Recovering a Rite: The Amaranth, Queen of the South, and Eastern Star

Paul Rich, 32º and Guillermo De Los Reyes

EW YEARS DAY, 1997, THE ROSE BOWL PARADE INCLUDED AN ELABORATE float with a lovely young lady representing the Order of the Amaranth.' Millions of television viewers were told that the Amaranth, a "Masonic organization," was celebrating its one hundredth anniversary.2 The float was sponsored by a number of American Masonic groups but it seems unlikely that many who saw it made it their business to become knowledgeable about the history of the Amaranth, although the order was paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertise itself.3

The Amaranth suffers from the fact that the most famous (and largest) women's group with Masonic connections is the Order of the Eastern Star.4 The Amaranth, as well as all other androgynous Masonic groups, suffers also from the ambiguities in the Masonic attitude towards women's organizations claiming a relationship to the Craft.

The Adoptive Rite of Rob Morris

Allegedly based on a Swedish order founded in 1653, the Order of the Amaranth owes its modern existence to the founding of the Order of the Eastern Star by a Freemason named Rob (not Robert) Morris. Born in New York in 1818, he was by education a lawyer - but by inclination and enthusiasm a fulltime fraternalist. Morris first appears as a Masonic leader in 1849 as Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter of Mississippi. In 1852 he moved to Kentucky, where he established The Kentucky Freemason (later The American Freemason) and published his first Masonic book, The Lights and Shadows of Freemasonry. Morris might have been one of a great number of nineteenth-century little commemorated Masonic worthies had he not developed an interest in adoptive or women's Freemasonry.5

There were a number of societies in Europe during the eighteenth century claiming Masonic associations which either initiated only women or initiated
 both men and women. These "adoptive" groups were often linked to male lodges, either by the requirement that a man be the presiding officer or by providing that only the female relatives of Masons could join. They supposedly found their way to the New World by the end of the century, although the particulars are highly suspect.6 The way by which the rituals became almost the personal property of Morris is the subject of bitter contention.

A Confusing Genealogy

What is known is that, by 1854, Morris was not just writing about Masonry but was initiating the wives, daughters, sisters, and widows of Masons into a version of adoptive Masonry. In September of 1854 he claimed to have already admitted over three thousand women to the secrets of the order he called the Eastern Star. At the time he claimed that the degrees he was giving were based on a French ritual, La Vraie Maçonnerie D'Adoption, which is now known to have appeared in at least twelve separate editions in Paris during the 17805.7

Unfortunately for simplicity's sake, the matter does not rest there. The origins of the Eastern Star, which was to become one of America's largest fraternal societies, are not as easily described as this standard account indicates. For one thing, there is a 1793 publication entitled Thesauros of the Ancient and Honorable Order of the Eastern Star. If it is genuine, and its authenticity has been questioned, then the Eastern Star was not based directly on the French degrees or the result of research by Morris as he eventually was to claim, but had existed in America from the earliest days of the republic.8

Morris confused matters by writing that he had been initiated into what he called "Ladies' Masonry" in 1847. Then in 1877 he abandoned that claim and protested that, "I wrote every word of the original lectures and composed the songs. For twenty-eight years I have been communicating it as my own origination. I am the founder of the system, and no one can show any proof of its existence prior to 1849." By 1884, he was adamant that,

The degree called the Eastern Star ... is strictly my own origination. By the aid of my papers, and the memory of Mrs. Morris, I recall even the trivial occurrences connected with the work - how I hesitated for a theme, how I dallied over a name, how I wrought face to face with the clock that I might keep my drama within due limits of time, etc. The name was first settled upon, the Eastern Star."9

So one has a choice of several origins - a post-Revolutionary tract that would mean women were being initiated long before Morris appeared on the scene, evidence that Morris received adoptive degrees in 1847, the statements by Morris himself that he used French rituals, and the later claims by Morris that he made up the degrees entirely by himself.

