|Rivista di Massoneria - Revue de Franc-Maçonnerie - Revista de Masonerìa - Revista de Maçonaria|
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by R.W.Bro. LEON ZELDIS
AN ESOTERIC VIEW OF THE ROSE-CROIX DEGREE
principal task of the Freemason, which is to improve his own character,
eliminating those negative traits that might exist in his personality and
developing his moral and spiritual resources (what is known as “polishing the
raw stone”) is in great measure the result of the interaction among brethren
within and without the Lodge. However, The most important means to advance in
this work is necessarily introspection and meditation, that is, reflection and
thyself” is a symbolic aspect of Freemasonry that in the Scottish Rite
Initiation ceremony (in the First Degree) is announced already in the
candidate’s first contact with our Order, in the Chamber of Reflection, where
he finds inscriptions such as Know Thyself and, most important,
V.I.T.R.I.O.L. (which in Latin means: “Visit the interior of the earth and
rectifying will find the hidden stone”). The stone that the neophyte is
invited to find is, without doubt, his own pure soul.
his spirit (rectifying, as in rectified alcohol, or correcting by
removing errors), the Mason will find the symbolic stone, that is, the moral
perfection he seeks.
these and other intimations are introduced in the first three degrees of
Freemasonry, they are tangential to the introspective nature of Masonic work,
especially evident in the Hiramic legend, but without exploring more deeply the
esoteric aspects of inner development. It is only when the Mason reaches the 18th
degree of the Scottish Rite, the mystical degree par excellence, that he faces
inescapably the mystic experience and is induced to apply this experience to his
own spiritual development.
preceding degrees, until the 14th inclusive, deal with various
aspects of the Hiramic legend, examining aspects such as duty, faithfulness, the
knowledge and virtues that characterize a Mason.
leitmotiv throughout these degrees is the lost word, which is finally recovered
at some point during the 18th degree.
first two of the “Chapter” degrees, which serve as a transition between the
Lodge of Perfection and the Rose-Croix Chapter, deal with the Second Temple of
Jerusalem, built by the Jews returning from the Babylonian captivity, and who
brought with them a rich cultural baggage (including the names of the months in
Hebrew) and also certain features of oriental mysticism, such as the belief in
the after-life, which did not exist earlier in Hebrew traditions.
third Capitular degree, that of Knights of the East and the West, marks a
turning point in its content, no longer referring to the destruction of the
Jerusalem Temple, ravaged by the Roman legions, but to the celestial Jerusalem,
linking heaven and earth.
Naudon remarks in his commentary on the higher degrees, there can be little
doubt that this degree was designed to create a preamble to the Rose-Croix
degree and was introduced after it.
17th degree has some interesting characteristics, such as the use of
black gloves, as in the “elu” or “vengeance” degrees. Black, as
we know, represents the nigredo, the first stage of the alchemical work.
Allegory versus literal meaning
us now examine the 18th degree itself. It is not my intention to
describe the ritual or the “secrets” of this degree. All this has been
frequently published and the interested reader can easily find this information
in one of the books in the bibliography at the end of this paper. What we would
like to do is to show that the Christian aspects of the ceremony, and there are
many, can and must be understood in their symbolic meaning, as esoteric
literal interpretation would lead to absurd conclusions. To give an example, a
literal interpretation of the Third-degree legend would produce the grotesque
image of a rotten corpse somehow rising from its grave and becoming incarnate in
at least for this writer, a literal interpretation of the 18th degree
ritual would be close to sacrilege. A simulacrum of one of the key events in
Holy Scripture is in danger of becoming a parody.
if we understand the ritual as allegorical can we avoid this danger.
truth, all Masonic rituals are based on allegory which, according to one
dictionary is a fiction that presents an object to the mind, so as to
evoke the thought of another object (Larousse). Notice the word fiction.
