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Geographical variations

Introduction Scotland Ireland USA

Freemasonry takes pride in its world wide fraternity.  The Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry'. (Vol 2  page 778) states

That sacred and invisible bond that unites men of the most discordant opinions into one band of brothers, which gives one language to men of all nations and one altar to men of all religions, is properly, from the mysterious influence it exerts, denominated the mystic tie; and Freemasons because they alone are under its influence, or enjoy its benefits, are called brethren of the mystic tie'  

The Grand Lodge is the sole authority for the recognition of other Grand Lodges in various parts of the world, provided they can satisfy certain basic principles of English Freemasonry which include:

  • Their members believe in a Supreme Being

  • The Bible be open at every Masonic meeting. When there are non- Christian members present the Volume of the Sacred Law of their own religion must also be open

  • The discussion of religion and politics be prohibited in Lodges

  • Membership be exclusively male

This chart which appeared on England's Grand Lodge web site shows the global reach of. Masonry. 

Global Links to Masonic Sites


In the Craft degrees (1-3) there are only minor differences which are of little consequence. For instance in Ireland the candidate does not kiss the 'sacred volume' as he seals the ritual, but instead raises his hand. Also in Ireland the candidate is hoodwinked only in the first degree. In Scotland the candidate is partially hoodwinked in the second degree. Such variances are minor. 

In English Masonry the Holy Royal Arch degree is seen as a 'completion' of the Master Mason's degree whereas in Scotland Ireland and the USA  it is one of several higher degrees and separated from the third by other intermediate degrees.

Again, in English Masonry, rather than each higher degree having its own individual ritual, the 4th to the 17th Degrees are conferred at once and in name only during initiation of the selected Freemason to the 18th Degree and  the 19th to 29th are conferred nominally during the ritual of initiation to the 30th Degree - that of Grand Elected Knight Kadosh or Knight of the Black and White Eagle.  Only then are the Degrees above the 30th conferred singly. 

The speed with which one can ascend the Masonic ladder vary from country to country. In the USA on can race up to 32nd in a weekend of ritual, provided one can pay for it.  Such speed would horrify Masons in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

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Rituals published (and obviously used) in Scot­land retain certain quaint archaisms not found South of the Border since the eighteenth-century exposé, except perhaps in local unprinted Northern Provincial workings un­known to me. On the other hand, I have seen rituals from recognised Masonic publishers which purport to give Scottish workings that differ very little from the English. The tentative conclusion may be drawn, therefore, that there is considerable diversity in non-essentials, and that there has been a certain amount of Anglicising which has in places modified earlier usages.

Scottish Lodges are as a rule numerically larger than English ones, and it is now permissible to initiate, pass, or raise as many as five at a time, to keep pace with increasing numbers. In England the maximum is two per ceremony.

A ritual appearing under the name of a Past Provincial Grand Master of Forfarshire, the twelfth edition of which was published in 1950, contains many interesting features of undoubted antiquity not appearing in other Scottish rituals which I have seen.

In taking the First Degree Obligation, for instance, the Candidate removes his left shoe and hands it to the Master In reference to a Biblical custom when taking an oath. This appears to duplicate the symbolism of the slip-shod to which a similar meaning is attached. An old catch question of the eighteenth century is introduced into the ritual -” What did you pay for Masonry?”   “An old shoe, an old shoe of my Mother’s.”

The Due-Guard is preserved (though not under that name) as a first part of the Entered Apprentice sign, in which the hands are held horizontally in front of the body, palms apart and facing each other, the, right hand above and the left beneath, representing the position of the hands on and under the Bible when taking the oath.

The Obligation itself contains certain archaic features. The one-time almost universal dedication of the Lodge “regularly assembled, properly constituted, and dedicated to the memory of the holy St. John” is preserved, which appears to have almost vanished in England when the Craft was de-Christianised. Another early survival is the clause “I will not be at the making of the following persons as Freemasons a young man of non-age, an old man of dotage, a madman, a fool, an atheist, a person under the influence of liquor, and a woman under no pretence whatever.”

In the preparation for the Second Degree the Candidate is ‘partially hoodwinked,’ and the right breast is bared - not the left as in most English workings.