The Refinements of Robert Macoy

The Amaranth emerges from the mists of this controversy with the rise to prominence of the second figure involved in the development of the Eastern Star, Robert Macoy. Born in Ireland in 1815, he came to the United States and threw himself into Masonic activity, from which he made a good living. The most famous Masonic publishing firm in the United States, Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, still bears his name. Morris turned the leadership of the Eastern Star over to Macoy when he quixotically decided to go to the Middle East in search of evidence of the actual scenes of the Masonic legends concerning King Solomon and the Temple at Jerusalem.

Macoy proved to be an indefatigable organizer and workhorse when it came to issuing charters and selling paraphernalia. Up until his taking over the affairs of the Eastern Star, it was often communicated to individuals or to a small group with a minimum of ceremonial in the parlor of a private home. It was Macoy who pushed the idea of chapters meeting in temples and campaigned for creation of the whole scheme of state and national structure. Uniformity in degree practice was missing in the early days, but in 1873 Macoy introduced a system of degrees which included the Eastern Star as the first degree, followed by the degree he called the Queen of the South, and then culminating in the degree named the Amaranth.

The Ritual of James B. Taylor

Rob Morris supported this organizational standardization, but he does not appear to have written the ritual for the ultimate Amaranth degree of the 1873 rite. Rather, James B. Taylor, a talented musician, apparently produced a ritual for the Amaranth in about 1860. He insisted the work was taken from the Amaranth as it then existed in Sweden. While this idea that the origins of the Amaranth were in seventeenth-century Sweden challenges our credulity, Taylor's assertion provides a suitably ambiguous genealogy for a society seeking the panache of antiquity.10

The modern Amaranth thus depended for a time after 1873 on Eastern Star members and would not accept recruits who were not already in the Star. Neither the Star nor the Amaranth found this a comfortable situation. (The Queen of the South Degree seems not to have developed its own constituency and to have been worked less and less as the years passed.) Eastern Star members heartily disliked any talk about the Amaranth being a higher or more exalted order. The Amaranth found that depending on only the Eastern Star for its members restricted its growth.

In 1921 the Amaranth eliminated the requirement its members belong to the Eastern Star. Meanwhile the Queen of the South degree, caught between the two other rituals, died out. Neither the Star nor Amaranth worked it. But that is to say that neither the Star nor Amaranth affiliated with "mainstream" Masonry worked it. While the mainstream Amaranth, composed primarily of Caucasian men and women, eliminated the requirement of Star membership, and the Queen of the South degree vanished from mainstream adoptive Masonry, the Prince Hall Eastern Star organizations, primarily initiating African Americans11, conservatively retained the old three step rite with which Morris and Macoy were familiar.12

Prince Hall Adoptive Masonry

Prince Hall Masonry regarded the three degrees as an indivisible rite. So the Queen of the South and the Amaranth continue to be staged as part of the Prince Hall Eastern Star as Morris and Macoy intended,l3 though not as part of the mainstream Eastern Star movement. In Prince Hall jurisdictions the Amaranth is given as a "higher" degree and with less frequency than the other two degrees, retaining its prestige.

After its separation from the Eastern Star, which grew to have more than two million members, the Amaranth had the problem of creating its own identity. This it did by promoting the idea of its seventeenth-century origins along with the notion that the Amaranth remained a higher or more prestigious order than the Star and was thus the apex of Masonry for women. Amaranth also promoted the notion that men and women participated more equally in the order than in the Star, where women predominated in its governance.l4

The existence in Prince Hall Masonry of a rite based on the founders' original notion of three degrees, largely unknown to mainstream Masonry, shows how the pluralism of social movements is often overlooked. Scholars on occasion have a terrible time with the diversities of social movements, often treating as a single monolithic organization what upon investigation is found to be a multiplicity of factions. The history of Freemasonry is an excellent example of the distortion and obfuscation that results when scholarship is twisted to create a monolithic past. There is not one Masonry but rather many Masonries. There is indeed not one Amaranth but a number of Amaranths, white and black and autonomous and dependent. The Amaranth exists not only as a separate, white organization, but as part of a ritual ladder or rite in several Africa-American organizations.15

The generally held opinion, inside and outside of Freemasonry, is that it is an adamantly male institution, but the activity in the period when Morris was evangelizing for adoptive Masonry shows that this an arguable proposition. The women's groups, often meeting in the same lodge rooms as the exclusively men's groups, can not in the very strictest sense be called non-Masonic, no matter what kind of distinctions male Masons have drawn. While the term "Adoptive Rite" which Morris and Macoy used has dropped from sight in main
 stream Lodges, the Prince Hall Masonry still use it. Moreover, the co-Masonic and women's groups in Africa-American Masonry relate directly in terms of administration to the male grand lodges.

