Across every mythology the world has ever known, there is the story of a Hero's quest. It is Jason seeking the Golden Fleece, the Knights of the Round Table searching for the Holy Grail, the journey of the Master Mason for the Lost Word, the quest of the Scottish Rite Mason for the Royal Secret. This paper explores the joumey through the Degrees of the Lodge of Perfection. It is hoped that it will provide the reader a concise understanding of the importance of the Scottish Rite and its practicality in contemporary society.
Each Body of the Rite allegorically explains a different element in the quest tradition. In the Degrees of the Lodge of Perfection, we find ourselves on a quest for more Light in Masonry and the awakening of our own spirituality. The foundation for the Degrees of Perfection rests in the understanding that, in Masonry, the Lodge is a representation of the world and that our journey through the Degrees represents our joumey through life. We have prepared well for our Scottish Rite journey through the Craft Degrees. As an Entered Apprentice, we learned the importance of our outward relationship with others and the instìtutions of our society. As a Fellowcraft, we were taught that it takes a combination of intellect, experience, intuition, feeling, emotion, and education to make real progress in life. We also discover our dual nature and that there is a spirit within us, which can lead us to self-improvement. As a Master Mason, we turn inward and come face to face with our own worst enemy-our ego; and then we are given the opportunity to transcend our passions and our prejudices, becoming true to who we, at our best, are.
It is at this point that we are ready for the Scottish Rite experience. We have prepared ourselves, through our own efforts, to advance to a higher awareness that is to be found in the Degrees of the Rite. And, like the Craft Degrees, the Scottish Rite Degrees form a progressive system of morality, veiled in allegory.
The 4°, Secret Master, begins our quest for self-development, independence of thought, and the ability to live freely, profitably, and creatively. In the Rite, the task is to engage ote Candidate's intellect directly, and, in so doing, lo encourage tris introspection, which can arouse his emotions enough to develop additional insights about himself. This idea is revealed to the Secret Master in his journey to the Holy of Holies, only to find that he cannot enter without possessing the Key. ln Masonry, whenever a key is used, it has the same symbolism as the Egyptian ankh, from which the key is derived. lt is the means by which the gate to self-realization may be opened. But the gate can only be accessed when the right insights or "secrets" are known. The Secret Master is a passenger on this journey. He encounters the urn, which contains his own treasure, his moral conscience; and he discovers that what he learns will be his alone, that there is a quest, and that knowledge is there for him, if he chooses to seek it.
With the jewels of this Degree as symbols, one contemplates the nature of deity and the many attributes of the divine, which we can take into ourselves-Wìsdom to conceive, Strength to create, and Beauty to regulate our lives.We learn that we must take up and integrate into ourselves the virtues of confidentiality toward our fellows, obedience to the performance of duty (doing what is needed and right), and fidelity to our family, our country, and ourselves. All these are prerequisites to a free mind and essential to the quest toward perfection.
A question to contemplate in the 4° and so enhance your understanding of this Degree would be to ask: "How do we decide how touch confidentiality we owe to others?"
In the 5°, Perfect Master, our questor encounters the death of a hero, and tre contemplates how often his own life is shaped by what he learns from the examples of others. He also faces the awesome reality that others watch him and learn from the examples he sets. lt is, therefore, essential that he live as if his own death were just moments away, and as if what he says and how he acts impact eternity.
In his journey as a Perfect Master, he encounters a monument of white and black marble, surmounted by an urn pierced by a sword and adorned with acacia. The urn of knowledge becomes the urn of self-examination. The sword proclaims his unrelenting enmity towards his own ignorance, falsehood, and egotism (his ruffians within). The acacia, symbol of immortality, reminds him that his quest is toward a more virtuous life. His world is thus flanked in this Degree by 16 columns, arranged 4 x 4 at the four corners of the Lodge, the columns represent the 16 physical virtues of a Perfect Master.