Pike, the great reformer of Scottish Rite rituals, refers to this problem in his
explanations to the candidate before the ceremony of elevation to the 18th
degree: “all the emblems, forms and ceremonies of Masonry are symbolical of
great primitive truths, which each one is at liberty to interpret in accordance
with his own faith” (Magnum Opus, XVIII.5).
into account these considerations, the study of the 18th degree, or
any other Masonic degree, must start from the premise that we must approach the
text as allegory, as representing something else.
is not the place to enter into a discussion on the fine distinction between
allegory and symbol. The two are intimately related but, as clearly demonstrated
by Alleau, allegory is a rhetorical process, related to language and
interpretation, i.e. reason, while the symbol leads directly from the
significant and the signification to the Signifier.
to the exegete Origenes, sacred texts must be studied on three levels: the
literal texts, the soul of the text and the spirit of the text (Alleau, p. 120).
Not by chance the cover of his book is illustrated by a seven-petal rose, taken
from the Summum Bonum of Robert Fludd, a defense of the Rosicrucian
similar attitude must be adopted when analyzing Masonic rituals. They must be
studied ont three levels: literal, symbolic and esoteric.
The Christian explanation
school of thought that maintains that the Rose-Croix ritual must be understood
as a Masonic version of the Passion of Christ finds support in the many obvious
parallels between elements of the ceremony and passages of the Gospels, such as
the darkness enveloping the earth, the number 33, the mystical supper, and
others that it is unnecessary to detail.
we must consider the three theological virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity (which
also appear on the Tracing Board of the First Degree), the extinction of the
lights and other particulars.
reflection, however, will make it clear that each of these points in the 18th
decree ceremony admits other explanations, of a symbolic and esoteric nature.
broken tools, for instance, and the darkness of the chamber in the first part of
the ceremony, do they not represent the confusion and impotence of man,
wandering through a world full of evil, insecure about his way, looking for an
exit to light? Is this not a frequent human experience? Is this not a lesson
that the candidate should learn, that appealing to his own inner spiritual
resources, it is possible to move from darkness to light?
one’s clothes is a well-known signal of bereavement. To this day, Jews make a
symbolic tear of their garment as part of the burial ceremony for a relative.
The renting of the Temple’s veil is akin to this category of ideas. It is not
necessarily identified with the crucifixion, but it represents the sorrow that
every man should feel when witnessing the triumph of the forces of evil.
impressive image is the cubic stone distilling blood and water. This is an
alchemical symbol. The red blood and the white water are two alchemical
elements, representing sulfur and mercury, respectively. This appears explicitly
in an illustration of an alchemical manuscript of the 18th century
(reproduced on plate 18 of the book Alchemy by Klossowsky de Rola). The
knight, in that illustration, wields a sword and is dressed in the alchemical
colors. He holds a shield with a motto meaning “make one water from
(pp. 103-120) has made a detailed analysis of each of the elements of the ritual
of our degree, explaining its historical development and its allegorical and
spiritual meanings. The reader can refer to Bayard’s book, since within the
framework of this paper we cannot examine too many of the symbols involved.
The acronym INRI
us examine now one of the most conspicuous symbols of the Rosicrucian degree,
the four letters I.N.R.I.
a remarkable parallel links this acronym with the ineffable name of the Deity in
the Bible, the Tetragammaton. Both are composed of four letters, one of which is
repeated. In Hebrew, the letters are Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh.
course, the first reaction of a reader with an elementary acquaintance with the
Bible is to give a Christian interpretation to the acronym: Iesus Nazarenus Rex
Iudeorum, the inscription on the cross.