Instead of the ‘proper steps’ to the East in approaching the Pedestal, one, two, and three single steps are taken, bringing the heels together in a square, in the three degrees respectively. In the Second Degree, however, steps are taken ‘as if ascending a winding staircase’ consisting of three, five, and seven steps, but this is after the conferment of the secrets, to bring the Candidate into the South-East corner where the Charge is given him.

There is some diversity in the Fellow-Craft signs. In the Hailing sign, for instance, the right fist may support the left elbow, and in the Penal sign, instead of drawing the right hand across the breast and dropping it to the side, a gesture is sometimes made as if tearing out the heart and casting it over the shoulder.

The chief characteristic of most Scottish workings, however, is the more dramatic ceremony of raising to the Third Degree.

Although this extended working may be abbreviated or omitted, it appears to be of some antiquity, and must surely make a more vivid impression on the Candidate’s mind. The ceremony proceeds as in other workings as far as the symbolical slaying by the Right Worshipful Master, only the lights are not dimmed, and the candidate is not at this point 'slain'  

The grouping and jurisdiction of be various Masonic degrees differs considerably in Scotland, the most striking deviation lies in the position of the Royal Arch which is entirely separate from and independent of the Craft degrees controlled by Scottish Grand Lodge. To take it one must first be advanced as a Mark Master (which is done either in a Craft Lodge or in a Royal Arch Chapter) and also take the degree, unknown in England, of Excellent Master* 

[* This degree is not to be confused with the first degree in the Cryptic series in England.  It includes a version of the "Passing of the Veils" ceremony which used to be part of the Royal Arch working in England, and is still so in Ireland and America ]

The Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Freemasons of Scotland, then, controls the following degrees:-

Mark Master

Excellent Master.

Royal Arch.

                  Third Principal.
                  Second Principal,       Chair Degrees of the Royal Arch

                  First Principal.

         Right Worshipful Mark Master.

These degrees are progressive and must be taken in this order. One practical result of this difference in grouping is that an English Royal Arch Companion (even if he happens to have the Mark degree) cannot visit a Scottish Royal Arch Chapter because he had not taken the Excellent Masters degree.

Also under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Grand Chapter of  Scotland are the following degrees, known as the Lodge and Council genes

Royal Ark Manner,

Commander Noah  (its Chair degree).

Babylonian Pass or Red Cross,

Knight of the Sword,

Knight of the East,

Knight of be East and West,

Chief and President (a Chair degree).

And again under the same jurisdiction is the Cryptic Rite series will the following Royal and Select degrees

Royal Master.

Select Master.

Super Excellent Master.

Thrice Illustrious Master.

Thus it will be seen that the Scottish Grand Chapter controls altogether eighteen degrees. There is a Scottish Supreme Council for the Ancient and Accepted Rite, whose thirty-three degrees are (with slight verbal variations in title) similar to the English series, and worked in similar groupings. Scotland also has its independent Great Priory for the Religious and Military Orders of Knights Templar and Knights of Malta.

Peculiar to this country, however, is the Royal Order of Scotland. This may be of some antiquity. Its ritual is unique among Masonic workings in that it is written in a rhyming doggerel which suggests an eighteenth-century origin ; its legend contains many features found in other degrees such as the Royal Arch, the Rose Croix de Heredom, the Knights Kadosh, and the Allied Degree of the Red Cross of Babylon. There are two degrees in this Order, the Harodim and the Rosy Cross. It is open only to Christians.

  In general, Freemasonry in Scotland is more popular and relatively far more numerous than in England, partly because it tends to be cheaper, and because austere Presbyterianism has eliminated most of the colour, glamour, and ceremonial from Christian worship. When the soul is starved of these elements in religion, it will naturally tend to compensate itself in less desirable ways. It is not only the hostility of Rome that has left Masonry weak in Catholic countries.

 - Pages 187 - 188 & 210 & 211 Darkness Visible, Walton Hanna

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The Grand Lodge of Ireland is unusual in that, unlike those of England and Scotland, it has an authorized ritual and a Grand Lodge Chapter of Improvement to promulgate it. A greater measure of uniformity prevails, though this is far from complete. There are differences to be noted between the Dublin Lodges and those, say of Cork. Although an alleged ‘Irish Working’ is printed by a Masonic publisher in London, it is not verbally accurate. It appears to follow a hybrid Northern Ireland form of working. But for the most part Ireland con­tinues to eschew the use of a printed ritual altogether. Tracing-Boards are not found in Irish Lodges, nor (at least in the Temples of Freemasons Hall in Dublin) is the emblem with the letter G displayed.

