Once you are a Master Mason, you can choose to obtain supplementary degrees, also known as honorary degrees, through attached Masonic organizations such as the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, or the Sanctuary (among many others). The thirty-third degree is an honorary award given to Scottish Rite Masons who have made significant contributions to society or to Freemasonry. In the United States, approximately 100 Masons receive the 33rd degree a year, joining previous winners, such as President Harry Truman, Michigan Supreme Court Justice George E. Bushnell, businessman Henry Ford, athlete Arnold Palmer and astronaut John Glenn Jr. By serving as role models, 33rd degree Masons help maintain the integrity of the organization and ensure that the bond between siblings remains strong.
It's tempting to suppose that, in some ways, “it's better or more prestigious to be a Mason teacher than a trainee, better to obtain 32 appendix degrees than 14, and better to be the grandmaster of a huge jurisdiction than a new aspirant to the local lodge.” Ultimately, the 33rd degree of Mason signifies dedication and devotion to the values and principles of Freemasonry, and serves as pillars of wisdom and leadership within the organization and its communities. This refers to the 33rd honorary degree awarded by the Scottish Rite, a Masonic organization that is an extension of Freemasonry. It is essential to differentiate between facts and unfounded beliefs when talking about the 33rd degree and other aspects of Masonry. Members who have earned additional degrees or achieved leadership ranks are not “more Masons” than any other Masonic master. It is essential to note that the degrees of the Scottish Rite are not higher than the third degree within Masonry itself.
The “degrees” of the Scottish Rite, including grade 33, are not higher than those of the degree of Master Mason (third degree), despite their numerical appearance. A 33rd degree Mason is a master Mason who has been honored with the highest degree of the Scottish Rite, one of the annexed bodies of Freemasonry. The badges of 33rd degree Masons can be recognized through unique features, such as the white hat, which symbolizes their distinctive achievements and status within the Fraternity. A common belief is that 33rd degree Masons hold a higher rank and exercise more power within the organization. Today, grade 33 remains the pinnacle of the Scottish Rite, and is awarded to exemplary members of the thirty-second degree who have made significant contributions to Freemasonry or to their community. A prominent symbol associated with 33rd degree Masons is the double-headed eagle, which represents the dual nature of the human and divine realms as well as their union.
Freemasonry is a fraternal organization with a hierarchical structure that spans several degrees. President Harry Truman was a prominent 33rd degree Mason who played an important role in running America during World War II and early Cold War years.