition (reproduced in Heredom, vol. 11), the Toltecs are not mentioned at all. Justice and Mercy are the central themes of the Chapter Degree and are portrayed, in part, by an enactment of the so-called “trial scene” from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. The Council Degree emphasizes the importance of Truth.

Early documents indicate that Hamilton had fully intended to extend the Rite into other cities and states, and councils were instituted in Omaha, Nebraska, and Ft. Scott, Kansas. There were inquires from other cities, but no other councils were formed. Eventually the councils closed in Omaha and Ft. Scott, leaving only Topeka No. 1.

The Three Degrees of the Toltec Rite

Cloister (First) Degree
“Sisters and Brothers of Charity”

Chapter (Second) Degree “Companions of Justice and Mercy”

Council (Third) Degree
“Knights and Ladies of the Holy Cross”

Membership in the Ancient Toltec Rite has fluctuated throughout the years. A booklet published for its Diamond Anniversary in 1979 records 266 members in 1906, 537 in 1916, and 1,394 in 1927. Marie Twichell, Lady Secretary of Topeka Council, reports that in 2002 there were, again, 266 members. The Rite has been philanthropic throughout the years, assisting in the support of two French orphans in 1918 at a cost of $73 per year and contributing to various Masonic and local charities.

Topeka Council No. 1 continues to gather for monthly business meetings and to plan the annual reunions when new members are initiated. In 2004 the Grand Council and Topeka Council No. 1 celebrated 100 years of existence. Many members of the Rite live in the greater Topeka area, but others are now dispersed across the United States and even into some foreign countries, so it could be supposed that the desire for the Rite to become nationwide, has at least in some way been fulfilled.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt of John Karnes longer article, “The Ancient Toltec Rite: 100 Years of a Masonic Secret in Topeka,” Heredom, vol. 11 (2003), pp. 213-51, which includes the ritual of the First Degree, Sisters and Brothers of Charity, and the Ceremony for Constituting New Councils.

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