The more significant differences between the Irish and English workings may be tabulated as follows:

1.      Methods of Preparation. For the First Degree these are the same as in England, except that the cable-tow is wound three times round the neck. For the Second Degree he is again deprived of money and metals, for it is in this degree, not the first, that the ‘charity test’ takes place.’ The cable-tow is wound twice around his neck. For the Third Degree he is again deprived of metals, and the cable-tow is wound once round his neck. A lecture on the symbolical reasons for the preparation is provided, but not always given.

2.      The Pass Words. Ireland has not only the usual pass words between the Degrees but has pass words to the First Degree as well, which all Brethren may be required to give in proving themselves. They are given on behalf of the Initiate by his Conductor (a Brother who in Ireland accompanies the Candidate, and plays the part in making the responses which the Deacons perform in England). These pass words are “By the help of God, and the Tongue of Good Report.” There are reasons to suppose that this is an ancient usage formerly prevailing but now extinct in England. It may still be found in a few Lodges in Scotland.

3.         The Solemn Obligations. In all three Degrees the Candidate pledges himself “bearing in mind the Ancient Penalty of... etc. and binding myself under the real penalty of being branded deservedly as a wretch, base, faithless and unworthy.. . “which is far less objectionable.

3.      The Ceremony of Raising. There are significant differences in the Hiramic. legend. In the usual form the Three Grand Masters alone were in possession of the genuine secrets of the Master Mason; in Irish workings, however, there was already, before the completion of the Temple, a class of Master Masons in possession of them, even though they could be conferred only by the Grand Masters. This weakens the drama. It makes the murder less plausible, for the three assassins could have assaulted any Master Mason for the betrayal of the secrets with less danger to themselves. It also makes the loss of those secrets far less dramatically catastrophic and significant. Thousands still knew them, and the loss, due to the death of one of the three officers necessary to confer them on others, seems a technicality rather than a tragedy. This, however, may have been the legend of the “Ancients,” often similar to Irish workings. The words “it is thus that all Master Masons are raised from a dead level to a living upright” (which seem to give a quasi- sacramental significance to the rite) appear actually in the Ritual, and not merely in the Lectures.

There are other trifling variants. The apocryphal text  “In strength will I establish this Mine house, to stand firm for ever,” is dropped entirely. An extra question and answer are inserted when the Candidate is being tested by the Officers referring to the Irish custom of placing the left hand over the ‘grip’ to conceal its nature :—“ What is the use of a Freemason’s left hand ?“ “To hele the grip,” or, “To cover the work.”

The Royal Arch workings in Ireland are quite independent of the Craft, and totally different from English Chapter workings in legend, yet similar in meaning and symbolism. They are based, not on the re-building of the Temple by Zerubbabel after the Edict of Cyrus, but on the repair of the Temple under King Josiah, and the discovery of the Book of the Law (II Kings XXII, 3-13, and 11 Chronicles XXXIV, 8-21). The Principals of this Degree in Ireland, therefore, are not Zerubbabel, Haggai, and Joshua, but Josiah, Shaphan, and Hilkiah. In spite of the fact that Holy Writ expressly informs us that the historical Josiah spent no little time and energy in breaking down the altars of Baalim and burning the bones of idolatrous priests, the Word of this degree with all its Baal associations is retained.  

From the Masonic point of view Ireland remains a single jurisdiction. Although its strength is mainly from Ulster, the headquarters are in Dublin. As might be expected, it is more firmly Protestant in membership than in England, and enjoys even greater support from the non-Roman Churches.

Masonry in Ireland may be grouped into six grades, as follows :—

1.     The Craft degrees, controlled by the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Ireland

Entered Apprentice,


Master Mason,

Installed Master (the Chair degree).

