In Fremasonry, there is no level higher than that of a Master Mason. Pop culture abounds with references to the “Knights Templar” and “the 33rd Degree.” However, Master Masons who choose to advance along those degree paths are of no higher level than that of a Master Mason. The progress of Masonic knowledge is not hierarchical. Rather, these appendant bodies, also known as side bodies, “branch off” from the degree of a Master Mason and begin following their own lateral paths to further enlightenment. At no time, however, does any advancement within those appendant bodies raise one higher than the Master Mason degree conferred in the traditional Blue Lodge.
This is not to say that appendant bodies are not a worthwhile endeavor. Indeed, there is much Masonic wisdom contained within them. The two most popular in the United States are the York Rite, Scottish Rite, and Shrine. Each of these three popular groups provide a catalyst for additional Brotherhood and charity.
Any regularly-initiated Master Mason can apply for membership in the appendant bodies of Freemasonry. However, it is vitally important that no matter how involved a Brother Mason becomes involved with them, he always remember and attend his Blue Lodge, for it is the key to all that Masonry has to offer.