The Valley of Spartanburg had its annual Feast of Tishri banquet last night. And while some valleys across the Rite no longer do the Ring Ceremony, this is a tradition that my valley continues. It followed the sumptuous roast leg of lamb dinner.
For this year's ceremony I was asked to give a lecture on the meaning of the 14th Degree ring. Here is the text of that lecture:
The ring of the Perfect Elu, which is awarded to every Scottish Rite Freemason who attains the 14th Degree, is one of the oldest Masonic accoutrements. In the earliest existing 14th Degree ritual of the Rite of Perfection, found in the Francken Manuscript of 1783, the ring is described as a plain band of gold with this inscription: Virtus junxit, mors non separabit. This is Latin for “What virtue has united, death cannot separate.” At some point in the late 19th century, the Supreme Council for the Northern Jurisdiction altered the ring to add the equilateral triangle with the Hebrew letter “Yod” in the middle, and the Southern Jurisdiction later adopted this design as well, and it is the ring used today.
Like most things in Freemasonry, the ring is a symbol, and in the wearing it should bring to mind many aspects of what you have learned and will learn as a Scottish Rite Mason. The ring is a circle, and a circle is a symbol of completion. That it is awarded with the final degree of the Lodge of Perfection is appropriate since the word “perfection” as used does not denote being “perfect” in the sense of being “flawless,” but rather in the antiquated use of the word meaning “complete.” (It is in this same sense that the word “perfect” is used in the preamble to the Constitution of the United States: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union...” meaning, of course, to form a more complete union.)
The Lodge of Perfection completes the journey of Symbolic Masonry you began with the first three degrees. The ring symbolizes that completion and is an ever present reminder of your Masonic journey. The equilateral triangle is emblematic of the three essential attributes of the Great Architect of the Universe: omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience. The Hebrew letter “Yod” in the center of the triangle is the first letter of the ineffable Name of God and should serve to remind you of what was lost in the Third Degree and is found in the Degrees of Perfection. In so doing, the ring reminds you that as a Freemason you are identified with and should demonstrate continued dedication to that highest and most universal human aspiration: reverence for and service to God.
As you progressed from the Symbolic Masonry of the Lodge of Perfection into the chivalric degrees, you learned that purity of Honor, integrity of the Sword, and spotlessness of the Shield were the three highest ideals of our Ancient Brethren. “Honor that never broke faith with anyone” was supreme and preserved despite danger or personal loss. “Integrity of the Sword in never failing to draw it in defense of innocent and right” was a duty embraced with fervor and acted upon with courage. “The Shield never to be sullied by protecting oppression and wrong” was the symbol of each brother's dedication to the knighthood. When the ancient knight passed to his eternal home he bequeathed his Honor, his Sword, and his Shield to another, one near and dear, one he knew would carry on his quest unblemished and victorious.
The Scottish Rite ring also symbolizes these ancient emblems of Honor, Sword, and Shield. And just as with our Ancient Brethren, on its owner's death the ring should be given with dignity and pride to another Scottish Rite Mason so that he may carry on the Masonic Honor, Sword, and Shield of the fallen Brother.
As to the wearing of the ring, there is no prescribed method. It may be worn on any finger, with the triangle pointed either away from or toward the wearer. The position is irrelevant so long as the ring is worn with honor in keeping with the deep symbolic meaning inherent in it.
As you receive your ring and ponder the mysteries of its symbolism, let me leave you with these words of Albert Pike from his chapter on the 14th Degree in Morals and Dogma:
To make honor and duty the steady beacon-lights that shall guide your life-vessel over the stormy seas of time; to do that which it is right to do, not because it will ensure you success, or bring with it a reward, or gain the applause of men, or be “the best policy,” more prudent or more advisable; but because it is right, and therefore ought to be done; to war incessantly against error, intolerance, ignorance, and vice, and yet to pity those who err, to be tolerant even of intolerance, to teach the ignorant, and to labor to reclaim the vicious—these are some of the duties of a Mason.
As you wear your Scottish Rite Ring, I hope you will remember that it is not merely a piece of jewelry, but a symbol of the bond you have to a great fraternity and the pledge you have made to fulfill your duties as a Mason.