II.     The Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Ireland, which, as in Scotland, is distinct from and independent of the Craft, and which also controls the Mark degree, an essential pre­liminary to the Royal Arch. The Chapter degrees are :—

Mark Master,

Royal Arch,

Chief Scribe,

High Priest,

Very Worshipful Mark Master,

Excellent King.

Chief Scribe, High Priest, and Excellent King are Chair degrees of the Royal Arch (which, as noted in Appendix A has a rather different legend from the English Royal Arch). The Very Worshipful Mark Master degree is only conferred prior to an installation as Excellent King.

III.     The Grand Council of the Degrees of Knight of the Sword, Knight of the East, and Knight of the East and West, controlling the chivalric degrees of

Knight of the Sword,

Knight of the East,

Knight of the East and West,

Excellent Chief (a Chair degree).

IV.     The Order of the Temple and Great Priory of Ireland, controlling the chivalric degrees of

Knight Templar,

Mediterranean Pass,

Knight of Malta,

Eminent Preceptor (a Chair degree).

V.      The Grand Chapter of Prince Masons of Ireland, which controls :— Knight of the Eagle 

and Pelican and Prince Grand Rose Croix,

Most Wise Sovereign (its Chair degree).

This is the same as the Eighteenth Degree of the Ancient and Accepted Rite, and is indeed acknowledged as such, but in Ireland it is worked as a separate degree under a separate jurisdiction. It is significant and indeed paradoxical that the good Irish Protestant is not after all invariably averse to an elaborate ‘Christian’ ritual with plenty of candles on the Altar as long as such things are rigidly kept out of Church. He will reverence an altar cross provided it is adorned with a rose and not with the figure of Christ crucified.

VI.     The Supreme Council for the 33rd Degree, Ancient and Accepted Rite for Ireland, controls only the following degrees out of the thirty-three

28.  Chevalier du Soleil, or Knight of the Sun,

30.  Philosophical Mason Knight Kadosh,

31.  Grand Inspector Inquisitor Commander,

32.  Prince of the Royal Secret,

33.    Sovereign Grand Inspector General.

The Lodge and Council series of Scotland, the Cryptic Degrees, and the Secret Monitor are apparently unknown in Ireland.

The so-called Orange Lodges are quasi-Masonic only, and although there is a considerable overlap they have no official connection with regular Irish Masonry

- Pages 191 - 193 & 211 & 212  Darkness Visible, Walton Hanna

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The U S A

Although the general structure and legend of the three Craft Degrees is retained, the wording in America is very different and on the whole more colloquial and garrulous. The impres­sion is left that American workings in general have rather less dignity than their British counterparts. In many respects it appears as if Scottish and Irish rather than English traditions are followed ; this is probably because these workings retain certain features which were also in the English workings when Masonry was first established in the New World, but which have since been revised in England after the Union. For instance, a pass word is sometimes required for the First Degree, as in Ireland, and the Master wears a hat in the Lodge when it is open, removing it for the prayers ; this was certainly the earlier practice in Great Britain.

The full American ritual, however, especially in the Third Degree, appears to be so lengthy that it is difficult to believe that it is not, in practice, abbreviated.’ And there is no uniformity between State and State. In these circumstances only the more important differences can be noted here.

I.        Preparation. The usual methods of preparation appear to be as follows. In the First Degree the Candidate is divested of metals, blindfolded, and a cable-tow is placed once around his neck. The left arm, left breast, and left knee and left foot are bare, and the right foot slippered. In the Second Degree he is again blindfolded, and the cable-tow is apparently (though not always) wound twice around his right arm above the elbow, which is bare. The right knee and foot and the right breast are also bared, and the left foot slippered. In the Third Degree he is again blindfolded and the cable-tow is wound three times around his body. Both breasts, both arms, both knees and feet are bare—there is therefore no ‘slipshod’ or slipper.

II.    The Signs. A somewhat different system prevails in America, each degree having its due-guard and its sign. The due-guard is a sort of preliminary or precautionary sign which is given before the sign, and relates to the position of the hands when taking the Obligation. In the First Degree this is taken with the right hand on and the left hand under the Bible; the due-guard is therefore given by holding out the hands horizontally in front of the body on a line approximately with the stomach with the palms facing each other, about three inches apart, left below, right above. The sign is the usual Penal sign of the Entered Apprentice.