Women Masons

Those who claim, to the intense irritation of some Masons, that women were involved in the beginnings of Masonry have evidence (albeit controversial) to sustain their position.l6 It is only in the eighteenth century that the treatment of women Masons begins to be openly contemptuous, which suggests that the rise of the adoptive orders may be related to an increasingly masculine emphasis in mainstream Freemasonry. To describe women as interlopers who become Masons by accident at best and were made members to protect the Masonic secrets seems to be a position adopted at a relatively late time in the history of the Craft.l7 (These female Freemasons "by accident" were not confined to the British Isles: a woman in Canada who eavesdropped on a Lodge was initiated in 1783, was buried under a tombstone with Masonic symbols, and was proudly claimed as an ancestor by a later Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, F.&A.M., of New Brunswick in 1954.18)

Unquestionably Freemasonry and kindred societies played a major role in the life of the American male. But if mainstream Masons are to be described as unwavering in their resolution to keep women out of the lodge, much more research is needed into attitudes over the centuries towards adoptive Masonry.l9 While Freemasonry was interpreted - or, in our opinion, reinterpreted - as masculinity par excellence, it has never been quite so completely the redoubt of male chauvinism that it is often depicted to be.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there seem to be more varieties of women's Masonic groups in the United States than in any other country of the world.20 Notwithstanding much being written today about male initiation and bonding,21 discussion of the place of women in Masonry is at an all-time high. Masons are thinking the unthinkable, which is that someday women may enter the traditional male lodge as equal members.

While so-called mainstream Masonry in America remains a largely male and white organization, Masonry has never lost its Enlightenment roots, which of course includes a view of the equality of the sexes which was submerged in later centuries.22 When this Enlightenment heritage is considered in conjunction with the architecture of at least some of the temples and the beauty of at least some of the degrees, one sees that there is considerable residual sophistication and that the Craft is not just an exercise in male chauvinism.23

The Faithfulness of Prince Hall Adoptive Masonry

It is easy to view the world of adoptive Masonry and of the Amaranth as a sideshow to the Craft. But the lessons of the rite are philosophically worthwhile and the intention of having the degrees coupled together has much merit. The Queen of the South degree involves a dialogue between the Queen of Sheba and no less than Solomon himself about the place of women in Masonry, hardly an irrelevant discussion in these times. A founding notion of the Amaranth and its sister degrees was that in America no king would confer honors, but rather that the people as sovereigns would create their own dignities and confer their own distinctions. None of these lessons are unworthy in the pantheon of Masonic teachings.

The persistence of the original vision of Taylor, Morris, and Macoy, faithfully preserved by our Prince Hall brethren, is an indication that those of us who think we are in the mainstream may have something to learn from other systems in the Masonic universe. The retention of a ladder or rite rather than splintering into single degree organizations has considerable educational value. The preservation of the Queen of the South degree is certainly to be praised.24

The resemblances between the history of the Adoptive Rite and the Scottish Rites are instructive. Both went through considerable controversy over what should be included in the "system" and suffered from considerable debate over the authenticity of specific degrees. Both have counterparts in the world of Prince Hall Masonry as well as in other branches of "Africa-American" Masonry, such as the still little-understood Sons of Light, St. John's, and Hiram movements. Will we find that those groups have demonstrated a faithfulness to the original Scottish Rite degrees similar to the way the Prince Hall Adoptive Rite has been faithful to Rob Morris's original plan for the Eastern Star?


1. "1997 Rose Bowl Float Features Rainbow and Amaranth," Scottish Rite Journal, Oct. 1996, p. 40.

2. The flowers of the amaranth have remarkable longevity and were mentioned by Roman writers such as Pliny The word itself in Greek means "never withering."