an examination of various rituals of the 18th degree in different
places and times, reveals a wide range of Masonic interpretations, such as:
Igne Natura Renovatur Integra
is completely renewed by fire)
Ignis Natura Renovat Integram
completely renews nature)
Ignem Natura Regenerando Integrat
regeneration, nature maintains the integrity of fire)
In Nobilis Regnat Iehovah (or Iesus)
(or Jesus) reigns among noble men)
Iesus Nascente Ram Innovatur
Jesus renews the branch)
Igne Nitrum Roris Invenitor
fire salt is extracted from dew)
Insignia Naturae Ratio Illustrat
illuminates the nature’s symbols)
Inter Nos Regnat Indulgentia
us reigns goodness)
Intra Nobis Regnum Iehova
Kingdom of God is within us)
Iustum Necare Reges Impios
is just to kill impious kings)
Iustitia Nunc Reget Imperia
now reigns empires)
In Neci Renascor Integer
death one is reborn intact and pure)
explanation mentioned by Naudon claims that the four letters are the initials of
Judea, Nazareth, Raphael and Judah. In Hebrew, Judea and Judah are written with
an initial “I”.
another explanation is given by Albert Pike in his Magnum Opus: the four letters
are initials of the words Infinity, Nature, Reason and Immortality.
if all this were not sufficient, the acronym has also been attributed to four
Hebrew words: Iam, Nur, Ruakh and Ieveshah, which represent the
four elements: water, fire, air and earth. This requires some latitude in the
interpretations, because Iam actually means sea, and only by synecdoche
can it be taken to represent water.
existence of so many and diverse explanations, formulated by different Masonic
writers in the course of time, demonstrates that the literal or Biblical
explanation is certainly insufficient and probably erroneous within the Masonic
The cross and the rose
should examine, even superficially, the central symbolism of the degree: the
cross and the rose. Sometimes, the cross is represented with four roses at the
extremities of the two posts, but more often the cross is at the center, at the
intersection of the vertical and horizontal lines.
cross, as been frequently noted, did not become a Christian symbol until the 6th
century. It has a long history before that, in many civilizations, from India to
Egypt. Among the ancient Egyptians, the cross crowned by a ring, the ankh,
represented both life and death. Sahir Erman remarks that the horizontal line of
the cross also represents death, while the vertical one symbolizes life.
main symbolism appears to be the conjunction of two worlds, human and celestial.
In general, the cross represents the integration of opposites, vertical and
horizontal, spiritual and material, feminine and masculine, yin and yang.
Catellani mentions that in the Indian city of Benares, in the ruins of an old
temple can be found a cross with a mystic rose in the center, inscribed within
an equilateral triangle. This, as Castellani himself underlines, does not prove
the existence of Masons or Rosicrucians thousands of years ago, but rather that
the symbolic use of these images dates from ancient times.
cross, like the triangle and the circle, is one of the primary symbols of our
consciousness. No complete explanation of their meaning can be given, because
they are embedded in the deepest levels of our mind.
rose, on its part, is a symbol of perfection and mystery. Erman points out that
the rose is also a symbol of love, “Amor” in Latin, which can be interpreted
as “A-Mor”, that is the negation of death. The rose embracing the cross thus
represents immortality, and the way to achieve it, which is love.
rose is also an important alchemical symbol. The number of petals is meaningful
as well as their color, which may be red, white or black, the three principal
mentioned above, Albert Pike stated clearly the principles of Freemasonry as an
universal philosophy, allowing the faithful of various religions to sit together
and work in harmony for the progress of Humanity as a whole.
summarized the teachings of this degree in these words: “The unity,
immutability and goodness of God; the immortality of the Soul; and the ultimate
defeat and extinction of evil and wrong and sorrow, by a Redeemer or Messiah,
yet to come, if he has not already appeared... It replaces the three pillars of
the old Temple, with three that have been already explained to you - Faith [in
God, mankind and man’s self]; Hope [in the victory over evil, the advancement
of Humanity, and in a hereafter] and Charity [relieving the wants, and tolerant
of the errors and faults of others]. To be trustful, to be hopeful, to be
indulgent; these, in an age of selfishness, of ill opinion of human nature, of
harsh and bitter judgment, are the most important Masonic Virtues, and the true
supports of every Masonic Temple. And they are the old pillars of the Temple
under different names. For he only is wise who judges others charitably; he only
is strong who is hopeful; and there is no beauty like a firm faith in God, our
fellows and ourselves” (XVIII.19).
