Saturday, October 18, 2008

Why I joined the Scottish Rite

Today I completed the 15th through the 32d degrees of the Scottish Rite. During one of the lectures one of the officers made the comment that the Scottish Rite is the "University of Freemasonry," which is true...IF.

It's true if you view the Higher Degrees as a means and not an end. For the Higher Degrees to be of any benifit to the Master Mason, he must view the Scottish Rite as a life-long "distance learning" program of the University of Freemasonry. And it's a program from which you never graduate: there is always more to learn, more to comprehend, more to master.

The Master Mason who views the 32d degree as a "terminal degree" and never picks up a book thereafter, never studies, never delves deeper into the teachings and mysteries to which the Higher Degrees are only a portal, has short-changed himself and may as well not have bothered.

For me, the reason to join the Scottish Rite is best summed up in the following, which is adapted from the lecture for the 4th Degree:

If you have been disappointed in the first three Degrees, as you have received them, and if it has seemed to you that the performance has not come up to the promise, that the lessons of morality are not new, and the scientific instruction is but rudimentary, and the symbols are imperfectly explained, remember that the ceremonies and lessons of those Degrees have come to us from an age when symbols were used, not to reveal, but to conceal, and that these antique and simple Degrees now stand like the broken columns of a roofless Druidic temple, in their rude and mutilated greatness; in many parts, also, corrupted by time, and disfigured by modern additions and absurd interpretations.

A few rudimentary lessons in architecture, a few universally admitted maxims of morality, a few unimportant tradtions, whose real meaning is unknown or misunderstood--these will no longer satisfy the earnest inquirer after Masonic truth. They are but the entrance to the great Masonic temple, the triple columns of the portico. Let him who is content with these seek to climb no higher. But you have taken the first step over this threshold, the first step toward the inner sanctuary and heart of the temple. You are in the path that leads up the slope of the mountain of truth; and it depends upon your secrecy, obedience and fidelity, whether you will advance or remain stationary.

Imagine not that you will become indeed a Mason by learning what is commonly called the "work," or even by becoming familiar with our traditions. Masonry has a history, a literature, a philosophy. Its allegories and traditions will teach you much; but much is to be sought elsewhere. He who desires to understand the harmonious and beautiful proportions of Freemasonry must read, study, reflect, digest, and discriminate. The streams of learning that now flow full and broad must be followed to their heads in the springs that well up in the remote past and you will there find the origin and meaning of Masonry.


Millennial Freemason said...

Very interesting. I have stayed out of the Appendant bodies as I have still tried to learn all I could in the Blue Lodge. I was told by other brothers that I should stay in the Blue Lodge as long as possible. (And to be honest, my wife would kill me if I were gone for more things.) I am very excited when I will take the Scottish Rite degrees in the next 5-10 years and you have made me even more excited for that day.


Anonymous said...

Esq., you have spoken wisely here. There is always something more to learn in Freemasonry, always something to study. I was peering at someone's blog today with a dissertation on the pillars that made me think of something I had never considered. That's great.

I have a problem with part of the Fourth Degree lecture as presented to you. It seems to denigrate the three degrees as if what's to be found there is nothing compared to the grand lessons of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. I go back to what you mentioned earlier: "there is always more to learn, more to comprehend, more to master."

So it is with the three degrees of Freemasonry. Learning from them takes labour, and labour is what we are charged to do as Masons. If, in the case of the three degrees, the "real meaning is misunderstood," it's because Masons are not contemplating and studying. The degrees have plenty of meaning. The sublime degree is called "sublime" for a reason.

It was said to a new FC on Thursday night at one of my lodges that "tools and implements of architecture have been selected by the fraternity to impart serious and wise truths." If they are serious and wise, they can hardly be "rudimentary" and "unimportant."

The Scottish Rite degrees do expound on lessons found the Craft Lodge, and in many cases in beautiful and eloquent language. But there's no need to suggest the ceremonies found in the Lodge, and the Masons therein who advance no further, are somehow inferior.


Esquire said...

Justa, to put that seemingly negative reflection on the Blue Degrees in perspective, here is a passage from the legenda for the 14th Degree:

"It is not Blue Masonry itself that we undervalue. Nor do we undervalue its symbols and legends. We condemn only the untrue explanations of them. They are themselves full of interest to us, and are worthy to be the sujbects of incessant study."

Justa Mason said...

Esq., I'm presuming this is Southern Juris., is it? I only ask because I don't remember any of this being said when I had the degrees conferred (Canadian jurisdiction) as it would have stuck out like a sore thumb.

As for the italicised statement:
We condemn only the untrue explanations of them.

If that's referring to the historical inaccuracies contained in the degrees, I can understand the comment though, as it stands alone, it is condescending (and "condemn" may be a bit strong; members should be bright enough to know the events in the degrees are legendary and not entirely factual). However, if it's referring to the explanations of the meaning of the symbols themselves, it would strike me as highly presumptuous for any concordant body to claim it has a "true" or more accurate meaning. Oddly, anti-Masons make the very same claim, that the Lodge degrees are an indoctrinary ruse and it's only in the misnomered "higher degrees" we really learn that Freemasonry is Satan worship or whatever nonsense they're peddling (they always like picking a degree "higher" than the individual they're haranging).

However, the A&ASR lecture is bang on when it comes to the Craft degrees being worthy of incessant study. As, too, are the Scottish Rite degrees, especially due to the fact people in some places in North America are raced through a whole bunch of them on a weekend and cannot spend time in between each savouring and contemplating. I'm sure Gen. Pike would be aghast.

Esq., my only advice, besides the studying which I know you'll do, is to remember the 24" gauge. Do not overextend yourself. You have only so much time. Many concordant bodies in this day and age look at new members as ritualists and it's easy to get quickly wrapped up on teams for four, five and six different degrees, sapping an awful lot of free time. Justa

Esquire said...

Justa, based on my reading of Pike and the history of the Scottish Rite, what Pike would be "aghast" at is the notion that the Scottish Rite is a "concordant body" to Masonry. Pike viewed Masonry as an organic whole, with each modern iteration of it representing to a greater or lesser degree the pure Masonry lost in its own pre-history. I believe that Pike believed the AASR captured the essence of true Masonry and that other "rites" did so to a lesser degree. Keep in mind that while not generally practiced, the Scottish Rite has the first three degrees too, and is, therefore, a complete system of Masonry unto itself.

Pike believed (and it's still reflected in the teachings of the Scottish Rite) that the Blue Degrees with their elaborate symbology and ritual were purposely designed to conceal, not reveal. So, in that sense, what the anti-Masons have picked up on is true. Where they are in error is in what they believe is being concealed.

Pike believed, and the Scottish Rite teaches, that the sum total of Masonry can be found in the symbology and ritual of the Blue Degrees. But by design the sum is never taught in the Blue Lodge. Pike believed true Masonry always involved more than the first three degrees as given; these are just the entryway. What Pike laments is the belief that what is given as given to the Mason in the Blue Degrees represents the truth of Masonry on its face. Pike believed the teachings of the Blue Degrees as given had one end: to prod the Mason to look behind and beneath the surface of those teachings to find the treasure within. And he believed the Higher Degrees of the AASR were the most suitable pathway to that treasure.