3. The tension between being a "secret" organization but yearning for public approval is characteristic of most Masonic societies in the United States. Examples would include the Shrine's highly-publicized hospitals for children and its East-West Shrine Game watched by football fans everywhere, and the wearing of identification pins by many Masons. European Masons and Latin American Masons are much less public relations oriented.

4. There are exclusively women's lodges which work the full Masonic ritual and do not admit men, as well as co-Masonic lodges which admit both men and women. In many cases the male Mason's reception of female Masons is considerably less cordial than the attitude displayed towards orders like the Eastern Star, which do not claim to be working the Masonic rituals. Addressing a group of women, an extremely distinguished English Freemason remarked, "When we talk about Women and Freemasonry in Britain we are compelled to discuss the two Orders firmly established here, both claiming that they use the same ritual as their husbands. They wear the same Masonic clothing, and even go so far in copying us that they call each other 'Brother.' Inevitably, they are taboo." Harry Carr, Harry Carr's World of Freemasonry, rev. ed. (London: Lewis Masonic, 1985), pp. 28s-286.

5. Harold Van Buren Voorhis, The Eastern Star: The Evolution From a Rite to an Order (Richmond, Va.: Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., 1976 [1938]), p. 5 ff

6. Voorhis, p. I9.

7. Voorhis, p. z1.

8. "1f claims could be placed in certain statements of Rob Morris, whose labors in bringing the Order into prominence exceed those of any other person, we could easily ascertain the truth as to its origin. But these statements are made without corroborative proof, and have been contradicted by the brother himself." Willis D. Engle, The History of the Order of the Eastern Star, 2nd ed. rev. (Indianapolis: Willis D. Engle Publisher, 19lz), pp. 8-9. Engle asked to see the Thesauros and made a special trip from Indianapolis to New York to see it, but was denied access. p. 13. He discusses if it is a fraud on p. 14 and on p. 16 details problems in the orthography and other internal evidence, which raise questions about its authenticity.

9. Voorhis, p. 33-34.

10. Henry Wilson Coil, et al., Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, Allen E. Roberts ea., rev. ed. (Richmond, Va.: Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., 1996 [1961] ), p. 13.

11. From pictures in Prince Hall publications it appears that sometimes the predominantly Africa-American orders had white members. E.g. See Convention Yearbook West Coast Assembly 1983, Ancient Arabic Order of the Noble of the Mystic Shrine and Daughter of the Sphinx of North and South America (San Diego: 1982), pp. 17, 43.

12, Coil, p. 13.

13. Matthew E. Crawford, Jr., <>, to Paul Rich <>, Sat, 09 Nov 1996 13:55:01 -0800.

Subject: Re: Queen of the South Degree

Bro. Rich,

In the Prince Hall Rite of Adoption, three degrees are given in the Order of the Eastern Star:
- O.E.S. Degree
- Queen of the South Degree
- Amaranth Degree


Matthew E. Crawford, Jr.
Past Patron, Olivett Chapter No. 10 O.E.S. PHRA
Pasadena, CA

14. S.S. Gill (Past Supreme Royal Patron 1951-2), Amaranth: An Organization of Men and Women of Masonic Families (Oklahoma City: by the Author, n.d.), ff.

Matthew E. Crawford, Jr., <>, to: Paul Rich <rich@>, Sat, 09 Nov 199616:~0:33 -0800.

Subject: Re: Queen of the South Degree

Bro. Rich,

Yes, those irregular bodies of [Africa-American] Masons do have the Eastern Star, but I know little about their practices. The Prince Hall Grand Chapters are Adoptive Rite and must report to the Grand Lodge. There is no General Grand Chapter in the Order of Eastern Star in Prince Hall Masonry. They do have an Annual Conference of Grand Chapters which usually meets in the same location as the Annual Conference of Grand Masters.


Matthew E. Crawford, Jr.
Past Patron

15. Matthew E. Crawford, Jr. <>, to: Paul Rich <>, Sat, 09 Nov 199614:13:13 -0800.

Subject: Re: Queen of the South Degree...