is a moving and correct statement of the fundamental tenets of Freemasonry, not
only the 18th degree. The “old pillars” to which Pike refers are
Strength, Beauty and Wisdom (or Love), which in the Lodge are represented by the
three principal officers. Pike carefully chooses his words so as to make them
acceptable to believers of all faiths.
yet, Pike’s statement does not go far enough. It does not explain the
question, why wrap these principles in the alchemical clothing of the
Rosicrucians. What is the relation between Freemasonry and the Rose-Croix
first mention we have, connecting Freemasonry with Rosicrucianism dates from
1638, only 24 years after the publication of the first Rosicrucian manifesto,
the Fama Fraternitatis in 1614. This mention appears in Henry Adamson’s
Muses Threnodie, an account in verse of Perth, published in Edinburgh,
and it also contains the first written reference to the Mason Word:
For what we do presage is not in grosse,
For we be brethren of the Rosie Crosse;
We have the Mason word and second sight,
Things for to come we can foretell aright.
fact that a connection is made between Freemasonry and Rose-Croix at such an
early stage is most significant. Furthermore, a ‘divertissement’ published
in Poor Robin’s Intelligence for 10 October 1676 mentions both “the
Ancient Brother-hood of the Rosy-Cross” and the “Company of accepted
Masons” as dining together.
important still, in a letter of ‘A. Z.’ printed in the Daily Journal
of 5 September 1730, the writer states:
there is a Society abroad, from whom the English Free
Masons... have copied a few Ceremonies, and take great Pains to persuade the
World that they are derived from them, and are the same with them. They are
called Rosicrucians... On this Society have our Moderns, as we have said,
endeavored to ingraft themselves, tho’ they know nothing of their more
material Constitutions, and are acquainted only with some of their Signs of
Probation and Entrance... (Knoop, Jones and Hamer, p. 27).
Knoop, Jones & Hamer dispute the suggestion that the English Freemasons
would attempt to trace their origins from the Rosicrucians, these references
prove that from its very beginnings, Freemasonry included a spiritual and
esoteric component, very different from its labor or operative aspects.
is beyond the scope of this paper to examine the history, ideology and symbolism
of the Rosicrucian Fraternity. Numerous, better qualified researchers, have done
so already. We recommend particularly the books of McIntosh and Yates (see the
Bibliography at the end).
is interesting is the question, why our brethren of the 18th century
included this degree in the Scottish Rite system (and before that, in its
the best explanation is that proposed by Colin Wilson in his preface to the book
on Rosicrucians by Christopher McIntosh:
[human desire to turn inward to a world of truth that he feels resides in
his own depths], I believe, explains why Rosicrucianism has continued to exert
its grip on the Western mind. It is not because we are hopelessly gullible, or
because we would like to believe in absurd fantasies. In a legend like that of
Christian Rosenkreuz , we seem to catch a glimpse of what we ought to be,
and what we could be”.
same Christopher, explaining to Wilson how he came to write his book, relates
that “When I began... I intended to examine Rosicrucianism simply as a rather
curious historical phenomenon without really expecting to find that it contained
a teaching of any real depth or coherence. Since then not only has my attitude
changed - I have become much more pro-occult - but also found during my
researches that Rosicrucianism goes deeper than I had realized, and does contain
something valuable and coherent. So you could say that this book has been an
important experience in my life. It has taught be that sooner or later anyone
studying these subjects from an academic point of view has to make the decision
whether they are going to take a personal stance for or against.”
other words, the rich symbolic contents of this degree, the manner in which it
penetrates to the roots of our spiritual being, bestows a unique opportunity to
the Mason, making him face questions that he generally ignores in daily life:
The problems of his own nature, of the possible transformation that he must
undergo, the transmutation from coarse matter to luminous essence.
the 18th degree, the Mason faces a potent symbolism. If he has
received a Christian education, he will be moved by the emotional impact of the
apparent parallelism between the Masonic ceremony and his religious beliefs.