In the Second Degree Obligation the right hand rests on the Bible, and the left (as in England) is supported in the angle of the square. The due-guard therefore is given with the left hand similar to the Hailing sign of the Fellow-Craft, with the right hand held horizontally in front of the body with the palm facing downwards, on a level with the bottom waistcoat button. The sign is the same as the Fellow-Craft Penal sign.

The Third Degree Obligation is taken with both hands on the Bible, and the due-guard represents this position, both hands held out horizontally at waist level with the palm down­wards. Some workings direct that the right hand should be parallel with the body, and left at right angles to it. The left hand is then dropped, and the Penal sign is given in the same way as in Great Britain. The two Casual signs of horror and of sympathy seem unknown in America, and the only other sign given is the Grand Hailing sign of Distress, with its accompanying exclamation.’

The grips and pass-grips are identical with our own.

Ill.    The Words. The words are the same, except that only one word (Mahabone, variously pronounced) is given in the Third Degree on the Five Points of Fellowship, but the context and the meaning of the word do not seem to be very clearly explained.

IV.  Proper Steps. The Proper Steps to the East are simpler than in England. There is no winding staircase to ascend nor open grave to step over. In the First Degree one step only is taken, with left foot, bringing up the right heel to its hollow, forming the tau-cross. In the Second Degree a second step is added to this, leading off with the right foot, and bringing up the left into its hollow. In the Third Degree a third step is added to these two, stepping off with the left foot and bring­ing up the right heel to heel in the form of a square.

V.   The Ceremony of Raising. This, if worked in full, is extremely lengthy and dramatic. It appears to be based on the extended Scottish workings, but with a great deal more added.

The structure of the rite, however, is slightly different in that the Candidate is first entrusted with the due-guard and sign and invested with the apron, restores himself to his proper clothing, and only then (when he may ‘well think that the ceremony is over) is there any hint of the death-and-raising rite.

The Candidate is again blindfolded (which must make the actual ‘slaying’ all the more terrifying) and is conducted through his part of the drama by the Senior Deacon, who makes his responses for him. Three of the Brethren represent the ruffians (Jubela, Jubelo, and Jubelum), who with much loquacious dialogue set about the Candidate in turn, demanding the secrets from him, and eventually slay him by knocking him backwards by a blow with a rubber mallet on to a canvas sheet held securely (one hopes !) by certain other brethren. He is laid on the floor and covered up with the canvas, then the three ruffians ‘bury’ him by piling a few chairs and so on over the body. At this point the Lodge is darkened and a gong sounds with twelve strokes. In the full workings, the ruffians then attempt to escape by sea from Joppa, but are turned back for not having a pass. They flee into some corner (or into the ante-room) to hide. In the meantime the absence of Hiram Abiff has been noticed, and the Worshipful Master (as King Solomon) orders a roll-call, in which the names of Jubela, Jubelo, and Jubelum are not answered to. The twelve Fellow-Crafts who withdrew from the conspiracy then confess what they know, and a search is made for the body and for the ruffians. Both are found according to the usual Masonic tradition ; the latter (as in the extended Scottish workings) by their cries of remorse being heard issuing from a cave. They are taken back to King Solomon and executed with the Masonic penalties to which their cries gave origin.

Then the Officers and some of the Brethren proceed to the grave and march three times round it, singing a funeral hymn. The body is uncovered, and after the traditional attempts with the First and Second Degree grips the Candidate is raised on the Five Points of Fellowship. A charge or lecture follows.

The entire ceremony is given in dialogue.

As in Scotland and Ireland, the Holy Royal Arch is merely one of many higher degrees, and is not regarded as the completion or fulfilment of the Craft. There is accordingly less emphasis on the secrets of the Royal Arch being the ‘genuine secrets of a Master Mason’ lost to the Craft at the untimely death. There are, however, several interesting variants between English and American Chapter workings ; in the latter the First Principal is not Zerubbabel the King, but the Excel­lent High Priest who represents Joshua. The ceremony of passing the veils, practically extinct in England, is retained. The symbols and words of the degree are inscribed on the Ark of the Covenant which the Candidate discovers in the Vault. Upon three sides of it are the initials of the Three Grand Masters Solomon King of Israel, Hiram King of Tyre, and Hiram Abiff, and on top of the Ark is the equilateral triangle (not in a circle) on the three sides of which are the syllables of the word, Jah-Bel-On, or Jah-Buh-Lun. These initials and syllables are usually written, not in English or Hebrew letters, but in the Masonic cypher (extremely simple) made up on the noughts and crosses formula supplemented by the St. Andrew’s cross. Within the triangle are the Hebrew characters representing Jahweh. There is no Aleph, Beth, or Lamed at the triangle’s extremities.