- strength agility cleanliness grace
- resistance felicity neatness beauty
- courage precision decency health
- energy adroitness sobriety richness
In striving toward virtue, his quest becomes a joumey of responsibility and accountability. He cannot arrive at the sanctum sanctorum except by purity of manners, righteousness of heart, and elevation of mind,
A question to contemplate and so enhance your understanding of the 5° is : " How important is it to study the lives of those who have gone before us and to keep their memories alive in the hearts of every generation?"
In the 6°, Confidential Secretary, the quest is to go beyond the surface of things. Sometimes first impressions can be wrong. We are led to King Solomon'sTemple by the 27 lights of the Lodge, representing the 2,700 tapers Solomon ordered to be made to illuminate God's Temple. Here we are to look for Truth and the task is to find it by developing faithfulness to and care of others. Life is a series of covenants we make in which our performance means everything. Since we cannot know in advance which acts will be of overwhelming importance and which will only bring convenience to some aspect of human life, it is our duty to always perform with the best of ìntentions.
The jewel is the triple delta superimposed on an equilateral triangle of gold. The triple triangle represents the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. Upon further contemplation. we may interpret the triad also to represent liberty, equality and fraternity; wisdom, power, and stability; reason, passìon and harmony. The triad thus suggests we should not get carried away by our own opinions, by rage, or by shallow understanding, but think and act upon thoughtful examination. In this Degree, the quest is for good faith, fidelity, sell-sacrifice and generosity.
A question to contemplate and so enhance your understanding of the 6° is: "How do we fairly and impartially judge a person, or his actions, without living in his shoes?"
In the 7°, Provost and Judge,our joumey takes on the virtues of Justice, Equity, Impartiality, and Uprightness. One of the hardest things to do in life is to find the proper balance between alternative choices of action. Most of us sit in judgment everyday, listening in gossip and passing judgments upon people as if they were possessions. And yet, we bitterly resent it when someone presumes to judge us, or our actions and motives. When we judge others, we are putting ourselves at risk, both intellectually, morally,and piritually.
Justice is the equation of right and duty between man and man, or between the individual and society. The quest of the Provost and Judge is to find that equation, that balance in which we may know how justice is to be attained, realized, dispensed, and established for the impartial benefit of the whole. A law voluntarily accepted by a community should be freely examined and discussed by its people. The lesson we learn is that justice is only possible through truth. We therefore learn to handle the Key of Truth.
A question to contemplate in the 7° is how should we react to a person who is accused of a wrong doing before his matter is decided by a court of law?
In the 8°, Intendant of the Building,our duty is to study the principles of order, to determine what the laws of order are to man, to Moral conduct, to right thinking, and to the acquisition of knowledge. The successful building of our inner spiritual Temple requires mastery of many kinds of information and insight from many sources. Our immortal life does not begin at death, but begins here in the present. We are already living in the first phase of our immortality. Our quest is a matter of taking one step at a time and learning at each step. It is important to remember that, while we may attain higher Degrees, the genuine Degrees are the ones which we personally labor to earn and, thus,deserve.
This Degree reveals to us the chief attributes of Deity-Beauty, Wisdom, Boundless Mercy, Omniscience, Eternity, Perfection, Justice, Compassion, and Creation. Charity and Benevolence are the lessons of this Degree. God is Love, and every impulse of charity that dwells in us is a participation in this divine nature.
A question to contemplate in the 8° is how do we accept a Mason as a Brother when we believe that he has done little to earn the qualities of Freemasonry and to deserve its benefits?
The 9°, Elu of the Nine (Master Elect of the Nine), carries great significance in the Scottish Rite. It is steeped in symbols and emblems which recur throughout the journey of the Rite. There is the cave, symbolizing the imprisonment of the soul and intellect. There is the lamp of spiritual despotism, the stream of water running from the past to the present, having its source in ignorance, fraud, and falsehood. It is not the symbolism we would expect, but the glimmer of the lamp in the cavern is a poor substitute for the full light of day, which is Truth; and ignorance as well as knowledge arises in the part and threads its way through the present to the future. Our quest as a Master Elect is to help set right the things which are wrong in the world. The seeds of evil and kindness are in the conscience of men. And when the actions of men have unbalanced society, it is our duty as ethical men to try to make things righ. Wrongness has no limits in its effects. Thus, moral bravery as a weapon of the Rite is as important as physical bravery.