Yes the officer's title do change in the Queen of the South and the Amaranth. For instance the Worthy Patron, becomes King Solomon in the Queen of the South and Royal Patron in the Amaranth. Some Chapters (Courts) that meet only once a month may elect to take care of allowable business in the Amaranth Degree. Many chapters meet twice a month and all business is conducted on the Stated Meeting night in the O.E.S. Degree and the Middle meeting is degree only.

Here in California the Amaranth Degree is usually given only once a year in the month of November. The O.E.S. and Queen of the South are usually done twice a year.

Matthew E. Crawford, Jr.
Past Patron
Olivett Chapter No. 10

16. There is for example a record from 1408 where newly initiated Masons swore to obey "the Master, or Dame, or any other ruling Freemason." In the records of the Lodge of Mary's Chapel in Edinburgh, dated 1683, the lodge was actually presided over by a Dame or Mistress. The records of the Grand Lodge of York in 1693 speak about male and female initiates. Neville Cryer, "Women and Freemasonry," News of the Grand Lodge of New York, May 1995, p. 20.

17. A woman who found out the secrets by spying was initiated in a lodge in the English town of Barking in 1714. Another woman who eavesdropped on a lodge ceremony, the Hon. Mrs. Elizabeth Aldworth - the celebrated or infamous daughter of the first Viscount Doneraile - was initiated in 1712 when she was discovered eavesdropping, and the fact is recorded on her tombstone. Cryer.

18. Cryer, p. 21.

19. There are "unrecognized" co-Masonic lodges and (as discussed) there are rare instances of women being initiated into "regular" Masonic lodges, usually after having eavesdropped or overheard the ritual. See A. Bryan Hawkes, "Some Lady Masons," Masonic Square, vol. 12, no.2, Jun. 1986, pp. 60-6z. "The United Grand Lodge of England and, presumably the other Grand Lodges in fraternal association with it, has made no secret of the fact that it is violently opposed to Women's Freemasonry as being alien to its Constitution." Enid L. Scott, Women and Freemasonry (Enfield, England: The author, 1988). "I must make it clear at the outset that this booklet has been compiled entirely for the interest of my fellow women Freemasons." Scott., p. 4. See Harry Carr, "Women and Freemasonry," in Harry Carr's World of Freemasonry: The Collected Papers and Talks of Harry Carr (London: Lewis Masonic, 1983), pp. 280-287.

20. De Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America: "In the United States, political associations are only one small part of the immense number of different types of associations found there. Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations. There are not only commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but others of a thousand different types - religious, moral, serious, futile, very general and very limited, immensely large and very minute.... In every case, at the head of any new undertaking, where in France you would find the government or in England some territorial magnate, in the United States you are sure to find an association." Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, ed. J.R Mayer, trans. George Lawrence (New York: Harper Perennial, 1988), p. 513.

21. "By the mid-lg70s, men's conferences were being held and organizations formed to respond to a growing list of male concerns, ranging from divorce and alimony rights, parenting, and job situations to sexual fulfillment and, especially, gay rights, which dominated the early movement. A men's liberation movement had been born. The basic focus was a recognition of the shortcomings of playing the traditional masculine role of always getting ahead and staying cool." Joe L. Dubbert, A Man's Place: Masculinity in Transition (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979), p. 286.

22. Curiously then, Freemasonry is not only representative of the mystical, but also of the scientific and philosophical revolution of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when "The Cartesian concept of matter relegated spirits, whether good or bad, to the purely mental world, conjuration ceased to be a meaningful ambition." Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century England (London: Penguin, 1988 [1971] ), p. 770.

23. Consider the references to one's mother lodge, the women who adorn engraved Masonic membership certificates, and the women who appear in the adornment of Masonic temples.

24 In some Prince Hall jurisdictions, the Amaranth Degree was used as the working or business degree, although this custom eventually fell into disuse. Arlie C. Robbins, Prince Hall Masonry in Onatario, 1842-1933 (Toronto: Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons for the Province of Ontario and Jurisdiction, 1980), p. 134

Published in: S. Brent Morris (Ed.), Heredom - The Transition of The Scottish Rite Research Society, Vol. 6, The Scottish Rite Research Society, Washington D.C., 1997.

Contact: Dr. Paul Rich