There is in the United States of America no supreme Grand Lodge or centralised Masonic authority. Each State is sovereign and independent. Each State, too, has its own Grand Chapter, Grand Council, and Grand Encampment. There is a General Grand Chapter, and a Grand Encampment claiming the allegiance of most (but not all) of the local State bodies, but these represent federations rather than central authorities.

The American system of Freemasonry may be tabulated under the following groups.

I.     The three symbolic degrees :— Entered Apprentice, Fellow-Craft, Master Mason.

These are conferred by the Lodges under the control of the Grand Lodges of their respective States, and as in Great Britain form the basis of the whole Masonic system.

II.    Chapter Masonry, corresponding in its degrees approximately to the Scottish Royal Arch system :-

Mark Master,

Past Master,

Most Excellent Master,

Royal Arch.

The Past Master is not a mere Chair degree, but is conferred independently of ruling a Lodge as it is a pre-requisite for exaltation to the Royal Arch. American Lodges tend to be so large (sometimes numbering several hundred) that the average Mason has little more chance of ruling one than the average citizen has of becoming mayor of his town, hence the necessity for a separate degree.

III.   Council Masonry, corresponding to the Cryptic Degrees:

Royal Master, Select Master, Super-Excellent Master.

These degrees are progressive, and are conferred in local Councils under the control of the State Grand Councils.

IV.   The Commandery :— Knights of the Red Cross, Knights Templar, Knights of Malta.

These degrees or orders, conferred by Commanderies under the control of the Grand Commanderies of the various States, are theoretically open only to professing Christians.

V.    The Ancient and Accepted Rite.

This has the thirty-three degrees as in England and Scot­land, but (apart from the first three which again are taken in Craft or Blue Lodges) each degree is worked progressively and in full. America is divided for this Rite into two juris­dictions, the Northern, centred at Boston, and the Southern, which is administered from Washington, DC.  The Rite is not confined, as in England, to professing Christians. The ritual and symbolism of the Rose Croix degree, for instance, although not unlike the English rite, are presented in a rather more general and ‘philosophical’ light, and specific references to Our Lord by name, except in the words Emmanuel and I.N.R.I. are deleted. (It would, perhaps, be more accurate to say that the Christian element was inserted in England.) Hence although based on the Crucifixion this degree in America is so universalised that a non-Christian can enter it in the same spirit that a non-Christian or non-Jew can enter into the Craft degrees based on the Old Testament.

VI.  Certain independently-worked degrees such as the Secret Monitor.

There are in addition other independent and separate quasi-Masonic systems such as the exclusively Jewish B’nai B’rith, and probably obsolescent traces of the Rites of Mizraim and Memphis, with their multiplicity of degrees based on oriental mysticism and Egyptian mythology.

Co-Masonry flourishes in America more than in any other country. The various quasi-Masonic secret societies (Elks, Buffalos, Knights of Pythias, Riders of the Red Robe, Ku-Klux-Klan, Mystic Shrine, Enchanted Realm, etc.) are, as the sands of the sea, innumerable. The extraordinary popularity of Freemasonry and its imitators in America’ (whose love of secret societies exceeds that of any other country except perhaps China) may be attributed partly to the fact that Americans are naturally extremely friendly, gregarious, and great ‘joiners’ partly to a sub-conscious desire to escape the matriarchal female influence, so much stronger than in Great Britain, and partly perhaps to the absence of the glamour and pageantry of Royalty, and hereditary titles, and to their far less colourful and historic ceremonial in connection with government, national, and municipal occasions.

    - Pages 193 - 196 & 213 & 214 Darkness Visible, Walton Hanna

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