The virtues stressed ìn this Degree are represented by the Degree's nine lights, depicting Disinterestedness, Courtesy, Devotedness, Firmness, Frankness, Generosity, Self-Denial, Heroism, and Patriotism.
The principle objectives of this Degree are progress,education, and enlightenment. Our duty is to labor to instruct, inform, and enlighten our fellowman. Hiram is the symbol of liberty or freedom-intellectual, physical, moral, political, and spititual.The elevation of the people so they are more fitted for freedom and knowledge is the greatest single task of the Scottish Rite.
A question to contemplate in the 9° is how can we encourage a person to accept a law or practice deemed best by society when he holds beliefs which differ,even though his beliefs may cause personal harm, injury, or death only to himself ?
In the 10°, Elu of the Fifteen (Master Elect of the Fifteen), we are reminded that our quest for perfection must be made without fanaticism This Degree teaches us the consequences of selfishness. Proclaiming what is right, what is important, what matters, in a way that holds one person or group above another is tyranny. Tyranny is always political because it is an attitude that affects all of society. A minority can tyrannize a majority; a majority can tyrannize a minority; a single man can tyrannize a nation; a man or woman can tyrannize a family; a teacher can tyrannize a classroom; an employer can tyrannize an employee; a nation can tyrannize another nation.
In Masonry, the three ruffians represent ignorance or darkness, superstition or error, and egotism or ambition-each an attribute of tyranny and oppression. Our challenge as men with passions, errors, judgments, and faults is to find a cooperation between the Hiram ( the forces of good and right) within us and the ruffians ( evil and wrong) within us.
This Degree is devoted to the causes of people who struggle against any form of oppression; to those who defend the right of free thought against the tyranny of public opinion; to the employee asking for fair wages; to patriotism warring against the tyranny of party; to toleration against intolerance and fanaticism; to civilization, instruction, and enlightenment against savagery,error,and ignorance; to free thought, free speech, and free conscience.
Our prayer is that the light of freedom will illuminate the world, theltight of religious and political toleration will rise upon the world, and the light of education and intelligence will shine in alt comers of the world.
A question to contemplate in the 10° is how can we show tolerance for the views of others with whom we do not agree without seeming condescending or appearing to accept their point of view just to please them?
The 11°, Sublime Elect of The Twelve, teaches that the most indispensable duty of a Mason is to devote himself to the practice of virtue. We must not only oppose tyranny and intolerance, we must also engage in the positive act of trying to benefit people. The inflamed heart is a symbol of the ardent devotion to the cause of Freemasonry and of zealous Charity-for Charity, more than all other virtues, is the principal virtue which completes our humanity.
The characteristics of an Elu of the Twelve are that he be frank, sincere, reliable, just, of perfect honesty and integrity, fair, faithful, and fearing of God. Our duties are to protect our fellow citizens against illegal or unjust impositions and to guard their political rights. We are to see that people are secure in the enjoyment of their civil and political rights. We are the champions of human freedom. It is essential that we be earnest in doing what it is our duty to do and that no man should be disappointed because he has relied upon our word.
We also learn in this Degree that the right of a people to representation is sacred. Trial by jury is important not because it releases the judge from his responsibility, but because it assures that the judgments of several persons are involved and thus the chance of a fair decision is better. Also, justice should be tempered with mercy, and laws should be conceived in a spirit of love. The happiness of a people depends less on rigid repressions of wrong, than on generous displays of sentiment.