Even if his religious background is different, he cannot remain apathetic to the
sharp contrasts between the various parts of the ceremony, the transition from
darkness to light, from sorrow to hope to joy; from the deepest despond to the
merry conviviality of the shared repast.
message conveyed by the symbolism of this degree has multiple levels and
constitutes a challenge to the candidate’s imagination. It stirs him and
drives him to explore the inner processes illustrated by the circumstances
described in the liturgy of the degree. Revealing in this connection is the
commentary of McIntosh, searching for an explanation of the fact that the first
edition of the Fama Fraternitatis included in the same volume another
work entitled Allgemeine und General Reformation der gantzen weiten Welt (The
Universal and General Reformation of the Whole Wide World - an extract from the
Italian author Trajano Boccalini’s allegorical satire, Ragguali di Parnasso
(News from Parnassus), McIntosh writes:
“Andreae may have reasoned that by issuing the Fama
with the General Reformation he could make the point that an inner
reformation within men’s minds and hearts must precede any external
reformation and that the account given in the Fama had to be seen in this
other words, from their beginning, the author or authors of the Rosicrucian
manifestos made clear that the first step for the reformation of the world must
necessarily be the reformation of the spirit, and this is precisely the premise
of the 18th degree of Freemasonry, properly understood.
invitation to introspection and meditation appears specifically prescribed in
some rituals of the 18th degree used even today (e.g. in Mexico and
if the ritual book for the ceremony does not explicitly call for a period of
meditation, serious reflection on the esoterism of the degree will lead the
Rose-Croix Knight to the road of spiritual exercise, inciting him to concentrate
his thoughts and his will in order to discover and make conscious the light
burning within himself, identifying with it until achieving the mystic
Scottish Rite, by offering the Rose-Croix degree to its members, is only opening
a door. Not everybody will profit from the opportunity to go through it and
delve into this field of study. What matters is that the opportunity exists.
This, after all, is the Masonic method and the philosophy of our Order in all
its structures: we put the tools in the hands of the brother and let him labor
according to his capacity and development. Without compulsion, without prize,
except for the progress to a further degree, which will then present new
restrict the explanation of the 18th degree to a paraphrase of the
Passion of Jesus is not only simplistic, and perhaps irreverent, but ignores the
complex symbolism contained in the degree and the purpose of its inclusion in
the ladder of spiritual ascent configured by the degrees of the Scottish Rite. A
better understanding of its esoteric dimensions will enrich the brother as an
individual and the Order as a whole.
Alleau, Rene: La science des symboles, Payot, 1976.
Bayard, Jean Pierre: Le symbolisme maçonique des Hauts
Grades, Editions Du
Prisme, Paris 1975.
Bonvicini, Eugenio: La Storia dei Rosa+Croce e della loro Incidenza sulla
Castellani, Jose: A Orden Rosacruz e a Maçonaria, A Maçonaria no
Estado de Sao
J.L., Dictionary of Symbols, Dorset Press, NY 1991.
Sahir: Comentaires des Hauts Grades du R\E\A\A\,
Supreme Council for Turkey, Istanbul 1990.
Pelayo y Gross, Ramón, Pequeño Larousse en color, Paris 1972.
Ernest: A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language
forReaders of English, Carta, Jerusalem 1987.
de Rola, Stanislas: Alchemy, Thames & Hudson, London 1973.
Jones and Hamer: Early Masonic Pamphlets, QCCC, London 1978.
Christopher: The Rosicrucians, Crucible, UK 1980 (1987).
Naudon, Paul: Histoire, Rituels et Tuilleur des Hauts
Dervy-Livres, Paris 1984.
Norman D.: “Mottos & Foreign Quotations in the Scottish Rite”, The
Plumbline, Vol. 3, N÷2, June 1994.
Albert: The Magnum Opus or Great Work, 1857 (reprint by Kessinger, Kila,
MT, USA 1992).
Yates, Frances, A., The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, Paladin, 1975.