Further, no person is free, in whose courts do not sit upright justices whom power cannot terrify, nor wealth corrupt, nor ambition seduce. No person is free in whose courts power can convict the innocent or acquit the guilty; and the right of trial by jury is of more worth to a man than the right to vote, individual liberty and immunity from wrong and oppression being much more dependent on trial by jury than any other factor.
These things are important to understand if we wish to stay a free people.
A question to contemplate relevant to the 11° is should a court force a parent to give medicine to a child when the parent believes in a reliance upon the healing power of God?
In the 12°, Master Architect, our quest is for wisdom. We learn that we create our own future by our actions. There is no such thing as an unimportant action. This Degree reaches that Wisdom is the true Masonic Light. Upon all conditions of men, there is one impartial law: the mind gives character to all situations and all fortunes. Situations are not what they are in themselves but what they are in the feelings of their possessors. Thus, everyone has the power to make all situations, temptations and trials instruments to promote his virtue and happiness. Life is what we make it; the world is what we make it. Our task is to discover life's allegorical meaning to us. Likewise, everything in Masonry is allegorical and symbolical. By means of its morality. we advance toward its philosophy. Every Degree is a step in that direction.
A question to contemplate relevant to the 12° is, when faced with an opportunity to address a social ill requiring a considerable tax increase, how can we tell if our resistance is based on the guidance of our own soul or higher self, or from a selfish instinct to avoid higher taxes?
In the 13°, Royal Arch of Solomon, we travel successively through the Nine Arches named the First Cause or Principle, Existence, God, Immortality Fortitude, Toleration, Power, Mercy, and Joy, meaning:
- God is the Principle
- God is Life
- God is Power
- God is Eternal
- God is Infinite
- God is One
- God is Love
- God is Wisdom
- God is Justice
The Degree's principal teaching is that, just as the name of God may be "lost," so may the knowledge of God (in the sense of a fuller and more sophisticated understanding of God) be lost in superstition, myth, and ignorance. It is easy for a man or a nation or a culture to lose the name of God, which is to say, to lose a true awareness of God's nature. Few things seem so easy as a people to turn away from the truth.
As Masons, the process of discovering the luminous pedestal and the agate cube is an obvious allegory for the effect which the discovery of the nature of God is intended to have in our lives. The fact that the triangular plate bearing the name of God is sunk into the cube tells us that this awareness is intended to enter into us and change us. And if no such change occurs, then we still have not passed through the nine arches (looked deeply into our own souls and consciences) and found the mystic cube and plate. We are to seek the spiritual center deep within ourselves.
A question to contemplate relevant to the 13° is how do we know, in addressing a problem in our own life, that we are asking the right questions of ourselves to solve it?
In the 14°. Perfect Elu, we learn that it is up to each individual Mason to discover the secrets of Masonry by reflecting on its emblems and upon what is said and done in the work. The secrets are the insights which we can and must develop. That happens when we think about the symbols, the lessons, the virtues, and consider their meanings in our own life. We must prepare ourselves for knowledge. We can only learn when we are prepared to learn. We are each a part of a large Masonic family traveling on the road to knowledge, using the concept of God's divinity in Man to create a universal union of morality and virtue.
A question to contemplate relevant to the 14° is how do we know when our life is what we trulv want it to be?
In summary, the quest of the Lodge of Perfection is to come as close to Perfect Truth as we are able in this life. God has arranged great purposes: that each man has a work to do, a duty to perform, and a part to play in the gradual enlightenment of the world.
The completion of our first quest of the Scottish Rìte - the quest for spiritual awakening - is made in an underground cubical room, wherein we are instructed in the final mysteries of the Lodge of Perfection.These Degrees have prepared us for the next step, to go beyond spiritual awakening to Spiritual awareness, is the quest of the Chapter of Rose Croix.
Editor's Note: This article, discussing the Fourth through Fourteenth Degrees, presents the author's personal interpretation of a working of the Lodge of Perfection.
Courtesy of THE PLUMBLINE - The Quarterly Bullettin of the Scottish Rite Research Society
The Scottish Rite Research Society Website